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That’s me, 40 years ago today, waiting for a bus to the ballpark — a baseball stadium that was, at the time, one of a kind.

It’s part of the second installment of my series of scenes from home movies.  We’ll also travel down some rural roads in Bluegrass country.

The new article is called Super 8: Kentucky/Houston.


AUGUST 27, 2012     WHO'S RAND RYAN?

Tropical storms permitting, Paul Ryan will be named the Republican vice-presidential nominee this week.

He's now in the news often enough that maybe I will no longer confuse his name with that of other politicians, such as Rand Paul.  Or Ron Paul.  Or creative types such as Ryan Paul.  Or Paul Rand.  Or Ayn Rand.  Or 2012 Pirates draft pick Ryan Rand.


AUGUST 21, 2012     KILLER B'S

Last night, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ batting order had shortstop Clint Barmes hitting 7th, catcher Rod Barajas hitting 8th, and the pitcher hitting 9th.  That’s not unusual.

But the Pirates shouldn’t have been expecting much from this bottom third of their order, and not much is what they got.  Barmes went 1 for 3, Barajas and the pitcher’s spot each 0 for 3, with no walks.  Between them, Barmes and Barajas left six runners on base, half in scoring position.  That 0fer last night means Barajas now has a batting average of .059 over the last ten days.

Local journalist-turned-blogger Bob Smizik reported yesterday that he'd looked up the on-base percentages of the 121 NL players who have 275 or more plate appearances.  At the very bottom of the list:  Barmes at .250.  Next to the bottom:  Barajas at .270.  By this measure, our starting lineup features the worst two hitters in the league!

For a happier note, we turn to Steve Blass, the Pirates’ pitching hero of the 1971 World Series, whose book A Pirate for Life came out this year.  Steve started doing Pittsburgh broadcasts in the booth about the same time I started doing them down in the truck, and he’s now in his 30th season as an analyst on radio and TV.  He can be a very funny man.

I was one of the few people to witness one deadpan moment, only because I happened to be watching the feed from a “spy camera” that we have in the TV booth.  Steve and play-by-play announcer Greg Brown had each finished drinking from paper cups.  Greg was watching the field and talking on the air, and he casually tossed his empty cup over his shoulder to the back of the booth, where the janitors could pick it up later.  Steve stared at his partner, the blatant litterbug.  He turned to look at Greg’s empty cup on the floor.  He turned back and stared at his own empty cup.  Then, with a shrug, he gave his cup a backhanded slap to send it to the back of the booth as well.

His comic timing was perfect in this improvised pantomime, and he wasn’t even aware that anyone but the stage manager was watching.



Those of us who were born in 1947 grew up with the “beach party” movies featuring Annette Funicello, the former Mousketeer who recorded several songs that were hits in the early 1960s.

By the time I became a college senior, in my final weeks on the student radio station WOBC at Oberlin College, it was May 1969.  That same month in Rhode Island, another senior also was about to conclude his undergraduate broadcasting.

Below is the front page of the Providence College student newspaper from May 7 of that year.  (It’s truly amazing what one can find on the World Wide Web.  The Cowl alludes to the Dominican friars who administer the college.)

Inside was a brief article from the student radio station WDOM, where a certain senior was planning to cap his career with a “great farewell performance.”

But that would not be the end of FANTASTIC FRED!  He and his collection of Annette records resurfaced the following summer at Syracuse University, where he and I were both graduate students.

That second coming of Double-F is the topic of this month’s “100 Moons” article.



I wasn’t brought up to use the language in these ways.  The times, I suppose, must be a-changin’.

• “We had no objections to the proposal, but nor were we excited about it.”

Those two conjunctions together sound odd to me.  I always thought it should be “but neither were we excited.”

“I’m going fishing.  Do you want to come with?”

I always thought “with” was a preposition that required an object:  “come with me.”  To avoid a dangling preposition, use an adverb instead:  “come too” or “come along.”

Another pet peeve:  We all learned that the letter Q is very often followed by the letter U.  We learned it so well that some of us think the hockey team in Pittsburgh is the “Penquins” and the third baseman for the Yankees is Alex “Rodriquez.”

It’s a small thing, but put a loop on those lower-case descenders, people!  “Penguins” and “Rodriguez,” please.

On the other hand, a July 2015 Sporting News web article quoting former quarterback Joe Theismann mentioned “Theismann's Hall of Fame plague.”



And now, a simple little trick that I learned from listening to NPR's Car Talk.

It happens that 2012 is a “Wednesday year.”  Name any date in 2012, say December 25th.  Without looking it up, we can calculate which day of the week that date will fall on.  (It’s a Tuesday.)

Here’s the method.  A day of the week is associated with each year, such as Wednesday for 2012.  By that I mean that all the “anchor dates” are Wednesdays.

The anchor dates for even-numbered months follow a pattern.  A couple of days from now, the eighth of August (or 8/8), will be a Wednesday.  And 4/4 and 6/6 were also Wednesdays, and 10/10 and 12/12 will be Wednesdays as well!

(Why should this be so?  In these cases, two months and two days are 63 days apart — 30 days for one month, 31 for the other, plus the two days.  And 63 days equals exactly nine weeks, or nine Wednesdays.)

What about odd-numbered months?  Just remember some lucky odds. 3/7 and 5/9 and 7/11 are Wednesdays this year.  So are 9/5 and 11/7.

We still haven’t mentioned the first two months of the year, which are special cases.  In February, the anchor date is the last day of the month.  This being a leap year, 2/29 was a Wednesday.  In January, the anchor date is normally 1/10.  But if it’s a leap year we add one extra day to make the date all ones, so 1/11 was a Wednesday this year.

So now we know each month’s anchor date.  We can locate the month’s other Wednesdays by adding or subtracting by hebdomads — that means seven days at a time — until we’re within a few days of the date we seek.  For example, since 12/12 will be a Wednesday this year, so will 12/19 and 12/26.  Therefore 12/25 will be a Tuesday.

Alternatively, I suppose we could consult a calendar.



I was watching Hoo Ligh Nee when I learned of the Pee Soh yoU penalties, although it was Cee Nee Nee that explained the former Foh Boh Igh director's report.  By the way, what about the Cee Foh Oh's invitation; are you going to Ree Soh Vigh Pee?

Am I speaking Chinese?  No, I'm speaking my phonetic alphabet.  I first proposed it nearly two decades ago, but for some reason, children still haven't learned to recite their Ay Boh Cee Doo's.



JULY 27, 2012     DON'T FONT HIM!

When we in the TV graphics business identify a person with his name in the lower one-third of the TV screen, we call it a “lower third.”  Others may call it a “Chyron” or a “font,” after the graphics computers that we use to generate the letters.

But there’s an adage in our business: never font the President!  He’s too well-known, and it would insult American viewers’ intelligence to have him thus identified.

The same rule applies to the Pope.  And I once worked with a sports announcer who thought it ought to apply to him as well.

I almost broke this rule at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics.  It was ten years ago, at the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City.  My graphics for the “world feed” telecast were seen in foreign countries but not shown to Americans.

Our producers felt we should have an identifier ready for each of the major participants, including the head of state who was going to declare the games open.  I dutifully prepared this lower third and photographed it for posterity.  However, it was not actually used on the air, so the rule remained inviolate.


It might have been about 1949.  I had only recently learned to walk, and now my grandmother and I were going to take a choo-choo train to another city.

So there I was, sweet Jesus, toddlin’ downtown in a railway station, one toe down at a time.

We were not in New York City’s cavernous Grand Central Terminal, through which I still cannot walk without trepidation.  Neverthless, this Midwestern depot had its own high ceilings and hard surfaces and scary strange people towering over me, hurrying in every direction, the sounds of their footsteps echoing off those ceilings far above.

That could have been where I first learned to cringe.

Or perhaps not.  I also have an alternative version of this theory, which I explain in this month’s “100 Moons” article.



Minor league baseball arrived in 2002 at a brand-new ballpark in Washington, PA, 25 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.  The Wild Things began play in the independent Frontier League.

The next year, to publicize the new venture, the team invested in a project to televise a few of its home games on what was then FSN Pittsburgh.  To keep costs low, they hired a very small remote truck and a crew that included a number of students from Waynesburg College.

I worked 15 of those telecasts, including the 2005 Frontier League All-Star Game, between 2003 and 2007.  It was fun, televising baseball on a shoestring.  Now, however, the games are only on radio.

Sixty years ago, major league owners were afraid fans would stop coming to the ballpark if they discovered they could watch home games on TV.  But the opposite appears to be the case for the Wild Things.  Taking the games off TV after 2007 has hurt attendance!

According to a feature by Jenn Menendez in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “During the team's first summer the stands swelled with fans and continued to draw well for several years. Attendance peaked in 2007, when the team drew 177,495.  That number dropped to 160,444 in 2008 ... and 104,635 last summer.

“Wild Things attendance has dropped every year since 2007, and currently ranks next-to-last in the 14-team Frontier League, averaging 1,624 per game (through Sunday) — its worst average on record.”


Leo Trich (left), a member of the Ballpark Scholarships board, attributes the falling attendance to factors other than the loss of TV coverage.  (I knew Leo 35 years ago when he was a Baseball for Boys executive and a Washington city councilman.)  He explained to the newspaper, “Most new facilities have a honeymoon period.  We were told two or three, and we got five or six years.   ... [Then] about the time the newness was starting to wear off, the team itself wasn't playing that well.  We're Pennsylvanians, and we like our teams to win.”

The team’s majority owner, Stuart Williams, offered a different reason.  “My strongest sense of the big-picture problem is the economy,” Mr. Williams said. “People don't have the discretionary dollars right now.”

Ballpark Scholarships is hoping to boost its finances by drilling for oil on the back forty.  That would be a 40-acre hillside plot overlooking the ballpark, presumably a prime location for Marcellus Shale natural gas and oil development.

But in my opinion, all they have to do is bring back TV.



My medical insurance company sent me a sheet headed "Language Assistance Services Available for Multiple Languages," in which the same short message is printed in 16 different tongues.  Korean and Arabic and Mandarin need only two rows of type, but all the languages that use the Roman alphabet require three rows.  Except French; it needs four.

English allows us to omit some words.  But in French, nothing can be merely implied, and nouns like "need" and "benefit" can't simply be commandeered to serve as verbs or adjectives.

English:  "If you need benefit information in a language other than English or someone to interpret, we're here to help!  Call the number of the back of your identification card."

Transliterated French:  "If you have need of information concerning the benefits in a language other than the English or if you want to call on an interpreter, we are for you the help!  Please call the number of telephone that's printed on back of your card of identification."



I’ve rewritten another Bible story.  This one is about a son who went astray.  He joined the government and helped legislate an entire industry out of existence.  Now he's planning to invade seven other nations and kill all their people!  It's called Nun’s Tale.


JULY 4, 2012     BUT IT CAN BE

For our speechifying this Independence Day, let us return to a subject I raised here nearly four years ago.  This time, I've added some black and white pictures to the words of television producer Aaron Sorkin.  He wrote them in the script for the first episode of his HBO series The Newsroom.  (Here's the scene I'm talking about.  And you might enjoy Ken Levine’s parody of it.)

A university panel discussion includes a TV anchorman, played by Jeff Daniels.  An earnest young sophomore has a question.  She asks, “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”

The liberal panelist responds, “Diversity and opportunity.”  The conservative says, “Freedom and freedom, so let’s keep it that way.”  But the anchorman is reluctant to say what he really thinks.  The moderator insists:  “What makes America the greatest country in the world?”

A woman in the back of the hall has a suggestion.

The anchorman finally blurts, “It’s not The Greatest Country In The World, Professor.  That’s my answer.”

To the panelist who touted America’s freedom, he says, “With a straight face, you’re going to tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom?  Canada has freedom.  Japan has freedom.  The UK.  France.  Italy.  Germany.  Spain.  Australia.  Belgium has freedom.  207 sovereign states in the world; like 180 of them have freedom.

“And yeah, you, sorority girl.  Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know.  And one of them is, there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re The Greatest Country In The World.

“We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, #4 in labor force, and #4 in exports.  We lead the world in only three categories:  number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending — where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.

“Now none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you nonetheless are, without a doubt, a member of the Worst. Generation. Ever.  So when you ask what makes us The Greatest Country In The World, I don’t know what the f_ you’re talking about!  Yosemite?

“We sure used to be.”

At right:  Lyndon Johnson hands Martin Luther King the pen from the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

“We stood up for what was right.  We fought for moral reasons; we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons.  We waged wars on poverty, not poor people.  We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest.”

At right:  The Apollo 11 plaque on the moon

“We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy.  We reached for the stars.  Acted like men.”

At right:  Author Pearl S. Buck, John & Jacqueline Kennedy, and poet Robert Frost

“We aspired to intelligence.  We didn’t belittle it.  It didn’t make us feel inferior.

“We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election.  And we didn’t scare so easy.”

At left:  Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite

“We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed, by great men, men who were revered.”


“The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.  America is not The Greatest Country In The World anymore.”

Only later does his executive producer say to him, “You know what you left out of your ‘sermon’?  That America is the only country on the planet that since its birth has said, over and over and over, that we can do better!”



Today, the athletic teams of West Virginia University are relocating a thousand miles to the west!  Virtually, that is.  We ought to call the school “West West Virginia” from now on.

WVU used to play in the Big East conference against teams like Connecticut.  Their major rival was Pittsburgh, only 75 miles away.  The annual WVU-Pitt game was known as the “Backyard Brawl.”

But as of today, West Virginia is a member of the Big 12.  They’ll be playing against an entirely new set of rivals, the closest of which, Iowa State, is 870 miles away by car.  The farthest, Texas Tech in Lubbock, is 1,465 miles away.  Fans who want to follow the WVU soccer team to a road game must either buy plane tickets or take off a week from work.

In basketball, the “Backyard Brawl” between West Virginia and Pitt was a series dating back to 1917.  Of course, that history meant little to the 2011-12 players and coaches.  Only one of WVU’s players came from West Virginia, while none of Pitt’s came from western Pennsylvania.  Before WVU played Pitt for the final time on February 16, WVU coach Bob Huggins was asked if the event held any special significance.  Not particularly, he said.  “We’re trying to get into the NCAA tournament.  We know we have to win some games.”

No, it was mostly the fans who cared.  Some of them had been warring against the other school for the better part of a century.  Others were current students.

“It’s our biggest rival.  It’s the team you want to beat the most,” Pitt junior Ben Wachsman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gary Rotstein in February.  Junior Kiersten Williams agreed.  “There’s really not much difference between us, but there’s just so much tradition there, you have to hate them.”

Hatred.  That’s the ticket.  Rotstein reported that “The head of the Pittsburgh chapter of WVU’s Alumni Association, Bryan Bond, 33, said he’s felt some ‘hard shoulder bumps’ from Pitt fans when leaving Heinz Field in his WVU garb after a [football] game.”

On the other side, according to Rotstein, veteran Pitt radio play-by-play broadcaster Bill Hillgrove “recalls the first three words his daughter spoke — EAT $#!+, PITT — after listening to that jeering chant as the Panthers bus pulled up to WVU Coliseum years ago.  ‘There’s a hate factor there that I don’t think is prevalent in anything else Pitt is involved in,’ Mr. Hillgrove said before Thursday night’s game.  ‘I think people in Morgantown grow up learning to hate Pitt.’”

Of course, hating your neighbor doesn’t come naturally.  As Oscar Hammerstein II wrote in a different context in South Pacific,

You've got to be taught to hate and fear.
You've got to be taught from year to year.
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear.
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate.
You've got to be carefully taught!

I wonder which of WVU’s new Big 12 opponents will be designated the new target of detestation.

Meanwhile, Pitt will moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference in another year or two, and that will require the local fans to find an ACC adversary to look down upon.