Saturday, June 30, 2012

Wimbledon Day 6: Lucic


Curtain Call

Player: Mirjana Lucic
Age: 30
Nation: Croatia
Current Ranking: 129
Notable Conquest: Marion Bartoli (France, 9th seed)
Today's Result: loss to Roberta Vinci (Italy, 21st) in straight sets


Photo via FUTURETENNISSTARS.COM

In 1999, 13 long years ago at the age of 17, Lucic made the semifinals at Wimbledon.  At that point, she'd already won the 1998 Australian Open women's doubles title at 15 alongside Martina Hingis (Switzerland).  To say that expectations were high is putting it mildly.  Then it all fell apart.  A vicious downward spiral started in 2000 with personal and financial troubles, many later attributed to an abusive father.  But she has clawed her way back.  Her third round finish at Wimbledon 2012 is her best Slam performance in eleven years. 


Catching Up with Old Friends

Varvara Lepchenko (Curtain Call, Roland Garros Day 9) - Lepchenko got tuned by defending champion Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic, 4th) today, losing 6-1 6-0 (aka "bacon and egg").  That's likely to happen to a lot of people over the next several years so let us not dwell upon it.  Lepchenko's third round result is her career best at Wimbledon and she can also take credit for taking out the 31st seed, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia), in Round 2.  She had a decent doubles tournament, too, making it past the first round for the first time at a Slam.  She and partner Liga Dekmeijere (Latvia) lost in the second round to Raquel Kops-Jones/Abigail Spears (USA, 10th).

Friday, June 29, 2012

Wimbledon Day 5: Rus


Curtain Call

Player: Arantxa Rus
Age: 22
Nation: Netherlands
Current Ranking: 72
Notable Conquest: Samantha Stosur (Australia, 5th seed)
Today's Result: loss to Shuai Peng (China, 30th) in straight sets


Photo via FunnyCrave

Rus is the current Dutch #1.  She's had a great summer, reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros and the third round at Wimbledon - both career bests.  In fact, she didn't even play Wimbledon last year so her ranking will get a nice boost.  She won the Australian junior singles title in 2008.


Catching Up with Old Friends


Sloane Stephens (Curtain Call, US Open Day 6) - Stephens reached the third round in her first Wimbledon main draw.  In the second round, she took out the 23rd seed, Petra Cetkovska (Czech Republic).  Today didn't work out so well as she fell to Sabine Lisicki (Germany, 15th) in three sets.  She played doubles, too.  She and partner Alla Kudryavtseva (Russia) lost in the first round to the 13th seed: Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA)/Sania Mirza (India).  Only 19 years old, Stephens's future appears to be very bright.  Due to her outstanding performance over the past four Slams, she has earned Golden Squid status, the first American to join the club.



Photo via USA Today

Christina McHale (Curtain Call, US Open Day 5) - McHale has now made the third round in four consecutive Slams.  She lost twice today.  In singles, she lost to German Angelique Kerber (8th) in straight sets.  In doubles, she and partner Tamira Paszek (Austria) lost to the 2nd-seeded Italians, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.  She has also achieved Golden Squid status. 



Photo via Wikipedia 

It seems only appropriate that Stephens and McHale should be admitted to the order together as they represent America's current youthful hopes.


Golden Squid Report

Juan Sebastian Cabal - It was definitely a disappointing Wimbledon for the Colombian doubles specialist.  He lost in the first round of both men's and mixed doubles.  He teamed with countryman Robert Farah in the men's draw.  They lost to Benjamin Becker/Cedrik-Marcel Stebe (Germany) in four sets.  In mixed doubles, he and partner Vera Dushevina (Russia) lost to Marcelo Melo (Brazil)/Vera Zvonareva (Russia) in straight sets.  Despite the disappointment, Olympic prospects are decent.  He and Farah won the gold medal at the Pan American Games last year.  Grass wasn't so much a problem this week as, perhaps, exhaustion.  Cabal and Dmitry Tursunov (Russia) made it to the finals at the Rosmalen Grass Court Championships in the Netherlands the week before Wimbledon.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wimbledon Day 4: De Schepper


Curtain Call

Player: Kenny De Schepper
Age: 25
Nation: France
Current Ranking: 160
Today's Result: loss to David Ferrer (Spain, 17th seed) in straight sets






Photo via MensTennisForums.com


I featured the 6' 8" De Schepper on Day 2 of last year's Wimbledon.  He has since improved his ranking 74 places. He also bettered last year's Wimbledon performance by one round.


Catching Up with Old Friends


Nina Bratchikova (Curtain Call, Australian Open Day 5) - The 26-year-old Russian continues her late career surge.  This was the first Wimbledon main draw of her career.  She didn't stay long this time, losing in the first round in both singles and doubles.  In singles, she lost to Alize Cornet (France) in straight sets.  In doubles, she and partner Anna Tatishvili (Georgia) lost to the 10th-seeded American team of Racquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears, also in straight sets.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wimbledon Day 3: Hampton


Curtain Call

Player: Jamie Lee Hampton
Age: 22
Nation: USA
Current Ranking: 100
Notable Conquest: Daniela Hantuchova (Slovakia, 27th seed)
Today's Result: loss to Heather Watson (UK) in straight sets


Photo via Forum Pakistan

This is Hampton's first main draw at Wimbledon.  I swear I don't plan these things but this is now my third time featuring her in this space, both previous times for the Australian Open.  She was also my Curtain Call for Aussie 2012, Day 4 and for Aussie 2011, Day 1.


Golden Squid Report


Tobias Kamke - Kamke and doubles partner Matthias Bachinger (Germany) went through qualifying to reach the main draw.  Wimbledon is the only Slam that has a qualifying tournament for doubles.  They lost today in the first round to Jamie Delgado/Kenneth Skupski (UK) in four sets.  Kamke also lost in the first round to fellow Golden Squid, Richard Gasquet (France, 18th) in straight set.

On the Coffee Table: The Rabbi's Cat


Title: The Rabbi's Cat
Writer and Artist: Joann Sfar


Image via Read Comics

As I've written in previous posts, My Wife is really good at ordering in restaurants.  Given that she is an excellent cook, it really comes as no surprise that she's generally a better eater than I am.  She's also read a lot more than I have.  So, I really shouldn't be surprised that she's also really good at finding high quality comic books.  Three of the best comics I have discovered over the past several months have been books that she found first: Drops of God, Persepolis and now The Rabbi's Cat.  It's also worth noting that all three titles are non-American - the first one Japanese and the latter two French. 

The Rabbi's Cat is a very charming tale about a Jewish family of three in 1930s Algeria: father, daughter and cat.  While the cat is never actually named, he does serve as the narrator of the story.  This English language edition includes the first three installments of the series (there are two more in The Rabbi's Cat 2).  In the first chapter, entitled "The Bar Mitzvah," the cat eats a parrot and takes on its powers of speech.  Adventures ensue.

I'm always fascinated by the great cultural crossroads of the world and Algeria certainly qualifies.  Furthermore, the most interesting perspective on a culture is often from the bottom social stratum upwards and the Jewish community in that era was severely marginalized.  While each chapter presents a distinct story, the basic elements of cultural conflict - national, racial and mostly religious - are central to all.  The family's adventures eventually take them to Paris as well, providing yet more variants to the cultural tableau.

Not all of the foreign titles I have tried have been winners but I am certainly appreciating the general trend which Scott McCloud wrote about in Reinventing Comics: Japan and Continental Europe are far ahead of the USA and UK in terms of offering intelligent general interest comics.  I'm definitely well-invested in Sfar's characters and will keep an eye out for the second book.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wimbledon Day 2: Zopp

Curtain Call

Player: Jurgen Zopp
Age: 24
Nation: Estonia
Current Ranking: 95
Today's Result: loss to Malek Jaziri (Tunisia) in five sets


Photo via tennis

The beautifully named Zopp went through qualifying to reach his first Wimbledon main draw.  This is his second Slam in a row to be featured in this spot.  He fought hard today, going down 9-7 in the fifth.


Golden Squid Report


Greta Arn - The 33-year old Arn lost to Galina Voskoboeva (Kazakhstan) in straight sets today.  She skipped Wimbledon last year due to injury so she'll still get a small boost in ranking points.  

On the Coffee Table: Persepolis

Title: The Complete Persepolis
Writer and Artist: Marjane Satrapi


Image via LSU

Thanks to the magic of cinema, I was already familiar with Satrapi's story of growing up in revolutionary Iran by the time I picked up to the book.  Due to her personal involvement with the film (she has both writing and directing credits), the integrity of the original work was well-maintained.  That's not to say you shouldn't bother reading the book if you've already seen the movie - quite the contrary.  The book probes a bit deeper, sharing a few of the more intimate details left out of the film.

Persepolis was originally written in French, released in France as a four-part series.  The story is told entirely in black-and-white, whereas the film indulged in a few splashes of color.  Satrapi's autobiographical account begins in 1980, just after the 1979 revolution.  She is ten years old.  I was seven in 1980.  I was a geography geek from a young age so I'd heard of Iran but it became more than a spot on the map with the 444-day hostage crisis.  Needless to say, Iran has had disastrous press in the Western media ever since.  Satrapi's story serves as a powerful reminder that most Iranians are not extremists.  Most are just struggling to live meaningful lives - a struggle that wasn't even so easy before the Shah was overthrown.  

Satrapi is an extremely relatable character.  She faces many of the challenges an intelligent, thoughtful, independent girl would endure anywhere.  But post-revolutionary Iran certainly isn't just anywhere.  The struggles for women are well documented in her narrative.

Out of necessity, darkness pervades most of Satrapi's story.  But through it all, she is able to convey a love for her culture, even if much of it is long lost.  The end is hopeful as well - for her own future, if not Iran's.

Family Adventures: Nebraska Notch and More

On Sunday, we went for a hike on the Nebraska Notch Trail and the Long Trail.  My Wife's write up is here:


A few bonus photos:



An uprooted tree, both sides:



Afterwards, we went for creemees at the Underhill Center Store - just vanilla on offer on Sunday but that was all we needed.  Summer and ice cream are an obvious combination anywhere but it's a particularly big deal in our proud dairy state.  My Wife makes her own and is currently teaching Our Girl to do the same.  Our Girl had been bugging me for creemees all week but I held off, knowing mom would be disappointed if we went without her.  So, we hatched a creemees-everyday-of-the-weekend plan.  Our Girl was surprisingly unimpressed when I told her.  "That's interesting," was her casual response.  Of course, she'd just had Friday's cone at that point.  But then, we forgot on Saturday and she was disappointed - figures.

In other news, Our Girl passed Red Cross Level 2 in swim class on Friday!  We're doing Level 3 in just a couple of weeks.  She's already worried she won't pass.  I told her we could practice at the town pond every day if she wanted.  Naturally, we're very proud of her.

We won again in kickball last night, a close battle: 1-0.  Our Girl came to watch for the first time, more or less out of necessity.  My Wife is out of town for a few days.  She enjoyed it, I think.  She certainly had a fun time running around with the other kids.  I got a "Good job!" and a high five after I got a hit in my only at bat.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Wimbledon Day 1: Zaniewska

Curtain Call

Player: Sandra Zaniewska
Age: 20
Nation: Poland
Current Ranking: 160
Today's Result: loss to Shuai Peng (China, 30th seed) in three sets


Photo via TennisForum.com

Zaniewska went through qualifying to reach her first Slam main draw.  At 20, she's already built a solid resume with 6 ITF singles titles.  Apparently, she's a Nadal fan.

The following are highlights from my Why You Should Watch Wimbledon post from a couple years back:

Tradition

Tennis was born on the grass lawns of England and to England the game returns every summer. Wimbledon is, of course, the world's most prestigious tournament. One could argue about the relative merits of the four Slams but the fact is, if you wanted to cement your legacy in the sport by winning only one tournament, this would be the one.


Grass Court

Switching from the clay of Paris to the grass of Wimbledon is one of the most abrupt and dramatic transitions on the world sport calendar. The two surfaces, as discussed in regards to Roland Garros, benefit very different players. Grass is for the gunslingers. Big serves and booming ground strokes are rewarded by the low bounce. If you like the power game, sit back and enjoy. Also, from an aesthetic stand point, there is something very satisfying in seeing the summer sunshine on green grass. Neither red dirt nor concrete can quite compare.


Champagne and Strawberries

Looking for a weekend brunch idea? Watch the tournament over the traditional treat served on the grounds: champagne with strawberries and clotted cream. Don't forget, though, that the tournament takes the middle Sunday off. Not that you couldn't have brunch anyway.



Serve and Volley

If you watch tennis at all, you've surely heard the old guard (John McEnroe and friends) complaining about the fact that players don't come to the net enough anymore. At Wimbledon, you will hear references to the fact that the grass on the court wears differently from how it did in the good ol' days. You'll see comparison shots of the court in 1979 and the court now. There is now far less wear near the net, far more at the baseline.

The old guard really needs to let this one go. The fact of the matter is that modern racquet technology better enables the baseliners to fire soul-crushing passing shots by any would-be volleyers. Johnny Mac wouldn't be quite so gung ho about coming to the net himself if he had Nadal staring him down from the other end of the court, AeroPro Drive in hand.

But if you like serve and volley tennis, Wimbledon is the most likely place to see it.


Andy Murray

He is not my favorite player but I have to admit that I feel for Britain's #1 when Wimbledon rolls around. It will be such a relief when a British player finally wins here again. Then we can stop hearing about how long it's been!


Catching Up with Old Friends

Juan Carlos Ferrero (Curtain Call, US Open Day 8) - Ferrero was no match for Novak Djokovic (Serbia, 1st) today, going down in straight sets.  However, having not played Wimbledon at all last year, he did enough to attain Golden Squid status.  He enters as easily the most accomplished member of the group, the only one to win a singles Slam title (Roland Garros, 2003) and the only one to be ranked World #1.  At 32, he is most certainly in the twilight of his career.  I've always had a soft spot for The Mosquito and I'm delighted to welcome him to the fold.




Photo via starMedia

My Baseball Fantasy: Paul Goldschmidt


Private League: tied, 5-5 (52-66-2 overall, 8th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: won, 7-2-1 (69-43-8, tied for 1st out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Paul Goldschmidt (First Baseman, Diamondbacks) with 2 home runs, 6 RBI, 8 runs, 1 stolen base and a .421 batting average


Photo via Reading Between the Seams

Goldschmidt was born in Wilmington, Delaware.  In 2010, he hit his first big league home run against Tim Lincecum, back when Lincecum was still really good.  That same year, he became only the third rookie ever to hit a Grand Slam in the postseason.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Orioles 2012: Bottom of the 4th



On June 12th, the Orioles got a big boost with the return of Brian Roberts to the roster. Roberts, a two-time All Star, had been out of commission for nearly two years with injuries, most recently a head injury sustained sliding into first base on May 16th of last year.  He's back in the roles he left: second baseman and leadoff hitter.  With the legitimate possibility of playoff baseball for the Birds this season, they'll need all hands on deck.

While much welcomed, Roberts's return has been unspectacular.  His on-base percentage is .295, not exactly what you're looking for from your leadoff man.  He was also caught stealing in his only attempt.  He's been rock solid in the field, though, with a 1.000 fielding percentage.  

It's late June and the Orioles are still in playoff position - crazy.  It won't be easy, though.  Four out of the top six teams in the American League wild card standings are in the East division.

Friday, June 22, 2012

On the Coffee Table: Watchmen

Title: Watchmen
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Dave Gibbons



Image via DC Comics

When I started nosing around for "the good stuff" in comic books, Watchmen was the title that came up over and over again.  By the time I got around to reading it, I was already very familiar with Moore's work and had come to see his name as a dependable mark of quality.  Watchmen is quite justifiably regarded as his masterpiece, indeed the seminal work of the era.  There is so much to like about this book.  The text is beautiful and the artwork stunning.  I've been eager for complex characters in the comic medium and here they are.  I almost feel I should read the book again just to catch the stuff I missed the first time.  If you have any interest at all in comics or graphic novels, I must concur that this one's a must-read.

Watchmen turns the idea of superhero on its head, playing on Nietzsche's concept of the √úbermensch just as it offers dark comic parody of the cape-and-cowl characters of the DC and Marvel universes. The story reflects all the anxieties of the late Cold War - a determinedly dark tale which somehow manages to end with a message of hope.

The character of Dr. Manhattan - the real superhuman of the story, a far more powerful entity than his "costumed vigilante" colleagues - is particularly intriguing in light of another story I'm reading: Asimov's Foundation series.  While the stories are far different from one another, Asimov's Mule serves a similar narrative function: an unanticipated anomaly with a profound impact on the course of history.  The Mule, a powerful mutant, disrupts Hari Seldon's plan and conquers most of the galaxy. The irresistible Dr. Manhattan, essentially resurrected in a nuclear accident, hires himself out as a weapon for the US government and thus alters the course of 20th century history.  The US wins the Vietnam War and Nixon is made President for life.  The story of Alexander the Great plays an important role in Watchmen and The Mule is certainly an Alexander-esque character.

I don't know if I have much interest in the prequels currently being released.  One of so many things that works well with the story is that it offers only a very brief glimpse of these characters, a mere slice of their history.  There certainly is plenty of room for expansion but for me, I am more impressed with the artistry of Moore and Gibbons than I am with their imaginary world itself. Neither man is involved in the current project.

I've told My Wife she has to read it.  For me, that's the real test of appeal to the general interest reader.  She actually read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen before I did.  She enjoyed it but wasn't overwhelmed. Watchmen is a cut above, I believe.  We shall see.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Family Adventures: Father's Day and Other Man Matters


Happy Father's Day to everyone a few days late!  The ladies gave me a lovely day.  My Wife uses the occasion to buy matching T-shirts for Our Girl and me - a Little Red Riding Hood motif this year.  We had a celebratory trip to bookstore and went out for lunch.  As much as I believe in independent stores, there are times when nothing but Barnes & Noble will do.  The comic/graphic novel section at our nearest is excellent.  Lunch at Sukho Thai - our second meal out this weekend as we'd done Friday dinner at Bridge Street.  It was a wonderfully relaxing weekend.



Big news:  our kickball team had its first victory.  We won by a touchdown, 12-5.  My own contributions were modest but I did play the final inning at first and got the last two putouts.

Playing team sports with grown-ups is a bit of an adventure.  Though our team is much bigger - 18 at full strength - many of the same issues that came up with broomball hold true now.  Some are serious about winning.  Some like to win but are mostly there for the social benefits.  I'm really fine with either but it's tricky when people on the same team aren't always on the same page.  We've got a very regular crowd, though, and I'm hoping we can recruit a few for broomball in the fall.

We had our first boys night in a long time last night: a minor league baseball game in Burlington.  The Vermont Lake Monsters have just begun their short season A-league campaign.  Mock's cousin found great seats - second row on the third base side.  It was a great angle for appreciating the distances of the infield and how easily both the shortstop and the third baseman make those long throws across the diamond. 

Due largely to an adventurous fifth inning including, among other things, two throwing errors on the same play, the home team won, 7-1.  The team invested a million dollars in the stadium during the off-season.  I don't know if they're yet up to a standard to assure their A-ball status in the long term but they definitely spruced up, including a snazzy new outfield scoreboard.

School's only been out for a week so much of the conversation was shop talk - all part of clearing the toxins in time to begin fresh next year.  I'm hoping we'll make more games this season.  It's the perfect way to simultaneously enjoy baseball, good company and a beautiful Vermont summer.

Monday, June 18, 2012

My Baseball Fantasy: Brandon Phillips


Private League: lost, 4-6 (47-61-2 overall, 8th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: lost, 4-5-1 (62-41-7, 3rd out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Brandon Phillips (Second Baseman, Reds) with 3 home runs, 10 RBI, 4 runs and a .407 batting average


Photo via Essence

It's a shame I don't get any fantasy benefit from Phillips's fielding, one of the best in the business with three Gold Gloves.  The Raleigh, North Carolina native comes from an athletic family.  His sister is a WNBA basketball player.  His brother is a minor league baseball player.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Orioles 2012: Top of the 4th


To this point, I have not needed to discuss the Orioles' bullpen at all.  The starters have done a reasonably good job this year of working deep into games.  The past nine games have been excellent for the Birds: 7-2 overall, tallying series wins over the Red Sox and Phillies and a sweep of the Pirates.  In each game but one, the starter managed to pitch at least through the fourth inning.  Unfortunately, lefty Brian Matusz could only manage two full innings against Boston on June 7th, allowing five runs, four of them earned.

Even in a game that was out of reach early, the bullpen got the job done just as they have all season.  The Baltimore relievers have been spectacular across the board, possessing a 2.40 ERA overall - best in baseball.  Perhaps the most thankless job in the game is that of the long reliever.  You sit on the bench, hoping for the sake of the team that you don't get the call to pitch.  You'll probably only get the opportunity when the starter has fallen apart, as Matusz did.  You're responsible for damage control - eat up innings so as to preserve the arms of the other, more appreciated relievers.


Photo via The Great Orioles Autograph Project

On June 7th, it was Miguel Gonzalez who got the call.  The Mexican righty did his part.  In just his second appearance for the team, he pitched four solid innings, allowing only a single earned run over that span.  But like I said, it's a thankless job.  Two days later, he was shipped to the minors to make room for a fifth starter. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Family Adventures: The Doughnut Dilemma


I'm not sure I should tell you about the doughnuts.

Our local pie shack, Poorhouse Pies, has branched out.  They are now offering fresh, homemade doughnuts on Sunday mornings - first come, first serve.  That's the dilemma.  Not surprisingly, word has gotten around.  People have been driving in from up to an hour away for pies and doughnuts.  We were lucky to get our half-dozen this weekend.  Yes, they're that good.  So, if you're in the area, here's the website.  You're on your own for sorting out the rest of the details.  Here's their key lime pie:


Photo via Facebook

In other news, Our Girl had her first-ever piano recital on Saturday.  She's only been taking lessons for about a month now but her teacher wanted to give her the opportunity if she wanted to try.  She did a great job - a bit nervous, of course, but she played beautifully.  Most importantly, she also got to hear the other students and get a sense of what she could learn to play herself if she sticks with it.

I've deliberately avoided pushing music too hard with her.  I am a music teacher by trade and I would never have wanted her to do it because she thought I expected it.  As with all arts, sports and other non-school activities, I would want her to do it because she loves it, not because she feels we want it for her.  (Swimming's the exception, to my mind.  That's a basic life skill everyone should learn.)  But, as it turned out, Mom was really keen for her to give it a try so we found a teacher. 

She seems to genuinely enjoy it so far.  I do insist that she practices and while there's occasionally some grumbling before she starts, she usually wants to keep playing when I tell her the obligatory half-hour is over.  "I'm not finished yet," she insists.  I take that as a good sign.

We went out for dinner on Sunday night to The Village Cup.  Their Routes of America theme for the year continues.  Puerto Rico is the focus this week.  I had a Tropical Sunrise after dinner, basically an Orange Julius equivalent - yum!

We're getting better at this kickball thing.  Tonight's game ended in a tie, 1-1.  I played catcher again.  I think I may request a transfer to the outfield.  I'd like to run around a bit more.  Team leadership is getting us more organized, which I think is a great thing.

Roland Garros Day 16: Le Roi


Curtain Call

Player: Rafael Nadal
Age: 26
Nation: Spain
Current Ranking: 2
Notable Conquest: Novak Djokovic (Serbia, 1st)
Today's Result: win over Djokovic in four sets


Photo via FanIQ

52-1.  That's Nadal's win-loss record at Roland Garros.  He has played the tournament eight times and he has only lost one match.  That's a breathtaking accomplishment.  Someday, someone will eclipse Federer's 16 Slams.  Someone will start a year better than Djokovic started 2011.  But 52-1 over the first eight years at a Slam tournament - I have a hard time imagining that anyone will ever match that. 

In recognition for all of the glory he has brought to his homeland, not to mention the fire and dignity which he brings to the world of sport, Rafael Nadal will lead the Spanish Olympic team at this summer's Opening Ceremony as flag bearer. 

My Baseball Fantasy: Uggla


Private League: lost, 3-6-1 (43-55-2 overall, 8th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: won, 8-1-1 (58-36-6, 3rd of 12)
My Player of the Week: Dan Uggla (Second Baseman, Braves) with 3 home runs, 9 RBI, 8 runs, and a .316 batting average


Photo via Miss A

Uggla is the all-time home runs leader for the Florida/Miami Marlins.  He is the only second baseman in Major League history to hit at least 30 home runs in each of four consecutive seasons.  He was born in Louisville, Kentucky but went to high school and college in Tennessee.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Roland Garros Day 15: Schmiedlova


Curtain Call

Player: Anna Schmiedlova
Age: 17
Nation: Slovakia
Current Ranking: 396
Notable Conquests: Taylor Townsend (USA, 1st seed), Katerina Siniakova (Czech Republic, 5th) and Daria Gavrilova (Russia, 13th)
Today's Result: loss to Annika Beck (Germany, 2nd) in three sets

While Nadal and Djokovic were preparing for their momentous final, glimpses of the future were on offer on Court 2 in the form of the boys' and girls' singles finals.  At 17, Schmiedlova has already had a perfectly respectable career.  She's won 5 ITF titles (the next level below the top-flight WTA events) and played for the Slovakia Fed Cup team.  Players can participate in the junior events until they turn 19 so she's got one more year.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Roland Garros Day 14: Errani


Curtain Call

Player: Sara Errani
Age: 25
Nation: Italy
Current Ranking: 23
Notable Conquests: Samantha Stosur (Australia, 6th seed), Angelique Kerber (Germany, 10th) and Ana Ivanovic (Serbia, 13th)
Today's Result: loss to Maria Sharapova (Russia, 2nd) in straight sets


Photo via Bettor.com

Sara Errani had the tournament of a lifetime.  Not only did she make her first Slam final in singles, but she also won the women's doubles title with countrywoman Roberta Vinci.  On Monday, she'll be in the top ten for the first time in her career. 

Catching Up with Old Friends

Maria Sharapova (Curtain Call, Australian Open Day 13) - Sharapova now has a Career Slam, accomplished with her first four Major titles.  The last player to do the same was Andre Agassi.  Both won Wimbledon first and the French Open last.  It took Sharapova eight years.  Agassi managed in seven.  With her brand new Roland Garros title in hand, Sharapova will be World #1 on Monday.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Double Barrel #1


Title: Double Barrel
Issue: #1
Release: June 2012
Writers: Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon
Artists: Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon


Image via ComicsAlliance

Full disclosure: as some of you already know, I went to college with the Cannons.  I first introduced Zander and his work in this post.  I don't know Kevin so well but we'll get to that in a bit.  Wednesday was a very big day for these long-time collaborators.  Their web comic Double Barrel was launched, a jam-packed 122-page bonanza which can be yours, too, for a mere $1.99.  I got mine through comiXology but it can basically be purchased anywhere web comics or e-books are sold.  If you'd care to learn more before taking the low-risk plunge, check out their blog.

The main attractions in Double Barrel are two serialized stories.  Heck is a new story written and drawn by Zander.  Crater XV is written and drawn by Kevin.  It is the sequel to his Eisner-nominated graphic novel Far Arden.  Other treats are also included in this issue and more are promised for future installments.

Now, can I trust that you've done your part to support the cause and proceed with the assumption that you've already read the first issue?  Excellent...


Heck


Image via ComicsAlliance

Dante's Inferno has been on my to-read list for a long time and it has just moved up in the queue.  Zander piggy-backs on the Italian master's concept of the Underworld for his narrative.  Heck (short for Hector) has a gate to Hell in his basement and hires himself out for missions on behalf of those in need of tying up loose ends with the damned.  Double Barrel #1 includes the prologue and first three chapters of the saga.

Zander has a gift for creating likeable protagonists.  Heck is not a larger than life figure.  He's an ordinary guy in extraordinary circumstances.  In my experience, all great stories begin with that very simple premise.  The language the characters speak is real, all insecurities reflected in natural stutters and stammers.  Zander doesn't let the reader get too comfortable, though.  He trots Elliott out from time to time, seemingly to keep us all rooted in the creepy.

So, I'm assuming you've read the book by now and don't require a spoiler alert.  Right?  Right?!!!

I love the last line of chapter three, as delivered by Amy: "Well, I'll be damned."  The line is layered with meaning and beautifully set up.

This story's a keeper.  I'm hooked.  Knowing of my own bias, I asked My Wife to read it, too.  She doesn't know Zander at all so she could be objective.  She was impressed.

"Are you curious to read more?" I asked.

"Yes," she responded.

"Even if you didn't know me?"

"Even if I didn't know you."

Well, there you have it.


Crater XV


Image via Top Shelf Productions

To be honest, I only know Kevin Cannon by name.  I'll admit to being one of those who initially assumed that he was Zander's brother.  They were both named Cannon and were both talented cartoonists.  Coincidence?  Apparently.

Apart from those cartoons in the student newspaper, Crater XV is my own introduction to Kevin's professional work.  Having met his protagonist, Army Shanks, I now feel I should go back and read Far Arden for the back story.  Kevin's artistic style reminds me of the old Mad Magazine cartoons, particularly the work of Don Martin - not so much for the faces but for the limbs and the sense of movement.  Crater XV is certainly an engaging and well-researched tale.

Both Cannons are quite adept in their chosen black-and-white medium.  Kevin presents boldly defined lines with strong contrasts in shading, creating a clear sense of light.  Zander's is a lighter touch and he uses fewer dark backgrounds - at least to this point.  Both styles are effective in conveying the story and offer the reader an interesting comparison. 


Bonus Materials and Other Thoughts

Included with this first issue is a cute comic which Zander has created about his son, Jin.  It's very endearing and certainly rings true for anyone who knows and loves a precocious child.  Zander also provides a wonderful essay at the end about his creative process, chock full of great advice for all of us with storytelling aspirations.

If you haven't read the comic yet (and why not?!!) I highly recommend making full use of the magnification options, particularly for the typed material at the beginning and end.  The font is pretty small!  Obviously, I'm into this series for the long haul and I hope you'll give it a try, too.  New issues will be released the first Wednesday of each month.  Issue #2 is scheduled for July 4th.

Roland Garros Day 13: Ferrer


Curtain Call

Player: David Ferrer
Age: 30
Nation: Spain
Current Ranking: 6
Notable Conquest: Andy Murray (UK, 4th seed)
Today's Result: loss to Rafael Nadal (Spain, 2nd)


Photo via Bettor.com

When Milos Raonic (Canada) had his breakout tournament at the 2011 Australian Open, the US television commentators were beside themselves with excitement for a North American - any North American - making a deep run.  Upon his reaching the fourth round, they made a big deal out of the fact that this upstart, 6-5 Canadian would be taking on a 5-9 Spaniard, shockingly dismissive of the accomplished opponent.  This hubbub was all quite comical for anyone who followed tennis with any regularity.  We all knew exactly what was in store: the 5-9 Spaniard was going to kick the snot out of Raonic.  Sure enough, the big man was vanquished in four sets.  (Side note: this story is meant to take nothing from Raonic who was proven himself to be a capable player since.)

David Ferrer, the 5-9 Spaniard in question, has maintained a top ten ranking for much of his career by simply taking care of business.  Generally acknowledged as the fittest player on tour, he wins the matches he's supposed to win.  Alas, he's never had much luck against Nadal.  With today's loss, Ferrer's career record against Rafa stands at 4-16.  What's more, he has only ever beaten him once on clay - eight years ago.  Nadal has beaten Ferrer on the red dirt 13 times on the red dirt since, including today.

Still a force to be reckoned with at age 30, Ferrer may manage to stay in the sport longer than most thanks to his extraordinary work ethic.  When the time comes to hang it up, he may not be remembered as a world beater but everyone in the game will remember him as a class act.  This was his first time in the Roland Garros semis, yet another accomplishment for the horribly under-appreciated resume.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Roland Garros Day 12: Kvitova



Curtain Call

Player: Petra Kvitova
Age: 22
Nation: Czech Republic
Current Ranking: 4
Today's Result: loss to Maria Sharapova (Russia, 2nd seed) in straight sets


Photo via Sky Sports

At Wimbledon last year, Kvitova became the first player born in the '90s to win a Slam title.  Among the many accolades she earned in 2011, she was the Czech Athlete of the Year.  I'm sure she's a little disappointed to lose today but big picture, she lived up to her seed and improved significantly on last year's fourth round result.  This was easily her best result at the French Open.  Oh right, she's also still only 22 years old.  Is she the favorite to defend her title at the All England Club?

Catching Up with Old Friends 

Daniele Bracciali (Curtain Call, Australian Open Day 12) - Bracciali had an outstanding tournament.  He made the semifinals in both men's and mixed doubles.  In the men's, he played with fellow Italian Potito Starace to form the 14th seeded team.  They lost to the top seed today: Max Mirnyi (Belarus)/Daniel Nestor (Canada).  In mixed doubles, Bracciali teamed with Galina Voskoboeva (Kazakhstan).  The pair lost to the 7th seed and eventual champions yesterday: Sania Mirza/Mahesh Bhupathi (India).

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Roland Garros Day 11: Shvedova


Curtain Call

Player: Yaroslava Shvedova
Age: 24
Nation: Kazakhstan
Current Ranking: 142
Notable Conquest: Na Li (China, 7th seed)
Today's Result: loss to Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic, 4th) in three sets


Photo via New Balls, Please

Shvedova went through qualifying to reach the main draw.  This was her second time in the Roland Garros quarterfinals.  Though Russian born, she has represented Kazakhstan since 2008.  She is far more accomplished as a doubles player, having won both Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010 with her partner Vania King (USA).

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

On the Coffee Table: The Transformers


Title: The Transformers: Bumblebee
Writer: Zander Cannon
Artist: Chee

Image via Transformers Movie Buzz

Full disclosure: I went to college with Zander and am therefore predisposed to enjoy his work.  I first introduced him on my blog in this post.

I have to confess that despite my predisposition, I was entirely prepared to dislike this collection.  I haven't been especially drawn to the Transformers story to this point.  I haven't seen any of the movies.  I remember the TV show from my childhood but can't say I remember many details, except for the awesome theme song:



I certainly remember the toys, though I never had a Transformer.  I was sadly a little too old for them when they first came out.  I wanted one but my parents were past the point where they were inclined to buy me toys as gifts and they were a bit too expensive for my allowance.  By the time I did have the money to afford them, my interests tended in other directions.  Hmm, maybe my parents actually knew what they were doing.  I did have a Gobot, one of Tonka's cheaper competitor line.  Eventually, Gobots were bought out by Hasbro and absorbed into the Transformer universe. 

However, Bumblebee was a pleasant surprise.  Zander's book has me curious, wanting to go back to the beginning as is my tendency with comics.  This story, originally a four-issue series, focuses on the character of Bumblebee at a time when he is leader of the Autobots (2009-10, concurrent with the All Hail Megatron story of the same time period).  I like Bumblebee.  He is humble and compassionate, both excellent qualities in a leader.  Plus, he's a VW Beetle in this story.  Gotta love that!  Punch buggy yellow!


 Photo via NewBeetle.org

Zander seems to have a fondness for reluctant hero narratives (see The Replacement God).  While there is some exploration of the dynamics between the robots themselves, the story focuses primarily on the relationship between the Autobots and humans.  Some very interesting ethical quandaries are confronted.


Image via ComicsAlliance

Regular Squid visitors already know that tomorrow is a big day for Zander.  His online comic Double Barrel, a project with longtime collaborator Kevin Cannon (no relation), is set to launch.  See their blog for details.

Roland Garros Day 10: Cibulkova


Curtain Call

Player: Dominika Cibulkova
Age: 23
Nation: Slovakia
Current Ranking: 16
Notable Conquest: Victoria Azarenka (Belarus, 1st seed)
Today's Result: lost to Samantha Stosur (Australia, 6th) in straight sets


Photo via Top&Best

Cibulkova's a lot of fun to watch.  She's a fighter and even the TV commentators (Carillo, Navratilova and Davenport) gave her a lot of credit for keeping her head in the game even when she was down in the match today.  Her quarterfinal finish is a big improvement on last year's first round exit so she'll get a ranking boost heading into Wimbledon.  She'll need it with quarterfinal points to defend from last year.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Juan Martin del Potro (Curtain Call, Australian Open Day 9) - It was a brutal day for both del Potro and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (France, 5th).  Both proved they could hang with the big dogs but neither proved they could beat them.  Tsonga lost to Djokovic (Serbia, 1st) in five.  Del Potro lost to Federer (Switzerland, 3rd) in five.  I almost never root against Federer but I couldn't help it with JMDP today.  I've got a soft spot for the Argentine - the gentle giant with the bazooka forehand.  The good news for tennis fans is that the last time del Potro lost to Federer in five sets at the French, he took the summer hard court season by storm, ultimately winning the US Open.  Can he do it again?  He won't sneak up on anyone anymore but the talent is there.  He still improved on last year's third round finish so his ranking will benefit.  He'll have fourth round points to defend at Wimbledon.

Family Adventures: Our Ballerina


My parents were in town this past weekend, the main draw being Our Girl's dance recital.  She has been devoted to ballet for a couple years now but she's suggested that she might like to try something different this next year: hip hop or tap, maybe.  We have some time to think about it.  Meanwhile, the recital went very well.

My folks arrived on Friday night and Saturday began inauspiciously.  High winds knocked out our electrical power.  Losing lights is one problem but the big issue for us is water.  We have a well and when the electricity goes, we lose the pump.  Facing any stretch of time with a house full of guests and severely compromised toilet capacity was daunting, to say the least.  I quickly suggested we go out for breakfast.

The Village Cup served our needs perfectly.  Everyone used the opportunity to go to the bathroom, too.  Fortunately, the power came on again not long after we got back, still allowing us all plenty of time to get ready for the recital.  Phew!


Image via Sonoma Station

One of the big highlights anytime my parents visit is dinner at their favorite Vermont restaurant: Sonoma Station in Richmond.  They offer "New American Cuisine" in a simple, yet elegant atmosphere.  We've been several times over the years and I've never had a bad order.  We have a charming waitress who always remembers us, too, and even manages to remember the details of dance recitals from years past - impressive.  All the adults had the rack of lamb special - divine.  There was also a very exciting dessert: lemon basil sorbet, apparently a creation of one of their kitchen interns.  Oh my goodness!  Heavenly!  My Wife makes her own ice cream during the summer months and I expect basil possibilities will be explored this year.

Thai for lunch the next day, it was our first time taking my parents to Sukho Thai since the new owners took over.  We all agreed that if anything, the food has improved under the new regime.  I had the Spicy Tamarind Duck special which was wonderful.

Finally, we spent Sunday afternoon at the Fleming Museum, the University of Vermont's main art museum.  We've lived in Vermont for ten years now and, somewhat surprisingly, had never been to the museum before.  It's small but the collection is impressive.  The academic year is over so it's quiet, too.  Given my recent comic explorations, I'm particularly drawn to the pop art.  The Fleming has both a Warhol Cow


Image via Joseph K. Levene Fine Art, Ltd.

and a Lichtenstein Sandwich and Soda.

Image via MMoCA

One of my favorites at the museum was Granite Quarry by Francis Colburn:


Image via VPR

We'll definitely be back.  There was even talk of becoming members. 

On the kickball front, we had our second game last night.  I played catcher, which was fun.  For my only at-bat (at-kick?), I kicked into a fielder's choice - not too happy about that.  We lost again, 4-1 again.  It was tied after 5 innings at 1-1 but, as there was plenty of time before the next game, we agreed to play extra innings.  What fools we were!  I realized only too late that they had their best players coming up.  Oh well.  Just as with broomball, everyone makes the playoffs so if we can get our act together by then, I think our team has decent potential.  There's talk of better organization regarding positions and substitutions for the next game - and maybe even practice!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Roland Garros Day 9: Lepchenko


Curtain Call

Player: Varvara Lepchenko
Age: 26
Nation: USA
Current Ranking: 61
Notable Conquests: Francesca Schiavone (Italy, 14th seed) and Jelena Jankovic (Serbia, 19th)
Today's Result: lost to Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic, 4th) in straight sets


Photo via ESPN

Lepchenko was born in Tashkent and represented Uzbekistan until 2006.  She became an American citizen in 2007.  Reaching the fourth round at the French is by far the best Slam result of her career, her first time past the second round.

Golden Squid Report 

Richard Gasquet - For one set, Gasquet looked like he might present a serious threat to Andy Murray (UK, 4th).  Then it all fell apart and he lost in four sets.  By reaching the fourth round, he matched last year's Roland Garros result.  He'll have fourth round points to defend at Wimbledon as well.

My Baseball Fantasy: Gonzalez, Part 3


Private League: tied, 5-5 (40-49-1 overall, 8th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: won, 8-2 (50-35-5, 3rd out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Carlos Gonzalez (Left Fielder/Center Fielder, Rockies) with 4 home runs, 9 RBI, 8 runs, 1 stolen base and a .500 batting average


Photo via Wikimedia Commons

On May 21st (actually two weeks ago at this point), Gonzalez became the 22nd player in Major League history to hit home runs in four consecutive at-bats, doing so over a two-game span against the Houston Astros.

Orioles 2012: Bottom of the 3rd

The Orioles have stumbled.  It was bound to happen eventually.  The Birds have won only two of their last nine games and have dropped to second place in the division.  There's no room for error in this year's AL East.  Only three games separate the Rays at the top of the standings from the Red Sox and Blue Jays at the bottom. 

It has been said that it's the bottom of the batting order that separates the good teams from the bad.  The 7th and 8th spots are generally where you put the players you need for defense.  Not much is expected from them offensively so if they can hold their own, a team benefits tremendously.  In the National League, the 9th spot is usually reserved for the pitcher but in the American League, the spot is often treated as a bonus leadoff hitter: a guy with speed who gets on base.  Given the nature of these spots, it's a much broader and more varied cast of characters who typically occupy them.  Several of the players who've hit in the 7-9 spots over the past 9 games for the O's have been discussed in previous posts so I'll focus on those who were not.


Photo via Rant Sports

Robert Andino has been the starting second baseman for the Orioles and frequently bats leadoff when not batting 9th.  His season on-base percentage (OBP) is .303.  A Miami native, he is of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent.


Photo via Wikipedia

Steve Tolleson was signed to a minor league contract in the off-season but was called up in May in an effort to deal with the team's various injuries.  He's played mostly at third base and has made solid contributions at the plate, with a .313 OBP.  He hails from South Carolina.




Photo via Wikipedia


Ryan Flaherty has been getting work in right field in Nick Markakis's absence due to injury.  He was claimed in the off-season from the Cubs through the Rule 5 Draft.  His plate performance has been meager: .175 OBP for the season.


Photo via ESPN

Ronny Paulino is currently the team's backup catcher.  Paulino was another minor league contract signee in the off-season who has gotten unexpected opportunities with the big league club.  He's had some opportunities at DH as well, compiling a .324 OBP for the season overall. 

Steve Pearce was claimed off of waivers on Saturday and is likely to get some of the right field work, too.  He went 1-for-4 in his first start of the season on Sunday.  He started the season in the Yankees organization.

Xavier Avery was called up to the Majors on May 13th but sent back down on the 29th.  He posted a .299 OBP over 15 games, all played in left field.  He's from Atlanta, Georgia.

Bill Hall was signed to a minor league contract in April, then called up on May 12th.  A utility man, Hall made the most of his seven games in the top flight: .500 OBP.  He is currently designated for assignment.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Roland Garros Day 8: Martic

Curtain Call

Player: Petra Martic
Age: 21
Nation: Croatia
Current Ranking: 50
Notable Conquests: Marion Bartoli (France, 8th seed) and Anabel Medina Garrigues (Spain, 29th)
Today's Result: lost to Angelique Kerber (Germany, 10th) in straight sets


Photo via The News

This has been the best week of Martic's career, her first time making it past the second round of a Major.  She reached the fourth in Paris, taking out two seeds along the way.  She'll have second round points to defend at Wimbledon.

Catching Up with Old Friends 

Sloane Stephens (Curtain Call, US Open Day 6) - Stephens continues to impress at the Majors.  Her first round result this year is a big improvement on last year's first round finish.  She didn't make the main draw at Wimbledon last year so she'll have the opportunity to further bolster her ranking again.

Golden Squid Report 

Juan Sebastian Cabal - Unfortunately, Cabal failed to match last year's runner-up finish in men's doubles.  He and his partner, fellow Colombian Robert Farah, formed the 16th-seeded team.  They lost today to the third seeds: Michael Llodra (France)/Nenad Zimonjic (Serbia) in three sets.  He played mixed doubles, too, teaming with Vera Dushevina (Russia).  They lost in the first round to the top seeds: Liezel Huber (USA)/Max Mirnyi (Belarus).

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Roland Garros Day 7: Mathieu


Curtain Call

Player: Paul-Henri Mathieu
Age: 30
Nation: France
Current Ranking: 261
Notable Conquest: John Isner (USA, 10th seed)
Today's Result: loss to Marcel Granollers (Spain, 20th)


Photo via Bettor.com

It's been a long and winding road for Mathieu, the ATP's Newcomer of the Year way back in 2002.  His most famous match was, unfortunately, one he lost.  In the final rubber of the final match of the 2002 Davis Cup, Mathieu gave up a two set lead to Mikhail Youzhny (Russia), ultimately losing in five.  He's one of the good guys in the sport.  It's great to see him have a good tournament.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Christina McHale (Curtain Call, US Open Day 5) - McHale, ranked #35, may have done enough to assure herself of a seed at Wimbledon.  She only reached the first round at Roland Garros last year so reaching the third round will add to her ranking points.  That will be important as she has second round points to defend at Wimbledon from last year.

Nina Bratchikova (Curtain Call, Australian Open Day 5) - This was only the second Major main draw of Bratchikova's career.  She matched her Melbourne performance by reaching the third round.  Today, she lost to Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic, 4th) in three sets.

Golden Squid Report


Jurgen Melzer - While still a viable singles player, Melzer, now 31 years old, has reinvented himself as a top-ten doubles player.  His singles campaign at Roland Garros was short-lived, losing in the first round to Michael Berrer (Germany).  He and doubles partner Philipp Petzschner (Germany) did a little better, reaching the third round before losing today to Ivan Dodig (Croatia)/Marcelo Melo (Brazil) in straight sets.  Melzer didn't play doubles in Paris last year so even though they lost to a lower-ranked team, the third round finish will still help bolster his ranking points.