Spring Revelations – Number 2014

We are one week into Spring here and – Oh My! – how intoxicating it is.

(All pictures enlarge with a click or two)

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The weather cooperated enough for us to welcome a dear friend from the Internets, ex moderator at the old AOL College Basketball chat room and all-round great gal Kathy Arnold Holland. It was my first face-to-face with Kathy, though not with the rest of the gang, and we all had a rollicking good time, walking in Louisville’s incredible Waterfront Park for hours, then sitting out on a deck at the Tumbleweed Restaurant, drinking these bizarre blue Margarita’s and cutting up like champs, way past sundown.

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We walked the newly-converted Big 4 Pedestrian Bridge…………..

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We hobnobbed a bit with Honest Abe…………….

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And finally welcomed more people and settled in……..

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It was simply a great time to be alive and we shared the moments together unabashedly. I think we were all sort of taken by the Spring-like weather, our first exposure to the sun after such a long and somewhat taxing Winter. And poor Kathy was beside herself, having flown in that day from New Hampshire. Great times.

2 days later, Mother and I then decided to take our typical early Spring Sunday drive and hit our well-known hot spots. Audubon Park in Louisville has a great Dogwood collection which we hit like a sack of bricks.

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An absolute riot of color and early blooming, with the incredible scents of old magnolias and local Viburnums wafting through.

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While we thoroughly enjoyed this park and our next tour through St. James Court – which was oddly non-spectacular I think because of the timing – (although the house below never gets old….)

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……we were fairly blown away by the sojourn following an impulse drive through the fascinating local resource of history, the marvelous Cave Hill Cemetery.

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This ancient section has Revolutionary War veterans whose gravestones are usually – not all – unreadable, scrubbed clean by the acid wash of urban air and rainfall.

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As we drove on along the blessedly interminable pathways which course through, offering new glimpses of tradition and, of course, of Finality, discussing those we know who reside here now on this Easter Sunday, we soaked in a soulful bath of sensations and feelings. The blooms, of course, were one major reason for coming here, but we were not prepared – either of us – for our visceral reactions to something to come.

DSCN2233[1] DSCN2239[1] DSCN2235[1]We hit the military war veteran’s area, the plaque below a First World War tribute of uncommon sobriety and meaning.
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But it is the sheer scale which strikes one’s conscious – or unconscious?? – mind like a fist. These beautiful white small headstones went forever.

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They coursed around the street………all young men who gave their lives for us in the Ultimate sacrifice, resulting in tearful families who suffered at home for their losses.

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This soulful ode to someone who died, no doubt a wife of a soldier, caught in my throat reading it to Mom……

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The stark beauty of the day, the Sun, the amazingly lush blooms which typified this gorgeous garden cemetery, all this gave way to the deepest sense of sacrifice, loss and, frankly, of futility. My own friends are among these graves from my own, Viet Nam Era service. I thought of James Conkwright, the freest of young spirits who gave his life for us, and for Larry David Adkins, who still suffers so deeply. For a few moments, I too suffered the loss their families shared and it was sobering and heartrending.

So many young men.

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So little time.

 

What is Landscaping?

My-Pictures0002Landscaping addresses the out of doors. It’s true purpose, dating back literally thousands of years, is to provide an interpretive canvas of beauty and form to allow a human to appreciate the combination of Nature and man’s own work. In my experience, landscaping occurs in two precincts:

1. In the towns and social structures we circulate in. Cities have gloried in gorgeous landscapes from Babylon and even before that, to Central Park in New York City. It seems Mankind consistently desires something objective and pleasing amid the social whirl. The fountains of Rome and the fabulously whimsical park of Barcelona designed by Antonio Gaudi prove this utter need in a faultlessly direct manner. Chinese Gardens predate European constructions by, literally, thousands of years, providing a canal city like Zuchou whose Vienna-like canals and garden were constructed some 2,500 years ago. This town was constructed with the express purpose of being that “Garden City”.

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We look at cities like Toronto, Canada and wonder what they can accomplish in all the cold winter weather and, yet, we see huge efforts by Canadians to please the eye. This plaza was designed as a wave-like soundscape, a computer-interpreted visual representation of music for those strolling there towards events in their downtown Music Center.

A Toronto pic

Got Gaudi?

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Park Guell in Barcelona is an absolutely eccentric “peak” of the landscape artist’s palette.

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This is landscaping at it’s highest development – a unique brand of expression occupying enormous swaths of our social infrastructure whose purpose is simply nothing more than to please the eye and to provide a pleasant and sometimes- interesting place to meet and enjoy life. This simplicity of experience cannot be overstated.

In all our modern angst over events political and personal, there remains these monuments to our common need to enjoy ourselves and experience the positive aspects of growing nature and of man’s innate creativity.

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The designers and the installers of landscapes believe in this notion. From city planning on the most massive scale, to a homeowner who wants to enjoy his home far from the madding crowd, landscaping provides a release of the troubled mind – its purpose from the get go. I must also admit that it becomes most obvious that our “modern angst” is nothing new. Pleasure has always served as the antidote to pain. The fabulous cathedrals of Europe were constructed during The Plague and during endless warfare. They gave people hope in a vicious world. The dialogue of landscaping is still working on this antipodal level.

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2. The Home

Among the first celebrations of a culture who reach a certain level of prosperity has always been the construction of gardens and natural wonders of landscaping. Recent developments have made far more common a more local urge – to decorate our homes. The American Prosperity of the last Century has made a virtual “Every home a castle”, in strict economic terms. It has developed home ownership into a massive project – from gardening to landscaping – by paying far more attention to how we present ourselves (Front Yard Landscaping, driveways and the likes) to how we relax, out in the back yard. Patios, gazebos, garden structures, night lighting, waterfalls and swimming pools have changed the once-utilitarian abodes from a place to sleep to something more. It has also unleashed the creative juices of landscape and garden designers who have provided absolutely breath-taking scenes of utterly private beauty and sometimes strangeness.

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Illuminating the night, we find our spaces expanded outdoors, providing virtual “rooms” which proscribe our patios and outdoor environments, and adding depth and mystery to the foregrounds.

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The introduction of water is always a thrill as so many folks have opted to see and listen to the pleasant and encompassing sounds of water in their back yards.

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Landscaping is succeeding at its primary goal. More and more people are aware of the healthful impact of a rested and relaxed mind, to say nothing of the microclimatic changes a small patch of land can yield around a house. Counter-designed landscapes providing abundant exchanges of healthy gases and moisture are a side benefit and among the more surprising effects that the study of plants and their impact on human beings can yield.

We now celebrate technologies which “feed” plants and environments in previously impossible places. Waterproofing technology is every bit as important as structural integrity becomes whole in previously precarious combinations. Our plants now climb walls and vice versa.

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263319_153105891435930_1592884_nOur homes “flow” with truly unique artistic innovations in the persons of incredible craftsmen and women – virtual artists of the visual landscaping world.

We eat in art and we joke in art. This is us at our best!

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Landscaping is a total field. The elements in any landscape – at their best – include a myriad of trades and diverse levels of expertise, from electrical issues and plumbing to issues involving soil and bacteriology. For a member of the community devoted to providing all this to a client, I have to say that is has always been a learning journey, from the very start to every single day that passes yet. The thrilling accomplishments of those devoted to the landscaping field can take the breath away – and they mean to do just that.

The Magnolias Of Bernheim Woods

My Mother and I took an early early early Spring tour of the entire local area, with a special aside to Bernheim Woods. We basked in the first truly warm weekend weather of the year, just exactly like a bazillion other Louisville locals. Humid breezy fresh air and warm sunshine smote us all day and we didn’t even complain! Not once.

Since she is such a veteran of Bernhiem and knows the “hot spots”, we coursed down through Guerilla Flats and up to the canopy walk and Fire Trail. Our goals were nothing in particular, but  rather to enjoy what we encountered. A partial goal at least of my own is always the Spring Magnolias which have been planted and cultivated here for long years in a virtual specialty garden of sheer blossoming monstrosity. I designated Mom as the Magnolia Girl and you can plainly see it worked out splendidly.

These pictures all enlarge by left-clicking.

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We were – as always – mesmerized by the simple profusion of blossoms in this small part of this immense local resource. Bernheim Woods is a family tradition for us and has been since my parents discovered it together in 1970.

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The pilgrimages Mother and I take so often end up in this grove.

This stunning deep dark purple bloomer below is eye-catching in its deeply hued blooms. Without the impediments of leaves to distract the eye, these crystal blossoms really capture the eye.

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In a mix with other surrounding young blooming tees, it takes on an even cooler characteristic, standing out in relief against a busy background.

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There is also a field adjoining this garden which features even more exotic magnolias at more distance. Yellows, pinks and purples dominate the bloom colors, even at a remove like this:

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I’m crazy about yellow magnolias, this one getting barely underway. Next week, the show should be other worldly.

DSCN2155[1]No trip to Bernheim is complete without a visit to the gorgeous statue below and the proximity of my Father’s ashes which we strewed to the upper left in this picture – it was his favorite spot. (this one enlarges to large proportions and it is worth it).

DSCN2141[1]Later, we traipsed down some backroads, searching for – and finding! – some surprisingly early Vasey Trilliums.

DSCN2145[1]This Spring is young, yet the recent warm spell has really ripened the blooming things. A look at the forest itself reveals Winter’s barrenness still applies. The forest floor is totally leaf-covered and easy to traverse for the adventurous walkers who don’t mind some mud.

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All in all, a great day to be out, with plenty of gorgeousness.

Fun At The Game – Or Else, Why Bother?

 

There are first basemen in my past who have liked me. ;-)  They just aren’t in huge numbers…………………………images (14)

I spent time away from the process of making the “book” owing to a wide number of impactful interferences including my own and my family’s health. It hurt the momentum I had acquired back in the Summer and Fall and has lasted until recently. I hate that it reflects tendencies of my own which have always plagued me to various degrees. I have always been a far better “starter” than “finisher”, no doubt an attribute of my own case of ADHD.

But be that as it may, I have now burst back into enthusiasm in different ways. While still searching for facts involving the drudgery of researching newspaper archives, I have recently begun addressing another request or 2 of Jack’s which we discussed: namely what he looks for in terms of a prospect’s characteristics regarding positions.

And since this is a highly personal blog, where I can indulge the silliest and most indulgent fantasies because I own the darn thing, I have decided to share my own concept of what Jack and I spoke of regarding each position in baseball.

This, then, is what I came up with – today the first baseman. With a philosphical diversion to begin with, naturally.

Hey, it’s my blog!

Anointing physical and even mental characteristics to baseball positions is hardly new. In general, we collect most of our information by watching the games and we draw our own conclusions. This is not like reinventing the wheel. Lord knows, baseball has been analyzed to such an extent that analyzers now analyze other analyzers’ analyses in their own world of Moneyball, Bill James abstracts, charts, graphs and modes of talent and performance productions much the same as market deductions performed by massive corporations based on data the size of Mars.

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Jack felt a need to express his thoughts about baseball positions and the attributes contributing to them because he originally thought they might help me sell a book. “It will help Moms and Dads with some basic stuff, Steve.” This was his overall, bottom line philosophy on the matter. Personally, to be honest, I didn’t really care. My thoughts about selling a book mattered less at the time we developed this. I was actually simply attempting what seemed an intimidating project. But Jack has ironically always been the secret businessman to his very soul. Honestly, I can say that my interest was rather pure. It  has always been about getting it right and doing it fairly and Jack’s perspectives are the breath of knowledge and experience.

And, the truth is, in sports, we omit so very much from all these factors in the end, as relevant and unavoidable as they may be. For one thing exceptions to all the rules just spank us on a daily basis. They beat us about the head and shoulders. For example, in every single sport, the single most truly fascinating aspect of the sport – bar none – is what produces a champion. From College Basketball’s Final Four to the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Playoffs and the World Cup, the primacy of one team determines a sole victor.

There has been nothing concluded by acclamation about who that will be – in any year, in any world we know of. We certainly understand favorites like we are apprenticing Las Vegas bookies. We even – and maybe more importantly – cultivate our intuitions, drawing our own conclusions most privately by our own devices based on training habits, coaching propensities, talent and the maturation of teams. playing like winning teams play. Some of us know the players, some know the coaches.

But when the game commences and we put bodies into the field of competition, suddenly all the analyses in the world matter less than a player’s nerve and his urge to compete and win. At varying levels of competition, the devotion increases as the players’ skill levels, size and appreciation of the nuances of the game increase. Kids who love the sport become realistic through some occasional unfair meeting with nasty reality and then some kids move on by being selected as more promising, with more skills. They then become young men of incredible talent and accomplishment and then they become world class. This is the typical route of athletic development. No one re-enters sports after “some time off”. It is almost always a one way journey.

I feel this philosophical aside matters in an assessment of what most traditional baseball minds agree are the prevailing traits of ball players by position. I mention it all because the exceptions to the rules abound. Indeed, it could be said, in many ways they make it even more worthwhile.

Of course, we also need places to safely stash all the left handed people in the world. Everyone know there’s something wrong with those guys. Baseball is very kind that way. In fact, in some cases, changing people to exceptional behavior – such as switch hitting – improves their prospects and, as a result, their own teams’ prospects. Then they strike out.

Or you could be like Frankie Chambers and hit a home run the first time you ever try switch-hitting.

So here is a journey through what baseball as an institution thinks about positional players and the primary attributes they need to succeed. As well, we will take a look at some of the demands of the positions in ways that might be of interest.

1st Baseman

The primary need of any first baseman, regardless of their size or which hand they catch and throw with is the ability to catch the ball. First basemen experience a wide range of throws coming their ways, from perfect and satisfying to absolutely dreadful curving, deceitful shots that can easily bounce off the ground into Lord knows what direction, usually smack onto one’s own body. Over time, first basemen develop their own relationships with the guys who throw to them. A shortstop who has the longest throw in the infield usually presents the biggest challenge to a first baseman owing to the amount of changing in a baseball’s flight which is always possible. Needless to say, the perfect throws would be straight as an arrow and right at the chest of our hero, in time to nip the runner in an orderly, timely fashion. That is the first baseman’s perfect world.

Well, this does not always happen. And sometimes, guys hit balls your way.

Aside from challenges made by impressive athletic plays which compromise the perfect throwing position for another infielder, there is always and forever the outlier of the simple “bad throw”. 70% or more of these are either wide of the mark, requiring a nimble tracking down and return to the base or else those which are thrown too low. “Too low” is a rather diabolical condition since it means the ball will land on the ground in front of the target. Inasmuch as soft dirt can contain tiny potholes made from spikes, footprints or natural deformities in the ground, the trajectory of these throws challenges a first baseman to do everything possible to scoop it up in total possession or else, at worst, to keep this throw in the region thereby not allowing base runners to advance. The remaining 20% of bad throws are simply too high to catch or so wild they require chasing them down. These are “really bad throws”. ;-)

The answer to the personal question on your mind is “Yes”.I have broken parked car windshields. My own Dad’s for example. Life for a shortstop is a diverse experience, a subject we will approach just a bit later.

So catching the ball is foremost. While relationships with wild-throwing shortstops can be challenging, make no mistake – the first baseman can be his best friend. First basemen have performed remarkable peace-keeping saves in their careers and saved thousands from untold embarrassment..I have personally blown many kisses across the diamond in secret. Hundreds, even.

Drills for first basemen always and forever will include bruising experiences with purposefully intended bad throws. And well they should. Young guys need to develop reflexes and strategies of their own for dealing with the terrible and awesome disease of bad throwing because it is merely something one can absolutely count on. There are 5 players who count on him for help, including pitchers and catchers. Make no mistake that players who have confidence in their first basemen, play better and make a larger number of remarkable plays. A first baseman with catching issues can equally ruin the confidence of those whose mandate is to make the routine plays.