Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Rooftop Tents Have Always Been A Bad Idea

note this is the most level piece of ground in the photo
Camping as a kid, I was always fascinated by the different ways people slept in the outdoors. I was absolutely certain that a monstrous 40-foot RV was the way to go, and that our little tent was for the uncool. I watched The Long, Long Trailer so much I had it memorized (that list also included Shane, Back to the Future, Spinout and The Maltese Falcon). I have since changed my mind about tents. (Because I realized I do not want to be anchored to an interstate highway and I want to camp in places that 40-foot RV's can't get to.)

how is a tent on your trunk a good idea?
The most fascinating thing looking through old camping books of the 50's and 60's was the cartop tent. The old versions were literally plywood boards with a tent attached- evidence in the photo from the "Ford 4 Seasons Adventure Library" book on the left. Some of them would even go on your trunk (which immediately meant you couldn't get into the trunk if someone was in the tent, or even once the tent was attached to the trunk, which is why I don't think those sold very well at all.) By the 80's they had disappeared, so I never saw one in the wild. I saw pup tents, Airstreams, tent trailers, Six-Pacs, Minnie Winnies, converted school busses, mega-tents and dozens of other devices, but never a cartop tent.

Cartop tents are back now, if you haven't noticed while thumbing through the latest issue of Outdoors magazine or looking at your REI email blast. They're everywhere you look, and they're still fascinating. The idea is still the same: a tent on the roof of your car. These new versions look like telescoping roof racks with a tent attached.

But the same major problems still exist. Number one is getting in the tent. Since it's still on the roof of your car, you still need a ladder or something that is not called a ladder but it structured awfully similar to a ladder. Problem 1A, closely associated to getting into the tent on the roof of your car, is getting out of the tent on the roof of your car. At night. In the dark. When you have to pee. After you've had a couple of drinks.

Yeah. 1A is an issue.

Issue 1B is getting your dog, who sleeps next to you- I'm assuming I am the only person who does not take a dog camping, because that's how it seems to be- up a ladder and into the tent on the roof of your car. If you have a small dog this is not a problem. But I have not seen too many people take small dogs camping. And if you're unsteady getting in to the tent on the roof of your car, how is your dog going to like getting there? 

Problem 2 is the same one you get with any sleeping arrangement on wheels. When you move, the RV, trailer, van, car- whatever- moves too. Now imagine you're in a tent on the roof of your car with your significant other and your dog, and you all move. You might as well be on a houseboat.

Problem 3? I go camping to not be attached to a car. I go camping to sleep outdoors near the river, not on my car in a parking space. I might as well sleep in my driveway.

Problem 3A? Your vehicle has to be on flat ground for you to sleep, and I mean really flat ground. I don't think you're going to want to take the chance of falling out of your tent- and five feet to the ground.

Which comes to the only bonus about sleeping on my car: when it rains, and there's mud, I'm not on the ground. That's it. But when it rains and I'm camping, I tend to pack up and head home.

So they can dress up rooftop tents or cartop campers as much as they want, and have them look as cool as they want.... but they're still a bad idea (unless you are running a safari in sub-saharan Africa on an expedition looking for big animals that could very well kill you if they found you while you were asleep. But let me remind you those animals can climb ladders).  Let me know if I haven't thought of a really good reason for sleeping in a tent on the roof of my car.

It seems to me the modern rooftop tent will go the way of the old cartop camper. Plywood not included.

photos courtesy: marquestra.com, a photo of photos in a book by the author, popularmechanics.com

wait, a tent... and another tent?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Will the New Han Solo Movie Ruin Han Solo?


 Look, I am going to see the Han Solo stand-alone movie and I never actually go to the theatre to see a movie anymore. So, let’s get that straight up front. But I am worried that the new Han Solo movie is going to absolutely screw up everything that we like about Han Solo.

Han Solo is awesome in part because he is mysterious. Where did he come from? How did he win the Millennium Falcon “fair and square” from Lando? What makes him able to shoot first and not have any problems about it? These are questions we have asked as a Star Wars watching people for more than 40 years.

He is a mysterious figure. He is one of the great mysterious figures of all time, like Clint Eastwood in 90% of his westerns, and the entire Steve McQueen filmography, and of course, Humphrey Bogart’s tour de force of Rick Blaine in Casablanca. It’s a great plot device to get you more interested in the character.

“We have a complete dossier on you: Richard Blaine, American, age 37. Cannot return to his country. The reason is a little vague.”

You bet it is, Major.

“I've often speculated why you don't return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Run off with a senator's wife? I like to think you killed a man. It's the Romantic in me.”

“It’s a combination of all three,” he replies, and thus you continue to wonder what makes the man tick.

Han Solo belongs in those same categories because we don’t know anything about him. We wonder, and it makes him more mysterious and therefore more awesome.

And very soon, in less than two hours, we will learn exactly what makes Han Solo tick and where he came from and what about the Falcon.

We will know everything about him.

And it will RUIN Han Solo.

He will be toast.

It would be like having a complete backstory about every character in The Great Escape. You know, the fantastic WWII prisoner of war breakout movie from 1963. We know bits and pieces about every character, but just enough to move the story along and create some drama. We don’t know everything. We do know that Charles Bronson’s Danny had a tunnel collapse on him so despite him being the best at digging tunnels he’s scared. That’s fine. That’s a plot device that’s key to the actual damn escape, so it’s part of the gig.

But we don’t know how James Garner’s Hendley came to be so good at scrounging. Nobody else does, either. It’s an aside. The guy the British know to be The Scrounger isn’t there, and they hear there’s an American named Hendley who’s very good. The exchange goes like this:
"It's on loan"

“What about Tommy Bristol?”
 “No, but there's an American – Hendley”.
“Is he a scrounger, blackmailer?”
“MacDonald says he's the best.”
“Good.”

That’s it.

We don’t know about Jimmy Coburn and why the hell he’s an Australian with no accent and why Sedgewick is the ace manufacturer. He just is. The best mystery surrounding Sedgewick is his escape. He gets into town, steals a bicycle that’s too small for him, and cycles away. We cut back to him a few times in between the chaos and he’s just cycling along. Then he just shows up in Paris.

As for The Cooler King, Steve McQueen has a conversation with Ives while they’re in The Cooler where he mentions riding bikes, and Ives says “bicycles?” and Hilts says “No, motorcycles.” So you know he can ride before he tries to escape on one. The confusion by Ives and Hilts’ emphasis on correcting him, by the way, is also an intentional screenwriter device to get you to notice the interaction. Even though you may not have any use for knowing that right then, when Steve McQueen starts hopping barbed-wire fences at 70 miles an hour, you go “Ohhhhhhhhh!!!!” It’s a device most used by mystery writers, for if you mention a candlestick on page one, it damn well better be important to the plot by the end of it all.

Anyway, imagine if they did a prequel to The Great Escape and showed how Hilts became so good at riding motorcycles, and Hendley got so good at scrounging, and Bltythe (Donald Pleasance) as a mild-mannered guy who discovers he has a tremendous talent for forgery. (Oh man, I just gave Hollywood an idea, didn’t I? Forget I said anything.)

That movie would ruin The Great Escape. Absolutely destroy it. You’d have to pretend it doesn’t exist, like Slap Shot 2.
"I do not want to see Slap Shot 2!"

I am also extremely worried about Han Solo because Star Wars already did a bunch of movies explaining what happened before, and they ruined all the mystery and awesomeness of the stuff they were trying to show. 

Before the prequels, when Obi-Wan said, “I fought with your father in The Clone Wars,” our imagination filled in the blank. This old man fought battles? With Luke’s father? How did they survive? What happened?

We wondered what kind of father Luke’s dad was. “He’s got too much of his father in him,” said aunt Beru. “Darth Vader killed your father,” said Obi-Wan. We wondered. We speculated. The mystery and the history made us want to know more about the story. When the big reveal happened, we realized what Obi-Wan meant. The mystery of how that happened made us want to know more.

And then the prequels happened, and we found out, and we immediately regretted it (well, I sure did).  Obi-Wan as a young man fights like Renton in Trainspotting. Luke’s dad is a stupid brat as kid, and an idiot as a young man.

We know about the Clone Wars and how clunky they are. The mystery, the off-hand remark of “I fought with your father in The Clone Wars” immediately reminds me of how bad the prequels are.

But that’s not all that worries me about the new Han Solo movie.

There’s also what happened when we saw part of the backstory of another iconic Harrison Ford character, and the terribleness that ensued.

"Junior, why are we in Fairfax?"

I’m talking about Indiana Jones.

The opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is everything the backstory of a mysterious and awesome character should be. It doesn’t ruin him, in fact, it makes him more mysterious and awesome. It explains a lot about him without coming straight out and banging you over the head with it.

The young Henry Jones is a Boy Scout in Colorado/Utah in the early 20th century. Boom, we have an explanation for his MacGyver-like tendencies and ability to survive in caves and desert areas. That’s where he grew up! And a Boy Scout nonetheless!

The sequence does not make a big deal out of the two major reveals to the Jones character. They come across as almost afterthoughts to the plot, and that makes them better. Jones falls through the top of a circus car and lands in a snake pit. Boom, revealed. Then he picks up a whip for presumably the first time, cracks it, and it cuts his chin, leaving a scar. Since Harrison Ford actually does have a scar right there, this was a little joke to make River Phoenix seem more like Indiana Jones.
 
It's just part of the scene.

The hat, given to him by the evil guy’s Jones-like assistant, is the only emphasized reveal. A little aside with Professor Henry Jones showing him obsessed with the grail is a plot point developed later in the film. But we don’t know everything. We know just enough to want more. The opening sequence was the most discussed and talked-about part of the movie when it came out, and I know this because I was there reading and talking about it. 

And that created the biggest problem with the Indiana Jones backstory, the ill-conceived and badly-executed (at least when it comes to storytelling and the like) “Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” TV show of the early 90’s.

You only might remember this abysmal piece of garbage (when it comes to Indiana Jones’ story only, and I mention this twice because a friend of mine worked on the then-extremely advanced computer special effects) if you saw it when it came out. They have since tried to re-imagine it as something interesting, but every time they have tried, it has failed, and thank you fellow viewer for keeping this horrible trash where it belongs.

The Last Crusade sequence presented young Henry Jones as an adventurous Boy Scout in America, who became the great Indiana Jones when he grew up.

Young Indiana Jones presented young Indiana Jones as a globetrotting savant, interacting with world leaders and historical figures everywhere he went.

This is NOT how Indiana Jones grew up
You see the difference? Young Indiana Jones had the kid going on safari with Teddy Roosevelt and in Paris with Ernest Hemingway, falling for Mata Hari and helping the Red %&$#! Baron learn how to fly.

That is not who Indiana Jones is. Indiana Jones- at least the way I see it presented- is an American kid who studied archaeology to try and please his father and discovered that his adventure bug finally helped him instead of hurting him. And his Boy Scout training came in very, very handy.

Indiana Jones doesn’t pal around with celebrities as an adult because he finds them ridiculous, but as a kid he’s dining with Winston Churchill and painting with Pablo Picasso? Get the hell out of here.

There is a connection between the Young Indiana Jones and the Star Wars prequels- George Lucas developed them both. Yep, he wrote Jones’ entire history and that was the basis for the show. And he of course wrote and directed prequel number one.

Of course, Lucas did create both Solo and Jones and gave them their original mysteriousness and awesomeness, so we must give him plenty of credit for that.

And that gives me some hope for Solo. Because Lucas isn’t heavily involved with it. So maybe, people like me who want to preserve the history and mystery and awesomeness of Solo made sure of it.

Laugh it up, fuzzball. 

Maybe he’s not as toast as I think he is. We’ll find out soon enough.


 photos courtesy their respective, correct owners

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Busted Bracket Means More NCAA Tournament Enjoyment

 I used to sweat over my NCAA Tournament bracket. I filled out test brackets, modified them, recalculated them, threw them out and started over, and spent ten minutes trying to figure out which 12 seed would upset which 5, and which 8/9 team could really give a one seed a challenge. I spent a long time staring at each matchup.

And of course, by the time Sunday night on the first weekend rolled around, if I was fortunate I'd only lost Final Four pick and maybe a couple of Elite 8's and look at that, 12 of my Sweet 16 got through!

One year I didn't get my bracket into the office pool in time, or there wasn't an office pool, or something like that, and I worried. What about my bracket? Who was I competing against aside from the random millions on ESPN.com or Yahoo?

I was forced to- gasp- just watch the games without any money or big prestige riding on my picks.

And I enjoyed it. I had a feeling I got from watching the tournament in previous years, but I couldn't remember why. All I could remember was the angst of hoping that my bracket wouldn't bust.

Then it came to me- it was the feeling I got after my bracket busted and I was just watching the games. It was a feeling of relief, that the busted bracket freed me from having to be right.

I haven't cared about winning a bracket since. (And yes, I have done better in my brackets since then.)

So if you did spend an inordinate amount of time filling out your bracket, allow me to hope that your bracket busts sooner than later, so that you can enjoy the tournament earlier than usual.

Once The Madness moved back to just being about the games and not about how good I was picking the games, I rediscovered the reason I like watching the tournament in the first place- it's about my team winning, of course, but it's also about the excitement of the games for kids who are playing on a stage they will never have again in their lives. (Side note worth yet another reminder: CBS/Turner is paying a billion dollars to broadcast these games and the kids get none of it. The chancellors and athletic directors and coaches and anybody on the staff and everybody except the players get money and bonuses for appearing in the tournament and the kids get nothing.)

It's about those reactions when they win, or when they lose- and instead of being these programmed robots to just play the game, they remind us that they are people and they are way more excited to be there than we can even imagine.

So go, fill out a bracket or six. Get in that office pool. But don't let that bracket's performance dictate how much you enjoy the tournament. It's three of the greatest weeks in sports. Before your bracket busts, set yourself free to enjoy The Madness.

Enjoy your March.

illustration: By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, Link

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Spring Training in Arizona, Part II: Ballpark Rankings

(For Part I, Spring Training Travel Tips, click here)

Camelback Ranch, Glendale
There are really no bad spring training ballparks. Because you are on vacation at spring training. It's really that simple.

No matter where you go, one thing that doesn't change from place to place: all spring training complexes are essentially big, spread-out major league stadiums. At a regular stadium there are a couple of hidden batting cages and a couple of out-in-the-open bullpen mounds. On the same field, a group of players take infield or outfield practice while another group takes batting practice. They rotate. There is a clubhouse for guys to visit the trainer or soak in a hot or cold tub or eat or watch teevee or lounge around.

Well, the exact same thing happens at spring training, except there are close to four times as many players going through the drills. Camp opens with at least 60 potential major leaguers- the 40-man active roster and about 20 non-roster invitees hoping to make that opening day 25-man roster, plus all your minor leaguers coming up through the system. Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A... 25 guys per team times four teams equals 100 guys, and those are just the ones that get the job. Figure 125 players in the beginning. That means you need more space to accommodate everybody. As a result, it's a big complex with everything spread out. There are a bunch of fields so everyone cane do their own thing and there's no danger of somebody not paying attention getting whacked by a stray ball (okay, there's less of one, because it still happens). And there are a bunch of batting cages and pitching cages so nobody in the group has to wait to take their turn. Ten guys take BP at the same time, ten guys pitch at the same time. Rinse and repeat for six weeks. The result is a major league 25-man roster and a full minor league squad.

The question is how teams set up these complexes. The newer ones are set up like desert resorts, spread out with water features and statues and cacti and perennials and the like. The older ones are more utilitarian. 

Naturally, some complexes are better than others. 10 years of spring training brings makes my Arizona rankings list look like this:

1. Camelback Ranch, Glendale (Dodgers and White Sox)


Opened in 2009, Camelback Ranch was the first of the new breed of spring training complexes. The name "Ranch" implies this. The Dodgers were going to move their spring training HQ west from Florida regardless. The White Sox were training in Tucson, some two hours south of the Phoenix area and therefore increasingly isolated from the rest of the teams. The resulting complex set aside any lingering doubts either team may have had about moving.

While the two teams share the ranch, none of the players have to cross each other's paths on a regular basis. The Dodgers clubhouse and fields are based on the left field area, the White Sox get the right field area. Walking paths open to the public mean that fans can wander through and watch nearly everything. There are no secrets here, it's a simple game- you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.

Everything they do at Camelback is, simply, phenomenal. After charging for parking the first year they realized that was dumb, because there are plenty of other ways to get our dollars at the park. "Free parking" is a small, but significant gesture. Most of the other clubs haven't figured this out.

If you don't have a rooting interest, go to a White Sox game and not a Dodgers game. My group and I went to the Very 1st Game Played in 2009 (the Dodgers were the home team and the White Sox the visitors) and it was jammed full as you would expect, but mostly by Dodger fans so thrilled that the team was now within driving distance from L.A.

The next day, we went to the "White Sox home opener" (even though they had played the day before as the "visitors") and, in the days before Stubhub, walked right up to the box office and bought 4th-row seats. There were maybe 1,500 people in the park as opposed to 11k+ the day before.

It's been like that since. Dodger games are much busier than White Sox games. Either way, it's my favorite park in Arizona.

You already know where this place is- ever watched an Arizona Cardinals home football game or the Fiesta Bowl or the Phoenix Coyotes play hockey? Those stadiums are right next to a big mall next to a freeway which is about a miles and a half from Camelback Ranch, on the same road. The only issue is that it's nowhere close to downtown Phoenix or Scottsdale, where most of the hotels and restaurants are. But there are several hotels near the mall and in Glendale. 

2. Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale (Giants)

In the interest of disclosure, I am a Giants fan and I do like coming here, but most of my group hates it. In fact, a few times they bought me my own ticket and loaned me a car and said "go by yourself" and I did and had amazing times, which really might be the best way to enjoy this park.

The original park was built in 1955 for the Baltimore Orioles, and although there was a near-complete overhaul in the early 1990's it still has a classic ballpark feel, probably a big inspiration for AT&T Park.

The biggest issue is I've paid $40 for standing room only spring training games- remember, we're talking about practice- and I consistently get regular season game tickets in San Francisco for $6 on the Hub of Stubness.

While there's very little reserved stadium parking, the nearby hospital opens its spacious parking garage to be run by local community groups- so they charge but it at least it isn't a total cash grab by them- and anybody with enough space to park a few cars will open it up for a price.

The only other issue is that because it's a short flight from the Bay Area, the place is usually pretty full of Giants fans, or people who want to impress people that they're at a Giants game in Arizona. I've seen plenty of people go to the game and never actually watch a pitch because they're too busy schmoozing, which is a real Bay Area-techie-look-how-much-richer-and-therefore-better-I-am-than-you-because-I-paid-so-much-to-be-here-and-now-I-don't-even-care thing to do. I do my best to avoid those people, because it makes my visit so much better. 

3. Hohokam Stadium, Mesa (A's)

The unfortunate distinction about Hohokam is that it is the only spring training stadium that is better than its team's major league home. Hohokam is everything that the Oakland Al Davis Memorial Mausoleum isn't. I wish somehow helicopters could lift up Hohokam and fly it to Oakland, where it would be dropped on a lower-level bowl to more than double capacity from 12,000 to 35,000 or so and the A's would have one of the best damn ballparks in the bigs.

My second wish is that whomever's designing the A's new park will just take the Hohokam blueprint and add a lower lever bowl to increase capacity to 35,000 and then they will actually have one of the best damn ballparks in the bigs (kind of like what I figure the Giants did with Scottsdale Stadium/AT&T Park).

I almost don't recommend A's fans go to spring training because they will just be depressed that Hohokam is so much better. Actually, they should all go because then they'll just get mad.

A's fans, look away!!!

If you're wondering why the A's have such a nice park, the answer is- they didn't build it. They left Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the second-oldest Phoenix spring training park still standing (built in 1958 for the Giants) for Hohokam when the Cubs got their new park built. The A's gave it a new coat of paint or two (every time I go I look for blue walls they were too lazy to go over- haven't found any yet but I guarantee you they're there-) and called it good.

And it's still better than the Coliseum.  

4. Tempe-Diablo Stadium, Tempe (Angels)

 I swear to you this place is just about next to the airport, so an out-of-town Angels fan could be in-and-out on a day trip before anyone knew they were gone. Built in 1969 for the Seattle Pilots, it's got a very Spanish explorer/Mexican feel- they've done it up mission-style- and there's a damn big rock behind center field with a hotel and restaurant next to it.

Even though I've been going to spring training for a decade and we pass this place all the time, my group had never been there until last year. Every time we passed it we wondered why we never stopped. Finally, we got there, and as soon as we parked we all said "Why did it take so long for us to get here?" Even though it is next to the interstate (and when I say "next to the interstate," I mean the parking lot ends because it runs into the wall of the interstate) and the airport, it is nicely done.





5. Sloan Park, Mesa (Cubs)

Wrigley Field West
It would be higher on the list if it wasn't jammed full every damn game. When the Cubs said they were looking to move from Hohokam, the city of Mesa practically fell over trying to make sure the North Siders didn't leave. That's because there were cities in Florida ready to do everything but fill in the Gulf of Mexico to attract the cash cows known as affluent Cubs fans. Because Mesa has been the Cubs spring home for the most part since 1952, they preferred to stay and Sloan Park is the result. Good place if you can get in.

They always have a great selection of food trucks beyond the right field berm and plenty of Wrigley-Field like things to make Cubs fans feel at home- there's a replica of the marquee and you can put your name up there and get a picture, but the line is always super long- but again, the biggest problem here is getting a ticket. Cubs fans are rabid. (More details in Part I.)   

6. Goodyear Stadium, Goodyear (Reds and Indians)

The furthest east-based clubs, curiously, play at the furthest west complex in the Phoenix area (slightly beyond Surprise but easier to get to). There's an odd sculpture out front called "The Ziz" which makes virtually no sense but is certainly memorable and stands 60'6" high- the exact distance from home plate to the pitcher's mound.

In case you weren't sure it was the desert, lots of palms
Because in the movie "Major League" the Indians train at Hi Corbett Field (in Tucson) most people probably figure that is their spring training home, but it hasn't been for almost 30 years. Cleveland actually went back to Florida in the 90's and early 2000's, before agreeing to do the "Ohio double" with the Reds in Goodyear. (I just made up that phrase but it sounds good.) And yes, the city of Goodyear was founded by the Goodyear rubber people as a company town to grow cotton for tires.

Though it's a wide open area they charge for parking, which feels like a scam. As the westernmost complex, if you are a Reds or Indians fan make sure your accommodations are nearby (I go over this a lot more in Part I). 

 




7. Salt River Fields, Scottsdale (D'Backs and Rockies)

My buddy always sings the name of this park like it's "Strawberry Fields Forever."

The best thing about this place is the trivia: it's the only spring training facility shared by two teams in the same division (NL West). Otherwise, it's just the compact version of Camelback Ranch. Seems like the exact same design, just pushed together. And that's a problem. Whereas CBR is open and airy, I always feel like I'm in a pinball machine at Salt River. We once spent 90 minutes trying to get out of the parking lot. It's a spring training stadium that maxes out at 11k- how could it take more than half an hour to get out?

This is also the only ballpark where I've seen an entire section evacuated because of a bee swarm.

No, I was not kidding about the bee swarm


8. Surprise Stadium, Surprise (Royals and Rangers)

Goodyear is the westernmost spring training complex, but it's pretty close to the freeway so it feels fairly simple to access. Surprise Stadium, on the other hand, might have that name because it's a surprise anything is out here. (I was amazed to find the city of Surprise has 125,000 residents.) It's really not that bad, it's just not even close to the freeway, which makes it seem like it's even further away from everything. Surprise is one of the few places my group goes that we never explore the surrounding area. I'm sure it's fine, it just feels like if we linger we will never get back to where we once belonged.

In praise of Surprise, it does have one of the better right-field bars, and an upper deck (rare in itself) with open seating, basically barstools around a counter that overlooks the field- I'm always worried I'm going to knock my beer over the side.

Surprise! It's an upper deck!

Like I recommend in part one, if you're a Royals or Rangers fan, please find accommodations near here and not in Scottsdale or anywhere on the east side of the Phoenix area, because you will regret the drive every time you get in the car to come or go from the ballpark.

Our big celebrity sighting here was my buddy going out to smoke a cigar near the end of a night game and spotted Nolan Ryan doing the exact same thing! My buddy gave him a nod but didn't engage in conversation as he is a White Sox fan and didn't want to tempt Nolan to re-create the famous Robin Ventura incident.








9. Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria (Mariners and Padres)

Peoria is so far away it feels like you are closer to Las Vegas than you are to Phoenix. Honestly, one time we thought it would be cheaper to fly to Vegas and drive to Phoenix than flying directly to Phoenix (our discovery: it isn't). When we got to Peoria and passed the stadium we thought, oh good, we're here! And then I'm pretty sure another hour and a half passed before we got to Phoenix and where we were staying.

The Mariners and Padres are just kind of average, middling franchises who can't make the playoffs no matter how hard they try, and they have the perfect Spring Training facility for that. We haven't been out here in years. Surprise and Peoria are really the same places and the only reason Surprise is higher on my list is that we'll consider going to Surprise if it's a good reason- we rarely consider Peoria (and never actually go). Since the last time we've been the complex has gotten redone and is allegedly much improved, but unless that improvement included moving it closer to where I am most of the time in Arizona, it's not going to help.

10. Maryvale Ballpark, Maryvale (Brewers)

Maryvale, 2009
Look, somebody has to be last. The photo you see here was taken from my only trip to the Maryvale ballpark- in 2009. When my group decides on where to go for spring training games, nearly every park is up for consideration. We go to Sloan Park even though it's ridiculously crowded, we go way the hell out to Surprise, we even consider Peoria if we really, really have to (but never actually go).

We don't consider Maryvale.

This is not because it's bad, it's just... so... ordinary. Despite being built in 1998, it also has very little parking. You park in the neighborhood and nobody really cares how long you stay (again, it's been ten years since I've been there).

Update: As this review was going to press (I know, it's the internet- it just feels fun to pull the editorial "this was important enough to include" implication) the Brewers just announced a big upgrade to the Maryvale complex. So even they know it's past time for some serious work on the place.

 

So there you have it. 10 ballparks, 15 teams, and one man's opinion. The truth is, whether you are at Camelback Ranch or in Maryvale, you will have a good time at spring training if you are a baseball fan. You will find fun nooks and crannies, you will pick up good souvenirs, you will eat, drink, and be merry.

There are really no bad spring training ballparks. Because you are on vacation at spring training. It's really that simple.

 
photos by author. map courtesy CamelbackRanchBaseball.com

This. You need to experience this. Somewhere. (This is in Scottsdale.)

(For Part I, Spring Training Travel Tips, click here)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Winter Olympics: Don't Elizabeth Swaney, Blame the System



You may have heard of Elizabeth Swaney by now, or you may have seen her Winter Olympics halfpipe run, and you must have wondered what the hell is going on.

Swaney barely did any tricks in her two halfpipe runs (but she did get a little air and did survive the halfpipe, which in itself isn't that easy for a weekend skier) and has been roundly ridiculed and called the "worst Olympian ever."  Because she is from California and has competed for Venezuela and Hungary on technicalities and found a loophole to qualify for the Olympics, she has been heavily criticized for "gaming the system."

If you want to blame anybody for Elizabeth Swaney's Olympic Moment, you should not blame Elizabeth Swaney, but the Olympics themselves.

The International Olympic Committee games entire countries every four years and has for a century. Cities go into massive debt to build stadiums and venues that will be used for two weeks and then left to rot. The IOC doesn't care what happens to your country after the Olympics, because some other fools have bid- bid! Bid millions of dollars! Of public money!- to go into massive debt to build stadiums and venues that will be used for two weeks in the next Olympics and then left to rot. (After hosting the World Cup and Olympics within two years of each other, Rio is essentially broke. Russia spent $50 billion on the Sochi Olympics and there's no timetable as to when it'll finally be paid off.)

Repeat.

Remember, the IOC is the same group that refused to allow athletes to be paid at all until the 1970's under the guise of "pure sports" while the IOC executive committee took millions.

Jim Thorpe won the very first Olympic decathlon gold medal in 1912 at Stockholm, and also won pentathlon gold. After it was found he took $50 for playing semi-pro baseball before the 1912 Olympics, his medals were taken away for, for he was a "professional."

Jim Thorpe in Stockholm, 1912
In truth, Jim Thorpe didn't know how that particular game was played back then. Hundreds of athletes kept their "amateur" status and played pro ball or took money for loosely professional games by playing under assumed names. Thorpe, fresh from the Carlisle School and not knowing this, played pro ball under his real name. After this, Thorpe played in the MLB and helped found the NFL. He is widely considered the best all-around athlete of the first half of the 20th century.

Thorpe died broke in 1953. His family and supporters tried to get Thorpe's medals restored for decades. Avery Brundage, Thorpe's teammate in Stockholm (he was soundly beaten by Thorpe in both events) and long-time president of the IOC, refused to even consider their pleas, saying "Ignorance is no excuse." In other words, because Thorpe didn't know how that game was played, it was his fault. Brundage denied he refused the request because he couldn't hold a candle to Thorpe on the field and held it against him.

Finally, after Brundage died, the medals were finally restored to Thorpe in the 1980's. The IOC hedged, though, calling Thorpe a 1912 "co-champion." They continue to refuse to acknowledge their mistake.

Meanwhile, the Olympics continued to grow. The first Winter Olympics happened in 1924.


After Jesse Owens won four golds in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he wanted to go home and earn some money in appearance fees. The U.S. Olympic team had been invited to tour Sweden after the games, but Owens declined the invite. Avery Brundage, then head of the U.S. Olympic committee, and others were furious at Owens, and as punishment declared him no longer an amateur athlete.

Denied his ability to do what he could do best, Owens raced horses for money, and ended up working as a gas station attendant. He died broke in 1980.

Let's take a little time off from the Olympics, Elizabeth Swaney, Jim Thorpe and Jesse Owens and how athletes have been exploited to visit the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, which has one of the greatest collections of art in the world. From India to Singapore to Vietnam to Korea, as well as China and Japan, the variation of the collection is amazing. Small Hindu objects thousands of years old, Japanese paper rice curtains from the 1500's, and so on and so on. It is impossible to put a price on what the collection is worth.

Of the nearly 18,000 objects the San Francisco Asian Art Museum has, almost 8,000 come from one collection. The donation of this collection in the 1960's provided the basis for the museum, and even if they only had this collection they would still have one of the best Asian Art Museums in the world.

The private collector who donated those 8,000 items to the San Francisco Asian Art Museum is none other than Avery Brundage.

Jim Thorpe died broke. Jesse Owens died broke. Avery Brundage made so much money as president of the USOC and IOC he bought 8,000 pieces of antiquity- and then, when he donated his collection, he demanded that San Francisco foot the bill for the museum to house his stuff, taking what he learned as IOC president. "Here, want this? Pay for the building and I'll give it to you."

Gaming the system? Elizabeth Swaney doesn't hold a candle to Avery Brundage. Stick that in your halfpipe.

photos: wpclipart.com, San Francisco Asian Art Museum
from the Avery Brundage Collection