Wednesday, July 29, 2009

10 20 Thoughts: The Truncated HOF Travel Diary

I really wanted to put together some sort of grand travel diary to capture last weekend's cross-country excursion to Cooperstown – I took notes and everything! Unfortunately, my current workload with the Unnamed Defense Contractor is ruining my usual lunchtime writing sessions. So, in an effort to keep from becoming one of those bloggers who sometimes goes a week between posts, we'll use this format. I'll even attempt to NOT regurgitate any of my updates from Facebook and Twitter. I make no promises.

I finally upgraded my cell phone for this trip, trading up to the Verizon
enV Touch. I hate going to any cell phone retailer, though. I fall for every up-sell in the book (although the Body Glove-brand phone casing I bought is pretty bad-ass). Oh, and as the sales guy scrolled through my old phone's pictures to see if they could be transferred without a memory stick, I'm pretty sure he came across a shot of Mrs. Bootleg. My wife sent me that pic before "sexting" entered America's lexicon. Consequently – as I told my wife – her bare breasts are grandfathered in as "art".

On my Friday morning flight out of San Diego, I sat next to an older couple – the wife had the window seat, her husband was in the middle and I'm on the aisle. We were airborne for all of eight minutes when the husband fell asleep. I relied on my iPod to cancel out his wild boar snoring, I looked the other way as his drool pooled into his lap, but – for the life of me – I could not escape his hairy leg. It didn't matter that I moved as far away from him as I could in coach seating (approximately three inches to the left) this corpse's calf consistently came in contact with mine. This isn't about macho posturing. It's just gross. A female friend of mine from New York once told me that her and her friends often go weeks in the winter without shaving their legs. I threw up for two days when I heard this.

After we'd landed in Atlanta, the couple next to me asked where I was headed. I mentioned Cooperstown and the whole Hall of Fame thing to which the woman replied, "Wait, are YOU getting inducted?"

I hadn't even reached baggage claim in Albany when I passed two separate Mets fans within a few feet of each other. The first was wearing Mets Crocs(!) with black socks and a black Mets t-shirt. The second guy was an obvious XXL in a medium-size shirt, mustache and the thickest
rope chain I've ever seen. It reached his stomach! On a white guy! And, neither one answered to my call of "Tom?"

My cab driver from the hotel to
Bombers Burrito Bar was a guy named Frankie. I'd estimate that the ride was no more than 10 minutes and less than five miles. In that time, Frankie clued me in on Albany's inferiority complex ("[Everyone in NYC] thinks we're all 'citybillies' up here, but f*ck 'em…that's what I say."); the difference between women on the west and east coasts ("Guys like me can be fat out here cuz, when they get to their 30s, east coast women stop taking care of themselves and don't care what you look like, either."); and umm… ("I can take you to where the p***y-to-d**k ratio is like 4-to-1.")

M'man Daniels recommended Bombers' jerk burrito and, God almighty, it was glorious. It's a total two-man lift swollen with spicy shredded pork that's marinated in Red Stripe beer. I know! But, it's STILL good! It's rare that I get this excited about a single meal, but it must've shown as the server actually asked if I wanted another one.

I got back to my room just before 4:00 AM. At least, I think that's when I got back. I remember paying the fare for my cab ride and checking the time on my phone. No lie, kids…the next thing I remember is waking up completely naked in my room on the bathroom floor. Five days later, I still don't know what the hell happened.

After several days of internal debate, I'm not ready to put Albany's bar scene into my personal top three (you're safe for now: San Francisco, Austin and Washington DC), but it's close enough to make it into the class picture. Good music, great crowds without being claustrophobic, approachable patrons who initiated idle conversation with whoever was in the vicinity and my first
whiskey with a pickle juice backshot! All weekend long, in every bar I went to, someone I'd never met before bought me at least one drink. Where else on planet earth does this happen?

On Saturday, Cooperstown's main drag was crawling with ballplayers. In an endless array of 1989 baseball card show scenes, most were set up at autograph tables and charging up to $200 (kiss my Black ass, Willie Mays) for a signature. For the second time this year, I crossed paths with erstwhile reliever Lee Smith. As he limped by, I blurted out, "We gotta get you in the Hall." He laughed and replied, "Keep fighting the fight, youngblood." Gosh, Mr. Smith,
I sure will!

Pete Rose was signing autographs in a Cooperstown memorabilia shop, as he always is during Induction Weekend. His appearance was sponsored by a…"mature" production company that brought two scantily-clad "actresses" along to stand out front and drum up foot traffic. These women were bookended by two bodyguards who discouraged – physically discouraged – anyone who attempted to take a picture of the ladies.

What's the biggest difference between east coast/west coast sports fans? Women. I saw ladies of all ages wearing Yankees/Red Sox jerseys, t-shirts and caps. Mothers, daughters, teens, seniors…all of 'em. Here in California, you'll get a decent demographic cross-section representing at the games, but you'll NEVER see women wearing team gear of any kind away from the ballpark. Out here, the best a guy can hope for is landing a woman that'll tolerate sports.

Still feeling the events of the previous night, I grab a greasy slice from Cooperstown's
Sal's Pizzeria. I enter as Sal is getting into it with two customers who can't decide if they're paying together or separately. Pfft…I'm an elitist from California and even I can hold my own in a New York pizzeria. I order a slice of spinach and a Coke. "A Coke? So, are you gonna tell what size you want?!", snaps Sal. "Is a medium OK? Is that what you want? Cuz 'a Coke' doesn't mean nuthin' to me." I didn't mean to upset you, Sal.

Late in the day, I'm sitting on the steps outside of the Hall of Fame museum and fumbling with my new cell phone. An elderly lady walks right up to me, stares for a few moments and asks, "Are you somebody important?" In hindsight, I wish I'd answered her in a million different ways other than the response I chose ("Uh, no.") She continued to look over her shoulder towards me as she walked away.

The touring group ended up at Jillian's of Albany for dinner on Saturday night. We were only there for about 90 minutes, so I sat at the bar and watched the A's/Yankees replay. The aspiring actress/bartender in booty shorts and a bustier comped me a beer and before long another half-dozen guys from the bus had waddled over. The only thing better than their bad pick-up lines ("Who's your favorite football team?!") was the intentionally loud assessment of the scene by a woman sitting next to me ("I think she's just working those guys for tips.")

While waiting for the shuttle to the induction site on Sunday, I chatted up one of the women working crowd control who just so happened to be white. "You remind me of my son", she said. "Same height, same complexion…except he's got a lot more hair." Since my mother is biracial, this whole scene shouldn't have been so jarring, but…yeah.

I came all the way out to Cooperstown to hear Rickey Henderson's induction speech in person and – inexplicably – it exceeded my expectations. The Reggie Jackson anecdote drew uproarious laughter from the crowd, the swerve at the end as Rickey sucked us all into believing we'd see an "I am the greatest…" encore was brilliantly delivered and his "my journey as a ballplayer is complete" line actually brought tears to my…wait, you know what? This deserves its own post.

Cheers: After being delayed at JFK for over an hour on Monday morning – 45 minutes of which were spent sitting on the plane as it never moved from the gate – Delta turned on their new(?) in-seat televisions for everyone. Jeers: For quite awhile, the only channel I could receive was ESPN2, which airs the unwatchable First Take program. Monday's show featured Woody Paige debating…
2 Live Stews of "urban" sports-talk radio infamy.

My flight arrived in San Diego around lunchtime, but for some reason we were forced to sit a few hundred feet from our gate for an additional 15 minutes. As the captain attempted to explain the situation to the passengers, one belligerent slob with a Bronx accent loudly voiced his displeasure to anyone within earshot. He then steamrolled his way up the aisle – pushing and shoving – the moment the doors opened. I'll miss New York.

I can't wrap this up without saying a few words about
Sports Travel and Tours – the outfit that hosted the Hall of Fame weekend for me. I had some fun at their expense last week, but the transportation was top-notch, the relaxed come-and-go-as-you-please itinerary was terrific and our travel coordinator was a hoot. He's a former employee of a certain Major League team and shared several behind-the-curtain tales, even naming names for the benefit of his rapt bus-ridin' audience. And, when I challenged him to name seven players from the Kansas City Royals, he replied "Johnny Damon". Just precious.

And, finally, much love to m'man Jon for showing me a great time all weekend. He's a longtime reader whom I'd never met before, but he took me around Albany's best bars on Friday night and then had me over for dinner at his sister's apartment on Sunday night. I've been doing this online writing thing for nearly seven years and I haven't been maimed or murdered by any of the readers I've met along the way. Thanks for keeping the streak alive, Jon.


It's 12:15 AM. I have to be up in five hours. Check back later today, as I'm nearly finished with the Cooperstown Travel Diary. But, right now I've got to devote some time to weeding out the porn star/spam followers on my Twitter account with the legitimate ones.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dragging My Phone into the 21st Century

Here's Friday morning's itinerary:

Depart from San Diego at 6:20 AM for Atlanta and then Atlanta to Albany.

The return flight on Monday leaves Albany at 6:20 AM for JFK and then New York to San Diego.

A weekend in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame sandwiched between layovers in Chocolate City and the worst airport in America?

I can't make any promises, but my
brand new Twitter account might come in handy this weekend, people.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

AiAA: Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving

We'll forgo the usual 700-word set-up and leave it at this: Am I the only one who is ridiculously creeped out by this whole "Buzzed Driving…" ad campaign?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

TBG Travel Diary: Cooperstown, NY (The Prequel)

I'll be spending next weekend in Cooperstown watching Rickey Henderson and some other guy get inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

Mrs. Bootleg "surprised" me with the trip as a Christmas gift. And, by "surprised", I mean that I'd stumbled across various HOF-related (museum, travel/lodging rates in Albany, NY) website windows my wife left open in the weeks leading up to Jesus' most recent birthday. I was still able to pull of this reaction when I opened my gift on the morning of December 25:

But, my wife is just one little oft-annoying woman. For an upcoming TBG Travel Diary of this magnitude, she's joined forces with an outfit called
Sports Travel and Tours. I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with this. Mrs. Bootleg is the one who took on American Airlines AND Mother Nature to ensure I made my flight to see the A's play in old Yankee Stadium. She's been my non-work related travel agent for over a decade. I know her…I trust her.

Ooh, but Sports Travel and Tours sent me a pre-trip package last week! Mrs. Bootleg never did that for any of my long flights to the Bay Area. Let's crack this box open:

Host Profile: My "host" for the weekend will be Mr. Anthony (The Antman) Incampo. His one-page profile includes such need-to-know nuggets as his hometown ("Easthampton, MA – via Brooklyn"), his favorite player not in the Hall of Fame ("Don Mattingly/Derek Jeter") and one derogatory shot at the Red Sox. I'm setting the over/under of "number of players he can name from any team NOT in the AL or NL East" at 5.5. Place your bets.

Hotel: The enclosed information sheet tells me that my hotel is approximately seven miles from Albany International Airport with a courtesy shuttle that operates from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM. This'll work out fine when I arrive, but my return flight to San Diego leaves Albany at 6:20 AM, so I'll have to arrange for a taxi. Since no one really uses taxis in California, I never know what to tip the driver. Three percent? Five?

Tip Envelopes: Speaking of which, there are actually a pair of "voluntary gratuity" envelopes included for both the host and the tour bus driver. I can't decide if I should treat this as
NFL off-season workout "voluntary" or my job's charitable payroll deduction "voluntary".

Tour Bus: I've been assigned to Bus #2 which Sports Travel and Tours have nicknamed "Babe Ruth". Quaint. Then again, I'm the guy who named every table at his wedding reception after baseball players – with the blessing of my soon-to-be bride. The highlight of the wedding planning experience was finalizing the seating chart:

"I don't want 'Willie Mays' [Mrs. Bootleg's family's table] anywhere near us.", my fiancée complained.

"Well, I want my groomsmen right next to us at 'Dave Stewart'.", I declared.

"Fine. Just make sure we've got enough room at 'Deion Sanders' for the eight or ten of my co-workers who always get obnoxiously bombed at weddings.", Mrs. Bootleg said.

Good times.

Itinerary – Friday, July 24: I won't get into Albany until 5:00 PM, so it looks like I'll miss the "meet your tour host" reception at my hotel. Damn. On the plus side, I've got plans to meet longtime TBG reader/infrequent poster "NY Jon" at a place called
Bombers Burrito Bar. I've never met Jon and, as of this writing, I only know three things about him: he's 6'6", African-American and gay. Six feet, six inches. People will be staring at him all weekend. Freak.

Itinerary – Saturday, July 25: The tour bus leaves Albany for Cooperstown at 8:00 AM and shows an "approximate arrival time" of 9:30 AM. Through my own independent verification, I've found a
ringing endorsement of this exciting journey.

The rest of the day – from whenever the hell we arrive in Cooperstown until 5:45 PM – is earmarked for amusing ourselves. The National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum is the obvious destination, but…eight hours?! I'm the biggest baseball fan any of you know, but even that is tamped down by the word "museum".

And, there's even another trip reception at
Jillian's of Albany that evening. Really, I can't think of better place to be on a Saturday night than sardined into a sports bar with a busload of fanny packs, socks-n-sandals and Jim Rice jerseys.

Itinerary – Sunday, July 26: Another 8:00 AM "90 minute" bus ride to Cooperstown, but this time with only FOUR hours to kill. The formal Hall of Fame induction ceremonies start at 1:30 PM and guests are directed to head straight to their buses after their conclusion.

Hmmm…I got two pages in MS Word from this post and I haven't even left yet.

This should be fun.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

TBG Eats: The Teriyaki Six-Dollar Burger from Carl's Jr.

Current Weight: 168.8 lbs.

Mrs. Bootleg and I fight about the silliest things.

For example, my wife cannot be trusted with a fast food order unless I'm there to ensure she gets it right and that the kids behind the counter don't screw it up.

A few weeks ago – at the San Diego Fair – Mrs. Bootleg went off by herself and ordered a basket of catfish and fries. She made it all the way across the fairgrounds before realizing she'd been given catfish with a side of giant fried zucchini. As I constructively explained to her: here's what
French fries look like…and here's what giant fried zucchini looks like.

Mrs. Bootleg was not pleased.

Several months ago, she offered to bring some lunch by my office. She was going to Subway, so I asked for a foot-long Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki. For a Californian, I have a simple sandwich order: lettuce, tomato, onion and untoasted. That's it…impossible to F this up.

When Mrs. Bootleg arrived outside the Unnamed Defense Contractor, she sheepishly handed me my sandwich and explained that she hadn't been paying attention while the Subway sandwich artist was making mine. It was mistakenly slathered in mayonnaise before my wife noticed. And, even AFTER realizing the error, she didn't ask the sandwich artist to start over.

I took one bite of my teriyaki-mayo abomination before chucking 11.75 inches into the trash can my cubicle neighbor. After work, I again constructively explained to my wife that Subway makes the damn sandwiches in front of you. What else could there be inside a chain sandwich shop that distracts from the sandwich right in front of you?

Mrs. Bootleg was not pleased.

In the interest of equal aggravation, I've been mired in one of the worst work weeks of my life. On Wednesday, I brought home dinner for Mrs. Bootleg and the boy – meticulously articulating my wife's special-needs cheeseburger from memory (no tomatoes, no pickles) and correctly nailing my son's unusual assortment of hamburger condiments (none).

I actually had to go back to the office, so I opted for Carl's Jr. and their returning Teriyaki Six-Dollar Burger – topped with a sweet teriyaki glaze, grilled pineapple, two slices of Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onions and…mayonnaise?

OK…before we continue with this review, I can't forget to include the greatest juxtaposition of sex appeal and unrealistic eating ever captured in a commercial:

With that out of the way, here's an actual pic of my actual burger:

This was one of the more unusual eating experiences in the short-lived history of this lightly-read blog. Bottom line: this is a pretty good burger. But, it's almost like eating two different burgers at the same time. For a few bites, it tasted like the standard Six-Dollar Burger which, save for the pineapple and glaze, it actually is. Then, when I got bites of the pineapple and teriyaki, it was a sticky, sweet experience that went well with the atypically juicy beef and snap of the red onions.

Things got messy pretty quickly, so I was frantically reconstructing my burger in between every bite. I'm not entirely sure I ever got the full teriyaki-pineapple experience, as I continued to alternate several bites of regular burger taste and toppings with the more unusual flavors of light citrus and sweet smokiness.

Surprisingly, the mayonnaise seemed to keep its distance from the Hawaiian components and didn't impede upon my meal. I'm giving this one the benefit of the doubt, but already have plans to order it again.

Yes, I made plans. Thankfully, I've got an open evening next week.

Grade: 4 (out of 5) Calories: 840, Fat: 43g

2009 Mid-Term A'ssessment: Outfield, Catcher, Etc.

Matt Holliday - LF: .276/.373/.419

What I Said in March: "I just can't shake this feeling that most of the 'he's gonna be fine [outside of Colorado]' talk is coming from the usual lemmings who think GM/messiah Billy Beane can do no wrong."

What I Say Now: Holliday has his defenders amongst the 800 or so A's fans left, so I'll happily concede that the numbers say he's been our best player at the plate this season. Those numbers DON'T explain why he's so obviously dialed back his effort in '09. He's content to flick pitches the other way, instead of driving them. He plays LF like everyone in New York said Bobby Abreu played RF. The kamikaze who nearly killed himself on that home plate slide in the one-game playoff in 2007 would rather go at 80% and preserve himself for free agency. He's our own
Roger Dorn.

Mid-Term Grade: C-...The "he's our best hitter" position is damning with faint praise on a team so embarrassingly inept at the plate. He's miserable in Oakland and his '09 performance has probably cost him millions this offseason. He is, however, my son's favorite player. Hope a little emotional currency can make up the difference in your 2010 paycheck, Holliday.

Ryan Sweeney - CF: .271/.320/.357

What I Said in March: "Sweeney's a little overrated by A's fans who fixated on his kinda-sorta empty .286 BA last year and it looks like the White Sox were right about his power game never developing."

What I Say Now: Sweeney has become VERY overrated by A's fans. Credit where it's due: he's made huge strides on defense and covers all kind of ground out there. Offensively, his .677 OPS ranks 22nd out of the 24 everyday centerfielders who qualify. Twenty-second! The
long-term deal given to Toronto CF Vernon Wells is considered one of the worst in the game, yet his OPS is almost 50 points higher!

Mid-Term Grade: C+...Sweeney is what he is: a starting outfielder for a team that has no better internal options. He's proven he can't hit lefties (.221/.299/.273 in his career) and refuses to take a walk. His offensive shortcomings will really be exposed with his move to RF.

Travis Buck - RF: .226/.287/.355

What I Said in March: "[T]his'll be Buck's last season in Oakland."

What I Say Now: The exact same thing. Buck committed the ultimate, unforgivable sin when he publicly questioned the organization after he was placed on the disabled list in late May. A few weeks later, the A's acquired OF Scott Hairston and demoted Buck to Triple-A for the umpteenth time in his A's tenure.

Mid-Term Grade: D...Let's be clear: Buck has NOT hit when given the opportunity for playing time. That said, his appearances have been so sporadic that it almost appears he's being set up to fail. Way to ensure that return on investment when Buck's eventually traded, GM Beane.

Jack Cust - DH: .232/.322/.411

What I Said in March: "I like Cust more than a lot of A's fans, but I've got a feeling that there'll be more valleys than peaks for him this year."

What I Say Now: In Cust's first 10 games of the season, he was hitting .333/.488/.545. Since then – in 72 games and nearly 300 plate appearances – he's hitting .220/.297/.394. If Jack Cust isn't taking walks AND is hitting home runs with glaringly less frequency, it's time to cut bait. He's making $2.8 million this year and won't get any cheaper.

Mid-Term Grade: D+...The things that Jack Cust did to make himself a cost-effective (and just plain ol' effective) ballplayer have begun to erode. And, we haven't even touched on his glove, which turned to dust long ago. I still like Cust – he was my son's first autograph, what can I say? – but I no longer want him on my team.

Kurt Suzuki - C: .293/.336/.417

What I Said in March: "Suzuki's [2009] projection is virtually indistinguishable from his 2008 stats, but I think he takes a step forward."

What I Say Now: His slight decline in OBP has been offset by a nearly 40 point leap in SLG. Suzuki is only two doubles and two home runs off of his respective totals from all of last season. He's not quite All-Star worthy – despite the protestations from the more
myopic members of the A's fanbase – but he's well on his way.

Mid-Term Grade: B+...I'm the first to say that a catcher's influence on a pitching staff is often overrated, but Suzuki's been done some fine work with the kids in our rotation. His defense is already top-notch and with another season or two under his belt, Suzuki has the chance to blossom into the best all-around catcher in the game. This assumes Joe Mauer retires at the end of this season.

And, the rest…: Reserve OF Rajai Davis (.257/.333/.354) might've assured himself a roster spot for the rest of the season by shaking off a miserable start to hit .319/.402/.472 in his last 72 at-bats. Landon Powell (.225/.291/.380) has been playing with an injured hamstring since mid-May. Thankfully, he's only had to play in 13 games since mid-May.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

2009 Mid-Term A'ssessment: Infield

Jason Giambi – 1B: .192/.331/.365

What I Said in March: "If Giambi stays relatively healthy and frequents the line-up as he did with the Yankees in 2005-06 and 2008 [his] OBP could nose towards .400."

What I Say Now: There were a lot of A's fans – myself included – who believed signing Giambi was a no-risk proposition: if he hit, we'd be getting a bargain and if he didn't, it was just a one-year deal. No one expected Giambi to completely fall off the cliff. He's overmatched at the plate by just average fastballs and his defense at first base is actually worse than his hitting.

Mid-Term Grade: D...On the short list of worst free agent signings in team history. Giambi's presence has interfered with components of the since-abandoned rebuilding process and set back this franchise for at least one more season. He's got a bobblehead giveaway day in his honor on August 21. Great planning, Oakland.

Adam Kennedy – 2B: .291/.353/.444

What I Said in March: "Assuming he's healthy, this will be the last full season [Mark Ellis] plays everyday with the A's."

What I Say Now: Kennedy came over from the Rays in early May after Ellis injured his leg on the basepaths and in his first 15 games, AK put up a line of .441/.507/.644. This prompted all sorts of crazy talk – even for A's fans – that Kennedy "brings energy" to the team and should be signed to a multi-year deal and should make the AL All Star squad. Meanwhile, I was the only A's fan alive not smitten with his fluky small sample size of success.

Mid-Term Grade: B...Since June 1, Kennedy has hit .237/.291/.349 and his career-long inability to hit LHP has followed him into this season (.558 OPS). Since Ellis returned on June 28, Kennedy has been our starting third baseman. Your 2009 Oakland A's, ladies and gentlemen!

Orlando Cabrera – SS: .262/.299/.345

What I Said in March: "Offensively, Cabrera's skill set seems more suited to the National League, where 180+ hits/season – absent any discernable power or on-base percentage – has more value."

What I Say Now: Since June 1, Cabrera has hit .296/.323/.408. Good for him. He's also spent most of the first half loafing to first base on groundballs, lazily fielding his position and appears to be in receipt of a season-long pass from A's manager Bob Geren absolving him of any accountability. Cabrera didn't sign until March, came to camp out of shape and has finally played himself into half-way decent condition. All for only four million dollars!

Mid-Term Grade: C-...At least Cabrera finally has motivation to play like he gives a damn. He's rumored to be on the trading block and is basically auditioning for a 2010 contract from someone between now and the end of the season.

Bobby Crosby – 3B: .210/.295/.317

What I Said in March: "The A's will wait until every other team's roster is set, before releasing Crosby at the end of Spring Training."

What I Say Now: Crosby's $5.25 million salary combined with his public snit at changing positions meant the A's were stuck with the guy. And, never let it be said that a professional sports franchise – with an unquestionably uncertain future – has any problem cutting off its nose to spite its face. Oakland keeps trotting him out there (.179/.237/.283 in his last 119 PAs) and looking past his awful defense on the hot corner.

Mid-Term Grade: F...Our Boy Genius GM signed Crosby to a five-year extension back in April 2005. Here's what A's fans got in return: .238/.302/.362. Only three more months of this abominable nightmare before he's accepting the Padres or Nationals non-roster invite to Spring Training.

And, the rest…: After signing a two-year contract in the offseason, 2B Mark Ellis (.219/.272/.343) landed on the 60-day DL in May. Not to be outdone, 1B Nomar Garciaparra (.253/.286/.367) has served two stints on the disabled list and has now been reduced to pinch hitting with one or two starts per week. And, 3B Eric Chavez played in eight games before undergoing major back surgery for the second time in his career. Sigh.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Marlon Wayans is Ruining My Nostalgia

2009 Mid-Term A'ssessment: The Bullpen

Andrew Bailey: 4-1, 1.92 ERA, 10 saves

What I Said about a different relief pitcher in March: "Meet your lone Oakland A's representative to the 2009 All-Star Game."

What I Say Now: I actually like the "every team must be represented" All-Star rule, but Bailey deserves his All-Star spot, regardless. After a lights-out April as a middle reliever (1.15 ERA, .060 opponents BA!) the A's moved him into the closer's role vacated by Joey Devine's elbow immolation. After last year's overhyped novelty act of Brad Ziegler, it's refreshing to see a closer out of the "throw the ball through a wall" mode.

Mid-Term Grade: B+...Bailey's on pace for just under 100 innings pitched which is a sign of how inexperienced our rotation is and an indictment of Bob Geren's inept bullpen management. The A's have a recent history of overworking their closers – Octavio Dotel and Billy Koch come to mind – so, here's hoping they've learned from their own history.

Brad Ziegler: 1-3, 3.27 ERA, 6 saves

What I Said in March: "There's simply NO way he can repeat his run prevention from the year before. Instead of blame, Ziegler will be defended with excuses that reference his mechanics or his release point or a hidden injury."

What I Say Now: Good ol' predictable A's fans and beat writers. Ziegler gave up two runs in his first three appearances of the year, so it HAD to be because the WBC threw off his routine. He posted a 6.10 ERA in May, so it HAD to be the nine days he missed from April 26 – May 4 with flu-like symptoms. Ziegler can't retire lefties (.333/.425/.435) this season. He couldn't do it last year, either. I said that in March, too.

Mid-Term Grade: B...Over the past four weeks, Ziegler's ERA is just a tick over 2.00. The guy is a strong set-up option out of the 'pen, but not nearly as good as he looked last year. Just don't say that in front of my fellow A's fans.

And, the rest…: Hard to believe that Cubs fans practically ran Michael Wuertz (5-1, 2.95 ERA) out of town last year. He's got 53 Ks in 42.2 IP and his power-slider is almost unhittable when it's working. In March, I wrote that Russ Springer (0-1, 5.04 ERA) would become our most reviled middle reliever
before Memorial Day. In back-to-back appearances on May 20 and 23, he failed to retire a batter, giving up four runs, combined. Check your calendars, kids. Santiago Casilla (1-2, 6.75 ERA) insists on overthrowing everything. At 92-93 mph, his stuff is pretty nasty. At 95-97 mph, his stuff is pretty flatty. Journeyman Kevin Cameron was only around for 11 games, but it was long enough for Mrs. Bootleg to get me his jersey t-shirt for Father's Day!

Monday, July 13, 2009

2009 Mid-Term A'ssessment: Starting Rotation

Trevor Cahill: 5-8, 4.67 ERA

What I Said in March: "[Check out] Cahill's decrease in strikeouts per nine innings; increase in walks per nine innings and decrease in K/BB ratio after he was promoted and pitched 37 innings at double-A [in 2008]…he's really not ready yet."

What I Say Now: In 13 of his 18 starts, Cahill has given up three earned runs or less. But, his K/9 (4.3), BB/9 (3.8) and K/BB (1.15) numbers are still a bit troubling. He's a sinkerball specialist who gets KILLED when he can't keep his pitches down (18 home runs allowed) and his "let the hitters hit it" approach hasn't been helped by the A's ambivalent defense.

Mid-Term Grade: C...he was obviously rushed to the bigs, but his
dumpy appearance and lack of mound presence make me wonder if the lumps he's currently taking won't do long-term damage to his development.

Dallas Braden: 7-7, 3.12 ERA

What I Said in March: "Braden finally LOOKS like he belongs in bigs. [He's] potentially a huge fantasy sleeper if he gets decent run support."

What I Say Now: Braden's allowed three earned runs or less in all but one of his 18 starts this season. If you toss out that six run/five inning performance on May 16, his ERA would be 2.76. The A's have scored just 3.6 runs per start for him, though. He's tough as nails and he'd have 10 wins with even an average offense behind him.

Mid-Term Grade: B+...I love this kid. On May 10, he took a first-inning Vernon Wells line drive off his pitching hand, stayed in the game and went six-plus innings. I'm not even going to mark him down for using
this as his theme music.

Brett Anderson: 5-7, 4.86 ERA

What I Said in March: "Singer-songwriter Brett Anderson's reign atop Google search results for "Brett Anderson" will come to an end. Eat it, England!"

What I Say Now: The only thing I'd write differently would be to change "England" to "New England". On July 6, Anderson became the first rookie to
shut out the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park since Jim Abbott in 1989. The home plate umpire had a "pitcher's zone" all night, but if you believe that one start can mark a player's arrival (I don't) then this was it.

Mid-Term Grade: C+...Anderson has looked dominant at times (3-0, 1.86 ERA in three starts from June 20-July 6) and looked like a 21-year-old rookie (6.32 ERA in May) for longer stretches. He threw four more scoreless innings in Tampa Bay yesterday. Five more and then he's arrived.

Josh Outman: 4-1, 3.48 ERA

What I Said in March: "He'll almost certainly start the year in AAA-Sacramento as a shaky insurance policy for Oakland's shaky rotation."

What I Say Now: Justin Duchscherer's injury and Sean Gallagher's ineffective, incompetent healthiness opened the door for Outman to make the Opening Day roster. From May 1 until his elbow exploded on
June 19 (I was at that game!), Outman's ERA was 3.12 with a fastball that hit 95 mph. A rare "miss" in my abbreviated player-projecting career.

Mid-Term Grade: B...Outman was just starting to trust his secondary pitches when his season ended a little less than a month ago. I loved the fact that Outman was – wait for it - outpitching the "can't miss kids" in our rotation and was the polar opposite of everything I hated about Fat Joe Blanton – the guy he was traded for. Hurry back.

Vin Mazzaro: 2-5, 3.59 ERA

What I Said Thought in March: "There's NO way Sean Gallagher doesn't at least last the first half in Oakland's rotation. I think I'll write a post on him instead of Mazzaro."

What I Say Now: Thanks to the A's preseason acquisitions on offense, Oakland has scored 1.77(!) runs in games Mazzaro starts. 1.77 runs! Is the plural of "run" even appropriate here?! Mazzaro, 22, pitches with an uncommon confidence at his age and – even better – he talks like Tony Danza circa the seventh season of Who's the Boss: still stereotypical Italian, but diluted with a decade of speech therapy.

Mid-Term Grade: B...10 years ago, Tim Hudson made his Major League debut. Even though he and Mazzaro are nothing alike physically or stuff-wise, Hudson frakkin' owned the mound and was the unquestioned leader of the A's rotation well into the deca…uhh, until 2004. I'm calling the same path for Mazzaro. Until 2014. Ugh.

And, the Rest: If I never see Sean Gallagher (1-2, 8.16 ERA) or Dana Eveland (1-3, 8.00 ERA) in an A's uniform again it'll be too soon. For those of you scoring at home, we gave up Rich Harden and Dan Haren, respectively, to get 'em. Oh, and we unloaded Nick Swisher for Gio Gonzalez (1-2, 6.29 ERA). Jesus, this is depressing.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

AiAA: Castrol Edge

It was 93 degrees here in San Diego today. After getting up at 4:00 AM to go into the office and continue work on the largest proposal effort I'll touch in 2009, I came home to spend time with my son, Jalen.

He and I watched the A's/Rays game, a little bit of the Padres/Giants tilt (San Diego got a hit, Vig! I think they won the game!) and then, after a father and son road trip to 7-11 for a nutritious Wild Cherry Slurpee and a Nestle's chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich, we went outside and actually played some baseball.

Jalen likes to pretend he's the Oakland A's. He'll hit right-handed like Matt Holliday or left-handed like Jack Cust and he even strikes out like everyone else in our goddam lineup. Meanwhile, I have to be whatever team pops into his head. Today, for example, he insisted I play the role of the National League All-Star team. I am not making this up.

The point, again, is that is was 93 DEGREES outside. We were out there for 90 minutes as I tried to remember my imaginary National League All-Star team batting order by the third or fourth "inning". But, whatever…I indulge his fantasy because it's baseball and we've been doing this every Sunday for several months. Even though, he NEVER lets ME be the A's.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself – mostly for the 10 pounds I sweated away this afternoon – but, partially in appreciation of being a parent. I looked forward to settling in for the evening, when I walked in on Jalen watching the below commercial:

When it ended, Jalen turned towards me, cackled manically and punched me in the stomach as hard as he could while reciting butchering the ad's tagline. It was a testament to my physical superiority over the boy that his punch only dropped me to one knee.

Homer Simpson (calling into the nuclear plant): "You heard me, I won't be in for the rest of the week. I told you! My baby beat me up! No, it is NOT the worst excuse I ever thought up."

Friday, July 10, 2009

TBG (Finally) Sees: Up

Worth the Wait? (Y/N): Y

Three Things I Liked:

(1) After the introduction of young Ellie and Carl – a tomboy adventurer and her apprehensive new friend, respectively – there an absolutely bee-YOO-tiful sequence (without a lick of dialogue) that shows the two getting married, living their lives and constantly putting their biggest dream on hold. I can't remember ever seeing so much hope and heartbreak crammed into a minute-and-a-half, but there ya go.

(2) The "Russell" character hit all the right notes with me. His exuberant earnestness could've been written as the trite foil to the much older Carl, but he's given a bittersweet backstory that makes the words "My mom loves that game!" into one of the best lines of the movie.

(3) I'm a sucker for the "epilogue" sequence that follows most Disney/Pixar films. There are some especially satisfying payoffs here for those of you willing to stick around for a few minutes of closing credits.

Three Things I Didn't Like:

(1) There's a Pixar short film that runs before the feature presentation.
Partly Cloudy FINALLY answers the age-old question of "where do babies come from?", but not even the sticky sweet ending could save this unnecessarily abrasive piece of animation. And, this isn't one of those "hypersensitive parental reactions to cartoon violence". I just didn't dig it.

(2) OK…this is one of those "hypersensitive parental reactions to cartoon violence". Did we really need the villain chasing the good guys with a shotgun in the climactic sequence?

(3) Mrs. Bootleg and I are doing our best to ensure that Jalen does not grow up with his father's irrational fear of distaste for dogs. The good people at Disney/Pixar are NOT helping with the numerous scenes of snarling dogs cornering the heroes while the ominous score throbs in the background.

Why I Now Might WANT to see Transformers 2

I've received this link to the Transformers 2 FAQ from a half-dozen different friends and/or readers in the past 48 hours. It is quite the awesome read – and chock full o' spoilers, by the way. Personally, I freakin' HATED the first one, but the sequel appears to have somehow managed to up the suck into a new stratosphere.

Robot farting…testicles…urination…AND illiterate ebonicbots?

Nope, still not seeing it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

TBG Eats: Burger King® Onion Rings Flavored Snacks AND Ketchup & Fries Flavored Snacks

Current Weight: 169.8 lbs.

With the buttery imitation-maple deliciousness of BK's
French Toast snacks still tickling my tongue, I set off on one of my patented scavenger hunts of gluttony last weekend in an attempt to find ALL the junk food flavors under the Burger King brand name.

The good people at my local Rite-Aid had both the Onion Rings and the Ketchup & Fries flavors available (in $2.19 large bags, only) so, of course, I bought both. And, when my heart explodes at 40, I'll have no regrets.

My first thought while admiring the BK "Onion Rings" were Frito-Lay's
Funyuns – one of the few members of the junk food family that I don't especially like. Funyuns' gritty texture and "doesn't taste like any goddamn onion I've ever eaten" faux flavor simply don't do it for me.

Thankfully, I was able to set aside my preconceived ersatz onion ring prejudice. BK's Onion Ring Flavored Snacks are thick and crisp with a WAY more authentic onion taste than Funyuns and a light, creamy finish. Admittedly, I don't have the most sophisticated palate in the blogosphere, but it sure tasted like BK's attempt to recreate the flavor of their glorious onion ring dipping sauce.

On the other hand, the Ketchup & Fries Flavored Snacks were up against a much higher standard. Y'see, in America's never-ending quest to compete with Canada on health care, hockey relevance and the
Hart Foundation, Lady Liberty had lost her way. As readers of this lightly-read blog now know, it's Lay's Ketchup Chips that turned Canada into a world power to be reckoned with.

BK's Ketchup & Fries are textured like strips of Pringles with a dusting of mild ketchup flavors. These weren't bad, but they lacked the tanginess of the Lay's version which left my fingers a ruby red mess. A friend of mine made the obvious comparison between American vs. Canadian potato chip ketchup flavoring and American vs. Canadian beer alcohol content. I am now stealing that quip for my own unfunny purposes.

Grade (BK Onion Rings): 4 (out of 5) Calories: 110, Fat: 6g (per 1 oz. serving)

Grade (BK Ketchup & Fries): 3 (out of 5) Calories: 150, Fat: 8g (per 1 oz. serving)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

4th Outfielders are the New "Moneyball"!

The Oakland A's traded RHP Ryan Webb, RHP Craig Italiano and a player to be named later (who'll almost certainly be RHP Sean Gallagher) to the San Diego Padres for OF Scott Hairston.

I don't get this trade. I mean, I didn't "get" the acquisition of Matt Holliday either, but at least he was an All-Star caliber player in Colorado brought to Oakland by our boy-genius GM in a foolhardy attempt to contend.

Here are Scott Hairston's career numbers entering the 2009 season:

PA: 1,056 BA: .246 OBP: .303 SLG: .453

And, here are Scott Hairston's numbers this season:

PA: 216 BA: .299 OBP: .358 SLG: .533

Hairston, 29, is a low-ceiling outfielder whose significant body of work prior to 2009 indicates some serviceable talent (.893 OPS vs. LHP in his career), but an otherwise unexceptional player. And, I know us light-skinned bruthas are supposed to stick together, but I gotta call 'em as I see 'em.

Predictably, most of my fellow A's fans can't look past Hairston's 2009 season and are convinced that he's "coming into his own" and "an upgrade to our offense". In reality, Hairston played out of his mind in April (.390/.468/.756) and while his numbers since May 1 (.276/.327/.474) aren't anything to sneeze at, he still isn't hitting RHPs all that well.

More discouraging is his
batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which is hovering around .350 at the moment. BABIP is one of those esoteric stats that tends to normalize over the course of a long season with .290 considered "league average". Simply put, Hairston's "breakthrough" is the product of the hottest eight-week stretch of his entire career.

What really gets me is that the A's are just a few warm bodies shy of being able to field an entire team of offensively-limited outfielders. Hairston brings the exact same skill set to the plate as guys like Travis Buck and Aaron Cunningham who the A's have absolutely buried at Triple-A. Ryan Sweeney and Rajai Davis are speed and defense players who won't make anyone forget the all-natural power stroke of Jose Canseco, either.

A straight RF platoon with the left-handed Buck and the right-handed Cunningham could've provided a bump to the offense, while moving Jack Cust's sh*tty glove to permanent DH duty.

That the A's are giving up nothing of consequence (Webb's allowed more than 11 hits per nine innings in his last three minor league stops; Italiano was drafted in 2005 and still hasn't risen above Single-A and Gallagher…heh, well good luck that gutless load, San Diego) isn't much of a consolation.

Then, again, what do I know? Hairston homered off of Josh Beckett in his first Oakland start earlier this evening. Maybe he stays hot and the A's will flip him for more league average talent with steep platoon tendencies.

Can't get enough of that.

TBG Eats: Taco Bell's NEW Bacon Cheesy Potato Burrito

Current Weight: 169.8 lbs.

Hard to believe it's been five years since Taco Bell introduced their "Big Bell Value Menu" to the masses. In a brilliant bit of "marketing that now seems obvious", TB chose to put the promotional focus on the portion sizes ("I'm full!") instead of the prices. These menu items were not to be confused with McDonald's one dollar teeny double cheeseburgers.

The 2004 fast food rookie-of-the-year came from TB's new value menu, as their take on the Beef n' Potato Burrito was born. Potatoes in a burrito aren't uncommon, but for Taco Bell this was quite the break from their familiar food offerings. Ground beef, seasoned chunks of fried potatoes, red sauce and sour cream? If I'd had this lightly-read blog back in '04, the Beef n' Potato Burrito would've earned a perfect score. (Ditto for the now-discontinued Grande Soft Taco – two flour tortillas with nacho cheese sauce spread between them, then folded and stuffed with twice the meat along with lettuce and cheddar cheese. Glorious.)

So, can Taco Bell improve upon perfection by adding bacon and nacho cheese sauce to the already-awesome power of the Beef n' Potato Burrito?

Well, they come pretty damn close.

The bacon's saltiness blends well with mild seasoning of the potatoes. The sour cream – for once, not scooped on with a shovel – is a nice mix with the nacho cheese and ground beef. And, we've already established the beautiful union of ground beef and potatoes in a Taco Bell tortilla.

This is a very good burrito, but the entireties of the components don't quite connect.

I hate to be the one to blaspheme at the altar of fast food, but the close proximity of ground beef and bacon just might be meat overkill. Meanwhile, the mix of bacon with nacho cheese is tasty enough, but not to the degree it should've been.

The above critiques are explicitly nitpicks, but the original Beef n' Potato Burrito raised the bar for all other Taco Bell beef and potato-based burritos. I think it's high time we accept that there'll never be another Michael Jordan.

That doesn't mean we can't appreciate Kobe or LeBron.

Grade: 4.5 (out of 5) Calories: 680, Fat: 36g

Monday, July 6, 2009

10 Thoughts: Oakland A's – June 2009

Current Record (thru June 30): 32-44
June Record: 13-15
GB – AL West: 10.5
GB – AL Wildcard: 12.5

(1) Mazzaro World - In Spring Training, there were whispers that 22-year-old Vin Mazzaro would begin the 2009 season on the big league roster. Instead, he was sent to Triple-A to work on his secondary pitches. After posting a 2.38 ERA in 56 IP at Sacramento, Mazzaro was called up to start against the White Sox on June 2. He didn't give up a run in 6.1 IP and picked up the win. Mazzaro won his next start before the A's offense scored just four total runs in his next four starts combined. While his record is only 2-3, Mazzaro pitches with an awesomely obnoxious swagger (can you believe he's from New Jersey?!) without any of the deer-in-the-headlights looks that super-hyped young A's starters Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson have shown almost all season.

(2) STBU - OF Travis Buck had a solid rookie season in 2007 (.288/.377/.474 in 82 games) but has struggled mightily at the plate ever since. And, once you're in GM Billy Beane's doghouse, you might as well start having your mail forwarded there. In '09, Buck has played sporadically as a 4th outfielder and hasn't hit (.666 OPS) when given the rare start. On May 29 he strained his oblique. The next day he publicly proclaimed himself healthy, but the A's still put him on the DL. Anywhere else, upper management would get roasted if they jerked players around like the A's. Buck hit .350/.423/.550 in 17 games while on a rehab assignment (that turned into a formal demotion), before being recalled on June 29 – too late to make that night's game. The next night…Buck was right back on the bench.

(3) Geren Gots to Go - I'm one of those guys who believes managers don't have a whole lot of impact on a team's won-loss record. If we exhumed the remains of Connie Mack and his Nate Dogg hat, I doubt his bones could coax a winning season from this somnambulant A's squad. Manager Bob Geren seems completely flummoxed with how to lead a team with such an absence of chemistry. He gives too much deference to the veterans – handing clutch at-bats to ciphers like Nomar Garciaparra. He's got no feel for young players and may single-handedly obliterate our bullpen by the All Star Break. Most egregiously, even when the A's play their worst, he refuses to kick this team in the ass publicly or privately.

(4) Emperor Beane Has No Clothes - I'm not one of those message board trolls who hates everything and everyone, but HOW has GM Billy Beane escaped almost any and all scrutiny for cobbling together such a lackluster team? While I wasn't expecting anything close to a division title this year, Beane actually torpedoed his own rebuilding plan to bring in disinterested loafers like Orlando Cabrera and the aforementioned Giambi and Garciaparra – three guys who barely register a pulse as they go through the motions. Meanwhile, it's increasingly clear that the "quantity over quality" deals for Nick Swisher and Dan Haren have yielded an overflowing crop of 4th outfielders, 5th starters and "potential".

(5) The Year was 1989 - From June 22-24, the A's hosted the San Francisco Giants as part of (the increasingly irrelevant) interleague play. The featured promotion for the three-game series was to be a celebration of the 1989 World Series championship team, including a reunion of the A's who made up that roster 20 years ago. To the surprise of none of us who know and love this team, the A's completely mishandled the event. Depending on who you believe, the team (1) barely gave a month's notice to the members of the '89 team, which resulted in less than half of the champs even showing up; (2) only scheduled a reunion/celebration after seeing how classily the Giants – Oakland's opponent in the Series that year – pulled off their own anniversary party; (3) allowed the media to dictate the narrative for the evening (in order: Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and why so few former A's showed up). Read here and here for more details.

(6) "Hello? Mrs. Pommelhorse? I'd like to get down now!" - The A's are averaging around 18,000 fans per game. This, of course, isn't the actual attendance as most nights there don't appear to be 5,000 people in the seats. Last month, the A's used Facebook to push $7 field level seats (nearly a 75% price reduction!); invited pop star Jordin Sparks for a postgame concert and – shockingly – actually had to discount 2nd level seating prices for a game against the rival Giants. The padded attendance numbers aren't getting much play, but NO ONE is coming out to see this team. Last week, the team announced a 4-game ticket plan. For every game that the A's win as part of this plan, the team will give ticket holders seats to a future A's game. We're at "Defcon Montreal" here, people.

(7) Over & Out, Man. - On June 19th, my son and I were in attendance at San Diego's PETCO Park for what turned out to be Josh Outman's last start of 2009. He left that game with what was described by North Korea's news agency the A's medical staff as a mild flexor-extensor strain. As usual, this was just a superfluous medical smokescreen by the team, concealing an even worse malady. Outman had Tommy John surgery about a week later. He was a legitimate candidate for the All-Star Game (4-1, 3.48 ERA, 53Ks in 67 IP); a proponent of old-school stirrups and easily the least attractive starting pitcher since the heyday of Zane Smith.

(8) We Still Drive a Gio - Gio Gonzalez was recalled from Triple-A to replace Outman on the roster. He lost his first two starts, yielding 17 hits in 8.2 innings, before shutting down a hacktastic Indians team yesterday. He's pretty much a two-pitch (fastball, curve) pitcher and refuses to challenge anyone inside. Seriously, take a drink when he goes 2-0, 3-0 or 3-1 on a hitter. Take a shot when he grooves a get-it-over fastball across the middle of the plate. And, pound a warm Natty Light whenever Gonzalez starts fidgeting with his cap, wiping terror sweat from his nervous brow and/or hyperventilating.

(9) I No Longer (Heart) Jack Cust - I've previously explained why Cust is the most polarizing player on this team. He's been the A's best hitter each of the last two seasons ('07 OPS: .912, '08 OPS: .851). But, Cust also strikes out a ton (361 Ks in the past two seasons) and is one of the most comically inept fielders in recent baseball history. I've defended him because he's been one of the best players in the league at NOT making outs, but his productivity has almost completely evaporated in 2009. He'll never hit for average, but his once-impressive OBP is down to .315 this season. Since May 15, he's hit .180/.258/.365. Cust is notoriously streaky, but the A's seriously need to consider moving him if/when he gets hot. Players with his skill set don't age well (Johnny Gomes and Sam Horn are his top two comps on and the game is moving away from the "Fred Flintstone" type of players the A's have always been fond of.

(10) Don't Let the Door Hit You… - The Matt Holliday trade didn't make sense last November and now we can definitively say it was an epic bust by GM/boy genius Billy Beane. The stat-heads, almost in unison, swore up and down that there'd be little to no impact on Holliday's numbers while playing everyday outside of Coors Field. On the other hand, I said there would be an impact and cited his career-long road numbers in comparing him to Phillies sparkplug Shane Victorino. This year, Holliday's OPS is about 20 points behind Victorino's. There are even some in the know who believe Huston Street (traded to Colorado for Holliday) has more trade value right now than Holliday. Watching him play at 80% effort in a pathetic attempt to preserve his body in advance of free agency is a story that would be all over the place if he played in a real baseball town.

Friday, July 3, 2009

News Item: Jalen Cameron Sustains Concussion

SAN DIEGO - Former Rays and Pirates t-ball star Jalen Cameron was diagnosed with a mild concussion yesterday evening after an accident at his Rancho Bernardo townhouse.

Jalen, 5, was playing a rousing game of "throw the soccer ball at each other" in the living room with his father, Aaron. With his father clearly winning on points, Jalen resorted to hiding behind his mother to avoid getting nailed. At approximately 7:45 PM, Jalen – giggling uncontrollably and not watching where he was running – took two or three running steps towards his mother in the dining room. He then turned his head, which connected squarely with the corner of the open front door.

"J was about 30 feet from me when it happened", said his distraught father. "In the two or three seconds it took me to walk over, he already had a welt on his forehead the size of
Hasim Rahman's after he fought Evander Holyfield."

The impact with the door opened up a 1-1 ½ inch vertical gash on Jalen's forehead, as well. While reports vary throughout the state, Jalen's scream was rumored to be heard clear up the coast of California, all the way to

Jalen's mother – Mrs. Bootleg – was unavailable for comment as she's still not talking to this reporter, however she's believed to have acted as calmly and rationally as any mother would when her child's forehead becomes a lumpy, bloody mess.

"I've never seen anything like it", her husband replied. "Her right eye was fixed on Jalen, while her left eye was staring a hole through me the entire time. You know that 'look' wives will shoot their husbands when we do something SO egregiously stupid? Well, she had an injured child to tend to, so I only got the 'stink-eye' with one eye. Crazy."

An ice pack was immediately applied to Jalen's forehead, but his stream of tears could not be contained. Mrs. Bootleg reportedly switched into "family emergency mode" at this point and – with
the events of 5/11 still fresh in her mind – began a rapid-fire process whereby Jalen would be in the car and off to the ER in about six seconds.

"So, Jalen's crying uncontrollably, he's got a foot growing out of his forehead, he's bleeding…and then, in an instant, he's all better", his father recalled.

Last evening's game between the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Angels was playing in the background on the family's living room TV. Angels OF Bobby Abreu had just hit his 5th home run of the year, shifting Jalen's attention away from his own head trauma.

"What's the score? What number is he? What's his name? Are they going to do fireworks?", Jalen allegedly asked.

With his spigot of tears turned off – and at his father's suggestion, Jalen calmly walked into the downstairs bathroom to assess his injury. "In the pantheon of bad ideas", said his father, "I'd put that right up there with playing 'throw the soccer ball at each other' in the living room." Jalen's tears and screams returned with a vengeance simply at the sight of his own swollen mug.

Jalen was transported to Urgent Care, with Mrs. Bootleg driving, as Aaron's thoughts were elsewhere. "I'd been out drinking with a friend from about 4:30 to 7:30 PM. I have no doubt that the smell of cheap beer was all over me. I completely expected the medical staff to see my son, get a whiff of my .08 musk and call C.P.S."

After falling asleep in the car, Jalen was carted up to the second floor of the medical facility by his asthmatic, exhausted, possibly inebriated father.

"J's wearing a pair of way-too-small Major League Baseball pajamas. Everything is so short and tight, he looks like a little boy
Bratz doll", said his father. "And, the first thing they want us to do is wake him up…so they can weigh him?!"

Sources say attempts to weigh the half-asleep, half-dazed Jalen were hee-larious. "His dad put him down on the scale", said a nurse who asked not to be identified. "The little boy's legs came out from under him and his arms shot up into the air. The whole thing looked like
bad yoga."

Jalen was believed to still be asleep when the doctor was finally able to examine him. "The doctor asked if Jalen's always so difficult to wake up", explained Jalen's father. "Normally, that boy could sleep through a sonic boom. And, now with the added bonus of a blow to the head? Awesome."

Said a source at the medical facility who requested anonymity, "The doctor had to wake Jalen up by rubbing a cold, wet washcloth across his chest. He was…less than pleased."

After angrily completing a handful medical assessments, including squeezing the doctor's fingers, remembering his age, his middle name and his parents' names, Jalen was further examined before the doctor came back with her diagnosis of a mild concussion.

Jalen was placed on the 24-hour disabled list earlier today. However, if his early morning activity and energy level is any indication, he'll be placed back on the active roster by lunch time.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

TBG Eats: Burger King® French Toast Flavored Snacks

Current Weight: 169.2 lbs.

When I was 13 years old, I weighed 180 lbs. and somehow managed to cram my 38-inch waist into either a pair of
nut-hugging shorts or Sears Toughskins jeans every morning before school.

And, I can't remember ever leaving my house without cramming some sort of breakfast in my mouth.

Y'see, back in the 1980s, we were told that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. In hindsight, it's hard to believe that a generation of American children took nutritional advice from
a talking tumor and its Vaudeville soft-shoe act.

Eventually, though, everyone outgrows breakfast. Those idyllic AM scenes around the family dining room can't hold a candle to staggering home after an evening of drinking – take-out chorizo burrito in hand – and sleeping in until your 1:00 PM freshman psych class begins.

This hasn't stopped the fast food industry from aggressively marketing their "grown-up" breakfast menus to the very same collection of '80s kids – who now have mortgages, car payments and kids of their own. From the
Double Croissanwich to the Anglo-Mexican meal, America wants YOU to resume early morning eatin'.

Following the lead of nationally-known restaurant chains like T.G.I. Friday's, our friends at Burger King have entered the cross-branded snack foods arena with a new line of products designed to keep their name in your face.

Within the walls of the Unnamed Defense Contractor, our vending machines were recently stocked with Burger King's French Toast Flavored Snacks. Now, even though my idea of "breakfast" these days is a Clif Bar chased with two quarts of black coffee, I have been known to partake in the cinnamon-sweet, syrup-dunkin' goodness of fast food French toast sticks. And, now they're in mid-afternoon snack form? SOLD!

I cracked open a bag and – at the risk of overselling this – was nearly knocked on my ass by the intoxicating olfactory sledgehammer of natural maple flavor. Made from puffed corn, the texture is light but with a crazy amount of crispiness. The syrup notes are intense throughout with a surprisingly effective taste resulting from the sugary/salty components. Halfway through the bag, I started gently laying each "chip" perpendicular across my tongue, treating each one as a little reward to myself for uncovering such a fantastic find.

And, yes, I did go back and buy out every bag in the vending machine.

Eat it, peers!

Grade: 5 (out of 5) Calories: 150, Fat: 8g (per 1 oz. serving)