Category Archives: Beyond

Return of USFL is Latest Example of Everything Old is New Trend

A long, long time ago in a swamp far, far away a wise old green puppet said, “long enough live you do, all things old become new they will.”

Okay, maybe I am not remembering the exact source of the quote but the force behind it is that if one waits long enough, everything old will become new again; even things one never thought would return.

The latest example of this recycling of retro chic is the recent announcement that the United States Football League, aka the USFL, plans to make a return to the gridiron in the spring of 2022 after a lengthy time on the sidelines.

For those unfamiliar with the USFL, it was a spring football league that played for three seasons from 1983 through 1985. Some notable USFL players who later joined the NFL include Jim Kelly, Doug Flutie, Steve Young and Hershel Walker just to name a few.

Ultimately like the myriad spring football leagues that followed, the USFL went the way of the dinosaurs and became extinct. Of course, with the number of failed leagues trying to come back to life lately perhaps one should say the USFL is trying to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of its own Icarus style hubris of flying too close to the sun during its initial three season run.

I will not get into the inner workings of why the USFL failed aside from saying that had they stayed in their lane it is possible the USFL would have never disappeared from the sports landscape all those years ago. At least that was the thesis statement of a research paper I wrote during my M.S. in Sport Management studies.

For those wanting more specifics on what ultimately killed the USFL, numerous books and documentaries cover that subject in grave detail. However, for those wanting to get down in the weeds on why the league failed, I do recommend the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?”

Aside from my academic studies of the USFL, I am old enough to remember the league from the perspective as a fan. Granted a very young fan. Growing up in Florida I was a fan of the Tampa Bay Bandits and the Orlando Renegades who were coached by Steve Spurrier and Lee Corso respectively.

Spurrier would of course spend his post USFL days reinventing college football at the University of Florida, while Corso became a key member of the College Gameday crew that changed how college football pregame shows were done.

So, as a fan of the old USFL with the hats, programs, media guides and team buttons to prove it, I am both intrigued and horrified at the thought of the league making another run.

Like a moth to a flame, I was always drawn to the spring football teams of Orlando. From the Renegades of the USFL, the Thunder of the WLAF, and the Apollos of the AAF, when it comes to failed spring football leagues Orlando has seen its share of short-term tenets that enter with a flurry of promise and excitement and exit with a whimper of disappointment and failed potential. Time will tell if the Renegades rise again after spending a single season in Orlando in 1985. If the Renegades are resurrected it is highly likely that the native American identity and penchant for tomahawks from the earlier version will be toned down or eliminated all together in the current climate of acceptable team names and iconography.
Photo R. Anderson

Would I love to see Orlando get yet another minor league sports franchise while continually getting passed over as a serious contender for the NFL and MLB? Sure, I suppose.

But, at the same time I am skeptical that any spring football league can make a serious dent at long term stability. If I thought that the USFL, or any league stood a real chance at being financially independent and not just some made for TV revenue stream to fill the air on the airwaves or a streaming service, I would dust off my Sport Management degree in a heartbeat and stand in line with the rest of the applicants wanting to make a lasting impression on the wide world of sports with spring football.

Instead I will quote Lee Corso and say “Not so fast my friend” when it comes to my belief that the USFL can succeed in the current sports climate.  I just do not have a good feeling about the USFL succeeding as more than just a gimmick and a way to for Fox Sports to sell some ads on television.

It should be noted that Fox Sports, which has a minority equity stake in the company that owns the new USFL, will serve as the league’s official broadcast partner.

One has to wonder how quickly Fox will run away from the deal if their ratings expectations are not met. It is also a slippery slope when the people creating the content are also the same channels broadcasting it.

Of course, the rising symbiosis between leagues and broadcast partners is a column and/or research paper subject for another day. Suffice to say, as a classically trained sports journalist I am deeply troubled by the trend of mergers and blending of networks and leagues.

It goes back to the age-old journalism school question of whether sports events are news or entertainment. Based on the number of leagues jumping into bed with gambling interests I would say sports are sliding into the easy to manipulate realm of entertainment programming which could very well soil the sanctity of the game.

So, the USFL selling a portion of the league and perhaps their soul to Fox Sports is a huge red flag for me in terms of whether I should get excited about yet another Spring Football league coming to town.

I have gone down this road many times and it never ends well. One of the first sports articles I ever wrote for my high school newspaper was about the arrival of the World League of American Football (WLAF). My article focused on the Orlando Thunder and the excitement that the City Beautiful was getting another chance to be a professional football town. The excitement lasted all of two seasons as the WLAF became NFL Europe and the Thunder and the other domestic teams ceased operations.
Photo R. Anderson

I have gone down this road many times and it never ends well. One of the first sports articles I ever wrote for my high school newspaper was about the arrival of the World League of American Football (WLAF).

My article focused on the Orlando Thunder and the excitement that the City Beautiful was getting another chance to be a professional football town.

The excitement lasted all of two seasons as the WLAF became NFL Europe and the Thunder and the other domestic teams ceased operations. A fun fact tying the WLAF to the USFL was that Lee Corso was the Orlando Thunder’s general manager after coaching the Orlando Renegades of the USFL.

So, the Renegades and the Thunder were strikes one and two. My skepticism is further fueled by the rise and fall of the Alliance of American Football (AAF). The AAF came out of the gate strong in 2019 and even lured the Old Ball Coach Steve Spurrier himself to coach the Orlando Apollos. Despite good coaching, and decent on field action, the AAF folded during the inaugural season after it was unable to secure additional funding to make payroll.

Strike three.

Of course, leagues will always say that they learned from the mistakes of others as they climb over the smoldering remains of all of the spring leagues that came before them. In this way they really are like the classic tale of Icarus who flew too close to the sun and fell down to earth after his wax wings melted.

It really would be fitting for a spring football league to use Icarus for one of their teams if one could decide if the plural should be the Flying Icaruses or the Flying Icuri.

In making the announcement of their return, USFL 2.0 noted that it will play the 2022 season in the spring with a minimum of eight teams. The league also noted a desire to “deliver high-quality, innovative professional football to fans.”

In keeping with other big spring league announcements over the past few years no details were given on which eight cities will be blessed to be given an USFL franchise. The USFL did note that they still retain all of the naming rights and intellectual property of “key original team names.”

Over the course of the USFL three seasons the Denver Gold were one of only five teams that played all three years without relocating or changing team names. The other teams with three season staying power were the Los Angeles Express, Birmingham Stallions, New Jersey Generals, and Tampa Bay Bandits. It is likely that those markets will be included as part of the new version of the USFL.
Photo R. Anderson

For those who are curious, the key names that the USFL could select from based on their first go round include; Wranglers, Stallions, Breakers, Blitz, Gold, Gamblers, Bulls, Express, Showboats, Panthers, Generals, Invaders, Outlaws, Stars, Maulers, Gunslingers, Bandits, Federals, and Renegades.

Over the course of the USFL three seasons only five teams played all three years without relocating or changing team names. Those lucky teams with the most stability were the Denver Gold, Los Angeles Express, Birmingham Stallions, New Jersey Generals, and Tampa Bay Bandits. It is likely that those markets will be included as part of the new version of the USFL.

While the new USFL claims to have the intellectual property rights for all things USFL, Steve Ehrhart, the executive director of the original USFL was quoted in a Philadelphia Enquirer article following the news of USFL 2.0 as questioning the legitimacy of those claims.

In the Enquirer article Ehrhart noted that when it comes to claims that the new USFL has all of the rights to logos and names, “I was surprised when I heard about it this morning. I want to dig into it and see who they’re claiming they acquired these rights [to the name] from. Because it didn’t come from any legitimate source.

“My guess is there’s some knucklehead out there who claimed he had registered the name and had the rights to it. We’re not being antagonistic. But if they want to do this, they should do it the right way and talk to the actual people, not some guy who sent in an internet registration or something like that.”

Assuming the right knucklehead is located, and the rights really do belong to Fox and friends, time will tell whether the latest iteration of the USFL can match, or best the three-year high-water mark of spring league viability it set nearly 40 years ago. Perhaps Icarus will use some stronger wax this time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to dust off some USFL gear and take a trip down memory lane.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

 

Supermarket Shooting Shatters Safe Zone and Reignites Gun Control Debate

When the news first broke earlier this week of a shooting inside the King Soopers in Boulder, CO I found myself flooded with various emotions. When news broke later that 10 people lost their lives, the emotional flood continued along with a realization that mundane, every day activities like going grocery shopping are no longer safe.

The tragedy struck me on several fronts. While people dying inside a grocery store, or anywhere else, is tragic, I had driven past this particular store several times during trips to Colorado. I also have many friends who live in that part of the state so my mind immediately started to wonder whether any of them had been in the store at the time of the shooting.

Waiting to hear whether any of my friends were among the victims was an especially trying period. Thankfully, my friends were not among the victims. However, for the friends and family of the 10 people who were killed, their lives will never be the same.

Aside from feeling a connection to that particular store, I also have a tie to the grocery industry as a whole. When I was a senior in high school, I started working part time at a local Albertson’s grocery store. I would end up spending four and a half years in the grocery trade before hanging up my apron at college graduation and entering the world of journalism full time.

And while those days working retail are long behind me, I have always felt a sort of kinship to those people working within the grocery industry. During the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic I was especially thankful for grocery store workers as they ensured that the shelves were stocked and that customers had the opportunity to do curbside pickup if they did not feel safe going inside the store due to COVID-19.

On November 8, 2018, one day after a gunman killed 12 people, including a police officer, at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, CA, I took part in a moment of silence at the Staples Center before an L.A. Kings hockey game. Over two years later, another mass shooting, this time at King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, CO that ended with 10 people killed, once again leaves a community and nation to wrestle with the issue of mass shootings and gun control.
Photo R. Anderson

Now, thanks to a shooting inside a grocery store that left 10 people dead, people may have an entire new reason to not feel safe doing something as simple as going inside the store to pick up a loaf of bread.

The grocery store I worked in was one of the first in the area to have a bank inside it.

It also dealt with a lot of cash with the registers. The thought that the bank, or the store in general, could be robbed was always in the back of my mind. However, we were trained to just let the robbers take the cash and to not resist. The thought being it was not worth dying over money. We also had plains clothes off duty police officers in the store during the more popular times as mitigation to prevent shop lifting.

Of course, that philosophy does not work when the person bringing a gun into the store is there not to rob it of money or products, but to rob the people inside it of life.

There is no perfect defense for a gunman intent on causing harm, versus someone just trying to grab some cash, or snow crab legs and go. That is a sobering and scary change in the threat level for people in a grocery store as well as people in any public place.

Of course, school aged children have had to face the constant fear of active shooters for over 20 years. One of my first post college graduation professional newspaper assignments was interviewing a man who ran a company that trained students and school staff on what to do during an active shooting event.

Sadly in the years since that interview the business of training people to avoid gunmen in public places has only grown in importance, and the shootings have gone from primarily taking place inside schools to occurring everywhere from movie theaters, concerts, clubs and big box retail stores to massage parlors and grocery stores.

A week before the grocery shooting in Colorado eight people lost their lives at the hand of another gunmen in Georgia who went to three different massage parlor locations on his killing spree.

There will be discussions in the coming days, weeks, and months about gun control. These discussions occur every time there is a mass shooting. The result of the discussions is usually one step forward and two steps back.

I am not going to get into the politics of gun ownership vis a vis the Second Amendment and all of the gun lobbies, Republican senators from Texas whose names rhyme with Fred Snooze, and other factions that tend to resist any calls to curb the access to high powered firearms.

And yes, there is the tried-and-true argument that always gets brought up following mass shootings that, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” One could just as easily argue that water doesn’t drown people, swallowing too much water drowns people. But I digress.

Most gun owners are responsible people who are not going to go on a shooting spree. However, for those irresponsible gun owners there needs to be a way to prevent senseless loss of life.

While stopping short of diving into the political quicksand that talk of gun control seems to generate, I will just say that mass shootings and vaccine hesitancy seem to be mostly American concepts.

One could argue that it is the very freedoms that Americans enjoy that cause the high incidents of mass shootings and vaccine resistance, but that would be too simple of an answer for a complex issue.

Until the root cause of mass shootings is identified and addressed, there will likely be more cases of heavily armed individuals killing innocent people who are just trying to go about their daily lives.

One person I saw talking about the shooting in Boulder even brought up the possibility that the isolation and restrictions of COVID-19 may be behind the shooting. Short of the gunmen directly saying what motivated him to do what he did, the experts on TV are free to hypothesize and generalize as they try to rationalize the irrational.

As the world prepares to reopen and gatherings get larger and larger it will be interesting to see if people return to normal activities in large crowds, or if the fear and isolation brought about by the restrictions of the past year cause people to think twice before heading to that packed Ballpark for a game.

Personally, I have not decided how ready I am to cram shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people inside a Ballpark once attendance restrictions are lifted. Of course, I was already tired of being crammed in like a sardine in a can before COVID-19 closed things down. Life in the press box definitely spoiled me.

So, any apprehension of returning to sitting butt cheek to butt cheek with perfect strangers has nothing to do with COVID-19 and everything to do with it being way more comfortable to watch games from home.

I will likely still attend some Minor League games and the occasional Major League game but any desire to have season tickets has gone away. Of course, whenever I do attend a game, I will continue my long-held tradition of having enhanced situational awareness of exit routes and my surroundings.

Thanks to the events in Boulder, that enhanced situational awareness will now be needed whenever I venture to any public place.

I have many fond memories of my time working in a grocery store. However, now I will be a little more cautious and aware of the people around me whenever I go inside one. I will also likely rely more heavily on curbside pickup. However, some victims of the Boulder shooting were killed in the parking lot so even curbside is no longer 100 percent safe.

I never thought that I would need to be on high alert making a Dr Pepper run. Sadly, recent events have shown that danger is all around and even the simple act of getting a massage or buying a soda and a candy bar can turn deadly.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to try to make some sense out of all of this senselessness.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Thanksgiving in a Time of Pandemic

For the first time in about 100 years the United States will be celebrating Thanksgiving in the middle of a health pandemic. While the last pandemic was centered on the Spanish Influenza, this year’s uncomfortable guest at the dinner table is COVID-19.

COVID-19 is like that distant relative that no one really remembers how they are related to, yet can’t wait to get away from each year at the big family gathering. Like that distant relative, COVID-19 also has a way of showing up when least expected.

Depending on one’s political and scientific leanings, they either believe that COVID-19 is something horrible, or they think that it is a myth created by the same people who invented one sentence proverbs inside folded cookies.

No doubt people on both sides of the political COVID-19 spectrum will argue their case until their faces are redder then canned cranberry sauce during Thanksgiving meals together. After all, one of the things people are often thankful about on Thanksgiving is the right to have their own opinions.

As a former Boy Scout I was taught to always be prepared regardless of the situation. As the son of a mother who believes ham is not a Thanksgiving meat, I always keep an emergency ham in the freezer.
Photo R. Anderson

The way those arguments will occur will vary this year. Some people will have large in person gatherings as in years past, others will have smaller gatherings, and others still will have virtual gatherings using video conferencing software.

While there will be plenty of arguments about COVID-19 protocols and government overreach at the dinner tables across the country tomorrow, there will also be people who will spend the holiday alone because their families are either unable to join them, or in some cases because a family member passed away over the course of the year.

While this will not be a typical Thanksgiving for many people, that does not mean that there aren’t things to be thankful for.

One of the biggest things I am thankful for this year is my health, the health of my family and loved ones, as well as the fact that I have a job that thus far has proven to be pandemic proof; which means I have the resources to put food on the table.

The pilgrim narrative of coming to Plymouth, Massachusetts to avoid religious persecution and forming a thriving colony despite odds stacked against them, and huge death tolls, is something many of us were taught in school. The reality of that event differs slightly from the Norman Rockwell meets Thomas Kincaid narrative, but nonetheless people came, they gave thanks at some point, and they stayed.

On October 3, 1863, in the third fall of the Civil War, President Lincoln christened the Thanksgiving holiday by issuing a proclamation.
Photo R. Anderson

While Thanksgiving is often portrayed as something coming out of a land of the pilgrim’s pride and unity, it actually became a holiday much, much later during a time of huge division within the United States. On October 3, 1863, in the third fall of the Civil War, President Lincoln christened the Thanksgiving holiday by issuing a proclamation that said:

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, …, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him …, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

The first Thanksgiving holiday in 1863 was set aside as a time to care for those in strive. Fast forward 157 years, and we are still a divided nation with many people in strive. The current strive does not come from a physical war, but from the economic and medical side effects of a response, or in some cases, lack of response to a health crisis.

Sadly, more and more people each day are losing their health, their jobs, and their ability to put food on the table for their families. It is incomprehensible that the richest nation in the world has so many people with food insecurity who wonder where their next meal will come from.

I am so grateful for the various food banks and other organizations that work around the clock to ensure that people are able to provide food for their families. I am also ashamed personally at how little I have helped in that cause despite having been blessed with so many resources myself.

But, while I am grateful for those organizations, I am also angered by the fact that so many people are in a position where they have to utilize those services. In many cases people are having to go to a food bank for the first time in their life.

Ensuring that people have food to eat should not be a political thing. It should not matter whether a person votes blue, red, or purple. We are all the same on the inside and we all require food to survive. The sooner people realize that, the better society will be as a whole.

Years ago when I worked for a weekly newspaper, I had the opportunity to write a feature on a food bank that was set up in an old rice drying silo. Sadly, the food bank burned down a few years ago since rice silos are extremely flammable. While that food bank is gone, there are thousands of organizations across the United States handing out help to those in need, as well as looking for help from those wanting to help those in need.

If watching Hallmark movies nonstop for the past four weeks has taught me anything it is that a) there are only three plots to Hallmark movies that are recycled again and again b) every town needs a gazebo and a decent Christmas tree farm c) no one ever takes anything with them when they move away from their parents’ house since their rooms are basically sealed off as a time capsule for them to return to after their big city boyfriends dump them and d) every one pitches in to help when the town needs them.

While I am certainly glad that the world has more depth then a Hallmark movie, the concept of chipping in and helping each other in tough times is one trait in those movies we should all want to immolate. Another trait being installing hot chocolate stands everywhere.

Although a staple of many Thanksgiving feasts today, it is doubtful that turkey was on the table at the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving. Instead, fish was likely the protein on the pilgrim’s plates.
Photo R. Anderson

The first settlers in the new world had to rely on themselves and their Native American neighbors in order to make what we now know as the United States of America successful.

Of course, once a beachhead was established and more settlers came, the Native Americans were treated horrifically. Additionally, slavery is another shameful stain on the whole democracy and all men are created equal thing that we all ascribe to as part of the American ideal.

So yes, there are so messed up, horrible examples of Americans being absolutely brutal to each other and those around them dating back to even before there was an America. Those chapters in the history books often get glossed over in favor of the happier narrative. And in the years to come the era of job losses and food insecurity that is happening right now in the middle of a health pandemic may be rewritten to try to put a more positive spin on things, versus showing America once again as the divided along ideological lines, flawed experiment in democracy that it is from time to time.

However, while we are in the middle of this mess, there are people wondering where their next meal will come from and how they will pay bills without a job. Let the historians figure out what lens they want to use at a later date to describe the last four years as well as the four years to come. For now, there is chance for people to act like those larger than life characters the history books teach about, instead of the flawed, divided founding fathers they were in reality.

Thanksgiving is upon us and there is much to be thankful for. There is also much left to do to ensure that everyone has a Thanksgiving to remember, even if that means having to wait 50 days to kick the crazy uncle with those wacky theories out of the house.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to figure out a way to help a food bank.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Editor’s Note: For anyone wanting to help out with a food bank, or for anyone needing the services of a food bank, they can visit FeedingAmerica.org for details on food banks in their area.

Dodgers and Rays in the World Series Proves that Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Next week the Hallmark family of cable networks will start their yearly rock block of festive holiday movies. No, I am not talking about Halloween movies, harvest movies, or even Thanksgiving movies.

Instead, the channels that were founded on one sentence greeting cards, ornaments, and conservative Midwestern values, will be blasting Christmas movies day and night for the next two months.

I am certainly guilty of watching my share of Hallmark movies throughout the year. I enjoy the way they can take three original story ideas that someone had 20 years ago and turn them into 40-50 “new” movies each year. However, the past few years have shown that there comes a point where there can be too many “filmed over the course of one weekend while still writing the script” movies.

I get that people could use a little Christmas right this very minute, but starting Christmas in October seems a tad extreme even by 2020 standards.

In that spirit of fast forwarding to Christmas without acknowledging the holidays in between Columbus Day and Christmas, today’s column will have a gingerbread inspired coming down the chimney and opening presents on Christmas day, and not Christmas Eve kind of feel to it with some Reece’s Peanut Butter pumpkins thrown in for good measure.

And with a tug on the old sleigh bells, away we go.

In 1897 The New York Sun received as letter from a girl named Virginia who wanted to know whether there was indeed a real Santa Claus after being told by some of her classmates that there was not.  Open consulting her father on the matter she wrote the newspaper with the rationale being, that if she saw it printed in the paper it must be true.

In 1897 The New York Sun received as letter from a girl named Virginia who wanted to know whether there was indeed a real Santa Claus. Here rationale being, that if she saw it printed in the newspaper it must be true.
Photo R. Anderson

Ah, such a simpler time when the media was trusted and not actively called the enemy of the press by an angry man who may or may not have daddy issues.

But I digress.

Back to Virginia and her letter. In the eloquently written style of 19th Century journalistic prose, an editorial response to her letter concluded that, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.”

Words to live by in 1897, as well as in 2020.

Just like Virginia back in 1897, I was beginning to question things as the 2020 baseball season was winding down. I have made it clear since January that I am disgusted at what the Houston Astros did in 2017 when they cheated their way to a World Series title.

The fact that the Astros were one win away from their third trip to the World Series in four years a few short days ago made me question whether Baseball Claus existed and made me question my very lifelong baseball fandom going so far as to utter the words that if the Astros won the World Series baseball and I would need to break up for a t least a year since I could not be around such evil.

Granted, it was a tad over dramatic on my part and likely the result of not having any off days between games but I was certainly wondering why Baseball Claus had forsaken us.

For those unfamiliar with Baseball Claus, he is the guy who makes sure that the National Pastime remains as it should and that cheaters don’t prosper. He is also the guy who makes sure Ballparks never run out of hot dogs and nachos.

Just like every Hallmark Christmas movie worth its gingerbread features at least one scene in a Gazebo, Baseball Claus ensures teams that cheat get a lump of coal in their trash can. At least in the Houston Astros case they can use the coal to power the train in Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

Sadly, Baseball Claus was at his beach house in January when the penalties for the Astros were handed down.

I have no doubt that if Baseball Claus had been in his office at Major League Baseball (MLB) headquarters in New York City when the cheating report came out, he totally would have insisted that players on the Astros be suspended, or maybe even banned them from baseball for their roles in the season long cheating.

So, I gave Baseball Claus a pass on that one. I mean as a fellow lover of beach houses and time away from the office, I certainly cannot fault him for taking some time to himself on the sugar sand shores. I am sure he must have dropped his phone in the water and was unreachable when the cheating scandal broke.

My belief in Baseball Claus was tested once again when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and a decision was made to roll the dice and play a 60-game regionally based schedule in order to crown a World Series champion.

This time around, I chalked up the lack of response to stop the season by Baseball Claus to him being up north visiting his brother, Hockey Claus. Surely, had Baseball Claus not been trapped north of the border he would have stepped in. Of course, Baseball Claus did make his presence felt in Canada when he told the Toronto Blue Jays they had to play their season in America to avoid bringing more COVID-19 to the land of poutine and maple syrup.

After potentially being cheated out of World Series titles in 2017 and 2018, the Los Angeles Dodgers are returning to the World Series for the third time in four years. Unlike in previous years, Dodger Stadium will not host any of those games.
Photo R. Anderson

So, while I could excuse those two failures to intervene  by Baseball Claus when we really needed him, the run up to the World Series had me truly concerned for his health.

Was Baseball Claus in witness protection? Had he succumbed to COVID-19 like nearly 220,000 Americans? There really were more questions than answers as the aforementioned cheating Houston Astros came closer and closer to going to the World Series for the third time in four years.

I had pen in hand ready to write a letter to the editor like Virginia had so many years ago to ask whether there really was a Baseball Claus; and then Game 7 of the American League Championship Series set everything right.

The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Houston Astros and punched their ticket to the World Series. One has to wonder whether the Houston Astros punched a trash can in the dugout in frustration after the loss.

Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL. host the Tampa Bay Rays first World Series game in 2008. The Rays second trip to the World Series will not include a trip to the Trop thanks to COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

I know I have been hard on the Astros this year. Upon further reflection I know what they could have done to have tempered the rage I directed at them.

Had the players acted more contrite and shown genuine remorse for their actions in 2017 I would have been more likely to forgive sooner rather then later. Don’t get me wrong, I would have still been angry, but I likely would have been less angry.

Instead, the players tried to play the role of victim and seemed in many cases to be more concerned about the fallout in terms of their brand then in the fallout of breaking the hearts of little Virginias that rooted for them. I saw no genuine remorse or acknowledgment that what they did was wrong. Instead, I saw players who were merely inconvenienced that they got caught.

As stated many times, the Houston Astros were the biggest winners in 2020 since they never had to face fans in the stands during the regular season. The few interactions with fans in Spring Training games before the world shut down showed the type of visceral anger they would have encountered all season long

Of course, in talking with some Astros fans over the course of the last nine months, some of them don’t seem to really care that the Astros cheated, and just wanted the Astros to win no matter what.

The divide among baseball fans in Houston is indicative of the divide within the United States as a whole on many issues like, climate change, COVID-19, the designated hitter, fans in stands, mask wearing, blue states, red states, etc.

If the divide within the United States was a canyon, right now it would be so far across that even Evel Knievel couldn’t jump it with a souped up rocket bike.

The Astros are done for the year and the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers are set to battle it out for World Series immortality. The two teams with the best records all season long are going head to head as it should be.
Photo R. Anderson

Yes, all of you fans of baseball played without the aid of cameras and trash cans there is indeed a Baseball Claus even in this topsy turvy upside down pandemic ravaged year of 2020.

The Astros are done for the year and the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers are set to battle it out for World Series immortality. The two teams with the best records all season long are going head to head as it should be. Maybe Hallmark was right to start their holiday movie madness in October, since I certainly received a gift of an awesome World Series match up under my Hallowgivingmas tree.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to fill out my Hallmark holiday movie bracket. I think the grand prize this year is a trip to Kansas City to see where the one sentence at a time greeting card magic happens. If I am lucky, I might even get to see a holiday movie written and filmed over the course of an afternoon. I hope it has a gazebo scene.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Columbus Day is a Day to Party Like it is 1492

Across the United States today is Columbus Day. It is also Canadian Thanksgiving but that is another column for another day, eh?

I am sure most of us recall from the story taught in school about how Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and “discovered” the new world.

Of course, there were already people living in the new world when Columbus arrived so by all accounts it has already been discovered, and was not new. Additionally, scholars often debate the timing of the arrival of the Vikings in terms of who really arrived from Europe first, but for our purposes here let us just say that it was Christopher Columbus.

Now, in addition to learning about the year of the arrival of Columbus students are also taught from an early age the names of his three ships that accomplished the journey.

These ships were of course the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.

Growing up my parents had models of the three ships that Columbus sailed.

From the scale of the models as a kid it was hard to determine how large the ships were in reality. Still, even my younger me mind envisioned the ships to be much larger than they were.

A replica of the Nina as seen in the Houston Ship Channel a few years back. The ship travels to posts in the western hemisphere as a floating museum and is a must see for anyone who gets the chance.
Photo R. Anderson

A few years back I had the opportunity to visit a replica of the Niña when it was berthed in the Houston Ship Channel. What struck me the most about the ship was how small it was.

While I was picturing something more along the lines of some of the tall ships I had seen in ports along the Atlantic Coast, the Niña and her ship sisters were more along the lines of being large yachts by today’s standards.

The Niña replica serves as a floating history museum to help teach people about maritime travel in the 15th Century. During a recent stop in Pensacola, FL the Niña replica had a bout with Hurricane Sally while docked in Pensacola Bay. Although the ship broke free of the dock and drifted towards Blue Wahoos Stadium, were it not for the courage of the fearless crew the Niña would be lost. To say again, the Niña would be lost. Wow, that is kind of a catchy tune.

Considering the size of the ships that make cross Atlantic journeys today it is hard to imagine courage that it took to travel into unknown waters in such a tiny ship as the ones used during the Columbus voyages.

Still, despite the smallness of the ships they were able to get the job done and helped introduce Europeans to the new world.

Of course, whether that was a good thing or a bad thing is certainly something that tends to get debated as well. But let us assume that many of us would not reside in North America were it not for the age of exploration.

On August 3, 1492, Columbus and his crew set sail from Spain in the three ships and made landfall on October 12 on one of the Bahamian islands.

Columbus sailed from island to island in what we now know as the Caribbean, looking for the “pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices, and other objects and merchandise whatsoever” that he had promised to his Spanish patrons, but he did not find much.

In March 1493 Columbus left 40 men behind in a makeshift settlement on Hispaniola before returning to Spain.

While the first trip in 1492 gets the most acclaim what is often forgotten is the fact that Columbus made four trips across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain.

In addition to the aforementioned 1492 journey, trips were made in 1493, 1498 and 1502. Columbus was determined to find a direct water route west from Europe to Asia, but he never did.

Although the trade route was never found, his journeys marked the beginning of centuries of trans-Atlantic conquest and colonization which ultimately led to the founding of America.

While the future of Columbus Day is murky due to changing beliefs on the wisdom of celebrating the arrival of colonization to the “new world,” one should not just gloss over the uncomfortable parts of history. Instead, a full account of the history from all viewpoints is needed. Or as the public radio show says, history should have, “all things considered.”

During this season of COVID-19 and global pandemics where the world seems smaller based on the ability for a virus to be easily transmitted from country to country, it is important to remember that travel in 1492 was a lot more treacherous and involved long periods of isolation. We can argue whether the trip should have been made, or if the people of European heritage should have stayed on the other side of the pond, but that does not minimize the risk involved in such journeys.

The Tampa Bay Rays are two wins away from a second trip to the World Series. That is sure to make the Rays in Tropicana Field swim with glee.
Photo R. Anderson

Speaking of journeys of discovery, I would be remiss if I did not note that the Tampa Bay Rays are a mere two wins away from knocking off the Houston Astros and going to the World Series to end the strange journey that the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season has been.

With the Houston Astros making appearances in two out of the last three World Series it certainly would be nice to discover a new team from the America League building a dynasty.

In 1492 Columbus did indeed sail the ocean blue. Here’s hoping that in 2020, the Tampa Bay Rays score runs aplenty.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time to go pay a Columbus Day visit to those three models of Columbus’ ships from my youth.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Looking Back at Some Columnists from the Golden Age of Column Writing Who Inspired Me to Always Write from the Heart and Strive to Make a Difference

The other day as I was pondering, “over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,” as Edgar Allan Poe would say, I was reminded of some of the columnists who inspired me to get into the column writing field.

Throughout my career as a journalist I have written from the features desk, the sports desk, the news desk, the opinion desk, and pretty much any other desk that could be found in a newsroom. While I have written stories of all types and interviewed countless people, columns have always held a special place in my heart ever since I wrote my first column for my high school newspaper. From an early age I dreamed of one day becoming a syndicated columnist whose words were read coast to coast.

Growing up in Orlando, FL in the days before the internet, my exposure to columnists mostly came in the form of the Orlando Sentinel. The two columnists I followed the most were Sentinel columnists Larry Guest and Bob Morris.

Thanks to the newspaper arriving at my parents’ house each morning, I was able to read their columns while eating breakfast and getting ready to head to school. Years later, despite the availability of electronic forms of news delivery, my parents still receive a physical newspaper each morning.

Throughout my career as a journalist I have written from the features desk, the sports desk, the news desk, the opinion desk, and pretty much any other desk that could be found in a newsroom. While I have written stories of all types and interviewed countless people, columns have always held a special place in my heart ever since I wrote my first column for my high school newspaper.
Photo R. Anderson

If I trusted my neighbors to not steal my newspaper each morning, I would likely get a physical newspaper delivered to the Gigaplex.

There is just something about the tactile feel of folding a physical newspaper and getting ink transfer on one’s fingers as they read the paper.

Speaking of neighbors, Larry Guest, the long-time Sentinel sports columnist would always end his column of observations with a witticism from his fictional neighbor, Wolfgang. One such entry that I still remember all these years later is, “My neighbor Wolfgang sez he’s in shape. Round is a shape.”

While I do not have a neighbor named Wolfgang, I do have a neighbor named Niko. The other day my neighbor Niko asked, “Why is it that people will spend hundreds of dollars a year on virus protection for their computers, phones, identifies, and other devices, yet they refuse to wear a $10 mask to protect themselves and others from a virus called COVID-19?”

Why indeed, neighbor Niko. Why indeed?

Sports, like most of the rest of the country, are in unfamiliar territory thanks to the COVID-19 virus and the wide path of destruction that has killed over 202,000 Americans.

In the past, sports have served as a distraction to world events when tragedy strikes. In fact, the coliseum in Rome was built in part as a distraction to prevent civil unrest within the empire.

While I agree that sports have served to soothe the nation in previous times of unrest, it seems like the rush to return sports to full stadiums in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is an attempt to return false normalcy while Rome burns and a man tunes up his fiddle.

Many sports columnists are taught in sports school that sports and politics should never intermingle just like the fans of the Cubs and White Sox know to keep to their sides of Chicago. However, it has become clear in the course of human events that keeping sports and politics separate in 2020 results in a fan base equivalent of ostriches with their heads in the sand since there are people who only read the sports news and ignore the other news of the day.

How much news to include with the sports is something I have struggled with this year. I am from that generation of journalists who were told that news and sports needed to be treated with the same level of separation as church and state.

Although that may have been the case in the past, this year in the middle of a global health pandemic, economic uncertainty, and social justice movements, one cannot just say that sports and news are two separate things.

Sports, COVID-19, and all of the other challenges we are facing in 2020 are strands of the same rope. A slew of recent events are trying to separate those strands, but the more one tries to pull on the thread the tighter the knot gets.

I am a journalist first and foremost and I would be doing a disservice if I tried to pretend that college football conferences who had delayed the start of their seasons reversing course and now planning to play is a good thing.

Shortly after announcing that restaurants and bars in Florida would open up to full capacity, and masks ordinances will no longer be enforced, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis showed further disregard for the COVID-19 pandemic by stating that it was his desire that the Super Bowl in February be held in a full Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. Sports writers have a duty to call out the foolishness of that statement in terms of public health instead of cheering the announcement as a return to sports as normal. Photo R. Anderson

I would also be remiss if I did not point out that opening all of the bars and restaurants in Florida to 100 percent capacity in the middle of a global pandemic is also an ill-advised idea.

Speaking of Florida, the tone-deaf remark the governor of Florida made about wanting a completely full Super Bowl in Tampa, FL is downright criminal.

Additionally, Major League Baseball appears to want to have fans in the stands when the World Series is played in Arlington, TX. Fans in the stands for the World Series basically cancels out any benefits the MLB gained by using neutral sites for playoff games.

To be clear, none of those things are good, and they all have the potential to make a bad situation even worse.

The COVID-19 virus thrives in large gatherings. As someone who was fortunate enough to cover a Super Bowl in person, I can attest that the Super Bowl is a week-long large gathering that would be the perfect storm for spreading COVID-19.

And a World Series with fans? Come on MLB you are better than that. Try to set an example of responsibility for once during your 2020 fly by night and make it up as you go 2020 season.

Going back to the question asked by my neighbor Niko, masks work. In fact, masks are one of the biggest defenses against the spread of COVID-19. Yet there are still people who refuse to wear masks because they think it infringes on their freedom.

As I have noted before, being dead because someone didn’t wear a mask infringes on freedom.

All of this is common sense, yet looking at some sports stories online some of the columnists are merely complaining about how much they miss full stadiums and how much the fans need to return. These same columnists also are cheering the aforementioned decisions of those college conferences deciding to play football despite no real improvement in the overall virus numbers that led to the postponement of fall sports to begin with. In fact, one could argue the situation is worse as many college campuses are having COVID-19 outbreaks which has led to the cancellation of many college football games.

Worse still, there are politicians who instead of trying to develop a national strategy for battling COVID-19 are doing victory laps for convincing sports leagues to return to action in an attempt to unfurl a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

No mission is accomplished. We are still very much in the thick of it. As bad as 2020 has been, unless people start taking things more seriously, 2021 will be just as bad. COVID-19 will not just magically disappear like a miracle when the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Besides Guest and Morris, other journalists that helped shape my columnist world view, were Bob Verdi, Red Barber, Red Smith, and Dave Barry. While I had the opportunity to read Verdi and Barry while they were still writing, my exposure to Smith and Barber came through books of their collected works and on the radio.

The columnists I grew up reading are mostly retired now. Since they are not actively writing, I have to wonder how they would handle the current conflict of conscience within the world of sports writing. Would they tackle the issues of 2020 with the tenacity of a hard-hitting news reporter, or would they jump on the bandwagon of let them play and fill the stands consequences be damned?

I want to believe that they would shout from the rooftops that there are more important things in life than sports and that sports will return when the virus is under control. Since they are not here to answer that question, I will answer in my own way and say, there is a time and place for full arenas and stadiums. The middle of a global COIVD-19 pandemic is not that time and place.

I miss injecting humor into my writing, but COVID-19 is no laughing matter. It cannot be ignored no matter how much people try to sweep it under the rug, or drown it out with crowd noise piped into empty Ballparks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my neighbor Niko needs some help installing virus software to stop all of those trolls on the other side of the world from trying to hack into his computer.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

COVID-19 Outbreaks at Colleges Nationwide Should Surprise Absolutely No One

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Perhaps nowhere is that statement truer in 2020 than in the world of college football.

Consider if you will, the University of Houston Cougars. The Cougars were set to kick off the 2020 season with a game against the Memphis Tigers, but the Tigers had a COVID-19 outbreak and had to cancel the battle of the big cats on the gridiron.

Never fear thought the intrepid Cougars, we will just schedule a game against the Baylor Bears to fill the slot left open by Memphis canceling. Come hell or high water we are going to play football this year the Cougars shouted confidently to their fans.

While the Cougars had managed to dodge one COVID-19 outbreak and find a new opponent, the other shoe dropped the day before kickoff when it was announced that the Baylor Bears also had to cancel the game since, like the Memphis Tigers before them, the Bears were also dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak within their ranks.

Cougars and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

So, while some teams have managed to cobble together enough healthy players to field a somewhat competitive team, other schools are yet to kickoff the season either due to their own outbreaks of COVID-19, or outbreaks on their opponent’s roster. The list of teams canceling games continues to grow as COVID-19 case counts rise from the east coast to the west coast and all points in between.

While the University of Houston Cougars had managed to dodge one COVID-19 outbreak and find a new opponent, the other shoe dropped the day before kickoff when it was announced that the Baylor Bears also had to cancel the game since, like the Memphis Tigers before them, they also were dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak within their ranks.
Photo R. Anderson

To think that there wouldn’t be outbreaks of COVID-19 on college campuses is completely idiotic, or if one prefers, insane.

From coast to coast colleges are having to place students on lock down as they try to get a handle on the virus that is sweeping the nation like an ear worm song of summer.

The reason for the outbreaks on college campuses can best be summed up as college kids being college kids. While some students are socially distancing and wearing masks, others are having large parties and foregoing the masks and social distancing. Apparently not even a global pandemic can stop the party for some students.

The reaction to COVID-19 on college campuses mirrors the overall reaction within American society. Some people are heeding the warnings and trying to stop the spread of the virus, and others just want to party like the virus does not exist and pack hangers at airports shoulder to shoulder.

This just in, COVID-19 doesn’t care if you don’t care about it. The virus will infect you whether you think it is a hoax or not.

And, it is not like college athletes are being sequestered from the regular student population on campus, so any outbreak on campus puts the athletes at risk. One could even go a step further and say that the fact that athletes are traveling from city to city to play games means that they could be bringing COVID-19 back to their campuses.

But, by all means, play that college football to earn those lucrative television dollars. For those who question whether money is the real reason behind the push to play college football in the middle of a global pandemic, I submit to you the Big 10 Conference.

The fact that college football games are being played in 2020 proves that not even a global pandemic can stop the quest to win the National Championship trophy. That statement is not a compliment.
Photo R. Anderson

The Big 10 Conference was one of the first leagues to say, “you know what? We care more about our students as human beings than we do about them as commodities. As such, we do not feel it is safe to play sports this year.”

I applauded the Big 10 when they made that decision. Unfortunately, soon after they announced they weren’t going to play, the bullies started harassing them and calling them wimps and losers. Parents threatened to sue if their kids couldn’t play. It quickly went downhill from there.

Instead of standing their ground against the bullying that reached all the way to the oval office in Washington D.C., the Big 10 reversed course and decided that they would play football after all to get their slice of the pie.

The bully in chief did a victory lap and claimed responsibility for bringing football back to the huddled masses of the Big 10 by shaming the schools into playing. I suppose people demanding the return of Big 10 football were afraid that they might actually have to talk to their families on Saturdays if there wasn’t any football to watch.

Don’t get me wrong, as I have said many times, I love watching college football and would like nothing more than to watch games in packed stadiums from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed each Saturday in the fall.

But this is not a normal fall, and pretending that it is a huge slap in the face to the friends and families of the 200,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19. It is also a slap in the face to the people who are still battling symptoms of the disease months after being deemed “cured.”

I love watching college football and would like nothing more than to watch games in packed stadiums from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed each Saturday in the fall. However, this is not the year for such things.
Photo R. Anderson

Finally, it is a slap in the face to the millions of front-line essential workers who are risking their lives every day to take care of the people with COVID-19, while also providing services like grocery pickup for people to help them avoid catching COVID-19.

Insisting on playing football in the middle of a pandemic is a lot like someone who insists on keeping a tee time at the golf course in the middle of a hurricane.

Much like our imaginary golfer who has to hit the links, the people determined to play football in the middle of a pandemic are hoping that they can stay in the eye of the storm where it is nice and calm while the rest of the world deals with the devastating wind and storm surge.

Hurricanes don’t work that way, and COVID-19 doesn’t work that way. In hurricanes and pandemics, things get worse before they get better and how much they impact people depends an awful lot on the steps they take before the storm hits. In short, neither disaster cares that you have a tee time.

College football is certainly not alone in the desire to bring live sports to the masses.

After insisting that teams be allowed to play in their own Ballparks for the regular season, I applauded Major League Baseball (MLB) for finally seeing the need to use bubbles for the postseason. With the expanded MLB playoffs taking place in four Ballparks in two states MLB finally is making wise decisions, even if they are coming a few months late.

Of course, football is not using bubbles, unless you are referring to a bubble screen pass to a tight end. Instead, football says, let some fans come and watch us play and we will entertain you like there isn’t a pandemic, five named storms in the Atlantic Ocean and wild fires raging uncontrolled in much of the west.

Speaking of those fires, the smoke and air quality in Seattle is so bad that the Mariners cannot even play in their home Ballpark and are being forced to have “home” series in other team’s Ballparks.

But go ahead and ignore the science related to how viruses are transmitted and how global warming is real. Saying a lie over and over again like “nobody could have reacted better,” and “it will cool down someday,” doesn’t make it real.

Yes, insanity definitely is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. You know what is not insane? Not playing sports in the middle of a pandemic and actually having a centralized plan for how to get a handle on the disease.

Instead of being so focused on the economy, elected officials should be doing everything in their power to end the disease by listening to the science and not the stock market.

What good is an economy if no one is alive to spend any money in it, or there are no workers left to do those essential jobs that keep the wheels of the country spinning.

There will be a time when sports can return. This is not that time.

Despite science and common sense telling them that playing sports during a pandemic is not wise, teams will continue to battle outbreaks as they hobble down the path to crown champions; because apparently that is what some leaders think the people want.

This is truly a let them eat cake moment, or in this case, a let them eat nachos as the world around them burns, floods, and gasps for air on ventilators.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to place my guess in the office pool for what team the University of Houston tries to schedule next to start their ill-advised season.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Pumpkin Spice Season has Arrived Bringing with it the Taste of Fall to Summer

For as long as I can recall, my favorite season has been Fall. While, thanks to daily heat advisories, it can be hard in this part of Texas to know when Fall arrives, after consulting a calendar I can confirm that Fall is just around the corner.

Why do I love Fall? Let me count the ways. First, there are the changing leaves. Second, fall brings the crisp smell in the air as one curls up with a hot cup of apple cider. Third, pumpkin spiced everything.

While some folks like things that are artisanal like pickles, I like things that are Autumnal like pumpkins.

Fall, or Autumn, as the fancy people call it, really is a tale of all seasons. By starting on September 22, and running to December 21, fall encompasses the summer like heat at the start, as well as the chill of winter at its climax. Of course, in Texas fall usually only has a few non summer like days during the march to winter.

Why do I love Fall? Let me count the ways. First, there are the changing leaves. Second, fall brings the crisp smell in the air as one curls up with a hot cup of apple cider. Third, pumpkin spiced everything. While some folks like things that are artisanal like pickles, I like things that are Autumnal.
Photo R. Anderson

As much as I love fall, having lived in mostly fall free climates for the majority of my life, I have often been forced to only see the leaves change color either on television, or on the rare trip to a fall filled environment.

And while I can still enjoy a warm cup of cider, it is hard to get in that festive fall mood when one is wearing shorts and battling the heat while sipping that cider.

While I am limited in my ability to fully embrace all that fall has to offer in terms of leaves and cider, I am able to embrace the seasonal tradition of pumpkin spice season.

Each year, like Linus in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, I count down the days until I can enjoy pumpkin spice pancakes, pumpkin spice cupcakes, pumpkin pie Blizzards, and pumpkin spice lattes, or PSLs. In fact, the only time I drink lattes is during PSL season. That is how much I love the pumpkin spice season.

Either because seasons are currently all a blur, or because marketing knows no boundaries, most of the pumpkin spice items arrived on September 1 this year. For those keeping track that means the tastes of fall debuted in the summer. At this rate, the tastes of the winter holidays will arrive by October 1 and summer time flavors will roll into town in February.

Can you say 4th of February Barbecue?

Each year, like Linus in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, I count down the days until I can enjoy Pumpkin spiced pancakes, pumpkin spiced cupcakes, and pumpkin spiced lattes, or PSLs. In fact, the only time I drink lattes is during PSL season. That is how much I love the pumpkin spice season.
Photo R. Anderson

Sadly, pumpkin spice season only lasts a few months of the year. As a result of the shortened season, each year I try to extend the smells of the season by stocking up on pumpkin spice scented air fresheners.

Sadly, I have yet to find the sweet balance of buying enough air fresheners in October to last me until they go on sale again when pumpkin spice season returns the following year.

I suppose that were pumpkin spice season to last all year, I might not appreciate it as much. By having a specific season each year, pumpkin spice season manages to come and go without over staying its welcome.

This year, as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the arrival of pumpkin spice season provides a brief reminder of what normal life entails. It also should serve as a reminder that if everyone does their part it can be that way again.

Sports have tried to return this year to give people a sense of normalcy, however, there is nothing normal about the way they are being played.

The NHL and the NBA are playing playoff games in bubbles, and the NFL is set to kick off their version of a season in the midst of a pandemic next week. College Football will also try to fill some Saturdays with gridiron action.

When fall rolls around each year, I am usually one of the first people to declare when asked, that “yes, I am ready for some football.” However, this year I really would have preferred that football stay on the sidelines instead of trying to cobble together a season.

When done right, sports can provide a temporary escape from daily life. However,  when down incorrectly, the escape can ring hollow.

Major League Baseball games look and sound like they have in the past, if one keeps their eyes closed. However, once you open your eyes and see that the fans are just cardboard cutouts, and the sounds are being piped in through the speakers, you become aware of the man behind the curtain. As a result, the great and powerful Oz seems just a little less magical.

In a pinch, I can always just sprinkle pumpkin spice flavoring on anything to get me through those pumpkin spice free dog days of summer and spring.
Photo R. Anderson

When baseball first returned this year, I caught a few games and tried to suspend reality and see the games for the pandemic distracting entertainment they were trying to provide.

But, after a few weeks of that, I realized that distraction was the last thing we need since it makes it too easy to buy into the myth that COVID-19 isn’t real, or that it is real and is totally under control.

Baseball is a sport full of statistics. Each year it seems like someone finds a new stat to track that no one had thought of before. Launch angles and exit velocity are now as much a part of the nomenclature of the game of baseball as balls and strikes.

With so many numbers to keep track of, it can be easy to lose track of the numbers that matter. The nearly 200,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 over the past nine months or so are a statistic that each and every one of us should be ashamed of. It should also motivate us to do our part to make sure that number does not continue to rise.

To put COVID-19 into baseball terms consider the following. A baseball manager would not leave a pitcher in the game who was giving up home run after home run and say, “well, it is what it is, and Bob’s really got control of his fastball today.”  On the contrary, that manager would see that Bob’s control was not where it needed to be and would bring in a new pitcher to try to salvage a win.

America’s response to COVID-19 is a lot like Bob’s pitches. You know kind of all over the place, and hitting the Bull mascot, as well as anything else in the unfortunate path of one of his fast balls.

Instead of taking steps to correct the issue, our manager in chief is saying that a magical breakthrough will arrive just before the last out in the ninth inning and planning a World Series style parade, when there really is nothing to celebrate.

That would be like a baseball team sizing Championship rings for their players without ever taking the field. Sure, there is a chance that the other 29 teams could forfeit an entire season and allow the team that never took the field to be crowned champion.

I mean anything absurd that would never seem plausible in any other year can certainly happen in this wacky year called 2020. But, counting on winning a championship because the rest of the league forfeited is about as far-fetched as saying things like COVID-19 will just disappear.

Like the arrival of baseball before it, pumpkin spice season’s arrival is trying to allow us to act like we normally do in the fall. There is a temptation to just act like there is nothing to see and just sip that sweet pumpkin spice latte. But that would be the wrong approach to take.

Like the arrival of baseball before it, pumpkin spice season’s arrival is trying to allow us to act like we normally do in the fall. There is a temptation to just act like there is nothing to see and just sip that sweet pumpkin spiced latte like there is nothing to see here. But that would be the wrong approach to take.
Photo R. Anderson

I will still get my PSLs, and eat my pumpkin spice flavored foods just like I have in years past. But this year as I am partaking of the flavors of the season, I will be more aware of the essential workers behind the scenes who create all of those pumpkin flavored masterpieces.

Good Old Charlie Brown’s best friend Linus fell asleep in the pumpkin patch waiting for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. We can not afford to fall asleep in the battle against COVID-19; unless we want to continue to have empty ballparks and restrictions on our movements.

It really is that simple. A little inconvenience now, like wearing a mask, and social distancing, will allow life to return to normal sooner than just ignoring the science and hoping that COVID-19 gets bored and decides to go away on its own. That is something we can all raise a pumpkin spiced latte to.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some flavors of fall to eat in the middle of a late summer heat wave.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

As Spring Turns to Summer and Summer Fades into Fall, COVID-19 is Still that Unwanted Pandemic that No One will Miss at All

In a year, where I have said things I never thought I would say before, I discovered yet another example of words that would never be uttered in any other year as 2020 rolls on like a Summer battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Before this year, if you had told me that I would say “that Vancouver Canucks playoff game was great last night” in September, I would have never believed you.  But here we are as hockey is being played during the summer along with baseball and basketball in a year of sports like no other in recent memory.

Stand up if you had summer Zamboni rides on your 2020 Bingo Card. Thanks to COVID-19 a winter sport is now a summer sport as the NHL seeks to crown a Stanley Cup Champion from inside the bubble.
Photo R. Anderson

The reason for the shuffling of the sports calendar, and the introduction of sports bubbles, is the COVID-19 virus that is quickly approaching the 200,000-death mark in America.

Just let that sink in for a minute. Sometime before the end of September, over 200,000 Americans are likely to be dead as a result of COVID-19.

It didn’t need to be this way, but instead of looking back, it is time to look forward and figure out how to bring an end to this deadly disease.

Next week, Labor Day Weekend will provide another opportunity for people to either act responsibly, or to crowd the beaches like there is no pandemic.

While I used to look forward to extended holiday weekends, now each holiday brings the knowledge that cases are likely to spike two weeks after it as many people have given up trying to wrangle the virus that has a stranglehold on the country.

Despite that staggering death toll, there is still no unified plan coming out of Washington, D.C. on how to get a handle on the virus other than saying, “it is what it is.”

The other day as I was trying to wrap my mind around the latest wrinkles of 2020, it occurred to me that 2020 is like a mashup of Dixie Chicks songs.  Like many people, I had a musical experimental phase, and for reasons I do not understand to this day, my experimental phase took me to the world of country music.

As a result, I now have Forrest Gump like clarity, not about a life describing box of chocolates, but instead about life during a pandemic being like the songs of a country trio.

Of course, before going any further it should be said that the Dixie Chicks are now known as the Chicks. I guess if Prince had started with multiple words in his name, he could have shortened his name and saved us all the trouble of trying to figure out how to pronounce a symbol.

But while 2020 has offered a bit of everything, except for purple rain falling from the sky, for our example here let us focus on the Chicks. Also, there are still three months left for that purple rain to fall. After all, everything is possible in 2020.

In comparing 2020 to a Chicks song, we could do the easy route and say “Wide Open Spaces” perfectly describes the need for social distancing. I mean how can one not think that the lyric, “She needed wide open spaces, room to make her big mistakes, she needs new faces, she knows the highest stakes,” doesn’t perfectly address social distancing and face masks?

In comparing 2020 to a Chicks song, we could do the easy route and say “Wide Open Spaces” perfectly describes the need for social distancing. I mean how can one not think that the lyric, “She needed wide open spaces, room to make her big mistakes, she needs new faces, she knows the highest stakes,” doesn’t perfectly address social distancing and face masks?

There really is no higher stake right now than getting the virus under control so that people can roam free once more without fear of catching a virus rolling like a tumbleweed from coast to coast.

Of course, if “Wide Open Spaces” doesn’t do it, one could always point to the song “Long Time Gone” when recalling memories of life before the pandemic came to town. If we were to use that song our lyric of choice would be, “Oh, it’s been a long time gone. Long time, long time, long time gone.”

The 2020 rewrite would likely include the words, “Oh I ain’t sat inside a restaurant to eat since I don’t know when, and my hair hangs down to my shin.”

Of course, if “Wide Open Spaces” doesn’t do it, one could always point to the song “Long Time Gone” when recalling memories of life before the pandemic came to town. If we were to use that song our lyric of choice would be, “Oh, it’s been a long time gone. Long time, long time, long time gone.”

While it really does seem like pre-pandemic life is a long time gone, those days will return. So, no that isn’t the lyric that best sums up 2020.

For friends and families of the nearly 200,000 Americans who have died as a result of COVID-19 the song “Tonight the Heartache’s on Me” could sum up their feelings as they deal with the loss of loved ones.

The lyric that would address that situation from the Chicks catalog would be “Tonight, the heartache’s on me. Oh yes, tonight, the heartache’s on me.”

With so many people being impacted by COVID-19, the heartache is shared in nearly every household as more and more Americans become impacted by the relentlessness of COVID-19.

While that would have been a perfect lyric to also sum up the feelings parents have of sending their children back to school in the middle of a pandemic, those weren’t the lyrics that first came to mind either.

I could have also used the 2020 Chicks song “March, March” when describing 2020, with lyrics like, “Watchin’ our youth have to solve our problems. I’ll follow them, so who’s comin’ with me?” and “Lies are truth, and truth is fiction. Everybody’s talkin’, who’s gonna listen?”

While those lyrics perfectly describe the current climate of protests and misinformation surrounding issues of social justice and COVID-19, those also were not the Chicks lyrics that first made me think of 2020 being like one of their songs.

To be fair, all of the lyrics mentioned above prove the point of 2020 being like a mashup of Chicks songs. However, it was verse four of “Goodbye Earl” that convinced me that 2020 is like a Chicks song when I woke up on September 1.

For those unfamiliar with the song, and the fourth verse, it goes as such, “Well the weeks went by and spring turned to summer and summer faded into fall.”

If “Well the weeks went by and spring turned to summer and summer faded into fall,” from “Goodbye Earl” does not describe the blur of 2020, then I don’t know what does. The pandemic arrived in the winter, bloomed in spring, and now as summer prepares to make way for fall, it is still with us with little signs of slowing down.

If that does not describe the blur of 2020, then I don’t know what does. The pandemic arrived in the winter, bloomed in spring, and now as summer prepares to make way for fall, it is still with us with little signs of slowing down.

At this rate, perhaps we can pack a lunch and throw COVID-19 in the trunk by early next year when a vaccine becomes available.

Taking responsibility and social distancing from sea to shining sea to starve COVID-19 of energy certainly isn’t working thanks to stubborn pockets of ignorance and virus deniers.

As an aside, as a lifelong fan of Dennis Franz, his portrayal of Earl, in the star-studded video truly is some of his best work. The music video for “Earl had to Die” won both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association Video of the Year Awards in 2000. Additionally, the video was ranked sixth on CMT’s 2004 ranking of the 100 Greatest Music Videos.

Franz may have earned a Golden Globe Award, three Screen Actors Guild Awards and four Primetime Emmy Awards for his work as detective Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue, but he really shone as Earl.

Although the seasons are rolling together like the lyrics of a song, there is one more Chicks song to help set the mood for 2020. I am referring to the song, “Some Days You Gotta Dance.”

Yes, COVID-19 is stressful, frustrating and deadly. People have turned the response into a messy tribal warfare complete with paint balls and finger pointing. To that I say, as the Chicks sang, “Some days you gotta dance. Live it up when you get the chance. Because when the world doesn’t make no sense. And you’re feeling just a little too tense. Gotta loosen up those chains and dance.”

In a year unlike any other, we can now add me saying, “2020 is like a bunch of Chicks songs” to things I never thought I would say, or let alone write about. But there you have it, a lyrical landslide that rolls 2020 up like a tarpaulin. Now we just need to trust the scientists to take it from there so we can all say goodbye to Mr. Heartbreak known as COVID-19.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to find a roadside stand that sells Tennessee ham and strawberry jam.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Hurricane Week Revisited Part 3: After the Storm

Editor’s Note: Back in 2013, I ran a three-part series on what to do when a hurricane was approaching. Seven years later, with two named storms actively churning it seemed like a good time to look back, while also looking ahead, with the three phases of the storm. The three phases are before a storm arrives, the event horizon of storm arrival, and the aftermath following a storm’s departure. While this information is mostly geared to residents of coastal states in the path of storms, we encourage all of our readers to learn about the three phases of the storm. Today let us turn our attention to what to do before the storm arrives.

Although it may seem to some that the worst is over once a hurricane makes landfall and moves away or rains itself out, that is not always the case.

In a best-case scenario, one is left with some well-watered grass and a few tree limbs down. In a worst-case scenario however, one can be left with no power and in some case no home.

And as is the case with hurricanes and tornadoes alike, sometimes the line between the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario is visible from each side.

Finding your boat after a hurricane is a good thing. Finding your boat on dry land however can be a bad thing.
Photo R. Anderson

There seems to be no rhyme or reason for why certain homes are flattened and others a few feet away in some cases are spared.

That is just the unpredictability of weather and shows why everyone needs to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.  Solely hoping for the best with no preparation could leave one far from high and dry.

As mentioned before, Hurricane Ike was the closest I ever came to realizing the worst-case scenario of a direct hit from a major hurricane.

Thankfully, once the storm had passed and I returned home, I found no damage and also had power and air conditioning.

A few towns up the road however my parents were not as lucky. While their home was completely structurally sound, it had a forest of fallen tree limbs in the front and no power inside.

The power was out for about a week at my parents’ house.  Despite my invitations for them to come where there was power, they soldiered on in a nomadic tent fashion along with their neighbors until the lights were once again restored.

Tree limbs are a common casualty of hurricanes and can leave quite a mess when they fall.
Photo R. Anderson

In case you are ever faced with a similar situation, let us focus on some tips for what to do in a post hurricane world with no power.

The first step for restoring order after a storm is securing the property. This could include removing tree limbs or simply mending fences or placing tarps over holes in the roof. As storms can arrive one after the other it is crucial that one is as prepared as possible to avoid further damage from additional rain.  Calls to insurance adjusters will of course also need to be made during this phase.

The next phase of storm recovery, is to ensure that one has enough water and food to maintain proper hydration and caloric intake to accomplish and recover from the post storm cleanup.

Following Hurricane Ike, there were several areas set up where residents could pick up cases of water and Military grade Meals Ready-to-Eat (MRE).

When faced with no power after a storm a supply of MRE rations can come in handy.
Photo R. Anderson

Each day I would drive up from my comfortably air-conditioned residence and drive a few towns over to visit my parents in their self-imposed tent city. Upon arrival I would check the progress of the cleanup efforts and then take my mom to the park down the road where the ice, water and food was being handed out by relief workers.

It really was quite the operation to drive thru, pop open your trunk and have supplies loaded and then be sent on your way.  While I do not wish a storm to come and put anyone in that position it was nice to see how calm the recovery can be.

Once back at my parents’ house it was usually time to crack open some MREs in the backyard tent.   Of course, the first few days of meals consisted of neighbors grilling meat from their freezers as each level slowly defrosted. But once the meat was gone it was time for the MREs.

Now for anyone unfamiliar with a MRE, it is set up to allow troops out in the field to have a hot meal despite being far away from their base. This is accomplished through a chemical reaction that heats up the food to near boiling point without the need for open flame or anything not included in the MRE bag.

Of course, as a word of warning for anyone on a sodium restricted diet, MREs contain about 200 percent of the recommended sodium intake. These meals are purposely sodium heavy to replenish the salt lost by troops marching throughout the day.

So as a rule, if one is not doing massive amounts of physical exertion then a diet heavy in MREs would probably not be advised. It should also be noted that the chemical reaction that takes place in an MRE is banned on commercial airliners due to the potential explosive risk.

But during a post hurricane time of moving tree limbs, MREs can be and very much are a lifesaver and one tries to not think of the fact that they are basically cooking with explosives; albeit low grade ones.

Beer companies also pitch in and send relief water after a storm.
Photo R. Anderson

Regarding the post storm cleanup, it should be noted that there are out of state contractors who will enter an area hit by a storm and offer to help areas recover. While most of these outfits are well intended, caution is certainly advised when dealing with out of state workers who do not have a brick and mortar office to bring any complaints to.

A good rule of thumb being if the price seems too good to be true, the bulk of it is required to be paid before any work is done, and the base of operations is the Motel 6, odds are it is not as good of a deal as it sounds like at first look.

Hurricane season is here and while the bulk of people will only have to deal with the before the storm phase, if at all, there will be a select few who experience all three phases of the storm this season.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a hankering for some MRE’s for some odd reason. I wonder how long they stay good for?

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson