Too tedious for modern times

There’s nothing sacred in baseball anymore. This year, they’re making umpires superfluous with the wholesale embrace of instant replay. Next, they might make the games seven innings instead of nine.
Tradition is only a word among the majority of American sports fans nowadays. I understand that. Few of us prefer to hold onto rules that have withstood the test of time, because most of us only live in the now. We also have the attention span of 7-year-olds. Perhaps that is why I listened to a debate on a major sports channel the other day where it was argued that major league games are too tedious at nine innings.
Never mind that nine-inning games have been the norm since the mid-1800s. In the 2010s, nine innings is too long to have to sit through. And never mind that pitchers who throw no-hitters would in the future have to have asterisks next to their names in the record book. Record books are for geeks.
OK, then, if we really want to speed up the game, let’s talk turkey. First of all, let’s re-think this embrace of instant replay. It slows up the game. It interrupts the natural flow and turns baseball into a courtroom drama. You say you like instant replay? Then you’ll love watching Perry Mason reruns.
If we’re serious about shortening baseball games, we can look at other avenues. For one, the commissioner can insist that the strike zone be more tightly enforced. The time between pitch deliveries can be shortened. We can shorten the length of time between innings which is now used so that we can cram more TV commercials into it.
So the games are too long, eh? If they’re too long in baseball, they’re too long in football and basketball, too. Three and one-half hours for a National Football League game does seem a little unnecessary, don’t you think? And why must the final minute and a half of a college or NBA basketball game take half an hour to complete?
Seven innings in a major league baseball game? I suppose then we’d have to invent a new term to go along with it — the “fifth-inning stretch.”

It could happen, couldn’t it?

I am pleased and honored to announce a few changes coming soon to the Daily Globe newsroom. The changes involve several of us, and obviously will require some adjustments on the part of our readers.
The changes begin at the top. Managing editor Ryan McGaughey will be picking up stakes with his family and moving back to New York State, where he originated from, and starting in mid-April he will assume his new position as a member of the New York Times editorial board. We will miss Ryan greatly, but we believe he will deliver some important and passionate opinion pieces regarding the national political scene — enhanced, of course, by the expertise he developed while plying his ample journalistic skills here in the Midwest.
Features editor Beth Rickers will be leaving, too, joining Barbara Walters and crew on the popular ABC news and commentary show, “The View.” We wish Beth all the success in the world and only ask that she not forget the little people she met along the way. Senior reporter Julie Buntjer is leaving to work for the Minnesota State Fair. It’s a full-time job lining up concessions and exhibits for the Fair, and Julie plans to go above and beyond the call of duty to actually judge some of the 4H events, as well. Finally, our community content coordinator, Aaron Hagen, will be leaving to join ESPN NFL draft experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay where he will annually share his personal thoughts on the best and worst college athletes angling for multi-million dollar contracts. Aaron, of course, was one of the few people in America to correctly predict that Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder would be a bust, and — go figure — certifiable draft gurus don’t come along every day.
I also have some personal news to announce. As many of you know, it has been a lifelong dream of mine to play shortstop for a major league baseball team, and … well … the other day I got a call from Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. As you may be aware, the Tigers’ regular shortstop, Jose Iglesias, is likely to miss the entire season due to injury, and the team has been scrambling to find a suitable replacement for the past several weeks.
Mr. Ausmus explained to me that the search for a replacement has been less than satisfactory. And even though I am now 57 years old, he believes I may be able to play the position at least as well as the players he now has on his roster. He wants me to try out for the team.
Well that’s pretty much all the news I have for now. I realize, of course, that the calendar date today is April 1. I just want you to know that just because this is “April Fool’s Day,” that doesn’t mean everything you just read isn’t true. All these things could indeed occur just as I have said.
In an alternate universe.
OK, I can’t conclude this blog without admitting something that actually (Scout’s honor!) happened to me when I was 11, maybe 12 years old and growing up in my little northwest Iowa town of Allendorf. An older friend of mine, Dick Oldenkamp, handed me a copy of the latest Sibley Gazette, and right on the front page was a screaming article announcing that Sibley, Iowa, had been approved for a new major league expansion team.
I swallowed the story hook, line and sinker. I thought to myself, “Why not? It’s a major league team just six miles away! If people will go to Minneapolis and Kansas City to watch major league baseball, why wouldn’t they also go to Sibley?” I believe I even wondered out loud if I could get a job as a bat boy.
When Dick reminded me what day it was — April 1 — my level of embarrassment reached into the stratosphere.
Ever since, I’ve been extra skeptical of anything I’ve ever been told. Maybe that’s why I got into the news business.
Happy April Fools Day, everyone.

Stop and feel the sunshine

I recently watched a nature show on PBS and a guy came on and said we all need to take a moment to step back, set our hectic lives on pause, and go outside on a sunny day. Turn our faces into the sun and feel the warmth. We are to marvel, if we can, on the fact that it exists.
Ah, yes. The beauty of the natural world is too easily taken for granted. The sun, the plants, the animal life, everything that is around us. We spend so much time indoors behind a desk or behind a television set —or behind our computers —that we have lost our ability to be amazed at God’s incredible creation.
And then the next day I received my copy of that handy 5-inch by 8-inch Department of Natural Resources magazine, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, at the Daily Globe. That little bi-monthly has often, in the past, been put on a shelf as I moved on to more pressing matters, but the March-April edition contains a delightful photograph of pink and white orchids taken by Jim and Judy Brandenburg.
Jim Brandenburg, it might be fair to say, is a living Minnesota legend. There is an impressive Wikipedia page devoted to him (you know you’ve arrived when you’ve got a page devoted to you on Wikipedia), and for good reason. He is perhaps best known for his more than 25-year association with National Geographic magazine, but his outstanding work also extends into books and filmmaking. His best-selling book “White Wolf” led to a film project on the same topic that has been seen in more than 120 countries.
Brandenburg’s national and international awards are too many to mention here, but it is a point of pride that he was born and raised in Luverne, studied at Worthington Community College and once worked as a photojournalist at the Daily Globe.
The Brandenburg orchids are so beautifully photographed that one might prefer looking at them in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer than to see them in person. But as beautiful as the photographs are, it is also a pleasure to peer at the remainder of the magazine to see a piece on spruce grouse and Minnesota frogs.
Did you know that there are 14 species of frogs and toads in Minnesota?
Besides that, there is an article on John James Audubon, the quintessential naturalist of the late 18th and early 19th century whose depictions of American birds still fascinates today.
Tomorrow is March 20, the official first day of spring. Happy we are that we’re not still trapped in our sub-zero Minnesota winter and we can now don our spring coats and gaze at the natural beauty that surrounds us. It is easy, as adults, to lose our fascination with the world. But I think we’d be happier people if we took the time to stop and smell the roses — or turn our faces toward the sun.

The Vikings’ strange quarterbacks conundrum

I’ve been thinking a lot about the National Football League draft these days.
And what I’m thinking is that, for me, it’s more fun than the Super Bowl.
Certainly, it’s more satisfying.
This year’s biggie between the Broncos and the Seahawks was essentially over on the very first play from scrimmage. And if that wasn’t bad enough, even the commercials were boring.
But the NFL draft never disappoints. Because no one knows which players will develop into stars and which will bust, every football fan’s fantasy is free to roam.
This year’s draft will begin on May 8, which is later than usual, but the kickoff date never really matters to real fanatics. The countdown has begun.
Up here in Vikings country, most of the drama seems to center upon quarterbacks, which has been pretty much the story (more or less) ever since the team’s last serviceable quarterback it has drafted, Daunte Culpepper, was taken in 1999. For some strange reason perhaps unknown to anyone but Bud Grant, the Vikings over the last decade and a half have been unable — or unwilling — to develop their own quarterbacks from the ground up.
After Culpepper flamed out in 2005, the Vikings turned to Brad Johnson, who actually was drafted by these very own Vikings, themselves, in the ninth round of the draft in 1992. But Johnson doesn’t count because he left and came back, and never became the “franchise quarterback” any other self-respecting NFL franchise looks for. He was the kind of guy teams use to “hold” the position until a real franchise quarterback can be found.
Problem is for the Vikings, they rarely seem to look hard enough for a franchise guy, and when they think they’ve found their starter, he’s usually someone they’ve acquired because he’d outlived his usefulness somewhere else. This explains QBs like Jim McMahon (1993), Warren Moon (1994-1996), Randall Cunningham (1998), Jeff George (1999), Gus Frerotte (2008), Brett Favre (2009-10) and Donovan McNabb (2011). Some of those guys weren’t bad. But one should always beware of the Vikings’ forays into the college quarterback pool, especially lately, because it might turn up guys like Tavaris Jackson and Christian Ponder.
So if you’re a Viking fan, the 2014 draft offers special drama. There are many purportedly fine quarterbacks rising to the top of the draft (Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Derek Carr, to name a few) and the quarterback-poor Vikings draft eighth overall.
If there’s ever a time for them to find a real good quarterback in the first round of the draft, this should be it. My prediction is they go for a linebacker.

The indispensable sports talk show

One of the great things about progress is that you never have to stay in a rut.
Because of progress, we no longer have to rely on the horse and buggy to get to town. We can take the car. And because of progress, we have jets to get us from Point A to Point B when cars are impractical.
I like the way progress has changed the art of journalism.
When I began in this business, we used typewriters instead of computers (no, I said typewriters, not rock and chisel). And this Internet thing — you know, that so-called world-wide web that everybody talks about — it allows us to do so many things we couldn’t do back when I still had hair on the top of my head.
One of my favorite things about coming back to the Daily Globe sports department, after seven years working on the news side in Mankato, is the opportunity to do what we call the “Daily Globe Sports Talk” show. I grant you, it’s not a thrilling title. But we thought it might get a better name when it’s syndicated on ESPN.
Myself, along with sports writers Caleb Nelson and Les Knutson, hope to get into the habit of welcoming a guest to our informal web broadcast each time we do a segment — which is usually every other week. We’ve had Minnesota West Lady Jays basketball head coach Mike Fury and Worthington Trojans wrestling head coach Mark Prunty on the show in recent weeks, which has increased our “classiness quotient” immeasurably.
And so far we’ve been able to resist putting on some of the more flaky options.
A couple of my old fast-pitch softball buddies have requested guest appearances. And I must admit I’m intrigued at the possibilities there. Some of my old pals are quite colorful, and for as long as I’ve known them they all have had interesting things to say on a wide variety of sports topics.
I may put one of them on someday, in fact, when our camera man and technical adviser, Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen, devises a practical way to bleep out the more colorful parts.
Until then, we hope that our readers and web browsers enjoy the show. We try to arrive at a happy medium between information, opinion and entertainment. Our goal is to be so indispensable to you, the sports fan, that you’ll forget about ESPN entirely.
That is, of course, until they pick us up.

The Beatles were the best, and still are

I was only 7 when the Beatles conquered America on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 10, 1964. I was not a fan at the time, but my cousin Debbie — who was two years older than me — soon succumbed to their charms. And so, apparently, did every teen-age girl in the country.

Strangely, it wasn’t until after they’d broken up, in 1970, that I began to notice them seriously. Oh, I always liked their songs, even their initial hits like “Help!” and “A Hard Day’s Night” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” But it wasn’t until I became of high school age that my musical tastes developed to the level that I realized that the Beatles weren’t just good — they were very, very good.

Their most popular songs still seemed fresh in the 1970s, as most of them still do today. But it was their lesser known songs that, when I began buying up their albums — from Rubber Soul to Revolver, from Magical Mystery Tour to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, from the White Album to Let it Be and Abbey Road — really got me going. Yes, I loved their middle and late classics — “Penny Lane”, “I Am the Walrus”, “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Get Back” — but their more obscure tunes (as if any Beatles tune could be called obscure) sounded, on average, just as outstanding as their biggest hits. The White Album blew me away with its eclectic mix of styles. I loved “Rocky Raccoon” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” I even liked John Lennon’s strange “Revolution No. 9”, which is not really a song at all — just a lot of random noise inspired in part by (no surprise here) Yoko Ono.

During my college years, I wore out my Beatles albums. If I had a nickel for every time I relaxed between classes listening to Side Two of Abbey Road, I’d be a rich man.

Over the past week, America paused for a moment to reflect on Feb. 10, 1964, when a musical revolution began with the Beatles’ first U.S. appearance.

Ironically, the day after the Sullivan Show appearance, John, Paul, George and Ringo were roundly blasted by the biggest music critics of the time — which often happens when the snob set gets confronted with something it can’t or won’t understand.

But soon it wasn’t just teen-age girls who fell for the Beatles. And that was because the Fab Four grew. They wrote amazing songs with music and lyrics that moved far beyond what rock musicians had created until that time.

Mostly, for me, it was the songs — the sheer volume of songs, their growing complexity.

The Beatles were the best. By far the best. And I think it’s kind of nice to reflect upon that in this day and age where mediocrity is so often celebrated at the expense of more accomplished artists.

The Beatles, we have since learned, had warts. They were hedonistic, they could be cruel. They treated women badly, at least during their early years. My favorite Beatle, John Lennon, had more insecurities than you could shake a stick at.

But when it came to the four of them as they existed together, the unpleasant sides of their personalities could in no way overshadow their incredible collective talents.

By the time I left college, married, and began to raise a family, my fascination with John Lennon gave way to a more nuanced attitude toward him. But I will never forget the day in 1980 when he was assassinated. Years earlier, my college roommate awakened one day and said he had a dream, and he predicted that someday — he didn’t know when — John Lennon would be killed.

He called me that day to tell me the news. It really did feel like the end of an era.

Welk and the Wiz

Every now and then a conversation occurs that demonstrates the wide gulf of knowledge between young and old.
We had one of those conversations recently in the Daily Globe newsroom, and it started when our community content coordinator Aaron Hagen revealed to lifestyles and society editor Beth Rickers that he had never heard of the name Lawrence Welk.
Obviously, the revelation caused a stir.
Lawrence Welk, for those of you too young or un-hip to know, was a famous musician and bandleader who invaded American homes during the 1960s and 1970s with his musical television program, “The Lawrence Welk Show.” It was a long-running major hit in the Midwest, especially, but not just the Midwest. In 1996, in fact, Welk was ranked No. 43 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.
So you had to have heard of Lawrence Welk if you were born anytime before the Kennedy administration. Even if you were born later than that, you should have heard of him, anyway. He is a genuine piece of Americana.
Our newsroom conversation continued along these lines: the older ones among us expressed pure amazement at the younger ones (the 29-year-old Mr. Hagen was not the only Welk-challenged among us) had not been clued in about the bandleader. We explained that the Welk was a staple on our evening television sets while we were growing up. His show —mixing popular music with polkas, a little dancing (including a little tap dancing) and, of course, The Lennon Sisters —was syrupy, to be sure, but sure to offend no one.
It was asserted that Lawrence Welk, who was born in Strasburg, N.D., just might to this day be America’s most famous North Dakotan.
To that, our younger generation begged to differ. Roger Maris (who broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1961) was mentioned. As was the great NBA coach Phil Jackson. And then someone (I believe it was Aaron Hagen himself) mentioned another person with North Dakota ties, Wiz Khalifa.
Wiz Khalifa, alias Cameron Jibril Thomaz, a rapper. He released his debut album, “Show and Prove,” in 2006 and, according to Wikipedia, in 2011 he won Best New Artist at the BET Awards.
Beth admitted that she had heard of Wiz Khalifa, though she confessed she was not familiar with his work. I had not heard of him at all. And here’s a true confession: there are very few famous rappers that I have heard of, and that’s coming from someone who was not born too late to have known about them, if I were paying attention.
I’m not sure what to make out of all this, although I may be making too much of it.
People my age like to chide young people for not being able to correctly identify the century in which the Civil War was fought, and for thinking that Japan was on our side during World War II. But we make fun at our own peril. Young people today are learning things in college (other things, apparently) that we could never conceive of then, and most of us cannot conceive of even now.
So if they prefer Wiz Khalifa to Lawrence Welk, who are we to judge?

Things I’d like to see in 2014

New Year’s Day came in like a lamb at our house. My wife, Sandy, and I had planned to spend the better part of the evening at church eating a light supper, watching a faith-based movie and singing a few hymns. But the church service was canceled due to snow and drifting, so we stayed home and watched a couple of movies on the Hallmark Channel and got to bed by 10:15.
We are middle aged and living like it.
You can’t really blame us for yawning into the new year. Twenty-thirteen was nothing special. Few of the things I hoped for came to pass. Instead, about all we got were more trouble in the Mideast, more partisanship in Washington, and Miley Cyrus.
Now we are a full week into twenty-fourteen, however, and it’s time for my list of just a few things I’d like to see in the new year. If it’s not too much trouble, here’s what I want for 2014:
— A little more global warming this winter.
— No early spring ice storms.
— A ban on all forms of reality TV.
— Fewer news organizations putting political philosophy over facts.
— A reason to watch the Minnesota Twins in September.
— A Minnesota Vikings quarterback draft pick that isn’t a “reach.”
— A traditional halftime show at the Super Bowl, complete with high school marching band.
— In the run-up to the November election, less blame and more problem-solving.
—A ban on all political advertisements between the months of March and November and between the hours of 7 a.m. and midnight —seven days of the week.
—A complete news blackout about anything Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber happen to be doing.
—Oprah to buy one of my books from, love it, and make me rich and famous.
—“Grandparents Day” to suddenly become one of America’s most celebrated and revered holidays, on a par with Christmas.


MLB soon to become a ‘pink tea’

Major league baseball announced Wednesday its intention to ban collisions at home plate. They must be intentionally out to destroy the game, because I can’t believe the GMs and managers on the rules committee could be so naïve to think that such an action is not wrong for a number of reasons.
First, it’s going to be an impossible rule to enforce adequately. It’s going to be, at best, like enforcing pass interference in NFL football, and we all know that the NFL gets THAT wrong half the time.
What’s more, catchers block home plate before they get the ball. They ALWAYS block home plate. It’s in their DNA. What does major league baseball expect a baserunner to do when he sees the catcher blocking his path to a score? Curtsy?
Sandy Alderson, chairman of the baseball rules committee, promises that an “extensive review” of plays that occur at home plate will be made to determine exactly how the rule will be enforced.
Oh, I’m sure everything will be fine, then. Right.
Since the beginning of baseball home plate collisions have been a necessary part of the game. No one was ever killed. Sometimes a catcher or a baserunner missed a game or two for the bruises to heal. What’s the problem?
Collisions can occur at second base, too, and often do. Players run into outfield walls to catch fly balls, so what are they going to do about that? The slippery slopes are endless.
They have these kind of rules in church league slow-pitch softball. Is that what major league baseball is drifting toward?
Alderson says his committee wants to “change the culture of acceptance that these plays are ordinary and routine and an accepted part of the game.” Well, la de da. Does he know WHY they’re ordinary and routine and an accepted part of the game? Because doing what the rules committee wants to do has never made an ounce of sense.
One of my favorite all-time baseball quotes was uttered by the immortal Ty Cobb (who, granted, was quite a bit too aggressive for the sport even in his own day), who said. “Baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men. It’s no pink tea, and mollycoddles had better stay out. It is a struggle for supremacy, a survival of the fittest.”
Cobb is rolling over in his grave now.
So do us all a favor, major league baseball. If you insist that this nutty rule be approved, don’t call it baseball any more. Call it pink tea.

Fandom going a little bit off the edge

heard someone say on the radio recently that the National Football League is the most violent sport devised by man, so why should we be surprised to see it when the violent athletes who play that game taunt opponents after driving their rivals head-first into the turf?
We probably shouldn’t be surprised at all. However, the NFL (which some people claim stands for the No Fun League) is attempting to legislate bad sportsmanship and unnecessary violence out of the game.
The league’s success rate is poor. Despite asking players to refrain from celebrating in boorish ways, they still do. And despite cracking down on helmet-to-helmet hits, horse collars, etc., etc., players continue to commit such fouls at an alarming rate. My theory is that you can’t legislate violence out of NFL football any more than you can put a tutu on a rhinoceros.
Well, OK. If you’re very careful, I’m sure you actually can put a tutu on a rhinoceros. But you can’t make it perform ballet.
They say professional football players are crazy. But if they are indeed off balance, I believe the time has arrived to do some psychological tests on a few of the wildest NFL fans, as well.
Case in point: the recent Monday Night Football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle. Did you watch that game? Did you pay special attention to the fans?
The Seattle stadium is widely regarded as the loudest in sports. The fans who worship football there believe they can affect the outcome of games with their antics, and in the New Orleans game — buoyed by a national TV audience — they outdid themselves. The next day, The Associated Press reported that the stadium was so rocking that seismic instruments registered small tremors more than once.
A magnitude 1 or 2 quake was measured during Michael Bennett’s 22-yard fumble return for a touchdown, for instance.
Maybe I’m overreacting, but I wonder if the loudest of those fans should ask themselves: Is it really so important that my team win that I should risk bursting a blood vessel?
I watched the Seattle fans on that night — their wild costumes, the war paint, all those faces red as ripe apples with neck veins bulging, and of course most of them screaming their lungs out without any apparent intervals of rest — and I thought to myself, hmmm … If the NFL is so fired up about toning down the violence on the field, has it ever considered advising its more crazed fans to behave with a little more decorum?
Occasionally in the Seattle stadium crowd, I’d spot someone (a middle-aged woman, perhaps; a father with a young son, perhaps) who seemed to appear just a little confused by all the zaniness going on around them.
I felt sorry for them. I found myself hoping they remembered their ear plugs. And I wondered if maybe, just maybe, too many of us have allowed our interest in sports to turn us into fools.