Monday, August 31, 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Even More Jalen Speak

Actual conversations with my five-year-old son.

After dinner this past Friday night…

Jalen: "Mommy, can I have a cookie?"

Mrs. Bootleg: "No, you had ice cream after lunch."

Jalen: "But, that was AFTERNOON dessert, I want NIGHTTIME dessert!"

During Saturday night's A's/Angels broadcast, a brief in-game feature aired on the 1970s A's teams – who were often dubbed "The Mustache Gang"…

Jalen: "Do any of these [2009] Oakland A's have mustaches?"

Aaron: "Uh, I think
Rajai Davis has one."

Jalen: "No, he doesn't."

Aaron: "Yeah, he does. It's just really small."

Jalen: "Oh. And, it's hard to see because he has brown skin, right?"

Playing baseball in the house on Sunday morning (before Old Lady Bootleg wakes up, comes downstairs and makes us stop)…

Aaron: "Jalen, what are you doing?"

Jalen [With the bat between his legs and just under his, ummm…] "Look, I have a penis bat!"

Aaron: [Head explodes.]

Hellfire and Brimstone

Not pictured: My sinuses pulsating out of my skull.

Never! (OK, Maybe…)

Who wants some cheeseburger in a can?! (And, the thumbnail pics work just fine. Be sure to click on "cheeseburger7". Yummers!)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Not FJM: Baseball and Marketing in the 21st Century

Earlier this week, Tom Daniels posted a terrific piece on his One New York Life blog. He covered the baseball/marketing conundrum as well as anyone's done previously, but I wasn't sure if I agreed with all his points. After reading it a few more times, I realized I needed to pull out some stolen (not) FJM formatting for the final determination. Tom's text is in bold…:

Really, baseball as a whole has never quite figured out how to market themselves nationally. People just don’t watch national broadcasts unless it’s their own team. It’s an issue unique to baseball. The NFL only has national broadcasts. The NBA on TNT routinely doubles up baseball’s national broadcasts.

I was all ready to start shooting holes in Tom's assessment of baseball's national broadcasts. After all, I remember the 1980s and NBC's Saturday Game of the Week sure seemed like a big deal. Apparently this was only the case on my television.

NBC's average national ratings for weekly baseball from 1987-89: 5.9, 5.5 and 4.9. CBS took over in 1990 and by the end of their four-year deal, weekly ratings had dropped to 3.4. The past three seasons on FOX (including 2009): 2.4, 2.1 and 1.9. A week ago, FOX aired a preseason tilt between the Eagles and Colts, which pulled down a 4.2 rating.

Baseball wants its fans to watch that and, in addition, another three hours watching Joe Morgan dissect a Dodgers/Giants game that, at best, means almost nothing to me as a National League East fan or, at worst, means absolutely nothing to an American League fan? There is nothing to draw me to watch a meaningless baseball game.

Man. I've literally spent two nights eyeballing this paragraph and I'm still not sure how to respond. Generally speaking, I'm in agreement with Tom. Personally, though, I've purchased the MLB Extra Innings package every year since 2002. I'd estimate I've watched more than 90% of the A's games played – live or DVR'd – in that span.

I've also watched an ungodly amount of "meaningless" games. Maybe not from beginning to end, but I'll watch the Cardinals because my kid likes Albert Pujols (and is too young to realize that Matt Holliday deserves his scorn rather than adoration). I'll watch the Yankees because I'll occasionally text m'man (and NYY fan) Nick'a in real time if the Bombers are scuffling. I'll watch [a certain National League team] because their play-by-play guy sent me a really nice email last year after I reviewed his work for
my SoS feature.

Again, I agree with Tom and whatever "shades of gray" I may cite are trumped by evidence named "Nielsen".

In addition to the checking of personalities — the number of must-watch players in baseball is infinitesimal. None of them are position players. Nobody, and I do mean nobody, watches a national broadcast for a position player’s five plate appearances.

This was originally the part of Tom's piece that had me in violent disagreement. But, the more I thought about it – as we sit here in 2009 – the more I realized that Tom just might be right. When I was younger, I did watch Braves games on TBS just to see Deion Sanders (come on, now…the 1992-93 version was exciting as hell). I vividly remember sitting through a midweek 1990 Royals vs. Orioles game on ESPN – with Mike Lupica as the third man in the booth! – just for Bo Jackson. And, it's no secret that my world stopped for Barry Bonds' at-bats.

Today, I won't go out of my way to watch any single hitter. Earlier tonight, my A's led the hated Angels 6-1. I started channel surfing and found Tim Lincecum on the mound for the Giants as they battled the Rockies. The Giants were leading 1-0 with two outs in the sixth inning and I was intently watching to see the final Colorado hitter retired. Why? Because, with his stuff, I had to see if Lincecum was throwing a no-hitter – even though there was a Rockies runner on third. There's not a hitter in the game who has that kind of "might make history on any given night" mojo.

Unfortunately, baseball is the most resistant to change. The absolutely easiest way to speed games up is to eliminate the DH, reinstate the letter high strike, and not allow batters to step out in between pitches. But, if anything, the National League will likely adopt the DH in the coming years.

At last…something I can clearly disagree with. The National League will never adopt the DH (and, yes, I'm pretty sure Tom was being hyperbolic there). Baseball inexplicably views its "two completely different sets of rules between leagues" as part of the game's charm.

[The next baseball Commissioner] is going to be left with a system in which some of his teams can’t afford to field a major league roster because Tom Hicks’s A-Rod contract broke baseball.

Tom didn't elaborate, but on the surface I can't subscribe to this theory. Yeah, then-GM of the Texas Rangers Tom Hicks was bidding against himself when he handed Rodriguez that $252 million deal, but that deal didn't even "break" the Rangers, much less all of baseball. The following year, Hicks signed SP Chan Ho Park – a flyball pitcher whose numbers were infl…er, deflated by playing Dodger Stadium – to a five-year $65 million contract. If anything has "broken" the game it's the bad, Barry Zito-ish deals.

Nitpicking aside…awesome job, Tom.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No More Medical Updates…Until Next Month

I received two pieces of related correspondence today. The first was an email from a TBG reader who very politely asked me to quit bringing him down with all my health-related drama. Fair enough. It's starting to bum me out, too. Someone at work even asked if I'd "lost my smile", which actually made me laugh uproariously – for reasons I'm guessing about 60% of my readership get.

When I got home from work, I noticed a letter from my allergist. Inside were the results (findings) of my CAT scan and initial diagnosis. We covered this
in layman terms last Friday. Here it is again in doctor-talk:

There is complete opacification of the frontal sinuses and ethmoid air cells. There is circumferential mucosal thickening in the maxillary sinuses. There is a polyp or retention cyst in the floor of the left maxillary sinus measuring 1.8 cm. There is a trace amount of fluid seen within the dependent portions of both maxillary sinuses. There is a small amount of fluid within the sphenoid sinuses bilaterally. There is soft tissue filling maxillary ostium, ethmoid infundibula and middle meati. There is soft tissue seen in the left nasal cavity adjacent to the middle turbinate. There is minimal deviation of the upper nasal septum to the left. There is no mucocele formation. The nasopharynx is unremarkable.

So much for my nasopharynx's self-esteem. I appear to have something called pansinusitis (with likely underlying polyposis). Who wants more italics?!

Pansinusitis is a form of sinusitis. Sinusitis is an infection in one of the paranasal sinuses, leading to inflammation and great discomfort. Pansinusitis, on the other hand, is used to denote a medical condition characterized by an inflammation of ALL the paranasal sinuses.

Don't think I can't appreciate the irony. I've spent a decade with the Unnamed Defense Contractor. My job is to thoroughly review, negotiate and administer contracts with government and commercial customers. Trust me…this condition has been a gazillion times more thorough with my paranasal sinuses than I've ever been at work.

And, thanks to the double-edged sword known as the internet, I've been able to research my condition this evening. This has helped me fill in some of the gaps and better understand what's going on up there. It's also allowed me to unearth inconsequential gems
like this:

Pansinusitis represents an acute condition with a high probability of serious consequences. It should be controlled immediately, because there is a risk of the accumulated nasal discharge escaping into the orbit of the brain. The only way to avert such serious consequences is to seek the advice of a qualified medical practitioner who has expertise and experience in treating cases of pan sinusitis infections.

Some of you might remember from Friday's post, but the soonest I can see "a qualified medical practitioner who has expertise and experience in treating cases of pan sinusitis infections" is November 3. That means you're free from my sinus nonsense for a few months.

My appointment with the specialist to see about the torn tendon in my finger is still on for September 9, though. Enjoy the two week reprieve!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

TBG Eats: Subway's NEW Orchard Chicken Salad Sandwich

Current Weight: 167.8 lbs.

Can we all agree that there are two – and only two – differences between white folk and African-Americans?
The first is that white people have names like "Lenny" whereas black people have names like "Carl". The second is our unbreakable bond with black barbers.

Since 1991, I've had two barbers. Eric took care of my cuts until 1996. He brought my way dated fade down a few feet, which – not coincidentally – introduced me to a whole new world known as "girls". I loved me some Eric. He was something of a Long Beach celebrity as that era's most famous rappers (Warren G! Tha Dogg Pound!) could be found in his chair at any given time. Skip ahead to the 1:50 mark of
this video for Eric's MTV debut.

I moved from Long Beach to San Diego in 1995. It took me three months to find a steady black girlfriend. It took me 12 months to find a single black barber. During my entire first year at San Diego State, I drove back to Long Beach every few weeks so I could work some hours at my old frozen yogurt shop in the Belmont Shore section of town. Those itty-bitty paychecks covered the cost of gas, a six-pack of Rolling Rock and a haircut by Eric.

Then, one day, Eric just disappeared – as black barbers with shady ties and a teardrop tattooed under their eye are known to do.

I found my current barber – Jon – on the recommendation of my girlfriend. She had a friend whose fiancé owned a barbershop in downtown San Diego. I walked in just as Jon was finishing up with someone. Since his was the only empty chair, I sat on down. The rest is 13 straight years of haircuts by the same guy.

Of course, when my son was born, the "personal barber" became one of those obligatory passed-down-from-the-previous-generation concepts like baseball and farts. And, while my white friends were taking their sons to Supercuts, Fantastic Sam's or
the racetrack; I proudly took Jalen to Jon for his first haircut.

Not pictured above is the flood of tears that accompanied each and every one of Jalen's subsequent haircuts. Fortunately, there was – and still is – a Subway restaurant right next door to my barbershop. (See? You knew we'd get there, eventually.) For years, Jalen referred to Subway as "the cookie shop" since I'd buy three chocolate chip cookies to cram into his screaming cry-hole whenever Jon took the clippers to Jalen's quivering head.

These days, Jalen takes his haircuts like a champ, but we still stop off at Subway afterwards for a $5 footlong (for me) and cookies (for the boy). And, for any mothers reading, don't give me that look. It would take 30 minutes for me to find just the right sandwich combination that my picky-ass son would actually eat. I'll take the eventual cavities and immediate peace of mind, thank you very much.

Last week, I ordered Subway's new Orchard Chicken Salad sandwich. I've long been a fan of mayonnaise-based meat "salads" and Subway's version is made with white meat chicken, cranberries, apples, golden raisins and light mayo. My sandwich artist added lettuce, tomato, onions, salt and pepper (on white bread) at my request and under my watchful eye.

With apologies to you deli purists (sorry, Tom) and you chicken salad traditionalists (sorry, "Mrs. S – Arizona"), this was a soo-POIB sandwich. The sweetness from the fruit wasn't too sweet and nicely complemented – of all things – the onions and the salt. The texture of the chicken salad was smooth and creamy, without the gloppiness that comes with over-mayonnaising the meat. I finished mine in record time and without a hint of the heaviness that usually hits my stomach during "footlong epilogue".

This sandwich isn't featured anywhere on Subway's website, so it might either be a regional release or one of those "limited time only" teases. If it's the former, I encourage you to move to wherever Subway is selling it. If it's the latter, hurry!

Grade: 4.5 (out of 5) Calories (6-inch): 340, Fat: 7g

Monday, August 24, 2009

If You Like Baseball…

M'man Daniels just kills it with this phenomenal post on baseball's marketing woes. I'd totally cut n' paste it, post it here on TBG and claim it as my own if there weren't such high standards of integrity on the internet. I'm not entirely sure I agree with every point he makes, but that just makes me wanna read it again.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Your Belated Trade Deadline Analysis

Reader Michael writes:

Did you ever do a write up with your opinion of the Matt Holliday trade? I saw your post where the St. Louis guy shared his thoughts and your July A's post where you rip Holliday to shreds, but what did you think of the deal?

Michael, m'man…you're in luck. Well, eventually. I recently completed a collaborative post for
Tailgate Crashers with none other than "The St. Louis Cardinals Guy" – Eugene Tierney. He and I broke down the big deadline deals, including Matt Moss Holliday.

Check it out
right here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Your CAT scan is a disaster."

One week ago, I visited my allergist and was told I had…issues. My current situation required a CAT scan, which was administered this morning. If you were following along with my Twitter account, you'd know that my AM was filled with DMX, Heavy D and little old ladies. Oh, and for two minutes I lay prone in the most sterile room I've ever entered so that several intrusive images of my sinuses' insides could be taken.

A few hours later, I received a phone call from my allergist. I'd never received bad news from a doctor before, so I didn't pick up on her cues:

"I apologize for calling you on your cell phone like this."

"I probably should've seen you as soon as your CAT scan was finished."

"Is this a good time to talk? Do you have a few minutes?"

I'd gone into work for a few hours, but stepped out into the hallway to take the call. All things considered, I was feeling pretty good. I'd cashed in one of my McDonald's coupons for a free McGriddle. It was the same glorious union of pancake and pork that it's always been. More importantly, I could TASTE the damn thing. Thanks to my sinuses, there have been several times over the past few weeks when everything I ate tasted/smelled like nothing.

So, imagine my surprise when the doctor actually dropped a "yikes" not sixty seconds into our conversation (paraphrased for your pleasure):

"Your CAT scan is a disaster. You've got an abnormal growth of soft tissue throughout your sinuses which is impacting practically all of your sinus paths. This has created extensive inflammation which is probably what's affecting your senses of taste and smell. The soft tissue problem has almost certainly confirmed that there are polyps present. This is pretty much the worst-case scenario going forward."

Awesome~! I've got a time scheduled to see the ENT specialist. Keeping in mind that the words "worst-case scenario" were used, how soon do you think I can get in? September? October? You fools. Try November 3. But, I was told that they'd "try to get me in earlier". I won't hold my breath, since my sinuses are doing it for me.

For now, the doctor wants to get me back on the steroid n' antibiotics cocktail. She even suggested a bunch of drugs I'd already taken to no avail.

Honestly, 2009, I've been tapping out to you for months. What more do you want from me?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

TBG Eats: The NEW "Big Carl" from Carl's Jr.

Current Weight: 166.8 lbs.

Before we begin, a reader whose name I should probably withhold writes:

I came across your blog last week and I've been laughing my ass off at all your recent physical misfortunes. Please don't take that the wrong way. The post that actually drew me in was your review of McDonald's Hunger Pains or Pangs ad. One of your readers asked why you never review food from McDonald's.

I happen to work in the Pacific Sierra Regional (Northern California) Office of the McDonald's franchising arm and attached to this email you'll find several promotional certificates for both our new and classic menu items. Please bring your family down to your closest McDonald's restaurant and enjoy an entire meal on us. I hope you'll share your experience with your readers. Keep up the good work.

I've maintained this lightly-read blog since December 2006. During TBG's existence, I've written more than 700 posts. And, now – finally – I'm realizing every blogger's dream: free swag. In all seriousness, though, this pretty much made my night. Unfortunately, it's about to get all awkward up in here.

Back in the day, the Big Mac was fast food's most ubiquitous burger. No one questioned its superfluous third bun slice or the overhyped "special sauce" that looked and tasted like ordinary Thousand Island dressing. McDonald's competitors used every attack ad in the marketing manual –
even Boyz II Men! – to push their own meat-flavored products upon the American public.

Then, at some point, the major fast food chains threw in the towel and began creating imitation Big Macs for their own menus. Burger King had
The Big King. Jack in the Box just brought back their ersatz B-Mac called the Bonus Jack. And, Carl's Jr. is now rolling out The Big Carl. From CJ's website:

Two charbroiled beef patties, classic sauce, two slices of American cheese, and lettuce all on a toasted sesame seed bun.

According to my gastronomic scorecard, the Big Mac wins in the pickles and onions departments, while The Big Carl has more meat and an extra slice of cheese. What The Big Carl lacks, however, is flavor. Oh, it's plenty meaty n' cheesy. Lord knows Carl's Jr. can cook some cow, but their special classic sauce didn't taste much different than mayonnaise. It doesn't help that The Big Carl is drenched in this sauce.

I don't get the absence of onions, either. It would've been a simple, yet effective way to liven up the tasteless orange mud that CJ's smeared all over my meal. Hell, if you're out to make a "better Big Mac" why leave off any of the ingredients that actually make a Big Mac edible? This was a surprisingly unexceptional effort from my usually never-fail friends at Carl's Jr.

And, I'd be writing this even if I wasn't in possession of three PDF pages of coupons for free McDonald's food. Probably.

Grade: 2 (out of 5) Calories: 920, Fat: 59g

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

TBG TV: Rickey Henderson – Leadoff Legend

It's been a month since this originally aired on the MLB Network, so in honor of my 100th DVR viewing of it this evening, here's my way belated review in "10 thoughts" format…

Philadelphia Phillies SS – and Oakland, CA native – Jimmy Rollins served as narrator. Rollins is an engaging, charismatic personality on the field. These skills apparently don't carry over to the studio. He reads off groaners with a mumbling monotone, such as "I feel Rickey" without a lick of conviction.

One of the few Rickey highlights I hadn't seen before shows journeyman reliever Larry Andersen – then with the Mariners – completely flummoxed on the mound as he steps off the rubber and looks to third base, then first base, then second base, back to third and again over to second just as Rickey steals the bag. HEE-larious.

Tony Gwynn's Rickey impression is the best I've ever heard. He nails all the proper components: the 19th century Negro inflections, the sandpaper pitch and the tired third-person references.

Kudos to MLB Network for gathering so many of Rickey's contemporaries and media gadflies to comment on his career. Still, I would've liked to have heard some sabermetric words from a guy like statistician Bill James who once famously remarked, "If you could split [Rickey Henderson] in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers."

I get that this was an MLB-produced puff piece on the majesty of Rickey. And, I approve. But, would it have been the worst thing in the world to air some of the other side? In 1984, the A's tried to get Rickey to focus on hitting home runs – a move made worse when he publicly resisted and had his mother intervene on his behalf. In Spring Training 1991, a disgruntled Rickey moaned, "If they're gonna pay me like [light-hitting A's infielder] Mike Gallego, I'll play like Mike Gallego." In Goose Gossage's autobiography, he called Rickey one of the two worst teammates he ever had. I love Rickey and all, but…I could go on.

In the same vein, Rickey set the single-season stolen base mark in 1982 with 130. He was also caught stealing 42 times and his selfish single-minded pursuit of the record (on a team that lost 94 games) didn't exactly endear him to teammates.

The video clips didn't always match the narration. In one place, the discussion focuses on the 1989 season even though the accompanying scene includes a shot of A's SP Scott Sanderson, who pitched for the team in 1990. Another time, there was talk of the 1982 season that featured a 1981 highlight. Yes, I know too damn much about my team. Don't judge me.

In 1985, Yankees 1B Don Mattingly stole won the AL MVP award due in large part to driving in 145 runs. Rickey's direct role (.419 OBP, 146 runs scored, 80 SB) in Donnie Baseball's superb season has been criminally underreported over the years, but he gets his due here.

The infamous "
jaking it" storyline from the summer of 1987 is touched on. This happened back before the 24/7 sports news cycle was created, but it was as widely reported as any baseball story of its time. Good to get Rickey's side.

Arrgh. C'mon, MLB Network…you guys couldn't air Rickey's 1991 "I…am the greatest…of all time" speech in its entirety?! Nearly 20 years later, that soundbite remains one of the most egregiously out-of-context criticisms of any athlete. The whole speech (printed in Rickey's 1992 autobiography, which I just happen to have right here) included thanks to his teammates, his first minor league manager, his mother, Billy Martin… Excuse me, I'm getting choked up.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Two Weeks with my F'd Up Finger

August 4: Ouch.

August 6: The last words out of the mouth of the nurse who treated me at Urgent Care two night earlier were "Don't take your finger out of the splint UNLESS you place the finger on a flat, solid surface. You MUST keep your finger straight."

Sometime while I slept, the splint slipped off my finger. At approximately 2:00 AM, I rolled over on top of my left hand. For the first time since infancy, I woke up screaming -- which is not to be confused with the non-italicized version of the word. In the pantheon of pain, I'd put this just a tick behind natural childbirth.

I sat on the floor, curled up into a scrawny light brown ball and holding my own hand. I'd never before experienced pain so acute that it made me sick to my stomach, but there I was…actually on the verge of hurling. It would've been funny, if it wasn't so… And, it was here that I realized my splint had come off.

Instinctively, I put my hand on my chest ("…a flat, solid surface…") and commenced freaking out. It's surprisingly difficult to find a translucent two-inch plastic splint in the middle of the night while running all over Stately Bootleg Manor in panicky little circles. After an eternity – or maybe two minutes – I realized the splint is in the palm of the hand I have pressed against my chest. Only seven weeks and five more days of this.

August 12: I follow up with my primary care physician. In the eight days since the injury occurred, my finger has been sore, but not unbearably so. The doctor takes my finger out of the splint and has me move the mangled digit left ("ow"), right ("ow"), down ("ow") and up ("OW! [Expletive]!"). My profane reaction helps the doctor indentify which tendon I've ruined. "That means it's your finger's extensor tendon", he said. "Yeah, that's what they told me last week", I tearfu…er, angrily reply.

August 14: Two days later, my finger hurts more than it did in the immediate aftermath of the original injury. The pain's radiated down the side of my hand while the tip of my left pinky finger goes all "pins n' needles" for extended stretches. You know those imaginary "death panels" that talk radio concocted to scare their uneducated constituents into sabotaging the national health care debate? Well, they're real! And, my doctor works for one!

August 16: I can't believe I left this out of my last
Sunday with Jalen post. Late in the afternoon, while roughhousing with my son, my heavily-wrapped splint comes off…again. Jalen had grabbed my left arm and – in the blink of an eye – pulled off my splint, the bandages and just about all my dignity. The hand is, again, one with my chest as I'm curled up on the living room floor.

Thankfully, Mrs. Bootleg sprang into action. First, she pried my splint from Jalen's hand. He'd been waving it over my corpse like a trophy. Then, she calmly escorted me into the kitchen, where she helped me straighten out my finger. She put the finger in the splint and turned to reach for a fresh bandage. I lifted my hand and noticed my finger seemed to be getting…all…crooked…"Dammit, [Mrs. Bootleg], you put the splint on upside down! GAAHHH!" Only six weeks and four more days of this.

August 17: The pain in my finger – and, increasingly, my hand – is getting to be too much. I call to schedule an appointment to see a specialist. I'm told it'll be 24 to 48 hours before someone can get back to me…to schedule an appointment. I'm taking my family back to Vancouver for a vacation next August. I may not come back.

August 18: I get on the specialist's calendar for September 9. In three weeks. I'm told to keep my finger wrapped and take Tylenol for the pain. This is the same thing I was told two weeks ago and it worked so well that I called to see a specialist. I've come full circle. No, wait…they tacked on a third week to this next two-week waiting period.

I'm apparently doubling back. Or something.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Another Sunday with Jalen

Haven't done one of these in awhile…

6:30 AM - Jalen wakes me up by dropping his little brown knee into the small of my back. I'm not even out of bed and I'm already tapping out to the day in front of me.

7:00 AM - Since Mrs. Bootleg spent all day Saturday at the beach with the boy, I give her a few more hours of uninterrupted sleep. I ask Jalen what he wants to do in the meantime. "Let's play 'mommies and daddies'! You be the mommy."

7:01 AM - We start by taking "our kids" to school.

9:00 AM - Mrs. Bootleg's awake and she remembers that a package had arrived in yesterday's mail. She piqued Jalen's curiosity by exclaiming, "I think this box is for you!" Jalen audibly groans when he discovers it's just back-to-school clothes.

Mrs. Bootleg has been a mother for five-and-a-half years. You'd think she'd know not to use the "I have a sur-PRISE for you!" tone of voice for clothes. She then followed up with this gem: "But, Jalen, look! There's a polka-dot bag in here, too! You can use it for your toys!" Keep rackin' up those "favorite parent" points, Mrs. Bootleg.

11:00 AM - While flipping over to one of the early ballgames, I hit TBS (Rangers/Red Sox) and then – out of habit – push 7-2-9 on the remote control. Seems I'm just in time for the start of NASCAR's Carfax 400 event. Jalen's eyes grow wide, his jaw drops and in the span of 60 seconds…

11:01 AM - …he's meticulously laid out each of his two dozen replica NASCAR vehicles across the living room floor.

OK, here's the deal. The first movie Jalen fell in love with was Disney/Pixar's "Cars". The opening and closing scenes take place on an animated race track and highlight the only parts of racing that casual fans care about – speed and crashes. Jalen has watched "Cars" 10,000 times. Ergo, I have watched "Cars" 10,000 times. We literally had to replace the first "Cars" DVD we purchased. We wore the damn thing out. Jalen owns every toy character in the movie, including the ones who appear onscreen for three seconds without a speaking part. He discovered REAL car racing about a year ago. The end.

11:15 AM - It begins to rain just 10 minutes into the race, then stops less than five minutes later. The race is delayed for 20 minutes while ESPN interviews each and every driver, asking them about the rain. The sun is now shining brightly at the track and everyone is still standing around. I will remember this the next time I think I'm boring some of you with my incessant baseball posts.

12:00 PM - We somehow pry Jalen away from the television. I hadn't planned on doing much of anything on Sunday, but a co-worker gave me a "friends and family" coupon for a local sporting goods chain. Jalen's fall t-ball season starts September 26 and he's GOT to have new cleats that show how much I live through love him.

12:30 PM - We get a crazy discount on a pair of Nikes. I wistfully remember that I didn't get my first pair of cleats until I was 10-years-old. They were white…and mesh. One afternoon, they'd gotten wet, so my mom (since we didn't own a dryer) put them in the oven to dry them. The tops of the shoes predictably burned and split open. She couldn't afford another pair. Y'know, I really admire writers who can romanticize being dirt f'ing poor.

12:45 PM - Anytime we go outdoors during the weekend, Mrs. Bootleg tries to herd us into a restaurant for a family lunch. My picky son is a sure bet to eat just three entrées: pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers. He'll surprise us once in awhile, but in general, anything else is a roll of the dice. This limits our options and – quite frankly – I'm sick of pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers. OK, OK…I'm not, but the A's game starts in 15 minutes.

1:00 PM - Mrs. Bootleg is quietly fuming. I've shot down all her lunch suggestions and she's clearly picked up on my ulterior motive. I offer up drive-thru Taco Bell as an option. Without even looking at me, she says, "I just wanted to spend time with my family today. Not watching a car race or an A's game." Ah, jeez. I make a mental note of her birthday on September 14. And, as long as Applebee's still has that "two people eat for $20" promotion going…

2:30 PM - Jalen is now upstairs watching the car race. From deep within the ass-groove of my spot on the couch downstairs, I can hear him whimpering, then sobbing and finally out-and-out bawling. It seems his favorite race car didn't win. How does one console a five-year-old African-American child in a situation like this? It's NASCAR!

5:00 PM - Jalen's been teetering on the precipice of falling asleep for most of the afternoon. The problem is that when this boy falls asleep, he's out for hours and consequently pushes back his internal clock's bedtime by an equivalent amount of hours. So, when Mrs. Bootleg's back is turned, I fire up the Nintendo Wii and pop in the new "Wii Sports Resort" game.

My son – as I've previously mentioned in this space – is grotesquely competitive. Most of our Wii games against each other end up with one of us in tears (usually him). But, since this is only the second time we've played this particular game, there's a learning curve for both of us.

5:15 PM - In the game's "three point shootout" basketball event, Jalen mops the court with me despite his awkward, unsound shooting style. For those of you who've ever played hoops with me, try to envision my awkward, unsound jump shot and you'll have an idea. As Jalen was finishing up a 16-8 victory, I rhetorically asked, "How are you…" Jalen interrupted and asked me, "Are you going to ask 'how are you going to catch up to me'?"

I'm officially at that "practice after my kid goes to sleep so I can beat him at a video game" stage of fatherhood. I am not proud of this.

But, I will be when I beat him.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Guess What's Wrong with Me Now?

Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with asthma AND found out I was violently allergic to aspirin. I know, I know…but, trust me: these aren't the usual self-serving links to my own material. They actually come into play later. No, really! Keep reading!

On Friday, I returned to my allergist for yet another round of breathing tests. While discussing the results, I mentioned that I'd been having some issues with my sinuses. About six weeks ago – and if you're eating, you might wanna come back later – I developed a crazy amount of mucus that I simply could not clear out of my nasal passages.

I've had sinus problems since ninth grade, when I curled up into a tearful fetal position on the floor of the nurse's office at Jefferson Junior High, convinced I had a brain tumor.

But, my current condition wasn't accompanied by any sinus pain or pressure. Instead this build up of mucus had hit me where it really hurts. Y'see, for the past month and a half, my senses of taste and smell have come and gone. Oh, don't you dare roll your eyes at me. You knew what you were getting into when you read the title of this post.

(While we were in San Francisco a few weeks ago, we took a cab ride down to Ghirardelli Square. After reaching our destination, Mrs. Bootleg exaggeratedly exhaled. When I asked what was up, she looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "You couldn't smell the cab driver's body odor? Oh, my God!" Umm…apparently not. Similarly, there have been several times recently when I couldn't taste/smell much more pleasing scents/flavors such as my morning coffee, my evening cocktail or my throughout-the-day Doritos.

None of these items possess what I'd call "innocuous aromas".)

My allergist looked at me and said, "uh oh". I mean, really…outside of a specific diagnosis, is there a worse thing a doctor can say to a patient? Anyways, she reached for a book on the counter that just so happened to be turned to the exact page she wanted to reference.

"It sounds like you've developed
nasal polyps", she said. "This could be Samter's Triad."

Wait, wait, wait…I have a condition that's named after someone?! This gets better and better! But, let's not get ahead of ourselves here. I bet you're wondering if nasal polyps are as gross as they sound (
and look). Answer: YES!

Nasal polyps are soft, noncancerous growths on the lining of your nose or sinuses. They often occur in groups, like grapes on a stem.

It seems that Samter's Triad is a condition in which asthma, aspirin allergy and nasal polyps form a fabulous medical confluence. Depending on the size, polyps can be treated with corticosteroids or, if necessary, surgically removed. Of course, they almost always come back, so…yeah. I've got a CAT scan scheduled for next Friday morning to find out for sure. I'll be posting real-time updates on Twitter!

Shout out to my deteriorating insides for all the blog fodder.

Friday, August 14, 2009

10 Thoughts: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum

That Bootleg Family caught a game in Oakland on Sunday, August 2

(1) One day after a sellout crowd watched the A's retire Rickey Henderson's #24 on the first Saturday night in August, only 13,070 fans showed up for the finale on a cloudless 69-degree afternoon. The A's are drawing about 17,000/game this season – down 3,500 from 2008 and a 35% drop from just four years ago. For this three-game series against Toronto, the A's discounted tickets through Facebook and their own team site by up to 50% and STILL couldn't fill half the seats for two of the games. Thanks to this rampant apathy, we scored three great seats behind home plate. But, our long walk from the BART station, across the overpass and into the Coliseum was positively funereal.

(2) Inexplicably, several scalpers roam the grounds just outside the ballpark as if they're selling some kind of precious commodity. When business is down, they resort to making unwelcome conversation with passing fans. With Mrs. Bootleg and the boy on either side of me, my ear picks up on some almost-explicit commentary from one of the scalpers (already in progress): "…she got them little athletic legs. You need to come up out them jeans, girl." I try to be sly behind my sunglasses, looking side to side to see the piece of hotness this guy's ogling. With no one else within 200 yards of us, it occurs to me that he's talking about Mrs. Bootleg. Does he not know how OLD she is?

(3) We left our hotel in San Francisco around 11:15 AM. It was overcast and 58 degrees. I wore shorts, my green Rickey jersey and a long-sleeve t-shirt underneath. At the Coliseum, our seats were in the sun for the first three innings. I roasted beneath layers of cotton and polyester before we got some shade. I never wear a jersey to day games anywhere else for this very reason. All this time, I thought the entire Bay Area was some sort of wonderful Arctic anomaly in the summer. Turns out it's just San Francisco.

(4) For the past 10 years, I've eaten the same thing whenever I've gone to a game in Oakland. The popcorn chicken and fries basket – served right behind Section 116 – has been a bountiful fried harvest of awesome for as long as I can remember. And, if you make small talk with the Cicely Tyson lookalike behind the counter, she'll pile on a little more. Tragically, the mountain of popcorn chicken is no more. It's been replaced by a "six-piece popcorn chicken meal". Six pieces! That's mathematically less than a "snack" and nowhere near a "meal". I opt for the Atomic Hot Link from the sausage stand.

(5) Rickey Henderson is on the cover of the A's August program. Here are the other players who've graced the front of the team's magazine this season: Jason Giambi (April/May), Matt Holliday (June), Orlando Cabrera (July). None of these guys are still on the team. It's August 14th.

(6) Y'all know that I'm not one of THOSE fans, right? I hit the ATM before I go to the game and completely accept that I'll be paying outrageous prices for pretty much everything. The aforementioned hot link and a Fat Tire beer set me back $20. Whatever. So, with that out of the way, I'd like to respectfully suggest the A's reconsider the $55 toddler t-shirt/shorts set. Does this team not realize that 2T, 3T and 4T sizes are only good for a few months before your child outgrows it? Half the A's roster is younger than my son, so you'd think they'd know these things.

(7) The Coliseum's men's rooms feature long "pissing troughs" instead of individual urinals. My son, Jalen, was…umm…"mildly freaked out" by this contraption. He insisted we use a "regular potty", so we went around the corner and entered one of the three private stalls. It was around the 7th inning and I can say, without hesitation or a hint of hyperbole, that the cleanliness of the Coliseum's stalls ranks a solid third behind any public restroom at the beach and the cans at JFK Airport.

(8) A's starter Vin Mazzaro gave up five runs in the first inning as Toronto cruised to a 7-2 win. The Blue Jays' first six batters reached base. The game was over before the A's first hitter stepped to the plate. I paid slightly less for these tickets than the cost of the MLB Extra Innings package which enables me to watch this crap all season long from the comfort of my couch.

(9) For the second straight year, Jalen got to run the bases after the game. Last year, he was only four years old, so I had to run the bases with him. This year, I was informed that children five years and older can't run with a parent. Mrs. Bootleg's brilliantly delivered "You're disappointed, aren't you?" pretty much captured my mood. I mean, that's the field that Rickey Henderson ran on!

(10) On the BART ride back to our hotel, a certified crazy person sat across the way from us. He brought a saucepan onboard and proceeded to play it like it like a snare drum while singing unintelligibly. I would've moved my family, but Jalen could not take his eyes off him. I tried to distract the boy with the assortment of crappy A's merchandise and souvenirs I'd purchased, but after a few minutes I gave up. That "insane drummer guy" was probably the coolest thing Jalen's seen in his entire life to this point.

See you in 2010, Oakland.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

AiAA: McDonald's Hunger Pangs/Pains

Longtime Friend of the Bootleg, E.C., writes:

"How come you never review anything from McDonald's for your TBG Eats features?"

Don't make me rescind your "longtime" merit badge, son. It's been awhile, but I covered McDonald's
Chicken Biscuit in May 2008. Before that, "TBG ate" their Angus Third-Pound Burger and breakfast burrito. Hell, when The Cam Fam did Hawaii, I ate Mickey D's Spam and eggs. None of this rings a bell? I'm a two-time writer of the year, Eric and you're telling me the 700 hastily-written posts here at TBG don't stay with you?

Anyways, to answer your question: (1) Stately Bootleg Manor is about a mile from Taco Bell, Burger King, Carl's Jr., Jack in the Box and several smaller chain or family-owned hole-in-the-wall restaurants. The nearest McDonald's is a 15 minute drive from my house. (2) Every burger at McDonald's tastes the same, regardless of toppings.

I'll give the Golden Arches props for the ridiculously delicious Sausage McGriddle, but it's rare that I eat more than a cereal bar for breakfast these days. As a result, I only write about McDonald's when they introduce a relatively daring new menu item…or when they've produced another entry for AiAA – Adventures in Awful Advertising!

Everyone – except Eric – might remember that a McDonald's spot inspired
the first AiAA post. Glad to see the brand back with such a vengeful annoyance.

An apology up front for the lousy sound, but it's the only version of the commercial I could find. In just 30 seconds, these two irritating guys manage to overshadow the most commercially successful fast food name on earth with their ridiculous bickering.

This one hits home with me, since I know so many people, similar to the "hunger pains" imbecile, who say things like "I could care less" when it's "I couldn't care less" or invent words such as "irregardless". Conversely, the know-it-all who tries to correct his friend in this ad reminds me of…me. Am I really THAT big of douchebag when I'm attempting to constructively criticize someone's syntax with the hope of making him or her a better speaker?

Probably not, but the question does give me pause for thought.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

TBG Eats: Burger King's NEW Angry Tendercrisp Chicken Sandwich

Current Weight: 167.6 lbs.

There are a lot of things to love about my wife. Everyone who meets her seems to like her and in all the years we've known each other, she's never once told me about any friends, co-workers or casual acquaintances who didn't get along with her.

To the untrained eye, it would appear I hit the marital lottery.

But, Mrs. Bootleg is not without flaws. At last count – and I am NOT making this up – there were 22 assorted bottles of bath, body and hair care products on the floor of our walk-in shower. Stately Bootleg Manor has 2 ½ bathrooms and when we moved in, I commandeered the one with the double-wide shower since only women and children take baths.

Mrs. Bootleg – sensing that I was enjoying something without her – proceeded to invade my shower's sovereign territory armed with nearly two dozen bottles of caustic chemicals. Before I knew it, I was stepping over 22 oz. plastic explosives filled with shampoos, conditioners and shampoos with conditioner.

There's one other thing about Mrs. Bootleg. God bless her, but she's the single most absentminded woman on earth.

After finalizing plans for our first date, then-Girlfriend Bootleg called me back moments later as she'd forgotten both the time and place where we'd planned to meet. I thought this was just precious. Years later, I came home from work to find dinner in the process of burning and Mrs. Bootleg nowhere to be found. Turns out she was upstairs on the phone with her girlfriend and shopping online. I found this to be the antithesis of precious.

Late last month, I told my wife that I was leaving work early to get haircuts for me and my son. I told her about my plans – leave work at 2:45 PM, pick up Jalen at the house around 3:00 PM and drive to barber shop for our 3:30 PM appointments – at least a week in advance. I reminded her again on the morning of the haircuts. She called me at work at 1:00 PM and I reminded her again.

Ten minutes into the 3:00 PM Sportscenter, Mrs. Bootleg and the boy still aren't home from Jalen's school – which lets out at 2:30 PM. I called my wife – who blamed ME for stressing her out and causing her to forget the haircuts – and she informed me that they'd be home as soon as they could. Seems she took the boy with her as she shopped for a new color printer cartridge.

Knowing that Mrs. Bootleg would expect me to bring home dinner after the barbershop, I instead dropped Jalen off at home and went back to work – laying down the total silent treatment. Not even eye contact. It was one of my finer snits, I must say.

On my way back to the office, I stopped at Burger King. Seeing the poster for the Angry Tendercrisp Chicken Sandwich released some of my Mrs. Bootleg rage, ironically enough. I'd previously christened BK's
Angry Whopper with the coveted hyperbole of a rare 500-point rating, so I was obviously onboard with its deep-fried chicken cousin.

Your pissed-off poultry ingredients include a breaded chicken filet topped with lettuce, tomato, bacon, pepper jack cheese, sliced jalapeños, "angry" fried onions and "angry" sauce. In fact, these are the exact same condiments that topped the Angry Whopper.

So, why don't they work as well on the Angry Tendercrisp?

It all comes back to the bird. I've had most of BK's Tendercrisp line of chicken sandwiches and they're always hit or miss. Sometimes, the meat is hot, flavorful and (relatively) fresh. Other times, the filet is dry, leathery and sittin' around awhile.

This was one of the "other times". The unmelted cheese just sat atop the chicken's cardboard breading, adding nothing but processed taste to its surroundings. The onions, peppers and sauce can only carry a sandwich so far. Hell, even the bacon couldn't lift the chicken to an acceptable standard.

With the right roll of the dice, your experience will probably be better than mine. I doubt I'll go in for an encore, though, as my local BK lacks the culinary consistency with their Tendercrisp sandwiches for me to drop another eight bucks on the King-Size value meal.

Grade: 2 (out of 5) Calories: 1030, Fat: 61g

Monday, August 10, 2009

AiAA: Subway feat. CC Sabathia and Johan Santana

"Hey, ZZ [sic]…" Honestly, I could watch this commercial a million times and never tire of it. New York's pair of preeminent pitching talents admiring the majesty of two foot-long phallic symbols…and, that's just scratching the surface.

Santana's stilted Skinemax delivery just kills me. Why did the producers even bother to cast Sabathia? Please tell me Johan Santana does regular local commercial work and/or bad 10-second promos for drive-time New York sports radio.

It's too bad CC Sabathia couldn't mimic Santana's pretend passion. Listen to the fat man's "Yeah, it's 'playing-in-the-Majors' big" line. It comes off like a question delivered by someone who's half-asleep. Let's hope he's not mailing in performances like this during the Yanks' pennant drive.

Finally, whoever wrote the "…beating you-know-who" lines…I mean, really. It's safe to say your blood feud rivalry has become a two-team caricature of itself when used to move mediocre fast food. And, what team could Santana possibly be talking about? Atlanta? Philadelphia? Do the Mets even have a mortal enemy? 20 years ago, their biggest rival was the Pittsburgh Pirates. Are those two teams cool with each other now?

Hey, look! Joe Torre and Willie Randolph, too!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Baseball and the Black Man

J.S. writes:

One of the things I like to read about is your take on baseball and being a big Toronto Blue Jays fan from the Toronto area, I'm curious as to your take on this idea I've been thinking about. This weekend, the Jays are having a reunion of their '92 and '93 World Series teams and I was struck by how much cultural/ethnic diversity there was on those teams as opposed to now (or in baseball, in general).

What's your take on why African-Americans have steered away from baseball? And there even seems to be less players from Latin and Caribbean countries as well. I mean, yeah, I'm sure you could list some socio-economic factors (which other writers have done) but I'm interested in your opinion.

I've always thought the socio-economic explanation was lazily convenient for the media. Full disclosure: my five-year-old son's t-ball fees for the fall season are $130, but the abject poverty in Latin American locales such as the Dominican Republic puts American suffering to shame and they're still cranking out Major League talent at a greater rate than Black communities in the U.S.

In my mind, there are three reasons why baseball has lost Black folk.

(1) Jackie-to-Griffey - Everyone knows about Jackie Robinson's relevance to the game, but his impact on a generation of African-Americans cannot be understated. Robinson broke the color barrier at a time when baseball was truly America's national pastime. African-Americans who knew nothing about the game – and, in 1947, there weren't many of them – knew about Jackie Robinson.

Consequently, I'm reasonably certain that every Black male born during Robinson's 10-year run with the Dodgers (and the resultant influx of African-Americans into the sport) were steered towards baseball. My unscientific assessment would explain the Black demographic peak in the game during the 1970s and 1980s.

However, those young adults of the '70s and '80s were now having kids – in the '80s and '90s – who were being force fed the incessant imagery of African-American athletes by a media/advertising hype machine that the NBA and NFL were smart enough to be in front of first.

Major League Baseball's inability, for example, to market the early '90s version of Ken Griffey Jr. is one of the most egregiously inept promotional failures in business history. Since lessened by the 1994 strike, steroids and Junior's own star-crossed career, there simply hasn't been a player more universally loved whose appeal stretched across to any ethnicity like The Kid. Baseball, however, was content to let Nintendo and Nike to their dirty work.

(2) What Baseball Doesn't Have - It's been my experience that African-American sports fans – including myself – gravitate towards larger-than-life personalities. Baseball, on the other hand, insists on checking personalities at the door. This wasn't always the case as talents like Reggie Jackson – and even non-talents like Ken Harrelson – roamed America's ballparks with impunity.

Yet, in 1994, the entire Atlanta Braves roster mutinied against OF Deion Sanders (.290/.334/.475 from 1992-93 in 575 ABs) who dared bring 5% of his NFL flamboyance into an MLB locker room. In 2006, Mets OF Lastings Milledge high-fived fans after an extra-inning home run and, in the media aftermath, you'd have thought he shot someone. Earlier this summer, Rays OF Carl Crawford lamented all of baseball's unwritten rules even as he chose the sport over a football scholarship to Nebraska.

I'm not suggesting that baseball become pro basketball, but when Eric Byrnes' superfluous hustle and Nick Swisher's kamikaze redneck schtick pass for personality across rosters eager to emulate Kevin McReynolds' mood…well, yeah.

(3) Love - I know it sounds corny, but baseball is the one sport that still relies on the whole "passed down from generations" pap. How powerful is that pap? Hey, people actually believe Field of Dreams is a good movie, don't they?

Depending on which study-of-the-week you want to believe, anywhere from 40% to 70% of African-American children are born to and/or are raised by single mothers. My son is five-years-old, yet he knows and loves the entire god-awful roster of the 2009 Oakland A's. He cried when Matt Holliday was traded. Hell, he cried when I told him I couldn't swing a bat with him or put on a glove because of my injured finger.

This is just a guess, but I don't think he developed this unhealthy obsession with baseball from his mom.

So, what's the solution? Sadly, I think the ship has sailed. The "problem" of declining African-Americans in baseball is a bit overdone by the media and the Jackie Robinson tributes every April have become a pandering farce, but Commissioner Bud Selig and baseball are at least trying to reach out Blacks.

It's just 20 years too late.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

10 Thoughts: Oakland A's – July 2009

Current Record (thru July 31): 44-58
July Record: 12-14
GB – AL West: 17.5 (Los Angeles Angels)
GB – AL Wildcard: 16.0 (Boston Red Sox)

(1) Moss Holliday - OF Matt Holliday's July 24 trade from Oakland to St. Louis ended the single most dispirited, disinterested run by a professional athlete since NFL WR Randy Moss slogged up and down the exact same field for two seasons earlier this decade. Even acknowledging that Holliday had to deal with a change in leagues – and altitude – it does not excuse the half-hearted way he played on the basepaths, in the field and at the plate. Immediately after getting paroled from Oakland, Holliday returned to being the balls-out gamer who busts his ass on infield grounders and swings with authority (1.329 OPS since the trade). In 1989, Rickey Henderson was KILLED in the New York media for the exact same thing before being dealt to the A's. 20 years later, Holliday gets a pass.

(2) So Long, OC - SS Orlando Cabrera was dealt to the Twins on July 31. At the start of play on June 1, he was hitting .236/.280/.296. For the next two months, he hit .321/.354/.428. The A's terrible play in May (11-18) really got to Cabrera as his defense took a noticeable downturn and his loafing up the first base line was brazenly comical. He seemed to realize how far his stock had fallen and commenced with the hustling, but was so obviously auditioning for a trade that he all but dragged his luggage to the batter's box. Hilariously, both he and the A's implied that Cabrera
could come back to Oakland in 2010. I will eat my own ass if this happens.

(3) Everybody Hates Bobby - The Cabrera trade opened up the A's shortstop position for a few hours, before the team recalled Cliff Pennington's impotent stick from Triple-A. This led to yet another delusional tirade from erstwhile A's SS Bobby Crosby: "I think it's a joke that I'm not in there. I've done everything to prepare. I consistently take groundballs at short. I've been ready to play if this time came, and now I'm not in there." The A's are solely keeping Crosby (.633 OPS) around to f*ck with him, as he's a free agent after this season and the team clearly had no problem eating Jason Giambi's contract – which had roughly the same amount of dollars left as Crosby's.

(4) Brett Meets World - In his last seven starts, SP Brett Anderson is 5-2 with a 1.93 ERA. In that span, he's beaten the Red Sox twice and held the Rays and Angels to zero runs in 12 combined innings. He's nearing 120 innings pitched this season after throwing just 225 IPs in the minor leagues, so it's conceivable that the A's will shut him down in September. There's an outside chance he'll pitch against the Yankees later this month, so catch him on YES if you can. Or, just wait until the next A's game airs on ESPN. Should be any minute now. Let's give it one more day.

(5) Call It a Comeback - On
July 20, the A's trailed the Twins 12-2 entering the bottom of the third inning. One of the things you can see – if you watch enough baseball – is the precise moment that a team folds up its tent for the night (or the season). The A's hung a three-spot in the third and I refused to change the channel. I didn't think they'd win, but they seemed up for at least making it interesting. Ironically enough, my cable went out just as Matt Holliday hit a game-tying grand slam in the 7th inning. I fired up my rarely-used MLB Gameday Audio on the laptop as Jack Cust cleared the wall to give the A's a 14-13 lead and the eventual win. Woo!

(6) That Rajai Guy - I love my fellow A's fans. No, really, I do. All 800 of us. I love each and every one. A's fans would have you believe that because OF Ryan Sweeney is a solid Major Leaguer because he appears on Baseball Tonight's "Web Gems" from time to time and hits (an empty) .270. Meanwhile, Rajai Davis was nearly run out of Oakland while posting a .351 OPS through the end of May as a fifth outfielder. Since June 1, he's hit .336/.408/.504 in 143 plate appearances. Coincidentally, Sweeney's come to the plate 143 times since June 1st, too. His line: .292/.322/.401. Look, they're both no better than a spare part on a good team, as Rajai is clearly overachieving. But, Sweeney is the most overrated anonymous player alive.

(7) Mazzaro's World II - Last month, I gleefully assessed the arrival of Vin Mazzaro to our starting rotation. In July, his ERA clocked in at 8.51. He gave up 44 hits in 24.1 innings. He struck out just four more than he walked. Last weekend, I dragged my family up to the Bay Area and paid to see Mazzaro give up five runs in the first inning LIVE! It's possible I might've jumped the gun a bit on him.

(8) Buck You, Travis - OF Travis Buck continues to waste away in AAA-Sacramento. His .781 OPS there is better than any of the current A's outfielders (small sample size, PCL launching pad caveats apply). Since he publicly contradicted the front office regarding his own health in late May, he hasn't been back to the big leagues. This is not a coincidence, but it's great subterfuge for the question: "Why are the A's unable to develop an outfielder with OPS above .781?"

(9) No Mo' Mar - Word 'round the A's is that the Nomar Garciaparra era will limp to end in the next seven days or whenever 1B Daric Barton returns from the DL. My lasting memory of the guy? How 'bout his
absurd contention that some ballplayers asked to be listed with a positive test result during 2003's steroid survey testing just to hasten formal testing? Worst preemptive strike EVER. You're not foolin' no one, son.

(10) Hot Links - Here's a
terrific rebuttal of sorts to all of the Jose Canseco backlash that came out of the A's 20th anniversary celebration of the last Oakland team to win a World Series. And, here's Howard Bryant's depressing piece on our boy genius GM. Two things stand out: (1) Beane's bizarre "hey, I didn't ask Michael Lewis to write a book about me!" stance on Moneyball - considering the amount of access Lewis had and (2) Beane openly sh*ts on the A's home ballpark. Yes, it's a toilet. A's fans know this. But, that overt negativity only keeps new fans – the guy whose job moved him (and his family) to the Bay Area or the college freshman at Cal who relocated from Arizona – from ever wanting to attend.

The Obligatory Jason Giambi Post

"The A's will go ahead with their Jason Giambi Bobblehead Night on Aug. 21, as planned, because of commitments to sponsors. The giveaway is now being termed a "collectible item" after Giambi's release Friday." - San Francisco Chronicle (August 8)

I've blogged about Jason Giambi several times since the A's brought him back in January. In summary: I liked the signing at the time while conceding its inherent transparency. I predicted the A's would win 75 games in 2009 and if Giambi could bring a one-tenth of 2001 with him, Oakland would at least be fun to watch on offense.

There are three ways to tell when a once-great player has lost it: (1) watch him play, (2) look at his stats and (3) listen to the amount of excuses generated by said once-great player and his shield of sycophants.

During Spring Training, Giambi hit .157/.328/.216 but, manager Bob Geren insisted it wasn't cause for concern as Giambi was just "…working on a few things with his swing."

In April, Giambi slugged just .303, but that was explained away with all the time he spent in the early going playing first base and running the bases.

In May, Giambi showed signs of life by hitting his 400th career home run and posting an OPS of .808. During A's broadcasts, fans were told that Giambi's frequent flyballs that died on the warning track were a sign that he was coming around.

In June, Giambi batted .152, but insisted he'd get going again once the weather warmed up.

Speaking strictly in measurable terms, Jason Giambi was brought back to lift the offense and bring fans to the ballpark. The A's are next-to-last in baseball – including the pitchers-get-to-hit, everyone-gets-a-trophy-for-trying National League – in slugging percentage and dead last in attendance.

But, I don't blame Giambi for this disastrous season.

I've mentioned before that Giambi was part of the 1999-2001 A's teams that dragged me back to baseball after the 1994 strike and watching those 1993-1998 A's teams nearly bludgeoned the love of the game right out of me.

A little "sports fan denial" can be a good thing, sometimes. I know I'll have no problem forgetting 2009 and turning back the calendar to 2000, when the deafening "MVP!" chants from a packed Oakland Coliseum came through loud and clear on my picture-tube standard-definition dinosaur television.

Peace out, G.

Friday, August 7, 2009

TBG Eats: Jack in the Box's NEW Chorizo Sausage Breakfast Burrito

Current Weight: 166.6 lbs.

For those of you who might not know…
chorizo sausage is kind of a big deal here in Southern California. However, since I was raised in an African-American household, the only sausages I ever knew were hot links, Brown n' Serve and "McMuffin".

My first chorizo experience did not go well. I was part of the contracts department for a sheet metal manufacturer and at work one lonely Saturday morning. The company was out in El Cajon – a city about 15 minutes east of San Diego and 150 years south of civilization.

Since this was before Mrs. Bootleg, Little Boy Bootleg and the systematic collapse of my health and spirit, it's safe to say I'd spent the previous evening out too late and drinking too much. At 8:00 AM in the 1999 version of rural El Cajon, the only breakfast option was waiting for the Boston Market – conveniently located across the street from, get this, Wherehouse Music – to open at 10:30 AM.

I concede my predicament does NOT justify the fateful choice I made on this day.

With its familiar horn and pleasant personnel, our resident
roach coach pulled into my employer's parking lot. To this point, I'd never eaten anything off of it. In fact, one of my co-workers and I would walk out every morning and marvel/recoil at the pre-prepared freak show food like the hamburger topped with sliced hot dog, bell peppers and Cheez Whiz or the bacon-wrapped corn dog with a side of syrup.

On this morning, I threw caution – and common sense – to the wind and lifted the lid to a steam-filled case containing a half-dozen or so grab-and-go burritos. I pushed aside the familiar carne asada and carnitas until coming across: "CHORIZO (SAUSAGE)" written on the foil in big, black letters.

With one bite, it was obvious that I'd mistakenly received the "CHORIZO (CAT'S ASS)" burrito, instead. It tasted like spoiled meat. If I'd taken just two seconds to assess my meal before diving in, I would've noticed it smelled like spoiled meat. And, after examining the insides, it looked like spoiled meat, too.

For years, I assumed that this was how all chorizo tasted, so I avoided it like vegetables.

I relayed this experience to one of Mrs. Bootleg girlfriends – who just happens to be of Hispanic descent – and she swore up and down that whatever was wrapped within that flour tortilla 10 years ago was NOT chorizo. To this day, I'm not sure if I should be relieved or frightened about that.

But, I wasn't going back to chorizo until it was from a source I could trust. And, like the rest of America, when I want authentic Mexican fare…I want Jack in the Box.

JitB first introduced the Chorizo Sausage Breakfast Burrito on a regional basis. But, earlier this month, it went nationwide. It's filled with hash brown sticks, scrambled eggs, crumbled chorizo sausage, cheddar cheese sauce and a side of salsa.

Unfortunately, what sounds like an amazing – albeit ersatz – Mexican meal is ultimately undone by not featuring the one thing I wanted to taste most: chorizo. The eggs overpower everything else inside with an artificial, defrosted taste. The hash brown sticks are deliciously crispy, but unnecessary, while the sauce is bland and ineffectual.

There wasn't much chorizo in mine and what was there didn't have the spice, texture or taste that reminded me of anything close to what everyone else says chorizo should be. This wasn't awful, just inoffensive and forgettable. Perhaps that's faint praise considering it's the roach coach one that I'll remember more.

Grade: 2.5 (out of 5) Calories: 697, Fat: 38g

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Trading Traded Matt Holliday

I remain embarrassingly behind on…well, everything. Two weekends away from my laptop and the recent discovery of all the things I can no longer accomplish without ten functioning fingers – typing "Aaron", fer'instance – has me wondering if I'll ever catch up.

But, I gotta start somewhere and this post began in Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. I was boarding my connecting flight to Albany when m'man Thai texted me with the news that the Oakland A's had traded OF Matt Holliday to the St. Louis Cardinals.

I'll share my thoughts on the deal in as soon as I get around to writing up the A's July recap. In the meantime, I exchanged emails on the subject with the biggest Cardinals fan I know: Tailgate Crashers'
Eugene Tierney. And, speaking of embarrassed…the first email was from June 9th:

Aaron - I've been kicking around a "trade Matt Holliday" post in my head and I thought I'd pick your brain. ESPN's Buster Olney had a piece recently in which he mentioned the Cardinals as a possible mid-season landing spot for Holliday. Olney threw out the name Brett Wallace as a possible piece of the puzzle going to Oakland.

1.) Before you tell me this'll never happen, what can you tell me about Wallace?

2.) Do you think the Cards would deal him for, potentially, a rental?

Eugene - Wallace is an offensive first third baseman; he's got the body of Jim Thome/Prince Fielder, so people are questioning the position for the long run. Opinions range from average third baseman to "beyond Chipper Jones bad". He's already made the jump to Triple-A, less than a year after being drafted.

The Cards won't trade him for a rental - he's the impact bat they need. He's just not on the both 40-man roster yet, and probably won't be this year.

(Eugene's original email had a couple of additional paragraphs on who the Cards would be more likely to deal than Wallace. Since those names are now moot, I asked for the St. Louis perspective on what changed between June 9 and July 24):

Eugene - This is all my opinion based off various rumors I've heard.

The deal was made to appease Tony LaRussa. LaRussa and [Cards' pitching coach] Dave Duncan were upset when they heard the
Chris Duncan for Julio Lugo deal was made. It's rumored both threatened to quit if the deal went through. I think [Cards' GM John] Mozeliak felt he had to do something to smooth things over with Tony, so that meant getting the guy [Holliday] that Tony has publically mentioned for a few years.

I think the Cardinals would have been better off hanging onto the 3 prospects and using Wallace now at third and moving Mark DeRosa to LF. I think he's league average at third - I saw him make an amazing play to his left during The Futures Game that a lot of players wouldn't have made.

Here are my opinions on the other two prospects the A's received:

Clayton Mortensen has the potential to be a mid-rotation starter. He's probably back end in the long run. I like him better than most of the other pitching prospects in the Cardinals system. The Cardinals didn't give him much of a shot when he was called up earlier in the season. He could be up [in Oakland] by the end of the year.

Shane Peterson is a 4th outfielder at best. Little power, good defense. I don't know if he's that good in center. I saw him play last year and nothing really stood out. He's the typical outfielder in the Cardinals system (Jon Jay, Nick Stavinoha, Shane Robinson, etc).

Again, my sincere thanks to Eugene for the insight. One of these days we need to join forces on a feature or something.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

TBG's Finger Protocol

It's only August, but 2009 is shaping up to be one of the single worst personal years of my life. And, apparently August 4th was jealous of all the attention every other day has received from me this year. I spent about 10 hours at the office today, enduring drama so bad that I can't even talk about it here. Then, I came home…

6:00 PM - Things were looking up as I walked through the door and found dinner already on the dining room table. Mrs. Bootleg had found Chef Tyler Florence's recipe for Ultimate Sloppy Joes on I know, I know…but, they were terrific! Besides, in the pantheon of the world's most annoying words, "ultimate" is nowhere near as bad as "extreme" – which has since been supplanted by "stay-cation" amongst words I'd most like to murder.

6:15 PM - My son Jalen wants a cookie for dessert, but barely finished half his dinner. While we were in San Francisco last weekend, he ate chocolate chip cookies for breakfast, lunch and dinner with an occasional slice of pizza thrown in for grins. Now that we're back home, it's a return to at least occasional parenting. Mrs. Bootleg and I turn down the boy's request.

6:30 PM - Entering our 15th minute of Jalen's tearful cookie-deprived pout, I remind him of bath time and attempt to hasten his ascent up the stairs by dangling the A's/Rangers game (starting at 7:00 PM) as a reason to get bathed and into his PJs. The A's are 45-60 and 19 games out of first place. I'm having a hard time convincing myself to watch them these days so, in a decision that'll haunt me for the next eight weeks, I break out "the bee".

6:32 PM - OK…make a fist with your left hand and then extend your pinky finger straight up. Find a five-year-old African-American boy and place him face down on your couch. Repeat after me: "Uh oh, Jalen! I think the bee's gonna sting you!" Using your pinky as the "stinger", attempt to "sting" the little boy on the butt. Now, recoil in agony as you hear and feel a snap in your finger immediately after "stinging" the boy on his bottom.

6:33 PM - "I think I just dislocated my finger", I say to Mrs. Bootleg while holding up the seasoned curly fry that was once my pinky. My wife – in an exasperated tone chock full of scorn – simply replied, "Are you serious?"

6:45 PM - I drive myself to Urgent Care and am forced to tell the story of what happened twice to the receptionist. ("So, wait. Why were you poking your son, again?") I'm told there are two people ahead of me as the lady at the desk hands me a lukewarm room-temperature icepack. I sit down and update my Facebook/Twitter status.

6:50 PM - As I'm just finishing up, it occurs to me that one-handed texting is uncomfortable, ineffective and almost impossible.

7:00 PM - A nurse takes me back and peppers me with questions about my medical history. It's the first chance I've had to actually answer the "are you allergic to any medications" question. And, just like everyone I mention this to who is NOT in the medical field, the nurse seemed surprised when I told her about my allergy to aspirin.

7:05 PM - The nurse finishes up by asking me to gauge my own pain "on a scale of 1 to 10". I hate this question. I mean, I told her that it was probably a "4", but the tip of my pinky finger is touching the palm of my hand and I can't move it from that position. I'm pretty sure that's a "10" on the "I need a doctor" scale, no?

7:10 PM - The doctor comes in to take a look. He asks me to make a fist and then proceeds to position my deformed digit next to my four clenched fingers. He then asks me to put out my hand – palm down – and keep my fingers parallel to the floor. He now attempts to straighten out my f'd up finger so that it aligns with the others. For those scoring at home, I've gained about five points of pain just in the past five minutes. The doctor tells me my finger is not dislocated, but there's almost certainly damage to the tendon.

7:20 PM - While waiting in radiology for an x-ray, a little old lady is wheeled in next to me. I'm sitting at a "9" on the pain scale and have no doubt of hitting "10" at the moment she opens her…

7:21 PM - "I broke my finger last year and you know what they told me? They told me I'd have to wait a month and a half until I could have surgery. That's almost six weeks! You know what I told my doctor? I told him to forget it! Look at my finger now. It's a little crooked, but it stopped hurting!"

7:25 PM - The x-ray technician saves me from my newfound octogenarian accompaniment. He manipulates my finger in three NEW ways, apologizing each time while repeatedly referring to me as "buddy". Are we certain that "10" is the limit on the pain scale? Right now, I'm somewhere between an "11" and

7:45 PM - The doctor returns with his diagnosis: the tendon in my left pinky finger is completely torn. While the x-rays showed no break, he wants me to call back on Wednesday to make sure. This is like that ridiculous "he's not a first ballot Hall of Famer" assertion. Are Andre Dawson's stats really going to improve from one year to the next? Is my x-ray really going to tell a different story in 12 hours?

8:00 PM - I'm told no surgery will be required. I'm fitted for a weird plastic splint that I'll have to wear for the next eight weeks and leave with a warning that my finger will look "a little bit jagged" even after it's healed. That means I'll still have roughly three more months in 2009 to injure every other appendage on my body.

Don't bet against me.

Monday, August 3, 2009

TBG Eats: Taco Bell's NEW Volcano Nachos

Current Weight: 168.0 lbs.

That Bootleg Family spent this past weekend in my favorite American city – San Francisco. The temperature never rose above 60 degrees. We spent Saturday night with one of my oldest friends and his family. And, on Sunday, we slogged through a rare opportunity to watch the somnambulant 2009 Oakland A's live*

* - This team is not alive.

Thankfully, three hours of unwatchable baseball couldn't ruin three days in the Bay Area. The only problem is that this here lightly-read blog has suffered in recent weeks from an upper management-labeled "must-win" proposal effort at the Unnamed Defense Contractor…and my TWO weekend getaways while the rest of my co-workers were, uh, working.

So, inspired by the determination, sacrifice and perseverance of my peers, I am re-focusing my commitment to TBG and promise there'll be no more of these "one post every 10 days" gaps in The Goodness. Remember, kids: if given a choice, half-ass the task you'll get paid for anyway. Now…where were we?

On Saturday night, after pulling my five-year-old son's snoring 46 lb. corpse from the back of a cab – a near-impossible task considering his head is 75% of his mass – and carrying him up to our room on the sixth floor, I collapsed in front of the TV. I caught the below commercial and squealed with such effeminate glee that anyone sleeping – save for the hibernating brown bear cub in the back bedroom – was now wide awake.

As I might've mentioned once or twice in these parts, Taco Bell's
Volcano Taco was THE fast food find of 2008 and now appears to be a permanent fixture on TB's menu. The Volcano Burrito, however, showed that Taco Bell's "lava sauce" can't turn everything into all kinds of awesome.

But, Volcano Nachos? Chips, beans, ground beef, nacho cheese, red tortilla strips, "cheesy lava sauce", jalapeños and (reduced-fat) sour cream? Please. The ONLY question going in was what, if anything, could keep it from five stars.

These were hearty as hell, loaded with heaping scoops of beef and beans. The cheesy lava sauce had a good amount of heat and was kicked up a wee bit more with the sliced jalapeños. I wasn't even too turned off by the ersatz sour cream, as it wasn't poured all over my order and provided a cooling cut to some of the spice.

In addition to the Volcano Nachos, I ordered a Volcano Taco to fill the gaps in my appetite just in case the nachos didn't fill me up. And, wouldn't you know the nachos filled me up. ME! The guy who eats for eight straight hours at the county fair!

I still ate the taco, though.

Grade: 5 (out of 5) Calories: 910, Fat: 56g