Category Archives: Fun

Nice baseball story. You should read it…

There's nothing like having some room to stretch out at the ballpark...

There’s nothing like having some room to stretch out at the ballpark…

Hey, I read a sports story this morning! Don’t know why. I couldn’t tell from the headline what I was going to find, but it implied something delightful, so I plunged in.

Here’s the story, and here’s an excerpt:

At Nationals Park, an embarrassing fiasco and an absolute joy

Two events were held at Nationals Park Thursday night. The first was a rain delay that lacked much in the way of rain, and it was an abomination, a self-inflicted black eye and a disrespectful affront to thousands of fans.

That the Nats screwed up is obvious: Their decision-making was suspect (much of the delay was conducted without benefit of a tarp, a crucial clue that something was amiss); their communication was inadequate (fans weren’t told what was going on until 9:35, about five minutes before the tarp was removed); and their response to the misfire unsatisfactory. By the time the teams started playing ball — after a delay that lasted as long as a typical game — most of the crowd was gone, and justifiably so: Kids had bedtimes, Metro was closing and the information void offered no particular reason to remain….

It goes on like that for several paragraphs. More about management’s stupid handling of the situation, families who’d wasted three figures without seeing a pitch thrown, etc.

Then, you get to the good bit.

After almost everyone is gone, a tiny remnant of fans remaining — the unattached, the people with nowhere to go, and here and there families with kids who had neither school or work the next day — a few others hear that the game has yet to start, and they go to the ballpark. The writer of this piece changed out of his pajamas to go.

And they found… $5 tickets. No lines to go through metal detectors. Free hot dogs and ice cream — one kid the writer encountered on the way in was lining up for his third Rocket Pop.

And the management let them sit anywhere they wanted. Once they did, there was plenty of room to stretch out. You could hear individual cheers from the crowd. Everything was relaxed, intimate, friendly and easygoing.

The way baseball is supposed to be.

It made me think of when I lived in Florida from 1968-70. In the spring, we’d go see the Reds, the Cardinals and others there in the Tampa Bay area. It cost almost nothing to get in. Everything was laid-back. You could talk with the players, or at least get their autographs — Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Joe Torre, all those guys.

I didn’t get an autograph from Tim McCarver because I couldn’t get him to turn around when he was signing for some other kids, then he had to run out on the field. When he later turned out to be my wife’s first cousin, I gave him grief about it.

After that same game (I think), my brother and I went up to a guy in his street clothes outside the locker room and asked him to sign our programs. He said, “Aw, you don’t want mine,” he said. He signed them anyway. Then we looked at the name: “Steve Carlton.” He was right. We’d never heard of him. It was his rookie year.

Those were the day. And apparently, they had one of those days in Washington late last night.

To me, such casualness is the essence of baseball, properly appreciated. Remember that scene in “The Natural” during a practice, when Pop and Red are sitting in the dugout while the players on the field are shagging flies and tossing the ball around? They’re leaning back on the bench, playing a game of “Name that Tune,” no worries in the world…

Now that’s baseball…

Red and Pop in the dugout.

Red and Pop in the dugout.

What’s in a name: ‘Horse-Swapping Billy Smith’

My ancestor was sort of an Eastern version of a Pony Express rider.

My ancestor, I take it, was sort of an Eastern version of a Pony Express rider.

Made a lot of progress on the family tree over the weekend. I started on a trove of material on my son-in-law’s family that my daughter brought back from Tulsa over the holidays, and added more than 70 of his kin to the tree — thereby giving my twin granddaughters a nice start on knowing that side of their heritage.

I spent the rest of my time filling in recent gaps in my own side of the family. No delving back into the Middle Ages — no Strongbow or Ragnar or Charlemagne; I stuck to the realm of great and great-great grandparents. I even added a few people who are still alive (which I find are much harder to get basic information on than dead people — although Facebook has made it easier to find photos of them). Recently I’ve discovered that, since I now know a lot more about searching the Web for clues, I’m often able to quickly identify connections that eluded me in the past.

Also, I finally gave in and paid for a six-month membership to Ancestry.com, so I was pretty much drinking data from a firehose with regard to the last century or two. (I only signed up for the U.S. data, so I don’t get anything about ancestors before they crossed the Pond.)

Here’s my favorite discovery of the weekend: My great-great-great grandfather William Burns Smith, who was born in 1803 in North Carolina, and died in Marion County, SC, in 1897. He was my mother’s mother’s mother’s father’s father.

I had already known who he was, and he had already been on my tree. But over the weekend I discovered the fun part: He was known as “Horse-swapping Billy Smith.”

I love finding an ancestor with a catchy sobriquet, such as “Strongbow” or “Shaggy-Breeches.” This one came with a fun anecdote. Horse-Swapping Billy delivered the mail by horseback between Marion and Bennettsville (the town where I was born). The local postmaster was sufficiently impressed by the job he did that he bothered to record this story:

“There is another family of Smiths, below Marion, which I understand is in no way related to those hereinabove noticed – I refer to the late William B. Smith and his family. He, as it is said, came when young from North Carolina, and settled below Reedy Creek Baptist Church, on an apparently poor place; he was called “Horse-swapping Billy Smith” — he was a great horse trader, and in that respect his mantle has fallen upon his sons, Nat. P. and Henry…

William B. Smith, away back in the 50’s, carried the mail on horseback from Marion to Bennettsville, by way of Catfish, Reedy Creek, Harlleesville, Selkirk, Brownesville and Clio to Bennettsville, and back the same route, once a week — at which time the writer was postmaster at Reedy Creek; he went up one day and came back the next; sometimes one of his boys, James or Nat, would carry it.

The writer remembers on one occasion, the old gentleman went up; his horse sickened and died at Bennettsville, and the next day Mr. Smith came back, walking and carrying the mail bags on his shoulders, and went on to Marion that evening. I suppose he was then fifty years of age, and the distance traveled on his zig-zag route was at least sixty miles. One of the men of the present day, much younger than Mr. Smith, would not think of such a trip. Mr. Smith had much of the “get up” in him, and whatever he undertook to do, he did it, and if he failed it was no fault of his; he was accustomed to labor and hardship, hence it did not hurt him….

I love it! There was no keeping Horse-Swapping Billy down! He was just full of the “get up!” And it he failed at anything, don’t blame him, because you know he gave it 110 percent!

My frustration, though, is that the chronicler doesn’t bother to explain fully why he was known as “Horse-Swapping Billy.” In what way was he “a great horse-trader?” Did he have a side business in horse-trading, or was he into it as a hobby? Or was it a broader metaphor, as in he was a guy good at making deals, whether they literally had to do with horses or not? Or, like the Pony Express riders of about that time, did he swap horses at various points on his mail route? If so, he should have made a swap before he got to Bennettsville that one time.

It’s a small thing to give me such delight, but it’s stuff like this that keeps me going with this hobby…

When I discovered this, I called my uncle (who lives in Bennettsville) to share, but to my disappointment he already knew about Horse-Swapping Billy. But we got onto other family matters, and he told me that he’d always heard that the Browns way back on his mother’s side of the family were at some point connected to the Browns on his father’s side.

And… here’s the good part… ultimately they’re supposedly all related to the legendary “Cut-Face” Brown.

I spent an hour or so digging around, but didn’t arrive. I’ll look again when I have time. I’ve just got to find out how I’m related to a guy with a name like that

Belated Top Five List: Best Christmas toys ever

15726431_10208249181372897_2002329340568424216_n

Technically, this list is not late, as this is the ninth day of Christmas. In any case, I didn’t see the inspiration for it until today. Also, it’s a slow news day.

My fellow former Cosmic Ha-Ha Dave Moniz posted the above photo on Facebook last week, with this caption:

Patrick and Monica somehow found this vintage “electric baseball” set. What a lovely Christmas gift. Unlike its first cousin, “electric football’ this actually works without little plastic men running in hideous circles or clumping in immovable scrums.

My first thought was, I’d like to try that game out. My second was, I hated to see him run down electric football, which frankly, I liked better than real football. Any of y’all remember those? You’d put your little plastic players on the line of scrimmage, with one of them holding the little felt football, and hit the switch, and the whole stadium started vibrating like mad, causing the men — whose bases were perched up on thin, flexible blades of clear plastic, would start moving independently, one hoped toward the goal line. But really, they went wherever they wanted — which quite frequently was backward.

It was a pretty wild toy, both in concept and execution.

Actually, here I am describing it like something from the distant past, and apparently they still sell these things! Which was a surprise to me. But if you’ve never seen one of these in action, here’s video of a fancy modern version.

Bottom line, I loved my electric football game.

Which got me to thinking: What would be my Top Five Toys Ever, with an emphasis on those received from Santa. Here’s a hastily assembled list, which I may amend as we proceed:

  1. My BB gun — To be specific like the kid in the movie, my Daisy Model 1894 authentic saddle gun. This was probably the greatest surprise of my childhood, as my mother had always assured me I would never get one because — and she actually used this line — I would put my eye out. This was a beautiful rifle, the metal parts a nicely blued steel, with the stock rendered in plastic that at least looked like wood from a distance. The moment I found it under the tree was special: Santa had laid out my new sleeping bag that I was expecting, and the rifle was slipped inside it. This, of course, proved the existence of Santa, because I got it when we were living in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and I don’t think there was a store on the entire continent of South America where my parents could have bought this. I had a lot of fun with it, and never did put my eye out.
  2. Any Official Boy Scout gear — All through my Cub and Boy Scout years, nothing could top any gift that had an official Scout logo on it. These were items that a guy had to have to make his way in the world, to Be Prepared (I had never heard of the Zombie Apocalypse, but I instinctively sensed that every boy should be prepared for it), and the Scout emblem, to my mind at least, spoke unfailingly of quality. I received a bunch of stuff from this category over the years. Some items that stand out are my official Cub Scout pocketknife, and my official Boy Scout mess kit and canteen (which I think I got the same Christmas as the BB gun and sleeping bag, so I cleaned up that year).
  3. Tabletop hockey — As I worked on the list, I thought of something I liked better than electric football. That was the non-electric hockey game my brother and I had — this kind, which had the metal rods that you’d move in and out to move the players across the “ice,” and which you would spin to make them shoot the puck. We had some pretty furious, active games with this, which we would play for hours. I still remember with shame how petulant I got the first time my brother — who is six years younger — beat me at this. But mostly, it was fun.
  4. Cowboy six-shooters — This is a whole category because I had a lot of them in the ’50s and ’60s, but I’m going to zero in on one particular product. Do you remember the Mattel Shootin’ Shell system? The Shootin’ Shell was a three-part piece of ammunition. It had a brass shell with a spring inside, a gray plastic slug that you’d push into the shell until it clicked, and a little round paper cap that you’d stick on the back of the brass shell. When the gun’s hammer hit the back of the shell, the shock would cause the spring to eject the little gray slug out the barrel of the gun, and the cap would go off to provide a semi-realistic sound. Here’s video. Anyway, at one point Mattel released a mechanical adversary with which to have gunfights. He was this villainous-looking little mannequin who, when you pulled a string, would start to draw. If he fired before you, you were “dead.” If you managed to draw, fire and hit him with your Shootin’ Shell slug before his arm got to a certain point, his arm would stop. No, I am not making this up. I was able to shoot from the hip and stop him. And yes, boys of my generation were really into violent toys…
  5. The see-through submarine — This was another one that we got when we lived in Ecuador, which speaks to extra exertions by my parents — they no doubt arranged to get these things from the Base Exchange up in the Panama Canal Zone, via the monthly C-47 that brought nonperishable groceries down to U.S. personnel. Anyway, this was an impressive toy. I had forgotten the name of it, but Google has identified it as the Remco Barracuda Atomic Sub. It was about three feet long, and had a motor that moved it on discreet wheels along the floor (water would have destroyed it), while it automatically fired torpedoes out of the bow. The coolest part, though, was that it had a transparent top deck that you could remove, and move around the little blue plastic crewmen inside. For whatever reason, I seem to recall you could also rearrange the bulkheads — which made it more like a Napoleonic-era warship than an actual sub. A friend of mine, also a Navy brat, had a huge toy aircraft carrier made by the same company. It had a pretty powerful catapult for launching aircraft, but that’s not what we used it for. This kid also had a construction set for building skyscrapers. We’d build a skyscraper, and then launch leftover plastic girders at the building from about six feet away to knock it down. A lot of trouble, but eminently worth the effort.

Honorable mention: Hot Wheels. These came along a little late for me, but I had an awesome time playing with my brother’s Hot Wheels — and my sons’, and my grandson’s (every time I go into Walmart today, I have to fight against the temptation to buy him another — they’re only 94 cents apiece, and they’re awesome!). I had grown up on Matchbox cars and thought they were pretty cool, but Hot Wheels just blew them away. Matchbox would later ape the fast-wheel technology, but they were just playing catch-up from then on.

Yep… guns and war toys and fast cars. But I was an actual kid, not a hypothetical one, and that’s what I liked, and I was lucky enough to come up before these things were thoroughly frowned upon. So there.

Now… what are the vintage toys that make you wax nostalgic?

45e9d678c6e2ccbf4372a92fe9faea37

If you were to spoof a WSJ headline, it would look like this

There are two things I love, and they are opposites — those that delight by running counter to expectations and thereby undermining oversimple assumptions, and those that run SO true to stereotype that they reassure the harried mind that there is order in the world and it can be understood.

So I particularly enjoyed this, from The Wall Street Journal this morning:

If you were trying to lampoon the WSJ‘s editorial proclivities, you couldn’t have come up with a better headline. You take the Journal‘s disdain for anything that smack of socialism, and you add a touch of Grinch: Not only do those socialists dishonor the holy marketplace, but they want to take the kids’ toys, too!

It’s so perfect, it’s satire.

But here’s what really makes it special — the whipped cream and cherry on top: The Journal is right! The words accurately describe something that’s happening! None of it’s made up. The Venezuelan government is actually confiscating (some) toys before they can get to the kids.

So I enjoyed that — while at the same time feeling bad for the kids, and for their parents, trying to cope with 470 percent inflation. Which is way worse than not being able to find a certain brand of toy, which, let’s face it, is to some extent more of a First World Problem.

I could have done without the standard libertarian reference to “other people’s money” at the end, but that will probably delight Doug, so… something for everybody. Merry Christmas, Doug!

Man, I’ve got to get back down to the beach!

shark

A couple of post=hurricane stories from down on the coast are making me feel like I’m missing out, stuck here in the Midlands.

First, there’s this item from the Sun News about the million-year-old Megalodon shark’s tooth someone found north of Myrtle Beach. My whole family spends a good bit of their beach time with eyes down looking for sharks’-tooth fossils, and if any of us found anything like this, we could retire happy from the search.

Wow.

I also love the idea that ImagiNation Athletics of Myrtle Beach had of putting the awesome Jason Hurdich, the sign-language guy who got us through Hurricane Matthew, on a T shirt. It looks like Mr. Hurdich is giving us a double “shaka” sign — hence the interest taken by surfers — but The Island Packet reports that to signers, that means “now.”

I got a little bit of sun at the Fair yesterday, which was nice, but it looks like the place to be right now is the beach…

imagination-hurdich

ICYMI: C.J. Cregg returns to the briefing room

All of y’all probably saw this already, but I would have missed it if Kathryn Fenner had not brought it to my attention via Facebook over the weekend.

Of course, Facebook being Facebook, I had to go hunting elsewhere to find an embed code. (I couldn’t even find it at the White House, which is where Kathryn had gotten it — apparently, they only posted it on FB — unless I’m just looking in all the wrong places on the website.)

It was great to see her back in the saddle. And seeing her as press secretary instead of chief of staff takes us to those wonderful days when Leo was still alive. Sigh…

I was a bit disappointed in her when she ducked the one question she got from the actual reporters assembled: “Who is President Bartlet supporting in the Democratic primary?”

But she ducked it with typical C.J. aplomb…

CJ Cregg

Allison Janney fields an actual question from an actual reporter in the actual West Wing.