Friday, June 28, 2013

Happy Friday!

We're a few days away from our 4th of July vacation. Start the countdown!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My First Visit to Nationals Park

My first trip to Nationals Park was fun and uneventful. Before the game my friends and I circled the stadium, checking out the various food offerings and the many pleasant vistas. DC doesn't provide much of a view in most directions, but the view into the stadium was very nice.

Even though our seats were in the last row of the 200 level on the third base side, firmly under the overhang and next to a support beam, our sight-line to home plate was unobstructed. There were a couple of pop-ups to the left side that floated out of sight, but being in the shade at first pitch was a fair trade off.

The thing that impressed me most was to see all the fans come out. I haven't been to a Nationals game since the team's inaugural season at old RFK Stadium. In the 8 seasons since then, the team has attracted a lot of fans. While riding the Metro didn't have the same vibe as a D train to Yankee Stadium, it was great to see so many Nats fans geared up and ready for the game. I suppose that $5 ticket night influenced how many kids and families I saw.

I do have one complaint: after a 5 run third, the Nats felt comfortably in control of the game. And the wave started.

I am not opposed to the wave on its aesthetic merits. In the right stadium (usually a football stadium), the wave can be gorgeous. It is the refuge of fans who are bored by the game but don't want to go home yet. In those moments, I scoreboard watch and (if I'm close enough) try to follow which way the fielders shade the hitters pitch to pitch. But I'm obsessive like that.

Last night, the home crowd in DC did the wave. That's not my complaint.

They did the wave with two runs in, two outs, runners on first and second and the tying run at home plate. C'mon people, you're better than that.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

30 Before 30: Baseball!

Goal #11 on my 30 Before 30 is to visit 2 new baseball stadiums.

Tonight, we're headed to DC for the Nationals-Diamondback's game.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila

I have a tall stack of short story collections on the "to-read" shelf of my Bookcase of Unread Books. I've read a number of stunning short story collections in the last couple of years. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, The Lone Surfer of Montana Kansas, Postcards, Natasha and Other Stories. None of them were as gut-wrenching, as multifaceted, as damn good as Kristiana Kahakuwila's This is Paradise.

Across six short stories (really, a couple of them, "This is Paradise" and "Portrait of a Good Father," could stand as novellas), Kahakuwila tracks the difference between outsider, native and local on the Hawaiian islands. This is a topic that has fascinated me for a number of years, since I read Zamora Linmark's Rolling the R's.

Race/ nativeness is a major force in Kahakuwila's Hawaii, though it can be overcome with proper respect and caution. In the title story, a guitar player moves from outsider to local in the course of one well-played song, buttressed by his reverence for his family and for the traditions he inherited from them. At the same time, a young girl is kept outside because she doesn't understand (really, can't begin to imagine) how "Paradise" looks to people who live there all the time and deal with tourists tromping through their home.

At the same time, Kahakuwila strikes universal notes of growth, assuming responsibilities, taking a role in the family in a number of her stories. Most of her characters are physically young, setting out on their lives: the girl on the prowl for a fling in paradise; another girl, an aspiring cockfighter following in her dead father's footsteps; a young man (Hawaiian heritage but a mainlander) preparing to propose to his local Hawaiian girlfriend; the granddaughter at her grandmother's funeral.  The rest are emotionally young: the closeted gay son home to watch his father die; the father and husband and lover who bottles up his emotions so deeply that he fails to be adequate in any role. Her men especially are properly stunted, as befits a hallmark tradition of American literature and film.

This Is Paradise goes on sale in July, and it deserves to be in your must-read pile.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review: Eric by Terry Pratchett

When I wrote the other day that it took me a long time to warm up to Neil Gaiman, I neglected to mention one important book: Good Omens, Gaiman's hilarious collaboration with Terry Pratchett. Seriously, Good Omens is one of the funniest books I've ever read.

Pratchett is another of those writers whose fans have scared me away from his work. They talk about the number of books in his Discworld series (40!) with such fervent admiration that I just lose interest. But, there comes a time when you have to try a thing to be sure you won't like it, and when you comes across a book in a used book shop (actually, in the archetypical used book shop), well then you know it's time.

I read Eric, which you know is a retelling of Faust because it has Faust written on the cover.

It wasn't terrible.

Sure, the character Rincewind is obviously a recurring character (subsequent research reveals that Eric is 4th of eleven appearances throughout the series), and Prachett doesn't do much to fill first-timers in on what's going on. It's all bright and flashy and funny and running. I get the jokes, I guess; the Discworld version of the Mayans and the siege of Troy and a journey to meet the Creator of the World (it's the fellow's job title).

Maybe Eric was the wrong book in the series to pick up, or maybe fantasy slapstick doesn't do it for me. If Eric had been much longer than its 200 pages, I might not have finished.

Or maybe it's because my introduction to Pratchett came through Good Omens (seriously, why aren't you reading it yet?). It's a little like watching Empire Strikes Back or Raiders of the Lost Ark, and then being disappointed with Harrison Ford's performance in Air Force One.

I'll read another Terry Pratchett book someday, but you'll have to recommend it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

It took me a long time to warm up to Neil Gaiman. He was one of those writers some of the guys I knew in college idolized. "Oh my god, you have to read American Gods, it's just great. It's sort of like Hercules meets Superman. I can't really describe it, you just have to read it."

I'll pass on anything that inspires that level of fanboyism. I'm never as impressed by the clever concepts and the inevitable deus ex machina plot twists.

But I finally couldn't avoid The Sandman, and I loved it. As a (stupendously long) graphic novel, it builds its own sturdy little universe. The way Sandman tucks itself into the comic book world you already know is a real joy to watch. And having a book (or movie or tv series) be self-supporting is important to me.

And that opened a door.

I had seen (and enjoyed) Coraline the movie, so for a recent road trip, Carol brought along the audiobook. We've found we really enjoy children's books in the car. Children's books are meant to be read aloud, so with a good narrator, they can really come to life.

The plot is largely the same: Coraline finds a door in her new house, and bored by her inattentive parents, she slips down the rabbit hole, where she meets the doting but domineering Other Mother. Coraline wants to leave, but the Other Mother has kidnapped Coraline's parents. To free them, Coraline must beat the Other Mother at a game of hide and seek.

What surprised me about the book was the how many fairytale tropes and childhood insecurities it really plays with. The fear of being ignored and forgotten. The challenge of making the wrong choice, of not knowing how to go on. The danger of being dissatisfied with life, and the danger of wishing for something different. How things are rarely what they appear to be.

Most of all, what I liked about Coraline was that it wasn't shy about being complicated. It's a big world, after all, and our decisions have consequences. Coraline made choices early on that she didn't really understand were choices, and then she had to deal with the ramifications. And life is like that, though I don't usually expect to see that kind of sentiment in a children's book. So maybe I liked Coraline because it wasn't really a children's book.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The End of June Could be Make or Break for the Yankees

The adage is to take 2 out of 3 from the second tier teams and play .500 against the contenders. If we call contenders any team that finished within 3 of the second Wild Card spot, our 2013 American League contenders are the Orioles, the Rays, the Tigers, the A's and the Rangers.
So the start of June sort of snuck up on me. Last time I checked in, I was rooting for the Yankees to go 19-11 from April 30 to May 31.

It was a lofty goal, but the Yankees were playing a lot of second tier teams: the Royals, the Blue Jays, the Mets (more on that in a minute).

And you know what? On May 26th a loss to the Rays dropped the Yankees to 15-9 before a 4 game set against the Mets and a game against the Red Sox. I would have put money on at least 18-11. Instead the Yanks got swept before picking up the one game against Boston. They finished May 16-13, and then dropped the first two games of May against the Sox.

Counting today's game, the Yankees have 13 games against contenders, and 10 against non-contenders. The end of June is a particularly brutal stretch against teams with very good to great pitching (Rays, Rangers, Orioles). All the same, if the Yankees are a playoff bound team, they'll need to go 7-6 against the contenders and 7-4 against the rest.

14-10. A few games over .500 in June would be great, because the first two weeks of July bring a chance to win a lot of games. Just keep the head above water until then.