Thursday, July 12, 2012

Buccos and Superheros

How about those Buccos? I never got around to writing a season preview, but it probably would've been something like this:

Hitting: Hopefully Andrew McCutchen can continue his improvement and have a stronger 2nd half this year. I'm concerned about Neil Walker and hope he doesn't regress. I'm intrigued by Casey McGehee and his power he had in Milwaukee. Hopefully we'll get something out of Alvarez this year, closer to what he did back in 2010. Barajas and Barmes seem like decent pickups and should provide some veteran leadership.

Pitching: Will Charlie Morton continue his 2011 first half success? Will James McDonald get past the 5th inning in his starts? He's got the stuff. I'm interested to see if A.J. Burnett has anything left in the tank and will be a positive for this team. Since he got picked up for relatively little it's a low risk and anything the Pirates get out of him will be good. If Bedard stays healthy, will he contribute? Karstens stuff is unimpressive but he finds a way to pitch effectively (a crafty righty). Can it continue for a whole year.

Fast forward three and a half months and the Pirates' roller coaster season has them 11 games over .500 and in first place (1 game ahead of Cincinnati and 2.5 games ahead of St. Louis).

The success has translated to the ticket office, too. I went on a Monday at 1pm and this is the line I found to buy tickets. Awesome!

The offense was HISTORICALLY inept in April and May yet has been among the best in the entire majors in June and July. Go figure. To compensate, the pitching was off the charts in April and May and has held its own since.

Individually, there's not much you can't say about Andrew McCutcheon. Leading the team in nearly every offensive category and among the leaders in the majors. This has been an MVP type year. Neil Walker has come on and is hitting .291. Pedro Alvarez almost got sent to the minors and now has 16 HR and 50 RBI. Double those totals and that's a legit middle of the order power bat. They need more production out of their table setters (Presley, Tabata, Sutton?) and hopefully the callup of Starling Marte will help with that in the 2nd half. I can't wait to see his defense that I witnessed on several occasions in Altoona.

Pitching, you just hope their arms don't fall off. McDonald has the makings of an ace and now goes deep into games. Burnett had two bad starts all season so far. Karstens is just so efficent and hopefully he keeps it up. Will Bedard rebound? If not, give one of the AAA lefties in Indy (Locke, Owens, Wilson) a shot.

How about that bullpen? The Pirates are undefeated when leading after 8 innings. Hanrahan, Grilli, Lincoln, Hughes, and Watson have been amazing. Cruz and Resop have been up and down. If they falter, there's some good choices in Indy there as well.

Will there be a collapse this year? Hopefully the veteran leadership and experience of last year will help propel them to meaningful August and September (and October?) baseball.

Here's a few shots from our seats at PNC Park from when we went last Friday. One of the best views of a city skyline in the country. 

Naturally, in spite of having the best home record IN THE ENTIRE MAJOR LEAGUE, they managed to lose. Oh well. Just keep winning all the other games I guess.

Performances like that of Andrew McCutchen brings comparisons to superheros. Last summer, Beth and I were joking around how some local runners give phony names for races. Some pick celebrities (Theo Huxtable, Peyton Sawyer). Others make up a name, such as the "Northside Dragon." We presume this is because this runner lives on the North Side of Pittsburgh and perhaps went to Allderdice, whose mascot is the Dragons. So, while brainstorming, we thought what name would be appropriate for someone living in a town with the name Heights as part of it? Also, someone who enjoys racing up hills? Well, our conclusion became "The Heights Hilltopper." Kind of catchy, eh?

Of course, you can't have a superhero without a picture. So, with an evening of no baseball, here's what I came up with tonight.

Hopefully those black and gold superheros keep it up for the 2nd half. Let's Go, Bucs!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

4th of July 5k and the Summer-Fall Schedule

Independence day was great. It's always great to pause and think about the many freedoms we have because so many before us sacrificed. It's for those sacrifices that I can run races, write blogs, and go to church.

Before getting too deep, on to the race. Last year, I managed to break the tape at this race (while all the big boys were down at the Brentwood race). This year, I made it my goal to execute a plan and shoot for a time. If it happened to correspond with being in the hunt to win it, so be it.

The course: It starts at the Hampton Community Park by the pool, crosses the street and takes a lap around the high school before going up a BIG hill past the football stadium, take a lap around the middle school, back down the hill, back around the high school and then 0.2 back to the finish. The elevation is kind of a doosie! I clicked it off on and it is a 116 ft elevation increase in 0.28 miles

My plan was going to be similar to last years - go out conservatively and let the others set the pace. Stay close to the front and then attack on the hill. It worked out, my first mile was right around last year's (5:27 vs 5:25) and there were about 6 or 7 runners ahead of me. On the hill, I made my move and steamed up past all but the first two and was able to be just a meter or two behind them. We looped around the Middle School and started back down the hill and I could feel them pulling away. I split a 5:50 for mile 2 (5:45 last year) and just tried to let gravity take me down the hill.

I spotted Beth as I approached the high school loop and she said 2nd was 10 seconds ahead of me (1st had pulled away). However, all I could think about was if there was anyone coming up on me so (unable to really get words out) pointed back over my shoulder and she assured me there wasn't anyone close. So, just have to lay it out there and see if I could close on 2nd. It wasn't to be and I ended up slowing down even a little more. 2nd place ended up besting me by 27 seconds but 4th was still 21 second behind me. My time ended up being 18:06

The glass-half-empty viewpoint would be that it was a half minute slower than last year and I didn't defend my title.

The glass-half-full viewpoint would be that I've been blessed to be fairly consistent in my racing (other than those pesky marathons) and this was my first 5k road race over 18:00 since May of 2010 (7 races). Also, it was hot and muggy. The temp at race time was already 80 and it was humid. We looked back on last year and it was in the low 60's. Big difference.

So, on to the next challenge. Here's the rest of the tentative summer schedule:

7/14 Knoch 5k (not doing because of ankle - read on)
7/22 Quench 5k (a friend's church is putting it on to raise money for a water system in Haiti)
8/4 St. Barnabas 5k (Enjoyed my first time racing it last year)
8/11 Brookline Breeze 5k (This will be new race for me)
9/30 The Great Race (Seeded spot!)
10/21......the Columbus Marathon (that's right, I'll be subjecting myself to another shot at that 2:59:59)

A funny thing happened along the way with the Columbus Marathon. Last Thursday night, I signed up for it. Friday morning, I was going to do an hour or so run down by the Ludlum Plant. However, while going down Morgan Street I apparently was completely oblivious to this (what I recall, at least) a softball-sized rock  in the middle of the road and stepped on it and rolled my ankle. It looked the same as when I rolled it playing basketball right before the Spring Thaw a few years back. I hobbled back the 2+ miles to the house thinking it may even be broke. Is this a sign to give up on marathons? Maybe?

So, my training is getting off to a bit of a slow start. I ran for 30 minutes today and it survived even though it was tender. So, I'm close to kicking off my marathon training. Just a minor delay.

I still need to get around to talking about those first-place buccos. One of these days! But, they're only at "Mile 13-14" range of their season and, as I know all too well, things can get derailed very easily once you get into the 20+ mile range.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pictures from June

Wow, where did June go? Let's see, there was Memorial Day weekend and the state track meet, the end of school, the 5k on the trail, and then.....all these pictures:

My dad and I took a road trip up to Altoona to see the curve play. Unfortunately, the mean-looking cloud below and his friends made it rain just long enough so that they had to cancel the game. The bummer was that it had stopped raining but was around 8:15 and I think there is a league rule where you can't start a game after a certain time.

While waiting, they aired the Pirate game on the video board (got crushed by Baltimore). And, I saw some serious long-tossing.

The player from Trenton in this picture was throwing from the third-base foul-line (on the left) the entire way out to another player standing on the warning track out in right-center. I tried to capture that in the picture, but my "wide" wasn't wide enough. As we were walking out, we saw Tim Alderson of the curve beginning to do the same thing. Alderson credits going back to his long-tossing program as one of the reasons he was having a good year so far. Anyway, we'll have to make it back up to Altoona to see recently promoted top prospect Gerrit Cole pitch later this summer.

Beth likes watermelon. I think I've cut up three or four this month.

We are also involved with a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture?). Beth hasn't been able to join me for the pickup the first two times. The first time she asked what all the stuff was. I forgot, so the 2nd time I took a picture. Lots of greens so far but they tell us that if it's a good crop we'll be getting more tomotoes than we'll know what to do with.

I'm again doing the summer program called "Math in Sports" and thought I'd snap a few shots of some of the things we discuss:

 Various baseball statistics like batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, ERA, WHIP

How angles are used in running football routes

We also did an experiment to see which basketball shots were the most difficult and the least difficult. (If you look closely, you'll see that Mr. S needs to work on his foul shooting!)

On father's day, I ran the Obadiah Cole Man-Up Father's Day run along the North Shore. There was a 5k and 10k, but I chose to run the 5k.

The start was led out by a bunch of bikers

Of course, there's your standard little kids and old guys who like to get in the way when you're trying to get out fast. Nonetheless I was able to weave around them and get settled in to 10th-15th place by the time we got past PNC Park.

The mile markers were all off. My first "mile" was 4:59.94 on my watch. Don't think so. The second mile my watch split was 10:42 but 5:21 seems a little fast still. Mile 3 I think was on. It said 16:41 so 5:33-ish pace at that point with a finishing time of 17:19 for 5:35 pace. It was an out on the roads along the river and a back on the trail. No real hills, but I made my moves on the two "inclines" as I passed two guys on the first one and pulled up even with three others under the Fort Duquesne Bridge and managed to outkick two of them to end up 9th. Below is an action photo of the "kick" courtesy of Beth.

Perhaps most newsworthy of the race day was the furry convention that was wrapping up. I tried to get a good shot, but those critters sure are elusive!

Our little furry was shipped off to my parents' house. My dad came to pick her up and Roxy hopped right in the car and was ready to roll.

The lake at Coeur d'Alene was really pretty, especially set against a backdrop of foothills teaming with evergreens.

Beth did great and got 5th place PRO! I did a bunch of facebook posts & tweets during the race. So much that my phone died out.

After the awards ceremony, we went back to Spokane, Washington (where we flew in & out of) to spend the evening before flying out the next day. With our time, we went to the campus of Gonzaga University. Even though it was in a city of Spokane, it was set off and its own little campus along the Spokane river.

Beth and I scored some $12 hoodies from the discount rack!

For the rest of the evening, Beth and her mom appeased me for "my" part of the trip and we went to a minor league baseball game. It was the home of the Spokane Indians, who are a short season rookie ball team of the Texas Rangers. They were playing the Boise Hawks, who are affiliated with the Chicago Cubs. The equivalent in the Pirates' system is the State College Spikes. This league is mostly for college players just drafted and latin american and high school players who have already experienced the rookie league in Arizona (or the Gulf Coast League if they were the Pirates' affiliate).

Again, there was the scenic backdrop of more mountains covered with pines. This stadium had a few interesting features. There was a caboose (pictured) beyond right field where people could eat and watch the game. From the right field foul pole the stands jut out before going back in. Also, as can be seen from the picture below, they had a manual score and inning posted on the press box above home plate.

The most recognizable name in the game was Shawon Dunston, Jr., playing center field for the Boise Hawks. As most talented players do at that level, he tried to "showcase" his arm on a few occassions. One throw was very impressive, one was average, and a third he fell on his butt after releasing the ball. He also misplayed a fly ball over his head into a double (catcher running or would've been a triple) but, as you may be able to tell from the image, he was staring directly into the sun.

Without a doubt, though, our highlight from the game was our usher (they called them "section leaders") and a secondary mascot by the name of RecycleMan. If you were wondering, the primary mascots were Otto and Doris the Spokanosaurus(es)--not pictured.

Our section leader was very energetic and did a little dance every time Spokane scored a run. I'm kicking myself for not shooting a video instead of taking photos because this doesn't do it justice. The section leader jumped up and down and spun in circles. And, when RecycleMan happened to be in the area when a run scored, he ran down onto the field and starting dancing like a drum major. HI-larious!

When we returned, I went down to my parents' place to pick up the dog. While, there I helped my dad take out this tree stump at my grandparents' house. As you can see from the picture, this stump was pretty big relative to my dad's boot. We hacked away at it and dug around it for a few hours and it finally gave in.

Somewhere in there, I need to get out a cheesy pun to the effect of:

We came (to Nana & Pappap's house to remove the stump)
We saw (actually, it was all chopping and digging--no sawing)
We conquered (that stump was removed and tossed over the hill).
Monday begins summer cross country runs. While the official season starts in mid-August, it's the pounding of the pavement and putting in the miles in the summer that determines the success a team has is October and November.
Happy Canada Day to all the friends north of the border and Happy Fourth of July to all on Wednesday. On that day, I'm going to make a meager attempt to defend my title at the Hampton 4th of July 5k. We'll see how that goes.