Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oops...My Bad

No sooner do I rag on the Pittsburgh Pirates for their epic blowout losses this season than our beloved Milwaukee Brewers, their chief tormentor, splice together an impressively outrageous string of early-inning, middle-inning, and late-inning defeats.

Following an "Oh-for-Homestand" homestand, the Brewskis, seemingly eager to distance themselves from their tenderly loving, patient, and concerned patrons at Miller Park, sought their fortunes on the Carefree, Open Road. I'm pretty sure that was manager Ken Macha I saw driving the team bus to the airport at light speed.

Getting away almost worked. Long the bugaboo of Brewers' fortunes, the team's starting pitching has actually seen Fortuna reversed this week, eking out two good starts in a row in Cincinnati. The team's young demi-ace, Yovani Gallardo, provided a gutty, one-run outing over six innings on Monday. Then today, Tuesday, Manny Parra notched an unusually above-average start, and minor league call-up Marco Escobar had a terrific Brewers' debut in middle relief.

All of these efforts were, of course, wasted. What's the opposite of clutch heroics? Clutch goat-ics? Todd Coffey gave up the seventh inning grand slam in relief of Gallardo on Monday; and today, Future Hall of Fame Closer Trevor Hoffman took the hill in the ninth with a 4-2 lead.

It's getting harder and harder to keep to my spirited defense of Hoffman, who, once again this season, blew the save opportunity. Five men up, nobody out, bingo-bango-bongo, that's all she wrote. That's five blown saves this year for Hoffman, most -- like today's -- involving the long ball. I still wouldn't boo him, based on what he's meant to the game, but I'm pretty sure his personal Open Road, having headed south for the past six weeks, is about to head west, into the sunset.

That's how it's gone for the Bluer-than-Blue Crew all season. The starting pitching is largely an underperforming disaster. The exhausted relief corps has converted near-wins into losses with astonishing predictability. The bats are made of titanium in one game and sawdust the next. With former starter Jeff Suppan making $12.5 million, Trevor Hoffman at $8.0 million, Bill Hall -- Bill Hall! -- still collecting $7.2 million of Bernie Brewer's money while hitting .218 for Boston, and Prince Fielder gearing up for a Scott Boras-sized payday in 2012, Brewers GM Doug Melvin might be wishing he'd been on the bus out of town, too. Macha, a convenient target of scorn, might be wise to strap on a parachute on the flight to Pittsburgh.

The Pirates are now ahead of the Brewers in the standings. It could be all my fault for posting that earlier blog entry; I've awakened the Baseball Gods and earned their scorn and retribution. As New York Mammoths' star pitcher Henry "Author" Wiggen says at the end of Bang the Drum Slowly, "From here on in, I rag nobody."

Until tomorrow's game, at least.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Merit Badges

Remember earning merit badges in the Boy Scouts?

I don't. I never got past Tenderfoot, the equivalent rank in Scouting to "maggot" in the Marines. Something about not being able to start a campfire with two wet matches. But I did earn a nifty Bowman patch at the archery range at Camp Boyhaven one summer, and one winter at the Deep Freeze Jamboree (they use words like "Jamboree" in the Scouts), my Deer Patrol teammates earned us another patch, exhausting themselves pulling me on a sled around a timed obstacle course and successfully cheating at the signals checkpoint. Way to go, guys!

Professional certifications are the merit badges of the corporate workplace. I recently took the ITIL V3 Foundation exam following a six-month contract that lasted two months. If the Deer Patrol were to decode "ITIL V3" on the signal range, with or without deploying a runner from the send station to the receive station -- I'm not saying that's what happened -- we would report that it's a stilted, U.K.-originated IT management jargon used by IT departments at budget-justification time to promise that they will, for a small investment this year, say a 10% cost increase, disentangle and standardize (er, standardise) their various functions and processes so that costs can be reduced the year after next; by which time, it is hoped, this year's budget cycle will be largely forgotten. When I passed the ITIL V3 exam at one of those ubiquitous computerized testing centers, the certifying organization, EXEL, sent me a certificate and a pin. A pin! For me! I put it on my sash, right next to my other merit...oh, wait. Never mind.

Merit badges come in all shapes and sizes. I'm reminded of this whenever they trot out a flag rank military leader to go before Congress or the cameras at budget-justification time, his or her dress uniform festooned with about a hundred colorful insignia, each representing some courageous or meritorious accomplishment. Once in a while, the press catches some ex-military political appointee sporting a merit badge that he didn't earn, and then all hell breaks loose. We former Scouts who have passed the ITIL V3 exam recognize the public procedure that follows: in ITIL V3 terms, it's referred to as the "Service Operations: Gang-Wedgie" process.

Modern life is full of merit badges that you can earn: high school diplomas, sports trophies, driver's licenses, college degrees, letters of recognition, paychecks and promotions, perp walks. I think there should be additional awards for the intangible accomplishments in life. When you figure out a new commuting route across town that avoids the construction in rush hour, you should get a merit badge in transportation. When you get your kids to eat their vegetables, both you and they should get a merit badge on the spot. When you 'fess up to transgressions from your youth -- I'm not saying that's what happened -- you should get a badge, too.

In this spirit of generosity, I am pleased to announce that I hereby award myself the Fire Starter merit badge. On several occasions this past winter, at long last, I successfully built a wood fire from scratch, using only two matches. It turns out, the trick is to build it indoors.


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