A Brief Return to the Dark Ages

The other night this part of Texas dealt with some serious rain as a line of thunder storms made their way east.

Of course anyone who is familiar with the Houston area knows that many of the roads tend to be built at or below sea level and simple rain can quickly turn said streets into rivers leaving cars afloat and drivers stranded.

Water rescues such as this one are a common sight when it rains in Houston due to low roads. Photo R. Anderson
Water rescues such as this one are a common sight when it rains in Houston due to low roads.
Photo R. Anderson

So knowing that the storms were coming, and with them the increased likelihood of flooded roads, I made sure that I was tucked safely inside when the first rain drops arrived.

With the knowledge that I was going to be riding the storm out in the comfort of the Triple B Gigaplex I decided to pass the time flipping between a NASCAR race in Richmond, VA and the new episode of Doctor Who.

Pizza and Sports are a Cheesy Marriage that Works

Let me start off by saying that I like pizza a lot.

I like round pizza and I like square pizza.

I like pizza where the crust is thick and I like pizza where the crust is thin.

I like pizza when it comes in a pan and I like pizza when it is made by a guy named Stan.

I also like sports, and for some reason sports just taste better when paired with pizza.

I am not sure what it is that makes pizza taste even better when sports are on. I am sure that there are graduate students seeking grants somewhere in the world to solve that very mystery.

The simple answer very well might be that it just does taste better and there is no other deeper meaning than that.

A local New York style pizzeria's famous Legend before it is consumed. Photo R. Anderson
A local New York style pizzeria’s famous Legend before it is consumed.
Photo R. Anderson

Most historians peg the arrival of the first pizza around 1000 A.D.

A Night Fit for a King

The other night at Minute Maid Park I witnessed a milestone take place as Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez, also known as King Felix, recorded his 100th career victory en route to a 7-1 victory over the Houston Astros.

Of course there will be those who say that any milestone that occurs against the Astros for the foreseeable future should carry an asterisk by it based on the level of competition being put on the field by the Astros in relation to the skill level of other teams. I do not share that view however as the game of baseball has shown time and time again that anything can happen once the cute little kid stares into the camera and screams

Paging Mr. Willis: Latest NASA Budget Calls for Asteroid Lassoing Mission

For those who may have missed it, the Presidential budget was released a few weeks back.

This is a mostly symbolic gesture as the initial budget release is rarely the same as the budget that is agreed to and approved by Congress.

While I did not have the time to read the budget in its entirety, one particular item caught my attention, and not in a good way.

Under the budget portion for NASA a plan to “lasso” an asteroid and bring it closer to earth was presented as a goal to be completed by 2025.

The justification for the asteroid lassoing mission being that it will provide a good opportunity to study asteroids up close and help guide future manned missions beyond low earth orbit.

Now, let me stop for a minute and point out that I am a huge fan of the space program and believe that exploration of space is good.

I have also had many family members who have worked on various space programs, so the issue of space exploration is near and dear to my heart.

Mission Control in Houston could some day talk to astronauts walking on an asteroid under the current budget.
Photo R. Anderson

Still, with all that said, I really cannot get behind the goal to bring an asteroid closer to Earth for study.

After all, if movies with Bruce Willis as an oil-drilling roughneck, and Morgan Freeman as the President, have taught me anything, it is that asteroids being close to earth is almost always a bad thing.

In both Deep Impact and Armageddon, the Earth was threatened by an asteroid and actions had to be taken as a result.  In some way, I am sure that the mission to the asteroid would be made to show options to divert the Earth killing rocks from attacking but still why would you bring a potentially earth damaging rock closer?

While some want asteroids to be the future the past included talking to men on the moon from this room.
Photo R. Anderson

Okay, so the “baby asteroid” that they want to study would not be big enough to destroy the earth but it could certainly cause havoc in other ways that would need to be fully understood before such a mission could occur.

Also, in the words of the late George Hamilton, “it’s going to take a whole lot of spending money to do it right.”

Of course, if history of funding the space program is any indication, the asteroid mission and related vision could very well be changed or scrapped altogether by the next President’s administration.

At the height of the Apollo Program, and with three rockets left to launch, President Nixon decided funds would be better spent on the Space Shuttle Program. So, we had Skylab circling waiting for a boost from the Space Shuttle that never came and the three Saturn V moon rockets left on Earth became museum pieces.

A head on view of the Saturn V engines that helped the Apollo astronauts reach the moon.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, having the full-size rockets on the ground for people to see is not entirely bad.

If you have never had the chance to stand next to the Saturn V rocket, I highly recommend it as something like it will likely never be built again.

When one considers that the amount of computing strength to complete the moon missions was less than the equivalent of what is in most dollar store calculators today it makes the feat even more impressive.

And to you conspiracy theorists who still believe that we never went to the moon and it was all just an elaborate hoax on a Hollywood sound stage, I say that it is time to remove the foil hat and face reality.

The Moon Landing locations.
Photo R. Anderson

So, the moon program beget the Space Shuttle Program which did many things while circling the earth. Satellites were launched, experiments were conducted and the International Space Station was built.

While the Space Shuttle accomplished many wonderful achievements, there was also a dark side to the Program with the loss of 14 astronauts. Seven died during launch on Challenger and seven more were killed upon reentry of Columbia.

It was after the loss of Columbia that President George W. Bush decided to cancel the Shuttle Program in favor of the Orion Project which would return to an Apollo like capsule design and return man to the moon by 2017.

In an odd coincidence, much like with the retirement of Apollo there were three remaining launch vehicles that became museum pieces. While technically there would be four if one counts Enterprise, I am merely counting the flown vehicles for the purpose of the analogy.

I have had the opportunity to stand under the Space Shuttle and will also suggest that anyone who has the chance do the same in order to fully grasp the scale of the vehicles that flew so many missions over their 30 years in service.

Unfortunately, a funny thing happened on the way to the moon and the Shuttle’s trip to museum life. President Obama decided to cancel the lunar program and set sites on commercial delivery of crew and cargo to the space station and the recently unveiled asteroid mission.

In the meantime, with the Shuttle retired, the once great United States Space Program has to depend on rides that it purchases from Russia to get their crew up to the International Space Station.

I get that some people think we have already gone to the moon so why go back when there is more to discover elsewhere in space. However, for me I don’t think we even scratched the surface of what the moon can teach us.

Space Shuttle Endeavour en route to retirement in California.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, I am also of the generation that thought we would have flying cars, moon bases and kelp farms under the oceans by now.

And where is my personnel jet pack?

So, maybe the asteroid mission is supposed to inspire another generation of scientists to explore new worlds and new areas in space. I just think there are better ways to do that.

Instead of looking at ways to bring asteroids closer to earth, why don’t we invest in technologies that can do move the asteroids while they are still far away?

Of course, as with nay long-term NASA project the problem is often not in the formation of the ideas, it is in ensuring that the federal budget includes enough funding each year to allow these multi-year programs to come to fruition.

And if the asteroids do come this way and someone that looks like Bruce Willis is having to stay behind to save us all, I will definitely not watch as he says goodbye to his daughter.

I still cannot watch that scene in Armageddon without getting a little watery eyed. It is amazing how the dust bunnies know to attack my eyes at just that moment.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to call and see if the place that I got my robot attack insurance carries asteroid insurance as well.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Impacts of a Brave First Step Still Being Felt

We are a country that enjoys commemorating achievements in all shapes and sizes. Some call it the American spirit while others might call it an attempt to ensure that the sacrifices of those that have gone before us are remembered long after they are no longer walking amongst us.

This past Monday was set aside by Major League Baseball to pay homage to an achievement of courage and determination as part of the annual Jackie Robinson Day.

Each year on April 15 Major League Baseball teams stop to remember Jackie Robinson. Photo R. Anderson
Each year on April 15 Major League Baseball teams stop to remember Jackie Robinson.
Photo R. Anderson

On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first African American to step foot on a Major League Baseball field when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The world of baseball for Jackie Robinson, and many other players like him, was far different from the world of baseball today.

I am not referring to jumbo trons and jumbo hot dogs or any of the other things that have found their way into the modern game. I am not even talking about the designated hitter.

Prior to 1947 there were no minority players in the highest level of professional baseball. It took an owner willing to do what others wouldn’t in Branch Rickey and a player willing to withstand insults from on the field and in the stands in Jackie Robinson to pave the way for those that came behind them.

For people of a certain age, like me, it is nearly impossible to picture a segregated baseball diamond. From my earliest recollections there were people of all shapes and sizes and races on the field.

Jackie Robinson Day at Minute Maid Park.  Photo R. Anderson
Jackie Robinson Day at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

Look at the rosters of the 30 MLB teams today and one will find players from six continents.

None of that would have been possible without someone taking the first step to desegregate the diamond.

So it is fitting to take time to honor Jackie Robinson’s sacrifice and to ensure that generations who were not alive back in 1947 can learn the story and know that without the sacrifices of people like Jackie Robinson the world would be an entirely different place.

One of my favorite quotes is “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It was first stated in the early 20th century by George Santayana, but the phrase is still as true today as it was when first spoken. Society must continue to learn from history so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Hunter Pence of the Houston Astros celebrates Jackie Robinson Day in 2011. Photo R. Anderson
Hunter Pence of the Houston Astros celebrates Jackie Robinson Day in 2011.
Photo R. Anderson

As another outlet to learn from the mistakes of the past this week also marks the release of the movie 42 which provides a big screen treatment of the momentous event and allows generations who were not alive in Jackie Robinson’s time to see what it was like.

As part of Jackie Robinson Day each player on every team wears the number 42 as a show of respect and solidarity. Of course one player still wears the number 42 every game but more on that in a bit.

While each team celebrated the moment in their own way the main celebration occurred in Los Angeles, CA where Jackie’s widow was in attendance at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

During the annual celebration of Jackie Robinson there are always a select few who will state in various outlets that the inclusion of Jackie Robinson in the Baseball Hall of Fame was based solely on him being first to break the color barrier and is not reflective of his playing ability.

Of course, a quick look at his career statistics show that based on the merits of his play alone Jackie Robinson is every bit of a Hall of Fame caliber player and is included as much for what he did as a player as well as what he did as a trailblazer.

In 1997 all 30 MLB teams were told to retire the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson. Photo R. Anderson
In 1997 all 30 MLB teams were told to retire the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson.
Photo R. Anderson

In 1997 Major League Baseball retired the number 42 on all teams in honor of Jackie Robinson. As part of the retirement players who were still wearing the number were grandfathered in and allowed to keep wearing it for the remainder of their careers.

Currently Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees is the only active player still wearing the number 42. Rivera is expected to retire at the end of this season so the number 42 will be officially retired 15 years after the announcement to retire it was made.

This means that starting in 2014, no player will ever again wear the number 42 in Major League Baseball. It is likely that the Yankees will retire Rivera’s number as well based on his impressive body of work.

The Zamboni’s Last Ride

The other day I attended a funeral and a hockey game broke out.

Okay, to be fair it was a hockey game all along but the funeral feel came from the knowledge that it was the last home game of the season for the Houston Aeros who by most accounts will be leaving for Des Moines, Iowa upon the completion of the current season.

While sports franchises move for myriad reasons the Aeros are not moving by choice.

The last opening puck drop in Houston? Photo R. Anderson
The last opening puck drop in Houston?
Photo R. Anderson

After calling Houston home since the mid ninties, their lease is not being renewed at their home arena.

Comparable in town venues were looked at but no suitable site could be located. So, short of a last minute reprieve the pucks and the trucks filled with the rest of the equipment are heading north once the season is over and the era of minor league hockey in Houston will come to an end..

Of course with the Aeros out of the way it leaves certain parties free to pursue a National Hockey League team to replace the minor league Aeros. There are many factors that would need to fall into place for that to occur but step one to kick out the current tenet appears well underway.

This is certainly not the first time that Houston has dealt with a sports franchise leaving. The Houston Oilers relocated to Tennessee following the 1996 season. And after a season as the strangely named Tennessee Oilers they became the Titans.

The Aeros kept pressure on San Antonio throught the last home game of the 2013 season. Photo R. Anderson
The Aeros kept pressure on San Antonio throughout the last home game of the 2013 season.
Photo R. Anderson

Nearly a decade later, and despite getting the expansion team Houston Texans, there are still people angered by the loss of the Oilers. This anger is even more easy to spot when the Titans come to town to play the Texans.

I had a similar experience as a youngster in Maryland when on March 28, 1984 the owner of the Baltimore Colts packed up the team and shipped them to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. And much like the case in Houston, Baltimore eventually was awarded another team but the betrayal of the midnight run is still felt nearly 30 years later.

The largest crowd in the history of the Aeros was on hand to send them off.

Wahoo Wishes and Other Notes From Beside the Bay

This past weekend I took my first baseball road trip of the 2013 season to book end the opening week of the baseball season.

After starting the week at the home opener for the Houston Astros, the week was rounded out with a trip to Bayfront Stadium in Pensacola, FL for a Southern League game between the home standing Blue Wahoos and the visiting Tennessee Smokies.

Prior to moving to Texas, the bulk of my non Spring Training in person baseball watching was through Southern League games at Tinker Field in Orlando FL.

Despite moving about 800 miles away from the borders of the Southern League, to this day I still try to catch Southern League games whenever I can.

It was clear skies at game time but as the flags indicate there was a stiff wind blowing. Photo R. Anderson
It was clear skies at game time but as the flags indicate there was a stiff wind blowing.
Photo R. Anderson

I am sure this is partially due to history and familiarity with the league and the various teams but a lot of it is also based on the fact that there is some good baseball being played on the farm teams of the Southern League.

Such was the case on this colder than normal April night at the stadium on the bay.

More on the game in a bit but I feel it is important to stop and mention the weather at game time and throughout the festivities.

Anyone who knows me well, most likely knows the following two things about me. First, I check the weather constantly before a trip to make sure that I am properly prepared for the conditions.

Second, it takes in awful lot for me to be cold. I am the type who has a fan going year round and I have not turned the heater on in my house in over 8 years.

More ballparks should be waterfront ballparks to allow for scenery like this. Photo R. Anderson
More ballparks should be waterfront ballparks to allow for scenery like this.
Photo R. Anderson

So after checking the forecast before heading to the game, I was fairly satisfied with my no jacket required assessment. Unfortunately while the temperature was within a good short sleeve window, in my haste to make it to the game after a nine-hour drive to the ballpark I forgot to account for the wind chill and feels like factor.

To say it was cold with the wind coming in off the bay would be an understatement. How cold did it feel?

It felt cold enough that I was seriously considering buying a $100 jacket in the gift shop or at the very least a $60 sweatshirt to try to stay warm.