Sunday, July 24, 2011

TMAILBAG: The Code of Baseball

Jag writes:

I had a question for your blog regarding the code of baseball. With David Ortiz and Kevin Gregg's recent scuffle, what are your thoughts on the code? In Toronto, Jose Bautista sometimes gets in trouble with opposing pitchers because he plays the game hard no matter what the score (or the game, evidenced by his catch at the All-Star Game that nearly gave all Jays' fans a heart attack when he slid feet first into the wall...and then he rolled his ankle for real in a game three days later!). Case in point: with the Jays leading by eight runs, Jose popped up with two men on and was upset at himself for it, thus drawing the ire of the opposing pitcher. They jawed for a bit and the pitcher was angry that Jose was trying to up the score when the game was already out of reach.


I've long thought the unwritten "code of baseball" was one of the sillier accepted aspects of the game.

Last year, my A's were involved in a particularly ridiculous dust-up when Dallas Braden screamed at the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez for crossing over the pitcher's mound on his way back to first base after a foul ball. I wrote the following a few weeks after the incident:

Amongst A's fans, I'm part of an infinitesimal minority who believes Dallas Braden's "I must protect my mound" bombast was a transparent attempt to fire up a scuffling team by going after Alex Rodriguez – baseball's universally loathed, low-hanging fruit. If it had been anyone else in baseball (save for fan and media-approved punching bags like Milton Bradley, Vincente Padilla or AJ Pierzynski) Braden would've been rightfully branded as batsh*t insane for his demonstrative in-game diatribe and embarrassing postgame professional wrestling-esque promo directed at A-Rod.

Over the weekend, I was driving around, running errands and listening to ballgames on my car's satellite radio. During one game, I heard the broadcasters discuss the unwritten "no stealing bases when your team has a big lead" statute. The rule of thumb, according to one of the broadcasters, used to be "five in the fifth" -- or when a team is leading by at least five runs in the fifth inning or later, it's understood that team won't attempt any stolen bases. Now, in today's offensive environment, that's evolved into "seven in the seventh".

These are rules designed to salvage the collective psyches of overmatched adolescents. It's amazing to me that grown men need similar ego shields.

Many years ago, Arizona's Curt Schilling was throwing a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. In the eighth inning, with the Diamondbacks leading 2-0, Padres catcher Ben Davis dropped a perfect bunt and beat it out for the Padres' first hit of the game. Arizona manager Bob Brenly
melodramatically wrapped himself within the invisible flag of the unwritten code -- and 10 years later, he still hasn't gotten over it. Davis and the Padres insisted "the code" didn't apply since the Diamondbacks' late lead was big enough.


Then again, maybe I'm the wrong person to ask. I
thoroughly enjoyed Prince Fielder's obviously choreographed walk-off celebration against the Giants two years ago. I loved it when Mets rookie Lastings Milledge launched a game-tying 10th inning home run and high-fived the home fans on his way back to the outfield in the top of the following inning.

What do I think of "the code"?

Friday, July 22, 2011

TBG in NYC Travel Diary -- Part III: Dunkin' Donuts, Shake Shack, Carl's Steaks (and a Rain Delay)

Travel Diary Part I -- Travel Diary Part II

Now Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten
Uptown, what now? Let's make it happen...

--P. Diddy,
Welcome to Atlanta (Coast-to-Coast Remix)

Thursday, June 23

9:00 AM -- From the neck up, I'm still feeling the previous evening. The last vestiges of a head cold, combined with a few hours of hollering conversation to be heard at the bar(s) left my throat raw. I seek solace with the TV in my room. I'm still half-asleep and need to ease into the day.

9:15 AM -- I'm out of bed. All credit goes to the NFL Network and analyst Warren Sapp whose unlistenable, ex-jock bombast left me wondering why Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin, Shannon Sharpe and Stuart Scott are the go-to piñatas for people who hate black broadcasters.* Here are some of Sapp's country-fried insight on the lack of leadership within the Dallas Cowboys' locker room:

On quarterback Tony Romo: "A pack-a-ants won't follow you to a pic-a-nic in your own backyard!"

On whether there are any players with leadership qualities on the Cowboys defense: "[Keith] Brooking's do! Brooking's do! Brooking's do!"

Sapp, just before I turned off the TV for good: "Ooh-WEE!"

* -- Oh, you know I'm kidding. Charles Barkley. Gus Johnson. Tom Jackson. Maybe one's even been in your house. KIDDING!

9:30 AM -- I leave my room in search of a Dunkin' Donuts that I vaguely remember seeing at some point during the previous evening. My sense of direction is laughably inept whenever I'm on vacation or business travel, so I stupidly assume there'll be a Dunkin' Donuts on every corner just as Starbucks has saturated the streets of Southern California.

10:00 AM -- Later this afternoon, I'd learn it's Boston that's long been overrun by Dunkin' Donuts, not New York. (I've been to New England a few times and really should've
remembered this.) For now, I'd been walking for 30 minutes -- passing diners and food carts -- taking in the city and increasingly falling asleep on my feet. I hate this...wait. My phone has Google Maps. Oh, there it is. Five minutes from my hotel.

10:10 AM -- Just before my family took our 2010 vacation to Spring Training, I cited Dunkin' Donuts' Waffle Breakfast Sandwich as the
most anticipated aspect of our upcoming trip. On our last day in Scottsdale, I drove to the closest Dunkin' only to be told that the sandwich was not offered in Arizona. This was the same vacation in which my son contracted a nasty ear infection. These, of course, are not comparable events. After all, Jalen received a prescription of antibiotics and felt better in a day or two. I carried around my pain for 15 months. Finally...TBG Eats: The BLUEBERRY Waffle Breakfast Sandwich from Dunkin' Donuts!

Loved it. The cloying sweetness from the miniature waffles was cut nicely by the saltiness of the sausage and, believe it or not, the processed flavor from the cheese. The blueberry notes lingered pleasantly after each bite and accompanied my black coffee nicely. Grade: 4.5 (out of 5).

11:40 AM -- I meet Tom at Grand Central. He went into work for a few hours, but ditched the remainder of his day to spend the afternoon with me and his
estranged girlfriend. There's a LOT of emotional baggage on both sides of their bed. I'm approaching a similar stage with my green and gold betrothed. Tom also bought the tickets (which came with concession stand credits), paid for my subway and politely stifled his laughter when it took me 25 attempts to get through the train station's turnstile. In turn, I offered to buy his beers. Tom quickly agreed to my terms.

11:45 AM -- Into the tunnel as we await the 7 train to Queens. The underground air is hot and heavy. I know I'm the Charmin-soft Californian, but it's only June! It would've took 10 minutes to reach the climactic scene in
Do the Right Thing if it was filmed down here. At the end of our four minute wait, I felt like this.

12:30 PM -- A steady rain began to fall as Tom and I walked towards Citi Field. With its interior stadium lights aglow, set against the sad skies and wet sidewalks, a lot of the architecture's color seemed to wash away. Citi Field is aesthetically stunning and in these conditions it had a throwback feel to the grainy film I've seen of older, long demolished ballparks that have been romanticized for several generations.

12:45 PM -- The tarp is on the field and the teams are nowhere to be seen, so it's obvious this game isn't starting at 1:10 PM. We circle the fan-polarizing Jackie Robinson rotunda -- a wonderfully-done tribute to the Dodgers' Hall of Fame trailblazer. Tom brings me up to speed on other topics that divide his favorite team's always-rational fanbase like retired numbers (Willie Mays? Gary Carter?) and "why can't Carlos Beltran hit .435/.536/1.022 every year like he did during the playoffs for Houston in 2004?"

1:00 PM -- On the concourse, behind centerfield, lies Citi Field's beer garden. At times, it features more than 80 different beers and while the selection on this day wasn't that diverse, it still brought joy to a pair of grown men on an increasingly rainy afternoon. Mixed in with the craft selections and high-end brands was good ol' Rolling Rock. I wasn't in the mood for college beer nostalgia, but if this place had sold Bud Ice, I might've reconsidered.

1:15 PM -- Tom wrote a
review of Citi Field when the park opened in 2009. I'm reprinting this snippet without his permission: "They have a scale version of Citi Field (Kiddie Field) where kids can hit wiffle balls off a tee and run the bases. In dead center field is even a mini-Diamond Vision screen where [kids] can catch replays. On top of that are batting cages, an X-Box area where you can play 2K Sports and a dunk tank!" I left this out of my description of the place when I returned to San Diego and told Jalen about my trip. I'd appreciate it if you guys did the same.

1:30 PM -- The rain has kinda-sorta let up, so the tarp is being pulled off the field. The grounds crew has it halfway removed before they're directed to roll it back on. Tom softens this tug-of-war with my emotions by leading me to an area overlooking the entire
Iron Triangle. It's good to see the locals take pride in their community.

2:30 PM -- The game has been delayed almost 90 minutes, but word trickles in that first pitch is now scheduled for 3:30 PM. We head upstairs to one of the exclusionary ballpark bars -- another terrific perk that was included with our tickets. As an unabashed elitist myself, I felt right at home. Green olives in drinks, bartenders in tuxedo was like Hollywood Video: After Hours!

3:00 PM -- Speaking of dress shirts, Tom and I witnessed a disturbing turn of fashion while waiting for the game to begin. A man in attendance was wearing a long-sleeved oxford dress shirt tucked into a pair of khaki shorts**. Now, in the interest of full disclosure,
I wore this to the game. But, it wasn't tucked into my shorts, it wasn't long-sleeved and it didn't have a dress collar. (And, I received a few compliments on it!)

** -- The dress shirt/shorts look was one of two sartorial mistakes I witnessed in New York. The other involved the apparent return of women's oversized off-one-shoulder tops. There's a reason these went out with the late 1980s, ladies. In fact, if memory serves, the "off-one-shoulder" look has only ever worked for one person.

3:30 PM -- First pitch! Tom and I are in the first row just behind the left field wall. Entering this game, the A's were last in the American League in home runs and the Mets were 13th among the 16 National League teams. But, maybe one of us could catch a ground-rule double? Perhaps the leftfielder would throw us a foul ball? Before, I could properly position myself for one of these unlikely occurrences, I realize I left my new sunglasses in the ballpark's bar.

3:40 PM -- Yes, I wore sunglasses on a rainy day, but that's not the point. The point is I'm panicking because this wasn't exactly inexpensive eyewear. I return to the bar and find four or five A's fans sitting where Tom and I were throwing back beers. I ask if any of them saw my sunglasses. None of them respond in the affirmative. I ask the hosts up front, the bartenders and a server if anyone returned my sunglasses. Everyone was very nice -- even taking a few minutes to look -- but no one had seen them.

As I turned to leave, preparing myself for the blinding overcast conditions, one of the A's fans I first approached comes up to me, reaches into her enormous purse and says, "Are these your sunglasses? I saw you earlier and I was going to bring them back to you if I saw you during the game."

You "saw me earlier"? You saw me two minutes ago! I was the guy asking if you'd seen my sunglasses! I suppose I should applaud her conscience -- albeit, belatedly. Though, it stung that she was an A's fan like me. Where on earth did she learn to steal?

5:00 PM -- Citi Field has a Shake Shack restaurant behind the Tyranno-Vision scoreboard in centerfield. Between the game's late start and inclement weather, the once-serpentine line had been reduced to a few people. Tom and I returned to our seats with a Single ShackBurger and fries. TWO fast food reviews in one travel diary? Awww, yeah!

Lettuce, tomato, American cheese and "shack sauce". This might've been the "cleanest" hamburger I've ever eaten. The flavors were incredibly distinct, beginning with the spot-on seasoning of the meat. And, while I can appreciate the goodness of greasiness, this swung much closer to the "juicy" end of the spectrum without that heavy, oily finish. The "shack sauce" was applied in the perfect amount -- enough to taste in every bite, but never detracting from the meat and/or other condiments. It seemed to have elements of mayonnaise, mustard, tomato, garlic and paprika. Just a simple -- and superb -- burger. Grade: 5 (out of 5)

Not long after Tom and I returned to our seats, he turned towards me to ask how I was enjoying my first Shake Shack experience. He damn near recoiled in horror when he discovered my hamburger had disappeared in mere moments. I came this close to getting another one, but it's best to ease people into a first-person, real-time experience with my appetite. You're welcome, Tom.

6:30 PM -- My Oakland A's lost to Tom's New York Mets, 4-1. The immortal Chris Capuano -- who entered this season with a career 46-52 record, 4.35 ERA and missed all of 2008 and 2009 after TWO Tommy John surgeries -- shutout Oakland over six innings before turning it over to the bullpen. Not even the comically menacing countenance of Sam the Security Guard -- stationed just a few feet to my right for the whole game -- could lift my spirits. Perhaps I was still taken aback by all the "MAKE SOME NOISE" scoreboard urgings. In New York? With their real fans? There is no Santa Claus.

7:45 PM -- The rain delay screwed up my social calendar as I was forced to postpone drinks with two of my favorite people -- whom I'd never before met. Thankfully, Tom was able to hang out for a little while longer. We landed at
The Perfect Pint. There I discovered the least talked-about difference between New York and Southern California: Here in San Diego, it's understood that happy hour is 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Commuters use it, primarily, as a way to wait out traffic. In New York, happy hour doesn't seem to officially begin until...well, until much later than 3:00 PM. And, all of the perfectly-knotted ties and pressed pantsuits had me thinking that some of these people might be going back to work. After leaving. Blasphemy!

9:30 PM -- After returning to my hotel, I met up with my friend Nick who had taken the train down from Connecticut. Nick was the first Bootleg reader I ever met -- way back in 2003 -- and he set the bar pretty high for all my future reader encounters. I called him when Jalen was born in 2004. He invited me to his wedding in 2006. We hadn't seen each other since 2008, but a highbrow evening was always guaranteed when we were in each other's company.

Friday, June 24

12:30 AM -- After stumbling around from bar-to-bar on 3rd Avenue (highlight: watching a petite woman try to drag her inebriated meathead boyfriend out of an establishment before he belligerently returned and demanded to be served another beer) Nick and I stopped in at
Carl's Steaks for some preemptive early-morning alcohol absorption. I ordered the cheesesteak with Whiz and grilled onions. It was good, but they went way too light on the Whiz and the onions. Still, my stomach appreciated the starch. And, who knows...maybe I'll have time to give this place a second chance on Friday night.

Or Saturday morning.

Perhaps, sometime around sunrise?

NEXT: Meeting old friends...for the first time! New Yankee Stadium! My personal New York Marathon! 3:30 AM cheesesteaks!

Monday, July 18, 2011

My 50 All-Time Favorite Oakland A's

On June 30, my Oakland Athletics traded away longtime second baseman Mark Ellis to the Colorado Rockies. Ellis wasn't flashy, but since 2002 he was a steady presence in the lineup and on defense. The trade led one of my favorite A's-related follows on Twitter to write up his top 25 all-time favorite Athletics position players.

Now, I liked Ellis just fine. One of my favorite memories of Ellis ties to the time he almost killed me.* But, his placement at #2 on Ken's list seemed…oh, I don't know. What's a good judgmental and objective adjective for someone else's subjective list?

* -- I was driving back to San Diego on the day after my bachelor party in Los Angeles and reasonably hung over. The A's were playing the Twins in the deciding game of the 2002 ALDS. Down four runs in the bottom of the ninth, Ellis hit a three-run home run to bring Oakland within one. Listening on my car's radio, I nearly sideswiped another car at 80 mph when I took my hands off the steering wheel during my slightly too-exuberant driver's side celebration.

Ken did, however, clearly explain his criteria (in the comments section). This got me thinking about my own list of all-time favorite Oakland A's – and my own criteria for qualifying.

I've been an A's fan since 1981 despite being born in Southern California and never having lived in the Bay Area. (I covered that conundrum in
this TBG post.) In my 30th year of root, root, rooting for the home cough team, there's a certain type of player who's nearer and dearer to my heart than others.

(1) The Athletics teams of the late 1980s/early 1990s were the ones that made baseball my favorite sport. As you'll see, I can't be bothered to hide my bias.

(2) Charisma wins out. While I can appreciate the productive, lead-by-example types; I prefer the compelling personalities who are fun to watch – regardless of the result.

(3) My seven-year-old son has received autographs from more than a dozen A's players. Watching how these guys interacted with Jalen carried more weight than I thought it would.

Initially, I wanted to limit my list to the top 25, but my first draft -- scrawled on a legal notepad during my lunch hour -- totaled a nice, tidy 50. I briefly considered shaving that down, before opting to keep them all. It took another two days to rank every player.

You'd rather I write about the Athletics' 2011 season? Start us off, Geronimo.

50 - Geronimo Berroa (1994-97) OF, DH: Hit .293/.361/.499 during his four-year run on some terrible A's teams. He acknowledged the cheers of me and my friend Smitty with a wave and tip of the cap after
hitting a home run against the Angels.

49 - Dan Haren (2005-07) SP: Averaged 14 wins with a 3.64 ERA in Oakland. Starting pitcher for the 2007 All Star Game. Could grow a full beard between innings.

48 - John Jaha (1999-2001) DH: Crushed 35 home runs with a .970 OPS in 1999. Injuries ruined the last two years of his career, but he can be seen in the American League dugout whenever MLB Network re-airs the 1999 All Star Game starring Pedro Martinez.

47 - Coco Crisp (2010-current) OF: He meets my "charismatic" and "signed a ball for my son" criteria. I'd have him higher if his 2011 season didn't resemble Willie Mays Hayes' character development during the first act of Major League II.

46 - Frank Menechino (1999-2004) 2B: I went to a game at Qualcomm Stadium with my wife's corporate tickets in 2001 and sat next to the on-deck circle. Up close, Menechino might be the most muscularly solid man I've ever seen. And, I have no idea how he got that way.

45 - Carlos Peña (2002) 1B: One of baseball's top prospects, he was acquired in a trade with the Rangers and penciled in to replace Jason Giambi at first base. Fell out of favor with the A's faster than any player I can remember -- partially due to a genuinely fascinating online diary he wrote for

44- Steve Ontiveros (1985-88, 1994-95) SP, RP: A perfectly acceptable swingman for Oakland in the 1980s, he returned in the mid-1990s, won an ERA title and was an American League All Star.

43 - Willie Randolph (1990) 2B: Struggled with the A's after he was acquired midseason from the Dodgers, but I still remember how excited I was when one of my favorite players from the 1980s landed on my favorite team.

42 - Joe Blanton (2004-08) SP: Averaged 14 wins/season from 2005-07. Always seemed to get the most out of his so-so stuff. Never capitalized on obvious "Fat Joe" nickname, even after the crossover success of
Lean Back in 2004.

41 - Brent Gates (1993-96) 2B: My friend JP and I were so high on Gates that we bought 100 of his 1992 Topps Stadium Club rookie card and split 'em between us. Thrilled when he was called up in 1993, a wrist injury in 1994 pretty much scuttled his career. I still have the cards, if anyone's interested.

40 - Gil Heredia (1998-2001) SP: 15-game winner in 2000 and I was in attendance to watch him win the first game of the ALDS (vs. New York) that year. Still trying to repress his game five start, though.

39 - Ben Grieve (1997-2000) OF, DH: With vivid memories of the baseball card industry's speculative zenith, I've always had a soft spot for relentlessly hyped rookies. Grieve was the top prospect in all of baseball at one point and took home the 1998 AL Rookie of the Year award. He also grounded into three double plays in the time took you to read this entry.

38 - Justin Duchscherer (2003-10) RP, SP: One of the game's most efficient, consistent middle relievers during the last decade. Relocated into the starting rotation in 2008 and won 10 of his 22 starts. Two-time All Star whose bouts with chronic hip injuries -- and more famously, depression -- made it impossible to root against.

37 - Mike Gallego (1985-91, 1995) 2B: Started more than 100 games at a single position in a single season just once with Oakland (1991), but capably filled in all around the infield. He was also the last New York Yankee (1992-94) to wear #2 before Derek Jeter. I thought you should know.

36 - Ruben Sierra (1992-95) OF: I know I'm in the minority among my fellow A's fans, but I liked the guy. He contracted chicken pox right after he was acquired from Texas in August 1992 (for Jose Canseco) and then Oakland signed him to a prohibitive long-term deal (5 years, $28 million) after that season. In 1993, Sierra came to camp noticeably more muscle-y. With his new video game physique, his once respectable on-base skills disappeared as he swung for the fences at everything. He even feuded with then-manager Tony LaRussa and was hung with a
derisive nickname that followed him the rest of his career. By the standard of today's entertaining train wrecks, he was ahead of his time.

35 - Terrence Long (2000-03) OF: He might've been more reviled than Sierra by A's fans. After a promising rookie season (.288/.336/.452) he eroded almost overnight. Long bristled at a reduced role and was shipped off to San Diego after the 2003 season. I loved his left-handed swing when I first saw him – combining the Hriniak one-handed follow-through with a little hop at the end. He hit two home runs in the first game of the 2001 ALDS at Yankee Stadium. Long even offered up some unintentional comedy, wearing braids for a few seasons despite a hairline that resembled
Hulk Hogan's. What's not to love?! Well, besides, how he struck out looking to end the 2003 ALDS. But, if we're fitting goat horns from that series, Long would've only been fifth or sixth in line.

34 - Felix Jose (1988-90) OF: In the late 1980s, when the A's were minting Rookies of the Year on an annual basis, my friends and I got behind Jose in a big way. He was a colossally raw talent who went from mediocre minor leaguer to power-hitting prospect after a curious breakout at AAA-Tacoma in 1988. Showed infrequent flashes of what could've been, before being traded for Willie McGee in August 1990.

33 - Rick Honeycutt (1987-93, 1995) RP: Depending on your perspective, he was either the most valuable left-handed middle reliever on one of the best teams in baseball or he was one of the accomplices in Tony LaRussa's plot to ruin baseball through bullpen micromanagement.

32 - Gene Nelson (1987-92) RP: Depending on your perspective, he was either the most valuable right-handed middle reliever on one of the best teams in baseball or he was one of the accomplices in Tony LaRussa's plot to ruin baseball through bullpen micromanagement.

31 - Andrew Bailey (2009-current) RP: Not since Dennis Eckersley's feathered locks stalked the mound have I been as confident when an A's closer enters the game with a one-run lead. He's due for a raise in arbitration after this season and there are whispers that other teams have already inquired as to his availability. There's a reason only three of the players on this list are currently playing for the A's.

30 - Jerry Browne (1992-93) UT: One of the unsung heroes of Oakland's 1992 division-winning team. Played six different positions, always seemed to be on base and hit .400 in the ALCS that year. During batting practice at a game in Anaheim, I screamed down to the field, "I voted for you Governor!" He responded with a wave, a smile and a "thank you!" You're welcome!

29 - Luis Polonia (1987-89) RP: The A's handed him the keys to the leadoff spot as a rookie and for 2 1/2 years Polonia was an electrifying -- albeit unpolished -- offensive presence. His overall numbers in Oakland (.288/.332/.385) were roughly league average, but his speed (20 triples, 66 stolen bases) made for a refreshing contrast to the mashers in the middle of the order. Also, owned an all star
jheri curl.

28 - Olmedo Saenz (1999-2002) 1B, 3B: In a reserve role, he hit .313/.401/.514 -- with several clutch hits -- on the 2000 A's team that brought me back to baseball for good after the 1994 strike and those 1993-1998 Oakland teams threatened to kill my soul.

27 - Willie McGee (1990) OF: Only 123 of his career 8,188 plate appearances were collected in Oakland. But, when the best team in baseball traded for McGee and Harold Baines on the same day, it made the 1990 World Series a formality -- in MY mind. At the time. In one of his first games with the A's, McGee scored from first base on an errant pickoff throw. For a naive teenage fan, McGee was symbolic of the win-at-all-costs dominance that would never be absent in Oakland! Never!

26 - Ramon Hernandez (1999-2003) C: The A.J. Hinch era (1998-99) was as beloved among Athletics fans as it would be ten years later with fans of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hernandez supplanted Hinch as the starting catcher just before the 1999 All Star Break. Over 4 1/2 seasons in Oakland, Hernandez caught one of the best starting rotations in recent memory, introduced
walk-off bunt into my vernacular and was a trailblazer in the field of Venezuelans with frosted tips.

25 - Scott Hatteberg (2002-2005) 1B: One of the faces of those polarizing "Moneyball" era A's teams.
He did this. He knows where he stands with me.

24 - Billy Taylor (1994, 1996-99) RP: I am an unapologetic sucker for the "minor league lifer FINALLY makes the big leagues" storyline. Taylor debuted professionally in 1980. I first heard about him in the USA Today: Baseball Weekly publication sometime in the early 1990s. He was racking up saves for the Braves' Triple-A team, but never got the call to the show. Taylor pitched effectively as a 32-year-old rookie middle reliever for the A's in 1994. After Dennis Eckersley's departure, Taylor became the A's closer, recording 100 career saves with Oakland.

23 - Mike Moore (1989-1992) SP: Won 66 games over four seasons in Oakland, but his first year was the most memorable for me. Moore made the All Star team, he started (and won) in front of the largest regular season crowd ever involving the Athletics -- and
I was there! He even swung the bat in game four of the 1989 World Series, driving in two runs with a double to centerfield. Don't sleep on the thun-dahh, Brett Butler.

22 - Terry Steinbach (1986-96) C: A three-time All Star, he was still -- on a national level -- one of the more anonymous players on those late 1980s/early 1990s A's teams. Steady and dependable both at the plate and behind it, he averaged 11 home runs per season from 1987 through 1995 -- and then hit 35 in 1996, his free agent walk year. "Why does no one ever mention THAT?!", exclaimed 1996 Brady Anderson.

21 - Walt Weiss (1987-92) SS: Won the 1988 AL Rookie of the Year award -- admittedly over a more deserving Jody Reed -- and hit a World Series home run in 1989 that led to this terrific call by ABC's Al Michaels ("And, of all people...Walt Weiss!") His defense was breathtaking -- as was the amount of chaw in his mouth at any given time.

20 - Kevin Kouzmanoff (2010-current) 3B: He developed a reputation as one of the game's nicest guys while playing here in San Diego. Kouz proved it to me on two occasions with my young son, Jalen. He signed a ball for Jalen in May 2010 up in Anaheim, insisting he come to the front of the crowd, ahead of all the pushing and shoving adults. This past March at Spring Training, Kouz
signed again for Jalen while asking him about Little League, his favorite position and where he was from. Kouz has struggled mightily in his time with the A's -- in fact, he's currently in the minor leagues -- but, he's got three fans for life in my household. (I can't speak for my wife, but I assume she's on board, too.)

19 - Lance Blankenship (1988-93) 2B/UT: During the baseball card crazy late 1980s, Blankenship generated a bit of Rookie of the Year buzz going into 1989. He couldn't beat out the decayed remains of Glenn Hubbard for the Opening Day second base job, but was a serviceable supersub on several A's teams that always seemed to need an injury fill-in. Posted a .393 OBP in his only season as an (almost) everyday player in 1992 and -- to my eternal gratitude -- ended the longest, coldest game
I've ever witnessed live.**

** -- And, before you scroll to the bottom of that link, trust me on these two points: (1) 61 degrees during a night game in Oakland isn't like 61 degrees anywhere else on earth. (2) It wasn't 61 degrees when the game ended at 12:42 AM.

18 - Frank Thomas (2006, 2008) DH: Left for dead by the White Sox, the future Hall of Famer signed with the A's for a relative pittance just two weeks before the start of Spring Training in 2006. Through May 20, he hit just .178/.300/.373. For the remainder of the season, he hit .302/.408/.603 and finished with 39 home runs on a division winning team. He even mentored documented lunatic/then-A's OF Milton Bradley.

17 - Miguel Tejada (1997-2003) SS: His two walk-off moments during the A's 20-game winning streak earned him an awful lot of career leeway from me. He might've finished in my top 10 if not for his terrible baserunning (and ignorance of the "obstruction" rule) during the 2003 ALDS. Anecdotally, I sure seem to remember him being the kind of player who'd show outward frustration if he struck out with the A's up by five or six runs.

16 - Carney Lansford (1983-92) 3B: I can't help but think that Lansford would get slaughtered by sabermetricians if he played today. A third baseman with uninspiring power numbers and a defensive reputation that might've been exaggerated. I'm glad I could enjoy him in the context of his era. His "shaky bat" stance is one of my favorite memories of those A's teams from 25 years ago.

15 - Gio Gonzalez (2008-current) SP: It's fun to watch an obviously talented young player figure it out before your eyes. During his first two Major League seasons, Gonzalez was a tightly-wound, overly emotional pitcher who'd fall apart at the first sign of any in-game adversity. Today, he's a 2011 All Star who's learned to roll with the punches and finally trust his stuff. His love for the A's god-awful
yellow alternate jerseys is actually endearing.

14 - Jack Cust (2007-2010) DH: Yup. I had nothing but love for the big lug. It was easy to focus on his numerous shortcomings (terrible on defense, strikeouts, slow, strikeouts, struggled in the clutch, strikeouts) but he was the A's best hitter during his four-year tenure. According to the stathead site Fangraphs, Cust was worth more than $32 million in cumulative value with Oakland. He was worth slightly more to
this little boy.

13 - Mike Norris (1975-83, 1990) SP, RP: The ace of the Billy Martin-managed "BillyBall" teams of the early 1980s, Norris was my first favorite pitcher. Arm problems and illicit drugs truncated his peak, but he made an inspiring comeback after six years away from Major League Baseball in 1990. My friend Smitty and I were in attendance for his
one and only win that season -- the last of his career.

12 - Mark McGwire (1986-97) 1B: I wish I could've had him higher, but his monstrous 1987 rookie season kept my expectations unrealistically raised for the rest of his Athletics career. From 1988 through 1991, he hit just .233 (Hey, batting average was really all we knew back then). He was hurt for most of 1993-1994 after signing a big money contract after his terrific 1992 season. And, then he forced the A's hand into a terrible trade with St. Louis in 1997. Eric Ludwick? T.J. Matthews? Blake Stein? Come ON!

11 - Harold Baines (1990-1992) DH: August 29, 1990 was one of my favorite days as an A's fan. Baines' acquisition from Texas was one of those "rich get richer" deals that don't happen in Oakland, anymore. On the same day, the team traded for All Star OF Willie McGee. Baines was a machine who just went out and hit every day. His class and professionalism fit right in -- usually as batting order protection for Jose Canseco. Contrast!

10 - Matt Stairs (1996-2000) OF: Averaged 28 home runs and 90 RBI from 1997 through 2000, but those are only my second favorite pair of stats involving Stairs. My favorite: 5'9", 200 lbs. To this day, he and my friend Smitty have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

9 - Eric Chavez (1998-2010) 3B: For a five year stretch -- 2000 through 2004 -- he was arguably the best all-around third baseman in the game (.280/.357/.513, averaged 30 home runs per season, won four of his six consecutive Gold Glove awards). He signed a six year, $66 million contract extension prior to the 2004 season, but a cascade of injuries -- starting in 2007 -- limited him to 154 combined games played over the last four years of the deal. He was a very, very good player during his peak. He was a
pretty good person, too.

8 - Tim Hudson (1999-2004) SP: He owned a smoldering mound presence that belied his relatively slight frame. Reminded me a lot of Dave Stewart in make-up, but with a shorter, more confrontational fuse. In August of his rookie year, Hudson outdueled Boston's Pedro Martinez -- 1999 Pedro Martinez! In 2000, he won his 20th game on the final day of the season -- a win that earned the A's the division title. He was 92-39 in Oakland and somehow escaped unscathed from rumors that he was involved in a bar fight the night before his game four start in the 2003 ALDS -- a start he'd eventually leave after just one inning due to an injury. I wish we'd seen the other guy.

7 - Jason Giambi (1995-2001, 2009) 1B: I can't ever remember an A's team that was so clearly carried by one player, but that was Giambi during the 2000 season. Yes, they had great pitching and a productive offense, but Giambi put that team on his back down the stretch and the A's rallied around his leadership in a way I hadn't seen before or since in Oakland. I'll forgive him for signing with the Yankees after the 2001 season, if he agrees that his 2009 return never happened. Cool?

6 - Dave Parker (1988-89) DH: Ten years before he came to Oakland, Parker was a cocky, five-tool threat and the best all-around player in the game. Other than some still-respectable power, there wasn't much left in the toolbox during his two years with the A's. To compensate, he increased his arrogance tenfold. His circuitous home run trots enraged opponents and Parker gloriously didn't give a damn.

5 - Dennis Eckersley (1987-95) RP: When he came into the game, I knew the A's were going to win. Kirk Gibson. Roberto Alomar. Acknowledged. Neither moment diminished Eck's aura.

4 - Jose Canseco (1985-92, 1997) OF: He was the first and only super duper star to ever play for my A's. Canseco's jaw-dropping power (I know, I know) made his at-bats in an 11-0 blowout must-see television.

3 - Dave Henderson (1988-93) CF: No A's player conveyed his love for the game more openly than Hendu. His broad, gap-toothed smile is one my warmest memories from those late '80s/early '90s teams.

2 - Dave Stewart (1986-92, 1995) SP: A four-time 20-game winner and MVP of the 1989 World Series, my favorite moment from my all-time favorite pitcher occurred in game five of the 1992 ALCS. Down 3-1 against the eventual world champion Blue Jays, Stewart, 35, turned back the clock and pitched a complete game -- 139 pitches! -- seven-hitter in defeating Toronto, 6-2.

1 - Rickey Henderson (1979-84, 1989-1995, 1998) LF: I think we've
covered this before.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

TBG in NYC Travel Diary -- Part II: Welcome to New York City

Yo. There's a war going on outside, no man is safe from
It don't matter if you three feet or eight-one
You'll get eight from me, nine and straight blown
Wig split, melon cracked, all that on day one...

-- Cam'ron,
Welcome to New York City

Travel Diary Part I

Wednesday, June 22

4:15 PM (New York time) -- I've landed at JFK and discover my phone is once again functioning. Scrolling through e-mails, I open a really nice and thoughtful note from a longtime reader whom I'd never communicated with before this day. He was going to the Mets vs. A's game at Citi Field later that evening and he offered to meet up and buy me a beer if I was at the ballpark. I couldn't make it to that game, but blog-related e-mails like that never fail to lift my spirits. And, while the author of that note doesn't know it, his words made me even more determined to...wait, we'll get to that later in the diary. For now, I've got to get my bags.

4:20 PM -- I hadn't eaten all day, so I slip into a shop for some grotesquely overpriced airport snacks. I wait politely behind the gentleman at the front of the line when another man cuts right in front of me. I see the east coast has gotten awfully uppity since the demise of Death Row Records. Don't make me act out
any random song* from the Death Row catalog on some of your citizens, New York City.

* -- Stupid random song generator.

4:40 PM -- Ask most New Yorkers and they'll tell you their public transportation system is the best in the country. (Isn't that right,
Portland or Denver?) I, for one, think they should vacate their self-appointed title until someone creates a shuttle from JFK's terminal #8 to the baggage claim five miles away. I exaggerate, of course, but McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas practically fits in my back pocket and they have a shuttle to baggage claim. Some of us have asthma and get winded easily, New York!

5:00 PM -- My bag has been retrieved, so I exit the terminal and proceed to the shuttle bus that will bring me into Manhattan. A digital display just outside the sliding door reads 77 degrees. As most of you know, 77 degrees in New York feels NOTHING like 77 degrees in California. But, it's lazy and cliché for a San Diegan to whine about everyone else's weather. Let's leave it at this: 77 degrees in New York is jimejime. 77 degrees in California is karatto. Tell 'em,

6:00 PM -- The shuttle bus ride ends just a few blocks from Grand Central Terminal. Back in 2007, as a novice, I had to navigate through the
pimps and C.H.U.D.s and nattily-attired locals to find a train from New York City to Hartford, Connecticut. This time I'm staying in New York. This time I know what I doing. This time...well, this.

6:15 PM -- I lost my short-lived grip on the city when I satiated my hunger with the first slice I could find. ProTip: There is no greater disparity in the known universe than the 99-cent pizza's gap between "economical" and "edible".

6:30 PM -- I'd wager it hasn't looked this dark above New York since Nino Brown ruled the drug trade from his penthouse apartment in New Jack City. I'm roughly 12 blocks from my hotel and feeling reasonably confident I can beat the skies if I walk with an urgent stride. As I get my bearings, the heavens open. Reinforced rain drops -- reminiscent of water balloons -- unleashed hell upon the streets below. (Too much? I hadn't seen rain in late June in at least 25 years, so my frame of reference is a tad off-center.)

6:40 PM -- My plan to wait out the rain under an awning is dashed when I learn there are actually places on earth where it doesn't stop raining after ten minutes. It's time to flag down a cab -- which, historically, I've been worse at than any of you are at anything else. Let's see...step towards the curb...casually raise right arm...don't look desperate as you stand in the rain -- already soaked to the bone -- in shorts, San Diego State t-shirt and rolling bag. Hey, it worked!

6:50 PM -- For the next three nights, I'll be staying at the
Ramada Eastside on 30th and Lexington. According to the hotel's website, it's in "the genteel Murray Hill neighborhood". Ironically, the woman at the front desk seems to be going out of her way to ignore the sopping-wet tourist immediately in front of her. When she finally looks up, she asks me, "Is it raining?" As if there's another way for someone to get wet from head-to-toe while fully clothed in this city. (Wait, is there?)

6:55 PM -- I took the picture below with my cell phone as my back was against the door to my room. The online customer reviews for this hotel almost uniformly lamented the size of the rooms -- as if expecting suites for less than $200/night. As a guest in the city that never sleeps, I was fine with the cramped quarters. My adventures awaited outside these walls!

7:15 PM -- Boy, I wish I had something to do. My room's TV doesn't get ESPN or either of the local cable sports conglomerates, YES and SNY. These streets haven't made me feel brand new and the lights, so far, have been uninspiring. Just as I'm ready to declare
Alicia Keys full of s**t, my cell phone chirps with a text from my friend and TBG reader "NY Jon". I've met him before, but his unexpected text read: "Be there at 730. Shaved my head from last time but still tall, gay and black. Felt you needed description again after alcohol poisoning in Albany." He's right! I had forgotten.

7:30 PM -- The rain has tapered off, but the A's/Mets game still hasn't started. In our search for a bar where we can drop anchor for the evening, Jon remarks, "I know a spot for you to blog about."

7:45 PM -- We ended up on 42nd Street at a cupcake place called
Baked by Melissa. I opened the door and a powerful blast of air conditioning inside hit the thick, sticky air outside -- resulting in a makeshift wind tunnel that nearly knocked me over. The young woman behind the counter recognized Jon and asked, "Is this your friend, the eater?" I have a reputation! In New York!

8:00 PM -- I left my cell phone in my room to charge, so I didn't take any pictures. In the absence of evidence, let's just say I might've ordered and ate 25 coin-sized cupcakes as we walked along Lexington Avenue. The peanut butter and jelly and chocolate chip pancake flavors were superb. Jon's infinitesimal six cupcake order was an insult to me and an embarrassment to himself.

8:15 PM -- We landed at
The Whiskey Rebel with the A's/Mets game still in the early innings. Three of the four TVs were showing the Yankees/Reds game, so Jon and I were segregated(!) to the back of the bar. Nearby, we could see and hear three guys simultaneously hitting on the bartender.

9:15 PM -- Even under National League rules, my Oakland A's are able to slow the pace of the game into an American League slog. As a result, Jon and I turn our attention towards the three guys who are still obnoxiously chatting up the female bartender. After an hour, it appears they're going all in:

Guy: "How 'bout this? We'll all put in $50 and try to guess the color of your underwear. If one of us is right, he gets the money. If none of us are right, you get the money, but you have to give us a peek to prove we were wrong."

Considering I paid $20 for 25 mini-cupcakes, perhaps I'm in no place to point out this city's fiscal absurdities. I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit Jon and I spent a few seconds dissecting their bet like television analysts:

Me: "$150? She's gotta be wearing some sort of print or something. No way she agrees to this if they're monochromatic. Too easy to guess."

Jon: "Unless she's not wearing any."

Me: "Good point."

10:00 PM -- Jon had to work the following morning, so we cut our drinking off early. I returned to my room and found a text message from my friend, Tom. I'd never met him, but we'd previously been web columnist colleagues for several years and through Twitter and our respective blogs, we've established a comfortable rapport.

11:15 PM -- Tom graciously made the walk over from his director's cut, extended edition happy hour a few streets over. We took a short stroll over to
Brother Jimmy's BBQ and watched the rest of the A's/Mets game which had gone into extra innings.

12:15 PM -- A's lose to the Mets, 3-2, on a bogus hit-by-pitch with the bases loaded. Look at
this nonsense. Look at it! The batter makes no attempt to get out of the way -- a CLEAR violation of MLB Rule 6.08(b)(2). LOOK IT UP! Mets fan Tom -- a supposed proponent of fair play -- blithely ignores this miscarriage of justice. After his heel turn on me, how can Tom and I harmoniously attend Thursday's A's/Mets tilt?

1:00 AM -- I take the high road for the remainder of the evening. Tom and I dish on our days writing for 411mania and Inside Pulse. He tells me how many years -- plural -- it took for him to acclimate to life in the big city. I make a point to tell him how I especially enjoyed some of his
specific writings. And, we took a minute or two to express our shared affection a certain Twitter feed.

See? The high road. Now, let's hope my A's win tomorrow and take the series so I can shove it in his stupid face.

NEXT: Dunkin' Donuts! Shake Shack! The 7 Train! And, a really long rain delay.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

TBG in NYC Travel Diary -- Part I: The Worry and The Women

"And detrimental verbals get to spittin'
The highest in intellect, try connectin' with the written
Now they faced with the forbidden, vocally chosen
To explore new terrain, then remain unseen, throughout the war..."

-- Kurupt (from Tha Dogg Pound),
New York, New York

Wednesday, June 22

4:00 AM -- Waking up. You all know that my travel diaries usually begin with a period of
pre-flight anxiety. This time, however, my unfounded fretting was more pronounced. Subconsciously, it seemed to manifest several months before. After securing a cross-country kitchen pass from Mrs. Bootleg and negotiating the terms of my furlough, I procrastinated on every other aspect of this trip.

I didn't buy my plane ticket until three weeks before my intended departure date. I waited another week after that before I made hotel reservations. There were several people I wanted to meet in New York City -- most for the first time -- yet I'd only made vague plans with just one of them. So far, my self-saboteur work was worthy of

6:00 AM -- I've made it to my gate a full 90 minutes before my flight. After folding my sleep-deprived, caffeine-deficient cadaver into one of the uncomfortable chairs, I reach for my cell phone and discover accomplices in the plot to sabotage my vacation.
These guys! My Verizon HTC Thunderbolt phone had only been activated two months earlier, but in that short amount of time it had graduated to my primary time-waster. Now, however, I couldn't connect to any of the interwebs. No Twitter! No Facebook! No e-mail! NOOO!

6:10 AM -- After running through all the troubleshooting tactics I know (restarting phone, try restarting it again) it occurs to me that Mrs. Bootleg
single-handedly saved my previous trip into New York City in 2007. Now, I need her more than ever. I give her a call and...wait, what? Well, yes, I used my cell phone. Oh, it worked for making calls and texting. The problem was internet connectivity. Did you guys miss the four straight exclamations that ended the preceding paragraph? Try and keep up, kids.

6:11 AM -- "Did you try turning it off and turning it back on?", Mrs. Bootleg suggests. In baseball parlance, it was obvious I went with the wrong reliever. She even slips in a "Well, if this is the worst thing that happens to you on this trip..." I'm booing her off the mound at this point as I grudgingly accept my phone's now-silenced bells and whistles. But, not before I try restarting it one more time...once a minute, every minute until my flight takes off.

6:15 AM - 7:15 AM -- NOOO!

7:25 AM -- Onboard the plane, perhaps five minutes prior to takeoff, the two seats next to me were the only unoccupied ones around. And, then the sitcom began. Two very attractive, VERY shrill women ambled down the aisle. Their hair and make-up were immaculate, their curve-hugging clothes were nightclub-correct and they wobbled together atop two pairs of the highest wedge shoes I've ever seen. Oh, and one appeared to be a few years older than the other. Eight to ten years, tops.

"Hi! I'm Marissa and this is my mom Sonja! I think we're sitting in the seats next to you!"

7:40 AM -- After her oddly-placed introduction, Marissa took the window seat and her [insert appropriately shocked pause] mom sat between us. I didn't mind their hyperactive passenger-banter with me in the least, as I couldn't take my eyes off of them. Mother and daughter? As our flight ascended, I silently wrestled with the innocuous ways I could approach this conversational taboo. (Oh, don't look at me like that. I negotiate defense contracts with the United States Government for a living. I know discretion and decorum. OK, fine...spoiler alert: I never found out their ages. I never even had a chance to ask. There. Happy?)

8:10 AM -- "Business planner". That was Marissa's cryptic job description. She's flown to Miami three times this year and it's her favorite city. This is her second trip to New York and she was in Washington DC last month. Why am I boring you with a transcript of our inane conversation? Stay with me.

8:15 AM -- The flight attendants began handing out headphones for the in-flight entertainment. I am NOT making up what happened next.

Marissa: [Receives headphones, whispers to me.] "Are these free?"

Me: "I'm pretty sure they are."

Marissa: [To flight attendant] "What are these for?"

Flight Attendant: "They're...for the movie."

Marissa: [To me] "They show a movie?! Do you know what it is?"

Me: "Uh, I don't know. Something that's like six months old, I'd guess."

Marissa: "Oh. So not, like, Transformers?"

Me: "Probably not."

It occurs to me that Marissa might not fly as much as she claims.

8:30 AM -- Just as drink service begins, Marissa gets up for the first of what would be six or seven restroom visits in the next 90 minutes. "Can you order me a chardonnay?", she asks with more command than question glinting off of her lightly-glossed grin. Her mom whispers in my ear, "I'll pay for it." Before I can completely appreciate her alleviation of that awkward moment, she orders a rum and coke for herself.

9:00 AM -- Marissa is still nursing her first glass of white wine, as she's morphed from sociable to comatose. On the other hand, her mother just ordered a third rum and coke.

10:00 AM -- Sonja just finished her fifth rum and coke.
FIFTH! The first round of drink service ended an hour ago, so she just walked to the back of the plane and placed her order with any loitering flight attendant. Marissa is now slumped -- asleep -- against the window. I was left to wonder just how much of an alcohol head start she got on her mother. To her credit, mom's tolerance seemed stronger than her daughter's.

10:30 AM -- And, now mom's passed out. And, then,
this happened to me. And, then, mom's head and torso limply fell forward just enough for this to happen. Her mom!

1:00 PM -- Shortly before we land, Sonja and Marissa simultaneously snap back to life. In a few short moments, they've touched up their make-up and brought the salon quality back to their hair. Sonja turns to me and in sweetly-accented English says, "I hope you have fun in New York!"

I'm off to a good start.

NEXT: New York City -- Home of 99-cent pizza, Nino Brown and my obligatory reference to "pimps and C.H.U.D.s"!

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Unfortunate Tequila Story

It's 88 degrees and I'm at an outdoor party. So, why am I the ONLY one sweating like it's 88 degrees at an outdoor party?! -- from my Twitter feed, July 4

There's something you should know before reading any further: my wife WANTED me to write this post. When I came home from work on Wednesday -- 48 hours after the above referenced Fourth of July party -- Mrs. Bootleg seemed genuinely surprised that I hadn't pounced on such obvious blog fodder. She gave her blessing as we sat down to dinner. After our son left the table, I told her the entire story.

Yes, it took two full days before I could bring Mrs. Bootleg up to speed on the events of a party that we both attended with Jalen. I suppose I could've tried to talk to her on Tuesday, but neither one of us seemed to be in a communicative mood. And, Monday night was obviously out because...wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. I sent this next tweet out around 4:30 PM on Monday, July 4:

Only now does it occur to me that four beers (8.8% ABV) consumed outdoors in less than an hour on a near 90 degree day was a bad choice.

Our hosts for the afternoon and evening are very dear friends of my family. And, while Stately Bootleg Manor sits in a nice -- albeit nondescript -- neighborhood, their home is in a NICE neighborhood. I doubt I have to explain the difference. You could fit at least three Stately Bootleg Manors onto their property. For the second straight year, this couple -- whose daughter attended the same preschool/kindergarten as my son -- invited us over drinks, food and fireworks. From their driveway, the whole explosive show could be clearly seen from the nearby high school.

But, with several hours to go until the start of the show, I'd assumed my usual unpaid positions whenever Mrs. Bootleg and I attend a kid-friendly party: primary parent and head referee. Here are a few pictures of my kid turning a harmless inflatable "jumpy" into
an octagon.

Mrs. Bootleg, meanwhile, was in her own familiar party-with-children location: inside, comfortably socializing with all the adults.

As the scorching hot sun began its descent, I received a bit of Twitter wisdom from a
silver-maned sage:

You're already screwed. Just drink more.

In the hour leading up to the 9:00 PM fireworks show, I finished off two more beers. Minutes before show time, as I reached into the cooler for some pyrotechnics accompaniment, I realized I hadn't seen my wife in...well, awhile. With the first few fireworks lighting up the night sky, Mrs. Bootleg finally reappeared. She shuffled out to the driveway and sat down directly in front of me.

She appeared to be sitting more limp and diagonal than usual.

After the fireworks ended, the nine or ten remaining kids bee-lined towards the backyard and took turns whacking a piñata. I mention this for two reasons: (1) Jalen, for the first time in his short little life, struck the candy-spilling death blow and asked, "Are you gonna put this in your blog?" (Yes, he asks that a lot.) And (2)...Mrs. Bootleg -- in a not-so-secluded nook behind the backyard barbecue grill was artlessly heaving into a bucket. Not wanting to draw attention to herself, she selected the
least conspicuous canister our hosts owned.

For the next hour, a small trickle of children peered over at my wife then turned to me and innocently asked, "Does Jalen's mommy have a stomach ache?" and "Do you think she has food poisoning?" and "Did she ever throw up in the car? I did once." This was interspersed with a few adults glancing her way followed by a few funereal condolences.

At 10:30 PM, we made our first attempt towards our car. Mrs. Bootleg took my arm as -- figuratively and literally -- we slipped out the back door. We took all of three steps when my wife muttered, "Spinning. Spinning. Spinning." She dropped to her knees and...yes, again. In the same bucket. I finally got her to the car and went back for Jalen.

By the time I got him into the car it was almost 10:45 PM. And, then the evening got really weird.

I closed the back passenger's side door and turn to walk around the back of the car over to the driver's side. I take one step and run right into a woman who wasn't at the party. She's barefoot and wearing the absolute tiniest two-piece bikini I've ever seen. The vacant look in her eyes seems awfully familiar.

Her: "Baby, you think you could gimme a ride?"

Me: "Uh, y'know...I got my wife and kid in the car and...y'know."

Her: "That's OK, baby. I respect family. Much love. Much respect. I'll be alright."

With that, she staggered past me and into the night.

At this point, the only thing missing was my deadpan stare straight into the camera.

The next day, Mrs. Bootleg explained that she had been brought down by our host's homemade margaritas. We didn't say much else to each other that day. I was irked for a myriad of reasons. By Wednesday, my wife was back at work, asking for some lightly-read blog love and sitting shocked at our dining room table as she learned for the first time about "Spinning. Spinning. Spinning" and my brush with almost-public nudity.

We had tacos for dinner on Wednesday. I also had a beer.

Mrs. Bootleg had water.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

TBG Eats: The 2011 San Diego Fair

I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing V

Current Weight: 166.0 lbs.

2007 -- Krispy Kreme Chicken Sandwich, Garlic Fries, Funnel Cake, Foot-long Hot Dog, Fried Twinkie, Fried Rattlesnake.

2008 -- Deep-Fried White Castle Slider, 14-inch Corn Dog, Fried Oreos, Street Tacos, Frog Legs.

2009 -- Oatmeal Cookie Chicken Sandwich, Fried Catfish, Chocolate-Covered Bacon, Fried Macaroni and Cheese, "Zucchini Weeni".

2010 -- Deep-Fried Pop Tart, Hash Brown Fry Dog, Buffalo Chicken Indian Fry Bread, Deep-Fried Klondike Bar, Chocolate-Dipped Pickle, Deep-Fried Butter.

My family's annual visit to the San Diego Fair was a bit of a grind this year.

From 11:00 AM until 1:00 PM, I was on and off my Blackberry with work, putting the finishing touches on a pair of proposals. My smug self-satisfaction at a job well done was immediately muted by the hot summer sun. Just after 1:00 PM, the last patches of coastal marine layer dissipated as the temperature climbed into the mid-80s. (And, yes...I know it's hotter where YOU live.) The back of my neck was so badly sunburned that now -- several days (and layers of skin) later -- it
resembles this.

We received a bit of a boost in the mid-afternoon. First, my wife spotted former Major League outfielder
David Justice and called it to my attention. She's seen him several times in our neighborhood -- shopping with his wife at Target or walking his daughters to school -- but, in Mrs. Bootleg's words, Justice always seems "unapproachable". I'd argue he's not even the most threatening guy with a "Justice" surname, but then again my wife probably has no idea who this guy is.

Later, we met up with some friends and their two adorable daughters -- who provided a much-needed lift in the legs of my son Jalen. They actually dragged him onto a roller coaster despite Jalen's inappropriately loud "roller coasters make my penis feel funny!" protestations. This is the fifth consecutive year I've written a San Diego Fair food review. Many thanks to my wife and son for filling in all the gaps among the empty calories.

Deep-Fried Pigs in a Blanket -- I've been riding a bit of a winning streak with my opening meal. The deep-fried White Castle Slider (2008), oatmeal cookie chicken sandwich (2009) and deep-fried Pop-Tart (2010) each assumed breakfast responsibilities and each ended up earning my highest grade of the day. I targeted the deep-fried pigs in a blanket* for my culinary
curtain-jerker not long after reading this description on the San Diego Fair's website:

Thick-cut bacon, dipped in pancake batter, then deep fried and served covered in butter and syrup.

This is essentially 80% of the recipe for my
most beloved restaurant breakfast on earth. We're four-fifths of the way from a perfect score before I place my order! And, then...disappointment. There was an odd, occasionally unpleasant flavor from the pancake batter. It left a mildly sour aftertaste, hinting that buttermilk was a key ingredient. The bacon was fine (and appropriately fatty), while the syrup was thinner in consistency and not as sickly-sweet as I prefer.

As Mrs. Bootleg can attest, I was almost inconsolable after this let-down. Grade: 1.5 (out of 5)

* -- Grammatically speaking, I have a few pet peeves. Superfluous apostrophes and "I could care less" probably lead the pack. Let's hope that "singular vs. plural" doesn't start making my list, as ONE strip of bacon on a stick is not "PIGS in a blanket", people.

Deep-Fried Kool-Aid -- Across the country, as fair season approached, this item seemed to be getting the most mainstream media attention. I'm not sure why since deep-fried Coca-Cola has been a state fair staple in recent years -- and has presumably satisfied America's fried beverage fix. I originally intended to avoid this one. Most of the deep-fried sugary treats I've sampled at the fair (Oreos, Twinkies, Klondike Bar) have been unexceptionally indistinguishable from their un-fried original forms -- like superheroes who don't appear to have a
secret identity. Deep-fried Kool-Aid actually works, though.

The ubiquitous red drink mix is blended with batter, fried into five hush puppy-like nuggets and dusted with powdered sugar. The end result is heavy in texture, but nicely mild in sweetness. The powdered sugar gives a nice lift, but a drizzling of strawberry jam would've been a terrific accompaniment. Grade: 3

Pink's "Rosie O'Donnell" Hot Dog -- Pink's Hot Dogs is proud of the fact that they've been in business for more than 70 years and still operate from the same Los Angeles location. (Also more than 70 years old: the
template of their website.) I first heard of Pink's back in the mid-1980s when Nickelodeon's short-lived children's program Out of Control aired a feature on "the world's best hot dog". But, despite living in Southern California all my life, I've never been to Pink's. So nice of Pink's, then, to come to me.

The "Rosie O'Donnell" is topped with chili, sauerkraut, onions and mustard. The first bite "snap" from the hot dog's casing was
worthy of an All-Pro endorsement. The toppings were an inoffensive mix of lightly salted and lightly spiced. This was a solid little lunch. Grade: 3

Baby Ruth-filled Jalapeños -- I am not ashamed to admit that I printed out -- and walked around with -- a map of the fairgrounds with individual identifiers for the more than 100 different food stands. I am also not ashamed to admit that I panicked when I discovered the one menu item/location missing from my map was the Baby Ruth-filled Jalapeños stand. I don't know what the world did before smartphones (openly violate Miller Lite's
man laws and ask an attendant for directions, I suppose...) but, after a quick Google search, I was standing at the fair's "Mexican Funnel Cake Stand" placing my order.

This might've been the most aesthetically pleasing fair food I've ever eaten. Two large jalapeño peppers -- cored, seeded, sliced open and grilled -- with two-inch pieces of Baby Ruth candy on top and served on a warm bed of churros. I made the mistake of eating the first one immediately as the flavors hadn't yet had a chance to meld. I let the second one cool down which allowed the chocolate and nougat to soften into an edible velvet. The smoky and spicy and sweet notes were almost equally balanced, creating a savory -- albeit, dense -- delight. Grade: 4

Maple Bacon Donut -- This wasn't even on my radar until the day before we went to the fair. One of my co-workers casually clued me in and thought the maple bacon donut would be something I'd like. Years earlier, during an episode of Man vs. Food, I first learned about the
maple bacon bar served at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon. The maple and bacon donut combination seems like a deliciously obvious fit, but here in San Diego, the donut shops are predictable and unimaginative. Those two adjectives don't apply to the enormous donut -- served with a knife and fork on a full-size paper plate -- that soon sat in my lap.

The donut held a light crispness on the outside and a perfectly pillowy yeastiness on the inside. Somehow, the donut's integrity remained intact despite the suffocating load of maple spread. Just the amount that pooled on my plate could've covered a pair of regular maple bars. The overwhelming sweetness of the glaze was almost too much, until the bacon was factored in. Every centimeter of this dessert was covered with coarsely chopped bacon. The bacon's contrast in both saltiness and texture with the soft sugary spread allowed the decadent flavors from each bite to linger for several extra seconds. Finally...fair food worthy of my obligatory grading hyperbole. Grade: 500

Meatball Sliders -- As we made our way towards the exit, I convinced Mrs. Bootleg to wait out one more meal. I'd wanted these last year, but couldn't find the food stand. Unfortunately for me, Jalen homed in on two of his favorite things: meatballs and marinara sauce. Here's a
quick video that accurately depicts how territorial my son is with his favorite foods. So, we split the sliders. The meatballs were small, but flavorful. Seasoned well and made with finely chopped green peppers and onions. The sauce was fine, too. A hint of sweet with a good tomato flavor. My favorite part was the bun -- miniature slices of garlic bread that brought everything together. Judging by the speed with which my son crushed his slider, I'm confident that this annual TBG feature will be in his capable hands, one day.

In fact, I've already lined up a sponsorship for him.

Since the "King of Beers" is already advertising on the back of kids' go-karts at the fair...