Sunday, March 25, 2012

The LL Chronicles #15: Dejection and Ejection

My eight-year-old son as he entered the dugout after giving up five runs in one inning: "Dad...can you not put this on your blog?" -- From my Twitter feed, March 10

Before I realized that it would become a season-long theme -- and the likely title of our team's season highlights DVD -- there was no offense to be found on this sunny Saturday afternoon. My A's were playing the Braves and both teams entered the bottom of the fourth inning without a run on the board. I'd made a pitching change to start the inning, going with Jeff -- one of the top three arms on our team. He's a VERY good pitcher whose talent is inversely proportional to his luck.

Sure enough, our defense collapsed behind him and the home plate umpiring imploded in front of him. The end result was
tragically cinematic (and NSFW) as Jeff finished his one inning of work after 34 pitches and a 2-0 deficit.

After the A's plated a run in the top of the fifth inning, I handed the ball to my eight-year-old son Jalen to start the bottom of the frame. Entering the game, Jalen had surrendered just one run in four innings with -- as he'd be the first to tell you -- seven strikeouts. In hindsight, his hubristic house of cards was due for a dramatic collapse. Back-to-back first pitch singles were followed by a booming double that reached the wall and scored two runs. Jalen seemed overtly irked at his outfielders' time-released reactions, so I visited the mound in an attempt to calm him down.

Me: "Settle down, son. Relax and finish your pitches. We're still in it. They're not going to hit another ball that hard all day."

Jalen: "OK."

On the very next pitch he threw, Jalen gave up a run-scoring triple. Say what you will, but at least he was efficient with his self-immolation. He'd give up two more runs before finishing the inning and trudging off the mound trailing 7-1. Long after the game, with Jalen off to bed, Mrs. Bootleg told me that she'd recorded our son's pitching performance. We watched about two seconds before collectively agreeing to erase it...y' exchange for putting this on my blog. I presume.

After he gave up 5 runs in 1 IP on Saturday; my son is starting pitcher tonight. Should be fun. Also, potentially ruinous, psychologically. -- From Twitter, March 13

This was a make-up for our game that was rained out back in mid-February. Against the Braves. Jalen wasn't sharp, but he kept us in the game and we held on for a 7-6 win. While the seven runs were the most we've scored all season, the real fireworks came in the first inning -- as this postgame tweet helpfully illustrates:

Highlights from Little League game tonite: (1) Son pitched OK. (2) He went 3 for 3. (3) I received a warning from ump & threat of ejection!

Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the first, our leadoff hitter tapped an infield dribbler to the right of the pitcher. The pitcher pounced off the mound, bent over across his body, spun and fired a laser to first base. My runner clearly beat the throw, so I allowed a haughty smirk to cross my face while channeling the "...all for naught..." premature celebration of the Spaceballs captain. I was THIS close to bringing my hands together for a condescending "good try" clap for the pitcher, when the umpire yelled, "OUT!"

My immediate reaction was so obviously NOT an attempt to embarrass the umpire.

I silently struck
this physiologically appropriate post with but a quizzical look on my countenance. From there, out of respect for the umpire's authority, I turned my back on him -- hands on my hips -- and graciously hid my thoughts on his obvious incompetence. When I turned around, I was surprised to see the umpire all up in my civil grill.

Umpire: "I'm ALWAYS going to reward the effort from the kids."

Me: "Even when you're wrong?"

Umpire: "OK...that's enough."

Me: "You just told me you don't care about getting the call right."

Umpire: "That's a warning. I will run you in front of your son if I have to."

In all seriousness, the whole scene was discreet enough for no one to be the wiser. And, yes, this was the same umpire who'd
previously given me grief over my son's preference for jersey #5, instead of #42. Where would you set the likelihood of my eventual ejection this season? 60/40? 70/30? Perhaps, parlay me AND Jalen in the same game?

Rainy day, but HAD to get my son out of the house. I probably could've picked a better destination than Best Buy. -- From Twitter, March 17

Our St. Patrick's Day game against the Pirates was rained out, so I took Jalen out and about and ended up at "the free arcade" my friend Carrie described it. And, when you look at
this picture, it's hard to argue. We, of course, regret nothing.

Finished with first Little League umpiring experience. Confrontation with coach, players mocking me & I made a child cry. All as I expected. -- From Twitter, March 20

At this level, every manager is required to umpire at least 10 games in the upper divisions. We're also required to complete an eight-hour umpire clinic which I've yet to sign-up for. My excuse? It's an eight-hour umpire clinic. Not surprisingly, the league looked past this "mandatory" requirement when it came time to assign adults to the umpiring rotation.

I arrived 30 minutes late to my first assignment, as the managers agreed to an earlier start time without informing me. Two other umpires were already working home plate and first base, so I was dispatched to third base. I had NO idea where to position myself or when I needed to rotate in time with the baserunners or game situation. The first base umpire helpfully, silently gestured -- with increasing frustration -- throughout the game to ensure I was in the right spot.

It was an uneventful affair until the bottom of the fourth inning. There was a runner on second who reached third base after evading a tag on the basepaths from the third baseman. This brought the manager storming out of the dugout and running right towards me.

Manager: "Are you sure he wasn't out of the basepath?"

Me: "Uh, no. He stayed in. I had a good look."

Manager: "Come on. How many feet out of the basepath does the runner get?"

Me: "Uh, two?"

Later that same inning, I called another runner safe at third after he slid under the tag. The third baseman immediately burst into tears, pulling his cap over his eyes. The runner sure looked safe, but I still felt terrible. Was I too emphatic on the call? Did I miss the call? Was there a chance the runner was tagged out before he got to the bag? My guilt lasted long enough for the shortstop to sidle up to his third baseman and say:

Don't cry. It's not your fault the ump blew the call.

I should've ran that kid in front his dad.

Surprisingly, watching MLB equivalent for past 5 years didn't make my son's Athletics 1-0 loss in Little League any easier to sit thru. -- From Twitter, March 21

Against the Padres, our pitching and defense were terrific...until the fifth inning. When Jeff came in to pitch...and the potential third out of the inning was booted -- by Jeff. We made 18 outs and 14 were by strikeout. The game started at 5:00 PM and we were all back in our cars before sundown. Jalen got the start and pitched two scoreless innings, but as he came out for the second inning, the following conversation unfolded between one of my coaches and his wife:

Coach's Wife: "Is Garrett going to pitch today? Uncle Lou came all the way down from Carlsbad to see him pitch."

Coach: "What do you want me to do? I'm not the manager."

Coach's Wife: "Well, can you talk to Aaron? Uncle Lou needs to leave soon."

This conversation took place no more than five feet from the back of my head, by the way.

11-4 loss in Little League. Son not scheduled to pitch, but threw 48 pitches in mop-up role. Adult equivalent = child labor law violation. -- From Twitter, March 24

Entering the top of the fifth inning, we trailed 10-0. We hadn't even recorded a hit to that point. With the 10-run "mercy rule" just three outs away, the A's rallied for four runs, salvaging a modicum of dignity from the belly of defeat. Jalen threw 2 1/3 innings after my starter got torched for five runs in the first. Eight-year-olds are limited to 50 pitches in Little League and Jalen stood at 35 when he started the fourth. And, then...
this happened. It was time to take him out.

Me: "I'm proud of you, Jalen. We needed innings and you gave 'em to us. Great job."

Jalen: "Can't I face one more batter?"

Me: "No, son. You're done."

Jalen: "Well, can I walk to the dugout and see if I get a standing ovation and tip my cap to the crowd?"

Me: "No. You're switching with Drew. Go to second base."

Jalen: "Aww."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

TBG Eats: The NEW Doritos Locos Tacos from Taco Bell

Current Weight: 167.8 lbs.

This past December was the five-year anniversary for this lightly-read blog. I hopped into the way-back machine and pulled this quote from
my very first TBG post:

I have NO idea what this blog is going to turn into or even how long it'll last. But, if you liked...any of my previously published stuff, you'll like this.

I'm not sure if I kept my "'ll like this..." commitment -- although, if you're still reading this, I'm going to consider myself positively prescient! -- but, I can confirm that five-plus years and more than 200 "Food n Drink"-labeled posts were most assuredly not in my original mission statement. Of course, other than the never-ending adventures of my eight-year-old son, I'd argue that the food reviews are most responsible for keeping my infinitesimal piece of internet real estate open for business.

With the much-ballyhooed debut of Taco Bell's new Doritos Locos Tacos, I started wondering where the hype ranked with my personal list of most-anticipated empty-calorie eatin' in the TBG era.

(3) Maple Bacon Donut -- I found out about this decadent confection last year, just 24 hours before my annual intestine-extending adventure at the San Diego Fair. After conquering it,
I wrote: The bacon's contrast in both saltiness and texture with the soft sugary spread allowed the flavors from each bite to linger for several extra seconds. Finally...fair food worthy of my obligatory grading hyperbole.

(2) Slater's 50/50 -- My friend Smitty first introduced me to the glory of "50% ground beef, 50% ground bacon". Last April, I drove roughly 90 miles one-way for the Slater's experience and couldn't contain my excitement in the
gastronomic aftermath: When my 50/50 burger was brought out, the bun was practically glowing with an impressive showroom finish. I cut it in half and noticed the beautiful red tint in the meat just before the ubiquitous bacon aroma hit me flush in the face. In my first few bites, the bacon gloriously overpowers everything else.

(1) KFC's Double Down -- I don't believe I've written any other fast food review that included the words "I left work early...", but damned if I didn't make a dash for the four-door sedan before quitting time was official. From my office, the nearest KFC is 20 minutes away and in the next city over, but the journey was
worth it: Thick, but not overly dense. Meaty, but not overwhelming for my mouth. The KFC flavor retains its gloriously guilty pleasure salt n' pepper taste. The bacon, cheese and Colonel's sauce starts off strong, but begins retreating into the background after the first few bites. Halfway through, their subtle(!) notes lent the chicken a smoky, peppery kick that brought the Double Down across the finish line and into "5 out of 5" territory.

All three received my highest rating, with the maple bacon donut and 50/50 burger reaching the coveted, exaggerated "500 (out of 5)" status.

I couldn't, however, seem to get excited about the Doritos Locos Tacos. It's felt like an unnecessary union from the beginning as arguably the two most recognizable faux Mexican food brand names have come together to produce the greatest...inauthentic gimmick-ethnic food of them all? To be clear, I'm a fan of both Doritos and Taco Bell, separately. But, who was begging for them to be combined? At least the maple bacon donut and 50/50 burger could hang their respective hats on the nationwide bacon fad. And, the Double Down was an obvious nod to American excess. Doritos Locos Tacos seem more like an exercise in effective marketing. Proof that an ad campaign can make you eat something you never wanted.

Last weekend, I pulled into my Taco Bell drive-thru and ordered two Doritos Locos Taco Supremes and another two without the "supreme" sour cream and tomato accoutrements. Since my son Jalen adores Doritos (trust me, the italics are his) I thought I'd drag him along for this bit of blog fodder.

At first glance, the Doritos Locos Taco Supreme looks like a regular Taco Supreme, save for the nacho/Hulk Hogan-colored shell. Surprisingly, the taste is almost identical to the regular Taco Supreme, too. The Doritos taco shell lends next to nothing in added flavor, as the Taco Bell ground beef remains the most prominent taste on the tongue. The rest of the ingredients -- shredded cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and reduced-fat sour cream -- are, as usual, superfluous.

I broke off several pieces of the Doritos taco shell to eat by themselves and found the flavor to be almost muted by snack chip standards. This tasted like a plain ol' Taco Bell shell that was lightly rolled around in the residue of an empty Doritos bag. Even my Doritos-loving son lamented, "It doesn't taste like anything different." Hell, this isn't even the most visually appealing shell that Taco Bell has turned out over the past few years.

Taco Bell should be commended for creating genuine buzz around such a run-of-the-mill meal. But, while the advertising certainly brought customers in, I doubt that the Doritos Locos Tacos -- on their own -- will bring those same customers back.

Grade: 2 (out of 5) Calories: 200 Fat: 11g

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

TBG Eats: Doritos Dinamita Nacho Picoso & Chile Limón

Current Weight: 171.0 lbs.

Over the next 24 hours, you are going to be inundated with tweets, news and reviews for Taco Bell's soon-to-debut
Doritos Locos Tacos. It is inevitable. It will be inescapable. And, since Doritos are my eight-year-old son's favorite snack chip; I'm already anticipating his participation in his first hype-filled fast food "event".* However, the kind-of-contrived union between Doritos and Taco Bell isn't the only faux Mexican roll out from our friends at Frito-Lay.

* -- MY first fast food "event" was in the fall of 1985. McDonald's introduced a "lettuce and tomato" hamburger -- the McDLT -- to their ubiquitous menu of off-flavored meat and famously overrated fries. The obese, pre-teen version of me had previously been a Quarter Pounder with Cheese loyalist. But, I fell the catchy ad campaign and allowed myself to stray. A fat kid, his allowance and McDonald's access that was five minutes away. Around the same time, the Pizzazz Pizza debuted at Taco Bell (10 minutes away!)

This past weekend, I discovered Doritos Dinamita chips during my weekly post-haircut junk food foraging at the gas station/convenience store adjacent to my barbershop.

I presume every review of this product must include a condescendingly-delivered translation of Dinamita, so here goes: for those of you wondering, Dinamita is "dynamite" in Spanish. And, I can only imagine how much funnier reruns of a
certain 1970s sitcom would be with the addition of the SAP button.

Dinamitas are the familiar Doritos triangles rolled -- think taquitos -- into the shape of a common explosive. To the naked eye, they're more "firecracker" than "dynamite", but I'm guessing "Doritos Petardo" didn't test as well in the focus groups.

Doritos Dinamita comes in two flavors: Nacho Picoso and Chile Limón.

I really enjoyed the subtle heat and better balance of flavors of the Nacho Picoso. The front of the bag identifies jalapeño as the taste they were targeting and -- like the pepper -- the spices here are mild and not overpowering. There's the tiniest hint of cheesy-creaminess on the back end of each bite that reminded me of one of my favorite recent
Doritos flavors.

Admittedly, it's a bit silly to throw around edible adjectives such as "nuanced" to describe salty empty calories, but compared to the Chile Limón flavor, Nacho Picoso is positively complex.

Visually, the brick-red color of the Chile Limón chips is actually appealing. Just on looks, these could stand alone under a "Firecracker" sub-brand, if Frito-Lay ever wanted to put someone in a decision-making capacity who just so happened to earn his marketing degree from San Diego State University.

The taste, unfortunately, was an overly-assertive mix of spice and citrus. The idea that Hispanic-inspired food -- or its junk food facsimiles -- has to be obnoxiously hot is an ill-formed archetype not far removed from the Frito Bandito. Similarly, lemon and lime are best used sparingly in any dish, save for pies of the key lime and lemon meringue persuasion.

It takes a few bites to get used to the texture of Doritos Dinamita. They're firm and a bit stiff on the teeth, initially. If the seasonings had been dialed back a bit on the Chile Limón flavor, the texture might've been my only nit to pick. Now, I can only hope that Chile Limón's reputation doesn't sully the good name of Nacho Picoso.

Grade (Nacho Picoso): 4 (out of 5)

Grade (Chile Limón): 1 (out of 5)

Monday, March 5, 2012

The LL Chronicles #14: Tales from Our First Two Games

This past Friday night, Mrs. Bootleg and I celebrated the birthday of a dear family friend. She was my wife's matron of honor at our wedding. She dispenses appropriate amounts of ball-busting my way, while maintaining a wonderful rapport with our eight-year-old son, Jalen. And, her job as an international flight attendant means that we receive periodic hand-delivered coffee from Columbia.

So, of course we took good care of her last Friday. We dined at Donovan's Steakhouse in La Jolla and, to mark the occasion, my wife finished an additional full glass of wine to go with the half-glass she usually consumes in social settings. Since she only stands 4'8", the end result of her evening was equal parts "cautionary" and "high comedy". Here's an artist's rendition of Mrs. Bootleg sitting in the
passenger's seat position on the drive home.

I cut myself off after one measly Maker's Mark Manhattan -- dutifully poured to the very top of my old-fashioned glass! -- and an additional, albeit puzzling
post-dinner chaser. Our dinner reservations were at 7:00 PM and 12 hours later, the wife and I were pulling into our community park for Little League pictures at 7:00 AM.

Followed by Little League Opening Day ceremonies at 7:45 AM.

Followed by our game at 10:00 AM.

Now, I suppose there's a valuable lesson to be learned in quickly transitioning from an evening of adult imbibing to a morning filled with nearly 400 children. But, I doubt it's as valuable as what I've learned in my first six weeks as manager of my son's Little League team.

(Yes, I know I wrote
an identically-themed post late last year. Pipe down and enjoy the first new material I've written in nearly a month!)

"Your Son Puts on Quite a Show!" -- Proving that life imitates Bud Selig's
short-sightedness, our team had already played two games prior to the official "Opening Day". My eight-year-old son Jalen has pitched in each of our games and performed surprisingly well -- striking out seven in four innings. As a pitcher, he's added to his collection of crowd-pleasing schtick by unleashing one of these with every pitch and mixing in the occasional Arabian strikeout celebration in which J gestures towards the heavens. Insufferable? Absolutely. And, this is the "toned down" version.

Black History Month is Every Month -- Prior to our game last Wednesday, I handed out jerseys to my kids. Our league issues the same twelve numbers to every team, presumably settling on the most meaningful and iconic digits in the history of Major League Baseball -- even though Rickey Henderson's "24" isn't available, but "58" (Jonathan Papelbon? Justin Duchscherer?) is. Jalen took the field with "5" on his back -- his favorite number. Before the first pitch, the umpire approached me:

Umpire: "I'm surprised you didn't give your son [Jackie Robinson's] '42'. There's a lot of history there."

Me: [Awkward laughter] "Yeah...but, J's always liked number 5. He was really glad to get it."

Umpire: "Well, I coach a team at the next level up. I make it a point to teach them about the history of the game, too."

Me: "..."

If that short conversation wasn't surreal enough, I should point out that it was a Hispanic guy lecturing me on "Intro to Negro Sports Heroes". Never mind that my son could dorkily run rings around both of us when it comes to MLB history. When I referenced this exchange on Twitter and in subsequent conversations, I received a treasure trove of retorts I should've said...but, this one from m'man Sam was my favorite:

"Is Jalen the first black kid to play in this Little League?"

Speaking of Umpires... -- Has anyone else ever noticed that the three worst MLB umpires over the last 25 years are African-American? Honestly, would you dispute the names CB Bucknor, Kerwin Danley and/or the late Eric Gregg? Well, the umpires at the Little League level are giving them a run for their money. The strike zones randomly expand when innings are running long and then mysteriously tighten up for no real reason. During our second game, the first base umpire immediately apologized to me -- both times! -- after missing consecutive calls at the bag.

And, I'll give you three guesses as to which of my players has been the most demonstratively irritated at the umps. I'm morbidly looking forward to Jalen's eventual first ejection and mandatory one-game suspension. If only because I expect Mrs. Bootleg to get thrown out as well for her reaction to her baby getting the boot.

The Dad Factor -- Back in January, during my introductory round of phone calls to the players' families, I spoke with the father of a 10-year-old boy who believed his son was too good for this level of Little League. At his first practice, it was clear that this kid could mash a little, but had no feel for any other aspect of the game. He couldn't throw, he couldn't catch, he couldn't field and he couldn't run. I plugged him into the third spot of the lineup and assumed he'd produce as many runs with the bat as he'd give up with the glove.

Instead, his at-bats are a sad indictment on overzealous sports parents. The biggest and strongest player on my team turns nervous and tentative as his dad stands ominously -- arms folded, barking orders -- behind the backstop. Consequently, when this kid is in uniform, he's an emotional and behavioral mess. (That's gotta be worse than fathers who blithely exploit their children for lightly-read blog fodder, right? Right.)

The Dad Factor II -- After our most recent game, the father of one of my players chatted me up as I exited the dugout:

Father: "Hey, coach. I noticed Justin hasn't gotten a chance to pitch yet. Just so you know, he's been practicing at home and I think he's ready to try."

Me: "Justin will get to pitch in our next game. I had to bump him from today's game when..."

Father: "Do you think he could pitch the first inning? He'll have to leave early next week."

Me: "..."

The Pitching Debut -- Drew is already one of my favorite players on the team...and he just so happens to be the smallest player on the team. His arm, however, is not small. Last Wednesday, just before the start of the fourth inning, we had a short conversation:

Me: "How's your arm, Drew?"

Drew: [Terrified] "WHAT?"

Me: "Do you think you can pitch this inning?"

Drew: [Still terrified] "I'm not ready!"

Me: "You'll be fine. You've got a strong arm and I know you're ready to pitch."

Drew: "OK, coach."

Believe it or not, Drew struck out the side -- after loading the bases on two walks and a hit -- and didn't give up a run. His ear-to-ear grin as he bounced off the mound is the early leader for my favorite non-Jalen moment of the season.

The Pitching Debut II -- On Saturday, one of my other players made his first appearance on a pitcher's mound. Kengo had previously flashed an above-average arm during infield drills, so I was anxious to see if it carried over to pitching. He (VERY) reluctantly took the ball to start the fourth inning with our team trailing by a run. As Kengo began his warm-up pitches, I noticed my centerfielder in tears with his face buried in his glove. I jogged to the outfield to find out what was wrong:

Me: "Are you OK, Jeff?"

Jeff: "I didn't pitch good." [He got clobbered in the previous inning.]

Me: "Well, I'm proud of you for hanging in there. You're one of my best players and I know you'll be..."

Kengo: "Hey, Coach?"

Me: "Kengo?! What are you doing out here? Why aren't you warming up?"

Kengo: "Can I switch with someone else? I don't want to pitch."

Me: "You're pitching. Go back to the mound. You'll be fine. [Turning to Jeff] And,'ll be fine, too. "

Even though Kengo appeared to be holding his breath the entire time, he pitched a scoreless inning. As he walked off the mound, the vacant look on his face registered somewhere between "traumatized" and "petrified". He didn't say a word for the rest of the game. The next day I received a really sweet e-mail from his mother insisting that Kengo was a little nervous, but excited to pitch. She went on to explain that he didn't seem excited because it's inappropriate to show emotion on the field in Japanese culture.

I think the first thing I'm going to tell Kengo before our next game is that he's not pitching. I'm guessing he'll show some emotion at that.

The Secret of Baseball -- I spoke too soon. Drew's high-wattage smile only spent a few days as my favorite moment of the season. In Saturday's game, my least-experienced player got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded -- forcing in a run. As the next batter stepped to the plate, the runner on first shouted, "Don't swing! Try to get hit by the ball and they'll let you go to first base for free!"