Monday, April 30, 2007

R.I.P. Josh Hancock


Josh Hancock wasn't a star, but he was living EVERY child and young man's dream - he was a major league baseball player... Hancock was a role player, someone who often times had to do the thankless job of pitching in blowout games... Nonetheless, he was very happy to be there and as a member of the 2006 World Champion St. Louis Cardinal baseball team he had that precious ring that no one could ever take away from him. His numbers weren't spectacular, but they were good enough last year (a 4.09 ERA and a very impressive 1.21 WHIP) that I had kept a close eye on him in spring training with the injury problems of closer Jason Isringhausen... He had good enough stuff to someday be an effective closer. Sadly, that day will never come as Hancock was tragically killed early yesterday morning in a single car accident with a stopped tow truck. He was only 29 years old.

The moment yesterday afternoon in Orlando International Airport when I first heard about this tragedy, I harkened back to June 22, 2002 when another Cardinals pitcher, Darryl Kile, died in his hotel room from a heart attack. He was only 33 years of age... Kile, as some of you will recall, was an All-Star pitcher with the Houston Astros. He won 19 games in 1997 with a 2.57 ERA - numbers that were in the top 3 in the league in both categories. Kile was exiled to Colorado in 1998 and 1999 and his numbers, like most all pitchers who go there, suffered a lot those two years. Kile was signed by the Cardinals in 2000 and was an All-Star again that year, producing his only 20 win season.

I still remember that day in 2002 that Kile was taken from us... and it REALLY shook me as he was almost a year and a half younger than me when he passed on and he was in the PRIME of his career! I had literally also been in my new townhouse for all of a week when this happened, so it's something that I just don't forget. Hancock never reached the level of success that Kile did, but he was a very integral part of the Cardinals bullpen, being used mostly as a situational and long reliever. As I mentioned above, Josh often had the thankless job of "mopping up" in games that were blowouts... His final appearance just hours earlier before he was taken from us was in one of those "mop up" sitations... Josh came in to pitch with the Cardinals trailing 7-0 in the 6th inning... He pitched three effective innings in that last game - striking out two batters and allowing a run, while retiring the final four batters he faced...

Tragedies like this always put things into perspective and show us just how precious and fragile this life is. Remember your loved ones at this time... tell them how you feel about them. Give them a call, give them a hug... tell them that you love them. Tonight, please keep the Hancock family and the St. Louis Cardinal family in your thoughts and prayers...

4/29/07 - Orlando (Day 3) : Dinosaurs & Spirits




One thing you will quickly learn about Orlando if you spend ANY length of time there is that it's very easy to get lost. I can't tell you how many times we went the wrong way when just trying to get from point A to point B. On our final day of vacation, we were planning on heading down the Interstate 4 to Daytona Beach so that we could visit the Daytona International Speedway and pick up some NASCAR souvenirs... however, it didn't work out that way as somehow we got headed the wrong way - towards Tampa Bay and Busch Gardens!!!

Visiting Busch Gardens would have been a great thing to do if we had a full day... but since Steve had to be at the airport at 3:30pm, and I had to turn the rental car back in by 5pm, we only had a couple of hours to spend at any one place. Daytona would have been perfect for that... As for Busch Gardens, we will just say it's pretty expensive to visit. As a result we decided that we would visit some other interesting places which were in the suburb known as Plant City.

The first place in Plant City we visited was "Dinosaur World." At first glance, it appears that Dinosaur World is just a place for kids, but once you walk inside the store that fronts the park entrance you discover that this is hardly the case. Fossils, artifacts, beautiful rocks and stones are all over the place to be seen. I picked up several beautiful Brazilian "tumbled agate" rocks and a few "agate slabs while there. The three of us also took several pictures with the dinosaur which guarded the entrance.

Since we only had about an hour left, we decided not to spend the $13 park entry fee to see inside. Amber had seen a sign for a winery as we entered the park and she had a strong urge to go visit, so visit we did! The winery we stopped by was called the Keel and Curley Winery. For only $3 we were allowed to sample as many of the 17 different wines that they had to offer and also take home a wine glass as a souvenir! What a deal! Since I was driving, I obviously couldn't try all of the wines... I did sample a few that were outstanding including the Strawberry Riesling - a wine made up of Strawberries blended with Riesling grapes, making for a very sweet finish. We all also loved a dessert wine called the Florida Frost White - made up of 100% Vidal grapes. It was REALLY smooth! For more information, you can visit www.keelandcurleywinery.com

After visiting the winery, we had to head back up north and east to Orlando and the airport to drop off Steve. Amber and I grabbed some dinner before turning in the rental car. We then went our separate ways at the airport... As the pictures will attest to, we all had a GREAT time on our adventure to see the Dinosaurs and Spirits!

4/28/07 - Orlando (Day 2) : EPCOT Center





Saturday was a very fun day for me and my friends as we went to the Epcot Center. Steve and I arrived there just before 11am - just in time for the opening of the World Showcase portion of the theme park. There is also a Future World portion of the park, but the World Showcase was more interesting to us, so that's where we decided to spend the day. Our friend Amber joined us a little after three in the afternoon.

When you enter the World Showcase, you feel like you're stepping into a completely different world - make that 11 different worlds! The 11 different worlds I speak of are actually countries. You get to experience shops and attractions which you would find in each country. One of the most fun parts of the whole adventure is that the cashiers at each store are native to their countries, so you could often hear them speaking in their own native language.

We visited the countries all in the order they were presented to us, starting with Mexico... We then went into Norway where we took a boat voyage through the Viking era and a film which actually takes you back into those ancient times. It was very interesting... Amongst all of the countries represented though, China was definitely one of the most interesting. The "Reflections of China" circle-vision film is a MUST SEE for anyone visiting - you'll be amazed by all of the beauty and history that they cram into a 14 minute film. I was also struck by all of the ancient Chinese traditions - particularly the "Tomb Warriors" which protect the dead so that they will be ready for the afterlife and the Chinese zodiac figures and the stories behind them...

After China, we stopped in Germany. Given that my heritage on my Dad's side is German, it's always interesting to see the traditions of my ancestors. As one would expect, beer and drinking were two of the main traditions prevalent. After passing though Germany, we hit Italy. Since I'm really into Italian food - particularly pizza and spaghetti - I looked forward to going there. We also enjoyed it in Italy because they had a free wine sampling booth!

Next there was the "American Adventure," which gives a look at American History and culture... the highlight of this attraction was a 30 minute inspirational story of America and its people... Although it was interesting, the American Adventure almost seemed a little out of place amidst the rest of the Countries since most of us already know of America's history...

After America, we visited Japan and Morocco... Although both of these countries were interesting, the ones that REALLY intested us were those that were left for the end: France, the United Kingdom and Canada...

Out of all of the countries we visited, the three of us definitely spent more time in France than anywhere else. There was a very well-done 20 minute film which celebrated the beautiful French countryside, along with several fine shops and dining places. It was also the one place in the park where I finally felt tempted to buy a few things.

After France, we ventured to the United Kingdom. We all were getting hungry by this time, so we decided to dine on some fish and chips at the "Yorkshire County Fish Shop."

Our final was our neighbor to the north - Canada. A very well done 22 minute film called "O Canada!" gave a very interesting look into the beauty, culture and history of Canada.

Late in the evening (around 7:30 pm), the "swamp smell" began to invade the park. We all decided to go back and re-visit those places we enjoyed the most in the World Showcase... the theme park closed at 9pm. We all left having had a thoroughly enjoyable experience, wishing that we could someday see all of these places ourselves. For me, France and China seemed to be the most interesting places to see... Italy and the United Kingdom were also very interesting. Perhaps one of these days I will get to go visit and see the rest of them for myself!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Orlando: Fun in the Sun





Just a quick entry for my first full day of vacation in Orlando, Florida. The first thing I noticed about Florida was the temperature and humidity - 80 degrees with about 50% humidity when I arrived last night. Today, it was more like 95 with about the same humidity level. Shorts and a shirt along with sunglasses and A LOT of sunscreen are required!

As for the day, I was able to get a good night of sleep after yesterday's crazyness... got up around 6:45, and just barely made the breakfast which was from 7-8am... there was an awards ceremony for all of the Verizon employees from 8-11:30 am, and then a lunch immediately after the ceremony. Two of my friends from work, Frank Tarentino and Erica Allison were amongst the winners of the big drawing... the prizes offered ranged from handheld portable computers to washer & dryers to BOSE stereo systems... some real nice stuff. I wish I would have been picked... then again, I'm not going to complain at all about two paid days off from work and a satellite radio with a free three month subscription...

The afternoon was spent socializing, taking LOTS of pictures and then getting some sun out by the pool... Around 4:30pm we all headed indoors and I took the shuttle to the airport so that I could get my rental car through Avis and then head off to the Best Western hotel here in Orlando (right by the airport)... Ironically, I'm on the highest floor again (just like in DC) and in room #6 again! In DC I was in room 706, here I'm in 506... My friend Steve is staying here with me in Orlando through the end of the day Sunday before we head back to LA...

Tonight we are just planning on relaxing - tomorrow will be fun though as several of us will be hooking up and heading off to the EPCOT Center in the DisneyWorld complex...

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Just wanted to add a little sports to the blog before I went... The Lakers, behind Kobe Bryant's 45 points, took game 3 of their best of 7 series against the Phoenix Suns... hopefully this will be the start of something good... there's nothing more that I would like than to see the Lakers somehow upset the Suns after getting so close last year...

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4/26/07 - DC: Day 4 ... but there wasn't supposed to be a "Day 4."



As you can tell by the title of my post for yesterday, something unxpected happened to me on my way to Orlando. Have you ever heard of something called "Murphy's Law?" If it can go wrong it will go wrong? Well, that's exactly what happened to me as I tried to leave DC and fly into Orlando. One other thing I want to add is that I really was having a hard time leaving DC - I had such a great time in my three days that I didn't want to go, and I told several people this... I guess you really have to be careful what you wish for!!!

Getting to the Airport from my hotel was no problem... I arrived there around 7:45am - in plenty of time for my 8:45 flight out of DC which was to arrive at 9:55 am at New York's La Guardia airport... I was supposed to then catch a flight out of New York to Orlando at 11:10am, arriving in Orlando at 1:50pm... As you'll soon find out, things didn't go according to plan. In the end, I really didn't know whether to laugh or cry... trust me, you won't believe my day!!!

The first sign of things to come was when we got a notice around 8:30am that the flight out of Orlando to NYC was delayed. At 9:30, we were told that there were some "electical problems" and the flight would leave at 10:00am... That wasn't all that comforting and at that moment I kind of wished they would just cancel the flight or find us another plane. Around 10:30 they told us the flight was cancelled and that we would all need to go to the American Airlines counter and make new arrangements.

Less than an hour later (11:25 am) I was able to schedule a direct flight on US Airways from DC to Orlando for a 2:15pm departure time and a 4:26 arrival time... The woman at the terminal also told me that most likely my bag would be sent through US Air and that I didn't need to do anything else... That was reassuring... and I was also happy about this as direct flights are just A LOT easier to deal with. Around 2pm, we come to find out that there are some "mechanical problems" with the plane and that they may need to change planes. Around 3pm, they told us we would be put in a different plane... unfortunately that plane was smaller than they plane we were supposed to be using by about 10 seats. What this meant is that there was a good chance I would miss this plane as well... and that's exactly what happened as there was not enough room.

Not wanting to go through the baggage security check a third time, I decide I'll just let US Air schedule me on the next plane to Orlando... as it turned out that plane would not be scheduled to leave until 7:35 pm... to arrive in Orlando at 9:45pm. Finally, at 7:20pm, I boarded the plane. We took off at 7:45pm - exactly 11 hours after I was originally scheduled to leave!!!

Needless to say, if I had known I would have been stuck in DC an extra day, I would have done something with it - go to the Smithsonian, take a boat tour on the Potomac, call my two friends/relatives I know there... something!!! So yes, I wasted an entire day at Reagan Airport. Most of the time was spent reading, writing and making LOTS of phone calls to friends and family... I also listened to my portable radio - it looks like an IPOD. I got VERY familiar with the DC FM radio stations during my four days here... but a lot more so while in the airport! For all of you Carrie Underwood fans out there, I heard her no less than eight times while in that airport for over 12 hours!

Now you would think that after I had arrived in Orlando at 9:40pm that the rest would and should go smoothly... WRONG! I was told that my bag would be at the US Airways terminal for pickup - either it was on an earlier plane, or it was on the same plane as mine. I checked through both areas and by 10:10pm, I went back to the baggage counter to put in a claim. Before I did that though, I asked the US Airways person at the counter if she could contact American Airlines just in case they had somehow gotten the bag back and sent it to Orlando... sure enough, this is exactly what happened... by 10:30pm, I finally had my bag!!!

Given that Verizon was paying for my transportation, there was supposed to be a shuttle waiting for me when I arrived. I told them that I should be there around 10pm and that I would be outside the US Airways terminal. A little after 10pm, I heard my name over the loudspeakers, but I couldn't tell if it was for my luggage or the shuttle... I checked with several people that worked at the airport and no one else could tell me either...

I attempted to call my transportation people several times, but I had no luck geting someone to pick me up. I finally ended up having to talk to the "head person" in charge of the trip who advised me to just take a cab and that Verizon would reimburse me in the morning if I just brought the ticket... So, this morning I ended up getting a $63 reimbursement for my cab ride... I finally arrived in my hotel room at 12:37am (Friday morning)... I completely missed the corporate function happening Thursday night and the chance to go out to "Pleasure Island" where my friends were out celebrating... By 1am, I was thoroughly exhaused and in bed!!! Just happy to be there safe and sound...

I don't know if any of you have ever experienced this kind of day traveling... regardless, it's another experience I won't soon forget!!! If any of you have similar experiences, please write back to me or eMail me... I'd love to compare stories!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

DC: Day 3 - Meeting Miss DC, Kate Michael!







Yesterday was just a very inspiring day for me here in DC - getting to see all of the monuments and Georgetown, and that spectacular view at night from my hotel room window just made it a very memorable day... well, so far Day 3 is off to an absolutely AMAZING start...

I got up a little before 6am ET to get ready to head off to offices of McKenna, Long & Aldridge for an 8am breakfast event. Now why would I be going to a Law office 3000 miles away from home while on vacation so early in the morning? Well, I found out Miss DC, Kate Michael, was going to be there speaking at a breakfast the University of Georgia's "Bulldawg Breakfast Club" was holding in her honor so I just HAD to go! I got there very early - about 7:10am and then read while waiting for the guest of honor to arrive. Kate got there a little before 7:45... and I have to say, she is even more striking in person than in pictures. Needless to say, I just had to have my picture taken with her... I will post these as soon as I can get to a computer that will allow me to upload them.

Kate and I chatted before and during the breakfast about everything and anything - experiences with the Pageants, work, just a lot of different things. It was truly a joy to get to meet her - she's truly one of the nicest, most honest and sincere people I've ever met.

The breakfast itself included about 15 people in all, most of whom were fellow University of Georgia alumni - I think I was the only "oddball" UCLA Bruin there. The hour and a half went by really fast, and Kate made us all laugh several times with her wit and humor. Kate also answered a lot of questions about her Literacy platform and about plans for her future. Kate is talented in many different areas, so there are almost endless possibilities as to what she will end up doing for work... It was truly a pleasure and honor to be there, and it's an experience that I won't soon forget...



After meeting with Kate, I took the bus to Georgetown and met up with my cousin Melinda who is a sophomore at Georgetown. Melinda and I shared lunch together on campus and she then gave me a full tour of the University Campus. Once again, I took lots of pictures and was truly impressed by all of the history here... The conversation was thoroughly enjoyable as we shared stories about our relatives and the different things to experience here in D.C.

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In sports, the Los Angeles Lakers were predictably routed by the Pheonix Suns last night and the World Champion Miami Heat fell to the Chicago Bulls again. Tonight, we will see if the Denver Nuggets can surprise the San Antonio Spurs again and we will also see if the the crippled Washington Wizards can somehow summon the strength to get a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers...

As for baseball notes, I've cut bait on two of my early "Diamonds In The Rough." The first is Jorge Julio, who just has yet to find his good stuff this year form the Florida Marlins... the other is John Patterson of the Washington Nationals who is pitching like someone who isn't 100% - his fastball, which normally tops out in the mid 90's is peaking in the upper 80's and his breaking pitches simply don't have the bite they normally do... Patterson was someone I really wanted on my teams this year, so it's tough to cut bait on him... the loss of velocity though makes the decision a little easier... Earlier in the season, I thought maybe the distraction of getting engaged to Kate's predecessor, Miss 2005 D.C., Shannon Schambeau may have been the cause of his pitching woes... I don't think that's the case now.

In addition to Patterson, Ryan Zimmerman is another National that is off to a very slow start with just a .233 batting average as I write this... Ryan appears to be going through the dreaded "softmore slump"... Hopefully he will to be the 3rd baseman that everyone wanted so badly on my their fantasy teams this year. The hardest thing about drafting players for fantasy baseball teams are the intangibles... the things which on the surface you wouldn't think should have an effect on a player, but for some reason they end up causing the player to either achieve well above expectations or well below them.

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One last thing... wasn't it nice to not see Sanjaya on American Idol last night? I was so thankful that he was finally voted off the show last week. Nothing against him, but the bottom line is that he couldn't sing very well and American Idol is a singing contest... kudos to him though for parlaying his stage presence and image into something marketable... I definitely don't think you've seen the last of him... If I were to pick a winner now, it would be Melinda Doolittle. She remains a steady rock - consistently great, while the others always seem to be up or down. Lakiesha Jones (whom I considered the early favorite) had her third consecutive sub-standard performance last night. Will she be voted off this week??? It just might happen... tune in to find out... Two time Grammy winner Carrie Underwood will be amongst the singing guests!

Take care & hope you're all doing well!

John

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

DC: Day 2 - Exploring via The Metro















I awoke at 6:30 am, in time to see that the weather was not as clear as it was on Monday... the forecast was for a chance of thunderstorms... I grabbed a quick cup of coffee before getting ready, and then I headed down to the cafe for a breakfast of french toast, scrambled eggs, fruit, milk and some more coffee... Yes, I live on caffiene a lot of the time!

A little before 9:15am, I headed South towards the Navy Yard Metro Station. I got there quickly, no sooner to find out it was closed, so I headed to the next nearest one - the Capitol South Metro Station, which was just about a mile away from the Navy Yard...

I took the Metro to the Federal Yard and first explored the Washington Monument... then I visited the Lincoln Memorial and then almost circled the White House... A few people were gracious enough to take pictures of me in front of some of these places, and I'll be posting them just as soon as I can use a computer with a USB port...

After stopping by the White House, I caught the Metro again and got off at the Foggy Bottom GWU stop... I walked from the George Washington University area straight to Georgetown and was really amazed by the beauty of everything here. For those of you that don't know, Georgetown was established in 1751 and is the hometown of the Georgetown Hoyas - a great scholastic instution which is also very well known for their men's basketball program. This year, they made yet another final four appearance, losing to eventual runner-up, Ohio State.

While walking the streets of Georgetown (and also trying to hook up with a cousin of mine who is an Undergraduate here), I stopped several places... At 1pm, a place called the Pizzeria Paradiso piqued my interest, so I had a nice pizza lunch there... I'll probably spend the rest of the afternoon trying to get together with my cousin before heading back to hotel...

After being here just a little more than 24 hours, there are two things I do know for sure now. One is that I REALLY LOVE this city and the second is that I just have to come back... I'm already planning out my second trip here so that I can visit the places that I will be missing this time...

One other thing I would like to say, and that's a big THANK YOU to all of the residents of DC and the visitors who have been so nice to me... You all have truly added so much to this amazing experience! This morning, while getting off the Metro and headed for the Washington Monument, I just happened to see a young man dressed in a UCLA Bruin shirt... being a HUGE Bruin fan of course, I just had to engage him in conversation... It turned out his name was Chris and he graduated from UCLA 11 years after I did. Chris was now a graduate student at Georgetown. Chris also had several members of his family with him, and they almost were able to get me into the White House. They had two extra tickets, but of course with the security measures here there was no way I would have been able to use the tickets... Needless to say, the topic of college basketball came up when Chris and I talked... and, like me, he picked a UCLA-Georgetown championship... I guess he was feeling the same way I was that Saturday night after both of the teams I was pulling for lost!

That would be about it for now... hopefully I will be able to hook up with my cousin before heading back to my room...

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Of course, I have to post a little sports stuff here... Not surprisingly, the Lakers and Wizards both lost on Sunday, and the Denver Nuggets (surprisingly to some but not to me) took game one from the San Antonio Spurs in their series. The BIG shocker was the Golden State Warriors taking a game on the road against the number one seed in the West, the Dallas Mavericks...

In baseball, A-Rod is just continuing to go crazy... Mr. Rodriguez slammed two more homers last night in the Yankees 10-8 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. A-Rod has now tied Albert Pujols' major league record of 14 homers in April... I hope he continues to produce great numbers, and that the Yankees continue their losing ways. ;)

4/23/07 - DC: A View From the Hill
















Well, as you can all see, I have finally been able to access the internet and post a new blog. I had an entry all set up for yesterday, but I was not able to post either using my laptop or the "High Speed Internet Access" that is provided where I'm staying - the Best Western on I St. South & Madison here in DC.

Needless to say, I wanted to tell you all about my first day here in DC... so I decided that I'd be resourceful and while visiting Georgetown today I would go to the on-campus Library here...

My trip on Sunday night got off to a little bit of a rocky start - my plane, which was supposed to leave LAX for JFK at 11:20pm PT the night of the 22nd, didn't leave until 1:20am PT the morning of the 23rd. Yes, we were running 2 hours late! Considering that my connecting flight out of JFK to Reagan Airport (DCA) here in DC was scheduled to depart at 9:40am ET (6:40am PT). Fortunately, the pilot made up some time from LAX to JFK and we ended up arriving just a little before 8:50am ET - I still had over 50 minutes to get to my plane. Then another problem developed - they couldn't decide how to "deplane" us! It took them a half hour to get us off the plane. At 9:20am, I rushed toward security, quickly ran my stuff through, and headed off to catch the train which would take me halfway around the airport from the Delta terminal to the American Airlines terminal. I literally had to run all the way there to catch my plane, but I made it!

Once I got on the plane to DC, everything started to go perfectly. A smooth flight into DC and it took me only five minutes from the time I was off the plane until I was headed to my hotel room. They allowed me to check in over 3 hours early and with that, I unpacked and got myself together for a day of exploring!

As I looked out the window of my 7th floor room assignment at the Best Western, I pulled open the drapes to what was an amazing view of the Capitol Building on The Hill. As I turned to the left, I saw the Washington Monument jutting out from the West. Only an hour after I had unpacked my things, I set out afoot to explore the great city of Washington, DC! I had planned day one of my stay as just a day to roam around the city, just going whereever I felt led to...

Not surprisingly, my first stop was the aforementioned Capitol building... it's quite a breaktaking sight to see - though probably not as breaktaking as the amazing cherry blossoms which I could not escape the sight of. I then headed west, passing through the U.S. Botanical Gardens and then past the American Indian Museum - which was unfortunately closed, and the through the Smithsonian. I headed north to the American Museum of Natural History and then east past the Ronald Reagan Building. I then headed northeast, finally ending up just west of Union Station.

From the Union Station area, I headed northwest towards DuPont Circle. I figured that since I would be out that direction on Wednesday, it would be a good place to see... After nearly three hours of almost straight walking, I finallt decided to stop and have dinner and a drink over at the Bistrot Du Coin. The service was excellent, and the food even more so there. After a lot of deliberation, I finally decided upon having steak with a glass of red wine... The steak was tender and moist and the sauce was also excellent... I'd strongly recommend the Bistrot du Coin to anyone visiting the DC area. Around 5pm, I headed back home, stopping at a couple of CVS stores to pick up a few supplies that didn't make in onto the plane... Being a current Verizon employee, I did have to stop by the Verizon Center and take some pictures there. I hope the Wizards can have some better luck there when they play on Saturday...

By 7pm I was in my hotel room and pretty exhausted from the 10 or so miles of walking I did. As the sun went down and the night took effect, the view of the city became even more amazing... I've seen the Capitol Building all lit up at night on TV thousands of times before, but there is just something REALLY special about seeing it in person... The same can be said for the Washington Monument... While trying unsuccessfully to post here last night, I had the beauty of these two landmarks to stare at and admire... what a sight to behold!!! I was finally able to contact a few friends late in the night - about 12:30am ET and let them know I was OK... by 1am ET I was in bed, just very thankful that I made it here safely, and that my first day here just made me thirsting for more!!!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Going Coast To Coast!

This is a morning I've been looking forward to for quite a while now - my vacation and trip to the East coast begins today! I fly out of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) at 11:20pm PT tonight and will end up going through JFK Airport in New York before I end up at Reagan Airport and Washington DC at 11am ET on Monday morning. There is so much to do and see in DC; I've simply been overwhelmed by my family and friends with suggestions as to what to do and see during my stay there... Of course, some of the places suggested are very familiar - the White House, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial and the Library of Congress are amongst those places suggested to me multiple times. My itinerary is pretty well set - though if something comes up, I'm flexible to change it. I will have high speed internet access from my hotel room in DC, so I will hopefully be blogging daily from there. By the way, I asked for a room up high so hopefully I will have a nice view of the city from where I'm staying - not that I expect to be there much.

On the morning of the 26th, at 8:45 am, I fly out of Reagan Airport and down to Orlando (via LaGuardia in NYC) for the second leg of my trip. As some of you know, I work for Verizon and originally was only going to be in Florida for two days. The reason I was going to Florida for work was that I was one of the top sales associates in my region last year. It's quite an honor to be chosen and rewarded for all of the hard work that I put in. Of course, since there is so much to see and do in the Orlando area, I just had to extend my vacation a couple of days - so I'll be there through the 29th. There will be a Verizon dinner and party for the sales associates from 7-10 PM on Thursday night, the 26th. The main recognition and awards ceremony will be from 8am - 12pm the next morning, followed by a lunch buffet which ends at 1:30 PM. Several of my friends have decided to extend their stay by a couple of days as well, so I will be doing a lot of stuff with them. As for places I do know I will be visiting, the one I will be seeing for sure is the Epcot Center. At least four of us will be visiting the Epcot Center on the 28th... I leave Orlando on the 29th at 7:50 PM ET, and should arrive back at LAX around 11:45 PM PT. I will have high speed internet access from Orlando too, so I should be able to blog daily from there as well!

Needless to say, I plan on taking lots of pictures of the places I visit and the things and people I see. I truly can't wait to see DC and Orlando!

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Just a little bit o'Sports today... How about Mr. Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies? Kudos to him on a 15 strikeout performance in a complete game 4-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Hamels was another of my draft day targets this year, so I was glad to see him do so well. The Los Angeles Dodgers got a walk-off grand slam from catcher Russell Martin in the 10th inning of a thrilling (though poorly played) 7-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Big Papi went deep as the Red Sox beat the Yankees again 7-5...

In auto racing, Jeff Gordon finally got his first victory of the 2007 season and also his first victory ever in Phoenix as he won the Subway Fresh Fit 500. Particularly moving was what happened afterwards - Gordon tied the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. on the all-time win list with his 76th NASCAR victory. Gordon was given a flag with Earnhardt's #3 on it immediately after the race ended and he drove around the track on his victory lap, holding the flag up outside his window as he paid tribute to the senior Earnhardt. It was truly a special moment.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Enter Sandman???

As I flipped back and forth amongst the four baseball games available to me last night, the one game which got most of my attention was the Red Sox-Yankees game out at Fenway Park... Is there a bigger rivalry in all of baseball??? I doubt it. Last year, the Red Sox Nation was stung as the Yankees demolished them in a 5 game series sweep in mid-August, basically finishing their season and playoff aspirations.

So far, 2007 has been a little different... The Red Sox are in first place with a league-best 10-5 record with the Yankees sitting two games back. The Yankees could be further back if not for a miracle which happened two nights ago... They looked done on that night, trailing 6-2 with two outs and no one on in the bottom of the 9th. An amazing rally saw them score six runs off Cleveland Indian closer Joe Borowski - capped by an Alex Rodriguez 3-run homer.

Last night, the tables were turned on the Yankees by those aforementioned Red Sox. The Yanks were up 6-2 in the bottom of the 8th before the Sox rallied for five runs, including two off closer Mariano Rivera, to take a 7-6 lead. Hideki Okajima closed out the game in the 9th, pitching through the meat of the Yankee order - Jeter, Abreu and the red-hot A-Rod (who homered TWICE more) - to record a save.

For some reason, the Red Sox truly seem to have Rivera's number. Rivera, also known as "The Sandman," has now blown 10 saves in 34 opportunities the past seven seasons (2001-2007) against the Red Sox... that's only a conversion rate of 70.59%. Against the other 29 MLB teams over that time, he is 244 for 264 - a stellar 92.42% conversion rate. Why do the Red Sox seem to have him figured out, while the rest of the league doesn't? If you have a theory, please let me know... I really can't explain it - it's way beyond a statistical aberration at this point!

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We are nearly three weeks into the baseball season now and look who has the best record of anyone - it's the Los Angeles Dodgers! At 12-5, the Dodgers are doing as well as advertised in the spring. While lacking much of a power game, they have won with their bread and butter - good pitching and speed on offense... a 2.94 team ERA is 2nd in the NL, while their 17 stolen bases lead the circuit.

Injuries and other things seem to be taking their toll on some of the players I thought would do really well this year. Adam LaRoche of the Pittsburgh Pirates is only hitting .100 (5 for 50) with 2 homers so far in 2007.. From all reports, LaRoche has suffered from back pain and stiffness the entire season. With 20 strikeouts in only 50 at bats, it appears to really be affecting his ability to hit the ball. Perhaps a DL stint is in his future. John Patterson of the Washington Nationals is another player I thought would do very well this year. Traditionally a pitcher with good control and a great strikeout to walk (K/BB) ratio, Patterson has been anything but that so far this year. In 2007, Patterson has walked 14, while only striking out eight in 18 innings. That's a 0.57 K/BB ratio. Compare that to last year where he had only 9 walks and 42 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings (an outstanding 4.67 K/BB ratio). I haven't heard anything about an injury yet with JP, but something clearly isn't right with him...

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The NBA Playoffs start today with four first round games... the most intriguing game today will probably be the game between the 2005-2006 Miami Heat against the Chicago Bulls. Though the Bulls had a better record by five games, the World Champion Heat will probably be favored to win it. Injury plagued for most of the season, the Heat are now close to healthy. Anytime you can put a healthy Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O'Neal on the court, you're a force to be reckoned with...

Tomorrow's games will be more interesting for me than today's as the Los Angeles Lakers will take on the Phoenix Suns and the injury-depleted Washington Wizards will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers... it will truly take a miracle for the Lakers and Wizards to take more than one game in either of their series, let alone pull off the upsets and advance to the second round. I look for the most interesting game tomorrow to be the one between the Denver Nuggets and the San Antonio Spurs. The Nuggets are a VERY hot team at the moment, winning 10 of their final 11 games including a 100-77 win in San Antonio this past Wednesday to close out the season. Now that superstars Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson seem to have developed a chemistry between each other, the Nuggets have an excellent chance of beating the Spurs, and possibly advancing to the conference finals.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

A THANK YOU to A-Rod!

Does that feel weird or what? The hardest thing for me to do on draft day of my fantasy leagues is to pick players from the New York Yankees... The Yankees have a long and storied history of beating the Dodgers in the post season. As big a rival as the San Francisco Giants are on this side of the country, the Yanks are as equally big rivals on the East side... To the die-hard Dodger fan like me, the Yankees and the Giants are indeed the big enemies!

All kidding aside, the goal of the fantasy baseball game is to win your leagues... if you go in with the mentality that you're just going to draft your favorite players and those from your favorite teams and avoid those that either you don't like or that play on teams that you don't like, you're sure to not achieve that goal.

For some reason, and I'm not exactly sure why, I ended up with A TON of Yankees on my teams this year... Because I'm always focused on the goal of winning on draft day, I always draft the so-called "best player available" when choosing players. If Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui happens to be the best player out there when it's my turn to pick then he ends up on my team even if he does play on those dreaded Yankees...

The stars must have been aligned for me or something on draft day this year... I had 12 drafts which comprised of the entire universe of major league players... My first round draft day strategy (which goes against everything which fantasy guru Ron Shandler preaches) always is to land Johan Santana in the first round if at all possible. In my opinion, Santana is so much better than the next best pitcher available in terms of fantasy production that I can just fill other positions for the next hour or so of the draft... In other words, if I land Johan, I really don't even need to think about starting pitching for quite a while - I can fully concentrate on drafting offense and grabbing some closers for 10-12 rounds... As for the rest of my draft, I'm a definitely a disciple of Ron's strategy - I use a modified LIMA approach in practically all of my drafts regardless of who I take in round one.

My round one draft day strategy was foiled in all but one of my 12 leagues this year - Johan fell to me in just one league (I got him with the 6th pick in that one)! I picked first only once, taking the consensus #1 player going into 2007, Albert Pujols. In two leagues, I didn't draft until 9th and David Ortiz went off the table to me both times... Travis Hafner and Manny Ramirez were logical first round choices for me in two sabermetric leagues... Somehow, someway, a certain #13 who plays on the New York Yankees fell to me in the first round in six of my leagues!!! I had zero intention of having A-Rod on so many teams, but when it came my turn to pick this year, he just happened to be the best player available on six different occasions... I may just be thanking my lucky stars this year all the way to the bank as two of these six leagues where I got the Yanks' #13 just happen to be CBS Sportsline money leagues!!! :)

And now for that THANK YOU to A-Rod... so far this is the damage:

10 HR, 26 RBI, 17 RUNS, .351 BA, 1 SB... Far and away the #1 player in baseball - both real life and fantasy at the moment... enjoy the ride!

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I spoke of fantasy guru Ron Shandler above in my writings... Shandler lives in Roanoke, Virginia (about 40 miles away from Virginia Tech) and was very much affected by the tragedy. Check out his free article today on his Baseball HQ website entitled "Isolated." The article gives a lot of insight into the game of fantasy baseball and also gives his thought provoking views about the tragedy and the impact it should have on our daily lives. Check it out here:

Baseball HQ - "Isolated" by Ron Shandler

Thursday, April 19, 2007

NBA Playoff Roundup & Verizon Gives Back

The NBA's regular season ended last night and the playoffs are now set... Some teams, such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards, literally limped in - though both of those teams won last night... Others, like the Golden State Warriors, New Jersey Nets and the Orlando Magic, finished strong to secure a playoff spot - the Warriors won their final five games, while the Nets and Magic both won their last four. Here are the seedings:

Western Conference:
1. Dallas Mavericks
2. Phoenix Suns
3. San Antonio Spurs
4. Utah Jazz
5. Houston Rockets
6. Denver Nuggets
7. Los Angeles Lakers
8. Golden State Warriors

Eastern Conference:
1. Detroit Pistons
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Toronto Raptors
4. Miami Heat
5. Chicago Bulls
6. New Jersey Nets
7. Washington Wizards
8. Orlando Magic

While on the topic of the NBA, I have to give some recognition where recognition is due... On Tuesday night, Miss DC 2006 Kate Michael was awarded with the Verizon 2006-2007 Pollin Award for her service to the Washington DC community during the Wizards' game versus the Orlando Magic. Kate gives selflessly of her time to serve her community in many different ways and is also a strong advocate of literacy. All I have to say is this award is VERY much deserved! Congratulations, Kate! For more information on Kate and the award, please visit Kate's blog at http://kate-michael.blogspot.com.

As an employee of Verizon, it's nice to see Kate recognized, and it's also nice to see that my employer wants to help out with the Virginia Tech tragedy. I received an eMail early in the afternoon yesterday about giving to this cause. Virginia Tech has established the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund to aid in the healing process and to generate financial support for the families of those whose lives were lost... Verizon, along with many other companies, will match 1:1 any employee gift ranging from $25 - $1,000 to the fund. To make a contribution, please go to vt.edu/tragedy/memorial_fund.php

Note: the VT link above may appear to be broken at times... this is because the site is receiving a HUGE amount of traffic. If it's busy or broken, PLEASE it try again later.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Fantasyland



Until Sam Walker's Fantasyland came along, there really wasn't a book out there that truly delved into the world of Fantasy Baseball and the trials and trivilations of the people that play this game. Shortly after the 2006 season began, my friend Jim recommended that I read the book. That weekend, I went out and bought it at my local Borders... Once I got my hands on it, I literally could not put it down!!!

Walker, a senior sports writer and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, had scoffed at the fantasy game for years. One day, after becoming very jaded about writing about the various scandals such as steroids that had tarnished the game, he decided would use his connections and get into a very prestigious fantasy league known as "Tout Wars" - started by Baseball HQ's Ron Shandler. Walker had never played the game before this foray...

Fantasyland takes you on a tumultuous journey of highs and lows in the life of a rookie fantasy baseball player. What truly makes this book a great read is how Walker presents the material. Instead of boring the reader with numbers and facts, he presents the fantasy season in almost a storybook form... this is what makes it such an addicting read. You get to experience first hand what drives people to play the game of fantasy baseball and what makes it so addicting in it's own right. If you've ever played fantasy baseball, I guarantee that you will enjoy this book. Even if you've never played the game, you'll still enjoy the wit, humor and passion that Walker uses to convey his story.

How did Walker's first season turn out? Well, you'll have to read the book to find out!

For more information, go to:
fantasylandthebook.com

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

2 For Tuesday #4: Agony & Ecstacy

Yesterday was one of those days which truly ran the gamut of emotions for me. It's not a day any of us will soon forget. As most of you know by now, a horrific tragedy happened at the campus of Virginia Tech yesterday morning - thirty-two people were shot in what was the worst shooting in America's history. I first became aware of the the shooting a little after 7:30am PT and followed it's progress the entire morning. As the day wore on, and more details about the seriousness of the massacre came to light, my heart ached more and more for those innocent people. Why would someone do this??? We will probably never know as the shooter then took his own life after taking the lives of the others. At this moment, all I can do is to try and keep these people, their families and friends in thought and prayer... I really want to do something else to help - perhaps a financial donation or contribution to the families of those who lost loved ones there. It's just hard to grasp the depth of this tragedy at the moment...

As horrible as the Virginia Tech tragedy was, there was an event last night that truly made me feel better - The CMT Music Awards. I made special arrangements to watch this live at 5PM PT, rather than wait for it to play on tape delay at 8PM. Jeff Foxworthy was his "normal" silly self, and the music talent truly shined. Outstanding performances by Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood, Toby Keith, Sugarland, Bon Jovi and Martina McBride highlighted the show.

The big winner of the night had to be Carrie Underwood. The 2-time Grammy award winner the won the coveted Video of the Year and Female Video of the Year awards for her crossover smash "Before He Cheats." The video's producer, Roman White, won the award for Video Director of the Year. Carrie's good friends, Rascal Flatts, took home the Group Video of the Year award for "What Hurts The Most" - a song which, like Underwood's hit, crossed over to become a multi-format smash. Taylor Swift was the very deserving winner of the Breakthrough Video of the Year award for her song "Tim McGraw". Kenny Chesney took home the Male Video of the Year for "You Save Me" in what was probably the most competitive category - all of the candidates and videos were VERY deserving. Sugarland took home the award for Video Duo of The Year for their hit "Want To." Jack Ingram came away with the show's new Wide Open Country Video of the Year for his hit "Love You." Kris Kristofferson won the Johnny Cash Visionary Award. All of the award winners were very gracious in accepting of the awards and they all were extremely appreciative of their legions of fans. The show truly made me proud to be a fan of Country music.

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Some "Diamonds" in the rough to help out your fantasy teams this week:

1. Adam Lind (Util - Tor) 24% owned in CBS Sportsline Leagues - Lind was someone I REALLY targeted this year in my long term keeper leagues. I had the opportunity to see him play a few times late last year and was very impressed by what I saw - a .367 batting average, 2 HR and 8 RBI to go along with a very sweet swing in 60 at bats. Lind was also #7 on Ron Shandler's top 50 prospects for 2007... and as some of you know, when Shandler talks, I listen! Lind was sent down to the minors at the end of spring training this year as he would have been in a platoon role. The Blue Jays' manager Cito Gaston wanted to be sure he played full time and stayed fresh. With the recent injury to left fielder Reed Johnson, a slot has suddenly opened for Lind. All I know is the guy can hit! With Johnson out for three months, Lind will have more than adequate opportunity to display his hitting prowess.

2. Adrian Beltre (3B - Sea) 88% owned - Beltre is one of those players who can literally drive the fantasy owner crazy. When he is good, he is REALLY good, but when he is bad he is AWFUL! I've picked up on something over the years with Beltre though which seems to be the whole key to his success. When he is patient and taking walks, he suddenly becomes a much better hitter. When he gets impatient and swings at everything, he reverts to being this Mendoza-like hitter. Beltre has three walks in his last four games, and not surprisingly he has a .353 BA with 6 runs, 2 HR and 9 RBI to show for those efforts. While he may never duplicate that 48 homer season he had for the Dodgers in 2004, 30 homers is certainly not out of the question.

3. Zack Grienke (SP - KC) 66% owned - Greinke appeared on his way to becoming a household name in 2004 when he posted a 3.97 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP for the Royals. 2005 started OK for Greinke, but he was the victim of some very poor run support the first half of that season and then some just bad pitching in the second half. 2006 found Greinke back in the minors for most of the season and it seems to have done him good. In three starts this year he's posted a 3.95 ERA and an impressive 13 K's in 13 2/3 innings. Though he may not win a lot of games this year, his other numbers should help you a lot!

4. Ty Wigginton (1B/2B/3B - TB) 83% owned - Wigginton is one of those guys who has that very valuable multi-position eligibility. When injuries strike your team (and you know whey will at some point), players that can play three positions can be invaluable. "Wiggy" put up 24 homers and 79 RBI in only 444 AB last year... How many second baseman do you know who are capable of putting up 33 homers in 600 at bats? Can Chase Utley even do that?

5. Tom Gorzelanny (RP - Pit) 39% owned - Gorzelanny fell under the radar a lot last year pitching for the lowly Pirates. Pittsburgh seems to be a much better team this year and consequently, Gorzelanny may be in line for quite a few wins. In 61 2/3 innings last year, he posted an impressive 3.82 ERA and 1.323 WHIP. So far in 2007 he's posted a 1.50 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in his first two starts spanning 12 innings. More impressively perhaps is that he's only walked one batter while striking out nine.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Jackie Robinson Day

Yesterday, baseball stadiums across the country paid tribute to the great Jackie Robinson. Over 200 players and managers (including five entire teams) wore the #42 in tribute to him. A special commemorative logo was made to celebrate the event. It wasn't just baseball that paid homage to Robinson. In the NASCAR race yesterday, Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya (who drives car #42) wore a commerative logo on the side of his race car. Even NBA players, such as the Chicago Bulls' Ben Gordon - who wrote Robinson's name on his sneakers, paid tribute.

The most moving ceremony yesterday just had to be the one held at Dodger Stadium. The L.A. Dodgers were amongst the five teams who all dressed in #42 to pay tribute to Robinson. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, legnedary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully and Robinson's widow Rachel all gave very emotional speechs paying homage to Robinson. Inspired, the Dodgers stole five bases in the game - their most as a team in over seven years, as they won 7-2. The fans in attendance also got their own keepsake courtesy of pitcher Brett Tomko. Tomko drew a black and white rendition of Robinson stealing a base, perfectly capturing what he was best known for. Every fan in attendance received a copy of Tomko's rendering.

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As for other sporting events, Jeff Burton made an exciting last lap pass of Matt Kenseth to win the NASCAR Samsung 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway. The aforementioned Juan Pablo Montoya finished in 8th. Behind Kobe Bryant's 50 points, the L.A. Lakers clinched a playoff spot with a 109-98 win over the Seattle Supersonics... Marco Scutaro hit a dramatic walk-off three run homer off of Yankees ace closer Mario Rivera as the Oakland A's stunned the Bronx Bombers 5-4. Albert Pujols broke out of a season-long slump with two homers and five RBI's and Chris Duncan went four for five with a homer as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Milwaukee Brewers 10-2.

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I found an interesting article called "What People Earn" while perusing the Parade section of L.A. Times this past weekend... some salaries which I thought were noteworthy:

Chad Hurley (YouTube founder): $341,000,000
Kenny Chesney: $75,900,000
James Patterson (Author): $28,000,000
Keifer Sutherland: $23,000,000
Tyra Banks: $18,000,000
Katie Couric: $15,000,000
Ryan Seacrest: $12,000,000
Tony Dungy: $5,000,000
Nancy Pelosi: $212,100
John McCain: $165,200
Karl Rove: $165,200
Arnold Schwarzenegger: $0 (Don't worry about his salary - the Govinator is doing just fine).

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Go Country 105 Bowling Party

Yesterday, L.A.'s new Country music station, Go Country 105 had it's first Listener Appreciation Party at the Westminster Lanes. Morning show DJ's Shawn Parr and Robin Banks hosted the event with Whole Lotta Pizza providing free pizza and drinks.

My friend Paula from the CarrieUnderwood.fm website first made me aware of the event a week and a half ago. Needless to say, with my vacation starting next weekend, I was very happy the event was this weekend so that I could attend.

As some of you know, traffic in L.A. is only good around the hours of 2-5 AM in the morning... Seriously, just when is the traffic good here? The drive, which was supposed to take just over one hour, took an hour and a half... Nonetheless, I arrived just in time to grab a couple of pieces of pizza, switch into my bowling shoes and then go to my assigned lane to bowl. Paula and my friends Jen and Katie awaited me there as I arrived just after 1 PM - Paula was especially easy to spot as she was wearing one of her many Carrie Underwood shirts. Paula and I are both tireless promoters of the people and things that interest us, so we just had to model a couple of our favorites from the Carrie Underwood line of clothing at the event.

For whatever reason, in spite of me not picking up a bowling ball in over two years, I had this huge sense of confidence in me even before the game started. I just felt very inspired - it was almost as if I knew something really special was going to happen. My game started innocently enough with a spare in the first frame. I then strung together four consecutive strikes! Spares in the 6th and 7th left me at a 146 through six frames. It was at that point I knew I was onto something good. Somehow I managed to just stay focused and I struck again in the 8th, 9th and 10th frames! I knew then that I was at a personal best game ever, but I didn't want to think about it too much as I had one more ball to throw... a seven count on my fill ball left me at a 240! I missed the spare - my only bad shot of the entire game, but it really didn't make much of a difference as it would have only made my score 243. Could the PBA Tour be in my future?



A fun time was had by all of the over 150 fellow Go Country 105 listeners in attendance. In addition to the free bowling and pizza, they gave away free CD's and gift certificates. Shawn and Robin did a lot of interacting with the audience and I had the opportunity to have some good converations with both about the new station and the joy it's bringing to so many southern Californians. Photo opps were there for the taking, and I gladly took advantage. Below I'm pictured with the aforementioned Shawn and Robin from Go Country 105:





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A truly great man is being honored in Baseball stadiums across the land today - Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. This day marks the 60th anniversary of his first game for the then Brooklyn Dodgers. A lot of you may not know this, but Jackie went to college the same place I did: UCLA! To this day, he remains an inspiration to me and countless other Americans. I'd like to encourage all of you to stop by his official website at www.jackierobinson.com as we celebrate the legacy he has left us with.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

GAME OVER: Gagne's Back!

For three years, there was simply no better closer in baseball than Eric Gagne. With a high 90's fastball and his so-called "Bugs Bunny change-up" amongst his arsenal of pitches, Eric racked up some quite amazing numbers closing games for the Dodgers between 2002 and 2004. To be exact he saved a record 152 games over that time with a 1.79 ERA, a 0.82 WHIP, a 13.3 K/9 IP ratio, and a .168 batting average allowed. Gagne also established a major league record 84 consecutive saves between the 2002 and 2004 seasons. It was truly a priviledge to watch almost every single one of those games during that stretch. In the home games, as many of you know, the Dodgers would put up the phrase "GAME OVER" on the stadium scoreboard while blaring the Guns N' Roses tune "Welcome To The Jungle" over the loudspeakers when it came time in the 9th for "Gags" to turn out the lights. It was truly an event every time Gagne came in to close a game for the Dodgers! Arm and back problems limited him to just 15 1/3 innings and nine saves over the past two years. Little did I know that the Dodgers-Mets game on June 6th of last year, which I specifically went to just to see future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez pitch in, would yield Gagne's final save as a Dodger. Japanese import Takeshi Saito filled in admirably for Gagne while he was out last year, saving 24 games in 26 opportunities for the Dodgers. As a result of Saito's success and due to Eric's injury plagued 2005 and 2006 campaigns, Gagne became expendable and was not re-signed by the Dodgers. The Texas Rangers decided to take a chance on him and signed him in the off season. Last night marked Gagne's debut as a Ranger and he pitched a scoreless inning to get his first save for Texas.. Even though the Canadian native is no longer pitching for my team, I'm still going to root for him to succeed nearly every time he goes out there. For those of us that are true Dodger fans, those memories he left us with are truly priceless. I hope that "Game Over" will be flashed on the Ameriquest Field scoreboard many many times this year!

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In other sports news, Derek Lowe pitched a strong eight innings as the Dodgers beat the Padres 9-1. Despite striking out 10 batters, Johan Santana lost a game at home for the first time since August 1, 2005 as the Twins went down to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 4-2. John Patterson pitched a strong 5 1/3 innings for the Nationals yesterday, leaving with a 2-1 lead against the Mets before the pen blew the game. The ageless wonder, 48 year-old Julio Franco, had the game winning RBI single in the 7th for the Mets in their 3-2 win.

The NBA season is winding down... and my team is just falling apart. Does that sound familiar to any of you??? Normally, I'd write a lot about the Lakers here, but there just hasn't been that much good to say of late... On January 17th, the Lakers defeated the San Antonio Spurs 100-96 to get to a 26-13 record. At that time, it really looked like the "Lake Show" had returned and that the Lakers would make a serious title run... Unfortunately, a few injuries and some uninspired play has led to losing streaks of six, seven, and now the present four game losing streak. Over the past 41 games, the Lakers are 14-27 and have fallen to .500 for the first time this year. They are now are in danger of entirely missing the playoffs - I erroneously reported earlier that they just needed a win or a Hornets loss to get in. Actually, three teams (the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors), are fighting for the final two spots... Unless some sort of miracle happens, a first round exit awaits my Lakers if they do still happen to get in.

Across the coast, in the span of just five days, the Washington Wizards lost two of their star players in Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas. On April 1st, Butler went down with a broken hand... four days later, Arenas tore up his left knee. Without their two key players, the Wizards went from title contender to the team everyone now wants to play in the playoffs. Not surprisingly, the Wizards lost six consecutive games after Butler went down... Coach Eddie Jordan has done a masterful job with the Wizards, taking them from a team that had missed the playoffs for six consecutive years to one that has made it to the post season each of the last three campaigns. With these injuries though, it's going to take more than just the ex-Laker's coaching abilities for the Wizards to have any success in the 2007 playoffs. Someone will need to step up and fill the shoes of Caron and Gilbert. Perhaps it will be DeShawn Stevenson or Jarvis Hayes, who scored 25 and 20 points respectively in the Wizards' 98-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks last night. Can the Wizards recover and somehow make a run in the playoffs? One can only hope at this point.

Friday, April 13, 2007

On The Road Again...

As a few of you know, one of my favorite things to do is take long road trips... I've been pretty much everywhere imaginable on the West Coast - from Tijuana, Mexico all the way up to Whister Mountain in British Columbia, Canada... I also have a lot of family and friends in the Pacific Northwest, so I've been to that beautiful part of the country many times. With gas prices going through the roof though, I haven't been able to do nearly as many road trips as I once did... last year I took all of three road trips - and they all had the single purpose of seeing Carrie Underwood in concert. I logged over 900 miles on the Carrie road trips to the Pechanga and Morongo casinos along with the Mid State Fair in Paso Robles. The Paso Robles trip this past August was especially memorable as I had my friend Reggie along with me for the ride and we met up with several other friends once we arrived... We actually got there just in time to hear Carrie and the band doing their sound check! The best part though was that all got to meet Carrie after the show and even got autographs and pictures taken with her! The only bad thing is that we couldn't stay the night there - Reggie needed to work the next day, so just before midnight we hit the road. Three and a half hours later (at 3:25am) we safely arrived home. Reggie had another 70 miles or so to go, so he didn't get home until about 5am!

Tomorrow, I have a much shorter road trip going. I'm headed down the 405 about 70 miles to the Westminster bowling lanes to celebrate our new Country radio station, "Go Country 105" (KKGO). Some of you know that this past August, L.A.'s longtime Country station KZLA 93.1 flipped formats. This left a very large void for many of us. Fortunately, most of us still had Country stations to listen to - I had KHAY 100.7 in nearby Ventura, while my friends to the South and East could listen to KFRG 95.1. Still though, it wasn't the same as KZLA was part of many of our daily lives... the music was good and the DJ's were always a lot of fun and interactive. I'll never forget that day after work when I flipped on the radio and discoved a Blondie song playing on what was now "Movin' 93.1 FM." The thirty minute drive home that day was very long... KKGO arrived on the FM airwaves in late January of this year, and the great news is that many of the old KZLA DJ's are on the air at Go Country. Shawn Parr is doing mornings, Whitney Allen's show is on at night and Paul Freeman is doing weekends. As for the event, it will be happening from 12:30 to 3:30 PM tomorrow. The bowling is FREE and they are also serving us FREE pizza! It should be a great time, and I look forward to seeing many of my friends there. Pictures to come!

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Thanks to everyone for their concern for my brother-in-law's father, Charles. The surgery went as well as can be expected and he's now on the road to recovery.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Best Kept Secret...

Flipping back and forth between Idol and the Dodgers/Rockies game last night, I suddenly found myself becoming quite reflective... Three weeks into this blog, I have to admit I look more and more forward to doing it every day!

Though this is my first attempt at blogging (asides from my "members access only" blog at the Carrie Underwood website), this is far from my first experience at publishing something on the internet. Way back in 1998, a then little known singer from Marietta, Georgia named Jennifer Paige made a huge splash on the Top 40 charts with the infectious single, "Crush." I really felt like I was in the right place at the right time as "Crush" made it into the hands of my local top 40 station, KIIS FM a few weeks prior to the rest of the country. "Crush" quickly rose to #1 on the KIIS playlist and eventually reached #2 on the Radio & Records pop chart and #3 on Billboard's pop chart... As I followed Jennifer's progress on the charts, I soon noticed that she didn't have any sort of presence on the internet... I wondered how could someone so talented and with such a GREAT song could not have her own site on the www... Soon thereafter, I decided to take the bull by the horns and created the first Jennifer Paige website on the internet: "John's Jennifer Paige Page."



On my Jennifer Paige page, I tried to keep things as current as possible, often updating the site twice a day. I wasn't really looking to get anything out of it personally - I just was wanting to promote a singer who I really enjoyed listening to. Traffic on my site was slow at first, but as "Crush" went from being a local hit here in L.A. to a nationwide and then international smash, traffic began to grow by leaps and bounds... At one point I was receiving over 100 hits a day! I also soon began to get eMails from all over the world! Needless to say, I really enjoyed all of the positive feedback. What I didn't know is that Jennifer herself was enjoying the website and loving the fact I kept it so current. Thanks to her, I have to confess I became a quite proficient Googler. It wasn't long before people that knew her personally including her Mom and Joe Middler of her first band, Joe's Band, got in touch with me. Soon, her Mom was sending me personally autographed items and even promotional stuff! I even got to eventually meet Jennifer herself in September of 1999 as she performed at the Fairplex in Pomona... that was quite the memorable experience!

While "Crush" looked like it would make Jennifer Paige a household name, somehow it didn't... Her self-titled debut album did well enough to almost go GOLD, but her 2000 follow-up album, "Positively Somewhere," didn't sell well in spite of it having a lot of depth and great material. Most of us in the know will tell you that Hollywood Records, Jennifer's old record company, would be the one to blame for her not achieving the success we envisioned. To me, it just seemed like they never knew how to promote her. "Positively Somewhere" had a couple of REALLY great songs on it that could have done well here on the charts: "Stranded" and "Here With Me." Instead, Hollywood chose to release the much less melodic "These Days" as the first single - it barely managed to crack the top 50 here in the States. "These Days" would be the only song released here in the States as a single off of her second CD.

It's 2007, and finally the long awaited third studio album by Jennifer is in the works. It's called "Best Kept Secret," and it will be hitting the stores sometime this year. I hope that this album will be the one to make Jennifer a household name everywhere. She's a great person as well as a talented artist... for more info on her, you can go to the following:

Jennifer Paige on Wikipedia
Jennifer Paige's official website
Jennifer Paige's personal Myspace page
Jennifer Paige fansite in both English and Spanish

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One last thing for today - my brother-in-law's father, Charles, is going in for triple bypass heart surgery today. If you all could keep him in your thoughts and prayers it would be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and "Frenchy"

As I strolled into the gym after work around 6:15 yesterday, I flipped on the Angels game versus the Indians (being held in Milwaukee due to continued snow problems in Cleveland). I really didn't even need to turn on the TV to know the Angels were more than likely losing. Sure enough, it was 7-3 Indians in the top of the 7th inning when I turned it on. How did I know this? Well, I'm a psychic! Just kidding... Ervin Santana was going for the Halos, that's how I knew! Most of you know there is another Santana that pitches for the Twins named Johan... the 2004 and 2006 Cy Young award winner is an equal opportunity killer of opponents, posting a 2.82 ERA and 1.015 WHIP at home and an eerily similar 2.84 ERA and 1.016 WHIP on the road since his breakout year in 2002. Johan is simply the best pitcher in baseball at the moment, bar none - and it makes ZERO difference where he pitches.

As for Ervin Santana, he's very Johan-like at home. When he pitches in Anaheim, his career numbers look like this: a 20-5 record, a 3.07 ERA and a 1.128 WHIP. If you happen to own Ervin in any of your fantasy leagues, you obviously always want to start him at home. On the road though, it's a completely different story. Last night's typically ugly road line looked like this: 4 1/3 IP, 7 hits allowed, 4 walks, 6 earned runs and only 2 strikeouts. Yuck! As of today, his career road numbers are a 9-12 record with a 6.65 ERA and a 1.558 WHIP. I can't really explain why Ervin is so good at home, yet so bad on the road... when I first noticed his tendencies in his rookie campaign in 2005, I thought maybe this was just an aberration due to a small sample size. He now has 58 career starts under his belt, so this is no aberration. Obviously, Ervin Santana is a VERY talented pitcher. I hope that someday he will figure out how to pitch on the road.

Needless to say, Ervin's road numbers are the type that ruin many a fantasy team, so you really just can't even think about starting him on the road. Why were people taking him in round 13 or 14 or 15 in fantasy drafts this year? Hype? Lack of scouting? Banking on potential? Some combination of the above? I really don't know. The one thing I do know is that Ervin Santana is the EXACT reason why draft day preparation is CRITICAL if you want to succeed in the fantasy game. Would you really want to draft a guy on your team you can only use in half of his starts, wasting the spot while someone else in your league has Ian Snell or Chuck James starting all of their team's games??? Studying and preparation - do your homework. The more you know on draft day, the better your chances are of getting some great bargains and also of avoiding the guys who may disappoint. I really can't emphasize this enough. Why did I win so many of my leagues last year? I truly feel it was because I was the best prepared owner on draft day in practically all of my leagues. To me, preparing for draft day is like studying for an exam - "cramming" simply is not an option if you want to win. If you put in the time and effort, you'll usually ace that exam and finish in the money come October!

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As for other games, well it may be time to start pushing the panic button in DC as the one man wrecking crew known as Jeff "Frenchy" Francoeur homered and doubled to drive in a league best five runs last night as the Braves shut out the Nationals 8-0. Francoeur's not the type of hitter I normally like to draft on my fantasy teams as he's a free swinger with a HUGE strike zone... However, Jeff is still very young and talented, and he may someday develop a little more plate patience, so he did manage to find his way onto two of my teams this year including a keeper. For many years, I avoided the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano on draft day because he was similarly undisciplined at the plate and I didn't think it was possible (and neither did famed prognosticator Ron Shandler) that he could possibly produce consistenly great numbers while being such a hacker. Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels always swings at a lot of bad balls, yet he somehow always manages a .300+ batting average with great power and speed numbers (and also rarely strikes out) every year. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I've come to realize that there are a few players that are simply exceptions to the "normal" rules of fantasy... Francoeur just may turn out to be the next Soriano, putting up 40 homers every year... time will tell.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

2 For Tuesday #3: "Idol Worship" & More Diamonds

As a lot of you know, I'm really into music... Needless to say, that means American Idol is one show that I just have to make time for every week. I have to admit that I've been watching since season one when Kelly Clarkson won. The show is a proven hit producer as the successes of many artists - both winners and non-winners - will attest.

We all know how successful Kelly has been - four #1 singles, a 2x Platinum selling debut and a six times Platinum follow-up. Carrie Underwood (who has the distinction of being the only contestant I've ever voted for) has produced four consecutive #1 hit singles on the Country chart with her 5x Platinum "Some Hearts" debut. Additionally, "Before He Cheats" has crossed over to become a Top 15 hit on both the Pop and Hot Adult Contemporary charts. Carrie has become so big that she's even on the cover of this month's Cosmopolitan magazine! Chris Daughtry, despite not winning last year, has had by far the most success of any contestant from last year's Idol. His first single went to #1 on both the Pop and Hot AC charts, and his debut album has already shipped in excess of 2.5 million units.

The question is can any of this year's contestants duplicate the success of Kelly, Carrie or Chris? At this point, I'd have to say I'm really not sure. The two best singing talents in this year's competition are probably Melinda Doolittle and Lakisha Jones. Will either of them win though? Last year, I somehow correctly predicted that Taylor Hicks would win when the field was down to 20. This year it's really tough to tell who is going to win, and with the whole Sanjaya controversy clouding things who knows if someone with some actual singing talent is going to win AI6. Regardless, I'll definitely be watching again this week. Jennifer Lopez (not Martina McBride as I erroenously reported earlier) coaches the eight remaining contestants on tonight's show and performs tomorrow night.

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Time for some more "Diamonds" in the rough... these are guys that may just be available in some of your fantasy baseball leagues and should be able to help your teams.

Ian Snell (SP - Pit) 87% owned in CBS Sportsline leagues - Snell was one of my prime sleepers for this year, especially based on his strong finish last year. So far Snell has performed very well in 2007 with a 2.08 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 14 K's in only 13 IP. The Pirates are off to a fast start, and it's not at all unreasonable to expect a 3.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 15 wins and over 200 K's out of him this year.

Dan Wheeler (RP - Hou) 61% owned - Given the struggles of closer Brad Lidge in 2006 and in spring training this year, the savvy owner who drafted Lidge also picked up Wheeler as insurance. In 2007, Lidge has produced numbers in his first two outings which more resemble commodities prices than baseball stats: a 16.20 ERA and a 4.80 WHIP. Wheeler has been great for the Astros the past two years, producing 2.21 and 2.52 ERA's over that time with nearly a strikeout an inning. Wheeler may stay in the role for awhile (picking up his first save yesterday), so he is a must pickup in all formats.

Ryan Church (OF - Was) 32% owned - Church was someone everyone wanted in last year's drafts after producing a .287 BA, 9 HR & 42 RBI's in 2005. Injuries slowed him last year, but he managed to produce a .276 BA, 10 HR & 35 RBI in only 196 AB. Project that out to 600 AB and you get 31 HR & 107 RBI... Needless to say those are VERY nice numbers to get from your #1 outfielder, let alone someone
who in most leagues wasn't even drafted! Church is healthy this year, and so far he's producing exactly as I expected - a .292 BA, 2 HR & 4 RBI through the Nationals' first seven games. Get him NOW before someone else does!

Orlando Hudson (2B - Ari) 77% owned - I have to admit that Hudson was one of my "fall back" guys in my fantasy drafts this year. As some of you know, I'm not an advocate of drafting based on "positional scarcity." Consequently, you won't be finding Chase Utley or Robinson Cano on many of my teams. Why pick Cano in round 5 or 6 when I can get someone like Hudson in round 20 or 25??? Quietly, Hudson produced a .287 BA, 15 HR, 67 RBI, 87 runs and 9 SB in 2006. Cano almost won a batting title last year with a .342 BA, hitting 15 HR, drove in 78, scored 62 times and stole 5 bases. When you compare the numbers, they were nearly a wash fantasywise. This leads to the question of why Cano was going 15-20 rounds earlier than Hudson in drafts? So far, 2007 has been great for Hudson - a .394 BA, 2 HR, 6 RBI and 10 runs scored. At 29 years of age, this is a player who is just coming into his prime. He may be poised to score 100 times, while hitting 20 homers this year with a solid .280-.290 BA.

Maicer Izturis (3B - LAA) 10% owned - Talk about flying under the radar, well that would be the Angels' Maicer Izturis. Last year, in only 352 AB, he managed to hit .293, score 64 runs, drive in 44 runs and steal 14 bases. Project that out to a full 600 at bats, and you get 109 runs, 75 RBI and 24 steals to go with that .293 batting average. Needless to say, these are numbers that can help any fantasy team. Given the Angels have lost Chone Figgins for up to another month to injury, any questions about Izturis' playing time have been put to rest. So far so good for Maicer in 2007 - a .400 BA through the the games of Tuesday night, with 6 RBI, 2 runs and 2 steals.

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Shakin'!!! : Well about 22 minutes ago, we had an earthquake here... Thankfully, it was not a very big one - a 3.5 on the Richter scale and centered about 10 miles southwest of me... Here's the USGS site with the write up on the event: 4/10/07 earthquake

Monday, April 9, 2007

The 2007 Masters : Taming The Tiger

As Tiger Woods took his customary position atop the leaderboard at 3:10 E.T. yesterday afternoon, it looked like we were going to have the by now very familiar image of Tiger exchanging Green Jackets with Phil Mickelson in the Butler Cabin about four hours later... In a week full of surprises, the biggest surprise of the 2007 Masters came in the result: Tiger didn't win his 5th Masters title. Another big surprise was that defending champion Phil Mickelson didn't get into the mix at all - a triple bogey 7 on the first hole all but ended his chances at repeating.

Many familiar international players were amongst those with a real chance to win. Vijay Singh got to within two of the lead at one point before falling back. Retief Goosen led or shared the lead for much of the day before posting a three over par total. Third round leader Stuart Appleby was a page one presence the entire day. Padrig Harrington made a late charge, but never led.

A lot of less familiar names were there as well - The unhearlded Zach Johnson was on the leaderboard all day long. Justin Rose was within one stroke of the lead before a double bogey 6 on 17 ended his chances. Rory Sabbatini roared into the lead on 8th with an absolutely AMAZING eagle putt from about 65 feet. He was only one over the rest of the way, but still that only could get him a tie for second with Tiger and Goosen at 3 over par.

As for Tiger, he really didn't find his "A game" all week. Still though, Tiger has the most amazing will to win of any athlete I've ever seen. Even with his "B" or "C" game, he is someone to always keep an eye on because he can just will himself to wins. An amazing approach shot on the 13th hole set up an eagle, pulling Tiger within two of the lead at +3. A poor approach at the Par 5 15th all but ended his chances. Needling birdies, Tiger parred his final five holes to finish two back.

What amazed me the most about Sunday is that one player and only this one player seemed to have this calmness about him all day: Zach Johnson. Though not very well known, Johnson has quietly become a very good player on the tour as he's finished in the top 40 in earnings each of his four years. With only one win to his credit prior to Sunday, Johnson wasn't someone you expected to be in the mix, let alone thrive under the pressure. What ultimately gave Johnson the 2007 Masters title was that he and his caddy had a game plan for the Par 5's and he stuck to that plan. He also refused to fold under the pressure - then again, maybe he didn't feel the pressure as he didn't look at the leaderboard all day! Unlike most of the players, Johnson didn't try to reach any of the Par 5's in two shots - instead, he set himself up so that he would have confortable yardages for his third shot approaches. Johnson's plan worked to near perfection as he had 11 birdies and no bogeys on the Par 5's for the week. Johnson was in a pack of leaders at three under when he sank a short birdie putt at 13. He birdied 14 and 16 to pull to even par. Though he struggled on both 17 and 18 - missing both greens, he managed to only give up a stroke to par to finish at +1. The total of 289 tied with 1954 and 1956 for the highest winning total in Masters history. Congratulations to Zach on a job well done!

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In other sports news, I had the rare opportunity yesterday to watch parts of every one of the 15 MLB games... so I took full advantage of it! Here are the highlights from the games I spent most of my time watching... Johan Santana of the Twins again proved he's unquestionably the best pitcher in baseball, allowing only one hit and striking out nine in seven innings of work in a 3-1 win against the White Sox. Livan Hernandez threw 5 2/3 innings of no-hit ball against the Nationals before the newly engaged Ryan Zimmerman broke it up with a double in a 3-1 D-Backs victory. Jeff Francoeur's opposite field double plated Brian McCann in the 8th inning to give the Braves a 3-2 come from behind win over the Mets. The Dodgers demolished the Giants 10-4, unbelieveably winning their 8th consecutive game at AT&T Park. Finally, David Ortiz broke out of his season-long slump with two homers and Curt Schilling pitched a strong seven innings to give the Red Sox a 3-2 win over the Texas Rangers.

Tomorrow: "2 for Tuesday"...

Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Masters: Day 3 - Moving Day!

They always say that Saturday at the Masters is "moving day"... this year certainly was no exception as the big names finally began to show up on page one of the Leaderboard. The scores continue to be a lot higher than in years' past - yesterday's average score was nearly a 6 over par 78! Stuart Appleby, inspite of a triple bogey 7 at the par 4 17th, is leading the tournament at 2 over par. Tiger Woods is lurking just one stroke back at +3, while defending champ Phil Mickelson sits tied for 8th and only four back at +6. Retief Goosen is also at +6. 2000 Masters champ Vijay Singh struggled to a 79 to finish at +7 - he's only five back, so don't count him out yet. Singh's group tees off at 12:55 ET/9:55 PT today, the other contending groups will tee off after that, ending with the Woods/Appleby twosome at 2:15 ET/11:15 PT. Live coverage of the final round of the Masters begins at 2:30 ET/11:30 PT on your local CBS affiliate.

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In other sports news, there was some HUGE excitement in the Big Apple yesterday as A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) hit a walk-off grand slam to give the Yankees a dramatic 10-7 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. Now I'm not normally a Yankees fan, however, since A-Rod somehow managed to fall to me in five of my 12 standard fantasy leagues (I even got him at #8 in one!), I have no choice but to root for him this year! Four runs scored, three hits, two homers and six RBI - yes, my fantasy teams for the most part had a GREAT day yesterday! It would have been an even better day for me fantasy-wise if John Patterson and the Nationals had won against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Patterson is on eight of my 12 fantasy teams (tied for the 2nd most of any player), so I'm always rooting for the Nats when he is going. He pitched well enough to win, only giving up three runs in five innings. Unfortunately for me and the Nats, the D-Backs had their ace (and 2006 Cy Young Award winner) Brandon Webb going. Webb completely shut down the Nationals, allowing only a run on an Austin Kearns homer in six innings of work.

As for my real life favorite teams, The Dodgers and Angels also both won yesterday with Scot Shields getting a rare save for the Halos thanks to K-Rod (Francisco Rodriguez) working three consecutive games and needing a day off. The big question for today is are the Mariners and Indians going to be able to get a game (or two) in??? In case you missed it, the first two games of the series in Cleveland were postponed by snow!

Thanks to everyone who is enjoying this blog! I truly appreciate your comments and kind words!