Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: September 2021

If you didn’t know me or didn’t read my website on a regular basis for years, it would be hard to guess what Jacob Julius, Nick Haughian, John Ruettiger, Dariel Delgado, and Mike Burke have in common. Yes, they all played for the Shorebirds but these are the five previous players who were honored in September as a Shorebird of the Week. In years past, whenever the season stretched for more than a handful of days into the month, I would have one last SotW honoree who oftentimes was the best of a small group who were left over as players who hadn’t yet been selected from the season.

This year is different, and may be unique once again. Given the delayed beginning to the season thanks to the CCP virus, we played a total of 17 games in September. It was a meaningful enough number that I decided to have one last crop of Shorebirds of the Month despite the shortened season and this season will be my first without a repeat winner.

If there’s one thing that can be said about Coby Mayo, he certainly has a game face to put on. But the kid had a September to remember, outgunning the more reputed Colton Cowser to be this season’s last Shorebird Position Player of the Month.

In the middle of August, the Shorebirds got a shot in the arm with fifteen new players, most of whom were draftees from 2021. One exception in that group was a player who was drafted in 2020 but was kept in Florida after spring training was completed this season to get a little more seasoning at that level. But all Coby Mayo did for the Shorebirds was slash .344/3/17/1.018 OPS for the month, terrorizing the various pitching staffs of Salem, Carolina, and Fredericksburg along the way.

Drafted in the 4th round of 2020’s abbreviated draft out of Stoneman-Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (yes, it’s that high school), Coby has given those fine folks something to be proud of as he finally made his long-awaited pro debut in the Florida Complex League back in June. Playing mostly for the FCL’s Orioles Black team, Mayo slashed .329/4/15/1.005 OPS in 26 total games before moving up to Low-A as a 19-year-old (he turns 20 in December.)

The third baseman showed no signs of stopping once he arrived here, hitting .311/5/26/.963 OPS and holding down third base in the 27 games he played here (out of 30 possible, a stretch where the team overall went 20-10.) Even with those gaudy numbers, though, there’s no guarantee he’ll be moving up to Aberdeen as the Orioles’ system is suddenly flush with a lot of great prospects on the left side of the infield. Mayo may well be here next April to start the season, but if he keeps up those numbers he won’t be finishing here.

On the other hand, my Pitcher of the Month may remind readers more of those obscure weekly honorees I alluded to earlier.

Coming out of nowhere as a minor league Rule 5 draftee, Rickey Ramirez showed the Low-A East what experience can do. We’ll see if he can return to High-A in 2022 after getting a taste of it in 2019.

Rickey Ramirez didn’t have the dominating month that some prior pitchers of the month have had, but instead was the steadiest of performers and rated high enough in all the categories to win the honor this month. His 10 innings of work this month was sterling, allowing just one earned run and seven hits, striking out 13 while walking three for a WHIP that was an even 1. He even picked up two victories for the month.

Rickey was another pitcher who was started slowly, making five appearances in the Complex League before moving up. And something about his approach must have resonated with the Orioles because the numbers in Florida were pedestrian at best, allowing five earned in 5 1/3 innings. For Delmarva, though, Rickey ended up 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA in 18 appearances covering 28 innings. He closed out 16 of his 18 appearances, garnering 4 saves (which joined a three-way tie for the team lead with Thomas Girard and Shelton Perkins.)

Unlike Mayo, who was a prized prospect, Ramirez was drafted in the 15th round by the Minnesota Twins out of Fresno State back in 2017. The Californian pitched two seasons in the Twins’ system, topping out at then high-A Fort Myers to begin 2019 but was eventually demoted to low-A Cedar Rapids.

He came to the Orioles as a minor league Rule 5 selection last year, and while these players are often footnotes to their new organizations, the Orioles put the comparative veteran (he turns 25 next month) in some prime spots. But it’s likely his time is running out unless he can latch on with Aberdeen next season because there aren’t many 25-year-old prospects toiling at this level.

As advertised, next week I’ll be revealing my Shorebird of the Year as I wrap up this most unusual of seasons.

The final day

This post is intended to be a pictorial diary of a day in the life, but it’s more than that.

I jokingly refer to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium as my “summer home” since I spend a lot of time there each season. Last Sunday they played their final home game against the Fredericksburg Nationals, and while I normally take my 35mm camera to get the player photos I use for Shorebird of the Month, I also have my cell phone to get the obligatory picture I take and share on my social media.

In years past, though, I did more of a social media story on the last day but since I had companions for the game this season I was a little bit too engaged for that. In fact I sort of forgot I took these until I cleaned out my cell phone photos today – luckily, the pictorial is still appropriate because today was the Shorebirds’ actual finale as they finished on the road at Salem.

So most of the rest of this goes in with my long-standing “pictures and text” format. Hopefully you’ll enjoy this fan’s perspective.

Here we are, the front entrance to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium. Through those front doors awaits another episode in the continuing saga of young men living out their dream of being paid to play baseball. One thing I’ve noticed this season is that the steps have seldom been used for gates to the upper levels. That may have been a staffing shortage issue.
My first stop on this last game – which is always Fan Appreciation Day – was to drop my name into a bucket for full- and half-season ticket holders to have a chance to win prizes. It was a little different this season, probably due to the pandemic, in that winners didn’t randomly select their prizes on the dugout between innings.
This was a sampling of what all the fans, including but not limited to season ticket holders, could win. This year I kept alive my 16-season string of never getting my ticket number or name drawn, as did those who I was there with. It didn’t look like the swag was quite as valuable as it was in prior years but that’s all up to the sponsors and they’re probably feeling tough times as well.
This concession stand, which was renamed this season, is generally my first stop once I get situated at my seat. I’ll get into this aspect more when I do “picks and pans” next month, but I have no complaints about Carolyn and her helpers. A lot of times this season this was one of only 4 or 5 stands running when the park has (by my count and memory) 8 concession spaces. I’m sure that’s another staffing issue.
Back at my seat, with the teams warming up. You can see part of the 9/11 tribute they painted onto the field after the game on the 10th. I was thinking about it, and since 9/11 occurred in 2001 this is probably the first time they’ve played at home on the date – the season normally ended Labor Day and since 9/11 occurred they had not made it beyond the first round of the SAL playoffs, meaning our games was done well before the 11th of September. The delayed start this season allowed us to play that late in the summer for the first time.
He’d probably hate me for putting this up because he’s a “behind the scenes” type, but Shorebirds General Manager Chris Bitters always takes a few minutes before the final game to thank the fans and staff. It’s hard to believe that, in a field where staff turnover is the norm, that we’ve had Chris around for almost 15 years (and his assistant Jimmy Sweet for about as long.) This season he acknowledged what a difficult campaign it was to put together given all the uncertainty and lack of staff (like about 30 food service workers in a summer where the normal number is over 100) but was pleased the fans came out. And, most importantly to me, we actually played this summer.
I know this wasn’t the first pitch, but it was early on in the action. It was a nice afternoon for baseball but the Shorebirds were down 2-0. The FredNats got an early lead off pitcher Jean Pinto, who came on in the second inning to relieve the rehabbing Ty Blach, who pitched a scoreless first. Pinto eventually settled down to allow just the two runs in six innings.
The game progressed on a warm, sunny afternoon. One difference, though, between this and most other games was that there were no between-inning promotions because they were drawing winning numbers for the raffles at those times. So Sherman got to skip out on a couple things he was normally involved in, like the mascot race where he always figures out some way to overconfidently snatch defeat from the jaws of victory over a little kid. Yet one tradition that remained was the chicken dance that came at the end of the seventh inning, a frame where the Shorebirds finally got the lead for the first time, 3-2. They were primed to make a winner out of Pinto.
Instead, it turned out to be an exciting finish after all. The FredNats tied it in the top of the eighth but the good guys got a single by Connor Norby to lead off their half then, two outs later, Billy Cook singled him in to give the Shorebirds their winning 4-3 margin. Despite giving up the tying run in the eighth, Daniel Lloyd picked up the win.

As you can see, this one was closed out almost in record time as they finished in 2 1/2 hours. We were leaving the park at about the same time we would come in for a normal Sunday game in the summer that starts at 5:05. (In the spring months, they start at 2:05 like this one did.)

Also unlike a lot of seasons, we have not yet seen the schedule for next year. (We knew what the 2020 schedule was supposed to look like in mid-August 2019, for example.) From the schedules I have seen for the AAA level, it looks like minor league baseball will retain its six-game blocks for the most part as well as the Monday day off, with the exception of playing on Memorial Day and Independence Day. Teams will be switching venues between Sunday, July 3 and Monday, July 4 so that all teams will have a chance at a fireworks night (which was an omission on the 2021 schedule.)

It also appears we would go back to a more traditional schedule where the season begins in April and ends on the Sunday before Labor Day. Having a 22-week season (132 games) as we are now supposed to have for low-A ball would then slot the opener for us on April 5, 2022.

If so, then my count for waiting is anywhere from 198 to 205 days, depending on where we open. Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be there.

As I’m finishing this, the Shorebirds are finishing as well. They held on to win the finale 9-7, knocking their opponent Salem out of the playoffs as well. We finish the season 68-52.

A “monoblogue music” 2021 post-pandemic update (part 2)

Best laid plans of mice and men, right? I was hoping to get to this sooner and get it off my plate, but like I said back in part 1 I had some listening to do so it took a wee bit longer than I thought.

So when I left y’all, I was just about to talk about the bands that made my top 5 in 2017, which then would begin with the “indie protest band” Revolushn. They’re still at it, pointing to the release of a new album later this year that will likely follow in the vein of a messy but enjoyable single they put out in 2020 called Electric.

Next up for 2017: I’m going to skip ahead to 2019 a bit, because Rich Lerner and the Groove was one of two bands to appear twice on my Top 5 list. They’re just days away from Groove Jam X, the annual event they put on to assist food banks around their Greensboro, North Carolina home. After having to do Groove Jam IX online thanks to the CCP virus, they were excited to return to Doodad Farm and return to an outdoor show. Pray for good weather and a bumper crop of donations to feed their local hungry families. Sure, the band does the occasional show otherwise but this seems to be their main focus now.

Unfortunately, I think Justin Allen and the Well Shots have gone on a permanent hiatus because their last social media dates to 2018. And while Free Willy is still on social media, there’s been no new music or shows to report from them as a group.

Finally for the 2017 crop, Freddie Nelson stayed busy during the COVID shutdown with several live streams and recorded a version of a Leonard Cohen song called Hallelujah. It was a jarring departure from his usual upbeat style, stripped down to his tuned-down electric guitar and vocals.

Compared to the 2017 honorees, though, the 2018 group has been busy beavers.

Let’s start with Maxwell James, who put out a very enjoyable and dramatic 4-song EP called “Wheels” back in 2019 that, according to my Spotify chart on number of plays, didn’t attract nearly as much notice as it deserved. He’s an artist that could be at home in an adult contemporary type of venue like the Freeman Stage.

Geoff Gibbons has released a few country-tinged singles since we last checked in on him, with the latest being Keep On Drivin’ from 2020. But according to Spotify, his most successful was 2019’s Lately. He’s also been busy in a duo called KaseoGems and playing in a band with one of the best names I’ve heard in awhile, New Yank Yorkies.

Peak has an upcoming album in the works called “Choppy Water” and has done a number of regional dates to support its eventual release.

While Jared Weiss hasn’t been making music in the traditional “let’s get a band together, hit the road, and make an album” sense, he’s still been busy compiling an “interpretation” of Bob Dylan that’s played in New York since 2019 and is slated for a national tour in 2022. So his solo stuff seems to be on the shelf.

Justin Shapiro moved himself from the DC area to south Florida and has kept himself occupied doing solo gigs every weekend. Nice work if you can get it. Musically, 2020 brought a full-length album called “Away In Your Dreams” that I’m certain makes up a part of his shows. If there were a 2020 top 5, it’s likely his album would have been a contender thanks to his brand of groove rock (with the occasional ballad) that reminds me of an edgier Jimmy Buffett. (Maybe that’s why south Florida works for him?)

On to my last year of 2019, which is shorter because I had two reruns of artists who had been featured before. It gets even briefer because we haven’t heard much from Future Thrills since the pandemic began, and the local music scene isn’t too conducive to more activity.

Of course, you could create your own music scene by going on tour, and that’s what Benny Bassett is doing. He was all over the western part of this country over the summer playing everything from clubs to private parties, presumably soliciting support for a new album upcoming in 2022. I guess I need to get on better guest lists to be at parties where Benny is.

Finally, Lord Sonny the Unifier released a four-song EP last fall called “All New Information.” While they claim their sound has “evolved with the times” there comes a point where it’s a little too fuzzed-out and inaccessible, a weird mix of goth rock, New Wave, and random noise. Still like the guitar parts, though. Regardless, they’re working on new projects as we speak.

That, then, is the wrapup. Thanks to Jake Eddy for giving me the kick in the butt to finally finish this, nine months overdue. Since it took so long to get this one I will likely hold off on the next one until early 2023, if I don’t forget.

Total recall

While the final result wasn’t unexpected, the political news over the summer was the fate of California Governor Gavin Newsom, who survived an effort to recall him Tuesday by gathering over 60% of the vote so far – enough to safely assume he will stick around to finish his term next year and perhaps help propel him to re-election against whichever hapless candidate the California GOP will throw on the ballot. Interestingly enough, had Newsom somehow been recalled, the overwhelming winner of the race to replace him would have been black Republican, columnist, and talk show host Larry Elder. Larry received nearly half the vote in an exceptionally crowded replacement field with one caveat: it did not boast a major Democrat, probably because no connected Democrat would risk crossing the state’s political machine. (Yet the field did have the athlete formerly known as Bruce Jenner, who ran as a Republican.)

But the reason I’m bringing this up is the theoretical one: here in Delaware, Governor John Carney has led his state in much the same way that Newsom has governed California, using the heaviest of hands last year to browbeat individuals and businesses into attempting to stop the spread of the CCP virus. While things have eased up somewhat in recent months, Carney is running a state that is fat and happy with federal largesse at the moment but one that doesn’t seem to be sharing in the economic recovery from COVID all that well. While recall isn’t an option that’s available to Delaware voters, the question is whether such a bid could succeed if it were.

In California, the Newsom recall (which, by the way, was the 55th such effort, with success coming only in 2003 when Gray Davis was recalled in favor of Arnold Schwarzenegger) needed about 1.5 million signatures on a petition drive. (The number is 12% of the number of voters who participated in the previous gubernatorial election.) Based on the 2020 election, such an effort in Delaware would need a little over 59,000 signatures – and I think we could pick up a lot of that in Sussex County. One thing that would help is that Carney is not too far along in his term, so whoever succeeds him would have a long time to be in office.

But the question would be twofold, just as it was in California: could a Delaware recall vote of John Carney succeed, and who would run to replace him?

If you listen to the political pundits, they will say that the reason the recall failed (after looking somewhat promising initially) was that once Larry Elder emerged from the field as a contender, the contest became less on Newsom’s record and more like a standard election, which in California accrues a huge advantage to Democrats. If the system were set up in such a way that the Newsom recall would have been done first, then the election to succeed a few weeks later (with the lieutenant governor stepping in for the interim) it may have had more of a chance to succeed. Chances are that, in the end, the LG would have run for the top spot in the second election and won, but the key goal of getting rid of Newsom would have been achieved.

Here in Delaware, there are no shortage of Republicans who would have likely thrown their hat into the ring for such an election, with the top-tier candidates being the last two who the GOP has nominated for governor, Julianne Murray and Colin Bonini. But I suspect there may have been a high-profile regressive Democrat who jumped in as well, figuring he, she, or they would motivate their far-left voters to join in the recall effort and rid themselves of a more centrist Democrat. That would make things a lot more interesting and give a whole bunch of heartburn to the Delaware Democrat Party.

In a best-case scenario, the two forces combine with independents who are sick to death of “Governor Carnage” and push him out of office – say 35% of the total are Republicans and independents and 20% are those far-left Democrats. Assuming the GOP didn’t shoot itself in the foot and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by running enough people to split the vote, it would put a Republican in the governor’s chair even if he or she had to face a strongly Democrat General Assembly.

The more likely outcome, though, would find the Democrats having enough party discipline to prevail. That’s one thing they do pretty well, given the fact both their incumbent U.S. Senators have run against a “progressive” candidate recently and crushed that opposition. (By that token the regressives must be happy with LBR because no one with any significant bankroll or support base opposed her in the last two primary elections.) It would probably be something on the order of the California outcome, with over 60% voting against their best interests to retain.

Now if I were still in Maryland and recall were possible, THAT would be an intriguing coalition trying to recall Larry Hogan. I’ll just leave it at that.

Square one

As anyone over the age of 30 knows and remembers, it was twenty years ago today that not only did Sgt. Pepper teach the band to play, but a infamous band of homicidal religious fanatics flew jetliners into both towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, not achieving their goal of hitting the Capitol or White House only because of brave, quick-thinking, and doomed passengers aboard Flight 93.

Yet all that seems a history lesson lost on our policy makers who botched the final military campaign of the War on Terror undertaken by President George W. Bush and followed through – if reluctantly – by Presidents Obama and Trump. Joe Biden wanted our troops home from Afghanistan and he got them – never mind the fluctuating number of American and allied civilians remaining in-country, desperately seeking a way out.

It was intended to be perfect theatre: leaving a ostensibly free Afghanistan on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, with a government and army equipped and ready to stave off the Taliban menace without our assistance, sort of like the baby birds pushed out of the nest to fly free and live on their own – instead, the neighborhood predators got them.

As one who lived through 9/11, it’s somewhat ironic that the world we feared at the time has now come true by our own hand. For months we lived in mortal fear of a terrorist attack and our government took advantage of that to pass several heavy-handed restrictions, particularly on our freedom of movement and our privacy, still in place today. Indeed, we are safer from that terrorist threat, but at what cost?

Maybe this sensitivity is why I so clearly see the parallels between our reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attack and the more recent CCP virus terrorist attack. In both cases, the federal government expanded in both size and reach, with our latter-day equivalent to the PATRIOT Act perhaps being the vaccination mandates Joe Biden wants to send our way. (He will have much stiffer opposition from the states on this one than George W. Bush got for the PATRIOT Act, though.)

Yet there is one clear difference between 9/11 and the Wuhan flu, and that’s our lack of being united in the immediate aftermath. Our post-9/11 Era of Good Feelings only lasted a few weeks, but that’s one thing we remember about that time. Unfortunately, we never had that same feeling after we learned we had been exposed to the CCP virus – instead, each side has blamed the other for failures in stopping the spread and treating this deadly virus. Right now the role of Muslims post-9/11 is being played by those who have chosen not to be vaccinated for whatever reason. They have become the modern-day scapegoats.

Because there’s no particular day that can be pinned for the virus breaking loose from the Wuhan lab and eventually making its way to our shores, we won’t have the chance to pick an anniversary to commemorate. Unfortunately, it ended up that we couldn’t wipe out radical Islam in 20 years and it’s looking more and more like that chunk of time won’t be any more effective than 15 days to stop the spread.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: August 2021

This month’s contests were a battle of attrition.

Because the position player roster had a significant upheaval in the middle of the month, I had a dilemma: the new players wouldn’t be on the roster long enough to qualify (I use 2/3 of the games as a criteria) nor would the players they were replacing. Fortunately, I had a pretty good candidate who stayed all month and that guy was Darell Hernaiz.

One of the few Shorebirds to be around for the whole month, Darell Hernaiz kept his share of playing time despite the influx of new talent.

In August Hernaiz hit .272/1/16/.667 OPS, playing in 20 games. He had a few breathers when the new kids came to town, but has settled into regular shortstop duty in the latter part of the season after splitting time between second and third while Jordan Westburg and Gunnar Henderson were here manning short. Having just turned 20 during the season and not putting up quite the numbers the more highly-touted Westburg and Henderson have, it appears the Orioles are quite content to leave Hernaiz here for a full season and give him a chance to move up to Aberdeen for 2022. For the campaign, though, the Puerto Rico native (who was drafted out of Americas High School in El Paso, Texas) has slashed .270/5/44/.673 OPS, and has been perhaps the most consistent performer we’ve seen as his monthly average numbers have held between .256 and .281 for the season. In addition, Darell has 16 steals on the season.

Darell’s always been a contender for the position player of the month honors, but had Colton Cowser started a week earlier and stayed on pace he may well have been the honoree. Cowser was the best of a large group of (mostly) newly-drafted players to make the leap from the Complex League in August and will surely be a player with a good chance of being my first-ever September position player of the month.

As for the Pitcher of the Month, it was an easy choice for me and probably about that easy for the Low-A East League, which is also honoring Jean Pinto.

Jean Pinto was a key addition to the Shorebird pennant push as he took the Low-A East by storm in August.

Pinto, whose modest career had heretofore been three brief starts in the Dominican Summer League for the DSL Angels’ team, was half of the player haul the Orioles received in their trade of Jose Iglesias last December 2. And while Iglesias has wore out his welcome with the Angels, who released him last week (since signing with the Red Sox) Pinto is coming into his own as a 20-year-old pitcher for the Shorebirds, who received him when he was promoted from the Complex League July 27.

While Jean, who hails from Valencia, Venezuela, did not get a decision in his five August starts, he did pitch a team-leading 26 2/3 innings, allowing but 13 hits and four earned runs for a 1.35 ERA, striking out 29 and walking only 6. (That’s a WHIP of just 0.72 – mighty stingy.) His two best starts in August were matching six-inning, two-hit dominations of Down East at home and at Lynchburg where he also struck out six in each start without walking a batter. That’s the kind of consistency that will get a 20-year-old talent promoted eventually. And for the season, including his FCL stints, he’s sporting a 1-2 record with a 1.95 ERA, allowing batters an anemic .149 average along with a 65/13 strikeout-to-walk ratio overall. While newly-acquired Gregori Vasquez also had a pretty good month, Pinto was by far the cream of the crop.

I’m penciling Jean into Aberdeen’s rotation next season since he’s pretty much proven himself at this level.

It looks like, at this point, I will be doing the September Shorebirds of the Month on the 23rd since they are (as of this writing, on their off day) 5 games back of a playoff spot with 12 to play. That may sound insurmountable but the two teams directly in front of them are in the midst of playing each other and the Shorebirds play the current second-place team in their last series. So a good run may be enough depending on what else happens.

But unless they make the playoffs, I will do the Shorebird of the Year on September 30 and picks and pans on October 7. All that will be left for the year then will be the Hall of Fame induction post for my (so far) four members of the Class of 2021 in December.

A “monoblogue music” 2021 post-pandemic update (part 1)

Back in December 2019, as I did my final top 5 list for the long-running monoblogue feature, I promised, “if I get curious enough I may see what my twenty-odd bands featured as top 5 artists over the years are up to. But this will close out monoblogue music as a regular feature.”

Needless to say, we didn’t know at the time (the news broke just days later if I recall correctly) that China would unleash the CCP virus on the world and eventually decimate the music business, live and otherwise. So this promise was put on the shelf and, admittedly, forgotten – until I got an e-mail back in July from a young gentleman named Jake Eddy. Jake and his collaborator at the time, Steve Hussey, put out a record in 2016 called “The Miller Girl” that made its way into that year’s top 5, and artists occasionally acknowledge these reviews.

Thus, I’m on Jake’s list for media outlets and he wanted me to take a listen to his new EP, which is a compilation with several other artists (not including Hussey, who he’s perhaps parted ways with. I didn’t ask.)

Jake Eddy’s latest self-titled release.

The 7-song, 25-minute EP is full of traditional standards done in instrumental fashion – the only spoken words on the EP come at the very end, with a little post-song banter. I sort of wish they had added it to more songs because, while the playing is generally very professional, it doesn’t seem to have that feel one gets from listening to a live performance. I’m not a fan of jazz, either, and while it’s hard to explain I sort of felt like I was listening to jazz with bluegrass instruments, much like most of what passes for modern country is rock with country instruments and a twang. Depending on the competition, this may have been a fringe top 5/honorable mention performer if I was still doing full reviews. Fans of traditional music would probably embrace this better than I did.

So now we are caught up with what half of “The Miller Girl” duo is doing. In the long interregnum it’s taken me to do this post since I started it a couple months back, I decided to split things in half and see if I could move this along. Fortunately for format, Jake’s review came in 2016 so this first part will cover the artists and groups who put out albums I selected as top 5 albums from 2014 to 2016, the first three years I did reviews. Part two will cover 2017 to 2019, as more of them are active.

Back in 2014, I selected as my cream of the crop albums from five artists: Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders, Tomas Doncker, The Lost Poets, Monks of Mellonwah (my very first review), and Paul Maged.

I’ve never quite figured out Billy Roberts in more ways than one, but in this case it’s how he succeeds with little social media presence. It’s like he just puts out an album every few years and pours his heart and soul into what I suppose could be best described as alt-country. However, his last album from 2019, called “The Southern Sessions,” was remakes of his previous work so I’m wondering if the fire (or funding) is still there.

Tomas Doncker, on the other hand, is still collaborating with poet (and I always love trying to type out this name) Yusef Komunyakaa. However, his most recent solo single came out this year, called Wherever You Go, and it’s a nice slow bluesy tune worth checking out. Currently he’s over in Europe touring.

I really liked The Lost Poets, but a recent social media post has led to me to believe one of the duo has, sadly, passed away. It’s not been enough of a newsworthy item to progress beyond that post. I was definitely hoping for an Insubordia part 4, but, alas, that may never come. Their last single was River Runs Dry, which came out in 2019.

Never did figure out what happened to Monks of Mellonwah, as they disappeared from the scene. But Paul Maged has more than made up for it, wrapping up a trilogy of EPs in 2019 (that I reviewed) and putting out another angry album on Election Day of 2020 called “Culture War.” (With a song called Cult 45, you can guess who he probably voted for.) Yet since the election aftermath, Maged’s dropped off Twitter so I’m not sure what he could be angry about now.

Moving on to 2015, the Fab Five were Idiot Grins, The Liquorsmiths, Tumbler, Space Apaches, and Jas Patrick.

In 2018 (and more recently for a video), Idiot Grins put together an album called “Thoughts & Prayers.” Once I read the backstory for the video of Satan’s Jeweled Crown, the strangeness of the album make sense, as “Thoughts & Prayers” is a cover album of an old country gospel album (1959) called “Satan Is Real” by the Louvin Brothers. Without that, I was wondering if they were playing it straight or as a parody, but once I read the story I realized it was legit. Old country gospel isn’t my style, but I’m sure I know people who would enjoy the fresh remake. It’s definitely different from what I reviewed, but as I recall now there were some pretty abrupt changes in that album, too.

In the case of the Liquorsmiths, they really haven’t done new music in the last couple years but they have ventured out a little bit. During the pandemic they were doing livestream shows to keep going.

None of my other three groups from 2015 appear to be active anymore. I have no idea what happened to Tumbler after 2017, while the Space Apaches social media is now touting a group called Andrew Reed and the Liberation, which I’m assuming is one of the studio musicians who made up the group. Meanwhile, Jas Patrick has moved on from music to further his voiceover acting career.

So we move on to the 2016 honorees, which included Michael Van and the Movers, Midwest Soul Xchange, Jim Peterik, the aforementioned Hussey and Eddy, and Magic Lightnin’ Boys. I was really bummed about the demise of the latter group, which used to play a serious brand of Southern rock, but the others are still around in various forms.

Michael Van and the Movers, for example, hasn’t put together any new music recently (since 2018) but they are still playing shows around their northern California home.

A tour was the highlight of 2019 for Midwest Soul Xchange as they traveled around the (you guessed it) Midwest for several club shows. They also released a country-rock style single called Wonton Jesus late last year.

Jim Peterik hasn’t done any recent solo material, but in the months since I last did this there has been new albums from several of his groups: Ides of March, World Stage, and Pride of Lions have all put out new work since then.

And finally, while I covered Jake Eddy already, Steve Hussey got busy this year remastering some old work with a band called Luvbox and produced some new songs with his band Steve Hussey and the Last Hope. He started out promising a song a week and made it to February, which is better than most of my New Year’s resolutions.

So I’m going to try and do the second update for next weekend, but it’s been fun checking in so far. In looking at some of the newer groups already, they’ve been busy bees so the next segment may or may not be on time. I have some listening to do.

A brief rebuttal

As I alluded to in my last post, I did get a response from Jen Kuznicki in her podcast on August 23 – a podcast I didn’t have a chance to sit down and listen to until last night. (In the interim, she’s done another I haven’t listened to yet.)

Given her response, two things were clear to me: one is that I should have done Jen’s section as a separate post from the part about the Tea Party Express. I think she got bogged down in more of a comparison with the TPX than I had intended to make. My point with them is that they were soliciting money to get consultants rich instead of really helping conservative candidates, and that point remains. Somewhere in the podcast I think Jen mentioned giving money to individual candidates, and I agree with (in fact, encourage) that approach.

The second part is that I probably agree with her assessment on the Republican Party about 70 percent, except there are portions of the country where getting involved in the GOP are more difficult than others. Just as a personal example, I was elected twice as a precinct committeeman in Toledo and surrounding areas and appointed twice. In the one election I was opposed, it was one of maybe a half-dozen contested precinct races in the entire county (out of perhaps 300, since precincts in Lucas County are generally tiny, like a handful of blocks in some cases.) In the cases where I was appointed, the precinct was empty because no one sought the job. I literally lost my election in Precinct P of my ward and immediately got asked if I wanted to represent Precinct Q next door since no one ran there.

In places like that, it would be simpler for a motivated group to take over the party – get enough people elected in home precincts and have the interest to be appointed to other precincts that need people. Then they can have the muscle to get folks elected to the executive committee where the real decisions are made.

On the other hand, my experience in Maryland was that I had to run countywide in order to get a seat at the GOP table. In one respect it was good because it skipped the really low precinct level (otherwise, our county would have had about 50 different elections) but it also made each seat require much more effort in highly competitive areas. In my first election there were seven running for seven seats countywide so I won automatically, but in my last two we had thirteen vying for nine seats. In other places around Maryland, though, there may have been a half-dozen scrambling for just one spot in a particular legislative district – it all depends on how each county does things. I think that’s a factor that can’t be ignored.

There’s also something to be said for political clubs, which are a large factor in some areas and basically ignored in others. Taking over a club can get you influence if you play it right, but it can also lead to a divisive conflict that allows the opposition to get a foothold.

Jen also mentioned author Craig Shirley, who I wasn’t all that familiar with. But in doing a shovel’s worth of digging, I found out he’s now a columnist for Newsmax and recently he did a piece on Reaganism I found interesting. One good pull quote:

For my wife Zorine and I who were foot soldiers in the Reagan Revolution, it began months earlier, possibly years earlier, when in the mind of a young man or young woman, or in Reagan’s mind itself, a spark was ignited and an original thought provoked which said, “Enough is enough. This is my country, and it is being run into the ground and I am not going to take it anymore. Because our ideas are better than their ideas.”

“Reaganism and Understanding It,” Craig Shirley, Newsmax.com, August 16, 2021.

Indeed, I believe our ideas are better than their ideas, which is why I keep doing this. But the one place I may disagree with Jen somewhat is that perhaps we are limiting ourselves too much if we concentrate on taking over one political party. As we have seen over the last twenty years, the fortunes of the Republican Party have ebbed and flowed based on public mood moreso than their philosophy, which has stayed relatively constant. Perhaps a better and concurrent strategy – one which the TEA Party had mixed success with – would be to take over the local boards and commissions to establish a beachhead of good governance, then work up through the system. (It seems like this is the method being attempted by the Patriots for Delaware.) As I’ve said before, governing is the hard part – but it’s harder when the citizenry is apathetic to needed improvements.

Beggars and hangers-on with both sides

Over my last (infrequent) series of posts, I’ve taken time on a couple occasions to pick on grifters from the left so in order to be equal opportunity I decided to take on a right-leaning outfit looking to part the gullible and their money.

To set up the story, I heard from an old friend of sorts the other day. Over the years I’ve blogged quite a bit about the Tea Party Express (TPX) on my site, but that wasn’t many pixels compared to when I wrote Rise and Fall. (It’s scary to remember that just about five years have now passed since I first embarked on that project, which came out almost 2 1/2 years ago now.) As part of that book I wrote a much more comprehensive history of the TPX, covering its evolution from being the Our Country Deserves Better PAC in the 2008 election through its chance encounter with a TEA Party rally in Sacramento to being a Presidential debate co-sponsor three years later. After that peak, the TPX slowly declined as they laid off the bus tours they were most famous for after the 2014 primaries and became just another political insider organization subsisting on handouts.

So it almost hurt to read the well-worn script imploring donors to help the TPX “ensure conservatives take back the House in 2022” and promising “we ensure donations ONLY go to proven conservatives, NO RINOS.” What they’re not counting on you recalling is that some of those RINOs were surely people they backed in the first place.

Of course, they mention how “Nancy Pelosi and her lap dog Adam Schiff disgracefully assaulted President Trump,” and that the Left’s goal was not just silencing Donald Trump, but our voice as well. Yeah, yeah, I get all that.

But, you see, the blogger of 2021 is not the gung-ho TPX backer he was back in 2009-10 when he pined for the TPX to make a stop on the Delmarva. Perhaps I saw the light when onetime TPX chair Amy Kremer decided to drop it like a bad habit due to a strategy disagreement and eventually latched onto the Trump phenomenon as her grift. They definitely lost their luster with me as time went on and they moved on from what made them great.

Speaking of the TEA Party, it’s funny that this TPX appeal came a day or two before I listened to a new podcast from an old conservative blogging friend I know, Jen Kuznicki. I think she may be a little more bullish about the TEA Party than I am, but I learned that she was once again in the belly of the beast as a county GOP chair. Yet she points out the difficulty of working behind enemy lines, as it were, in a rural part of Michigan analogous to the situation we here in Delaware and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland face. (The part about having four votes for her little rural county vs. dozens for the big cities – hey, that sounds vaguely familiar! Just the numbers are a little different.)

I know Jen’s been writing for awhile, so I also know she was a participant in the TEA Party’s attempt to take over the GOP (much like I was, several states away) just as she now advocates the Trump backers to do the same. Yet there always seems to be an issue with getting “establishment” people out of the power positions, regardless of how well you try and take over the local groups. Those in control are not above spreading rumors and innuendo or inserting stalking horses into the race to maintain their hold.

So if it’s true that insanity is believing that you can do the same thing and get different results then the same is true with handing money to the Tea Party Express. It’s money that would be far more useful to the conservative cause if it were donated to a local conservative candidate or traditionalist slate running for school board. That goal amount of $50,000 donated to the TPX will, if they indeed entice the sum from the unwashed, likely fatten the coffers of chosen consultants who will work on the periphery with messaging spots against the Democrats that get tuned out by the electorate instead of going to the candidates who wear away their shoe leather and burn their gas seeking votes where they can find them.

With my sincere apologies to Jen, it’s all a movie I’ve seen before and I really want a different script this time. Maybe the initial organizers of the TEA Party were right in wanting to stay away from the two-party system – after all, once a side assumes they have a group in its pocket (such as the black vote for Democrats or the evangelical vote for Republicans) that’s when they know they only have to provide lip service to your issues. And the TEA Party got a LOT of lip service over the decade it was prominent.

So it was easy to give a hard pass to the TPX. My local patriot group isn’t begging me for money but I bet they’ll work harder for their chosen candidates.

Editor’s note 8-21-21: Jen has promised me she will address this in her next podcast, so keep your ear to the ground.

On growth in a post-growth small town

Like a lot of small towns, the town whose zip code I reside in is looking to expand. Recently a developer came to the town with a proposal to add several hundred dwelling units behind a group of retail shops fronting along the major highway that runs on the eastern outskirts of town.

Come to think of it, this could apply to any of the four communities in Sussex County along the U.S. 13 corridor. In each case, Bridgeville, Seaford, Laurel, and Delmar have an older downtown area which was bypassed when U.S. 13 was rerouted around those towns decades ago. Now all of them have development along the new highway to some extent, with grocery stores, restaurants, shops, and convenience stores clustered in varying degrees along that major north-south route. (Despite the traffic lights, it’s generally considered a lower-hassle alternative to taking I-95 through Baltimore and Washington, D.C.)

Now I’m not sure just when the current four-lane U.S. 13 was constructed, although I know its predecessor route is still extant from Delmar, Maryland up through a point north of Seaford, and again through Bridgeville where it met up with SR404. But with the exception of Delmar, which centered its downtown around the railroad track that runs just west of 13, all these towns once had the highway serve their central business district. There is still quite a bit of commerce in these areas, but (with the exception of Seaford) nowhere near as much as there is along the newer highway.

Anyway, back to my point about Laurel, which is the subject of this essay. Here’s what I wrote about this development to a local message board:

Interesting that some of the other Laurel message boards seem to be filled out with the NIMBY crowd. But let me add a couple pennies here.

One thing I haven’t seen (it may be in subsequent news coverage, though) is what the buildout schedule is. People think “omigosh, we’re getting all these housing units” but not all of them are built at once. If it’s a popular development then buildout is still probably 3-4 years, and if it’s like Heron Ponds in Delmar they may take 20 years. So the new population will come in gradually.

And to speak to (a local citizen’s) concern, there was a random Friday a few months back when I drove through North Towns End and I counted 15 houses in various stages of construction. In just the couple years since we moved out here we’ve seen several houses put up on Mt. Pleasant (we looked at one of the new ones before we bought ours) so someone must like our end of town.

Maybe it’s a function of what I do for a living, but I’ve always said that if an area doesn’t grow it dies. East side of Laurel could use some construction, too.

Message on a local social media group board.

Yet a lot of the messages have a different but legitimate complaint: Laurel needs better jobs, more retail options and things to do, and less crime. The fear seems to be that the new development will bring less of what’s already lacking and more of what we don’t want, so I want to use my forum to revise and extend my previous remarks.

First off, I’m an outsider looking in. I really never dealt much with Laurel before I moved here except for driving through it, either on the main highway or occasionally the alternate through town. I actually still don’t do a lot of business there because I work in Salisbury and my wife works in Seaford, so any quick shopping is more likely to be done in those two towns or in Delmar since that’s on my way from work. But we often have occasion to eat out in Laurel and when we are home it has the closest grocery store.

By geography, we live closer to Sharptown, Maryland, but there’s nothing much there that I’m aware of except a convenience store and a Dollar General. That’s a town which is really off the beaten path, so very little commerce occurs there and the population has remained remarkably steady over the decades at around 650 people. (The same goes for Bethel, Delaware, which is also pretty close to us but even smaller.) So Laurel or Seaford it generally is, despite the extra distance.

In the case of many rural communities, their approach to job growth is as follows: set aside a plot of land with improvements and parcels of several acres and call it an industrial park. Promise some sort of tax abatement and then apply the Field of Dreams mantra: if you build it, they will come. I’m not saying that idea doesn’t work, since there are several industrial parks around and some are rather full, but a town can’t put all its eggs in just that basket.

So here is Laurel, with an investor who wants to put his money into the town but is getting grief from the NIMBY crowd. Ignore them. Presuming the developer will pay for the improvements required on the side road (up to and including the traffic signal that may be necessary at 13) this is a pretty good idea, at least in concept. I may be inclined for a smaller mix of townhouses to single-family, though, because one thing the area needs is property owners who will presumably take pride in their surroundings.

Once this development is underway, what the town needs to do in my opinion is create a way to make investment in its older areas just as worthwhile. Let’s look at one pivotal block of downtown Laurel as an example, the block on the southeast corner of old 13 and SR24. (Central Avenue and Market Street.)

From what I can gather, if you look at the block from the park across the street, there is a Chinese restaurant, a storefront church, a thrift store, and a building whose storefront I think is vacant but used to be a Mexican grocery. Thanks to the magic of Google Maps images, I found out that block was amputated sometime around the beginning of the last decade to accommodate extra parking for the Laurel Public Library. (At least now it owns the parcels.) The other two sets of parcels are owned by private individuals, one living in Laurel and another living in another town in Sussex County. But if you go back into the state archives, you’ll find that these two streets were completely built up in the early 20th century. Now the only corner left relatively the same is the one with the bank – the other three corners are either parking or the small downtown park.

Of course, I don’t know the back story of how all that came to pass, but it just seems from my perspective that, in the most recent case, the library could have worked out a deal with the bank on parking and left the buildings there, unless they had fallen that far into disrepair. (I’ve seen some references to a fire so I’m wondering if that had anything to do with this puzzle, too.)

But don’t you think it would make efforts to revitalize Laurel’s downtown better if that little bit of parking were moved across the street and someone invested in that corner with a mixed-use project of a storefront and apartments above? Build something new and fresh, but with the look of a historic structure, and maybe that encourages the neighbors to spruce up their buildings. Now perhaps that may not happen, but just like those who are down on the proposed development, if you do zero to improve things there’s a zero percent chance of improvement. I realize it’s nowhere near all that we need, but someone has to take the leap and I’m glad there’s a person out there who does.

Make yourself available and receptive to people who want to invest in good ideas and you just may find prosperity in something that benefits all parties involved.

Quick fix, simmering realizations…

Every so often I get blog feedback, and generally when I mention it I like to poke fun at it. But in this case it brought back a memory that, upon reading, could really have been written in August 2021 just as easily as it was in May of 2017.

In this case, the feedback was from an outfit that must like to check my links and suggests that I prune dead links and redirect them through their site. I appreciated their advice, but instead I found an archived link for what I needed.

But it gave me the opportunity to do a throwback Thursday on Sunday the other night when I wrote this piece. At that point in life 4 1/2 years ago I was still skeptical of a Trump administration that was just starting out while I was then working a job and a half. And it was this passage that stopped me cold:

I’m no economic genius by any stretch of the imagination, but I would suspect having GDP growth exceed inflation is good, but having government spending (which is a component of GDP) increase more quickly than either is a bad sign. If you take away the government spending component the question is whether GDP growth is still ahead of inflation. Maybe it’s not.

But who profits from that? I will grant there is certain government spending that adds value: if someone in the federal DOT had the gumption to have an interstate highway built between here and I-95 by Wilmington, not only would the money create local construction jobs on Delmarva but the greater ease in access to and from points north like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia would be good for local tourism and industry by making it easier to get here and transport there.

On the other hand, simple wealth transfers from rich to poor (welfare, Medicaid) and young to old (Social Security, Medicare) don’t add much in the way of value except in the sense that their care and feeding keeps a few thousand paper-pushers employed. But they are not creating value as their wages are extracted from those dollars others earn with work that adds value like mining, manufacturing, services like architecture and construction, and so forth. (Did I mention that I’m once again a registered architect in Maryland?)

So if you know this and I know this, why is the system remaining as is? I believe more and more that there is a group of well-connected people and entities who make their fortunes by gaming the system. Instead of government being a neutral arbitrator, they seem to be putting their thumb on the scale to favor those who now participate in an ever-widening vicious cycle of dependency and rent-seeking. To me, things should be fair for everyone with equal treatment in the eyes of the law but greed and lack of respect for one’s fellow man has changed the Golden Rule to “he who has the gold, rules.”

“About my hiatus,” May 5, 2017.

And remember, I wrote this before anyone outside of a Wuhan lab had ever heard of the virus that became the CCP virus and its fourteen variants that seem to come out whenever the news is bad for the Democrats. It was a pandemic where the rich, led by Walmart and Amazon, got richer and the middle-class got pretty much wiped out by unemployment and seeing their businesses die, or both. Remind me again who determined which businesses were deemed “essential” and which were forced to close? And this doesn’t even consider stimulus packages 1-48, which have added trillions to our deficit and debt.

(Side note: I was on a roll back then with my thoughts, because the next piece just nailed health insurance. I even called Andy Harris’s margin of victory eighteen months ahead of time. I really need to write like that more often!)

So, “Ella Miller,” if you are a real person (and I’m guessing by the search engines that you are sending these out under a pseudonym), I want to thank you for bringing the dead link to my attention so I could be reminded of just how consistent I’ve been politically and how I sometimes have the spider sense working just right.

True lies from the opposition

I haven’t written much about Indivisible of late because they’re continuing their predictable slide into grifter status, perpetually begging for money from the unwashed but certainly collecting their real cash from the same monied interests that keep the entire political Left afloat.

That support is a subject surely to be avoided by an initiative I was alerted to a few weeks back that they portrayed as a “truth brigade.” Get a load of this:

Big news! We recently publicly launched a massive volunteer program to counter right-wing disinformation: the Truth Brigade. You may have seen this campaign featured in the Washington PostForbes, and other outlets — we’ve been running a pilot program for several months that has already engaged 4,750 people, driving posts that together generated over 82 million impressions on social media.

Now, because the stakes are so high, we’re taking this plan public and expanding even further, as the right wing continues their crusade to poison the discourse and undermine our democracy…

(Pause for fundraising appeal…of course.)

The Truth Brigade is our answer to the right-wing disinformation machine. Research shows that one of the best ways to counter disinformation is through interactions with real people in your network — so thousands of volunteers are getting the training and the tools they need to shift the narratives in their own communities.

We provide resources on best practices, from how to structure messages to understanding how social media amplifies lies. Then, every two weeks, volunteers receive careful explainers about the latest issues and work on a campaign tailored to push back against messaging trends from bad actors. And leaders are constantly evaluating success to build more effective campaigns.

Just like all our work, it’s guided by experts who monitor right-wing circles, follow the spread of disinformation, and build tested tactics to fight back. And it’s powered by real volunteers, channelling (sic) their anger into action to protect our democracy.

Indivisible, “Project Launch: The Truth Brigade,” July 16, 2021.

So do you get it? This “grassroots” group that works from the top down is sending out “careful explainers” (read: misinformation) to “push back against messaging trends” (in other words, the real truth) from “bad actors” (people like us.) In a different era, we would know these people for what they are: useful idiots. And those “experts” are the trolls who “fight back” by regularly invading our political discussions with their tired talking points. (They’re the people I call the “traveling roadshow.”)

And the thing is: most of these local people Indivisible is really targeting – as opposed to those like me who only follow to know what the other side is up to – aren’t bad people, they’re just misguided. (Sort of like the unsaved who live in a worldly manner because they haven’t yet understood the Good News. I’m betting many of them get caught up in the center of that Venn diagram, too.)

On that thought, there is one other passage which sticks out: “channeling their anger into action to protect our democracy.” Setting aside the incorrect assertion that we are a democracy, one needs to question what they are angry about? Are they angry because they aren’t in with the powerful and privileged and seek some Other to rectify the situation? Since it’s not likely those chosen few are going to allow you to join their club without selling your soul in the process, maybe you simply need something to dissipate your anger. All anger seems to do these days is to get people in trouble. As a conservative white male, one would think I have the most to be angry about but I let it roll off me like water off a duck because I know I have a higher purpose and better destination in the end.

So if I were to guess, the real truth is probably a little closer to what I’m telling you than the “careful explainers” that Indivisible is churning out.

But what got this post elevated from something that was still simmering on my back burner as a piece worth barely worth more than an odds and ends mention to actually writing it was this gem from Indivisible yesterday. The sender was Meagan Hatcher-Mays, who I gather is part of their policy team:

Normally we wouldn’t email you twice in one day but we just heard some very important intel on the For the People Act, and with the Senate headed for recess literally any day, it couldn’t wait.

This afternoon, our policy team (that’s me and my colleagues) heard from multiple sources that Delaware’s two senators, Tom Carper and Chris Coons, are both holding out on eliminating or even reforming the filibuster, effectively stalling passage of the For the People Act (S. 1). We’ve known for a while that they were both reluctant to upset the status quo even for important legislation — they’ve been telling Indivisible groups so for a while — but this is the clearest confirmation we’ve heard that they’re willing to put arcane Senate rules over the legislation the American people elected Democrats to pass. 

Having them standing in the way also provides cover for Sens. Manchin (WV) and Sinema (AZ), who can now pretend they aren’t the ones blocking progress. If you’re not part of the solution, Senators, you’re part of the problem. 

Depending on where you live, here’s what we need you to do:

If you live in Delaware, call Senators Coons and Carper at 1-877-684-7760 and tell them you’ve heard information that they’re wavering and it’s time to pick a side: Democracy or the filibuster. Remind them you’re paying attention. (If you want, fill out your information here and we’ll call you with a script and patch you through to their office directly.)

Indivisible, “Important new intel re: Delaware (and the country),”August 6, 2021.

First off, insofar as I know that’s not actually a Senate number. I suspect it’s part of Indivisible’s fundraising efforts. Secondly, maybe they finally figured out I live in Delaware because a lot of their other stuff was targeted more to my previous zip code. (Or maybe they figured I’m close enough.)

But this is a rare time I actually agree with my Senators because they understand the function of the Senate insofar as it’s constituted in the modern day. (If they wanted it to truly function properly, they would call for repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment but we all know that’s not going to happen.) They’ve figured out that the filibuster that may hold them back in this cycle could well be their protection next time when the pendulum swings back.

So perhaps we should call their offices or drop them a line to commend them on that stance in keeping the filibuster. Why let the Indivisible minions have all the fun?