The Column

Saturday, June 14, 2008

SC governor: Cyclists, motorists have same rights to roads

This was posted by blogger and bicyclist David Moulton, and all I can say is ... it's about time!

Looking at some of this new law, it is now a lot more in sync with bike/car laws in other states. But that's not the issue; safety and survival are.

I do most of my getting around on bicycle, so of course I have an interest here.

Face it. There are plenty of idiots on the road. Many of them drive cars (yes, they are allowed to). And plenty of idiots ride bicycles, too. But while that's good for debate, the real issue is that, in a collision between car and bicycle, you usually know who is going to win. That point tends to end all arguments right there, and it doesn't really matter at that point who the idiot is or what he's driving.

And while this new law is great to have in place, it's still no substitute for safe driving, or safe biking. Or even -- what a concept! -- being a little considerate of the other guy on the road?

<end rant>

Minor Leage plays The Game like they used to

More than once, I've mentioned my unapologetic love for the game of baseball in this blog. But, while my town has its very own pro baseball team, I never went to one of the games until a few days ago.

The Charleston Riverdogs are in the South Atlantic League, in the minor leagues' single-A division. They're affiliated with the New York Yankees, an outfit I despise. I feel no conflict here, though. The players I saw don't strike me as major league material, but even that wouldn't matter a whole lot. Talented minor leaguers don't stay with the Yankees very long, given the House of Steinbrenner's manic methods of team management. So, the odds of any of the Riverdogs ever wearing Yankee pinstripes are pretty remote.

That said, minor-league ball -- particularly the single-A version -- is a good brand of baseball. It's the real thing.

Minor League ball is getting pretty big these days. In the mid-1980s, the San Bernardino Spirit set up shop, becoming the first Inland Empire team in decades, and promptly set all kinds of California League attendance records. Now, that same region boasts the High Desert Mavericks (with the Seattle Mariners), the Inland Empire 66ers of San Bernardino (L.A. Dodgers), Lake Elsinore Storm (San Diego Padres), Lancaster Jethawks (Boston Red Sox), and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (L.A. Angels). That's half of the California League right there, and the entire Southern Division. The Northern Division has franchises with more local history in their towns; Visalia, San Jose, Bakersfield, and the world-famous Modesto Nuts.

Meanwhile, the Tri-Cities area of Tennessee and Virginia is represented by the Bristol White Sox, Elizabethton Twins, Johnson City Cardinals, Greeneville Astros, and Kingsport Mets. Gee, did they leave any towns out? Perhaps Erwin, Tennessee -- oh, they had a team in 1940.

Many of the Class-A players are probably as high up the baseball ladder as they're ever going to get. But you'll find some real surprises, some diamonds in the rough. When the San Bernardino Spirit was affiliated with the Seattle Mariners, they had a 19-year-old kid who tore the league up. He didn't stay very long in town; he was rapidly promoted and made it to the bigs to stay by season's end. And a few days ago, he became only the fifth person to bash 600 career home runs in the major leagues -- behind Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Sammy Sosa. But the first I'd hear of Ken Griffey was when he was patrolling the outfield in San Bernardino.

A few years ago, the Johnson City Cardinals had a young pitcher who showed great promise with a colossal rookie year in the big league. Come playoff time, though, everything deserted him and he stunk up the joint in the National League playoffs. We're talking about throwing pitches 10 feet over the hitters' heads, setting records for wild pitches, that kind of thing. So Rick Ankiel was sent back to the minors to work out his inexplicable control problems.

Ankiel never really got a handle on his case of what baseball folks call "Steve Blass Disease," but neither did Mark Wohlers, Chuck Knoblaugh, or even Blass. The Cardinals did notice, however, that Ankiel could sure hit the ball. In Johnson City they started putting him in the lineup on days when he wasn't pitching. Now, Ankiel is having a profitable second life in the Cardinals' starting outfield, which makes for a real feel-good story.

The fact the Cardinals carried Ankiel in their organization for so many years speaks volumes about that organization. They're one of the classiest in the big leagues, and would probably be my favorite team if the Los Angeles Angels didn't exist. Can you imagine if Ankiel was playing in the Yankees' organization during this time? Forget it; he'd be digging ditches today.

A few years ago, the Riverdogs were managed by Buddy Biancalana, who had a nice career as a good-field-no-hit utility man and cult favorite. Biancalana will probably never manage on the big-league level, but he brought some interesting concepts to Charleston. He was the minor leagues' answer to Lakers coach Phil Jackson, teaching some Zen-like approaches to the game. A few of his players (see, they're more accessible in the minor leagues; they used to take my taxi to work) told me of some of his breathing and visualization exercises. About half of the players boutht into the techniques, I was told. While you won't find any of those Riverdogs in any major-league boxscores, the team did a lot better than anyone expected that year.

Unusual approaches are a part of the Riverdogs' persona, but you'd expect that when one of the Veeck family owns the team. Between fan contests, dance exhibitions, and fireworks shows, one sometimes has to remind himself that there really is a baseball game going on.

Mike Veeck knows promotion, and while purists such as myself would prefer our baseball straight with no chaser, there's no arguing with the results. The Riverdogs are a hot ticket in town. And sometimes the "stunt" has a lot more substance than you'd think -- like when Veeck hired a blind man, Don Wardlow, to do radio color commentary of the games. Great stunt, right? Except Wardlow's knowledge of the game impressed even me. He used to take my cab to work, and we'd always match baseball wits on the trip.

Promotions aside, minor league ball reminds me of the way the game used to be. No millionaires. No contract haggling. No Steinbrenners.

The players dream of The Bigs, and will play hard to make a good impression. They love the game.

And, tickets to a game are a lot less the ten-spot. Try finding that in the major leagues.

You might find it worthwhile to check out a minor league contest near you -- particularly if you wonder whatever happened to The Game.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Hillary Clinton: Cookies anyone?

Hillary Clinton says she is open to the idea of being Barack Obama's running mate. If I were Barack, I would be really nervous if Hillary starts baking cookies as a peace offering -- especially during the campaign.