Monday, September 29, 2008

Could there actually be a second great sequel this year?

"The Dark Knight" was an outstanding sequel to "Batman Begins," a rarity in the movie world - think Godfather II, Aliens, and only a few other films (sequels in the Harry Potter mold don't count). But I've just seen the new trailer for the upcoming Bond film, "Quantum of Solace" and it looks like we could be blessed with a second fantastic sequel this year. Quantum is the followup to "Casino Royale," which I've steadily come to believe is the best Bond movie ever, due in large part to the brilliant Daniel Craig (watch the dark "Layer Cake" if you don't believe me...) as well as a kickass theme song on a par with Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger.

The countdown to November 14th begins...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Goodbye, Mr. Gondorff

There never really was a failure to communicate, not when Paul Newman was on the screen.

I first saw him in The Sting as a kid and thought that he and Robert Redford were the greatest movie stars ever. Even 35 years after it first came out, I can watch that movie over and over and never grow bored. While my appreciation for actors on screen has broadened over the years, The Sting remains one of my all-time favorite movies due so very much to Newman's Henry Gondorff and Redford's Johnny Hooker. It wasn't until several years later that I watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for the first time. I've enjoyed it every time I've watched it since then but it doesn't have the same rakish appeal that I find in The Sting.

When I was 12, I was introduced to the older Newman when Don Dewing, my late Scoutmaster, took me to see The Verdict. Pretty deep stuff but I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. Newman, older, more craggy, still captivated me and the rest of the audience. Sadly, the print failed with about 15 minutes left in the film and while we were given free tickets for a future show, Don and I didn't make it back and it wasn't until The Verdict was available on video that I found out how it ended. In the interim, I'd started to catch up on more of Newman's work, entertained by fluff like Slap Shot and disaster-of-the-week schlock like The Towering Inferno (Newman and McQueen on one screen!! Holy Cow!), left speechless by Cool Hand Luke and winced as his thumbs were broken in The Hustler. Even in oddball stuff like the Coen brothers' The Hudsucker Proxy, Newman displayed a devilish glint in his eyes and made watching movies even more fun.

Strangely, it was the one film that he won an Oscar for (The Color of Money) that I really couldn't stand. Like Pacino's Oscar for Scent of a Woman and Scorcese's for The Departed, I suspect that there was a sense of "they've earned in their career and we don't know if we'll have another chance" that tipped the voting a bit. I mean, Newman and Pacino were fine in those films and The Departed is certainly grim and gripping but can anyone really make the case that these were their best work or clearly the best work for that particular year? All of matter of opinion, I suppose.

What isn't really a matter of opinion is that the world is a less colorful place without Paul Newman in it. Not colorful in an attention-seeking, egotistical actor way. He just always struck me as one of those stars you really would want to spend time with, maybe have dinner with, and who truly enjoyed entertaining people. In the 36 hours since his passing, nothing that I've read has disabused me of that idea. Everyone knows about his philanthropic efforts (and the tasty food that supported them) but how many people realized what Newman put into and got out of this? Read Dahlia Lithwick's heartfelt remembrance of her summers as a counselor at the original Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut and you'll learn something new about the man. I certainly did.

And in the end, it's clear that Paul Newman never failed to communicate with us either via the big screen or through the example he set, even as he picked your pocket. Goodbye, Mr. Gondorff. I can't wait until the next time I see you swindle Doyle Lonnegan.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Time for more time with the family?

Have you heard the news? Some people don't think Sarah Palin is qualified...and it's not just Democrats.

I suppose there was similar feedback about Dan Quayle though in 1988, without the 24-hour newscycle and the Internet, the chatter would have been limited to the halls of politics and the print readership of a given newspaper. Now, with every article accessible immediately and every quote available on YouTube, the backlash against Palin is really quite remarkable. Of course the Democrats were going to go after her for her lack of experience but the growing noise from Republicans makes it worth listening to (not that I think she's going to decide that "she wants to spend more time with her family") as does the concern about McCain's decision-making ability.

Palin Problem - She’s out of her league.
Kathleen Parker, conservative and National Review columnist observes:

Palin filibusters. She repeats words, filling space with deadwood. Cut the verbiage and there’s not much content there. Here’s but one example of many from her interview with Hannity: “Well, there is a danger in allowing some obsessive partisanship to get into the issue that we’re talking about today. And that’s something that John McCain, too, his track record, proving that he can work both sides of the aisle, he can surpass the partisanship that must be surpassed to deal with an issue like this.”

When Couric pointed to polls showing that the financial crisis had boosted Obama’s numbers, Palin blustered wordily: “I’m not looking at poll numbers. What I think Americans at the end of the day are going to be able to go back and look at track records and see who’s more apt to be talking about solutions and wishing for and hoping for solutions for some opportunity to change, and who’s actually done it?”

If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.

And there are reports that the McCain camp itself isn't too thrilled right now...

McCain Camp insiders say Palin "clueless"
From the website of radio host Ed Schultz:

Capitol Hill sources are telling me that senior McCain people are more than concerned about Palin.

The campaign has held a mock debate and a mock press conference; both are being described as "disastrous." One senior McCain aide was quoted as saying, "What are we going to do?" The McCain people want to move this first debate to some later, undetermined date, possibly never. People on the inside are saying the Alaska Governor is "clueless."

Of course, this could all be a means of lowering the bar for the upcoming debate. The Obama camp is doing it right now in the opposite direction, trying to raise the bar for her and lower it for Biden.

And a view from a non-conservative columnist...

Palin is Ready? Please.
Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria comments on Palin's response to a question about the proposed financial bailout:

Palin has been given a set of talking points by campaign advisers, simple ideological mantras that she repeats and repeats as long as she can. ("We mustn't blink.") But if forced off those rehearsed lines, what she has to say is often, quite frankly, gibberish...

This is nonsense—a vapid emptying out of every catchphrase about economics that came into her head. Some commentators, like CNN's Campbell Brown, have argued that it's sexist to keep Sarah Palin under wraps, as if she were a delicate flower who might wilt under the bright lights of the modern media. But the more Palin talks, the more we see that it may not be sexism but common sense that's causing the McCain campaign to treat her like a time bomb.

Can we now admit the obvious? Sarah Palin is utterly unqualified to be vice president.

Katie Couric is my new hero!

Last week's CBS Evening News interview with Sarah Palin, led by Katie Couric, achieved several things:
  1. It gave me a newfound respect for Ms. Couric for not letting platitudes be accepted as fact.
  2. It illustrated the McCain campaign's apparent view on reality: if we say it enough, it must be true!
  3. It clearly showed that Sarah Palin needs to memorize more flash cards.
Faced with a question about McCain campaign manager Rick Davis' links to Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae (something that's been in the news and she should have seen coming), Palin was reduced to repeating the same rote phrase, hoping that it would sound more appealing the second time around if she added different emphasis
  1. First time around: My understanding is Rick Davis reCUSed HIMself
  2. Second time around: My understanding is that he REcused HIMself
It was shades of "Interview with Charlie Gibson" all over again except that Ms. Couric (kudos to her) didn't let Palin off the hook while avoiding the appearance of a mildly pompous professor. You could almost see Palin running through the programmed responses from her handlers to find one that might be the best match and when she got stumped, rebooting to the first line of the script. It's like watching a live action version of my wife's Enda Mode Interactive Doll with its prepackaged inventory of 35 phrases that are blurted out at random when you ask it a question. Theoretically they are general enough to make sense in any conversation but if you pay attention, there's actually nothing there.

And Palin's own responses to Couric's economic questions put the lie to either a) John McCain's claim to be a long-time fighter for the financial well-being of our economy, or b) Palin's own ability to think on her feet and sound at least reasonably competent as Katie stumped her not once but three times on specific examples of how John McCain actually sought to impose more oversight on Wall Street. Her final response sounds like a character from a "Prairie Home Companion" Catchup Advisory Board sketch, which is fine if you're going for radio entertainment for your typical NPR listener but certainly not as a reasoned response from a qualified vice presidential candidate.

See for yourself:


Kudos to the worst-to-first Tampa Bay Rays on clinching the American League East title. Go Red Sox!

Rhapsodic Return

After a week of radio silence along with a trip to Chicago and 72 hours in bed trying to kick a hellacious cold that has left me largely voice-free, I'm getting back in the saddle (briefly) here before my stamina vanishes.

Of course, there's much to write about - some music and book commentary, politics, etc. - and I'm looking forward to it. But first, have you seen this commercial for the Rhapsody online music service? While I haven't watched much TV over the last week or so, every time I turn it on, this commercial shows up.

It's awful. Why on Earth would I associate hurling myself off a building with "music without limits"? I kept wondering what would happen if she missed the bubble she was aiming for - broken bones without limits? Where's the ubiquitous legal disclaimer - "Rhapsody does not advocate leaping off skyscrapers as a viable method of listening to music"? And isn't the use of a bubble, which by its very nature creates a border around something, setting limits? If the purpose of the ad is to generate conversation, derisive though it may be, I guess it worked. If it's to leave a last, positive impression of the company or service and give you an understanding of what it does and why you want it...not so much.

It's like a company I used to work for that briefly toyed with the slogan: "We just don't stop." It's a crappy slogan and didn't last long but I always enjoyed the fact that the phrase was immediately proven wrong by the period that brought a screeching halt to the sentence that vowed never to stop.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Upstarts

The postseason is almost upon us. The Red Sox look to be playoff bound...only they're not where we expected to them be. After dropping 2 out of 3 in Tampa, the Sox find themselves looking up at the surprising Tampa Bay Rays.


These are the former "Devil Rays" we're talking about, the team that had never come within 65 percentage points of even a .500 season. And they're in first?

Oh yes, and they look very good doing it. They're young, they're fast, they're playing with energy, they look like they're having fun doing it, and damn it, they're fun to watch.

Except when they're stifling the Red Sox.

But unlike when the Yankees would beat the Sox, I don't hold any animosity towards the team from Tampa. Sure, they've had more than their share of brawls with the boys from Boston but few were really egregious and, from the fans' perspective, none of them left a lasting bad taste. My biggest concern during those fights was that no one actually got hurt or did something off-the-charts stupid and get suspended for too long (unlike the Bronx/Boston fisticuffs in which events like this are a source of joy for fans...though to give him credit, Varitek won't autograph pictures of this donnybrook because he thinks it sets a bad example).

For years, the Rays tried to survive and thrive on past-their-prime players like Fred McGriff, Vinnie Castilla, and Jose "Needle in My Butt" Canseco, hoping to bash their way to respectability. Now, lugs like that are gone and the veterans on the team, players like Cliff Floyd and Carlos Pena, are showing some leadership as well as some pop in the field. But it's the young players in the field and on the mound who are leading the way now. Even oft-injured Rocco Baldelli - the Pride of Woonsocket, RI - worked his way back from a series of alternately bizarre injuries (torn ACL while playing catch in the backyard with his little brother) and mysterious ailments (a mitochondrial disorder) just in time to fill in admirably following an injury to another player in August.

However, it's the manager, Joe Maddon, who deserves so much credit. Wearing his Elvis Costello glasses and urging his players to take chances, he's a manager you just have to love to watch. His players have apparently bought into him as well:

Sure, Maddon has adorned the clubhouse with inspirational quotes from the likes of Albert Camus. (“I don’t think he ever played here,” Upton said.) But players know they have the only manager in the big leagues with a cooler music collection than theirs, and he infuses them with the same free spirit he has carried through three decades in professional baseball. (NY Times, August 8, 2008)

After the Rays finished dead last in 2007, he decided to set a new goal and changed the equation. His new view on the world? 9=8.

Maddon suggested that a team with nine players on the field (10 including the DH, but when you’re making a claim like “9=8,” you can take some liberties) who executed properly and well for nine innings every night would allow his team to be one of eight in the postseason.

“I wanted nine more wins out of the offense, nine more wins out of the defense and nine more wins out of the pitching staff than last year,” Maddon said last week.

That improvement would tack on 27 wins to Tampa’s total of 66 victories a year ago.

“Two plus seven equals nine, nine equals eight, that would put us at 93 wins for the season, which I thought would get us into the playoffs,” Maddon concluded. (WEEI)

OK, he lost me on how the math works out but when it comes to the actual results on the field, 9=8 may actually equal #1.

Of course I'll be cheering on the Red Sox through the remainder of the regular season and well into October. However, if the worst should happen and the Sox were to fall by the wayside, if the Rays are still in it, I'll put on a 9=8 shirt, borrow some Elvis Costello glasses. and cheer on a team that plays like they love it.

Now if only they could get some of their own fans to come out and cheer for them...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Welcome to the world, Amelia Marie

Welcome to the world, Amelia Marie McCarthy.

You have come into a family with two wonderful parents who will nurture and protect you along with a sister who will be there for you when you need it, even if you fight like cats and dogs sometimes.

You have come into a family with grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and dear friends who will find joy in every moment they spend with you.

You have come into a world filled with wonder and inspiration, where you'll be able to find out about things likes Narnia and Harry Potter, Big Bird and Kermit, Mozart and Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Madonna (OK, your mom will make you listen to that last one), Beavertail Light and Fenway Park (I'll have to bring you there when your dad isn't looking), and see them with fresh eyes and make them new for us again at the same time.

You have come into a world that, despite the challenges ahead, has the potential to be an even better place for you that is has been for us.

Welcome to the world, dear little niece. I can't wait to meet you in person.


OK, I'm officially getting twitchy about the election. The Palin/McCain "Holier than Thou" Tour is gaining momentum and time is running out.

Thankfully, some members of the press are starting to wake up to the fact that Palin's experience and bio is a tissue of exaggerations, fabrications, and outright lies. Forget about the "Bridge to Nowhere." Did you hear that the McCain/Palin Campaign had to admit that, well, no, she didn't actually go into Iraq on her life-changing trip. She visited a border checkpoint. But it's OK, because the checkpoint technically was the the Iraq side of the border. Same way her refueling stop turned into a "visit to Ireland". Ugh.

Don't even get me started on the crapola about international experience because you can see Russia from one of Alaska's outlying islands. As John Dickerson at Slate put it, "This is a travel tip, not an argument for foreign-policy expertise. Because a person can see the moon does not make them qualified to be an astronaut."

Hopefully - and I know I might be asking a lot here - American voters won't buy into this load of steaming Bantha poodoo (that's a message to all you Star Wars fanatics - it's time to take off your stormtrooper costumes and vote against the Dark Side in November! I'll be right there beside you.) But like I said, given the current poll numbers, it's sadly asking a lot.

While I'm feeling a bit better about the ads that the Obama campaign is starting to run that hit back harder, I am still nervous and it's because of one major thing:

Barack Obama is being too damn polite!

I'm not asking for him to lie. I'm not asking for him to smear. What I am asking is for him to stop sounding like a professor and sound like someone who is watching a vicious, nasty, blackhearted creature eat away at his character, his mission, and his chance to truly make a change.

I don't want to hear him compliment his rivals anymore. When have they complimented him in anyway that wasn't actually a subtle (or not-so-subtle) slap?

I don't want to hear him say to George Stephanopolous, when asked about responding to and rebutting the false claims made at the Republican National Convention, say that it's the media's job to review and report on this. Give them something to work with, man!

Last week, Obama and his wife were called "uppity" by Representative Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA). Where's the outrage? How does this yahoo get away with it after only an "aw shucks, I didn't know it was racist" reply that absolutely no one believes? How does this clearly racial slur not become a rallying point for outraged people around the country? If a Democrat had said something equivalent about the Palins...oh, perhaps that they're religious fanatics...the Right and FOX News would be screaming bloody murder. And what do we get from Obama, when Keith Olbermann gave the chance to respond to this clearly racist and vicious slur?

"I am confident that, the American people, once the dust is settled, will ask themselves, do we really want to do the same thing we've been doing for the last eight years, or do we want something new?"

What the hell does that mean?! Millions of Democrats are waiting to see him get righteous, not talk about "when the dust settles"!

In his acceptance speech in Denver, the line he hit the hardest was when he blasted the Republicans and their behavior with the simple, powerful statement of "Enough". But that simple declarative is apparently on hiatus and if it isn't resurrected soon and with sufficient force and power and outrage, the Professor and Senator Biden will be left watching a man who has junked his honor and sold his integrity along with his soul taking the oath of office as president alongside a vice president who terrifies me with her profound lack of competence for the job, her close-mindedness, her lack of curiosity about the world, and her rabid intolerance for beliefs other than her own.

It's not McCain who is the next 4 years of George W. Bush, it's Palin who has the potential to be even worse. And Barack Obama needs to let it be heard around this nation that such a result will not stand and that when it comes to lies, smears, and the politics of fear, that he and we have had ENOUGH.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

There's something about Sarah

From The New Yorker:

"She's not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president? Look at what she's done to this state. What would she do to the nation?"

- Lyda Green, Republican and President of the Alaska State Senate, when asked by the Anchorage Daily News for her thoughts on Palin's selection as John McCain's vice presidential running mate

From Sunday's New York Times:

[I]n 1995, Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed the book “Daddy’s Roommate” on the shelves and that it did not belong there, according to Ms. Chase and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested that Ms. Palin read it.

“Sarah said she didn’t need to read that stuff,” Ms. Chase said. “It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn’t even read it.”

“I’m still proud of Sarah,” she added, “but she scares the bejeebers out of me.”

Putt Putt

It strikes only rarely, emerging from hibernation and sneaking up on sly paws to catch me unawares...the compulsion to play mini-golf. In an otherwise normal world, I have no interest in regular golf and while I can appreciate that it takes some skill to play well, I'm in the "not sure if golf is a really a sport, sort of like NASCAR" camp.

However, every now and then, I'm struck by the urge to pick up a putter and an oddly colored, well-worn golf ball and try to navigate astroturf-covered challenges flanked by windmills and fiberglass alligators and riddled with tunnels of PVC piping. I mean, how can you not enjoy mini-golf? No one is any good at it, it's designed to be a source of amusement, not of true competition, and if you don't have anyone behind you, you can always pick your golf ball up and see what happens when you putt it down some other alley or tube.

When I was a kid, I played occasionally at the mini-golf course by the Wellfleet Drive-in on Cape Cod but really got hooked when I visited my grandmother in Farmington, CT, and played at the course there. It certainly wasn't as dynamic and challenging as new courses now – mostly just rises and dips, a few concrete obstructions, a windmill, a miniature barn with doors that opened and closed at regular intervals – but it was a blast to play as a kid. The 19th hole is the mini-golf equivalent of Skee Ball and 35 years after I started playing there, I've still never managed to get my golf ball into the center hole to win the free game.

The mini-golf beast appeared again a few weeks ago in Bar Harbor. After a day of exploring Acadia National Park, we needed a break so after getting cleaned up, we braved the light clouds of mosquitos and accepted the challenge of Pirate's Cove. The three young guys smoking behind us notwithstanding, we had a blast. It was cheesy, yes, and if you're planning to have snacks or a hot dog there, don't bother (they don't have food), but it was creative, fun, and a nice break from the scenic splendor of Acadia.

(By the way, if you are in Bar Harbor, playing golf at Pirate's Cove, and want a quick, easy and affordable bite to eat, allow me to recommend Pepper's Pizza a bit farther along the road into Bar Harbor. It's a joint but the food and service are great. Enjoy!)

While we paid for two rounds (there's the classic course and also Blackbeard's Challenge), we elected to break for dinner after only playing the classic. Once again, I failed to win a free game. As luck we would have it, we never did make it back for the second round but instead handed off our game tokens to Duane and Kelly, a couple we met our final morning at the B&B. Wouldn't you know it...Duane e-mailed after they returned from their vacation to report that they'd had a great time and won that #$%^& free game! Well, I'm glad someone did.

Don't misbehave at Pirate's Cove!

You meet the most interesting people in Bar Harbor

Double Speak

From an e-mail sent to me by a friend yesterday...

If you're a minority and you're selected for a job over more qualified candidates you're a "token hire."
If you're a conservative and you're selected for a job over more qualified candidates you're a "game changer."

Black teen pregnancies? A "crisis" in black America.
White teen pregnancies? A "blessed event."

If you grow up in Hawaii you're "exotic."
Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers, you're the quintessential "American story."

Similarly, if you name you kid Barack you're "unpatriotic."
Name your kid Track, you're "colorful."

If you're a Democrat and you make a VP pick without fully vetting the individual you're "reckless."
A Republican who doesn't fully vet is a "maverick."

If you are a Democratic male candidate who is popular with millions of people you are an "arrogant celebrity."
If you are a popular Republican female candidate you are "energizing the base."

If you are a younger male candidate who thinks for himself and makes his own decisions you are "presumptuous."
If you are an older male candidate who makes last minute decisions you refuse to explain, you are a "shoot from the hip" maverick.

If you manage a multi-million dollar nationwide campaign, you are an "empty suit."
If you are a part time mayor of a town of 7000 people, you are an "experienced executive."

If you go to a south side Chicago church, your beliefs are "extremist."
If you believe in creationism and don't believe global warming is man made, you are "strongly principled."

If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you're a Christian.
If you have been married to the same woman with whom you've been wed to for 19 years and raising 2 beautiful daughters with, you're "risky."

If you're a 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton, the right-wing press calls you "First dog."
If you're a 17-year old pregnant unwed daughter of a Republican, the right-wing press calls you "beautiful" and "courageous."

And finally...

If you spend 3 years as a community organizer growing your organization from a staff of 1 to 13 and your budget from $70,000 to $400,000, then become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new African Amerian voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, then spend nearly 8 more years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, becoming chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, then spend nearly 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of nearly 13 million people, sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you are woefully inexperienced.

If you spend 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, then spend 20 months as the governor of a state with 650,000 people, then you've got the most executive experience of anyone on either ticket, are the Commander in Chief of the Alaska military and are well qualified to lead the nation should you be called upon to do so because your state is the closest state to Russia.

Hypocrites R Us

It's amazing that these jackasses can look at themselves in the mirror and not feel like they're covered in raw sewage every morning. I know that there are Democrats who aren't a whole lot better but the Republicans in 2008 have truly made hypocrisy an art form.

And the sad thing is, they just might get away with it again...

The country churches of baseball

So when it comes to those smaller country churches of baseball, where does one go?

For us, Hadlock Field in Portland, home of the Red Sox' Double A farm team, the Portland Sea Dogs, is now an annual stop. Hadlock boasts the "Maine Monster", a duplicate of Fenway's Green Monster (all the better to give Red Sox prospects some extra experience) and "Slugger", the team's mascot who is supposed to be a large harbor seal, I believe. The brick exterior is both classy and classic. The aluminum bleachers remind me of a high school stadium and as fans stomp their feet in anticipation of a big play, it can almost be deafening. The walls are adorned with the jersey numbers and names of major leaguers who passed through Portland, and in a nod to the neighborhood, a lighthouse emerges majestically from beyond the centerfield fence following every Portland home run.

It can be quirky, too - it's shaped like a fishhook, the Sea Dogs bullpen is on the second floor of the right field bleachers, and like minor league parks around the country, the fences can look like the Yellow Pages. But you're right on top of the action, the food is tasty, the view is great from anywhere in the park even as it seats almost 7,000, the between-innings entertainment is, well, entertaining (don't miss the rubber lobster toss!), tickets are cheap, and the quality of the game and the players is well worth the trip. If we were ever to relocate to the Portland area, Sea Dogs season tickets would be among our first purchases.

Not a bad seat in the house at Hadlock Field

The "Maine Monster"

Home run!

And closer to home, we never miss an opportunity to spend an evening at Cardines Field, nest of the Newport Gulls, who play in a wooden bat summer collegiate baseball league. The games start late in mid-June and wrap up in early August, played by college students from around the country. While the legendary Cape Cod Baseball League (spawning grounds of Red Sox players like Jason Varitek, Nomah, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Mike Lowell) has a longer track record (I used to go to Orleans Cardinals games 30 years ago), the talent in the New England Collegiate Baseball League is just as good and a number of alums have already made it to the majors.

Future major leaguers?

I'm proud to say that I've a devoted fan since the Gulls moved to Newport. That first summer, I was probably one of 20 to 30 fans who would show up for virtually every game. Since that time, the Gulls have become a summer fixture in downtown Newport drawing more than 50,000 people with their $4 tickets, expanded seating (up to 3,000 people now), great and inexpensive concessions (thick cheeseburgers hot off the grill for just $2.50), Gully the Mascot, and fun play both during and between innings.

Delivering the first pitch...

And then scooting off the field!

Sometimes there's even inadvertent fun during the innings, like when the skunk squeezed under the fence and wandered into right field in the middle of the game. It took the right fielder a minute to realize what was going on and then he promptly displayed his speed when he bolted toward the infield. 20 minutes later the skunk got bored and wandered away, apparently not a fan of the bright lights.

A fixture of the games is at the top of the 8th inning, any small kids in the stands are invited to gather along the left field line and then charge into the outfield en masse to be the first to tag Gully who is patrolling deep centerfield. A bit of used to be called "Tackle the Gull" for several years until the Gully suit-wearing volunteers rebelled - it's easy to understand why after seeing the brave soul in the giant seagull suit climbing the centerfield fence during one game to escape the tackling hordes! That's not something you'll see at Fenway, my friends!

(Special thanks to my friend Nicole C. for the great onfield photos at Cardines Field.)

At Play in the Fields of the Lord

The weather is starting to turn a bit. Some colors other than green are appearing on the leaves. There can be just a bit of a bite, well maybe just a nibble, in the air at night. On our trip to Maine two weeks ago, we actually found ourselves wearing long pants and fleece jackets as we walked down Congress Street in Portland early one evening on Labor Day weekend. But summer didn't feel over because our destination was Hadlock Field, home of the Portland SeaDogs, and we were going to watch baseball.

Never much of a church-going person, baseball might be the closest thing to an organized religion in my life – the "Church of Baseball" if I may steal a phrase from Annie Savoy. I look forward to it all winter then soak it in throughout the spring, summer, and fall and then immediately return to waiting for it start again. I love it. Not in a stat freak or trivia sort of way – but in "a good game of baseball is a thing of beauty to watch" sort of way. I love to play it, I love to watch it, and there's no other game that transports me in the same way.

Football is fun – an entertainment on Sundays broken up by commercials and punctuated by groans and shouts as the players smash into one another (there's a reason military phrases lend themselves to football and it might be the only sport that can lead my mother to scream "take his head off" as happened during last year's Super Bowl). But baseball, well that's a sport that lends itself to a cool late August evening watching the players who dream of making the big leagues on that broad swath of green. And for me, my favorite place to watch a game isn't Fenway or even in a truly fantastic newer stadium like Camden Yards in Baltimore. Sure, the major league game is fun and the skill level on display can take your breath away but baseball is an intimate game and it's hard to feel that intimacy, to be transported when you're in a modern cathedral.

And that's what major league stadiums are – cathedrals where 45,000 people come to cheer and sob and celebrate. They can be awe-inspiring – watch Dennis Quaid's face when he enters The Ballpark at Arlington at the conclusion of The Rookie and in his face you'll see the reflection of every kid when they come up the walkways from the concourses and see that brilliant green field and the lights and the crowds for the very first time. But it's so big and so overwhelming that you can get lost in it, that the game can almost get lost in it as you sit and cheer and worship with the masses.

The view from the outfield bleachers at Fenway

For some, that's the joy of baseball and I can appreciate it the same way I can appreciate Westminster Abbey in London. But when it comes right down to it, I'm drawn instead to the smaller, plainer, more humble churches that dot the New England landscape and to smaller ballparks when I really want to lose myself in the game and the atmosphere.