Picks and pans from a Shorebird fan – 2017 edition

September 21, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Personal stuff, Sports · Comment 

If you remember last year, the big buzz around Perdue Stadium was the replacement of all the seats with brand new seats, which permitted an upgrade of the old bleachers to regular seats (and frankly made the ballpark look better.) While I was worried about the size of the seats, for the most part my fears went unrealized. I’m not sure about the “cushy” seats that make up the front rows and all the 300 “luxury” level, though. Maybe it’s the cupholders, but those seem slightly smaller.

But these new upper seats are priced at a reasonable $9 and the vantage point is good…considering you are maybe 12 feet farther and perhaps 4 to 5 feet higher at the closest point above the action for $4 less, that’s not a bad deal. (Not to mention a $2 Monday, where the difference is $11.) If you prefer shade or a high perspective, these seats are available for that, too, and they are way more comfortable than the bleachers were.

They also finally put in the new videoboard, as promised. It’s a great addition, and they were smart to place it where they did because more people sit on the third base side (so it’s straight in front of them.) It’s a good-sized board, and as the season went on they began to utilize it a little better. But it would be nice to have a couple more pieces of information like pitch count and more specific info on the batters (i.e. singled and scored in first, grounded out in third, flied out in fifth, etc.) Honestly, I don’t need to see for the tenth time that one player likes lobster or one of the other players was a black belt. I think as the video operators get more experience, we may see things like replays and more in-game highlights, too.

And please tell Pohanka to invest a little more in making their cheesy car race more interesting. (You know, it’s intriguing how much the local auto dealers spend on promoting themselves at Shorebirds games.) Same goes for Perdue, because the chicken needs to do something else.

So that was two of the three things I thought they had on the “to-do” list last offseason, but as it turned out the 360-degree concourse was pushed back to happen this off-season. One thing I found out about it was that it won’t be as high as I thought it would be because they will use the outfield fence as a railing. Now this could be good but it may be problematic because the better solution would be to have a fence where people can be seated and still see the game. Since the Shorebirds employ opaque sponsor advertising signs that idea goes away.

I’m also hearing that it will be a narrow concourse, more or less the width of the aisles which go around the space between the lower and upper reserved seats, which is maybe about 10 feet. That doesn’t seem like enough to employ the hot dog or dippin’ dots stands I suggested last season, let alone a beer seller. Hopefully I misunderstood the intent and the concourse will be more like 14 to 16 feet wide, at least in some spots.

Overall, though, I had my share of picks for the season. I suppose the one major pan that I have is in the food, which doesn’t seem to be all that great in either selection or quality. There needs to be a little more creativity, but then I’ve noticed that some of the stands that used to be there aren’t operated anymore. (For example, wasn’t there an angus stand along the first base side for about three seasons? Don’t recall that being there this year. Come to think of it, I believe they sold some other exotic thing there – nuts maybe? – for a couple seasons before that.)

Maybe it’s Delmarva and we just don’t have the sophisticated palate, but I think the reason some things don’t sell is that people don’t want to spend $8-10 on something they’re not sure they will like. Hot dogs, chicken, and pizza are reasonably safe choices. But why couldn’t we borrow an idea from other parts of the food service business and have homestand specials on the less mainstream items? For example, maybe instead of selling an Angus burger for $8, for one homestand they could make it a $5 deal. They do this with $2 hot dogs and Pepsi on Mondays, but why limit it there?

And now that they have the video people watching the games, it’s time to bring the feed into the restrooms so people can keep up with the action. At one time they had the audio feed of the broadcast in there but that’s gone by the wayside, too. You may try to go between innings, but sometimes nature calls when there’s only one out.

Out of an attendance of 207,131 – slightly less than last year, but based on one fewer opening so their average increased by 19 folks a game to 3,236 – my share is about 16 or 18. But having done this for so long I think I have a pretty decent idea of crowdthink, just like I have a reasonably good idea of the strike zone from my seat’s vantage point because I’ve sat there for so long.

There’s something that keeps the Shorebirds in an extremely narrow band of attendance year after year. (Since 2014, the range of average attendance has been within the 19-person difference from this year to last. Since 2010 it’s been in the 3,200 to 3,300 range in all but one year, 2011.) While we had a tiny bit of Tebow effect this season (for two games, with him only appearing in one) and benefited from the first rehab stints in three seasons, especially Chris Davis in July, that seemed to be offset by some less-attended fireworks nights and iffy weather all summer. Unfortunately, it’s been so long since we’ve had a consistently competitive team that it’s sort of an unknown how that would affect us. (Our last playoff appearance was in 2005, which is the longest losing streak in the SAL – in the meantime Augusta, Asheville, and the former Savannah Sand Gnats have made five trips, while Hickory, Greensboro, Lakewood, West Virginia, and Hagerstown have punched a playoff ticket four times. Lexington has a drought one season shorter than ours, but everyone else still in the league has participated at least twice.)

Fortunately, it doesn’t look like the Shorebirds are going anywhere, as their attendance runs about the middle of the pack in the SAL despite being one of the small-market teams. But on a per-game basis, it’s actually the lowest among Oriole affiliates. I think we can do better, and maybe my suggestions will help a little.

So ends my Shorebirds coverage for the season. I’ve also updated my Shorebird of the Week tracker so that’s good until the Arizona Fall League season gets underway in the next few weeks. The next time you’ll see coverage unless something major breaks is when I induct my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2017 in December. As of right now that class consists of Stefan Crichton, Michael Ohlman, Josh Hader, Jimmy Yacabonis, Nicky Delmonico, and Chance Sisco.

On this Constitution Day 2017

After 230 years, our founding document is beginning to show signs of wear and tear. No, I’m not talking about the actual document housed in its sealed case, but instead the wear and tear its principles are undergoing as people are taught less and less about its true meaning and purpose and those who would prefer the absolute power to be corrupted absolutely take advantage of the situation they lent a hand in creating.

In the last few days before I wrote this we have had people who aired their grievances by protesting in the streets and creating a violent disturbance about a trail verdict they disagreed with, others who object to the placement of statues, monuments, and other historical markers they deem to be racist or inappropriate to the point of tearing them down, and a gathering of “juggalos” that emulates two men who call themselves the Insane Clown Posse demonstrating in the nation’s capital because the government believes they are a gang. (I’m not a rap fan so don’t ask me what they sing.) Believe it or not, of the three, the juggalos and juggalettes seem to be petitioning for a redress of their grievances in the most proper way. Whooda thunk it? [And, before you ask, I have drank some share of Faygo – to me (and a few others) rock n’ rye was the best flavor, although I think many are partial to the redpop.]

Now it’s not just the Bill of Rights that people are taking advantage of. Consider what the government of today, particularly Congress, does to “promote the general welfare,” and compare it to a paraphrase attributed by the Annals of Congress to then-Rep. James Madison: “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” As economist and pundit Walter E. Williams correctly surmises, “Any politician who bore true faith and allegiance to the Constitution would commit political suicide.” And never mind the so-called “deep state” of bureaucrats that Congress has, over the years, ceded more and more of its oversight power to.

Thus, we have created a federal judiciary system with judges who often value the emotion of the so-called “victims” of a law more than what the Constitution says (or doesn’t say) about it, with the backing of the easily interpreted intent of those who wrote it to help guide them. We have created an educational system where Washington has an outsized role – even though the vast majority of the funding is raised locally – and it too often teaches children about their “rights” (whether real or created out of whole cloth) but not their responsibilities. And we have created an enforcement arm that can taint broad swaths of people with the accusation of being engaged in criminal activity based simply on music they listen to and symbols associated with it. (And before you say that’s well-deserved, ask yourself if you reacted like that when it was the TEA Party being scrutinized for criminal activity because they disagreed with policy decisions.)

I certainly wish the Constitution well on its birthday, but truly believe that too few understand its role in shaping our national history. Anymore it seems that if the Constitution conflicts with what they want then they call it outdated or irrelevant, but if it happens to be on their side suddenly they’re the stoutest defenders.

Many years ago I suggested some amendments to the document, and perhaps this is a good time to revisit these ideas with a little updating as needed. We have gone 25 years without a change to the Constitution, which is the longest drought in over a century. Aside from the 13th to 15th amendments in the few years after the War Between the States, the Constitution was largely untouched in the 19th century. But after the 16th Amendment was adopted in 1913, there was a flurry of activity in the following two decades that brought us up to the 21st Amendment, which repealed the earlier 18th Amendment that brought Prohibition. Another peak of activity in the 1960s and early 1970s was primarily to address civil rights, although the 26th Amendment established a national voting age of 18. But since 1992, when it was codified that Congress couldn’t vote itself a raise in its present term (an old idea originally intended as part of the Bill of Rights) we have left the body at 27 amendments.

So this is my updated version.

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If I were to ask for a Constitutional convention (allowed under Article V of the Constitution) I would ask for these amendments.

28th Amendment:

The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments are hereby repealed, and the original Constitutional language in Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 and Article I, Section 3, Clauses 1 and 2 affected by these amendments restored.

29th Amendment:

Congress shall make no law that codifies discrimination for or against any person based on their race, religion, gender or gender identity, or sexual orientation. This Amendment shall also be construed to include a prohibition on Congress enacting additional criminal code or punishment solely based on these factors.

30th Amendment:

Section 1. With the exception of the powers reserved for Congress in Article 1, Section 8 of this document, funds received by the federal government shall be disbursed as prescribed in the federal budget to the States in accordance with their proportion of population in the latest Census figures. No restriction shall be placed on how the several States use these funds.

Section 2. Congress shall not withhold funds from states based on existing state laws.

**********

The desired end result of these three amendments would be to restore state’s rights, make the government live within its means, and provide truly equal justice under the law. Naturally, I don’t foresee any of these passing in my lifetime (because, as I said, absolute power corrupts absolutely) but the idea still needs to be placed out there.

monoblogue music: “Remember the Alamo” by Free Willy

September 16, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comment 

This may be one of the most upbeat albums I have ever reviewed, and certainly one of the least pretentious. Hailing from the hill country of east Texas, these mainly veteran musicians are their own sort of jam band, and they don’t take each other too, too seriously.

While they fit neatly into the bluegrass/alt country/Americana category – and how can they not be in the latter with their rather unique rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that employs musical breaks from America The Beautiful – Free Willy has an unusual way of developing their music that they describe thus:

W. B. Jones had a vision to create what he calls the “Free Willy Sound” which involves the lead instruments playing “over top of each other” on the breaks, rather than having the instruments “take turns”, and to inject lead breaks throughout the songs, including during the vocal parts.

As far as songwriting and arrangement goes, by no means am I a musical expert. Any resemblance I have to one of those highbrow music reviewers is purely coincidental and far more likely than not accidental. To borrow one of their song titles, my reviewing style is that It’s Good If You Like It. So whatever they did technically to make their sound isn’t as important as the fact that I was impressed with the musicianship and the arrangements.

The band also has a very uplifting lyrical style, without the slightest hint of angst. In fact, I would say that unlike many artists who pine about lost love, Jones is one who writes more about found and lasting love. Take the lyrics of Not Your Everyday Love Song or a song he wrote years ago for his wedding, Meant To Be, as examples. There’s also touches of humor in tracks like Amazing Gracie, God Has A Name, the homage to working people Another Day Another Dollar, and the requisite road song Get in the Car or “train song” Down The Track. Even the bittersweet title track doesn’t make you feel bad. Heck, there’s even a song based on a poem (As A Man Thinketh) and an instrumental called Sugar Baby to hold the listener’s interest.

It’s a collection Jones describes as favorites of his written over the last 40 years, so apparently all he needed was a group to play them out. That story reminds me of a band I reviewed awhile back called Tumbler, which performed a catalog of songs written over years of family jam sessions (and a good one at that, since it landed in that year’s top 5.) It’s not far-fetched to think this one could be so honored this year because it’s one of the more honest, hardworking, and fun records I’ve listened to in some time. Pretty good for a band that was “born” in a recording studio last fall.

Finally, the band states that they are looking to record a follow-up this fall, although who knows about that timetable with the recovery needed from Harvey. If you want to help them out, listen for yourself (note they are using Spotify, though) and if you like it snag a copy.

By the way, it looks like my musical hiatus is over as I have “stacks of wax” to go through now. This is the first of five I’ll be doing in the coming weeks.

Shorebird of the Year – a 2017 season wrapup

September 14, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

Well, we had two good seasons in a row, anyway.

After a six-year run of losing, the Shorebirds reverted to their winning ways of old in 2015 and 2016, but that streak came crashing down this season thanks to one of the more mediocre squads the Orioles have sent us in some time. With the Orioles passing prospects like Cody Sedlock, Keegan Akin, and Austin Hays – who recently made his Orioles debut – from Aberdeen straight to Frederick, we were left with a team that followed up a 29-39 first half with a nearly identical 30-39 second half. The shame of it was that Delmarva was in first place in the second half as late as July 29 with a 20-13 record after completing a perfect 7-0 road trip to Georgia. (It was their first perfect two-stop road trip in at least 12 years.) But the next day a doubleheader loss to Greensboro set the Shorebirds on a 12-game losing streak that plunged them out of contention and began an August where they went 9-20 – from the high point Delmarva lost 26 of their last 36 games.

So the 59-78 mark was their worst since a 54-82 mark in 2013 and it ended a run of improvement each year since. Overall, it was a team that wasn’t particularly great in any main category of offense, pitching, or defense.

  • A .240 team batting average was next to last in the league, with Columbia’s .234 the only team holding them up.
  • Consequently the team was only 11th in runs and hits, scoring just 544 times on 1,108 hits.
  • The 229 doubles was good for fifth in the loop, and they were eighth with 31 triples.
  • They were ninth in the league in home runs with 77.
  • We finished tied for 10th with 492 runs batted in.
  • Back to 11th we went in total bases with 1,630.
  • We drew 341 walks, which – you guessed it – ranked 11th in the SAL.
  • One dubious category was strikeouts, where their 1,243 was the most in the league by 33 over Lexington (who played one more game.)
  • In steals, we were 11th (as one might expect) with 91 stolen bases in 125 attempts. (This time, league-leading Asheville was caught more than we stole – 100 vs. 91.)
  • Our .304 on-base percentage was next-to-last in the league (Lakewood was .301) and the .353 slugging percentage was eleventh. With those numbers our OPS of .657 was only better than Columbia’s .649 mark.

Our pitching was only slightly better when compared to the rest of the league, as we finished ninth in ERA with a 3.79 mark.

Some other pitching numbers:

  • Our 9 shutouts was also ninth in the loop.
  • We tied for 12th in saves with 29, with Augusta last with 23.
  • We tied for seventh in innings pitched with 1,204 1/3.
  • 1,210 hits allowed was 11th. Matching the rank in ERA it follows the 613 runs and 507 earned runs we gave up were also ninth.
  • Allowing 94 home runs was tenth.
  • While we only had 71 hit batters (good for fourth) we were also fourth with 354 walks allowed.
  • While our staff had a nice, round number of 1,000 strikeouts it was the fewest in the league.
  • Finally, our WHIP (walks + hits/innings pitched) was ninth in the league at 1.30.

With 136 errors and a .973 aggregate fielding percentage our defense was right at league average.

Help may be on the way, though. Below us in the Orioles organization Aberdeen was 41-34 (contending until the final days for a wild-card spot) and the GCL Orioles closed 28-32 while the single Dominican Summer League team (down from 2 in recent years) the Orioles provided players for wrapped up a 32-37 season. Ahead of us, Frederick made the Carolina League playoffs despite a 68-71 record and Bowie did the same in the Eastern League with a 72-68 record. (Both lost in their respective opening rounds.) Norfolk also finished below .500 with a 66-76 record. So as a whole the talent pool may be worse than average, although individual players from the lower levels may combine for a better team.

With a switch from weekly to monthly honors, going over those selected won’t take as long – so let’s review.

April player – Jake Ring

Jake began the season like he had something to prove after a somewhat bitter cup of coffee with the Shorebirds in 2016. It began by being the South Atlantic League’s first Player of the Week for the season and the Orioles’ minor league Player of the Month. Later on Ring was selected to the North’s All-Star team and a postseason All-Star despite a September promotion to Frederick. As a whole for Delmarva Ring hit .272/14/65/.785 OPS in 118 games, leading the team with 65 runs, leading the entire league with 36 doubles, and setting the pace for the Shorebirds with 212 total bases and a .457 slugging percentage. In almost every offensive category, Jake was among the team leaders.

However, the league seemed to catch up with Ring in the second half as he went from a .313 average at the All-Star break to a split of .232/5/24/.653 OPS in the latter stages. His brief callup to Frederick saw Ring go just 1-for-8, although that one hit was a home run. Ring was also the hero of the Keys’ lone playoff win, driving in the winning runs to cap off a ninth-inning comeback.

Yet the problems that led to a dearth of outfield talent in the organization to a point where the Orioles were experimenting (with varying success) with Christian Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Trey Mancini suddenly seem to have disappeared as prospects like Cedric Mullins, D.J. Stewart, and Austin Hays are names being considered for the 2018 Orioles, with 2016 Shorebird Ademar Rifaela (the Carolina League MVP) close behind. With that glut on top of the organization, a player like Ring – who was a late-round draft pick and is a little older than his league competition at the low-A level – won’t be as highly regarded as he may have been a couple years ago. Notice that a solid player from that period like Mike Yastrzemski is barely regarded as a prospect despite his elite lineage.

I would look for Ring to continue in Frederick next season, but he will need to make more contact to avoid stalling out at that level. Getting his first 15 professional home runs in one season is nice, but 141 strikeouts is not. (SAL Player of the Week April 6-16, SAL All-Star, SAL Postseason All-Star)

April pitcher – Alex Wells

You knew Alex would be something good when his first four starts netted two wins and just two earned runs allowed, but the thing about Wells was that a bad month for him (like June, where he was 3-2 with a pedestrian 4.46 ERA) was a good month for many of the other Delmarva starters. Named as an SAL All-Star, Wells turned up the heat on opposing batters in the second half by quickly embarking on what would become the stuff of legend: a 68-inning walkless streak that carried through the end of the season. (This helped the Shorebirds lead all of baseball in walkless games from a pitching staff; meanwhile, the major league record for such a streak is 84 1/3 innings by Bill Fischer of the 1962 Kansas City Athletics.)

Even without the pinpoint control of allowing 10 walks in 140 innings, Wells put together a fine season that arguably should have nabbed him the league’s Outstanding Pitcher honors – in a case of highway robbery, the award instead went to Rome’s Joey Wentz. Wells finished 11-5 (2nd in wins), with a 2.38 ERA and 0.91 WHIP (both led the SAL) and 113 strikeouts. At home Wells was unbeatable, going 7-0 with a 1.75 ERA in 11 starts. Armed with a simple, easily repeatable delivery, Wells works at a pace that would make legendary “work fast, throw strikes” purveyor Mark Buehrle proud – the Shorebirds clocked one of Wells’ 10-pitch innings under two minutes, and a 10:35 7-inning game Wells started on April 26 wrapped up at the stroke of noon. (It took Wells just 68 pitches to dispatch Lakewood in a 2-1 win. The game probably would have been done before noon had reliever Jake Bray not needed 22 pitches to retire the side in the 7th.)

It’s almost certain the Orioles are slotting Wells to be the #1 pitcher on Frederick’s staff next season, and unlike this season the Orioles would not hesitate to move him up should the performance warrant. After all, he is the reigning Orioles’ minor league pitcher of the year as he was honored before the September 5 Oriole game with the Jim Palmer Award. While a 2018 debut may seem like a bit of a reach, a good season for Wells sets him up for a date at Camden Yards sometime in 2019 – basically the only questions are whether he will fare as well against more selective batters and work on a way to give up fewer home runs. (SAL All-Star, SAL Player of the Month for July, Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month for July, Jim Palmer Award winner for Oriole Minor League Pitcher of the Year)

May player – Preston Palmiero

Preston had spots of excellent play, including a month of May that turned out to be his best month as he turned around a very slow start (.197/2/9/.608 OPS in April) to establish himself at about the overall level where he would finish the season. So far in his career, however, he’s only put up average numbers as his .253/13/77/.718 OPS run this season tracked closely with his Aberdeen numbers from 2016 with the exception of finding a decent power stroke – like Jake Ring, all 13 of Palmiero’s professional home runs came this season. Those who thought his May was going to be the norm for the rest of the season had to be disappointed, though, as he left about 30 batting average points and a corresponding number of hits, home runs, and RBI on the table. While Preston led the team with his 77 RBI, better contact would have allowed him to make a run at 100.

Invariably, there are those who will compare Preston to his father and note that the elder Palmiero was already in the majors by the end of his second pro season. On the other hand, Preston is outpacing his older brother Patrick, who washed out after three seasons in the White Sox organization and has played in the independent Atlantic League the last three seasons. (Interesting fact: the older brother played 2 games at Delmarva in 2013, going 2-for-9 with Kannapolis as their third baseman.) But taken as a player who was a 7th round draft choice – one of the few high picks on the team – it seems like the Orioles should be expecting more. Over the last ten seasons we have seen our share of first basemen with some power but mediocre average – Mark Fleisher, Anthony Martinez, Joe Mahoney, Elvin Polanco and Mike Flacco are guys who come to mind, with only Mahoney briefly making it to the Show – but Palmiero was definitely handed the first base job. (You have to go back to Fleisher in 2006 to find a first baseman who played 100 or more games at the position in a season, and Palmiero’s 123 games this season rank second behind 1998 Shorebird Franky Figueroa’s 137 at the position.) It’s doubtful Palmiero will return for 2018, but his road to the big leagues may have to involve either a position change or numbers that do a better job of knocking the socks off the top brass.

May pitcher – Francisco Jimenez

Marking his third straight season with Delmarva, Jimenez was honored in the midst of a long scoreless streak (20 2/3 innings over six appearances between April 18 and May 21) that encompassed his first-ever appearance with Frederick – that cup of coffee was May 17 as he pitched 3 2/3 scoreless at Salem. Overall, Jimenez was 7-2 with a 3.13 ERA with Delmarva in 28 appearances, striking out 63 while walking 28 and allowing 68 hits. That put his WHIP at 1.24, which was right around league average.

While Jimenez made a couple spot starts – including six no-hit, shutout innings in a game against Charleston on April 27 – he seems to be transitioning into a long relief role going forward. However, his numbers really haven’t changed much in the two-plus seasons he’s been here except for an uptick in strikeout rate, which may be a result of more bullpen work. It’s most likely he will be promoted because there’s really not much reason for him to repeat this level for a fourth time. (In his career, Jimenez spent 2012-14 in the Dominican Summer League but advanced all the way to Delmarva in a little over one season through the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen. So this is his second stall, as it were.)

As slowly as he is moving, Francisco needs an impressive season at Frederick to separate himself from the “organization player” category he seems to be settling into given his propensity to keep himself close to career average each season.

June player – Alejandro Juvier

Another repeat performer from 2016, Alejandro managed to avoid demotion this season by picking up steam at the right time and putting together a good campaign with a slash line of .241/4/34/.606 OPS. No, it’s not the stuff of a Jonathan Schoop, but Juvier seems to be working his career into a Ryan Flaherty mold: he played 75 games at second base, 27 at third base, and 9 at shortstop this season after playing his first 24 at second. Moving him around the infield seemed to do his bat good as well: hitting .218/0/3/.512 OPS after that first 24 games improved to a .248 average and .632 OPS the rest of the way.

When I did his profile, I was hoping he could run his average up into the .250 or .260 range, but Juvier slumped somewhat toward the end of the season with a .194 average after August 1. It’s something that may hold him back for next season, but can be overcome with a good spring.

The issue with the utility player role Juvier seems to be moving into is that the chain is littered with them – one example is longtime Bowie player Garabez Rosa, who has been with the team for five seasons. Remember, Flaherty was handed a job as a Rule 5 draftee of the Orioles but they haven’t seen the need to bring up such as player such as Rosa. But if not for his versatility Juvier probably doesn’t impress scouts as a prospect.

June pitcher – Steven Klimek

In the middle part of the season Klimek was almost untouchable, with June and July numbers that were outstanding: a 3-1 record and 0.99 ERA with 30 strikeouts against 3 walks. The rest of the season wasn’t bad either, with Klimek going 7-3 with a 2.67 ERA. He made 37 appearances on the year, covering 70 2/3 innings with an astounding 71 strikeouts and just 12 walks. Steven was one of just three Delmarva pitchers with significant time to average a strikeout an inning, but neither of the others had a WHIP comparable to Klimek’s 1.02 mark.

Steven was yet another second-time player, having pitched 10 1/3 innings with little success at the tail end of the 2016 season. But he made the improvements and adjustments needed to advance in the system as a late-inning guy – none of his appearances this season came before the 4th inning, and most were in the 8th or 9th. Steven wasn’t the primary closer but still managed to pick up 6 saves, a valuable experience for down the line.

With numbers resembling that of a power pitcher, Klimek may move into more of a one-inning setup role as his career goes on, sort of like a Brad Brach. But there may be a time where he becomes a closer someplace, especially if he can maintain his good control while keeping hits to a minimum. Aside from the rough debut with the Shorebirds, Klimek kept most of the same numbers he had with Aberdeen last season, and the progress he made should play well in 2018 as he moves on. The only way I could see him with Delmarva is as a closer, to gain more experience in high-leverage situations rather than the guy holding down the fort (which is why he had seven wins this season.) Steven has earned a promotion, though.

July player – Ryan McKenna

McKenna had a month sort of like Preston Palmiero did in May: the type where you expect this breakout will last the rest of the season given the fact the Orioles selected him early in the draft. But after the .319 average and .824 OPS in July, Ryan slipped back to just a slightly better than average rest of the season by hitting .264 in the last month-plus (although his OPS was a robust .849 for that period.) As a whole, McKenna put up a .256/7/42/.712 OPS slash line.

But without the bloodline of Palmiero, you have to wonder how long the Orioles will wait on a 4th round pick, even if he was plucked out of the high school ranks. In his favor, though, was the improvement he had year-over-year when compared to his half-season at Aberdeen in 2016 – 15 points higher in batting average, 30 more extra base hits in slightly over twice the plate appearances, and an 83-point jump in OPS (mainly due to the improvement in extra-base hits.) His only drawback was the 129 strikeouts he amassed, and while he had 20 stolen bases, it doesn’t compare well to having 17 in half the time last year.

So Ryan did make some progress, particularly when you recall he was hitting .235 at the All-Star break but hit .280 in the second half. If he can replicate that success with the Keys next season, heads will begin to turn in considering McKenna as part of the group of young outfield prospects that includes Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, and D.J. Stewart.

July pitcher – Alex Wells

This was the month Wells did not allow a walk or a run in 31 innings, leading him to be named both Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month and SAL Player of the Month. So he became the first two-time winner.

August/September player – Daniel Fajardo

Since he was the last player of the month for the season, he didn’t improve on his .236/1/24/.554 OPS split between three teams, but predominantly with Delmarva. (He played in 67 contests here, 4 for Frederick, and a spot game for Norfolk. That should be good for the paycheck.) He turned out to be a very good defender as well in terms of catching would-be base thieves, but his question going forward may be how much longer he stays in the organization since he’s eligible for Rule 5 and one season away from free agency. Among the peer group that has played with him, though, Fajardo has gotten the most playing time both with Aberdeen and here. (With Aberdeen in 2016, as this year, Fajardo was on the same squad as Stuart Levy, who bounced around last season between Aberdeen and Delmarva and did the same this year with Frederick and the Shorebirds, the now-retired Jerry McClanahan who was with Delmarva for the first half of this season, and Chris Shaw, who missed a lot of time in 2017 with an injury.) Out of that group, Levy and Fajardo were the best performers.

Next year, though, Fajardo will have to compete with Ben Breazeale, a catcher who tore up the NY-Penn League as well as Levy and other players up the chain. However, after picking four catchers in the first 11 rounds of the draft a few years back (which has netted current Oriole Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns, who had a breakout year at Bowie) the Orioles’ catching pipeline has pretty much dried out with the exception of Breazeale, who is likely going to be a cusp player between Delmarva and Frederick next spring. So Daniel may be destined for Frederick. (Much of the Keys’ catching this year was done by Armando Araiza, a six-year free agent player the Orioles acquired from the Atlanta organization in May – pointing out the lack of depth in the organization. Yermin Mercedes also did some, but he had a disappointing season and finished it on the suspended list.) It’s more than likely he will move into the ranks of catching insurance for the organization, but Fajardo now will be playing to impress others as well with the pending free agency.

August/September pitcher – Kory Groves

Kory was my one comeback story for the season, since he missed all of 2016 with an injury. But the time lost will also put him behind the eight ball as far as being too old to be considered a prospect despite a nice 3-5, 2.58 season that featured a 1.21 WHIP and a solid ratio of 41 strikeouts to 14 walks. While Groves certainly wasn’t as dominant as he was before the injury – his abbreviated 2015 campaign featured a 1.11 ERA and 0.77 WHIP between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen – he was also facing better competition this year so the statistics hold up well.

While Kory was rather effective when stretched out to 40-50 pitches (he had four appearances of four innings or more this year, including the 17th to 20th innings in the 21-inning game against Lexington July 13 and 14) his bread and butter this season was being a setup guy or the one holding the opposition in hopes for a late rally. (This would explain why Groves had but one save.) That’s not to say the Orioles wouldn’t consider him as a starter with a little more stretching out, but I think his destiny is the bullpen, and it would more than likely be the one in Frederick.

*********

Here is a list of my Shorebirds of the Year, going back to the award’s inception in 2006:

  • 2006 – Ryan Finan
  • 2007 – Danny Figueroa
  • 2008 – Sean Gleason
  • 2009 – Ron Welty
  • 2010 – Brian Conley
  • 2011 – David Walters
  • 2012 – Brenden Webb
  • 2013 – Lucas Herbst
  • 2014 – Chance Sisco
  • 2015 – John Means
  • 2016 – Yermin Mercedes

With my new format of monthly honorees, I had some early favorites for the honor – all they had to do was stay for the requisite 2/3 of the season to be eligible. Thus, Jake Ring and Alex Wells burst out of the gate.

But as the season went on for the hitters, Ring was like a helium balloon that slowly lost altitude. He was leading the team in pretty much everything the first half of the season, but as time went on Ring began falling down the ranks: Preston Palmiero caught and passed him in RBI, Gerrion Grim went on a power surge to outpace Ring in home runs, and eventually Cole Billingsley passed Jake with a .282 batting average to lead the squad. So Ring won none of the traditional Triple Crown categories, and one could make an argument that Billingsley (who was in the hunt for a monthly honor a couple times) was more of an offensive star despite a fairly low .715 OPS.

On the other side, while several pitchers had good months and were at times in contention for monthly honors, there was only one month where Alex Wells wasn’t in the conversation for the honor, and that subpar June was followed by an all-world July where I had no choice but to name him a second time. And when you consider just how elite he was in terms of the entire league – not just the team – I pretty much had a no-brainer for Shorebird of the Year. Even the photo I’m using is one where he gets hardware.

Alex Wells had a hardware collection going this season with the Shorebirds.

I wish I had hardware to give, but for now the pixels to officially dub Alex Wells as the Shorebird of the Year for 2017 will have to suffice. Next week will be my picks and pans feature speaking as a fan, and then in December I will update my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame. The Class of 2017 needs just one more to tie for largest, and it’s only a callup away.

Meanwhile, I’m already jonesing for a ballgame at the stadium. By the way, I’ve finally added the other photos I promised so now each month can be reviewed and they are how I intended them to be.

9/11 in the age of Trump

September 11, 2017 · Posted in Culture and Politics, National politics, Personal stuff, Politics · Comment 

This morning – and I say “this morning” despite the fact I’m writing this about 12 hours in advance of publication – President Donald Trump, a native of New York City, will preside over what is described as a “mostly solemn and nonpartisan occasion” with ceremonies at both Ground Zero and the Pentagon. (Vice President Pence will handle duties in Shanksville, PA at the Flight 93 Memorial.)

Because he’s a native New Yorker, Donald Trump has a unique perspective on the event. Most of his critics point to a declaration The Donald made in the wake of the attack that his 40 Wall Street building became the tallest in the city thanks to the demise of the World Trade Center. On the other hand, President Trump made a very solemn Patriot Day declaration on Friday, bringing it up to date by citing our response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. One notable departure from the Obama years, though, is the dropping of the “National Day of Service and Remembrance” from the release (although Trump alludes to it in the body of his text, in keeping with the Obama-era law recognizing September 11 as such.)

Some of the conditions which led to the 9/11 attack (and its ongoing response on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq) have been addressed by President Trump, although his main initiative of a temporary pause on accepting refugees and visitors from nations deemed to be potential sponsors of terror was thwarted by a series of activist judges. However, on a broader foreign palette, we have had little change in Middle East policy over the last several months, particularly in dealing with a poorly-drafted nuclear agreement with Iran: well-respected former U.N. ambassador and foreign policy hawk John Bolton is on record as wishing Trump would back out of that bad deal.

Regardless of what policy initiatives come and go, though, the passage of time insures that those who recall the incident first-hand are a dwindling majority. The number of Americans under age 21 now rests at about 27%, and if you add in those who weren’t Americans when the attack occurred you’re probably talking a number north of 3 out of 10 Americans who have little to no memory of the day because they weren’t born yet, too young to understand it, living somewhere else at the time, or some combination of those factors. I know I won’t forget where I was that day but the 17-year-old in the house won’t recall because she was only a toddler. The day may be remembered at school, but even then only in passing.

And while we live in an era where being patriotic isn’t necessarily cause for suspicion by certain groups as it was not so long ago, we’re a long way from the fever pitch we had in the months after the attack. Then again, perhaps our nation has given us cause to be cynical after such a Long War with few tangible results. One could readily surmise that, with our superior military firepower, we could have made short work of any of these tinpot regimes if we put our mind to it and employed more of a scorched-earth policy. Lord knows we were willing to do so in 2001 but President George W. Bush preferred a coalition approach. Some may call that kicking the can down the road.

It’s frightening to think that we could be on the doorstep of another such attack, but the possibility is there and it’s not necessarily going to involve Islamic terrorism. So-called “suitcase nukes” or an EMP attack that North Korea could be capable of delivering would bring tragic results on a scale many times that of 9/11 – and we really can’t defend that well against them. Yet the response, some civil libertarians argue, would be tantamount to living in a police state.

Walking that fine line is now the job of a 71-year-old man who’s prone to fits of pique as expressed on Twitter but was supported and elected by a group of patriotic Americans who believed he would be the one to get tough on these threats. Since this is the first of what could be eight occasions where Trump commemorates 9/11, this is the one that sets the tempo.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: August 2017

September 7, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · 1 Comment 

Unlike months past, this time I’ll dispense with the preliminaries because next week will bring a full season review for the 2017 campaign. So instead let’s go straight to a look at my final honorees, who both get the award for the first time.

We’re going to begin with a player that definitely stepped up the pace in the season’s final month compared to his previous performance. My August (and September) Position Player of the Month: Catcher Daniel Fajardo, who settled in with a shifting cast of backups and put together a great month of August. His .314/0/8/.774 OPS slash line for the month was among the team leaders with previous honorees Ryan McKenna and Cole Billingsley, but Fajardo also proved to be a good defensive weapon with his arm by nabbing 9 of a potential 17 base stealers. (For the season Fajardo caught 44% of would-be thieves.)

Overall, Daniel finished the campaign with a .240/1/24/.568 OPS slash line in 67 games with the Shorebirds, although his time here was interrupted by a spot start for Norfolk on May 3 (where he went 1-for-4 at Charlotte at a time where he was Johnny-on-the-spot – the Tides had a need and the Shorebirds were in the midst of a southern swing to Columbia and Charleston, SC) and another brief stint with Frederick from May 19-22 – there Fajardo went 2-for-13 in 4 games.

The 22-year-old Fajardo is a veteran of six minor league seasons, as he was signed at the age of 16 in September of 2011 and left his native Venezuela the next summer to catch in the Dominican Summer League. Two seasons there led to a promotion to the Gulf Coast League for the 2014 season, and he played there most of the next two seasons (with the exception of 2 games at Frederick in 2015.) Last year he moved up to Aberdeen as a backup catcher and this year served as somewhat of an organization player with the two brief departures from the Delmarva roster. Over the last two winters he’s also done spot duty in his native land, playing for La Guaira in the Venezuelan Winter League.

One thing that sets Fajardo apart from many of his teammates is the fact, based on his lengthy service time in the minors, that he would have to be protected on the Orioles’ 40-man roster if they wanted to assure themselves of keeping him. It’s not likely the Orioles will do so, thus it’s possible another team may take a flyer on him in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. (Unlike the major league portion, where a player has to remain on the 25-man active roster or be offered back to the original team, those picked in the minor league portion can be assigned to any minor league affiliate. So a team selecting Fajardo could ship him to the high-A level where the Orioles would likely send him.)

Fajardo, McKenna, and Billingsley were the best of a mediocre lot of hitters for the Shorebirds, who faltered in early August and fell well off the playoff pace. On the other hand, I had a difficult time deciding the Pitcher of the Month as several had a legitimate claim, including two-time honoree Alex Wells and swingman Cody Dube. But my final decision came down to a razor-close debate between lefty Tyler Erwin and righthander Kory Groves.

This was one that came down to expectations, and the fact he was recovering from a lost 2016 tipped the scale to Kory Groves.

In August and September Groves made a season-high 10 appearances covering 19 innings. In those stints he allowed just 13 hits (for a .197 average against) and 6 runs (4 earned) which translates to a 1.89 ERA. Striking out 14 while walking just one, Groves gave up just 2 earned in his last 7 outings. The only blemishes on his record were losses to Kannapolis and Hagerstown, right around the end of a stretch where Groves was pitching 3 or 4 innings at a time – he thrived in shorter 1 or 2 inning outings as the month wore on.

Over the season Groves stayed healthy enough to pitch in 33 games, covering 59 1/3 innings. Kory gave up 58 hits but only 17 earned runs, also amassing 41 strikeouts to 14 walks. The bottom line for Groves was a 3-5 record and 2.58 ERA with a WHIP of 1.21.

Because he lost that season to injury and came from a small, unheralded school (Cal State – Monterey Bay, which has had just 4 players drafted from the program and none since Groves in 2015) Kory has worked his way from being just a 34th round pick to this point. But having just celebrated his 25th birthday Saturday, it’s more likely Groves will be pitching for his very career in spring training if the Orioles don’t decide to move on from him over the winter. Such is often the fate of a late-round selection, and especially one whose numbers don’t seem to show him as a power pitcher (just 6.2 strikeouts per 9 innings is one of the lowest rates on the team.)

However, Groves did put up one of the better WHIP numbers on the team and was reasonably effective in short outings, so he could be one of those late-inning guys at Frederick next year. And for this month he was about the best the Shorebirds had to offer on the mound.

As I noted up top, next week I will do my season review and track the players selected as Shorebirds of the Month, with the following week devoted as always to picks and pans from a fan. So September will bring a flurry of Shorebird activity before its hibernation until December when I add at least six players to the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame.

More laborers to celebrate Labor Day

I wasn’t necessarily going to write about this, but as it turns out Labor Day is a pretty good time to make this point.

When the unemployment numbers came out last Friday, it turned out that manufacturing jobs were one of the star performers as the sector gained 36,000 jobs in August – almost 1/4 of the total gain.

You may recall that for most of Barack Obama’s term I often referenced a union-backed organization called the Alliance for American Manufacturing, generally quoting their president, Scott Paul. He’s still there, and while he seemed to be pleased with the August results he’s still singing his protectionist song:

Did the robot revolution take the month off?

Adding 36,000 new factory jobs in August is good news for American workers. For the first time in a long time, manufacturing punched above its weight in the job market, accounting for 23 percent of total job growth. There’s great potential for continued manufacturing job growth – but only if we get the policy right.

How can we keep up the momentum? Pass an infrastructure bill with strong Buy America preferences to put more people back to work. The administration must also invest in training the workers of the future, move forward with rebalancing trade, and hold China accountable.

One facet of the AAM that interested me early on was their tracking of an Obama promise to create 1,000,000 manufacturing jobs – a pledge for which he fell far short by a factor of over 2/3. (Color me surprised </sarc>.) So it’s very intriguing to me that, through just eight months this year, the Trump score is already at 137,000. (Granted, there’s a slight bit of overlap from the Obama administration, but whatever bit of momentum began there may have come once it was assured Trump would be the victor in 2016.) On that pace, Trump would be in the 600 to 700 thousand range in his term.

I also think it’s fascinating that Paul talks about the “robot revolution” taking the month off but in the same statement beseeches the Trump administration to “invest in training the workers of the future.” As wage pressure is placed on the job market through misguided local and state government policies, such as the $15 minimum wage, tasks as mundane as attaching fenders on the assembly line or asking “do you want fries with that?” are going the way of the buggy whip, yielding to more skilled occupations such as working on those robots which make up the revolution. If you’ve seen pictures of modern assembly lines, automobiles and other large objects are put together more and more by mechanized means rather than a worker doing the same task of fastening rivets for eight long hours – a time when he could get tired, be less than at his best thanks to hard partying the night before, or just not trained up to the quality required for the task.

It’s true that unfair labor practices and currency manipulation have been factors in the decline of American manufacturing, but there were other processes that have affected all domestic businesses. Just ask yourself: how else would it be logical that an American manufacturer relocate to China when you consider the shipping time and costs and the learning curve needed to train hundreds of employees who may not be familiar with what the American market desires? Obviously those expenses were outweighed by the far lower wages they could pay Chinese workers, the removal of stringent regulations (not just environmental, but dealing with workers as well), and the lower tax costs. Over a 30-year period, “Made in America” became “Made in China,” and that’s often still the case today.

But I don’t think we have to be protectionist if we can create the conditions that cancel out several of the factors that drove manufacturing overseas. We already have a head start if we can keep our energy costs down by employing the resources we were blessed with instead of pie-in-the-sky schemes like dependence on unreliable wind or solar power. Add to this a corporate tax rate that is fair and not confiscatory – losing almost 4 out of every 10 dollars of corporate income seems to me a much larger piece of the pie than government needs or deserves – and a predictable regulatory regime based on common sense rather than being capricious and arbitrary, and much of the issue will be solved. At that point it’s up to the good old American worker to do the jobs Americans will do if given a shot. For example, someone has to know how to fix those machines that weld together automotive parts, and they probably won’t need a college degree to do it.

My father, who Lord willing will turn 82 in a month and has probably never turned on a computer, grew up in an era where he could finish high school and find a job at a concrete block plant doing maintenance. It was a union shop and gave him a good living, although he was unhappy at times with the union because it treated everyone equally whether they pulled their weight or not. Thousands of men around my hometown of Toledo who grew up in that era could tell a similar story as they got out of high school and went to work at a number of automotive (and other) manufacturing plants: Willys Jeep, GM Hydra-Matic transmission, Ford Stamping, Toledo Scale, Libbey Glass, and so forth – all union shops, and all providing a good middle-class income.

Kids graduating from high school now, though, are seemingly consigned to dead-end service jobs, as the days of your uncle getting you in at the Jeep plant are pretty much gone. But America needs to get back to making things, young men (and women) need jobs that can support a family, and the academic world needs a shakeout to a point where college is geared more toward the students who have the academic chops to succeed there. (Not everyone is college material in the traditional sense – some people just are geared toward and have the aptitude for working with their hands rather than sitting through a freshman English class.) A rebirth in American manufacturing can accomplish all of these goals.

So on this Labor Day and its implied salute to the American worker, consider what could be done to improve his or her lot. Lightening government’s load on industry seems to me a key step in making us the place that makes things again.

An interesting perspective on Harvey

September 1, 2017 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Business and industry, Delmarva items, Personal stuff, Radical Green · Comments Off on An interesting perspective on Harvey 

This is going to be another one of those “unless you’ve just crawled out from under a rock” posts, because that’s about the only way you wouldn’t be submerged in coverage of Hurricane Harvey and its aftereffects on the Houston region in Texas. If you thought Noah was just a Biblical character and the story of the Ark simply a parable, imagine what 40 straight days and nights of rain could do…less than a week’s worth dumped over 50 inches on some hapless portions of Texas.

Anyway, there’s an estimate that Houston was bathed in nearly 20 trillion gallons of water, and if I recall my formula correctly a cubic foot holds roughly 7 1/2 gallons – thus, an area of 2.6 trillion square feet would have been submerged one foot deep. In turn, that works out to an area 1,632,993 feet on each side, which equals 309 miles – 95,653 square miles, to be exact. Imagine not just Maryland and Delaware under a foot of water, but all of Pennsylvania and the majority of Virginia as well. Put another way, under that same deluge all of Maryland would be drowned beneath about 10 feet of water.

What make this relevant is an article written by Jon Cassidy in the American Spectator that I came across. When people talk about planning it piques my interest for obvious reasons: architecture is my chosen profession, but I know just enough about land planning and civil engineering to be dangerous – one area I learned a little bit about in the position I have now (albeit when I had my first bite of the apple a decade ago) was the technique required for doing stormwater management and other civil work. Coming here from Ohio I found out stormwater management is a BIG f’ing deal in Maryland, much more so than in my home state.

This is important because the blame for the extreme flooding in and around Houston is being placed on the rampant growth and large amounts of impermeable surface in that area. But, as Cassidy writes, development is many orders of magnitude shy of being the primary cause:

The idea that pavement is to blame for Houston’s flooding is, to put it simply, idiotic, even comical. The daily journalists on their deadlines haven’t had time to realize how out of their depth they are, but the (Texas) Tribune has no excuse for its shoddy reporting. The committees that awarded those prizes should be ashamed of their inability to spot the obvious hole in the narrative, which has been there all along.

The turf surrounding Houston is not, in the words of the county official the Tribune singled out for abuse, a “magic sponge.” Yes, it absorbs some water. Yes, of course, impermeable surfaces produce runoff. But no, absolutely not, no way, no how, could the clay and sandy soil around Houston have absorbed this deluge. The poor absorptive capacity of our soil is a matter of record, but that didn’t really matter. Even if our turf had the absorptive capacity of the Shamwow, Hurricane Harvey would have overwhelmed it.

study by the Harris County Flood Control District, which focused on the same Cypress Creek region that interested the Tribune, found that a residential development with 50 percent impervious cover would indeed absorb less water, creating more runoff. To be precise, the development would absorb exactly 1.79 inches less rainfall than an undeveloped property. But we got hit with up to 51.88 inches of rain during Hurricane Harvey. That’s more than rainy Seattle got all last year.

So even if the Tribune had had its anti-development agenda fully realized, it would have made no difference. The soil would have absorbed the first couple inches of rainfall, and the next 50 inches still would have had to go somewhere. Back in 1935, when the area was almost entirely covered by natural wetlands, it still got flooded.

Cassidy has an unlikely ally in Charles Marohn, the creator of a website called Strong Towns. (It’s often cited by the mayor of Salisbury, who seems to be an advocate of so-called “smart growth.”)

Harvey is not normal times. We can’t look at this event the way we look at other flooding events. The devastation in Houston from Hurricane Harvey is not the result of the accumulation of many bad decisions. It was simply a huge storm.

The Texas A&M research I highlighted above suggests reckless wetland filling robbed Houston of 4 billion gallons of stormwater storage capacity. For context, the Washington Post is reporting now that Harvey dumped 19 trillion gallons on Texas—a large portion of that hitting the Houston area. That means that, had those wetlands never been filled, they could have accommodated at most .02-.1% of the water that fell in Harvey.

Exactly. Soil has a carrying capacity of drainage, and some soils drain better than others. If you’ve spent any amount of time in Florida, you’ll know it rains nearly every day but the soil drains quickly because it’s quite sandy. Places with a lot of clay, though, aren’t as fortunate. To manage stormwater, the common technique involves collecting the overflow from impermeable areas and placing it in retention ponds where it can be released for drainage in a controlled fashion. It’s why you often see bodies of water along roads, highways, and inside developments – they’re not necessarily there for looks, but as catchbasins.

Of course, not every area has managed stormwater and in times of extreme weather they flood. During Superstorm Sandy in 2012, a large part of downtown Salisbury flooded, causing damage to several buildings. Other parts of town are often under water after a heavy rainfall of 4″ or more, with one significant headache being the closing of Business Route 13 at its intersection with Priscilla Street, adjacent to a large pond.

But even the best techniques would fail under a deluge like Harvey, and that’s the point. We design for 10- and 100-year flood events, but it’s prohibitively expensive and, frankly, unnecessary to worry about 500- or 1000-year events like Harvey may have been. Those cases are truly acts of God and the best we can do for those is pray for minimal loss of life. We can rebuild a building, but we can’t get the 30-odd victims of Harvey back.

Back to routine: Here at this residence, we’re getting set for one last school year. With the distractions of summer over, it will finally be time for me to get serious about writing once again. While it’s looking more like a wrap by the middle of 2018 rather than the spring, I’m still thinking I have a good start on The Rise and Fall of the TEA Party, and with recent developments there may be an entirely new hook to expound upon as I increase the word count.

So I haven’t forgotten. However, I also want to get a little bit into the 2018 campaign and perhaps get back to doing this blogging more often than a couple times a month. We will see.

But the year of my discontent seems to be closing – not that I miss being politically active, but going forward I’m not going to studiously avoid it, either. (I will miss the WCRC Crab Feast, though, but only because my grandson’s first birthday is being celebrated that day. Family first.) If nothing works its way onto my calendar for that Saturday I might make the Lincoln Day Dinner in October.

So that’s a brief update. All those impatient because I do other stuff besides politics may get their wish as baseball season winds down.

An evening (and day) at the Wicomico County Fair in pictures and text

August 22, 2017 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off on An evening (and day) at the Wicomico County Fair in pictures and text 

While its root event, the former Wicomico Farm and Home Show, would have celebrated its 80th anniversary last year, the Wicomico County Fair officially celebrated its third edition in the county’s sesquicentennial year. As I sometimes do, this post will meander between photos and text to tell its story.

We actually attended all three days of the WCF, although Friday was just for a brief stop to see how our photos did.

Do you see the purple ribbon signifying Best in Show? One of mine is next to that on the left, just one of the also-rans. Kim had two of hers place in their categories, but that was about it between the three of us. I thought I had some nice photos, but I guess the judges liked others better.

So that was the extent of our Friday, although our daughter stayed to watch the concert (from local boy gone Nashville Jimmy Charles) and fireworks.

Now that we knew the fate of our entries, we came back on Saturday to see one of our favorite events at the WCF, Cowboy Mounted Shooting.

When the WCF became a fair in 2015, this was an event that was brought in. It’s probably the biggest draw they have as the bleachers are usually well-filled to watch this competition, which is one of a handful of fairs the local Mason Dixon Deputies group does around the region. Of the evening shots I took I thought this was the best.

Once the competition stage was over – each runs about an hour, give or take – I decided to get off my behind and walk around.

I did so only to find that a lot of the WCF was hidden across the road behind the rides.

I found several vendors and some other attractions not easily found by the casual visitor.

Because the Cowboy Mounted Shooting runs its own soundtrack (a surprising mix of country, classic rock, and a little bit of other stuff) I didn’t hear the bands until I was almost on top of them. This one was called Rip Tide, which played a few classic rock staples to close their act.

As we had a bite to eat from the (somewhat limited) selection of vendors back there, this group called Swamp Donkey took the stage as we ate. They were in the same vein as a number of albums I’ve reviewed over the last couple years – sort of a mix of country, Americana, and roots rock. The band sure put a spin on Pink Floyd, though.

This photo was just a cool shot that provides a transition break.

On Sunday we were there before noon in order to hear Pastor Oren Perdue preach, with a message gleaned from the Book of Amos. It’s not one of the more studied books, but he made the message interesting. (If your child attends the Summer Fun camp at Salisbury Baptist, you’ll know who Pastor Perdue is because he runs the Friday evening rodeo. That’s how Kim met him.)

Since we started from the side I’d seen the evening before, we made our way back. This train wasn’t doing much, nor had it the evening before.

I noticed the ride price had been changed to “free,” which helps make a point I’ll return to in a bit.

And if it’s a agricultural event in this county, you’ll see one company there almost every time.

I liked this truck better, though.

That blue-and-yellow Perdue label was found a lot, not to mention the orange and green of competing tractor companies, too.

The orange ones did more work, as their local outlet was a sponsor of the mounted shooting.

The state of Maryland even had its nose in with an agriculture RV.

Cops on one side, fish on the other: the state was well-represented.

You could even find a few non-native beasts.

And here’s a clash of cultures: a cowgirl on her smart phone.

Day 2 of the CMS competition was packing them in again. And I swear I didn’t touch the second shot, but I used it solely because that point of light was in a rather interesting place.

Yet the mounted shooters weren’t the only equestrians there, as much of the grounds were taken up for more traditional competition.

And I don’t think there’s much call to remove this plaque from their venue.

Nor would it be a fair without barnyard animals.

Look, I grew up in a rural county so I’m aware of the extent 4-H is still popular among the youth here. Inside the Carriage House was their competition field (as well as that for the rest of us) in arts, crafts, and yummy looking items from the gardens and kitchens of Wicomico County.

I was disappointed by the truck show, though. It wasn’t what I was expecting – these would have been nice additions to some classic old restored Big Three trucks and maybe a few Jeeps and imports. Not just a handful of work trucks.

And while it wasn’t unexpected, we arrived too late on Saturday to see LG Boyd Rutherford. In fact, I really didn’t see many candidates pressing the flesh at the WCF when I was there, even though the local GOP was in its usual place. Most of them participated in the Saturday afternoon parade, then skipped out to other events, I guess.

The only candidate with a regular presence there was Jamie Dykes, a Republican running for State’s Attorney. Granted, she was very diligent about being there and engaging voters.

Next year, however, the joint will be crawling with them. I wonder if they will resurrect the buffalo chip tossing I once participated in as someone on the ballot to be elected.

But if I were to make a suggestion for next year, it would be to somehow better tie in the two sides of the fair. Because of the lay of the land, the poor vendors on the east side of the road had hardly any foot traffic (and at least one I spoke to complained about the lack of it.) Maybe the rides need to go at the very end, with the beer garden and vendor row placed closer to the center. In fact, I was told by city councilman Muir Boda (who I did see there) that the dunking booth the Jaycees were sponsoring was vandalized overnight on Saturday. So something needs to be done about that issue.

Once they got through the sauna of Friday evening (and the monsoon that followed, luckily after the fair ended) though, the weather turned out near-perfect. It looked like they had great crowds, the likes of which I haven’t seen before at the Fair (or especially its predecessor Farm and Home Show, which was about on its last legs.) So if they can get the siting issue fixed for next year (a large map would definitely help!) they may have a strong event worthy of the county it represents.

Announcing: the 2017 monoblogue Accountability Project

August 21, 2017 · Posted in Campaign 2018, Maryland Politics, National politics, Personal stuff, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Announcing: the 2017 monoblogue Accountability Project 

For the eleventh year in a row, I have graded all 188 legislators in the Maryland General Assembly based on their voting patterns on a number of key issues. Beginning with sine die back in April, I started looking into floor votes trying to find those which reflected conservative principles, with an eye on civil liberties as well. The final product, all 20 pages, can be found right here or in its usual sidebar location.

The major change I made for this year was reverting back to a system of all floor votes, as I had in the early years before committee votes were made readily available. It’s not that committee votes aren’t important, but in this year’s case I had so many possible relevant votes from the floor that I decided not to use three on committee votes that may not have had such impact. Two of the 25 votes are veto override votes, one from legislation carried over from 2016 and the other from a bill proposed this session.

If there’s one thing that Democrats like even less than not being in the governor’s chair to spend money, I think it’s the fact that Donald Trump is President and the GOP controls Congress. Several of the bills I used had to do with impacts they perceived would occur with the Trump administration. It’s strange how federal government effects become a big deal with Republicans in charge, particularly one like Donald Trump. Mandates placed by his predecessor were just peachy with the General Assembly majority, and they often adopted them with very little fuss to continue Maryland’s complete over-dependence on the federal government as an economic driver. Ironically, the type of president this nation needs would be bad news for Maryland in the short run as those well-paid federal workers wouldn’t be working and paying taxes.

So you’ll notice quite a few floor votes deal with these subjects, but this year was about as loony far-left as I ever recall. Thus, the number of correct votes is little changed from last year; however, one significant change I made was adopting what I call a “flip-flop” indicator. Votes shown in red are votes where the member changed sides between the House and Senate votes. I was truly shocked how much this happens.

As I did last year, I’m leaving the 2015 and 2016 reports available as part of a long-term process to show trends for the 2015-18 term.

Feel free to print yourself a copy for your use – just don’t forget where it came from.

Upgrading for the long haul (hopefully)

August 19, 2017 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Personal stuff · Comments Off on Upgrading for the long haul (hopefully) 

This is going to be inside baseball to many of you, but as a regular reader of this here website it’s something you should know.

Back in July I received a notice from my server provider that they would be upgrading their servers:

In an effort to become compliant with the latest security bulletins, and to support our ongoing effort to provide the most reliable hosting experience possible, we will be upgrading MySQL and PHP on your server.

PHP will be upgraded from 5.6 to the latest version of 7.0. MySQL will be upgraded from 5.6.35 to the latest version of MariaDB 10.1. Roundcube databases will be migrated from MySQL to SQLite. If your site or applications implement PHP functions that are incompatible with PHP 7.0.x, there is a helpful information about the upgrade in our knowledge base.

That last sentence is key, because I have been running a legacy version of WordPress for some time. Supposedly it was updating core functions, but after this upgrade I came to my site only to realize to my horror it wasn’t there. Obviously WordPress 3.7 was one of those incompatible programs.

Fortunately, I found out there was a grace period where I could still run the old PHP (and made the fix that restored my site) but that would only be about 30 days. In other words, whether I liked it or not, I had to update my version. Now I know just enough about HTML and computer programming to be dangerous, so to me upgrading sounded like a daunting task.

It turned out to be not so bad after all. Basically I swapped out new files for old, and at the moment most of this seems to be functional. The only two things I had to do once I put this back end up were to bring my theme over (since it didn’t migrate) and move my uploaded photos. The last step was resetting the PHP to 7.0 and that’s now done, so I should be good to go!

And as a special added bonus, come Monday I will write up the official release of the 2017 monoblogue Accountability Project. With that out of the way – finally! – I can now get back to working on my long-delayed book. But don’t worry, I’ll be popping in here from time to time now that I know this site is upgraded.

At throats redux: Charlottesville edition

To be perfectly honest, I knew very little about the events in Charlottesville until well after they happened. I was in a vacuum of sorts because I was tuned out from the world, enjoying family and festivities surrounding my wife’s attaining her bachelor’s degree in this stage of her life as a University of Phoenix graduate. So while the family watched her and hundreds of her fellows walk onstage to accept their degrees at the newly-rechristened Capital One Center in Washington, D.C., a few dozen miles to the southwest a chaotic scene was unfolding. As I have since learned, Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old white woman who was a paralegal from the city, was killed when she was struck by a car reportedly driven by a 20-year-old white Ohio man, James Alex Fields, Jr. While Fields lives in my old stomping grounds (Maumee, Ohio is a suburb of Toledo) he grew up in Kentucky and is supposedly an “alt-right” Trump supporter.

You’ll notice I linked to the CNN story, but through the evening Saturday and into Sunday afternoon there were all sorts of different reports and rumors on what happened: different identities on the car driver and registration, people describing how the original protesters (dubbed “Unite the Right”) had their permit pulled, then restored, then pulled again while the counter-protesters never got a permit, a tale alleging the Unite the Right group was set up by the city for a beatdown by the “Antifa” and “Black Lives Matter” groups by ordering them to leave the park a certain way through their counter-protest, and so on and so forth. Obviously the Left blames the Right and the Right counters that the Left is really at fault.

But my question goes all the way back to the root of the problem. In the last several years, the city of Charlottesville – which is home of the University of Virginia – has become what is described as “progressive.” At one time it had parks named after Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, but no more. This latest controversy was about removing the statue of Robert E. Lee that graces what used to be called Lee Park; a statue put up decades after Lee’s death in 1870. (Unlike most other conflicts, in our War Between the States neither the leader of the opposition army nor government was executed for treason – Lee lived until a stroke and subsequent illness felled him five years later, while Confederate president Jefferson Davis was imprisoned for a few years but out of prison well before his death in 1889.) In his postwar days, Lee was best remembered for restoring what became known as Washington and Lee University while his former estate became Arlington National Cemetery. (In no small bit of irony, our family spent a good part of Saturday afternoon there after the graduation ceremony and our lunch.)

It’s also true that Lee turned down the opportunity to lead part of the Union forces as a colonel (his rank at the time the conflict began) because he felt more loyal to his home state of Virginia, which chose to join the Confederacy – this despite Lee’s personal opposition to secession.

So then we come to the reason people were in Charlottesville to protest. The “Unite the Right” had one very valid point in that there’s no good reason to remove this piece of history from its longtime place. If anything, more context should be added: why was Lee deemed important enough at the time to be so honored and what have we learned about him since? (To that end, three states still celebrate his January 19 birthday as a legal holiday; oddly enough, every few years it falls on the date we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. As another example, there is also federal law that equates Confederate veterans with Union veterans when it comes to grave markers.) In short, taking an honest look at Lee’s life and legacy would be more complex than simply boiling it down to the four years he spent leading a Confederate army, but most people don’t want to do that because it doesn’t suit their political purposes.

We then loop back to the events in Charlottesville. What we know is that there is a young man who’s being portrayed as one whose head is full of racist, neo-Nazi tripe and he stands accused of maiming innocent bystanders to the extent that one has died and several others were left in critical condition. We also know that this rally necessitated additional police coverage, and a police helicopter carrying two Virginia State Police officers crashed on Saturday, killing both men on board. All four of these lives were changed irrevocably and senselessly for no good reason, over an inanimate object.

And that same controversy roils locally on a smaller scale over another Civil War figure. Brigadier General John Henry Winder was a Union officer in the Mexican War but later served as the administrator of all the Confederate military prisons until his death just weeks before the Confederate States of America ceased to exist. Since he was born in what would become Wicomico County after his death, and the state needed something to commemorate the war with here after 100 years, we got a plaque that originally sat by where the Evolution brewery is now but moved to its present location around 1983. For 33 years this was no problem but then Donald Trump was elected and suddenly it became so. Oops, did I say that?

Why, yes I did. And despite the fact I didn’t vote for the guy and he’s generally the epitome of politically tone-deaf, in this case he’s getting a really raw deal. Trump puts out a statement on Saturday that may have seemed bland on the surface but was immediately panned for noting the “hatred, bigotry, and violence” came from “many sides.” So a couple days later he reiterated his disapproval and was regaled with a press reaction sort of like this: (courtesy of the Patriot Post)

So when the President went back to the more original tone today you had to know the media would crucify him once again, and again they miss the point. It took two sides to tango down in Charlottesville, and note that several previous events (such as the tiki torch rally the night before) had gone off without the violence. It was only when the BLM and Antifa side showed up that the clashes occurred. As for using a car as a deadly weapon, James Fields will have his day in court – if he survives that long. I’m sure the more conspiratorial among us are already trying to figure out just how their bogeyman du jour (George Soros, the Clintons, the Rothschilds, et. al.) will make his death look like a suicide. We know Fields will be in jail until then because he was denied bail.

For those of you who partake in such things, maybe the best answer to all this is to look to the Almighty in prayer. Pray for the families of Heather Heyer, and VSP troopers Berke Bates and Jay Cullen, who surely need comfort and strength through this difficult time of loss. Pray that this becomes a time of reflection and repentance for James Fields, to drive out the wickedness and hatred in his heart and turn his life in the right direction, and that others see this result and step back from the brink before it’s too late.

And pray for a nation that’s being torn asunder more each day by forces wishing to divide it. Pray that we once again remember that we are a nation that God blessed, and in return we should be grateful for our abundance. We are all part of His creation, so perhaps it’s time to remember Luke 6:31.

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