Thursday, April 30, 2009

Denver Nuggets

I was happy to find out this morning that my favorite NBA team (the Denver Nuggets) won game 5 of their series with the New Orleans Hornets to advance to Round 2 of the NBA Playoffs to face the Dallas Mavericks. This is their first playoff series win in 15 years. This of course may prompt you to ask "Why do you root for the Denver Nuggets"?

Go back with me to the mid 1970s. The NBA was nowhere as popular as it is now. They might a show a few games a year on TV plus parts of the playoffs. I seem to remember they even would tape-delay playoff games. There was another basketball league back then called the ABA (the American Basketball Association). They used a red, white, and blue basketball (I used to have one, wish I still did). They pioneered several basketball changes that the NBA actually adopted including the 3-point shot, the slam-dunk contest, and high school kids going directly to the pros (i.e Moses Malone). There was a team in that league called the Kentucky Colonels that played in Louisville. Not only that, they had two prominent former UK players in Louie Dampier and arguably the best Wildcat of all time - Dan Issel.

They were very competitive in the ABA. There was a country-city rivalry with the New York Nets and their star player Julius "Dr. J" Erving. Kentucky finally won the ABA championship in the 1974-1975 season. They challenged the NBA champs (the Golden State Warriors) to a championship series which the Warriors declined. Things were looking great! Then, in a bizarre move in the off season, the owner of the Colonels sold Dan Issel to the Baltimore Claws (a new ABA franchise).

That owner was John Y Brown. He is well known to Kentuckians as the man who bought KFC from Colonel Sanders (later selling it). He was also governor of the State from 1979-1983. He later divorced his first wife and married Phyllis George. She was a former Miss America and the first prominent female NFL sportscaster. Brown made me even more upset after the season when he refused to pony up to have Kentucky move to the NBA (when the ABA finally folded) with the New York (later the New Jersey) Nets, the San Antonio Spurs, the Indiana Pacers and finally the Denver Nuggets. He ended up buying the Buffalo Braves team right after that (they became the LA Clippers). I pushed everybody I knew to not vote for him for governor in 1979 and would never vote for him for anything after that.

Well, the Claws folded in something like a week after the season. Dan Issel ended up with the Denver Nuggets. With Issel being a UK guy plus the Nuggets being an ABA team, I started rooting for them and have ever since. They had good teams those first few years and even got to the West finals in 1987 before losing to the Lakers (with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar). Ever since, they've bounced back and forth between mediocre and terrible (one year they lost 23 games in a row!). They've made some good personnel moves in the past few years. The final piece was getting point guard Chauncey Billups in exchange for Allen Iverson at the start of this year. I'm cautiously optimistic.

Hope you enjoyed what my sons would surely call "an old man story".

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Country Road, take me home...

Josh was playing tennis in Murray on Friday afternoon and wanted me to come there. He wanted a ride home so he could get to a Multimedia class gathering that night. He grudgingly said "Since you are driving all that way, you can watch me play". He generally does not like Donna and I to watch him play. Naturally I jumped at the chance.

We go to Mayfield a decent amount. It's been years since I've been to Murray. I got to Mayfield and the "Dick Castleman Bypass". Mayfield has maybe 10,000 people in it but somehow they were able to get a bypass built around their city. It's nice I admit (it used to be a quite weavy trip through downtown Mayfield) but I am not sure how it was justified. Obviously somebody (quite possible their local representative it's named for) had a good bit of influence in the Kentucky state legislature.

After rounding the bypass (about 3 or 4 miles), I turned left to pick up the main part of 121. I was surprised to find that it was now integrated with hiway 80. It was also now four lane. Turns out hiway 80 is going to be fourlaned all the way to Murray. Right now it's done all the way to Coldwater. They've had to put in a traffic light in Coldwater now to get the four-lane traffic back onto 121 from the four-laned 80. It's bizarre seeing a traffic light in Coldwater. I don't even think its as big as Wickliffe or LaCenter. It might be comparable to Kevil.

After a bit of online research, the plan is to four-lane 80 all the way from Mayfield to Cadiz. Again, some representatives in this part of the state must have some influence in the state legislature. It may divert traffic from Stella depriving me the right to always yell "Stell-aaa" in my poor Marlon Brando impersonation whenever we see the green sign when we drive through (and earning incredulous looks from my sons each time).

I've lost a bit more sympathy for our Governor when he complains about a lack of money. I may incur the ire of some, but I cannot understand the need to four-lane that corridor. I've gotta believe there are hiways that need it worse than that in the state...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Kansas City, here I come

I got up Saturday morning and ran on the treadmill at the hotel. We finally left a bit before 11 for Kansas City. We stopped in Columbia and ate at Chili's. We got to the hotel (Drury Inn and Suites) about 3:30 so we had time to rest a bit before the game (at 6:10pm).

The weather was a bit warmer so we just went with bringing coats. You can walk from the Drury Inn to Kaufman Stadium (home of the Royals). It's right next to I-70 (you actually walk on an overpass over I-70 to get there from the Drury). You have to walk down a steep grassy hill, but that's it. We got in and found our seats were better than expected. We were in the 200 section behind the Yankee dugout. I had seen the tickets listed as row HH, so I thought we'd be in the back of the section. Turns out they count rows from the field, so HH ended up only being about 35 rows up.

We watched the players warm up. I noticed CC Sabathia warming up (he's a big guy and very hard to miss). Turns out he was going to pitch instead of the originally scehduled starter (Joba Chamberlin). Sabathia is one of the best pitchers on the majors (even though he got hammered on opening day) so Jonathan was happy about that. I didn't recognize hardly any of the Royals starting lineup. I've heard talk of them being a dark horse in the AL Central race, but I have a very hard time believing that... The Yankees were missing A-Rod and their high dollar new first baseman Mark Texiera didn't play either. Jonathan's favorite (Derek Jeter) played though.

The Yankees picked up a couple in the first on an RBI double by Jorge Posada. Sabathia looked strong in striking out two Royals in the first. In the third, Jeter singled, stole second and went to third on a Johnny Damon ground ball. Nick Swisher (subbing for Texiera) hit a a slicing fly ball toward the right field line. I thought "Jeter will score on that catch since the right fielder is running toward the line to catch it and won't be able to make a strong throw home". Next thing I know, the ball falls fair and Swisher ends up with a triple. Matsui doesn't get him home from third with one out, but Posada gets another big double with 2 out to make it 4-0. Sabathia gives up two lead off singles in the 4th, but strikes out Billy Butler and coaxes a DP out of Alex Gordon to escape unscathed. In the 5th, Nick Swisher hits a two run homer to make it 6-0.

I decide at this point to look for the elusive polish sausage I didn't get the night before. I went all the way around Kaufman stadium and nobody sells them! Unreal. I had to settle for a jumbo hot dog and and big pretzel instead. I'll say that the food choices at Busch Stadium are much more varied.

Sabathia finally left in the 8th since he was close to 110 pitches. The Royals finally got a run in the 9th (prompting a sarcastic cheer from their remaining fans). There were quite a lot of Yankee fans there (besides Jonathan) who were ecstatic with a 6-1 win. We walked back to the hotel and went to bed.

We got up the next morning and headed out. We stopped for Bible Study and worship services at the Eastside church of Christ in Columbia Missouri. We later stopped in St. Louis to try and eat at Lion's Choice. We were again thwarted as it seemed the whole franchise was closed for the holiday. We stopped at our old standby (McDonalds). The trip home was uneventful. Jonathan and I had some nice father son discussions. We did wrestle over the radio. I did listen to the Cardinals Astros game and heard Kyle Lohse pitch a shutout for a Cardinals sweep of the Astros.

We got back about 5:15. I wasn't starving but I decided to try out the Midnight Truffle Blizzard at DQ (it came highly recommended by my son Josh). I was not disappointed, it was great! It probably has thousands of calories, but it sure was good. We went to church and it was good to see Donna and Josh. Josh even brought me a leftover Arby's roast beef (he didn't quite finish their 4 for 5.00 deal).

It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. We are eagerly awaiting the NFL schedule release on Tuesdays. The Giants play at Arrowhead this year (it's right next to Kaufman Stadium) and we hope the game is scheduled such that we can go..

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Meet me in St. Louis..

For the past couple of years, Jonathan and I made a road trip to Kansas City see his beloved Yankees play there. It's about a six hour drive, but it's interstate most of the way. I decided a couple of weeks ago that I'd prefer to drive half way (St Louis) the night before so as to not make a 6 hour drive in one day. Since I was gonna be there anyway, I decided to take in the Cardinal-Astro game. I managed to snag a good seat on Ebay (Field box, 10 rows up) so I was set.

The trip up was uneventful. It drizzled on us most of the way. We drove straight through (three hours) and never stopped. We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Chesterfield. It was about the midway point for our trip, plus I got a fabulous rate (71.70 with tax!). I left Jonathan at the hotel (hopefully studying for his Calculus and CME tests on Monday) and headed out.

Chesterfield is normally about a 20 mile straight shot up I-64. However, I-64 has been under construction for several years and they completely close sections of it. You either have to make a wide detour on I-44 or I-70 or take a side road off of I-170 (where the closure starts). I did the latter and hoped on Forest Park Parkway and managed to get downtown relatively easily.

I parked in our usual garage on Pine and headed down to my favorite place to eat before the game. Lion's Choice is a roast beef chain in this part of Missouri. It quite honestly puts Arby's to shame. Well, I get there and its closed with a big sign saying it was closed for the holiday weekend. There were not a lot of choices left. It was either Hardees, TGIF, or the place I will never call by name let alone go to (the place where they wear orange). I went to Hardees. I paid about 5.50 to eat. Just for fun when I got to the ballpark I added up the cost for a hot dog, pop-corn and drink and it was 14.00!

I walked on over the the ballpark. As I was going in, someone gave me a free McDonalds card foam finger plus a free egg McMuffin coupon (sweet...). I went in and found my seat as good as I had hoped. It was nippy though.

Joel Pinero pitched for the Cardinals. That worried me a bit. Mike Hampton pitched for Houston. I remember him dominating the Cardinals (for the Mets) in the 2000 championship series. It seems like he's been hurt ever since. Pinero shut them down. The Cardinals nicked Hampton for a run in the first but Ankiel struck out with the bases loaded. The Cardinals took a three run lead and Pinero pitched well. The Astros finally got a run on him in the 6th, but the Cardinals got a run back in their half. Pinero tired in the 7th. Josh Kinney came in and walked two to force in a run but struck out Hunter Pence to finally end the inning 4-2. Ryan Luckwick hit a home run to make it 5-2. The Cardinals loaded the bases with a hit and a couple of walks. However, with the pitcher having walked the last two, David Freese inexplicably swung at the first pitch and hit into a double play. Carlos Lee matched it with a towering blast in the 8th to make it 5-3.

In the eighth, they flashed up the Blues victory and the crowd went wild since this clinched their first playoff appearance in several years. They started chanting "Blues". Khalil Greene looked confused during his at-bat. It sounded like booing if you didn't know what was going on and I don't know if he got that.

Jason Motte came in to close. He totally imploded on opening day giving up 4 runs to turn a 4-2 lead into a 6-4 loss. He gave up two hits and got one out and Tony Larussa smartly pulled him and brought in Kyle McClellan. I was hoping that the Astros didn't get Lance Burkman up there. Even without those dinky Crawford boxes in his home park, he's a major threat. Kyle put them down and the Cardinals had a 5-3 victory. Coupled with the Cub loss earlier in the day, they were in first place!

The crowd was only about 38,000. They usually sell out. I am not sure if it was "the economy" or the weather (it was upper 30s by game end). I fortunately brought two coats, gloves and a hat so I was fine. With the crowd from the Blues game and this game, it took a lot longer to weave my way to I-64 West and back to the hotel, but it was worth it to see a Cardinal win. This was the first time I'd ever seen them win at the new stadium. They'd lost the past three years when I've gone.

Now onto KC to see the Yankees-Royals today!