Tuesday, November 29, 2011

120 Minutes

No, this post isn't about the former MTV show dedicated to alternative music, a show whose major highlights included the world premiere of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in 1991. Nor is it about the approximately two hours that passed between the time KJ's and my son was born—less than two weeks ago—and when I finally got around to calling our parents.

That seems like a long time, right? Or, is that normal? Anyway, it's kind of a long story that I won't be getting into right now.

What this post is about is my first ever tasting of Dogfish Head's signature extreme beer, 120 Minute IPA. It was, in fact, in celebration of the birth of Little Chuck, as my pal and brewing partner AB (not August Busch) and his wife stopped by our house to meet the little guy.

AB works at the hospital where LC was born, so he was the first to visit us after the delivery. We got to talking about the cigar tradition, and although said tradition is that the father passes out cigars to his friends, somehow it was decided he would try and find me a bottle of 120 Minute instead.

I didn't really think he'd come through, as it's brewed only a few times a year and sells out fast, despite it's hefty price tag of $10 for a 12-ounce bottle. But, wouldn't you know it, he showed up at my door with not one, but two bottles of the "holy grail for hopheads."

I was surprised that it tasted more like our own 21st Century Schizoid Ale than any beer I've ever tasted. It's stronger (15-20% ABV) and better, of course, but its similarity to one of our own creations was a point of pride for us.

Its huge maltiness up front masks the hop bitterness, at first. There's no denying the presence of extreme hops, however, as considering the high alcohol content, it would be unbearably sweet otherwise. I tasted the hoppiness a little later than expected, but even still, it's not overwhelming. In fact, it's probably just right, the perfect balance of a beer's two most important ingredients, hops and malt.

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA wasn't the first beer I consumed after the birth of my son, but it certainly was worthy as an extended celebration of a moment I'll never forget.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Frequent Spins (2011.6)

This will be the long overdue final installment of Frequent Spins for 2011. In fact, it will be a bit of a catchup post, after which I'll move on to attempting to rank the best albums of the year, as usual.

Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire
The man formerly known as the hardest working singer-songwriter in alt-country (whatever that is) produces an album that hearkens back to his ultimate solo effort, Heartbreaker, and this one might be almost as good as that masterpiece.

Richard Buckner - Our Blood
Buckner churns out another solid, if unspectacular, collection of hauntingly poetic Americana.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Hysterical
They'll probably never again capture the magic of their debut release, but this album is a bit of a return to prominence after their disappointing sophomore effort.

Crooked Fingers - Breaks in the Armor
Returns to form have been a common theme in my Frequent Spins posts this year, and the latest from Crooked Fingers lands firmly in that category. After the significant drop-off that was Forfeit/Fortune, Breaks in the Armor makes me, once again, optimistic that former Archers of Loaf leader Eric Bachmann hasn't lost it.

The Jayhawks - Mockingbird Time
If you're a reader of this blog, then you probably kind of saw this one coming.

M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
I haven't been blogging much lately, and that trend probably won't change in the near future. But, I have been thinking more and more about good music that would appeal to young children. Among this album's highlights is "Raconte-Moi Une Histoire" (English translation: "Tell Me a Story"), a brightly optimistic song that fully captures the essence of the innocence of youth.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Mirror Traffic
Quite possibly the former Pavement front-man's best solo release to date.

Mates of State
- Mountaintops
I don't know about everyone, but I have a tendency to forever associate certain songs with events—in my life and otherwise—that were occurring at the time I was listening to them. In my mind, "Mistakes" will forever remind me of Joe Paterno.

Tom Waits - Bad As Me
I've never been a huge Waits fan. Of course, that's not to say I'm anti-Waits either. But, it's just that I've never really loved anything he's done before, or maybe I just haven't tried hard enough. This effort doesn't necessarily make me a convert, but it has me wondering if I've been missing out.

Wilco - The Whole Love
Ranking Wilco's albums from best to worst has always been difficult for me, but here goes:
  1. Being There
  2. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  3. Summerteeth
  4. The Whole Love
  5. A.M.
  6. Wilco (The Album)
  7. Sky Blue Sky
  8. A Ghost is Born
So, that would make The Whole Love Wilco's best album since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I know I've got more to be thankful for this year than ever.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sad Days and the Road to Recovery in Happy Valley

In my four years at Penn State, I attended every home game but one, which I missed to attend a cousin's wedding. I also traveled to away games at Pitt, Maryland, West Virginia and Syracuse (twice). In fact, the first game I ever witnessed was their first of the 1985 season, a road game at College Park, Maryland. In total, this adds up to somewhere around 30 games in just four seasons.

I haven't been to many games since I graduated, and now I kind of regret that.

This weekend marked the end of an era, and certainly wasn't the joyous, special occasion I always imagined it would be. Although, in reality, I didn't really think Joe Paterno would announce his retirement in advance. I honestly figured he would go out without fanfare, making the decision public only after his final game. Well, as it turns out, there was no official farewell game anyway.

I don't have a lot to say about the scandal at Penn State that hasn't already been said. I will admit to being upset that the majority of people stampeded to judgment of Paterno and the other secondary figures in this mess. I've since come to better accept the gravity of the situation brought out a lot of emotional responses, on both sides of the equation. And it's not wrong for either group to feel the way they do.

I did, however, appreciate this blog post written by Sports Illustrated writer and Paterno biographer Joe Posnanski, although he has since taken a lot of heat for it. Check out the 1500 or so comments. Or don't.

But, I'm not writing this as a defense or a condemnation of Joe Paterno or anyone else, although obviously there is at least one person who most likely deserves the latter.

The angle I want to discuss is that of the Penn State alumnus, which is not meant to discount the real victims in this tragedy, of course. I certainly realize I'm one of hundreds of thousands of people who are way down on the list of those who deserve sympathy here, but this is my blog and it's a place I choose to share my personal feelings from time to time.

This scandal is the most devastating heartbreak I’ve ever experienced as a sports fan, as it goes far beyond sports, and far beyond being a fan. It has to do with being a Penn Stater and being proud of what that means.

As I said to an old friend—who's also a fellow New York Giants fan—last week, "If we learned that Bill Belichick did this, it's not necessarily a black mark on the '86 Giants, but this incident is a black mark on an institution I'm otherwise proud to consider myself a part of."

Honestly, if you had asked me to rank my favorite teams across all sports, it would probably go like this:
  1. New York Yankees
  2. New York Giants
  3. Penn State Nittany Lions (Football)
  4. Penn State Nittany Lions (Basketball)
  5. New York Knicks
So, Penn State football is not the team I live and die for. Maybe I did while I was in school, but that was over 20 years ago.

Still, despite the fact sports fans love to use the word "we" when discussing their teams, I've always been against that practice, except when it comes to Penn State. I'm not a member of the Yankees. I'm not a member of the Giants. Although I'm not, and have never been, a member of the Penn State football or basketball teams—except that I used to joke I was going to try to walk on as the placekick holder—I am a Penn Stater.

So, I take some personal ownership in this one, even though I know in reality, it has nothing to do with me.

Let's go back to those four years I spent in Happy Valley for a few minutes, though. They included the 1985 to 1988 football seasons, which means I was there for the 1986 National Championship. That season, and the 1987 Fiesta Bowl that capped it, is one of the most important sports memories of my life. In fact, if you asked me to rate my favorite championship teams, that list would look something like this:
  1. 1986 Penn State Nittany Lions (Football)
  2. 2007 New York Giants
  3. 1996 New York Yankees
  4. 1978 New York Yankees
  5. 1986 New York Giants
The only championship parade I've ever attended was the January 1987 celebration of Penn State's 14-10 Fiesta Bowl victory over the University of Miami. I still pretty vividly remember taking a photo of Jerry Sandusky waving to the crowd, and considering him the real hero of that championship game. It was his defensive game plan that stifled the vaunted Miami Hurricanes offense, led by Vinny Testaverde, although it was also the players on that defensive squad who executed it.

I no longer know what to make of that memory. While my Penn State pride may eventually fully recover, I don't know that I'll ever look back on that tremendous year with the same level of reverence. I certainly won't ever look back on Sandusky as such.

I was going to end this post by sharing a Posnanski observation from Wednesday night, one that he tweeted shortly after the announcement that Joe Paterno was fired:

"I saw a girl crying tonight. When I asked why she said: 'Because everybody lost.'"

But, Saturday's game made me feel like ending this on a positive note instead. In their highly emotional return to the playing field, the team fell behind a good Nebraska squad 17-0 in the second half. It would have been easy to pack it in and write it off as a game they really had no chance of winning due to all the distractions. However, they persevered and launched an impressive comeback—for an offensively challenged team—that fell just a little short in a 17-14 loss.

Of course, there are many who felt the game never should have been played, and I can't fault them for that. But, they did play the game, and it was one that obviously meant a lot to 100 or so Penn State players who had absolutely nothing to do with this recent tragedy.

It was the fans who most impressed me, though. Following the embarrassing chaos of Wednesday night, Penn State fans—including tens of thousands of students—were well behaved throughout the game. And their post-game gesture, in which they gave the team a rousing ovation, followed by the patented "We Are...Penn State!" chant, made me feel once again that there are plenty of reasons to be proud to be a Penn Stater.

That fact won't be changed by the actions of one man and the inaction of several others, and I can say for damn sure it will not be affected by the folks out there who have decided to use this occasion to denigrate Penn State and all Penn Staters rather than take aim at those culpable in this ugly situation.

Those folks do not define Penn State. They are not Penn State. We are Penn State!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The All-MLB All-Star Team

I had plans to post a BBA Awards: Part Two, highlighting the ballots I submitted for the Walter Johnson (Pitcher of the Year) and Stan Musial (Most Valuable Player) awards, but that bird has flown, so to speak.

In case you're interested, the winners of those awards were Clayton Kershaw (NL Walter Johnson), Justin Verlander (AL Walter Johnson), Matt Kemp (NL Stan Musial) and Jose Bautista (AL Stan Musial).

I'm kind of tired of year-end awards anyway. Tired of the "how do you define most valuable?" debates, of the claims that one pitcher was luckier than another (as reflected by their FIP or xFIP vs. ERA comparisons), and really sick—to my stomach, that is—of the incompetence of the folks who choose the Gold Glove awards.

Instead, I've decided to select my own 2011 All-MLB All-Star Team. And I can guarantee you if someone's not on this team, he didn't deserve an ounce of consideration for the MVP, Cy Young, Stan Musial or Walter Johnson honors. Well, that's probably a bit overstated, but I have a tendency to do that on occasion.

This team consists of 31 players. I chose two for each everyday position (not including DH), five starting pitchers, five relief pitchers, and then rounded out the roster with five additional—and highly deserving—players. I even reconsidered my Goose Gossage (Reliever of the Year) award selections in the process.

So, here they are, presented without analysis. My 2011 MLB All-Stars:

Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers
Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers

First Base
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox

Second Base
Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers
Robinson Cano, New York Yankees

Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
Jose Reyes, New York Mets

Third Base
Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants

Left Field
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals

Center Field
Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox
Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees

Right Field
Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks

Starting Pitcher
Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees
Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

Relief Pitcher

Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
David Robertson, New York Yankees
Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox
Sean Marshall, Chicago Cubs