Sunday, May 31, 2009

10 Thoughts on the Oakland A's – May 2009

Current Record: 19-29
May Record: 11-18
GB – AL West: 10 (Texas Rangers)
GB – AL Wildcard: 8.5 (Boston Red Sox)

(1) Last year, the A's 2008 campaign officially ended on July 13th when closer Huston Street crapped away a late lead against the first-place Angels. That kicked off a stretch in which the A's lost 29 of their next 38 games. In 2009, the A's were kind enough to wrap things up six weeks earlier. The first-place Rangers swept a doubleheader from Oakland on May 29, dropping the A's 10 games back. The next night, Texas won 14-1 as the A's packed it in around the 3rd inning and never looked back.

(2) Oakland acquired 2B Adam Kennedy from Tampa Bay in exchange for a minor leaguer on May 8. With starting 2B Mark Ellis on the 60-day DL (calf), Kennedy hit .441/.507/.644 in his first 15 games. Those fluke two weeks have sparked a ridiculous debate on A's blogs and message boards by those who say Ellis will have a hard time getting his job back and/or the A's should continue to play Kennedy as long as he wields a hot bat. Balderdash. Kennedy is 33 years old; he's been in decline at the plate since 2005; he's never hit LHPs and the clock is ticking. Let's hope he's still overachieving four weeks from now and is flipped to a contender when Ellis returns.

(3) Of all the infuriating managerial traits Bob Geren brings to the A's dugout every evening, his slow trigger on struggling starting pitchers is the most maddening. What makes it worse is that he's obviously trying to get his starters through five innings so they'll qualify for a "win". On May 1st, fat load Dana "Eatin'" Eveland took a 6-3 lead into the fifth inning. He then yielded a walk, a deep flyout, a home run, a hard lineout and a solid single. With his gas tank clearly empty and the score now 6-5, Geren left him in to surrender a two-run bomb before finally pulling him, now down 7-6. Two weeks later, Geren did the exact same thing with Dallas Braden in the fifth inning of a tied game.

(4) On May 18, back-up catcher Landon Powell injured his hamstring while running out of the batter's box in a blowout loss to Tampa Bay. It looked serious enough for the media – and casual idiot observers like me – to assume Powell was headed for the DL. But, no! The next day, Powell and the A's announced that it was just a "tweak". The truth? GM Billy Beane assembled a 40-man roster with only TWO catchers (Powell and starter Kurt Suzuki) on it. TWO! Beane would have to bump someone off the 40-man to put Powell on the DL. On a related note, here's Powell's first big league home run – hit a week after his "tweak" on May 24. Kirk Gibson had a steadier gait in the '88 World Series.

(5) In an attempt to stimulate ticket sales, the A's have embraced that staple of Minor League baseball…the postgame concert. American Idol winner Jordin Sparks will perform after the A's/Orioles game on June 6. And, speaking of "minor league", here's the commercial for the concert. I want to believe that the A's players involved simply didn't know the camera was rolling.

(6) The defining game of the month might end up as the one that encapsulates the season. On May 18th against the Rays, A's starter Sean Gallagher was staked to a 1-0 lead starting the bottom of the first. What followed next was a gutless, embarrassing performance that rightfully earned Gallagher a ticket back to Triple-A. In one inning, he gave up six runs in the inning on TWO HITS, two walks, a hit-by-pitch and – the highlight reel moment – a pitch that Gallagher lost control of, nailing his own crossed-up catcher square in the collar bone.

(7) The A's need to immediately start auditioning hitters for 2010, but any real youth movement is currently blocked by several old and/or ineffective corpses in the lineup. SS Orlando Cabrera (.224/.246/.294 in May) has already checked out, it seems. He goes to the plate looking to end each at bat as quickly as possible and has become sloppy and disinterested on defense. Bobby Crosby has a .399 OPS since May 13 and rubs salt in my eyes with his abominable defense at first and third base.

(8) LF Matt Holliday (.313/.450/.488 since May 5) is obviously the most attractive trading chip. Don't be surprised if Oakland aggressively attempts to move DH/RF Jack Cust, as well. Too many A's fans can't look past his strikeouts, ignoring both his power and innate ability to NOT make outs. But, since his breakout 2007 season, his OBP and SLG has steadily declined. He'll probably make $3.5 – $4.0M next year with a skill set that generally doesn't age well.

(9) I'm reluctant to invoke the concept of "chemistry", but this squad… I mean, a lot is made of "veteran leadership", but watching someone like Nomar Garciaparra – when he's not shuffling off to the disabled list twice in two months – carry himself as if the entire A's experience is beneath him just sticks in my craw.

(10) The lousy atmosphere has even turned Jason Giambi into a dead man walking. It's telling that Nick Swisher is getting all sorts of publicity with the Yankees for livening up the New York clubhouse with his unassuming goofball schtick. Giambi personified that gimmick during his first run in Oakland, before having his carefree spirit surgically removed in the Bronx. I'm pretty sure "Smiling Jason G" ain't coming back.

Thanks to That Mets Fan Guy for the inspiration…

Friday, May 29, 2009

TBG Eats: The Portobello Mushroom "Six-Dollar Burger" from Carl's Jr.

Current Weight: 165.6 lbs.

A mushroom goes into a bar and sits down to order a drink. The bartender walks over and says, ''I'm sorry sir, but we don't serve your kind here.'' The mushroom sits back and asks,''Why not? I'm a fun guy!"

I was a little late to the mushroom revolution.

It's weird, because I clearly remember seeing a blue, cellophane-wrapped bushel of mushrooms in our refrigerator all the time as a child, but I can't remember ever eating anything my mother made with mushrooms.

Not surprisingly, my first memorable mushroom experience was…in college. There was a pizza place about a mile from the dorms at San Diego State that served up large mushroom pies for $2.50/each after 10:00 PM on Wednesday nights. No topping(s) substitution, limit two per order, carry-out only.

Back in 1995, I thought this was the greatest food deal ever imagined. In 2009, I realize the line of customers that snaked around the block – openly drinking Natty Ice or Keystone Light from Solo cups – were being served surplus fungi that probably spoiled the week before.

A few years later, then-Girlfriend Bootleg and I went to a wedding where stuffed mushrooms were served. Garlic…butter…bread crumbs…crab meat. I wanted to pilfer the platter and do bad, bad things to it. Not long after that, we went to another wedding where – instead of steak (or any other meat, for that matter) – giant grilled Portobello mushroom caps were the main entrée.

That went over with the guests about as well as you'd imagine and I'm pretty sure I was the ONLY one there who actually enjoyed the meal.

So, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I missed the Portobello Mushroom Burger during its initial run at Carl's Jr. According to CJ's website, it's made with a "100% Black Angus beef patty, 'shrooms, two slices of [processed] Swiss cheese, red onion, lettuce, two slices of tomato and mayonnaise".

I like those things.

This burger was even featured in USA Today and received an honor in "product excellence" from something called Produce Business Magazine. Now, I'm not sure how much a relatively anonymous award like that is worth, but as a 2x "Music Zone Writer of the Year", I wouldn't be doing my job if I glossed over it.

I paid about $8.50 for the combo meal, which comes with the biggest "medium" sized fries known to man. CJ's fries are the single most-improved fast food item out there, so if it's been awhile since your last Carl's Jr. jaunt, get yourself a side and see what I mean.

My burger was served up babysitter-hot and the saucy mushrooms blended with the molten cheese to make for a gloriously gooey experience. The actual patty was rather dry, though, as the 'shrooms and cheese could only do so much. Portobellos usually have a deep, smoky taste, but this characteristic was really watered-down here.

I'm not sure CJ's could do much more to improve upon this very good, but not quite great burger. Any more mushrooms and you'd have to eat this with a spoon. Perhaps a little more mayo if the meat is always served up this chalky and anything topped with red onions will almost always be OK in my eyes. 870 calories, 53 grams of fat.

Grade: 3.5 (out of 5)

The Bill

Emergency Room: $302.00

911 Response: $997.09

Ambulance Mileage: $69.50 ($13.90/mile)

Oxygen: $10.00

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

TBG Drinks: Mighty Arrow

Brewed By: New Belgium Brewing
Brewed In: Fort Collins, Colorado
Type: American Pale Ale
ABV: 6.0%

What They Say: "Pale Ale provides lots of pleasurable sniffs from Amarillo and Cascade hops with a fetching honey malt base. This is our brewed tribute to 'Arrow', Kim's Aussie/Border Collie mix who ran (literally) New Belgium for 12 years. When she wasn't patrolling the brewery grounds, she was famous for her office visits: She never met a tummy rub she didn't like. Atta girl Arrow."

Website: I covered New Belgium's website in a previous review. I stand behind my four-month-old snark.

Why I Picked It: New Belgium makes Fat Tire beer and OMG I'm like Fat Tire's biggest fan. New Belgium is the brewing equivalent of 1999-2001 Nate Dogg. Back then, I could listen to ol' Nathaniel read from the phone book. He could do no wrong. Neither can New Belgium – uh,
for the most part.


Presentation (5): That's actually quite the poignant little label. The literal "arrow" imagery around the "entrance" is engaging, as are the earthy colors used around the edge. Is it enough for me to overlook the implied, rampant health code violations involving a dog running around a brewery? Sure, why not? 5

Originality (5): As usual, we turn to Google. "Pale ale" gets 2.2 million hits, while the narrower "American Pale Ale" checks in with 209,000. My unofficial research indicates this might be previously traveled beer territory. 1

Body (10): The attractive light-copper color poured with a surprising finger-and-a-half head and more lacing than the usual New Belgium brew. There's a moderate amount of carbonation here, which is even more pronounced with Mighty Arrow's generally thin mouthfeel. 7

Taste (10): The ever-present – but, never invasive – bitterness blends well with flavors of overripe citrus and spice. Perhaps a little too hoppy for some; there are definitely some hints of caramel and dried fruits that are quickly tamped down. This one's all kinds of refreshing and an ideal choice for our oppressive 80 degree, 30% humidity San Diego summers. 8

Efficiency (10): Even the casual, occasional beer drinker could quaff three or four of these in the blink of an eye. The relatively low ABV won't sneak up on anyone, unless we're talking about those oversized happy hour pours, though. It'll take some time to do some real damage with this one. 6

Versatility (10): Mighty Arrow is an exceptionally social beer that borrows characteristics from both the "light" and "strong" sides of the fence. Only the most established drinking lightweight or obnoxious beer snob would turn their nose at this. And, if you're looking for a surprisingly phenomenal food pairing, try it with Mrs. Bootleg's fresh tomato mozzarella and basil salad. We'll save you a plate. 9

Grade: 36 (out of 50) – Really good beer.

The above format has been lifted with permission from That Beer Snob Guy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Daddy Smells Like Six Beers..."

I know that there's a fairly large segment of my infinitesimal readership that hates all things "social networking". So, for the sake of some quick lunchtime blog fodder, here are some cross-pollinated pics of The Cam Fam. We went to a minor league baseball game on Sunday and the others are from J's recent preschool "Spring Sing" event. Bet'cha can't find the ones where I was drinking!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Things That Could Kill Me

Got a chance to use my "rescue inhaler" today!

Mrs. Bootleg convinced me to go shopping for a new dining room set. Our son, Jalen, had been up since 5:15 AM when he jumped on my scrawny chest and excitedly asked who won the A's/D'Backs game the night before. [TBG Note: Jalen takes A's losses harder than I ever did. The A's record is 15-25 as I type this. Earlier tonight, Oakland blew a 5-1 lead in the eighth inning and then lost the game in the 11th. It's still May. We might lose 100 games. Why don't parenting books address situations like this?]

As you might expect, Jalen – who never takes naps anymore – fell asleep on the 15-minute car ride. Since this was really Mrs. Bootleg's folly, she volunteered to make the initial pass through the show room and promised to send me photos from her cell phone of any sets that caught her eye. I was left in the SUV with the A/C running and Little Boy Bootleg passed out in the back seat.

This seemed like a good idea…until Mrs. Bootleg sent the first picture. I couldn't tell if the frame was black or brown, wood or metal. My texted follow-up questions on the first set were interrupted by a steady stream of more furniture photos from my inspired wife. I lifted my 45-pound sack-of-potatoes sleeping son and walked into the store, so that I could see everything for myself.

We were parked on the second level, so I had to carry the boy down a flight of stairs. I couldn't find my wife (or an elevator) on the first floor, so I scaled a different set of stairs to reach the store's second floor. Jalen was still not moving, save for his head which – like mine – makes up 80% of his weight. No Mrs. Bootleg, so back down the stairs to the first floor. Still with me? I'm breathing a wee bit heavy here and can feel the wheeze a'comin', so I make a break for the car – and UP the goddam stairs, again.

Crisis averted, with the help of my "nerd spray". Two pumps of Albuterol and I was cool in about two minutes. My own medical conclusion: separately, my son and several stairs don't appear to inhibit my health. However, like the various Joker-contaminated toiletries and beauty products in 1989's Batman movie, the two are lethal when combined.

Here now – courtesy of Mrs. Bootleg's independent research – are a few other items that could kill me, now that we've established my allergy to aspirin:

Over-the-counter medications: Alka-Seltzer, Anacin, Bufferin, Doan's, Dristan, Ecotrin, Excedrin, Goody's Headache Powder, Kaopectate, Norwich, Pamprin(!), Pepto-Bismol, Sine-Off, St. Joesph's and Thera-Flu.

Even better, there seems to be a consensus in the medical community that aspirin-related allergies almost always evolve into full-blown food allergies. For those of us who can't tolerate salicylates, here are the most common food offenders:

Fruits: Apples, avocados, blueberries, dates, kiwi fruit, peaches, raspberries, figs, grapes, plums, strawberries, cherries, grapefruit, and prunes.

Vegetables: Alfalfa, cauliflower, cucumbers, mushrooms, radishes, broad beans, eggplant, spinach, zucchini, broccoli, and hot peppers.

Herbs, spices, and condiments: Dry spices and powders, tomato pastes and sauces, vinegar, soy sauce, jams, and jellies.

Beverages: Coffee, wine, beer, orange juice, apple cider, regular and herbal tea, rum, and sherry.

Nuts: Pine nuts, peanuts, pistachios, and almonds.

Some candies: Peppermints, licorice, and mint-flavored gum and breath mints.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to set myself on fire.

People Say I Look Like…

Earlier this week, within the walls of the Unnamed Defense Contractor, one of our rumpled managers descended from the mountaintop in search of my co-worker (and cube neighbor), Austin. Unfortunately, Austin was out of the office, so this manager turned his attention towards me. More specifically, his bifocals were fixed on a picture of me (wearing sunglasses, an A's visor and "retro" Reggie Jackson caricature t-shirt) and my son.

Manager: "Do you golf?"
Me: "I'm the only person in San Diego who's never touched a golf club."

Manager: [Looking back at picture] "Y'know, I really admire him. All that money from Nike and Cadillac…he just seems so humble and genuine."
Me: "…"

It took a few seconds for it to sink in, before I realized this guy thought the picture of me was actually…Tiger Woods. This manager rambled on about Woods for awhile longer before leaving. Naturally, I didn't bother to correct him.

That was the first time anyone had linked my looks – intentionally or not – to Woods, which kind of surprises me. How long has he been Tiger Woods? Since 1996? Maybe '97? I got TWO Barack Obama comps from separate co-workers within a week of each other last summer.

Now, in this PC era, I have to tiptoe through this next sentence or two. Let's just say it's never other African-Americans who are making these awkward, almost always inaccurate comparisons. I never hear 'em from Hispanics, Asians, Samoans, American Indians, Indian Indians or any other non-white ethnicity, either. So, umm…yeah.

But, don't get me wrong, white folk…it's great dinner conversation for us. While we were still dating, someone told Mrs. Bootleg she looked like this former child actress. Of course, she doesn't – hell, if anything, Williams' forehead is much more comparable to mine – but, we threw it on the pile and shared a laugh about it later.

Here now are actual "You know who you look like?" comparisons I've received over the years:

Warren G.: Sigh…15 years ago, I wouldn't have had to explain who the hell this is. You'll have to trust me when I say he was "kind of a big deal". Anyways, I got this one a lot while I was still living in Long Beach. Tell you the truth…in a certain light, I could kind of see this. I'm a little lighter (natch), but we've both got that "less than Afrocentric" nose thing going with almond-shaped eyes that are too goddam far apart.

Kevin Johnson: I think we can all agree that KJ is not an attractive man. So, what made this one hurt even worse was the fact that I've been hit with this comparison TWICE. I mean…he's hideous. I don't see it in the face, but I'll concede that he and I share the same "space alien" head: long and narrow down to our pointy chins, while the back of our domes grotesquely balloon out.

That Black guy on Walker, Texas Ranger: True story: I was at the airport for a business trip to Atlanta. An older gentleman walks right up to me and says I look like "That Black guy on Texas Ranger". I'd heard of the show, but never seen it. And, if you know me, my brain mistakenly defaulted to "That Black Guy on [the] Texas Rangers [baseball team]". I pretended I knew who he was talking about ("Well, I wish I was making HIS money! Hahaha!") and spent a week trying to figure which brutha on the '01 Rangers he was referring to. Darren Oliver? Pat Mahomes?

Friday, May 22, 2009

TBG Eats: Taco Bell's NEW Volcano Double Beef Burrito - UPDATED!

Quick (no, really, guys…I promise) rundown of my Friday:

Morning: Previously volunteered Mrs. Bootleg and myself to provide and serve "parent-catered lunch" at our son's preschool. Consequently, I spent a chunk of the AM washing and coring a couple of pallets of Costco strawberries. Later, the wife and I picked up SIX(!) large pizzas and watched in awe as dozens of four and five-year-olds pillaged and plundered the grub. Some of 'em – including my own kid – ate three slices. Three! From a large! Three!

Afternoon: Back to the specialist for two hours of extensive breathing, respiratory and allergy testing. This really deserves its own post, but after the past few days, even I'm sick of "Aaron's ailments". So, to recap: I'm allergic to pretty much everything under the sun – literally. Every common grass, tree and outdoor mold or pollen showed up as a positive. And, if you can avoid an allergy test, please try'n do so. For mine, the nurse stuck me with a small pin, up and down my back 57 times. Fifty-seven! From a large! In my back! Quote of the year from my doctor: "Since your upper body is rather underdeveloped, it'll probably take you longer to recover from Monday than most people."

Evening: Our third trip of the day to Jalen's preschool for the annual "Spring Sing" concert event. Concert theme: "Peace Begins with Me". Good choice, kids. That'll play really well in a crackpot-conservative military town like this one. And, since Mrs. Bootleg and I are two of "those" parents, we each set up shop on opposite ends of the stage and took separate photos. There were eight songs in all, which might've been a few too many, as kids just stopped singing and/or wandered off to the dessert table before the show was over.

It had been a long day for That Bootleg Family, so after we got home, I offered to go back out for Taco Bell. (Those of you without kids yet, take heed: if you don't want your fast food choice influenced by your child, drop him/her off with mom and go back out on your own. I know what you're thinking - "I make the decisions in this house! Ain't no kid gonna tell ME where to eat!" Just trust me on this one, 'K?)

Not expecting any new menu items, I pulled into the drive-thru and prepared to order my (current) usual: the number eight for Mrs. Bootleg with a Dr. Pepper and the Grilled Chicken Burrito with revolving second item for myself. But, wait. What's that florescent RED thing on the menu board? It looks like the unnatural color of…volcano-based food products!

It's back! It's back! The Volcano Taco is back!

Hmmm…it's increased in price since the last time I saw it, jumping 40 cents to $1.29. But, we'll let it slide, since it appears to have brought – can it be? – a Volcano Double Beef Burrito to the party!

First the good news: the Volcano Taco is as awesome as I remember. Now, the bad news: the Volcano Double Beef Burrito is…NOT awesome. "Acceptable" is a more appropriate adjective, but even that comes some problems.

The burrito contains "twice the amount of beef" that's in TB's Burrito Supreme, along with seasoned rice, red tortilla strips, shredded cheese, sour cream and "lava sauce". Unfortunately, TB shovels out the sour cream by the truckload for some reason. The legit spiciness of the lava sauce is completely negated and the whole thing turns into a goopy five-layer dip.

This one's screaming for a second chance and I'm inclined to oblige. Next time, I'll tell 'em to hold the sour cream and double up on the lava sauce. And, no, I can't wait to call "lava sauce" by its proper, stupid name through a drive-thru speaker.

That probably won't resolve the other problem, though. I'm generally the last person to complain about fast food pricing, but $2.99 is ridiculous for something TB should be serving as a value-menu priced (and value-menu sized) sister-item to the Volcano Taco.

UPDATE!: The Volcano Double-Beef Burrito got its second chance with me tonight – without the quart of sour cream. It was better than what I got one week ago, but it's still got flaws: (1) too much filler (rice, red tortilla strips) and (2) about a dollar too expensive. There's 4+ potential here, Taco Bell. For now, you'll take your 3.5 and like it.

Grade: 2 3.5 (out of 5)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Those Who Do Not Learn from Jose Canseco…

Entering Wednesday night's game against the Rays, Oakland's Jason Giambi was [quote-unquote] hitting .193 BA / .324 OBP / .319 SLG. He can no longer get around on good fastballs and his once-prodigious power only reaches the warning track these days. And, Lord, don't get me started on his mummified defense at first base. In all my years, I've never seen anyone so obviously afraid of making the throw to second base on a 3-6-3 double play.

A's fans really should've seen this coming. Hell, if anything, recent history has only repeated itself. Back in 1997, my favorite team welcomed back another anabolic prodigal son – Jose Canseco – after a four-year absence. The Giambi and Canseco scripts have been eerily similar, so far:

January 27, 1997: Canseco is traded from the Boston Red Sox to the A's in exchange for John "Way Back!" Wasdin

At the time, the A's were four years removed from relevance. They'd just come off a 78-win season in which they finished last in the AL in attendance (1.14M). The Canseco acquisition – no matter how the team or the media spun it – was made to put butts in the seats. And, boy, did the team and media spin it:

AS SOON as fans heard that Jose Canseco was returning, the A's switchboard lit up. Roughly $45,000 worth of tickets were sold in one day, the team's best day at the box office since Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann bought the club [in 1995].

[Mark] McGwire hits towering home runs for record distances, but the ball doesn't leap off the bat as it does with Canseco. Canseco's trademark is the searing line drive that barely gets a dozen feet off the ground as it slams into the left-field bleachers, leaving the park so rapidly that the left fielder barely has time to take a step.

Once a strong-armed outfielder who was improving enough to be considered a candidate to play center field, he has become a defensive liability.

By the by…Canseco was NEVER "considered a candidate to play center field" – even in an era where the Rangers rolled out Pete Incaviglia as their everyday CF. The current version of the A's finished with 75 wins in 2008 and drew 1.66M to their intimate toilet of a ballpark (good enough for 13th out of 14 AL teams). The offseason had been one P.R. bobble after another, so who better than Giambi to engender some goodwill and maybe move a few dozen extra tickets?

The next chapter of the Canseco saga was built upon the media's unrealistic expectations:

The A's made a point to say the trade was not a rash move, or an easy way to pick up some quickie headlines. They believe Canseco will be in Oakland long-term, and that his presence may convince [Mark] McGwire to stick around after his contract expires at the end of the season.

McGwire didn't even "stick around" until the end of the '97 season, as he was gifted to St. Louis for a triumvirate of bums at the trade deadline. Meanwhile, before the '09 season began, one columnist had reached similar crazy-man conclusions about Giambi:

So it's Jason Giambi, and why not? He…had the second-best homers-to-at-bats ratio in the American League [in 2008]. The A's need a sassier, feistier stance for the public, one they didn't have a year ago, and Giambi, though a stopgap measure until one of these two-veterans-for-five-projects deals comes up trumps, is the most affordable fellow with his skill set who could get folks to come back to the Coliseum.

Through 18 games, the A's are averaging 18,030. That number will surely trend upward once summer arrives, but the team will almost certainly come in under one million fans for the first time since 1980. Also, I'm guessing that Giambi's three home runs in 119 at-bats isn't currently among the top two ratios in the league right now.

In 1997, Canseco was his usual streaky self as a hitter:

April 2 – May 9: .230 BA .298 OBP .370 SLG (his first 33 games)

May 10 – June 18: .269 BA .379 OBP .588 SLG (his next 34 games)

June 19 – August 26: .209 BA .303 OBP .440 SLG (his final 41 games)

It wasn't long before the team and media turned 180°:

Jose Canseco was an expensive mistake. However, it appears this is one blunder [General Manager] Sandy Alderson doesn't intend to make again.

Although the A's general manager carefully avoided saying he does not want Canseco to get the 142 plate appearances the player needs to qualify for an automatic contract renewal for 1998, it appears unlikely it will happen.

Canseco, who's been on the disabled list with a bad back, declared himself fit and ready to play again before Tuesday night's game against Boston was rained out. However, the A's did not activate him. This decision fed speculation management is unwilling to pay him a $4.5 million salary for 1998, the sum he would earn if he has 1,000 combined plate appearances between last season and this one.

Just watch yourself, Giambi…that's all I'm sayin'. Canseco had a similar goofball, self-deprecating interview style that the press gobbled up like anything else put in front of them that was plentiful and free. And, what might the next few months hold for Giambi if he inexplicably heats up? Trade bait!

The Yankees talked trade with the A's yesterday for the third straight day and confirmed that Jose Canseco is on their short list of candidates for a trade in the coming days. Cecil Fielder will miss eight weeks with a broken thumb, and the Yankees are in a hurry to close a deal, so they can add another right-handed bat to their lineup.

The A's are unlikely to take a chance on Yankees left-hander Kenny Rogers, who had offseason surgery on his shoulder and elbow -- even though the Yankees would be willing to pick up $3 million to $4 million of the $12 million Rogers has coming in salary over the next two-plus seasons. But a young pitcher like 25-year-old sinker-baller Ramiro Mendoza (3-4 with a 4.42 ERA) could interest the A's.

Spoiler alert: the A's DID take a chance on Kenny Rogers, acquiring him in November 1997 for Scott Brosius. Canseco ended up fouling a ball of his foot in late July and – probably not coincidentally – remained an Oakland Athletic. In August, he'd re-injure his oft-injured back and was essentially told to stay the hell away when he reportedly healed up. More bashing by the media, please!

And worse, Canseco is a bad influence. Even those who like him and enjoy his style have to admit that his nonchalance does not set a good example for the young players. It will be bad having him around next year, and once again, the decision to keep him calls into question how serious the A's really are about going all-out in the rebuilding direction. They want to be serious, but until they jettison Canseco, they will be making moves like a team that can't quite let go of its past.

So, the Jose Canseco Experience v2.0 didn't exactly work out in the clubhouse or the standings. But, it surely increased attendance and kept the turnstiles spinning all season long:

You won't hear much talk about it today though, unless you run into one of the 4,764 who were rattling around the Coliseum. It was the A's smallest crowd in 11 years.

Welcome back, Jason!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

TBG TV: Lost - "The Incident"

The Good:

Jacob, the four-toed statue and the Blackrock ship in the first five minutes? OK, Lost, I'm listening. Tell me more.

Before he was revealed to be That Loophole Guy, I loved the hell out of Locke turning the manipulative tables on Ben. It was so transparent and SO evil and so…Ben.

Sayid's sad, cynical delivery as he slowly bled out ("I cannot be saved.") was heartbreakingly wonderful. I'm relying on the show's occasionally biblical overtones in hopes that Sayid's line means he CAN be saved (i.e…he won't die next season)…he'll just spend eternity in hell, when he does die in 30 or 40 years. I'm OK with that.

Yes, yes, yes…the Jack/Sawyer fight was silly, contrived, cliché, etc. It was also more fun than it had any right to be. I was rooting for Sawyer like it was a title fight and when he nailed Jack with a ballshot, Mrs. Bootleg nearly had to scrape me off the ceiling.

Jacob's final(?) scene was fascinating to watch. Here's this being who's seemingly immortal, but when he realizes that his demise is near, he nervously prattles on about his threadworking skills. I'm sure it'll ultimately be one of those Obi-Wan Kenobi "If you strike me down…blah blah blah" moments, but it was still cool to see this omnipotent presence pee his pants a little as he approached death's door.

The Bad:

I get that the physics of a hydrogen bomb are too complex to explain within the confines of an hourly, episodic drama, but come on…we're supposed to believe that Faraday left "detailed instructions" for removing a piece of this 30-year-old, radiation-leaking explosive in the pages of a thin spiral notebook? Wouldn't something like that require more than 120 college-ruled pages? Just sayin'.

Over the years, my biggest beef with this show has been the odd, often nonsensical deviations in established character development that seem to pop up whenever the writers need to move the story along. The "Juliet" character's season-long inconsistency is the most egregious, but having Sayid – written as a cerebral, meticulous strategist (even when he's torturing others) – pull out the "hide in plain sight" idea from the crack of his ass ranks a close second.

So, Rose and Bernard have managed to avoid detection in the jungle for three years? These two self-described retirees have eluded The Others AND the Dharma Initiative for three years…with a dog? For three years? They've procured food and toiletries, probably started a fire or two and gotten by just fine on their wits and guile for three years completely unnoticed? Makes perfect sense.

A year from now, untalented hacks like me will be writing exhaustive Lost eulogies, remembering the best and worst moments of the show's seven-season run. Since I'm all about irrational knee-jerk reactions, I'll go ahead and call Elizabeth Mitchell's "Juliet" the most mishandled character of the series, so far. I never really warmed up to her, but I appreciated her tragic motivation. I dug her emotionless gaze that belied the fact she was often the proverbial "smartest person in the room". And, I grew to understand her "I don't give a sh*t if you don't trust me" attitude. These were traits that were well established in the show's third and fourth seasons. This season, however, Juliet was reduced to a two-dimensional caricature of the insecure girlfriend. The fate of everyone on the island hangs in the balance and the deciding vote is cast by Juliet…because she saw the way Sawyer looked at Kate?!

Verdict: Honestly, I do NOT get the insane amount of hate this episode's been getting. What better way to set up the end game than to establish a higher power (or two) and leave very existence of every character on the show as one massive cliffhanger? OK, except Jack…we know he'll be alright. And, Kate. And, Hurley, too…dammit. Best season of the series' long run, with a strong finale that encapsulated the best of the show's storytelling and mythology.

Monday, May 18, 2009

TBG Drinks: Alaskan Smoked Porter

Brewed By: Alaskan Brewing Company
Brewed In: Juneau, Alaska
Type: American Porter
ABV: 6.5%

What They Say: "The dark, robust body and pronounced smoky flavor of this limited edition beer make it an adventuresome taste experience. Alaskan Smoked Porter is produced in limited "vintages" each year and unlike most beers, may be aged in the bottle much like fine wine."

Website: The folks at Sundog Media have created a clean, sleek piece of web design for Alaskan Brewing. The breathtaking Alaskan landscape runs left-to-right, just above the center of the screen with links to the company's eight signature – including some seasonal – beers run just below. The individual beer "style", "history" and "ingredients" is a fascinating, albeit brief, read. And, HUGE props for the recipe page, which features about a bazillion free recipes featuring Alaskan Brewing's products. Smoked Porter Apple Crisp? Get back in the kitchen, Mrs. Bootleg!

Why I Picked It: I was this close to leaving my wife and running off with Stone Brewing's Smoked Porter, which earned the highest TBeerG rating in the short-lived history of this lightly-read blog. My review of that beer led to a handful of additional smoked porter recommendations from readers, with Alaskan's version coming up most often.


Presentation (5): For those of us who've ever wondered if ubiquitous Crayola color "burnt sienna" could ever find a home in a grown-up world, here ya go. I dunno…the caribou on a hillside at sunset (wait, they have sunsets in Alaska?) imagery seems cheesy and romanticized to me. Then, again, Alaskan Brewing already uses a bear, a canoe and a glacier on some of its other beers, so what other Alaskan icons are left? Oil derricks? Carlos Boozer? I think…hey, wait a tic. Carlos Boozer! That just came to me! Boozer! Pun intended! 2

Originality (5): According to their website, this beer was introduced in 1988 and "has been credited with helping inspire an American revival of smoked beers". Seeing as I was still in junior high school in '88, I'll have to take their word for it. Of course, back then, the most popular beer choice in America was "less filling" or "tastes great". Now, smoked porters are more prominent, but extra points for pioneering the whole thang. 4

Body (10): Not since the Exxon Valdez bled 11 gallons of black gold throughout Prince William Sound (too soon?) has the state of Alaska produced anything this dark and dense. The head, however, is surprisingly thin with a nearly nonexistent level of lacing. Personally, I prefer porters in which light cannot escape. 9

Taste (10): The smokiness of this beer overpowers every other trace flavor in its presence. Remember those cheesy Saturday morning PSAs about staying low to the ground in case of fire? This is smokier. There are hints of buttery malts and burnt chocolate, but those are choked out almost immediately. 6

Efficiency (10): This one isn't as heavy as some of the (few) other porters I've enjoyed and checks in at a reasonable ABV. Unfortunately, the char and ash flavors don't lend themselves towards much momentum during an evening of drinking. 5

Versatility (10): In the right setting – served with assorted grilled or barbecued members of the animal kingdom – this could fool your friends by masquerading as a "social" beer. I'll even give it some extra credit for its potential as a "cookin' beer". 5

Grade: 31 (out of 50) – Good beer

The above format has been lifted with permission from That Beer Snob Guy.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Really, Yankee Fans?

Out and about on a Saturday morning, I tuned in to Sirius XM channel 175. Back in the salad days of satellite radio, XM aired a "Home Plate" station that featured non-stop baseball talk with live cut-ins to games around the Majors. Now, channel 175 only runs its talk shows in the morning, while airing a "game of the day" once the scheduled slate of games for the day begins.

I had another paragraph here about how ridiculous it is for XM to air a "game of the day" on channel 175, while broadcasting the exact same game, at the same time on one of their other dozen or so baseball play-by-play stations, but I'll just get to the point.

Bottom of the 3rd inning, call courtesy of John Sterling – WFAN:

"A 'Tex message' to right center! You're on the MARK, Teixeira!"

Yankees' DH Mark Teixeira just put the home team up 3-1 with a three-run home run. Sterling has been a Yankees' broadcaster for 20 years. Twenty! He's outlasted Cats, Les Misérables and A Chorus Line. How does his cornball schtick play in that city?!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Asthma, Allergies & the Ambulance – Part III

"Looks like I won't be lacking for blog fodder any time soon."
- Me, "The A Word", April 30, 2009.

Part I -- Part II

7:05 PM - I'm told they're having trouble with my IV. It hasn't been properly positioned or something, so they need to "move the setting" with an explicit guarantee that they won't touch the needle.

7:06 PM - Turns out, I need a new IV…ergo, a new needle. I mistakenly glance over and damned if they're not twisting the needle in and out (and in) like a corkscrew. This comes with some new medicine that I'm told will "open me up", but make me feel "a little jittery". I officially passed "a little jittery" 30 minutes ago. On the plus side, I'm in the right place when my heart inevitably explodes.

7:10 PM - Mrs. Bootleg and the boy are led into my room. Jalen's awake, clinging to his disintegrated security blanket and looking wide-eyed at all the activity. I'm worried that the entire scene will emotionally ravage his psyche, but it's me who's fighting back tears. Stupid family. I guess I do love them. For now.

7:15 PM - The swarm of medical professionals has subsided, save for one lone male nurse. I'm lucid enough to realize that my dress shirt has been unbuttoned so that the pads for heart and lung monitors could be applied to my chest. My hope here is that I don't have to get undressed, as I'm wearing boxers similar to these at this very moment. Except with an image of Homer Simpson inside each heart. And, they're black. Shut up, they're
comfortable! They're a silk/rayon blend. They feel like I'm wearing no undies at all. SHUT UP!

7:30 PM - Not much to do now except wait for the meds to take effect. I still can't speak, but Mrs. Bootleg looks upon my almost-corpse and says exactly what I'm thinking: "This is going to make a hell of a blog post." Followed closely by: "Do you want me to take your picture." It's been 72 hours as I type this and I'm just now realizing…she brought her digital camera to the emergency room?

7:45 PM - Jalen has found new life. While Mrs. Bootleg texts real-time updates to everyone in her phone's address book, Jalen starts walking around the room…mesmerized by all of the machines. I know it's cliché, but at times like these one can really appreciate a child's curiosity, his innocence, his…GODDAMMIT, JALEN, DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING! DADDY NEEDS THAT TO LIVE! I can't say it, so I wildly shake my foot in my wife's direction.

7:50 PM - Something starts beeping. The nurse returns to check it out and informs me that there's an air bubble in my IV. "We gotta get that outta there!", the nurse says. I can feel myself drifting off and the thought crosses my mind that…zzzzzz.

7:52 PM - "Hi! Mr. Cameron. I'm sorry to wake you, but I need your signature authorizing us to provide you with medication." Ummm…the medication you've already been giving me for the past 45 minutes?

8:00 PM - Hey, I can talk! Kind of. The doctor comes in and asks me what the hell happened. She gets the recovering asthmatic's abbreviated version (sorry you guys have to suffer through the l-o-n-g version) and after my six-second exposition, she determines that I'm allergic to aspirin. I realize now that I took aspirin about a month prior to this and the exact same thing – well, about 1000x less blog-worthy – happened. It seems that only 1% of the general population is allergic to aspirin, but those with asthma are anywhere from 20-40% more likely to have a reaction similar to mine.

8:10 PM - One of Mrs. Bootleg's girlfriends has come to take Jalen home. "Can we play Wii?", he asks. Good to see his "emotionally ravaged psyche" has healed so nicely. Can't even see the scar.

8:30 PM - The doctor's back to check the readings one last time. She casually mentions some over-the-counter medications that are now banned from ever entering my body, again. Her list includes Thera-Flu, which might be the worst news to come out of this evening. No one - no one - drinks more of that hot lemony, snot-flavored, sleep-inducing nectar than me when I have a cold. Now, what'll I turn to? Ny-Quil? Never really worked on me. Only I could be allergic to the wonderful world of drugs.

9:30 PM - Discharged. I actually need to lean on my midget wife just to sit up and walk out of the room. One of the four EMTs who brought me in is still hanging around for some reason and wishes me well. Mrs. Bootleg offers to bring the car around, but I'm pretty sure I can make the 50-yard walk to the car.

9:32 PM - Nope.

Just wanted to express my sincere thanks to everyone who left a comment or dropped me a line/IM in the last week. It was much appreciated, kids.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Asthma, Allergies & the Ambulance – Part II

Hit me
Going, going, gone
Now I dialed 9-1-1 a long time ago
Don't you see how late they're reactin'?
They only come and they come when they wanna
So get out the morgue truck n' embalm the goner

-Public Enemy

Part I

6:37 PM - "My husband's having an asthma attack and he can't breathe." Mrs. Bootleg, who once mistakenly called 4-1-1 to report a fire, couldn't have been calmer. She knew the meds I was taking; she knew my social security number and she knew how serious this was about 20 minutes before I did. On the other hand, I only know that Mrs. Bootleg loves barbecued ribs, crème brulee and Grey's Anatomy. I…gotta work on that.

6:40 PM - We're less than a half-mile from a fire station and I can hear the sirens off in the distance. I'm pissed at my body for its sudden betrayal ("What did I do to EVER abuse you?"). I'm embarrassed for the neighborhood spectacle I'm about to become ("Hey, this Black guy down the street from me overdosed or something!"). And, yes, I'm hoping I don't f*****g die.

6:43 PM - Four guys – roughly the size of an NFL defensive line – come rumbling up our walkway. All eight of their arms are covered with colorful tattoos and for some reason, this…does not soothe me. There's about 1,200 pounds orbiting my breathless carcass, asking me questions I can't answer and speaking – simultaneously – to each other in their own medical code. I feel my fate is pretty much sealed when one of 'em turns to Mrs. Bootleg and says, "OK, we're gonna need your help." Joke's on them, though, as there isn't even a plug to pull yet.

6:45 PM - It takes two minutes for Mrs. Bootleg to find a chair from our dining room, which sits about two feet from our front door. God forbid one of the anonymous EMTs see our old beat-up, baby-food stained chairs. Take your time, honey.

6:46 PM - I'm still on the ground, by the way. The EMTs assure me that I won't have to do anything and prepare to lift me up onto the chair. Three seconds later, they've collectively changed their minds and ask if I can get up on my own. I've only been sprawled out on my front porch for 10 minutes, so I can see how they'd think I'd found my second wind.

6:48 PM - Over the past two minutes, I've been reassured 200 times by Team EMT that they're going to make me feel better. They're talking to me in the same condescending way I would talk to my five-year-old son if he were in the same situation. "Guess what, J? You're going to ride in an ambulance! How cool is that? You won't have to stop for red lights or anything!"

6:50 PM - One of the EMTs calls it in. Another one asks if I've ever had a tube down my throat before. I still can't speak, so I can only assume that the whip-quick shaking of my head suggested the EMTs come up with a "plan B". In an instant, I'm on a gurney with an oxygen mask around my mouth. Let's roll!

6:52 PM - "We're going to give you an IV. You'll feel a little pinch in your arm." I've never had an IV before, but I'm familiar with the "feel a little pinch" preface before any needle-related medical activity. For those of you who've yet to enjoy the IV experience, let me assure you that what I felt was pretty f*cking far from "a little pinch".

6:53 PM - They fire up the sirens, just in case any late-arriving rubberneckers on our cul-de-sac were wondering when to come to their windows and watch. Somehow, Mrs. Bootleg (4'8") has dead-lifted our sleeping 46-pound son (just 12 inches shorter than his mom) from the couch, through the dining room, the kitchen and the laundry room to the garage and into his car seat. For those of you without kids, this is a positively She-Hulkian task for anyone. That's nearly 50 pounds without any "help" from the child, such as wrapping his arms around the mother's neck. The best part: Mrs. Bootleg's already in her car, sitting in the driveway and waiting on the ambulance. If I could speak, I'd have suggested they let her drive.

6:55 PM - We're on the road and all I can think about is how no one in Southern California ever yields for an ambulance. Seriously, readers, if the local news is any indication, we must lead the free world in ambulance-related collisions. And, with the likelihood that my wife is following about a foot behind the ambulance's bumper…

7:00 PM - I'm wheeled into the emergency room and "soothing bedside manner" ain't on the menu today. Doctors and nurses are flying everywhere around me. In a matter of moments, I've been hooked up to what seems like a dozen different machines. I swear I hear a voice in the room say something like "…4% lung capacity…", which I know can't be right. Right?

Next: The official diagnosis!

Asthma, Allergies & the Ambulance – Part I

"Run from the police? Picture that. N***a, I'm too fat…
I f**k around and catch a asthma attack (*heavy breathing*)
" – Notorious B.I.G.

So, there are a couple of essential plot points that need to be established up front. First, as most of you know, I was diagnosed with asthma a few weeks ago. Hilarious, right? Well, it gets better. On Mother's Day, while unhooking my kid from his car seat, I tweaked my back. It bothered me for the rest of the day and, because of all the meds I'm already on, I didn't take anything stronger than Tylenol for the pain.

We join our story on Monday, May 11, already in progress:

5:15 PM - Much to my surprise, ten hours of pushing papers from an uncomfortable 10-year-old chair hasn't alleviated one bit of my back pain. I shuffle off to call it a day, but not before one final round of casual office flirtation.

5:20 PM - I share my back anecdote with a gal in my office. She recommends simple, innocuous aspirin and offers me a pair of Bayer. I pop the pills.

5:45 PM - Dinner is leftover Mother's Day BBQ. There's not much left, so it's finished off fairly quickly. I sneak a piece from Mrs. Bootleg's box of chocolates for dessert and then walk outside to keep an eye on Jalen.

5:55 PM - My stomach is not…quite…right. I leave the boy with a half-assed directive to stay out of the street and head back inside. I'm a little foggy on this part, but I somehow ended up in front of the TV with the Mets/Braves game on ESPN-HD.

6:00 PM - Jalen sees baseball and comes running in. He proceeds to crawl all over me, while peppering my senses with questions like "whose stadium are they playing in?" and "why is the pitcher batting?" and "which one is #5?" At some point, I shove nudge the boy off me and head to one of the upstairs bathrooms.

6:02 PM - And, there goes the leftover Mother's Day BBQ. And, the chocolate. And, the chicken sandwich from lunch. And, now the dry heaves. And, some more dry heaving. And, I'm spent.

6:05 PM - Thinking the worst is over, I stand up to leave and realize that my breathing is a wee bit labored. This has happened before – several times, in fact – in recent months, but not in the two weeks that I've been on my asthma meds. Besides, whenever it's happened before, it's gone away on its own.

6:10 PM - Not wanting to get Mrs. Bootleg too concerned; I'm still in our shoebox-size bathroom upstairs. It's about 64 degrees, but I'm sweating like, yes, 42 minutes of old-school Patrick Ewing. My so-called "panic inhaler" is close by, so I take a couple of puffs.

6:15 PM - I've never been what you call "cool in a crisis", so when the panic inhaler doesn't take, I pretty much…panic. I'm officially wheezing and race downstairs to the front door for some fresh air. I notice, of all things, Jalen is already fast asleep on the couch. He never passes out before 8:00 PM these days. Thanks, National League!

6:20 PM - I've dropped to my hands and knees, violently breathing in and out. Believe it or not, I'd never had one of these attacks in front of Mrs. Bootleg, so of course I find a way to time the worst one for her audience. She insists on taking me to the emergency room, but between frantic gasps, I resist. My thinking: we'll sit in the waiting room for two hours, by which time the attack will have passed. The doctors will tell me I have asthma ("Really? Gee, thanks!") and we'll get to pay $100 for the privilege.

6:35 PM - Still outside, still on all fours. I can't tell if the wheezing is getting worse, but it damn sure ain't improving. I'm inexplicably burning up and seem to have lost the ability to respond to Mrs. Bootleg's repeated requests to get my Black ass off the ground and to the ER. When she asks about the ER for the hundredth time, I finally relent.

6:36 PM - For some reason, I had taken my shoes off while I was in the bathroom, so I went upstairs to retrieve them. Maybe it was the simple exertion from scaling those 13 steps, but all of a sudden, the wheezing stopped.

And, so did the breathing.

I began making a weird clicking sound and, of course, panicked some more. I managed to choke out an "I can't breathe!" to Mrs. Bootleg, before I couldn't talk, anymore. Mrs. Bootleg told me later that my lips and fingertips were a lovely shade of blue, by now.

She asked if she should call 911 and this time, I wasn't putting up a fight.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I've Had Better Monday Nights...

Not pictured: The 911 call, my first ambulance ride and the candlelight vigil outside hospital. (Photo courtesy of Mrs. Bootleg.)

Passing Autobot Matrix of Leadership to my son, Jalen. (Photo courtesy of Associated Press.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

TBG Eats: Taco Bell's NEW Fully Loaded Salad (Now UPDATED with Steak!)

Current Weight: 169.0 lbs.

There are three types of fast food customers I can't stand.

(1) The "special needs" people who are inevitably in front of me in the drive-thru. They're the ones who turn a two minute process into 20 minutes of torment. I'll spot them the "Whopper with extra onions and no mayo" type of order. It's when they start asking for a Whopper "with that bacon-ranch sauce, instead of mayonnaise" or sincerely inquiring about the cheese BK uses and whether it's "real cheddar". I've heard both examples within the confines of The King in the past month.

(2) The "how big is a large" people. Mrs. Bootleg just so happens to be the most egregious offender here. I mean, how many goddam personal pan pizzas does someone have to eat before realizing they're ALL about seven inches in diameter? Oftentimes, the sizes are on display near the counter, anyway, or you're forced to rely on the awkward hand gestures and inaccurate descriptions from the G.E.D. ringing up your order.

(3) The "this doesn't look like the picture" people. Truth be told, Michael Douglas forever retired this tired cliché in Falling Down, but after almost 20 years, it's time for a comeback…

If you're reading this lightly-read blog, I'm assuming you've seen Taco Bell's new ad campaign for their Fully Loaded Salads: two dudes sitting poolside can't find the lettuce in their "salads". Unfortunately, I couldn't find the spot online or I'd have included it here.

After surviving TB's Fully Loaded Nachos, I went all in for a Fully Loaded Salad. Your choices are Chipotle Steak or Chicken Ranch…I opted for the latter, which (according to Taco Bell's website) is served with grilled chicken, zesty ranch dressing and LOADED with beans, cheese and rice. Mine - see below - was also LOADED with lettuce and LOADED with reduced-fat sour cream (which is akin to daytime, non-drowsy Thera-Flu or decaf coffee*).

Look, the salad was fine. I only needed about a quarter of the dressing packet and after a few stirs with my plastic fork, I had a gloriously gloppy mess of an inside-out chicken burrito staring back at me. The meat is surprisingly well-seasoned, while the refried beans hold it all together and go with everything – up to and including the deep fried flour tortilla "bowl".

But, come on, Taco Bell. In the commercial, the punchline is that this is "technically" a salad. In reality, it qualifies on all counts.

UPDATE!: Late last week, I completed TB's set of Fully Loaded Salads with a gourmand's conquest of the Chipotle Steak version. Aside from the difference in meat – and Taco Bell's carne asada has always been disappointingly sweet, overly chewy and obviously reheated – this salad comes with a decent little dressing that's creamy, but with a bit of a spicy kick and more flavor that the ranch topping used on the chicken salad.

Follow the eating instructions as outlined above with the Chicken Ranch salad and you'll have a similar "imploded burrito" experience with this one. I can't score this one as high as the Chicken Ranch salad, though. Let's do the math: the Chipotle Steak salad comes with better-tasting dressing, but the Chicken Ranch has better meat.

And, if there's one tie-breaking factor in MY salad…it's the meat.

Grade (Chicken Ranch): 3.5 (out of 5)

Grade (Chipotle Steak): 3

* - I'm almost certain that I used this same joke about reduced-fat sour cream in an earlier TBG post, right down to the Thera-Flu and decaf comparisons. If so, I'm sorry. If so and you missed it the first time, just ignore this footnote. Cool? Cool.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

TBG TV: Lost - "Follow the Leader"

The Good:

Oh, bloody-faced Jack…how I could watch the everlovin' sh*t get kicked out of you in every episode. The writers of the show are famously tuned in to the mood of their viewers and I can't help but think that the abbreviated TV beatdown of the good doctor was a nod to the anti-Jack faction of the audience.

It's early. It's very, very early…but, this "Locke with a purpose" character arc is all kinds of awesome. For the first four-plus seasons, Locke was nothing but asking questions and pathetic naiveté. Now, he knows all the answers while Ben and Richard can only exchange confused looks at one another. Love it, love it, love it.

Most of the online reaction to this episode – that I've read, anyway – has been centered around Kate and criticizing her for not going along with Faraday's (and now Jack's) grand plan. In reality (well, "television reality") this is a brilliant bit of character development. Frankly, there hasn't been enough in-show storyline skepticism of some of the more mind-bending ideas and island characteristics. Kate's reaction is the same as mine would be: the detonation of a hydrogen bomb is gonna solve all our problems? Really? Because Bushwhacker Locke and an alcoholic doctor say so? And, besides, didn't the plane crash and island experience already fix Kate's f'd up life?

Allow me to be the one millionth blogger to mention how hilarious Dr. Chang's interrogation of Hurley was ("You're 46 years old?"). Hurley's bojangling (yes, it can cross ethnicities) only works when he's got an effective straight man and, in this instance, it was a brilliantly-delivered back-and-forth.

Alice Evans – as young Eloise Hawking – stepped up with yet another powerful performance by a season five supporting character. Her promise to Jack that she'd believe anything he told her, no matter how fantastic, was a wonderfully desperate moment.

Radzinsky usurping Horace's command was appropriate and way overdue. It easy to see how an impotent leader like Horace could let his group be infiltrated right under his nose. Radzinsky's raging paranoia fit the moment and his all the right notes.

If Ben's lookaway – when Richard mistakenly surmises that Locke didn't die and Locke quickly corrects him – doesn't nab Michael Emerson an Emmy, then nothing will.

The Bad:

I'm a little surprised the Dharma guys didn't slap around Juliet a little sooner, once it became clear that Sawyer wasn't going to talk. There's wasn't even an empty threat sent her way before Phil gave her a taste of his pimp hand.

And, now that Juliet has once again been reduced to making sad faces and stuck in the role as 60 degrees of the Sawyer-Kate-Juliet equilateral love triangle, I'm beginning to come to grips with the increasing possibility of her demise in next week's season finale. I really thought the writers had established her a little more strongly than she's been written recently.

Verdict: Only a terribly disappointing season finale could ruin what's been the best season of the series, so far. Admittedly, the previews for next week didn't seem to have that singular hook that blew my mind, so I hope they're just saving the good stuff for those of us who tune in. Another terrific episode this week, kids.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

TBG Drinks: Great White Beer

Brewed By: Lost Coast Brewery
Brewed In: Eureka, California
Type: Witbier (White Beer)
ABV: 4.8%

What They Say: "A Crisp beer with a hint of citrus, made with two-row malted barley, unmalted wheat, a secret blend of Humboldt herbs, crystal clear mountain water and ale yeast."

Website: AAUUUUUGH! The neon spirals and trippy fonts may be appropriate for the company's Humboldt County roots, but after eight seconds my eyes began bleeding. Points for the uncluttered left-hand navigation and the nine distinctive labels/logos in the center of the page. Each logo leads to a brief beer description, while the links are combination of the usual (awards, brewery history, photo gallery) and the unique – particularly the "media kit", which is great idea and an area for "collectors". There are really people who collect beer coasters, bottle caps and labels? Really?!

Why I Picked It: This was one of two beers that m'man Smitty brought down with him when we hooked up for last month's Angels/A's game in Anaheim. Since Smitty is only three weeks older than me and already on the waiting list for donors to replace most of his major internal organs, I trust his libation recommendations.


Presentation (5): The label is 50% Picasso, 50% California. It's more than a little clichéd, too, right down to the "shark bite" out of the surfboard – to say nothing of the surfboard – and the sun setting behind the palm tree. Hell, even the beer's name is uninspired. I'm feeling generous, though, so I'll hand over a pair of points for the irony of a Black guy drinking one of these and my inherent West Coast bias (RIP Tupac). 2

Originality (5): I guess we can't call cloudy Belgian ales "original", can we? A little bit of internet research showed that "white beers" were very popular with independent and amateur brewers a few years ago, but the fad died down once the ceiling was reached and numerous high-quality witbiers began flooding the market. 1

Body (10): The thin milky-gold pour was a nice, aesthetic sight. On the side of the bottle were instructions to save two fingers of beer behind, swirl vigorously and then pour into the glass. This made for a fat bottom to go with a fizzy, quick-dissipating head and a low level of lacing. 6

Taste (10): Maybe it's the assorted asthma and allergy medication I'm currently on, but I had a hard time discerning the flavors here. There were certainly notes of spice like coriander, some citrusy goodness not unlike lemon zest and a bit of barely-there yeasty wheat bread; however I was ¾ of the way through a 22 oz. bottle before I could confirm all the tastes on my tongue. 5

Efficiency (10): Light and effervescent, it's easy to imagine throwing back a couple of big bottles in no time at all. Mouthfeel can only take you so far, though. The 4.8% ABV keeps this one from the upper echelon of efficiency. I'm not sure if there's any way to take off the ABV training wheels from a witbier, but I hope there's one out there with a grown-up alcohol-by-volume number. 4

Versatility (10): I have enough female friends and co-workers to know that light, bubbly, lemon-tasting beers are BIG with the b*tches. (Oh, you know I'm kidding, ladies.) This would be a good social beer if you're buying a round for the office at happy hour or something to have on hand for the hot neighbor you've been wanting to ask out. (Just don't tell my wife.) 8

Grade: 26 (out of 50) – Good beer

The above format has been lifted with permission from That Beer Snob Guy.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

TBG Eats: Taco Bell's NEW 89-cent Chicken Burrito

Current Weight: 168.2 lbs.

One of the unspoken joys of eating so much fast food is the occasional surprisingly delicious menu item. For example, when Taco Bell introduced the Volcano Taco, I predicted "gimmicky" – red shell, supposedly spicy sauce – and ended up with glorious.

Unfortunately, TB continues to jerk customers around with their "here today, gone tomorrow" approach to menu construction. The Volcano Taco disappeared earlier this year and, a few days ago, I discovered that TB invoked their "for a limited time only" clause on its excellent 89-cent five-layer nachos.

In its place on the Value Menu were two "new" entries. However, I'm calling for an immediate bullsh*t review on what TB is referring to as their "new" chicken soft taco. They've had this on their menu for at least 20 years. The "new" appellation is more like a loophole, as TB has changed their chicken provider, the preparation method or both. Boo.

The other bit of "new-ness" on the 89-cent side is a grilled chicken burrito. Stuffed with a small, but decent amount of chicken, cheddar cheese and seasoned rice, the real kicker is the avocado-ranch sauce that's drizzled atop the other ingredients. Don't ask me how this teal-colored concoction carries the burrito's other uninspired innards, but it does! Tangy and creamy – while tasting nothing like either ranch dressing or avocado – it's one of the more unique flavors from a chain that's built an empire on its familiar faux Mexican products.

I've got no clue how long this'll be around, so get it while you can, kids. At less than a buck, you really can't go wrong, but TB could easily fatten these up with more superfluous filler (lettuce, tomato…ditch the rice) and double the amount of sauce for another dollar or so.

Boy, does that bachelor's degree in marketing come in handy sometimes, or what?

Grade: 4.5 (out of 5)

Monday, May 4, 2009

TBG TV: Lost - "The Variable"

The Good:

Even though both of this episode's Faraday-related twists were a bit telegraphed, it was another knockout performance by Jeremy Davies. That final scene – with Faraday's 1977 mother standing over him and Faraday in disbelief over what she'd eventually do – was terrific television.

"Your son is Benjamin Linus?" "Good Lord, no!"

The Bad:

OK, what am I missing here? Earlier in the season, I thought Faraday had established that whatever has happened or is happening or will happen cannot be changed. For example, when Jack refused to help a gravely wounded Boy Ben, we all knew he was destined to survive, somehow. Now, Faraday's convinced he CAN make changes to the timeline? Unless I'm grossly misinterpreting this huge plot point, this seems like a critique that should be getting discussed more.

So…Faraday has "no time" to explain why he's searching for "the hostiles" when everyone is sitting around Sawyer's living room. But, out in the jungle – deep within the hostiles' territory – Jack, Kate and Faraday are kicked back, passing around the canteen and pausing for exposition. Look, I'm glad we're getting answers to questions in the same episode and all, but c'mon writers…tighten it up a little.

I guess I understand why Sawyer's reign of leadership was written to be such a cataclysmic failure. Now, Jack is re-established as the alpha male and tasked with carrying out Faraday's ill-fated scheme. Still, it's disappointing that everyone abandoned Sawyer. His "you were right" scene with Juliet was downright heartbreaking for a character that – after four seasons – I actually had come around on.

Verdict: Hmm…you'd think I didn't like this episode, but it was arguably the best of what's been a superlative season, so far. There were a lot of little things (Faraday's awkward gun handling; Miles refusing to confirm Faraday's "from the future" claim; Sawyer still trying to lie ("That sound came from outside") to Radzinsky and the Dharma team even though his charade had completely crumbled) that made me appreciate the show's underutilized knack for nuanced storytelling.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Tee-Ball Chronicles #5

Entering our penultimate game of the season, the Rays were down two players and one coach. That left 100% of the cat herding up to me for the afternoon.

Pre-Game - Y'all remember m'man Kimo, right? The Rays' best player…never smiles…only five-year-old on earth with facial hair. Well, before the game, he was going up to each child on the Dodgers and telling them, "You're my enemy. You're going down." I am not making this up. One of the other coaches heard this and tried to play the "we're all friends here" nonsense with my best player. I hustled Kimo away before any of his killer instinct was snuffed out (or before he killed that meddling coach).

Bottom of the 1st - And, do you guys remember (My NAME is) Alexander? Insufferable…selfish…completely bereft of any tee-ball talent. He was playing shortstop today, when a player from the Dodgers just plowed through him while rounding second base.

Both kids picked themselves off the ground and when Alexander tried to apologize, the baserunner started yelling and screaming at him in a transparent attempt to pick a fight. I broke up the impending preschool UFC show and Alexander buried his head in my bony hip, fighting back tears. Not one adult from the Dodgers' side attempted to intervene. Oh, it's f*cking ON. No one does that to one of my kids. (Yes, Alexander is back in the "family".)

Top of the 2nd - By pure coincidence, the douche-boy who smoked my shortstop is now playing first base, where I've stationed myself as the first base coach. His name is Jonathan and he's standing directly on the bag. I briefly think about telling him to move, before realizing that Kimo will be batting later in the inning. The possibilities…please me. Unfortunately, the second batter – my son, Jalen – reaches base and Jonathan tries to push him off.

OK, when Jonathan is a little older, he'll notice things like "the only two Black guys on a baseball diamond are probably related" and act accordingly. For now, I just grabbed the little sh*t by his arm and told him where to stand when he's playing first base.

At the end of the inning, Jonathan got popped in the mouth with a throw from second base. I actually had almost 100 more words in this space before reconsidering the tone, so I'll end it by saying the kid was alright. The little bit of blood was washed away by a torrent of tears. How did I feel about it? Like this.

Friday, May 1, 2009

YOUR Oakland A'ssessment - April 2009

Record: 8-11

Offense: The A's finished April last in the league in batting average (.237), slugging percentage (.322), OPS (.634) and next to last in on-base percentage (.313). The HUGE upgrades to the lineup – all of which were lavishly praised by the Billy Beane-loving local media – performed well below their over-inflated expectations. 1B Jason Giambi (.303 SLG) spent the month hitting balls ten feet in front of the warning track. SS Orlando Cabrera (.611 OPS) tried to break out of his slump by…bunting?! And, Matt Holliday (.648 OPS) – two weeks into the season – inexplicably stopped trying to drive the ball and seemed content with going the other way and settling for dink-n-dunk singles.

Incumbents Kurt Suzuki (.343/.392/.463) and Jack Cust (.415 OBP, team-leading TWO(??) home runs) have been very good. Cust, especially, should be singled out for shortening up on two strikes and being more aggressive on borderline pitches.

Defense: Giambi has somehow started eleven games at first base. In the 2009 Baseball Prospectus book, there's a line comparing Giambi's range to that of a "kneecapped fire hydrant". After watching him this season, I think we should sign the fire hydrant for late-inning defense. Eric Chavez look just about done, too. When he wasn't hitting, his glovework (and ginormous contract) kept him in the lineup. Now, he's part of a three-headed third base hydra of defensive liability with Nomar Garciaparra and Bobby Crosby. Cabrera, at least, has been terrific at times.

Starting Pitching: As of this writing, only one starting pitcher is sporting an ERA under 5.00. Dallas Braden (3-2, 2.10 ERA) hasn't been lights out, as the early returns on his pedestrian K/9 rate (5.4) show. But, I love his mound presence and still believe his cockiness is just what this callow staff needs to see every fifth day. The kids – Brett Anderson (5.01 ERA) and Trevor Cahill (5.40 ERA) – have taken their lumps, but have had their moments. Cahill took a no-hitter into the seventh vs. Seattle and Anderson held the mighty Texas offense to one earned run over five-plus innings earlier this week, before the bullpen crapped the bed. Dana Eveland (2.085(!) WHIP) has been abominable and Josh Outman is crazy miscast as a starter.

Relief Pitching: In 2008, Jerry Blevins was terrific out of the pen, pitching in 36 games with an ERA of 3.11. This year, he failed to retire the one batter he faced on April 10 and then gave up four runs in less than an inning on April 15. He was summarily banished to Triple-A solely for making the rest of the relievers looks bad. Can't ask too much more of these guys. Erstwhile Cub Michael Wuertz (2.13 ERA), former Senior League standout Russ Springer (1.74 ERA) and if-he-was-pitching-on-the-east-coast-you'd-have-heard-of-this-rookie Andrew Bailey (3 hits in 15.2 innings) have been ab-fab. Brad Ziegler is still NOT a closer, but he's pitched well enough (1.74 ERA, 4 saves).

Defining Moment of the Month: April 28 vs. Rangers…the A's lost FOUR players to injury in one game (Garciaparra, Ellis, Anderson, Casilla) and then lost the game, 5-4.