Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Warm Up The Ol' Slide Projector!

"Hey, jerk! I know you went to Hawaii over Thanksgiving. Why haven't you said anything about it? At least show me some pictures, for crying out loud!"

Good idea. In chronological order:

To begin with, the weather was, how you say?, ah, yes: Crappy. So we spent the first two days inside as evidenced by the first couple of pics. Samantha was still enthusiastic, though.

David was looking foward to spending some of his hard-earned cash on some lovely Hawai'ian trinkets.

Dad (and Mom) cooked up a lovely Thanksgiving dinner.

Plenty of football was watched.

Poi was harassed, I mean, played with by Dave and Sam.

This was dawn of the first day we saw the sun. Time to hit the beach!

Not your typical Midwestern day-after-Thanksgiving kind of photos, eh?

Below is the first sighting of a pasty, white, wild-haired individual that just kept hanging around.
"Look out, kids; he's in the water!"

Along came some more showers and we decided that we ought to take a drive around the island. We ended up at the Kaumalapa'u Harbor, checking out the ocean and some menacing clouds.

"There's that freak with the afro again. Run!"

A behind the scenes look at the making of a model...

...and the photo that resulted.

The sun eventually came back out, so we decided to hike up to Pu'u Pehe (Sweetheart Rock).

Mom zipped ahead with her newly smoke-free lungs!

Dave posed at the top while trying to appear as though there was a giant head sticking out of the ocean.

Samantha flashed her million-dollar smile. Again.

The views were lovely...

"Oh my gosh! Get your hands off those kids, you maniac!"

Here are the kids on the early morning ferry to Maui.

...where we went to a super-cool aquarium, complete with sharks and stingrays. VERY cool.

Later on, we took the kids to ride some go-carts. Dave tried to pass Sam as many times as possible while, guess what?, Samantha was smiling.

After months of fielding questions like, "Dad, am I old enough to go to shoot sporting clays ?", we were able to appease David by going to the air rifle range. After blasting away in the practice rounds, we all choked big time when it came to the prize round and a chance to win the Crystal Pineapple. The competitive Blakeley nature was fully in attendance.

Finally, photographic proof that David got to drive a golf cart. We only drove off two cliffs!

I hope you enjoyed this modern-day slide show.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

There's Gotta Be Some Way To Root For This Team

The Royals made what might be the four most uninteresting signings in baseball history recently when they inked contracts for 2B Mark Grudzielanek, 1B Doug Mientkiewicz, SP Scott Elarton and C Paul Bako.

Both arguments have been made as to the significance of these transactions:

A) "Allard Baird is an idiot and needs to be fired. What the hell do we need a 35-year old second baseman for when we have no fewer than three second base prospects who could be utilized? Why do we need a good glove/no hit first baseman when we could split those duties with some combination of Mike Sweeney/Matt Stairs/Justin Huber? Isn't Scott Elarton a Jose Lima clone, minus the histrionics? Aren't backup catchers a dime a dozen? Why pay Paul Bako $700,000 when we had Paul Phillips readily available?"


B) "Allard Baird has finally put a plan together. Bringing in a handful of 'experienced Major League veterans' will give much-needed development time for the youngsters who proved they weren't quite ready this year. The short-term contracts they signed ensure that they won't be blocking those prospects paths once they're ready to contribute. The improved infield defense will help restore the confidence of a young pitching staff that has been continually betrayed by one of the worst defenses in baseball. And Paul Bako will act as a sort of a catching instructor to young starter John Buck."

Well, you know what? There's probably some truth in both arguments. Allowing the youngsters to develop is a much better idea than letting them crash and burn in the same fashion they did last year. On the other hand, Baird had a bucket-load of cash to spend and still couldn't come up with his fabled "impact bat".

"So," I thought to myself, "I had better come up with some reason to follow these guys other than rooting against another 100-loss season."

Here's what I came up with:

First base/DH - Mientkiewicz is a gritty, dirt-on-the-uniform, eye-black-under-the-eyes kind of player. That's fun. He'll scoop up more errant throws than Sweeney or Stairs could ever dream of. That'll be refreshing. His nickname is "Minky". I don't know how I feel about that other than I'm glad he's got a nickname.

Sweeney will no doubt be in the best shape he's ever been in (again) come spring training. With that declaration will come his usual enthusiasm at the beginning of the season. I vow to enjoy watching him swing harder than anyone I've ever seen without thinking about how he will inevitably wrench his back sometime in late May or early June.

I will enjoy watching Stairs continue to compete at the major league level despite having the body of a slow-pitch softball player. I will continue to enjoy the two nicknames Ryan and I have come up with for him: "Beer League" and "Stairs, Son of Gloin".

Second base/shortstop - Grudzielanek will botch fewer plays at second than the kiddie corps before him. And he has the endearing nickname "Grudz".

Angel Berroa will surely be more confident throwing to a first baseman who isn't made of stone and turning double-plays with a guy who knows that you need to be relatively near second base for it to count.

Third base - I will be glad to see the inevitable improvement from Mark Teahen after playing a full season in the majors. And if not, I can continue to daydream about super prospects Billy Butler and Alex Gordon who also man that position.

Catcher - John Buck is a guy who will never quit trying to improve. Even if he doesn't do well, it's nice to see him be a stand-up guy and answer all the humiliating questions in the locker room, day after day. I still hold out hope that he can be a Mike Macfarlane clone. (To me, that's a good thing.)

Outfield - Watching David DeJesus' tiny little legs motor around like a Bugs Bunny cartoon while covering for "outfielders" Emil Brown and Matt Stairs is highly entertaining. Actually, DeJesus is one of the more underrated players in the game. He fields his position well, doesn't force anything at the plate and has a little pop in his bat.

I suppose watching Emil Brown become the next Raul Ibanez is at least moderately interesting. I'll just have to forget the fact that he's our cleanup hitter.

Aaron Guiel puts in a hearty effort every time he's out there and Chip Ambres brings the promise of once being a highly-touted prospect.

Starting pitchers - Runelvys Hernandez should be much improved in his second season coming off arm surgery.

Zack Greinke, struggling or not, has one of the most enjoyable repertoires of any pitcher I've ever seen.

Mark Redman and Scott Elarton will (hopefully) keep us in games long enough for our bullpen to take over.

Maybe, just maybe, Jeremy Affeldt can fulfill his potential and land a spot in the rotation with his blazing fastball and big curve.

Bullpen - After watching DeJesus run down a plethora of fly balls from our starters, it will be fun to watch our Young Guns blow people away in the late innings.

Andy Sisco (who ought to get a chance at the last rotation slot, as well), Ambiorix Burgos and Mike MacDougal all heat up the radar gun.

Throw in crafty long relief guys like Mike Wood and Older Mike Wood, a.k.a. newly acquired Elmer Dessens and this should be one of the better bullpens in baseball.

Now I'll have a few handy answers to use when someone asks, "Why do you continue to watch these losers?!" that doesn't start with, "Well, they play in Kansas City and I live in Kansas City; who else am I supposed to watch?."

Friday, December 09, 2005

Lotsa Stuff

Several things to cover today as much has happened during my absence.

First, by request of a faithful reader, I need to comment on the Hot Stove League, baseball's off-season transaction circus. All sorts of interesting and befuddling things have transpired over the last couple of weeks.

The most interesting team in my opinion has been the Red Sox. They started off by trading for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. I really think Beckett has a chance to be a number one starter and any time you can acquire a guy like that, you have to seriously consider it. If he stays healthy, he could be the cornerstone of the Sox pitching staff for a decade. And they'll need it considering Curt Schilling isn't getting any younger and Matt Clement was a little iffy last year. Then you throw in Mike Lowell, who struggled mightily for the Marlins last year. He's past his prime, but the only was the trade was going to be made was by Boston taking on his contract. That's the luxury of having the second-highest payroll in baseball. But he could produce if he can stay on the field. (Plus, they stole Mark Loretta from the Padres for backup catcher Doug Mirabelli. Padres GM Kevin Towers: "Hmm, All-Star second baseman for a guy whose only measurable talent includes catching Tim Wakefield's knuckleball every fifth day. What the hell, gimme Mirabelli!")

If not, they picked up Andy Marte, who Baseball Prospectus considered the top prospect in all of baseball at the beginning of last season. This was another excellent transaction, sending Edgar Renteria and the majority of his contract away after a disappointing 2005. And while that may leave them thin at shortstop, they have highly-touted prospect Dustin Pedroia waiting in the wings.

That's assuming the latest high-octane rumor doesn't pan out: Manny Ramirez for Miguel Tejada. Tejada came out and said that he's unhappy with the way the Orioles have built their team and suggested that a change of scenery might do him good. With ongoing rumors about trading Ramirez and the sudden vacancy at the shortstop position in Boston, this seems like a viable trade.

But I'm not sure it's the best thing to do.

Manny Ramirez is one of the best hitters of all time. Sure, he acts a little kooky on occasion but he's never done anything but produce at the highest level. I just don't see why the Sox would feel obligated to ship him off. That being said, if the pressure to trade Manny becomes too great, at least they're getting a high-quality bat in return. And at a traditionally defensive position, to boot.

But that would leave a gaping hole in left field with no apparent successor at the ready. Add in the fact that Johnny Damon may not re-sign with the Sox and they're outfield is suddenly barren. You keep Manny and you've got Pedroia on the way. You get Tejada and Pedroia is blocked and only usable as trade bait for a left or center fielder.

I think I'd keep Manny.


The hometown Royals have not been nearly as splashy. Check out this list of winners the Royals have acquired so far:

P Adam Bernero, signed to minor league contract
P Elmer Dessens, 2 years @ $3.4 million
P Mark Redman, in exchange for minor leaguer Jonah Bayliss
2B Esteban German, in exchange for Fabio Castro, the Royals first pick in the Rule 5 Draft.

The Bad News: The Royals have not acquired anyone that could be considered "high-impact".

The Good News: The Royals have not flushed the extra $22 million available to them down the toilet by giving in and overpaying for mediocre talent.

Allard Baird has stuck to his strengths, scouring for "piece-of-the-puzzle guys", but still hasn't made been able to land any players who can make an immediate difference. The sad thing is that he's accumulated a lot of talent and fill-in guys, but because he hasn't brought in any superstars (or even stars, for that matter), he'll likely be gone by the end of next season.

There's still time left, though. I wouldn't mind seeing him pony up some cash for Kevin Millwood. Or take a flier on Richard Hidalgo or Nomar or Byung-Hyun Kim. Instead, the ancient names "Reggie Sanders" and "Mark Grudzielanek" keep popping up. Why not get in on the Julio Franco sweepstakes? He's only 47 years old!


Some short thoughts on other off-season activities:

Toronto signs starting pitcher A.J. Burnett for 5 years/$55 million. Toronto is trying to keep up with the Joneses, but signing an injury-prone #2 starter to that kind of contract is ludicrous. Though not as ludicrous as...

Toronto signs relief pitcher B.J. Ryan for 5 years/$47 million. Apparently the Jays took a look at fellow AL East also-ran Baltimore and decided to copy their plan. By the looks of the Orioles, I wouldn't say that was a very smart decision.

New York Yankees sign relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth for 3 years/$17 million.
New York Mets sign relief pitcher Billy Wagner for 4 years/$43 million.
Philadelphia signs relief pitcher Tom Gordon for 3 years/$18 million.
Chicago Cubs sign relief pitcher Scott Eyre for 3 years/$11 million.
Including B.J. Ryan, major league owners have pissed away $136 million on relief pitchers who have one of the following qualities: a) have had short-term success, b) have had long-term success, but are now old enough to have grandchildren, or c) have learned the ways of hypnotism and therefore managed to fleece their current boss out of inordinate amounts of money. Look at it this way: A lot of teams would love to have $136 million to spend on an ENTIRE ROSTER, much less five relief pitchers.

Chicago White Sox acquire first baseman/DH Jim Thome. Gee, I can't wait to have this guy blast 15 homers in 18 games off my Royals.

New York Mets acquire first baseman Carlos Delgado. For some strange reason, I kind of like the Mets. But I don't think Delgado will be enough to push them into championship contender status.

Florida Marlins retain one player from last year's Opening Day starting lineup. You'd have thought they won the World Series last year...

Chicago Cubs acquire centerfielder Juan Pierre. You thought Cubs fans were whiny about Corey Patterson last year? Just wait until Juan Pierre hits .265 and completely submarines his on-base percentage. Wait 'til next year, Cubs fans. Well, I guess, wait 'til the year after that.


Fans of Kansas basketball are officially freaking out. And, quite frankly, I'm annoyed by it.

Yes, we're 3-4.

Yes, Bill Self has used more lineups than Bob Boone.

Yes, it looks like we'll be lucky to make the NCAA tournament.

But I'll let you in on something: Bill Self did not make it this far in his career by being indecisive, unable to adjust and relying strictly on recruiting. Here is his career head coaching record:

Oral Roberts University
1993-94 6-21 .222
1994-95 10-17 .370
1995-96 18-9 .667
1996-97 21-7 .750

Total 55-54 .505

1997-98 19-12 .612
1998-99 23-10 .697
1999-2000 32-5 .865

Total 74-27 .733

2000-01 27-8 .771
2001-02 26-9 .743
2002-03 25-7 .781

Total 78-24 .765

2003-04 24-9 .727
2004-05 23-7 .766

Total 47-16 .746

Grand Total 254-121 .677

Does this look like a coach that doesn't know what he's doing? That's what many KU fans would have you think. But he made Oral Roberts a winning program in his tenure there. He won 32(!) games at Tulsa. He had one of the consistently toughest teams every year at Illinois (and his guys played for the National Championship last year).

So he's had a tough time adjusting at Kansas. Give him a break. He inherited a talented, yet disillusioned team. Gone were Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich, the best players of the young century. What he had left were guys who were good, but not as good as those who left. Wayne Simien, as good as he was, was no Nick Collison. Combine the skills of Aaron Miles, Keith Langford and J.R. Giddens and you come up with Kirk Hinrich. The guys who were left were used to running fun-and-gun basketball. Self had to implement his defense-first system and it probably cost us in the short term.

But he's got his guys in place now. And it looks like he's starting to realize that minutes for Jeff Hawkins, Christian Moody and (are you kidding me?) Stephen Vinson are getting us nowhere, if the St. Joe's game is any indication. Anyone with half a brain in his head noticed that the team played much better offensively when the four freshman were all out on the floor. Unfortunately, the defense was lacking. So that put Self in a bind: go for the short-term, feel good wins against St. Joe's and the like or continue to plant the defense-first philosophy and reap the benefits next year and beyond.

The thing is, Self's not an idiot. He's the one who put those freshman out there in the second half. He's that one who limited the minutes of our dreadful senior class. He'll get things sorted out. But we're going to have to live with the growing pains.

We've (I include myself) become spoiled beyond belief as KU basketball fans. Contending for the National Championship every year is a blessing all but a handful of teams don't receive. It's been a tumultuous couple of years in Lawrence, but things will come out looking as good or better than they ever have. A slow start and the prospect of missing the tournament is no reason lynch Bill Self.


It's come down to the Final Four in Survivor, with the winner to be determined Sunday night. This has been an odd season for me as I never really felt like I got to know the contestants that well, even though the group included Stephenie (from last season), Danni (from Kansas City) and Brandon (from Kansas). Anyway, here are my thoughts on the chances of the remaining Survivors:

Lydia: Couldn't win because no one in the jury would respect her for sliding by the entire game.

Danni: Unlikely to win because I don't see her winning an immunity challenge and avoid being voted out before the final two.
(Side note: I'll be curious to see what she looks like on the reunion show. You know how everyone always puts on a few pounds and some makeup? It'll be interesting to see if she gains any weight. For everyone's sake, I hope so. Yikes.)

Stephenie: Could win if she continues to get immunity, but if she doesn't she'll be gone. Though, if it comes down to Rafe and Steph, I don't see all the people Steph has screwed over voting for her to win unless it's one of those backwards "I respect her for playing the game hard even though I got betrayed" votes.
(Side note: Last season, Stephenie became my all-time favorite player. She epitomized the definition of survivor, enduring the worst tribe in Survivor history, clawing her way past Bobby Jon and even spending a night alone in the wild. But her personality has taken a big hit this season. Now that she's actually had to play the mental game, she's just as conniving as the next guy. That just doesn't come off as well and leaves me mildly disappointed. Oh, well; that's what you get rooting for a reality show contestant.)

Rafe: I think he probably wins because he's strong and smart enough to win the last couple challenges and everyone likes him and will have little problem voting for him. I don't recall him backstabbing anyone, either.

When it comes down to it, though, I vote for Lydia's Hair as the "Ultimate Survivor". Have you noticed that it hasn't changed at all in 34 days, deep in the jungle of Guatemala? She ought to get a hefty endorsement contract from the hair product company she currently patronizes.


Last and least, the Chiefs take a 3-game winning streak into Sunday's matchup against the Cowboys in Dallas. After jerking Kansas City's collective chain, the Chiefs have actually put themselves in a position to grab a playoff spot. The road ahead is still tough, though. At worst, they need to split the next two road games against the Cowboys and the Giants. And they absolutely MUST beat San Diego and Cincinnati at Arrowhead to close out the season. Of course, even if they do happen to make it into the playoffs, there's that pesky little monkey on their backs of not winning a first round playoff game since the Lincoln administration. But I suppose it's better to contend for a playoff game with a foregone conclusion than it is to have no shot at all. Like the Royals.