The new and possibly improved Wacky Neighbor starts here!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

WN Regrets

As WN was perusing over some past columns, there are some predictions or statements WN made that seem silly or wrong in retrospect. Others are sort of ominous. Anyways, WN will post some of these as they come up.

For starters, here's one from a column about 3 1/2 years ago on college football:
First, a quick note on the worst play of all time. Central Michigan was at home, trailing Boston College by 7 (31-24) with a little under 2 minutes to go. They had scored touchdowns on their last 2 possessions to close a 21-point gap. They had the ball at BC's 34, 1st down and 10 with the ball on the right hash mark. They lined up 5 linemen and 3 receivers on the left side of the field and lined up their quarterback, running back and a receiver near the ball (it appears the receiver may have been a tight end snapping the ball to the QB). BC put several players on the left, one player (a linebacker) over the snapper and a bunch of players in coverage. CMU snapped the ball, the snapper and running back and the receivers on the left side of the field go out for a pass. The linebacker - unblocked! - runs straight at the QB (the freshman backup QB), who scrambles and throws a horrible pass into a group of BC defenders for a game-killing interception.

Here's what the coach had to say: "It is one of those plays where we thought that we would get a shot at either BC calling a timeout or getting someone open, which in that situation was Damien (Linson) or Obed (Cetoute). Dan (LeFevour) [the freshman backup QB - WN] tried to make too much happen. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a large reservoir of experience to pull from [being a freshman backup QB - WN], but after tonight he has a lot more. It wasn’t one play. [It was one horrible, dumbass play - WN] One play is what is generally looked at because it was at the end of the game [and because it was the worst play in college football history - WN], but there were a number of instances throughout the game where we needed to make a couple of plays here and there that we weren’t able to make.”

WN agrees with Jason Whitlock: this guy ought to be fired. It's one thing to call it when it was a terrible play. It's another thing to call it when you're on a roll and don't need it. It's another thing again to call it with a freshman backup quarterback. When you won't even come out and say that it was a horrible decision and you cost your team a shot to win the game, that's when it becomes a fireable offense.
The coach in question: yes, Notre Dame's most-recent hire, Brian Kelly. Yikes! (Also, Washington's ill-fated fake FG attempt last season may have overtaken this play as the worst of all-time. Still.) Suddenly feeling sick about the next season of Notre Dame football.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

LSM - 4.6.10

Rest of O's preview tomorrow, but usually it's not until the second half that we start blowing games like opening day. Arrgh.

Fake Prom

A story on the incredible (as in, I can't believe actual people behave this way) conclusion to the story of Constance McMillen and Itawamba Agricultural High School's fight over whether Constance and her lesbian girlfriend could attend prom together:

http://www.salon.com/life/teenagers/index.html?story=/mwt/broadsheet/2010/04/06/constance_mcmillen_fake_prom

Long story short, there ended up being two proms: one was a "fake" prom with only a few students and the other was the "real" prom with everyone else. It is hard to imagine a crueler or more juvenile ending to this story. (What is there to make of the fact that two learning-disabled students were also at the "fake" prom? Did they not get the memo or were they excluded from "real" prom, too?)

Not the first to say this, but this seems like the sort of thing that happens in bad TV shows or movies about high school. Next time on Saved by the Bell ... Screech gets sent to fake prom! Just depressing to see kids and "adults" behave this way.

LSM - Orioles 2010

In 2008, WN previewed the Orioles upcoming season with tales of woe and disaster. The O's held true to that prediction, finishing last in the AL East for the first time since the notorious 1988 season. At the end of that preview, WN wrote
Wacky Neighbor's final take: If in 3-5 years the Orioles are at
least improving and it's at least reasonable to consider the Orioles
getting over .500 in the standings and having a shot at making the playoffs,
then I'll take whatever lumps come this season. If in 2012 we're still
rebuilding, God help us.
So, here we are, half way to 2012 and wondering whether the Orioles are heading in right direction. Are they? Is .500 and playoff contention doable in 2 more years? Or are we headed to another rebuild down the road?

Catcher

You can say whatever you want about Matt Wieters. He's the franchise in Baltimore. All the tools to be an All-Star catcher, the pedigree at Georgia Tech, a few years of destroying every level of the minor leagues. The downside for Wieters at this point is probably that for some reason he can't stick at catcher and becomes a solid middle of the order hitter at first base. The upside seems limitless. WN thinks that 2010 is probably still going to be a developmental year for Wieters, only 24 and his first full-year in the majors, on top of catching a relatively young staff. But it's unlikely that the O's are going to make WN's timeline of contention in 2 years without him developing into a star catcher.

Rather than dwell on Wieters, let's just look at how bad the O's have been at catcher since 1997 (the last year they went to the playoffs). Here are the catchers that led the Orioles in plate appearances each year between 1998 and 2009 with their OPS:

1998: Lenny Webster, .751 (although Chris Hoiles had nearly as many PA and had an OPS of .833)
1999: Charles Johnson, .753 (acquired for Armando Benitez)
2000: Charles Johnson, .934 (wow, much better than WN remembers him)
2001: Brook Fordyce, .590 (unfathomable)
2002: Geronimo Gil, .632
2003: Brook Fordyce, .682
2004: Javy Lopez, .872
2005: Javy Lopez, .780
2006: Ramon Hernandez, .822
2007: Ramon Hernandez, .714
2008: Ramon Hernandez, .714 (not a typo, just consistently mediocre)
2009: Matt Wieters, .753

Obviously, it's been pretty bad. Sometimes it's been downright awful. Matt Wieters, in fact, wouldn't have to play much better to be a noticeable upgrade over what Baltimore has had at catcher. Craig Tatum won the backup job over Chad Moeller.

Infield

Brian Roberts is still the lead-off batter, second baseman, and mainstay of the infield in his 10th season in Baltimore. Of all of the decisions made over the last 10 years, the decision to stick with Roberts over Jerry Hairston turned out to be one of the better ones in Baltimore. That said, Roberts is 32 this year and battling back problems coming out of spring training. So we'll see.

The rest of the infield is patchwork. Literally. The O's signed Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins in the off-season as stop-gaps at third base and first base. Tejada is still a decent hitter and was pretty good in Houston last year - whether that carries over to the AL and a new position is the big question. Atkins had a few good years in Colorado before an awful year last year. At 30, he could still bounce back. Still, the O's are moving 2 players out of position and down the defensive spectrum, so it could be rough. Cesar Izturis returns at shortstop for the second year of a two-year deal. Last year he was pretty mediocre at the plate, but was by most measures a very good defensive shortstop - just about what everyone expected.

The bench consists of Julio Lugo (just acquired from St. Louis) and Ty Wiggington. Nolan Reimold has been getting a little work at first, too. While the Orioles have some prospects in the minors (Josh Bell at third, Brandon Snyder and Michael Aubrey at first, Scott Moore at third or maybe shortstop now), none of them are likely to make an impact this year. Of all of these players, Bell probably has the highest upside and might arrive by 2011. WN is optimistic but not really sold on Snyder and doesn't expect Aubrey or Moore to ever be impact players (that said, if Moore can make a go of it at shortstop in AAA this year, he might get a shot in Baltimore next year).

Outfield

Aside from Matt Wieters, the outfield is really the strength of the team now and over the next few years. The O's are solid in two spots with Nick Markakis (only 26) in rightfield and Adam Jones (only 24) in centerfield - five-tool, top-of-the-order players. That said, their numbers last year aren't overwhelming (Markakis actually seemed to take a step back) and Baltimore isn't going to move forward very far if they don't, either.

In fact, the best offensive numbers for the entire team may have come from Luke Scott last year. He's been sort of forgotten amidst the youth movement, but he hit the most home runs for Baltimore last year (25) and was one of the top 2 hitters by OPS for the Orioles amongst regulars. Scott is going to be the DH coming into the season, and he may see some time at first base or even left field. At 32, it's likely Scott isn't going to exceed what he has done the last few years, but he's been reliably solid over the last 3 years (since he saw regular playing time) and should be expected to put up similar numbers this year.

Left field is the one place where the Orioles might actually have a surplus of talent. Nolan Reimold actually led the team in OPS last year (.831, which isn't exactly killing the ball), but battled injuries late last year and into spring training. If he can recover, he could develop into a quality power bat for the O's, and at 26, one could expect improvements over the next 2-3 years, too. While Reimold was out, Felix Pie played splendidly down the stretch. Pie, who essentially washed out of the Cubs system, is only 25 this year and showed signs that maybe he's finally put it together last year. (Despite the fact he seems like a speed guy - he stole 118 bases in 632 games in the minors - he actually has a pretty bad success rate (about 62%) and only stole 1 base last year.) Whether there's room for both or not (plus Scott) remains to be seen. That said, it's been awhile since the O's have had anything resembling a surplus.

Speaking of which, it's unclear that career minor leaguer Lou Montanez will ever get a legit shot in the O's outfield, but he's next on the O's depth chart and will start in AAA. After that, it's pretty thin in the minors.

Bench

The bench to start the season will be Craig Tatum (catcher), Julio Lugo (infield), Ty Wiggington (infield), and Felix Pie (outfield). Lugo would likely be the first to see action at second base or shortstop and Wiggington would likely back up first and third base. If they were to go to a 5-man bench later, WN would expect that they would probably bring up someone they could use as a bat off the bench (Lou Montanez probably being the first choice, with Michael Aubrey not on the 40-man roster).

Overall Batting

The O's at least have some potential finally reaching the major leagues. They have 5 players under 27 who all have the potential to be above-average to excellent players: Wieters, Markakis, Jones, Reimold, and Pie. The hope is that they continue to develop this year, that Roberts is healthy and still one of the top second basemen in the league, and that the contributions from Scott, Tejada, and Atkins are enough to make the Orioles a good hitting team. In 2009, the O's were a bit below average for the league, so it's not unrealistic to expect the Orioles to climb at least to the middle of the league with the core of the team improving, if not slightly better than average.

Overall Fielding

In 2009, the O's were generally an average fielding team. The one area in which the O's did particularly well was in the outfield arm categories (which has a lot to do with Markakis). The one area in which the O's did particularly poorly was preventing runners from stealing, giving up the 5th most steals in the AL and having the 2nd worst caught-stealing percentage (22% - although, in fairness, the league average was only 26%). Hopefully Wieters will help with that. Otherwise, the only real question is whether Tejada can successfully make the transition to third base. The O's haven't gone wild on defense like some other teams recently (Seattle, Boston, Oakland), so it's unlikely that they'll be anything more than average again this year.

More on the O's pitching and predictions to come.

Monday, April 05, 2010

LSM

Yes, let's try this blogging thing again.
  • Donovan McNabb to the Redskins. The buzz around Philadelphia trading McNabb had been heating up over the last few weeks (to make room for untested Kevin Kolb and seemingly after the Eagles' unsuccessful attempts to move Michael Vick earlier this year), but it's caught everyone by surprise that he went in-division to Washington. Angst has been equal between WN's Redskins and Eagles friends, although Skins' fans seem to be more upset. Why? WN thinks mainly it's that they're worried that this is the return of the bad Dan Snyder - trading or signing high-price free agents, ditching valuable draft picks, winning the off-season Super Bowl only to be mediocre. Plus, the consensus seems to be that Washington isn't all that close and that a QB doesn't solve all of their problems. That said, WN would at least wait to see what they get for Jason Campbell (as good as gone, but probably bringing back a mid or late-round pick) before evaluating the deal. And if they either trade back in the draft or bring in an offensive tackle, Washington (as much as it pains me to say it) might not be that bad.
  • As for the Eagles: Kevin Kolb better be looking pretty sharp by the time Washington rolls into Philly this season (destined for a Sunday or Monday night game now - rumors are Monday October 25). WN supposes that there is a legit argument that (1) McNabb was never quite "good enough" to win the biggest games and (2) Kolb is a better fit for Philly's offensive system and (3) this gives them a lot of value for McNabb now before losing him or Kolb in the offseason. All fair points, and given how many other players Philly has released to traded this year, Kolb probably does make sense. But you know that you're going to get 2 very tough games against Washington this year, and there's no guarantee that Kolb is as good as McNabb (short run or long run). It would also worry me that the original plan seemed to be shopping Vick and that the deal for McNabb only came once it became apparent that there was very little interest in Vick. We shall see.
  • Duke-Butler. This has been one of the worst NCAA basketball tournaments in memory. The first round and second round were great, but since then it's been a lot of ugly, uninspiring games. Butler-Michigan State might have been the worst Final Four games ever. The shooting has been so bad (not just in this game) that WN wonders if something is actually wrong with the rims. There has been exactly one great game since the end of the first weekend (Kansas State-Xavier, which wasn't on until really late on a Thursday anyways) and a series of forgettable or simply unwatchable games since. The top 3 teams (Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse) failed to make the Final Four. 3 of the 4 regional finals games were awful (and even Kentucky's miserable shooting night against West Virginia didn't make for a great game). It almost makes one long for a basketball BCS. Not really.
  • As for tonight's game: Duke wins comfortably. Butler plays a very slow pace that Duke can play at, too. Butler will pick up too many fouls (there might be some eye-rolling calls tonight) and have to go their bench early in both halves, opening room for Duke to build up a lead against Butler (WN's guess: Butler's Matt Howard picks up 4 or 5 fouls and plays less than 15 minutes - assuming he plays at all). Butler isn't shooting well enough to hang around. Duke wins handily (say, 71-60), playing maybe 1 or 2 decent teams, the perfect ending to the worst NCAA tournament of all-time ... before they expand to 96 teams. Ugh.
  • Opening day for baseball. The Orioles open on the road ... in Tampa Bay ... on Tuesday. Blah. More on the Orioles later this week.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A Decade in Review

Well, 2010 feels like a good time to try to start blogging again. So long to a very busy 2009. I feel like this is the last year of the future - that 2010 sounds futuristic in a way that no other year is going to be until maybe 2100. Where are the flying cars and hover skateboards?

Anyway, for the sense of nostalgia, WN thought rather than rehash lists of the most important or most memorable moments of the last 10 years that it would be more satisfying just to throw out some of the most overlooked things instead.

Most Overlooked TV Show - The Chapelle Show. WN couldn't find this on anyone's decade list. This was the funniest show on TV for its two (and a little more seasons). The fact that Dave Chapelle disappeared and then quit the show (did we ever really find out why?) ended the show on its way up. Sort of the Terrell Davis of TV in the '00s - very short career at an incredible peak. The Rick James episode may have been the funniest episode of TV (and constantly rewatchable) in the last 10 years. (Also, Arrested Development.)

Most Overlooked Movie - WN can't think of any movies in the last 10 years that WN both really liked and didn't end up on somebody's list. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind felt overlooked at the time and is one of my 5 or so favorite movies from the last 10 years, but several critics mentioned it on their lists, so it's not so overlooked.

Most Overlooked Sports Moment - Is anything in sports overlooked any more? Maybe not, but a few things seem to be remembered as less meaningful than they were at the time. The 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks - defeating the Yankees and sending them into a decade of World Series exile, the unbelievable dominance by Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, overcoming two blown games by Byung-Yung Kim, Luis Gonzalez's flair off Mariano Rivera in Game 7. The 2005 Chicago White Sox (exercising their own postseason demons in a decade full of others). George Mason's basketball team in 2006 (making the Final Four as an 11-seed and knocking off North Carolina and a great UConn team in the process). The 2003 Fiesta Bowl (Ohio State upsets Miami for the national championship).

Most Overlooked News Moment - The Ukrainian Orange Revolution (2004-2005). It wasn't just Ukraine, but this looked like the epicenter of peaceful democratic revolutions across the globe - most of which seemed to have gone nowhere, lost opportunities. A controversial election, an attempted assassination attempt, a gigantic protest for days in Kiev - this was the biggest international story going for weeks. Since then, news interest has waned as Ukraine seems to have fallen back into more allegations of corruption and politicking and where it goes is very hard to say. (Also, the Kobe Bryant trial; anthrax; Jessica Lynch; gas and oil prices; not Michael Jackson).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Maine, Part II

To further regale you, dear reader, with an honest account of WN's recent trip to Maine ...

WEDNESDAY

We enjoyed breakfast at our B&B and then headed back west towards Camden, a charming harbor town along the bay. We toured the park, the shops, and the waterfront of the town in the morning and then ate lunch at Cappy's, which claimed to have the best New England clam chowder in Camden. Challenge accepted - veritably, the chowder was very good (and nearly overflowing with clams). After lunch, we took a schooner ride on a ship named Surprise, a 90-year old vessel originally commissioned by a Wall Street tycoon-cum-yachtsman. The ride was beautiful and the fellow passengers and the couple that owned the ship were very nice. WN even got to help hoist the sails. Ahoy!

Afterwards, we stopped at Camden Hills State Park for a short excursion and to get some pictures overlooking Camden. The weather had cleared by the afternoon, giving us the chance to take some rather nice and easy pictures of the town and the Maine waterfront. In the hazy distance loomed Mount Desert Island, where Acadia National Park waited stoically for us. Soon enough.

We stopped at a lobster barn for dinner. It was a barn ... with lobster tanks ... and that was it. It was BYOE (bring your own everything), and we didn't have the time to fetch libations, but we still dined on fresh lobster and corn as the sun set over the bay's horizon (LOBSTER MEAL #4). That, in a lobster shell, is Maine.

THURSDAY

Following breakfast we set out for Acadia National Park. In the interests of keeping the travelogue (trave-blogue?) positive, WN won't recount the earlier part of the day, which included road construction backups, unhelpful signage, angry shopkeepers, unusual ATM fees, and the general waste of time getting there. Once there, we did end up driving around the park and some non-park parts of the island in the vain search for in-park parking (as it turned out, Acadia was substantially crowded and WN and WoWN didn't realize the usefulness of the bus system from the park entrance until far too late. Still, we eventually did stop near Thunder Hole - a rock cave where the tides create a crashing sound at some parts of the day. We walked there, further down the shore, and then set out for hiking. We hiked for about 3 hours, from the trailhead to Gorham Mountain, to the Bowl (a large mountain lake), and then to the Beehive (or what we could only assume was the Beehive, which, as best as we could tell, was a rock formation and not the ubiqutous hive of bees).

After the hike, we left the park (and saw a coyote!) and then ate dinner. WN, indeed, had a lobster (LOBSTER MEAL #5, THE LAST) and we shared a piece of Maine blueberry pie for dessert. A full day.

FRIDAY

We left Maine in the morning, driving to Augusta and then south to Portsmouth, New Hampshire for an ill-advised detour and stop - not that Portsmouth was not lovely in August, but just that it took far longer to make what was to be a quick stop. Through New Hampshire into Massachusetts, eventually onto the rolling parking lot that was the Mass Turnpike, south towards Hartford, through the Hartford rush hour, eventually to New York, over the Hudson River, into New Jersey, a short jaunt past the mansions that beset Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey (you know your house is big when it the house has a name), finally into Pennsylvania to visit WoWN's mother and stepfather. One unfortunate stop in the ER and one stop at a 24-hour pharmacy later, we sat down for dinner at Chili's and ate before getting to their house for the night.

SATURDAY

We stopped off to visit WoWN's parents at work in the morning and then left around noon and travelled straight through to the WN Homestead (despite naming it, still not a mansion). That was the end of the trip. 7 days, 6 nights, 1800 miles, 5 lobsters.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Maine, Part I

It's been a long time. Hopefully blogging will be consistent again, but WN isn't making any more promises.

PREMISE

WN and WoWN were set to leave on vacation for a week. All summer long we had been planning to go south to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. But with nothing booked 4 days before leaving and with temperatures forecasted into the 90's, we changed plans and decided to head for the lobster-filled and cooler shores of Maine. To be young and spontaneous - and to have procrastinated long enough to make a last minute decision.

SUNDAY

WN and WoWN left at 5:30 a.m. for the long drive to Portland, Maine. With a quick stop at Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast and coffee, we were off. The trip was largely uneventful, although it rained most of the way through New Jersey and we ended up detouring on the Palisades Parkway instead of going through New York City or around it on the Garden State Parkway.

We arrived in Boston around 1:00 p.m. to stop and visit friends who had recently moved to the city. We caught up with them for a leisurely lunch and chat. Very nice and welcome respite from the road.

From there, we drove to Portland and arrived around 5:30 p.m. We stayed at Howard Johnson's, which also had an attached Friendly's. A decent place to hang your hat for two days. Then we ventured into Portland proper.

The weird thing about Portland is that they did a lot to advertise their downtown area, but Portland seemed devoid of maps and signs. We ended up driving through a rather unremarkable part of Portland - was there really nothing to do or see here? - before finally stumbling upon the downtown area. It's not all that big, but it was nice and we had a good dinner and beers at Gritty McDuff's. WN enjoyed a lobster roll (LOBSTER MEAL #1). After dinner we walked around the area a little more before retreating to HoJo's and stopping by Friendly's for dessert.

MONDAY

We struck out in the morning, grabbed a small breakfast, and headed to South Portland and Cape Elizabeth. We enjoyed the morning near Two Lights State Park and Fort Williams, doing some light hiking along the rocks and enjoying the relaxing lapping of the waves of Casco Bay. We ate lunch at a lobster pound (the name of which escapes me), which claimed to have the best lobster rolls in Portland. Challenge accepted. WN and WoWN both partaked (partook?) lobster rolls, which were indeed delicious (LOBSTER MEAL #2).

After lunch, we went back to Portland and walked along the rail trail. Then we struck out for Freeport for dinner (at the Jameson Tavern, where allegedly the state charter or something similar was signed for Maine) and a stop by L.L. Bean headquarters, which is actually open 24-7. If you want comfortable outdoor gear and sensible casual wear at 3 in the morning in southern Maine, this is your place.

TUESDAY

Tuesday we packed up, grabbed breakfast, and headed up Route 1 to Boothbay Harbor. Boothbay was very nice and we strolled along the harbor before settling in at Captain Jack's Lobster Shack or something else so quaintly named. We had a lobster bake (although we got chips instead of a baked potato, but okay) and a pitcher of Shipyard Ale while sitting on the farside of the harbor. This was the best lobster WN had ever eaten - magnificent (LOBSTER MEAL #3). After lunch, we walked around the harbor, looked at the ships, stopped in some shops, had some ice cream (french maple? outrageous!) and then headed back to the car.

From Boothbay Harbor, we drove further on Route 1 to Searsport, which is along the northside of Penobscot Bay. We stayed at the 1794 Watchtide by the Sea Bed and Breakfast, a small but charming little B&B on the bay. We checked in, unpacked, and then headed down to Belfast for dinner. Most of Belfast was closed or closing by 8:00, but we did have an enjoyable meal at Darby's before retiring for the night.

Stay tuned for Part II, coming soon.