Tuesday, March 31, 2015

30 Teams, 30 Haiku: My 2015 Baseball Preview

According to the latest issue of Beckett Sports Card Monthly, the card depicted above is worth about 50 cents. In my heart, however this card is priceless; it's a tangible reminder of last October, of the most unlikely of playoff runs, of a once-moribund franchise back in the national spotlight after decades of futility. An all-time classic tiebreaker against Oakland gave way to a small-ball manhandling of the Angels and Orioles and the third pennant in franchise history. The season may not have ended the way I would've liked --what Royals World Series isn't complete without a controversial call at first?-- and we're underdogs again in 2015, and my faith in the Boys in Blue hasn't wavered. Lowered expectations or not, this is the most excited I've been about a new baseball season in quite some time.

With that said, for the fourth year in a row I present my MLB forecast, 17 soma at a time (with asterisks noting wild cards):

1. Nationals. Bratty Bryce Harper/World Series hopes rest upon/your snotty shoulders.
2. Marlins*. Loria's pockets/run deep, but Giancarlo/needs to earn his keep.
3. Mets. Harvey and deGrom/young arms will play a role as/playoff dark horses.
4. Braves. The tomahawk chop/landed on payroll; these guys/are now rebuilding.
5. Phillies. Start the fire sale/Ryno in a china shop/a team in chaos.

1. Cardinals. Waiting for Waino/injury-prone warrior/X-factor in red.
2. Cubs. Yes, they are improved/but there's too much youth, upside/to really contend.
3. Pirates. Ann-yo, Jung-Ho Kang/this Korean sensation/is no Bulgogi.
4. Brewers. Overachieving/explains the '14 collapse/reality looms.
5. Reds. Gambling on Votto/may as well be Lotto; health/is a big question.

1. Giants. Same fightin’ Giants/third baseman notwithstanding/they win as a team.
2. Dodgers*. What an overhaul/new faces, proven talent/”west coast Yankees” thrive.
3. Padres. Many big gambles/free agent champs, regular/season also-rans.
4. D-Backs. Front office cleanout/young guns, but without pitching/these Snakes won’t slither.
5. Rockies. Who gets injured first/Tulo, Cargo, or Morneau?/Who cares, they’re awful.

1. Orioles. Despite injuries/and free agent bloodletting/O’s find ways to win.
2. Red Sox*. Panda and Papi/linebackers, or infielders?/Also, who’s the ace?
3. Rays. Stockpiled pitching/their saving grace, after all/the talent they lost.
4. Blue Jays. Bountiful power/Russ Martin, Canuck backstop/handles weak pitchers.
5. Yankees. Bombers in last? Yes/A-Rod, unloved old juicer/is needled, bows out.

1. Tigers. Atrocious bullpen/still lingers; can their power/make up for weak arms?
2. Royals. Reigning AL Champs/took a small step backwards; speed/and defense? Checkmate!
3. White Sox. Overnight rebuild/made Bridgeport heads spin; "LaRoche"/is French word for "Dunn."
4. Indians. SI cover jinx?/This Tribe will fight, but they are/far from contenders.
5. Twins. Hall of Fame skipper/thoroughly modern Molly/leads unproven bunch.

1. Mariners. Besides Nelson Cruz/this roster has few flaws; the/12th man of baseball?
2. Angels*. Giovatella/pale replacement for Kendrick/otherwise, watch out!
3. Athletics. Those poor pachyderms/sabermetrics can't explain/lack of impact bats.
4. Rangers. Injuries galore/the division has passed them/it's more than Yu need.
5. Astros. Young, fast, and rising/the galaxy's the limit/...if they're drama-free.

NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
AL Cy Young: Jered Weaver, Angels
NL ROY: Noah Syndergaard, Mets
AL ROY: Francisco Lindor, Indians
First Manager Fired: Terry Collins, Mets
2015 World Series: Mariners over Nationals in 6

Play ball!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Shell Schock

The state of Illinois has a long, dubious history of corruption. It is as bipartisan as it is ingrained in nearly every aspect of gubernatorial politics, from the village halls to the governor's mansion. Unfortunately, the majority of these tales of graft and malfeasance gravitate towards Chicago and northeast part of the state, where I was born and call home. Even if it took place down in Springfield, it somehow trickles back to the Windy City. From that perspective, it makes the recent controversy surrounding Rep. Aaron Schock somewhat unique.

Rep. Schock, as some of you know, is the central Illinois congressman who resigned earlier this week after allegations surfaced of him buying lavish items for himself using campaign money. There was little ignoring that Schock had flamboyant tastes, and during his six-year stint in the U.S. House of Representatives, he turned himself into the Sun King of the Corn Belt. Schock's own father suggested that the congressman ran into issues with "paperwork," fudging driving and flying expenses as the playboy politician flew his staff everywhere from New Dehli to Buenos Aires to Soldier Field.

Besides geography --Schock was born in Minnesota, but calls Peoria home-- what makes this scandal so singular is how blatant Schock was in his misuse of campaign funds. The exchange of money in Washington, almost always quiet and usually under the table, was flaunted by Schock all across social media. He raised money for himself and other Republicans with gusto, then spent the funds with equal aplomb. This goes well beyond federal mileage reimbursements.

Then there's the gay rumors. Illinois may be a blue state overall, and same-sex marriage has been legal here for about two years now, but the 18th District is mostly rural and bright red. Again, it's just rumors, but in central Illinois there's no way anyone LGBTQ could get elected, let alone stay in office. Attracted to men or not, there's little questioning Schock's vanity; posing shirtless for GQ and Men's Health is now looking especially foolish.

Even if the media feeds the heresy, Schock's ultimate legacy was his status as a do-nothing schmoozer. The GOP powers tolerated him as a star fundraiser, yet he never passed a single bill. He was the kid dymano, they assumed, but he spent too much time in the sandbox. His name will forever be associated with dubious expenditures, a specific type of controversy that the Clinton Foundation and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie know all too well. His political career finished at age 33, one must hope that the next chapter of Rep. Aaron Schock's life is not as much of a decadent landmine as the previous installment.

Family Update: I was going to mention last time around that my mother was back home, but unfortunately that only lasted three days. She was tired of nursing home life, so they agreed to let her continue rehab from home. A few days later, however she was feeling weak and sent back to the ER. It turned out to be a low white blood cell count, and she should be back home (again) sometime before the end of the week.


Next Week: my 2015 baseball preview.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Random Notes, March 2015

Some musings on current events:

+ What should we make of Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress last week? Who benefited more, the GOP-controlled House that circumvented the White House and Department of State to make this happen, or Netanyahu, looking for an edge in a close reelection battle? In the end, everyone lost, including Bibi's critics; it threw a spotlight on a GOP majority that was overreaching, a trigger-happy foreign leader whose hubris has spiraled out of control, a feckless White House, and a Middle East that is nowhere near peace.

+ With 20 months until the next presidential election, the candidate pony show is already shaping up. The strategy of the two major parties couldn't be more dissimilar: the GOP is bracing for another touch-and-go dogfight like the 2012 primaries, and the Democrats are pretty much banking on one candidate.  Critics of the Republican party will relish in the lack of diversity this time around; outside of the fledging Dr. Ben Carson, all of the rumored hats in the ring are white, priviliged males. On the other end, it seems like 90% of Democrats are banking on Hillary Clinton; the Benghazi non-scandal and private e-mails aside, it would be nice to see someone --anyone-- give her some competition once the battle shifts to New Hampshire. (Gov. O'Malley, your nation needs you!) Of course, we still have over a year and a half, and the first chapter in the story is still being written.

+ Earlier this month was the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," when civil rights activists encountered Alabama state troopers as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge into Montgomery. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 was passed into law months later, in part because of the media coverage of journey from Selma. It's staggering to think about the progress made since then, and at the same time, the struggle that continues in places like Ferguson, MO, Long Island, and Madison, WI.

+ Perhaps we're all wrong. Maybe that dress is magenta and orange.