Sunday, April 27, 2008

Business Trip!

I'm off to Maryland for a few days, with a side trip to Washington DC. Highlight of the next four days? Nationals v. Braves on Tuesday with a longtime reader whom I've never met. Lowlight of the next four days? This guy could be the anti-Nicka and kill me for something I wrote four years ago. I hope it's after the game, though.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lost - "The Shape of Things to Come"

What Aaron Liked: The opening sequence was all kinds of dynamite – particularly the wide-eyed reactions to the old-timey telephone ring and Ben's immediate leadership-seizing moment when he pulled that automatic weapon from the piano bench. Hey, it's another Ben-centric story? Approved. ("Oh, so you DO speak English?") The big ol' gunfight, though disappointingly clichĂ©d, at least provided a welcome break from all the talky-talky that's consumed Camp Locke this season. And, I'm glad to finally see the "trust" issue, which I've long been b*tching about, addressed. Sawyer and Claire's refusal to follow Locke and Ben in their search for Jacob was overdue, but good to see. Ditto for the clumsily-written "Morse code conundrum" ("He's lying!")

What Aaron Didn't Like: This was a weird little episode. It moved in fits and starts, without ever building on the momentum that the first few minutes created. The Ben flash-forward kind of petered out towards the end for me as the connect-the-dots that explained the origins of his future relationship with Sayid felt contrived and way rushed (even though, this episode was taped before the writer's strike whacked five episodes from the season). Similarly, the final scene with Charles Widmore was just…"eh". I guess Ben raised the stakes, or whatever, but the whole "it's my island…no, it's MY island" motivation isn't any less creaky. As mentioned above, the shootout sequence was formulaic and lazy (especially, the unintentional hilarity of three anonymous survivors getting sniped, one-at-a-time, out the front door). Oh, and Lost writers: while I'm not one of the Lost fanatics that charts all of the abstract clues from week to week, would it kill y'all to make the dialogue a little more subtle than Hurley's "Australia is the key to the whole game" groaner.

Verdict: The sheer awesomeness of Michael Emerson carries an uneven outing this week. I've enjoyed the absence of Jack and Kate in recent episodes, but with one month to go until the finale, it appears that we'll be ramping back up with…them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Oakland A's Monday #25

Some burning questions (and answers) as we've hit the 20-game mark. Our heroes are 12-8 and tied for first in the AL West…

DH/LF Jack Cust is currently hitting .157 with 22 K's in 51 ABs. Was he just a one-year wonder?

A general rule for stupid baseball fans is anything that happens in the first month of the season is predictive for the next five months. Cust remains a "three true outcomes" player, as an insane 59% of his plate appearances have resulted in a home run, walk or strikeout. Last year, during Cust's "breakout" season, he endured a far worse slump from May 22 to June 14 (.135/.250/.173) over an almost identical number (52) of at-bats. This season, Cust is getting on base (.368 OBP) and, in his last few games, has swung towards the opposite field more. No reason to panic…yet.

SS Bobby Crosby is currently hitting .313/.368/.475. Has he FINALLY arrived?

See above, you stupid baseball fan. Crosby had nearly 1,600 at-bats entering this season and was a career .240/.310/.391 hitter. So, can anyone honestly think that anything can be gleaned from his first 87 plate appearances this year? Crosby's current line owes a lot to this past weekend, as he took advantage of some bad Royals pitching (Hideo Nomo!) and fielding (LF Mark Teahen played at least two outs into doubles for Crosby). Last Friday morning, Crosby was hitting .254/.306/.373. He went 8 for 13 with 3 XBHs and 2 BBs in his next three games. April means nothing.

1B Daric Barton came highly touted and had a terrific debut for the A's last September. How's he look this year?

Well, it is early, but I can confidently say that Barton is already on the short list of worst defensive first basemen I've ever seen. His tracking of pop-ups across the vast expanse of foul territory in Oakland can't be captured with words, so I've included a familiar cartoon to illustrate how awful his routes are. His hitting has been marred by occasional at-bats where he inexplicably swings out of his shoes, instead of maintaining the doubles stroke that got him here in the first place. Since a four strikeout game in Toronto on April 10, he's hit .316/.409/.447.

The A's lead the league in ERA. Is it smoke n' mirrors or can they keep it up?

The heavy-lifters are newcomers Dana Eveland (2-1, 1.90 ERA) and Greg Smith (1-0, 3.00 ERA). I'll assume that you've never heard of them, if you aren't an A's fan. Eveland is a doughy lefty who can touch the low 90s and has drawn comparisons to a young David Wells (effective, but inconsistent). Smith tops out at 88 mph, with a wicked change-up. It's still way too early to predict how they'll pitch this year, but there are some constants with the rest of the staff: Rich Harden is hurt and Joe Blanton hasn't missed many bats. Keep an eye on Keith Foulke, who's been solid this year (he's currently on the DL, but not expected to miss much more time). He could be headed to a contender come July.

Could DH Frank Thomas be coming back to Oakland?

There are rumblings that the A's wanna bring him back, now that he pissed and moaned his way right out of Toronto. Our current DH, Mike Sweeney, appears to d-o-n-e as an everyday player – his power has evaporated over the past three years. But, don't discount his "The Erstad Factor" as he's already become a favorite of the local media and teammates for everything that has nothing to do with hitting a ball. Bringing Thomas on wouldn't be much of a risk. If he rakes, the A's could flip him before the trading deadline. If he sulks, all he'll have cost is the pro-rated league minimum.

Monday, April 21, 2008

TBG Reviews: Juno - the Bombastic Whore

As always, I'm the last person on earth to see the must-see movie of the year.

The great thing about that, though, is I don't have to dispense with any plot synopsis, since everyone has already seen it. We can jump right into what I thought, which is great on its own, since I can't wait to tell you how much I hated this movie.

OK, maybe "hate" is too strong, but this flick sure did annoy the living sh*t out of me.

Still, in the interest of full disclosure, Juno certainly had its moments, such as when Allison Janney (as Juno's stepmother) verbally annihilated an insensitive ultrasound technician (and, credit where it's due, Janney was equally excellent throughout the movie). J.K. Simmons (as Juno' father) was just as impressive as the unassuming everyman thrown into his daughter's chaos. His awkward banter with a pair of prospective adoptive parents (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) was gold.

Unfortunately, the cinematic bliss was few and far between for me.

Ellen Page, as the title character/impregnated waif, grated on my last nerve with her absurdly "hip" dialogue and unaffected, detached attitude. I can't overstate my distaste for either aspect of her character. Put it this way, if I was at Red Lobster and the hostess tried to sit me next to a table full of females who talked like Juno, I'd knife my own ears off before they could bring me a basket of those delicious Cheddar Bay Biscuits. "Hells yeah, honest to blog!"

As for Juno's seeming indifference towards her pregnancy, the problem here is clear: when it comes time for Juno's predictably tearful epiphany, I simply didn't believe it. I get that she was in denial and putting up shields and exhibiting every other ham-handed psychological archetype for troubled teens, but everything about her character borders on audience pandering – so why should I care?

At times, the story moves along at a pretty brisk pace, but, inevitably, another poorly-written character or excruciating scene brings things to an overly-talky halt. Rainn Wilson isn't at all funny as a creepy pharmacist – he's just "Dwight Schrute" in a lab coat. Michael Cera's "Bleeker" is the same endearingly gawky mumbler he always plays and he had no chemistry with Juno, his emasculating baby momma. And, don't get me started on Jason Bateman, who really needs to do more than slouch and hang his head in lieu of actual emotion. Every scene where Bateman's "Mark" is alone with Juno elicited more cringes than the last.

It could be possible that I just wasn't the target audience for Juno. I'm a Black guy in my mid-30s and 15+ years removed from high school. I'm too old to relate to the teenagers, too young to relate to the parents and just Black enough to wonder…where are all the Black people at? I'm not screaming "racism!" or anything, but if this same "serious" movie was made with an African-American cast and the same instantly-outdated Black slang and dialogue, it would be derided as "blaxploitation", seen by no one and shredded by middle-aged critics who couldn't relate.

And, Juno is considered "real"?

Really, it's the most overrated movie since Crash.

TBG Reviews: Burger King's Loaded Steakhouse Burger

With Mrs. Bootleg off at a bridal shower, I was forced into "weekend dad" duty on Saturday. On our way back from the barbershop, we swung by Burger King for a little drive-thru lunch. The boy's fast food tastes are pretty simple at this point: Kids' Meal with a plain hamburger. Mine are…more complicated – manlier even. And, since I've seemed to settle in at around 180 lbs. (Monday Update: 177.6 lbs.!) regardless of how much grease I eat, I jumped in at the deep end and ordered BK's new Loaded Steakhouse Burger.

Hard to believe that 970 calories and 55(!) grams of fat could come from 100% Angus beef, two slices of American cheese, bacon, fried onion strings, A-1 steak sauce and mashed potatoes, but there ya go. Kudos to the King for the ballsy, artery-clogging idea, but there are several things wrong with this uninteresting fat bomb.

Too much cheese: The double cheese treatment overwhelms everything between the bun. I'm sure none of my readers doubt the curing cured power of bacon, but the gloppy, not-quite-melted "cheese" seemed to be everywhere and in every bite – even at the expense of the pig strips.

Steak sauce: It took me most of my life to realize that a good steak doesn't need steak sauce. I suppose I can see what BK was trying to do here (Hey, it's a steak dinner on a bun! Pass the A-1!"), but there's a reason we don't put steak sauce on potatoes, cheese or onion rings. The smoky, salty goo makes everything taste "cheap", as if it were covering up spoiled meat.

Mashed potatoes: C'mon, Burger King…there really should be more than a teaspoon of spuds on my burger if you're going to trumpet its presence with such pomp and circumstance. The mashed potatoes on mine had squished to the back of the burger, hiding underneath a collapsed ceiling of cheese.

Fried Onion Strings: These aren't to be confused with BK's inexplicably excellent onion-flavored, teeny onion rings. These are more like that crispy onion shrapnel that white people mix with green beans every Thanksgiving.

The obvious problem is that none of these ingredients really go together. BK layers them all atop a rectangle of chewy beef, but the bottom line is that the really risky novelty burgers of whimsy are best left to the experts at Chili's and Applebee's.

Grade: 2.5 (out of 5)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

That Book-Leg Guy: "God Save the Fan" by Will Leitch

I first discovered Deadspin during a week-long stay with the in-laws in Ogden, Utah over Thanksgiving 2005. I'm pretty sure I finished the entire internet during that debacle of a holiday break, in which my mother-in-law sent us a bill for the food she served. Anyways, that was just before Deadspin blew up HUGE.

Today, it's one of the most irreverent, insanely popular sports sites on the net. Editor Will Leitch bills it as "Sports News without Access, Favor or Discretion" and, yes, that about covers it. So, it comes as no surprise that what started out as something of an underground resistance towards the continued ESPNification of sports has joined forces with a major book publisher to make a buck or two-hundred for, ostensibly, "the little website that could".

Checking in at just under 300 pages, I started and finished the book over a few days during last week's stay in San Francisco.

What Aaron Liked: Leitch breaks his subject matter into four parts ("Players", "Owners", "Media" and "Fans"), then writes dozens of smaller essays under and about each one. It's the very definition of an easy read, as even the material that doesn't click isn't long enough to annoy (for the most part). Even though Leitch admits he's screaming to an empty room, his breakdown of the MLB/NFL steroid double-standard is absolutely on point. Equally insightful – albeit, obvious – is his piece on homophobia (Kordell Stewart! Mike Piazza! Others!) which really cuts to the inherent absurdity of jock culture. Leitch really lets the owners have it – highlighted by an essay entitled "Peter Angelos Kills Kittens and Is Trying to Sleep with Your Mother". Even better are the pages dedicated to a night at Yankee Stadium. The book finishes with a terrific "glossary" section that defines the fanbase of every MLB, NFL and NBA team (sample: "Hawks, Atlanta: For years, thought the old logo was Pac-Man and never understood why.")

What Aaron Didn't Like: I was surprised that the sections on fans and the media were so damn flat, considering Deadspin's mission statement. Most of the media essays are the same "I hate ESPN" opinions held by all the people who still watch it, anyway. Leitch's "Clockwork Orange" experiment – in which he watches 24 straight hours of ESPN's family of networks – is cringingly unfunny. Along the same lines, the piece on's Peter King and how King "…got exactly what he deserved" when another website posted pictures of King's college-aged (and inebriated) daughter is simply indefensible. The "fans" segment is a little better, but still reads a lot like some guy projecting (actually, cramming) his sanctimonious preaching down my pie-hole.

Steal, Borrow or Buy It? I've recommended Deadspin to several friends only to come to the conclusion that you either "get it" or you don't. An easy recommendation if, like me, you hit up the site daily. Leitch's quips of criticism get a little redundant and the author doesn't exactly convince me that stuff like Ben Roethlisberger's drinking is "news", but any book I can start, read and finish entirely in my hotel bathroom is worth $24.95, retail. Buy.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Read More Sports Illustrated

I've been meaning to put up a long, praise-filled post on the absolute awesomeness that is's new SI Vault site. 54 years of Sports Illustrated articles from the archives, featuring a terrific search engine and a means to unearth some wonderful writing from when SI was THE voice in sports journalism. If you're a sports fan, you've got to hit it up.

Over the last few days, I've come across:

+ One of my favorite SI article's of all time: Steve Wulf's mean-spirited and sanctimonious hatchet job on Michael Jordan's attempt to play professional baseball.

+ This late '80s piece on the execrable Seattle Mariners that tries to tie their perpetual mediocrity to God, Hispanics and, of course, the Kingdome.

+ An over-the-hill Reggie Jackson, as a 1987 Oakland Athletic, offers up his views on race relations in baseball and society. Twenty years later, it's fascinating how well (and, at times, poorly) this article has held up.

+ Former A's ace Dave Stewart talks about his role within the Oakland community in the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that interrupted the World Series.

+ As part of a cover story on "One Day in Baseball", SI spent a doubleheader with, umm…a certain team's bullpen. Absolutely terrific writing on an otherwise anonymous crew.

+ Jose Canseco, in a piece that would annihilate Bill Simmons' Unintentional Comedy scale, gets all high and mighty on drug use, steroids, fame and fan expectations.

+ 25 years ago, there were a lot of people who'd anointed Rickey Henderson, Dwayne Murphy and Tony Armas as the greatest outfield in the game. This is a fine first person account of who these three are and it includes the description "overdeveloped buttocks".


1.) YouTube is notoriously lacking in ANYTHING related to Major League Baseball, so watch this one while you still can.

2.) Quality highlights featuring Rickey abusing the 1990 and 1991 New York Yankees. Mike Witt! Matt Nokes!! Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens!!!

3.) And, remember when CNN did sports? With Van Earl Wright and Fred Hickman it's hard to understand why the network no longer covers the games people play.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

TBG Reviews: Taco Bell's Bacon Club Chalupa

One of Taco Bell's most wonderful fat bombs has returned – for a limited time only!

Originally known as the "Chicken Club Chalupa" when it debuted earlier this decade, the name change and accompanying ad campaign put the proper focus on all the wonderfully salted pig fat that increases the chalupa's already impressive coronary index. The chewy, deep-fried shell is wrapped around some of Taco Bell's chopped chicken-flavored meat product. From there, a fistful of bacon is crammed in there with lettuce, tomatoes, a three cheese blend and a mayo-based sauce of some kind.

Not sure why this isn't a regular menu item as it's been insanely successful in my house and increases my Taco Bell visits to at least once a week for as long as it's available.

The Bacon Club Chalupa is priced at $2.19, by itself or for $4.99 you can get one as part of big-ass combo meal with a regular taco, bean burrito and a drink. Muslims, you're missing out.

Grade: 4.5

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Cam Fam is in San Fran. – Days 3 thru 5

Monday: Not really sure why we keep taking Jalen to the zoo. Here in San Diego, we're blessed with the best zoo in the country – and we've had annual passes for years – but, the boy has only a passing interest in the animals and would much rather ride the train and carousel that are housed next door in Balboa Park. Undeterred, we took a 20-year bus/train ride from our hotel to the San Francisco Zoo – home of last December's tragic tiger mauling. Would one less Cameron be coming back? Let's find out:

+ We rode what the locals call "The Muni" out to the zoo. It started underground at a relatively swift and steady clip. It then crawled along some of the sketchiest city streets I've seen since the brief surge in theatrically released "gritty urban dramas" during the mid-90s, like The Substitute, Dangerous Minds or anything else that came with a CD soundtrack featuring Adina Howard, 69 Boyz or Coolio.

+ I know how this is going to sound – and, I promise, it's the last time I'm going to make this point – but, Christ it's (California) cold. Yes, the sun is out, but it provides no warmth. An arctic wind has worked its way down from the planet Hoth and I'm secretly hoping that the first animals on display are those temperature-sensitive Taun Tauns from The Empire Strikes Back. I don't have anything to cut open its warm, gooey guts, but maybe Mrs. Bootleg brought her ubiquitous hot comb – the Black woman's lightsaber.

+ Highlight of the day: Jalen running like a punk b*tch from the retired farm animals housed in the Children's Zoo. Most of these critters have only 2 ½ to 3 working legs and would welcome the inevitability of becoming the contents of someone's chewy Jamaican stew.

+Lowlight of the day: Something jaundiced and homeless (the sign said "Polar Bear") was eating its lunch out of a gigantic plastic trash can chained to a tree. Wow…can't see that in San Francisco, every f*cking day.

Tuesday: At 7:00 AM, I was awakened by the unmistakably rhythmic mantra of organized protest and the accompanying stench of unwashed, unemployable masses. We were on the top floor of a nine-floor hotel, but outside, dozens of marchers were working their way up and down the streets below. They were part of the large anti-Olympic torch contingent that's been in the news a lot lately – except in San Diego, as this is the first I've heard the torch is coming to San Francisco.

+ Since we'd already gotten a late start on the day, we opt for breakfast at one of those cheesy '50s-themed diners. Next to Sunday's meeting with the Oakland A's mascot, Stomper, the best part of the entire trip for my son was the plate of pancakes shaped like Mickey Mouse's head. It's good to know that all the money spent on room, board, food and frolic could've gone towards a single box of Bisquick.

+ I am not ashamed to admit that this was our guide for most of our stay in The City. Something called the Yerba Buena Gardens was the number one kids' destination on the list. There was a carousel, bowling alleys and a ton of other kid friendly activities. Also, my friends, there was the most batsh*t insane playground I've ever seen. Children were running around at warp speed, pinballing off of each other and then bouncing back up off the ground to do it again. It was like an inner-city school, except the overwhelmingly white and Asian kids here would be described as "over-stimulated", instead of "uncontrollable".

+ Mrs. Bootleg had heard about some pretentious cosmetics brand that was sold at the Westfield San Francisco Centre Mall. So, we spent an ungodly amount of our early evening…there. You haven't lived until you've seen the stereotypical self-importance of Californians herded under one roof – Bluetooths abound, fresh-from-work power skirts, shirts and ties, laptops all aglow next to the superfluous grand piano in the center of it all. We really need another Vietnam to thin out their ranks.

Wednesday: It's our last full day here, so we've just gotta ride the cable car! For years, I've only associated it with those Rice-A-Roni commercials and the 10,000 grams of sodium within said product's "flavor packets". But, still, it's one of those always disappointing things that idiots say you have to do "at least once". I rode one here about 12 years ago and now it's Jalen's turn to be underwhelmed at 8 mph uphill.

+ Turns out the expected Olympic torch protesters have led to the temporary suspension of all cable car routes until further notice. So, we all pile into a taxi, intent on spending the day at the famous Pier 39 tourist trap. Jalen falls asleep immediately upon entry and remains passed out, even as the driver's 80 mph turns, fishtails and donuts snap his head around like a chocolate brown wrecking ball.

+ Pier 39 is absolutely overflowing with protesters, supporters, news cameras and, now, the Camerons. Because, I haven't been following the specifics all that closely, I'm willing to keep an open mind about both sides of the issue. On the one hand, there are the unspeakable human rights violations tied to China's conflicts with Tibet and Tibetan refugees, to say nothing of their continued support of the murderous Sudanese regime. On the other hand, Olympic sponsors were there with free stuff! Coca-Cola handed out these cool noisemakers, similar to the ones that inspired Daniel LaRusso at the end of Karate Kid Part II AND free samples of Coke Zero. Nike was giving away t-shirts and caps. Members of The City's huge Chinese-American population were handing out flags.

Sorry, protesters…your "Free Tibet" stance was compelling, but Coke and Nike's stances were freer.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Cam Fam is in San Fran. – Day 2 1/2 (The Oakland A's Monday #24)

1:05 PM - The player introductions seemed to sooth the savage beast boy, for some reason. My son's booing and clapping appear to be in midseason form and he got a kick out of the Oakland fans' traditional "Oh, no!" response when each umpire is announced. He's big into singing, too, so the National Anthem actually served a purpose for once. Oh, I'm kidding. It's the Yankees continued seventh inning stretch exploitation of "God Bless America" that serves no purpose.

I will now recap the first six innings of Sunday's game, thusly:

Jalen: (Every half-inning when the A's were at the plate "hitting") "He caught it. He's out, right?"

Me: "…"

2:30 PM - I'm as shocked as y'all. I thought there was NO way we'd still be here. To the boy's credit, he didn't take his eyes off the field once the game started. It was the start of the seventh inning and the A's had just four hits to that point (with only one leaving the infield), but our anonymous heroes were nursing a 1-0 lead in a game that was moving at a JV National League pace.

2:35 PM - And, from the "not shocked at all" file, Jalen remembers I'd VERY casually mentioned that Stomper personally appears at his sh*tty "Fun Zone" to take pictures and sign autographs for the kiddies during the seventh inning. Probably not a bad thing that we're leaving our seats, as Jalen has begun asking when he's going to get a turn to swing the bat on the field like the players – which leads to a dozen or so similar quips from fans around us: "Better not let him play or Beane'll just trade him away!" and "He can't do no worse than the players we got!" Tsk on the guy's double-negative. Jalen, cover your ears.

2:55 PM - Finally, the whole reason for the boy's sustained interest makes an appearance. Jalen runs up to Stomper, pushes aside a few smaller kids, high fives the elephant mascot and then runs back to the giant pre-owned pyramid of lightly gnawed Styrofoam blocks. In the meantime, I'd missed the Indians score two in the seventh to take the lead. Mrs. Bootleg had directed my attention to the same tiny TV from earlier. Stupid poetic justice.

3:00 PM - After the initial crush of kids had gotten their moment with the mascot, I dragged the boy back over. I did not blow an ungodly gob of money on tickets, t-shirts, printed propaganda, nachos, popcorn chicken, fries, pizza and a souvenir-sized cup of Dr. Pepper for the boy to be satisfied with a high five. "We're getting a goddam picture!" Relax, I told that to the wife, not the boy.

Elephants are less threatening without tusks. Thx, Ivory Traders!

3:15 PM - It was now the bottom of the eighth – still 2-1, Indians – and I asked Jalen if he wanted to leave or watch the rest of the game. "Rest of the game." OMG! Was it Roots or The Lion King where the African son is held up to the heavens for the locals to bask in his glory? Well, at that moment, I felt a pride similar to whichever movie it was from.

4:00 PM - A's lose, pride's gone.

4:10 PM - On our way up and out of the Coliseum's bowels, I notice some activity on the field. Kids…running the bases. Could it be "Kids Running the Bases Day"? YES! Needless to say, I didn't need to twist Jalen's arm.

4:15 PM - We're one of the last tandems they let on the field and, I'm not gonna lie, I'm nervous. These are the same basepaths that I watched Lance Blankenship, Felix Jose, Alfredo Griffin and Shooty Babbitt run during my youth. The attendants led us across the acres of foul territory that every out-of-town broadcaster is obligated to mention during a game. This wasn't the create-a-player function on my PSP's MLB '08 or one of the amoral bar lies I'd been known to spin to the b*tches back in the day. I was standing on a Major League field. And, I think Jalen was there, too.

4:20 PM - It's go time. The hard part has never been getting Jalen to run – it's getting him to stop. And, turn. He cuts first base at almost a perfect 90 degree angle. So far, so good. His sprint to second becomes a gallop into short left field. The attendants are yelling at us. They can kiss my Black ass. Jalen heads for third. And, everything was fine until the most screamingest harpy shrieked, "No sliding!" Of course, as any father of a four-year-old can attest, all my son heard was "Slide, n*gga, slide!" So, he falls on top of third base like any other shooting victim from one block away, then collapses on home. Unquestionably, the greatest moment in my short run of fatherhood and I'm pleased as can be to welcome these 360 feet into the top spot. Hope you enjoy your descent into second place "day Jalen was born".

Running real bases in front of a real A's crowd

5:00 PM - The boy lasted about 10 minutes on the BART ride back to our hotel, before passing out in a heap of red clay, grass stains and his mother's chainsaw snore. As we reach our stop, I'm tasked with hauling the 40-pound sack of potatoes that is my son back to our room.

5:05 PM - San Francisco is quite the hilly little liberal enclave, no?

5:10 PM - At what feels like the five-mile mark, Mrs. Bootleg asks if I want her to carry the boy. I'm thinking, "yes", but I can seem to breathe in enough oxygen for the word to run from my brain to my mouth. She mistakes the silence caused by the onset of my aneurysm for "steely determination" and walks away.

5:20 PM - My spindly little arms have cramped up and the ball-like pointy parts of my hips are protruding farther out from my skin than usual. The wind chill in The City has the should-be-used-to-it locals decked out in scarves and ski caps. Meanwhile, I'm sweating clean through my Rickey jersey. How do they wear these things in August?

5:25 PM - One of daddy's errant back spasms seems to jerk the boy awake. He graciously asks to be set down so that he can push the elevator button to our floor.

5:30 PM - And, so it ends for me. On the ninth floor of a cramped hotel in a city that's not my home. Save for the absence of a hooker and the description "bullet-riddled" regarding my body, this is pretty much how I always dreamed it.

Next: The rest of the trip!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Cam Fam is in San Fran. – Day Two (The Oakland A's Monday #23)

I love my son and I love my baseball team.

Four years ago, we were expecting Jalen to be born in early April 2004. Turns out the only one "early" was Jalen, who showed up nine weeks ahead of schedule. So, instead of a potential son's birthday/baseball's Opening Day conflict, I'm able to celebrate the boy in February and in any of the other three or four months that don't involve baseball season.

And, Sunday, I got to bring my two kids together.

Truth be told, I forced Mrs. Bootleg to delay planning this spring break getaway until the Oakland A's 2008 schedule had been released. I was hoping for one of their sparsely attended weeknight games, so that we could all unwind at the end of a long day while taking in nine hours innings of American League action.

What we got was the final game of their opening homestand this past Sunday.

11:00 AM - The single greatest thing about Mrs. Bootleg is that she's a micromanaging hyperactive planner who was put on this earth to organize everything that God can't be bothered with. But, I wasn't letting her within 10 feet of this day. This wasn't just a ballgame…it was a game, mixed with navigating public transportation, keeping the boy entertained and, yes, a giveaway day – a DVD! My months-in-the-making plan of action demanded we leave the hotel now.

11:03 AM - We're three minutes late on our departure.

11:15 AM - While I hadn't anticipated Jalen's zigzag walking pattern to the BART station, fortunately it was almost entirely downhill with a stiff wind at our backs. Unfortunately, whatever we made up for in good time was immediately negated as the wife s-l-o-w-l-y mouthed out the instructions at the automated ticket kiosk looking for all the world like a tourist tramp-stamped with "mug me".

11:23 AM - Train's here! And, we're off! I suppose there are several benefits to public transportation as it relates to the environment, easing traffic congestion and these uncertain economic times we live in. But, f*ck, it's dirty. I mean, not "public bathroom at the beach" dirty, but… And, I didn't dare ask the maestro where the seat warmers were or mention that the window by my "bench" wouldn't roll down.

11:45 AM - We reach Corporate Sponsor Coliseum and begin the long walk to the ballpark under a Prozac-gray sky. Mrs. Bootleg fancies herself an amateur photographer and wanted to take pictures of father and son on this most glorious day. I wanted my free DVD. My stride picks up speed.

11:50 AM - Ever wonder who buys those horribly-written team programs and dictionary-thick media guides? Me, too, and I still do it every year.

11:55 AM - We're about an hour shy of game time. Today's giveaway item is only for the first 10,000 fans, yet there appear to be plenty to spare. The attendants insist that all three of us get our own copy. Gonna be a lean year for scalpers, me thinks.

12:00 PM - Our first "gift shop" stop and Jalen is…uh, a little agitated. Not even first pitch, yet. He keeps asking, "Where's Stomper? Where's Stomper?" A store clerk overhears and tries to appease him with a $20 Stomper puppet. I'm not sure what was more insulting: some stranger trying to patronize my kid or this same stranger thinking I couldn't shut my son up. On an unrelated note, Mrs. Bootleg takes him for a walk around the concourse with a promise of ice cream.

12:05 PM - Probably not a good sign when I don't buy anything, using the excuse that I've already got most of the stuff in the store.

12:15 PM - We get to our seats even though I know there's no way Jalen is going to sit still for 45 minutes of slow-moving pre-game activity before the slow-moving game activity starts. I didn't want to go to the well so soon, but our friends at Disney's book publishing arm just released "Minnie's Rainbow", which I stashed in Mrs. Bootleg's travel bag. But, will it hold him for ¾ of an hour?

12:30 PM - Nope. We're now into the newly-purchased "Curious George at the Dog Show". And, I'm f*ck-all out of books.

12:45 PM - The A's have a kids area affectionately called "Stomper's Fun Zone". It couldn't be worse than the last 30 minutes, so Jalen and I head on up. It's way back on the second deck and up an insane amount of stairs.

12:50 PM - Ah, Moneyball. The "Fun Zone" appears to be a donation center for broken toys from broken Oakland homes. Nevertheless, Jalen was ecstatic to find a release for his pent-up energy even if it involved a surplus of kid-friendly police auction purchases.

12:55 PM - We're still a mile above our seats on the field level when the PA announcer directs our attention to the home plate area…where the real Stomper is dancing quite the urban jig to the strains of E-40's incomprehensible gibberish. (White people: "He admits it! See?! Even HE can't understand rap!") Jalen sees all the kids rushing to the railing for a closer look, then realizes that 10 minutes ago we could've been the ones close enough to touch him. "I wanna see Stomper!" I direct him to a 19" picture tube TV that hangs perilously from a 45-year-old wall, since there's no way we can get back to our seats in time.

The boy is…not pleased.

Next: Jalen meets Stomper! But, do we stay for the whole game?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Cam Fam is in San Fran. – Day One

Yeah, that title just came to me.

So, Little Boy Bootleg has been in preschool since September. Before that, he spent about three years in home daycare. The woman who ran it was eight shades of awesome, mostly because the only days she took off were the ones that either me or Mrs. Bootleg had off, too.

Now that Jalen is in preschool, there are two marked differences from the daycare days – (1) we're paying twice as much for the same "just make sure he doesn't wander into traffic" supervision and (2) his school schedule is tied directly to the local public school district's.

This is ridiculous. Jalen is on spring break this week after getting a week off for President's Day back in February. Later this month, he'll be off for another two days for parent-teacher conferences. Then, a week after that, the teachers get a day for training. Preschool training. Apparently, 66% of their supposed "circle time" has actually been closer to "oval time".

But, I digress…I'm in a hotel just north of San Francisco's Union Square. It's about eight degrees outside on Sunday evening with winds that are howling like the first two seconds of
this. But, before there was Sunday…there was Saturday:

11:30 AM - After our last vacation – the one where our adopted hometown burned during the October wildfires while I enjoyed 7:00 AM NFL games and a sunrise Sam Adams – Mrs. Bootleg wanted as little pressure as possible. To that end, she hired a car service to take us to the airport. Oh, don't look at me like that…it's just a taxi with seat belts and no scent of tinkle within.

11:45 AM - It's like an oven in the back seat. My first car was a 1986 Ford Tempo. It didn't have air conditioning and in August/September the mercury often sees 80 degrees out here. Sometimes slightly higher. Anyways, the point is that I'm always running the A/C in my current car. If it's 68 and awesome outside, I've got it set to 66 just because "awesome" can always be "awesomer" when you're in California.

12:10 PM - I tip the driver, with points for not engaging us in awkward banter. That's really all I ask from those who were sent here to serve me. Sure, I probably overtipped a bit, but the driver's ill-fitting $40 suit and eight syllable Eastern European surname reached the ol' sympathy gene…

12:11 PM - Mrs. Bootleg informs me that she already included the tip when she pre-paid the bill a few days ago. Who "pre-tips"? (Full disclosure: I'd written a pretty long paragraph here pissing and moaning over the fact that I'd handed over money that I could've kept, when that whole "pre-tipping" thing hit me. And, for those scoring at home, the wife and I set a new record for "fastest vacation fight" – 90 minutes before our flight.

3:00 PM - Pretty uneventful flight until the last 20 minutes. I've been nursing some kind of sinus nightmare, off and on, for most of '08. During our descent into San Francisco, the pain inside said sinuses was…well, let's just say if this was 300 years ago (and, assuming us light-skinned bruthas were actually in the fields) I'd tap out and tell 'em where the fleeing slaves were hiding.

3:10 PM - My personal head torture continues as Jalen starts to nod off. He still needs a nap in the middle of the day or else he becomes one of those reasons why Black fathers leave their families.

3:20 PM - We're on the ground, my sinuses are back to just "moderately uncomfortable" and the boy is wide awake. On the plus side, whenever he misses a nap, he usually crashes around 5:30 - 6:00 PM and pulls a 12 ½ hour straight shot to sunrise. On the minus side, we're meeting one of my best friends for dinner at 7:00 PM.

3:45 PM - We've got our bags and we're ready for another overpriced ride. This time, however, I'm OK with it. There'll be no rental car for us since the Bay Area does public transportation better than anyone on the west coast and, more importantly, our hotel charges $40/day to park your f*cking car. Plus, your only option is valet and all those $2 tips add up over the course of five days. So, sure…car service from the airport is expensive, but I know we're saving in the end.

3:47 PM - The driver drops my laptop in the street.

3:48 PM - I text myself the driver's license plate number and company ID number.

3:55 PM - I finish texting myself the driver's license plate number and company ID. 15 characters total. How do you kids do it so fast? And, I why do I have to change the setting from "text" to "numbers" if I want to type "1", but every other number on my phone's keypad shows up in text mode?

4:05 PM - As someone who grew up watching one of the most successful sports teams of my generation, passing signs for
this bastardization hurt my heart and I don't even like them. (Yeah, yeah…the name is changing back, but not until June.)

4:10 PM - The no-doubt highlight of the day, as we're entering the infamous
Tenderloin section of town, is a billboard that preaches "Turn Off the TV…GET OUT AND PLAY!" Have fun, kids!

4:15 PM - We reach our hotel. At check-in, the predatory bellhop pounces and asks if we need his help. I brush him off. Moments later, I find out we're on the ninth floor and the elevator only goes to the eighth. Even better…the "stairs" from the eighth to the ninth floor are akin to one of those old-timey rope ladders.

6:00 PM - The dinner plan is to squeeze four adults, one four-year-old and an infant into a booth at The Cheesecake Factory – one of the most popular chain restaurants in one of the most overcrowded cities on one of the most inherently insane days of the week. My friend is still driving over, so we agree to "get our name in" in the meantime. Expected wait: 1 hour. Needless to say, this wasn't my plan.

6:45 PM - Mrs. Bootleg and the boy have disappeared…my friend and his family still haven't shown up…and, I'm still standing with that ubiquitous brick-sized beeper in my hand. My one SF observation from the past 45 minutes: I've seen more white men with African-American women in less than an hour than I've seen in my entire life. And, each time, the women give me that sideways "you could've had this" look. Little do they know, I do have it. Sigh.

9:00 PM - Dinner for me was a California omelet and two 22 oz. Fat Tires. Breakfast for dinner? Bananas! And, yes, the only thing that made the eggs "California" was the avocado inside. Seriously, Cheesecake Factory…I expect that kind of lazy menu construction from Chili's or Applebee's…not from you. Not from you.

All in all, a long day, but a good one. Jalen crashed around 8:00 PM and a fine time was had with my boy, Vig, his lovely fiancé and their beautiful daughter. Who knew that the one block walk back to our hotel, with 42 lbs. of my sleeping son in my arms would not prepare me for what was to come on Sunday?

Next: Oakland A's vs. Cleveland Indians…vs. Jalen Cameron

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

TBG Reviews: The Cheesy Bacon BK Wrapper

First, from The Miami Herald:

Following McDonald's success with Snack Wraps, Burger King is the latest to add a wrap to its menu with [the] launch of the Cheesy Bacon BK wrapper. The product folds the most popular breakfast ingredients inside a tortilla: eggs, bacon, cheese and hash browns. The breakfast wrap is just the beginning of Burger King's attempt to add an entire new category to its menu. The fast-food chain will begin testing a Spicy Chicken BK Wrapper in restaurants in May, with plans for an August launch. Coming later this fall are larger-sized wraps called Hold'ems, which have been in development for more than a year.

My last experience with a new BK breakfast menu item didn't go so well. But, it would take an extreme act of gastrointestinal malice for BK to screw up what amounts to a fast food breakfast burrito. And, after trying one last week, I find BK guilty.

There are two problems with the BK Wrapper (three, if you count the name). First, the tortilla has that overpowering bitterness that's usually found in the ones made in surplus and on the cheap from any of those warehouse super-stores. Just because you can buy 500 tortillas for two bucks, doesn't mean you should. Second, instead of real cheese, BK uses a slice of American inside the "Wrapper" and then just microwaves the whole thing. Any flavors that the tortilla doesn't overwhelm are muddled and muted by the processed cheese food.

What we're left with is a "college quesadilla" in which the supposedly best parts (bacon, hash browns and eggs) are tastelessly invisible. All of which makes me think BK should hold off…on their "Hold 'ems".

Feel free to use that.

Grade: -5 (out of 5)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Oakland A's Monday #22

Random, knee-jerk and irrational observations from tonight's Oakland A's vs. Boston Red Sox game:

A's starting pitcher Doughy Joe Blanton looked dominant through the first four innings before obviously tiring in the fifth and sixth. I'm one of the few A's fans who isn't enamored with this fat slob (he's a solid #3 starter on a good team and the de facto ace on this one) but, he's not without talent. Could bring a good haul at the trade deadline if the offense scores enough for him. Not sure why that isn't the A's '08 motto.

Dice-K, on the other hand, made the A's look ridiculous. Three hits? That's all the A's got were three goddam hits? (You can't say "goddam" on the air.) Don't worry, nobody's listening.

Need proof we're in midseason form? OF Emil Brown hacked wildly at a 2-0 pitch after the previous batter had walked on five pitches. Popout to 2B, end of inning. It's like watching Jeremy Giambi's approach all over again. How I've missed it.

A's f*cked up a bunt. I mean, seriously guys…either do it (and practice it) or don't. I'm OK with the "Moneyball" approach. And, I've seen the stats that show sacrifice bunts are overrated, but Jesus…

Eric Chavez fill-in Jack Hannahan had a terrific defensive game at 3B. He had a rough night at the plate, though, so we can take comfort in that six year/$66M contract the A's handed Chavez in 2004. He'll show up any season now, I can feel it.

Meanwhile, 1B Daric Barton lived down to his defensive reputation by letting a foul pop "drop" off of his shoulder…without ever getting leather on it. Seriously, I haven't seen pop flies tracked this poorly since a 17-year-old Aaron Cameron twisted himself into the infield dirt at Stearns Park.

DH Jack Cust homered in the 2nd inning. I read an article during spring training in which Cust claimed to have added "27 pounds of muscle" in the offseason. Not surprisingly, the reporter didn't axe a follow-up question, like "You DO know that's impossible to do naturally, right?"