Sunday, April 30, 2006

Where have you gone, Hawkeye?

It was the one bright spot in an otherwise abysmal night.

Toss and turn. Can't sleep. Finally get up at 5 a.m. and turn on the TV.

And there, like an old friend, is Hawkeye Pierce and "M*A*S*H."

They don't make shows like this anymore. Most everything now is brainless. "M*A*S*H" was funny, yes. Silly, even, at times. But it was also literate, well-acted and, shock of all shocks, every now and then it made you think.

We seemed to have lost all of that.

And if "M*A*S*H" became too sentimental near the end, which it did, well, the show always had a heart.

Take this episode. "Bless You, Hawkeye." It's a classic.

Out of nowhere one day, Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) starts sneezing. Just can't stop. "Achoo! Achoo!" everywhere he goes. The other doctors at the 4077th think it may be an allergic reaction. They test him for everything. Nothing shows up.

Hawkeye breaks out into a rash. He gets worse. Convinces himself he's dying. Wise Colonel Potter (Harry Morgan) wonders if the problem might be in Hawk's head. So he calls army psychiatrist Sidney Freedman (Allan Arbus) to come to the rescue.

Sidney gets Hawk talking about his childhood. He remembers growing up in Crabapple Cove, Maine, a place where there's "a lobster in every pot and a Methodist in every garage."

He talks about his cousin Billy. Hawkeye loved Billy. Idolized him, in fact.

One day, on a nearby pond during a fishing trip when Hawkeye was seven, Billy pushes him out of a boat. He panics, swallows a bunch of water and sinks to the bottom. Billy finally pulls him up to safety. Hawk comes up smelling like a wet burlap sack.

"You're so clumsy," Billy says. "If it wasn't for me, you'd be dead."

Hawkeye breaks down, lost in the memory.

"I loved him," Hawkeye says through his tears. "Why did he do that?"

Turns out a patient brought into the 4077th for treatment a few days ago came in scared to death and smelling, yep, like a wet burlap sack. Odor, Sidney says, can be the most powerful memory trigger.

Hawkeye can't believe that even here, in the midst of the hell that was a MASH unit during the Korean War, it takes a repressed memory from childhood to bring him down.

"It's the little battlefields," Sidney says, "that can leave some of the worst scars."

Sometimes those you love most hurt you. Instead of helping you into the boat, they push you out.

But the worst thing you can do is hold it in. Maybe the best thing to do is to deal with it and move on.

Wow. Heady stuff for a TV sit-com. Five will get you 10 you won't find anything like this on "Friends."

Where have the likes of you gone, Hawkeye Pierce?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Sometimes you punt

Sometimes on rainy afternoons I think back to this story.

I can't remember who I heard telling this tale (I want to say it was John Majors), but it goes back to the golden age of college football, sometime in the 1950s, when quick kicks were still in fashion.

Tennessee's football team wasn't able to move the football at all on this particular Saturday afternoon. The team they were playing (it was either Georgia Tech or Texas A&M) was too tough. Best team in the country.

Finally, Coach Bowden Wyatt started calling for quick kicks. Punts on third down. (Can you imagine that today?) But it worked. The Vols played for field position and was able to hang on and win, I think by a field goal.

Last night, I was feeling worse than I have in a long time. This weekend was supposed to be a great one. And it turned out to be even better than I imagined. Just didn't happen quite like I thought.

Thursday night after work, I drove up to Union County to have dinner with Marvin and Sarah West. Marvin is the best sportswriter to ever grace the pages of a Knoxville newspaper. (Don't tell him I said this, but he's one of the best in the country, too.) Sarah is one of those human beings you feel grateful just to know.

Marvin and Sarah have the kind of relationship I hope I have one day. They finish each other's sentences. He leaves her little notes all over the house saying "I love you." He helps her fix dinner. They've been in love for 52 years and counting.

The evening held the promise of enjoying Sarah's cooking, tales from Marvin about his 42 years with the E.W. Scripps Company, and watching the Devil Rays/Yankees game on Marvin's satellite.

But before we could even sit down to dinner, I was in the floor, writhing in pain. I thought I was dying at first. Turns out, it's just a kidney stone.

Marvin and Sarah drove me home. Strike one on my plans.

Yesterday, I spent the day doped up on painkillers. Wanted to go to the doctor, but he was out for the day. So they prescribed me medicine, told me to drink plenty of liquids and just pass the thing.

This means missing out on a trip to Atlanta to see the Eastern Division showdown between the Mets and Braves. And it meant missing work, something I don't enjoy when you love your job like I do. Strike two.

My friends called to check on me yesterday (bless you John, Allison, Dean and Linds). Brian Hornback, of "Brian's Blog" fame, also called last night, as did Charles Davenport and John Hitt. I feel pretty blessed.

Then the pain got worse. I can't tell you how bad this feels if you've never had one. My mom says her kidney stones hurt more than natural childbirth if that tells you anything.

I let it all get to me. Felt helpless, which I do not like feeling. Wanted somebody to be here.

You toss and turn. Can't get comfortable enough to go to sleep. Start feeling worthless.

Dread getting up in the morning cause, kidney stone or no, you still gotta meet your deadline. You wish you could just get up, feel fine, and go on to work tomorrow. You don't want anybody having to cover for you. The perfectionist in you doesn't like not being able to deliver.

You also want to go on to the Braves game on Sunday and enjoy your weekend. And get depressed because you know you can't.

You feel worthless. You want to talk. You hate to admit it, but you just want somebody to hold your hand. Nobody's there.

I remember the Majors story. "Just punt the ball."

So I do. Oh, wait, a friend from Ohio is online. She tells you to hang in there. Makes you feel better.

Finally, about 3 a.m. I drift off to sleep.

I sleep late. Don't feel too good. Finally wake up at 11. Stumble in front of the computer to do my work.

Darned if here isn't an e-mail that makes your day so much, you can't stop smiling.

The pain goes away long enough for you to file your story. It may not win a Pulitzer, but you're proud of it. It's all about dreaming dreams, positive influences and smiling. You send in the story just before the pain comes back. See, there, you made it after all.

The phone rings. It's a friend. They call just to cheer you up. Get you laughing. You feel like a million bucks. Then another friend calls. And another. And still another.

Yeah, you're not feeling well at all this afternoon, but once you pass the stone, it will all be over. You take your medicine, remember the guy down the street who died recently from cancer, and thank God for your kidney stone and, yes, for the pain. Cause it could be much, much worse.

You remember the song your friend played for you yesterday afternoon and you smile. You flip on the TV. Hey, the Tigers are beating the Minnesota Twins, 11-0. Life is good.

It's amazing what happens when you just let go. Your dreams may not come true today. Things may just not pan out like you'd hoped. But chances are they'll be better than you ever imagined tomorrow.

It all comes together, even if things looked bleak a minute before. Next time you get the ball, you might score the winning field goal.

But sometimes, in order to get there, you just gotta punt.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Jake's on sick leave


I'm going to take a few days off from the blog. I'm home sick, trying to recover from a kidney stone I haven't yet been able to pass.

Say a prayer for me if you're so inclined. Thankfully, these things aren't life threatening, but they sure do hurt like hell. Y'all have a good weekend.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

'The Sentinel' worth a look

Sometimes you just need to spend two hours with a good thriller. Which is exactly what “The Sentinel,” the fine new film from director Clark Johnson, is – even if the plot couldn’t happen in a million years.

Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) is a true American hero. A veteran Secret Service agent, he’s a legend in the department because he took a bullet for President Ronald Reagan back in ’81. Taking a bullet for the prez is to the Service what throwing a perfect game is for major league pitchers – instant immortality.

But when Secret Service agents are assassinated and Pete fails a polygraph test, past accomplishments are thrown out the window. Pete’s the main suspect in a plot to kill the president (David Rasche).

Turns out he’s also having an affair with the First Lady (Kim Basinger). And he might have had an affair with fellow Secret Service agent David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland)’s wife, too. Oh, by the way, David’s the guy who is investigating Pete’s case. And if all these distractions aren’t enough, Pete also has to set out on his own to prove his innocence.

You get the idea. But if the plot is farfetched – which it is – “The Sentinel” makes up for it by being a well-told, well-crafted piece of filmmaking. We don’t mind being manipulated if it’s done so in an attractive way.

Douglas seems to be limited to playing the same kind of role – a professional type who makes a mistake, suffers the consequences, then has to escape from a bad situation. But he does it well and he’s clearly in his element in this film.

Keifer Sutherland turns in an excellent performance as the duty-bound Breckinridge. He may be the most underrated actor in Hollywood right now, a fact that fans of the TV show “24” already know. And if Eva Longoria (who plays Secret Service rookie Jill Marin) isn’t the best actress in Hollywood, well, this performance is a step toward leaving “Desperate Housewives” behind for greener pastures if she so chooses.

Hollywood, like most everything else, seems to take one particular genre and beat it to death. The current trend seems to be toward mindless, needlessly gory horror pictures. If you’re not into that and just want an enjoyable if somewhat implausible action flick, skip “Silent Hill” in favor of “The Sentinel.”

At least with the latter you get character development and a back story. They both seem to be disappearing faster than the winter chill.

"The Sentinel" is rated PG-13.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ripples in the water

Prop your feet back a minute and listen to this story. Chances are you'll be able to relate.

I went to the lake a few weeks ago. While there, I sat out near the water for a few minutes, soaking up the sun and thinking about life. I picked up a rock and threw it, watching the ripples the stone created float off into the water.

Ripples in the water from one little stone.

Go with me back to a place few want to go, to that dreaded time known as middle school. A skinny, insecure little boy with glasses isn't too certain what the future holds. He's kind of shy. Doesn't talk that much. Keeps to himself as much as he can.

The teacher likes him. Plays trivia with him. Talks baseball and music. Sees a spark and encourages it.

The time comes to assign papers. The teacher lets the student do a paper on Richard Nixon and Watergate.

The student is inspired. He starts reading more and more American history. Watches a documentary on Watergate. Develops a hobby.

That spring, just before the end of the year, the school holds a talent contest. One of the student's peers hears him singing during a study period. She encourages him to sign up for the talent show.

"Nah," he says. "I can't get up in front of people and sing."

She grabs him by the arm and takes him to the teacher in charge of the show. Sign ups are over. But, the teacher says, let me see what you have in mind.

So he sings a song. The teacher loves it. "You're in," she says.

The student beams.

Next day is the talent show. The kid gets up there, prepared for the worst. The ovation is so loud, they have to stop the talent show. They bring the kid out for one more curtain call.

He can't believe it.

The kid starts believing in himself. Finds he likes to talk to people. Gains confidence.

He gets to high school and starts speaking out in class. He loves history and English. Learns how to write.

His passion for history leads to some great friendships -- including one with the guy who became his best friend. That best friend, by the way, is now a high school history teacher. He's one of the most popular teachers at his school. The best friend married his high school sweetheart, who is also a teacher. They are making a happy life for themselves here in Halls.

The kid kept singing, too. Some friends encourage him and join in. They put together their own show and raise money for scholarships.

In high school, he finally starts to fill out and got contact lenses. Girls take notice. Some start flirting, including the girl who became his first love. His confidence builds.

Another teacher notices his passion for history. He challenges him, busts his butt when he slacks off, encourages him to think for himself. His English teachers tell him to keep writing.

He goes on to school, majors in history and minors in English. His college teachers tell him he's the best student they've ever had. His family encourages him to keep writing. The local newspaper publisher lets him do a movie review here and there, finally lets him do a music/entertainment column once a week.

He graduates from college. Isn't sure what to do with his life. He remembers the community newspaper publisher. E-mails her about a job in Nashville.

"Sounds good," she says. "But would you like to come to work for me?"

So he does. And finds his life's calling. He leaves for awhile, but comes back. He's happier than he's ever been in his life.

He keeps singing for awhile, finally gives it up when things get too busy. Just sings in the shower now and here and there. One night his best friend asks him to go with a group of friends to a karaoke joint.

He doesn't want to. He's recovering from the depression that almost took his life. But he's happier now, the medicine is working, and he's back at the job he loves.

"Why not," he thinks. So he goes.

They want him to sing. He falls back on the familiar, sings "Suspicious Minds." Folks pat him on the back. In the process, he meets a new friend, a musical soul mate, who reminds him what life is all about.

He is reminded that good music and good friends can go a long way. He gets better. He gets back to the business of living life.

Today he's living his dream. He's got a great family, a great job, the best friends in the world, and a song in his heart. He found out all those history books he read and all those papers he wrote in school prepared him for his job. And those contacts he made when he was singing? Yep, that helped, too.

He's still waiting to find that special woman to share his life. But he knows that, too, will happen one day.

Last summer, the middle school teacher who gave him the assignment about Nixon years ago called him about a story he was working on about a high school buddy who was killed in Vietnam.

The teacher talked about how the tragedy behind the friend's death made him want to help others. So he became a teacher.

And the student he had inspired was now writing a story about it. He would have never been a teacher without his friend's death. And the student wouldn't have gone on to realize his dreams if he weren't a teacher. It had all come full circle.

Ripples in the water. All from one tiny little stone.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The richest guy in town

Those who know me best say everything always comes back to "Magnum, p.i." with me. I might argue for baseball and bluegrass, but today, those who know me are right.

I was reminded this morning of something Magnum says during one of his voiceovers:

"The only things you have to prove your worth are the friends you leave behind."

You think about the things that matter most in life and it has absolutely nothing to do with money, cars, fortune or fame.

Nope, it has to do with that friend who has been there for you for 14 years, through thick and thin, always ready to lift you up or just make you laugh. It's the guy you've known even longer than that who honored and humbled you by naming his firstborn son after you.

It's the kindness behind a wrapped up piece of cake you are given when you walk out the door. It's the hug you get, a brief gesture that says "We love you," that is worth more than $1 million in gold.

It's the message left on your answering machine telling you to smile. It's the friend who drove an hour out of the way just to be with you when you needed it. It's the text message that says "Had a good time last night."

It's never having to worry that they'll ever forsake you or hurt you. It's knowing they'll come be with you, no questions asked, if you need them.

It's in raising you up instead of bringing you down. It's the outstretched hand. It's the friend who comes to watch the baseball game with you, even though you know they'd rather be doing something else.

It's a smile, a pat on the back, an e-mail that wants nothing but to say hello. It's the phone call that asks nothing but whether you are having a good day.

Lovers, it has been said, stand facing one another, gazing into each other's eyes. But friends stand side by side, always looking ahead together.

I may not have very much in this world. I'm certainly not rich, don't drive a fancy car, don't have people asking for my autograph or taking my picture when I step outside. By worldly standards, I guess I don't have that much at all.

But I've got the greatest thing of all -- I have friends. And that, folks, is why I'm the richest guy in town.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

You can't please everyone, so you gotta please yourself...

This iPod thing is going to put me in the poorhouse.

I can download music to my heart's content. Any song that's in print. Boom. Just like that. No going to the CD shop, no waiting on All it takes is 99-cents a song.

Got a good one this morning. Rick Nelson's 1972 comeback song, "Garden Party." What a classic.

Nelson, you may remember, was the teenage idol from "Ozzie and Harriet." Turned out he had some musical talent. He enjoyed a string of pop hits in the late 1950s, including "Hello Mary Lou," "Traveling Man," and "Lonesome Town."

When "Ozzie and Harriet" was finally canceled in the mid-1960s and with pop music changing rapidly, Nelson disappeared from the charts.

He roared back in the early 70s with a song inspired from a real-life experience at Madison Square Garden. Nelson showed up at a concert there sporting long hair, sideburns and the fashions of the day. He had converted his sound from late 50s pop to a then-modern country/rock style.

The crowd hated it. When he finished singing a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women," he was hit with a loud chorus of boos. The famous folks in attendance snubbed him after the show.

So a depressed Nelson went home and wrote what became "Garden Party," a tune he took all the way to No. 1. Buried amid the story is a pretty sound piece of advice.

My whole life, people have been trying to tell me why I can't do the things I do. "You can't go out there dressed like Elvis, people will laugh at you." "You can't take her to see that movie, she won't like to see it." "You're not going to wear that hat, are you?" "You're really not going to work at the Shopper, are you?"

Hell, yes, I am.

See, at the end of the day, you just gotta be who you are. If you aren't comfortable in your own skin, nobody else is going to like you, either. As somebody once said, I'd rather you not like me for who I am as like me for who I'm not.

And as Ricky Nelson found out at a long ago garden party, "You can't please everyone/So you got to please yourself."

La da da, la dum da da da...

Friday, April 21, 2006

On and On

While playing around with iTunes this morning, I heard an oldie but a goodie --- Stephen Bishop's "On and On." You may not recognize this song by the lyrics, but I guarantee you you'd know it if you heard it.

I'm now 99 cents poorer, but I needed to hear "On and On" on a rainy Friday. What I always liked about this song is that even though the lyrics seems pretty sad, this song NEVER FAILS to put me in a good mood. I love the "Keep on smiling" sentiment behind this tune.

If you don't know "On and On," download it. You'll see what I mean.

It's also used in the soundtrack to a John Candy movie --- can't remember which one, either "Who's Harry Crumb?" or "Summer Rental."

I love the line about using a ladder to steal the stars and putting on Sinatra...been there a time or two.

Have a good weekend, y'all.

Down in Jamaica
They got lots of pretty women
Steal your money
Then they break your heart
Lonesome Sue, she's in love with ol' Sam
Take him from the fire into the frying pan

On and on
She just keeps on trying
And she smiles when she feels like crying
On and on, on and on, on and on

Poor ol' Jimmy
Sits alone in the moonlight
Saw his woman kiss another man
So he takes a ladder
Steals the stars from the sky
Puts on Sinatra and starts to cry

On and on
He just keeps on trying
And he smiles when he feels like crying
On and on, on and on, on and on

When the first time is the last time
It can make you feel so bad
But if you know it, show it
Hold on tight
Don't let her say goodnight

Got the sun on my shoulders
And my toes in the sand
My woman's left me for some other man
Aw, but I don't care
I'll just dream and stay tan
Toss up my heart to see where it lands

On and on
I just keep on trying
And I smile when I feel like dying
On and on, on and on, on and on

On and on, on and on, on and on
On and on, on and on, on and on

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Out of place, out of time

I was born too late.

Or so I've been told and I think it's true. Driving to work this morning, I heard a classic, the Platters' "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."

Every time I hear that song, I think back to the movie "American Graffiti." And it makes me wish for a few minutes that it's the late 1950s, I'm driving a '59 Ford Thunderbird, am decked out in a ducktail and sporting Elvis sideburns.

After grabbing a burger and Cherry Coke at Mel's Drive In, I take the T-bird over to pick up my girlfriend, who has to have two names (like Mary Beth) and look like Kate Bosworth did in "Beyond the Sea." She's gotta be back by 10:30, so we go some place pretty on a spring night and hold each other for awhile. "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" is on the radi-o, daddy-o.

This myth of the 1950s as an idyllic shangri-la is just that --- a myth. I know that. And I'm thinking all this while listening to the Platters on my iPod and cruising into Halls in my SUV. So, yeah, life here in the 2000s isn't all bad.

But still I think about that line in the Jimmy Buffett song --- "Yes I am a pirate/200 years too late/The cannons don't thunder/There's nothing to plunder/I'm an over 40 victim of fate/Arriving too late... arriving too late."

Sometimes, even if it existed nowhere but in fiction, I'd like to go back to a time when rock-and-roll was new (and still good), Ike and Dick were in the White House, Marshal Dillon ruled over Dodge City on Saturday nights, and the cars were big and cool.

The stars are always out, she's always got on her poodle skirt, and the smoke is always in our eyes...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Looking for space

Sometimes all you need is a good song.

I finally broke down this week and bought an iPod. It's a bit expensive, but is pretty darn cool. While listening to the "random shuffle" at work today, up popped this little known John Denver classic.

I first heard "Looking For Space" in a 1987 episode of "Magnum, p.i." It haunted me then and as I've gotten older, this song could almost serve as an autobiography. I don't think I've ever heard a tune that "fits" any better than this one.

Cause sometimes you fly like an eagle. And sometimes you're deep in despair. If there's an answer, it's just that it's just that way, both on the road of life and when you're looking for space.

On the road of experience
I’m trying to find my own way
Sometimes I wish that I could fly away

When I think that I’m moving
Suddenly things stand still
I’m afraid ‘cause I think they always will

And I’m looking for space
And to find out who I am
And I’m looking to know and understand
It’s a sweet sweet dream
Sometimes I’m almost there
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
Sometimes I’m deep in despair

All alone in the universe
Sometimes that’s how it seems
I get lost in the sadness and the screams
Then I look in the center
Suddenly everything’s clear
I find myself in the sunshine and my dreams

And I’m looking for space
And to find out who I am
And I’m looking to know and understand
It’s a sweet sweet dream
Sometimes I’m almost there
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
Sometimes I’m deep in despair

On the road of experience
Join in the living day
If there’s an answer
It’s just that it’s just that way

When you’re looking for space
And to find out who you are
When you’re looking to try and reach the stars
It’s a sweet sweet sweet dream
Sometimes I’m almost there
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
Sometimes I’m deep in despair

Sometimes I fly like an eagle
Like an eagle, I go flying high...

Who cares!

So I awake this morning and stumble in front of the computer to read the daily news. Guess what the big story is?

Not Karl Rove shedding his role as Bush's brain trust. Not the fact that Scott McClellan is quitting as White House press chief.

Nope, the big news in America today is that Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise have a new baby. God knows I can rest easier now knowing the May-to-December couple are new parents.

Forgive the cynicism. On a human level, I'm glad the baby is OK. But, really, do we need to carry on like this is an A-1 story?

Cruise did me in with his rant on "Oprah" or wherever it was when he suddenly became an expert on mental health. Hate to tell ya, pal, just cause you make a few movies doesn't make you intelligent.

I will confess that I used to like Holmes. I liked her wholesome face, pretty eyes and winsome smile. Thought she was great in "Batman Begins."

But please. Marry a guy old enough to be your daddy if you want. Join a wacky religion. It's your business. But this ain't news.

Nope, I care more about the Halls couple who just had a new baby. I care about the senior down the street who is glad to have a place to play cards with his peers. I care about my family, my friends, this great community, the troops in Iraq and the folks down the street. I worry about law enforcement and tensions with Iran.

I wonder about the future and struggle to make sense of the past. I marvel at how blessed I am here in the present.

I try to treat people like I'd want to be treated and fail miserably every day. I worry about the single mom raising her kids. I sweat about the high price of gasoline.

But I just don't care much about Tom and Katie.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

And so it goes

I am a shameless romantic and I don't care who knows it. Here's the lyrics to another song from the "Will the Circle Be Unbroken Volume 2" album I hope you like.

This is from the pen of Paul Overstreet and the vocals of John Denver and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. My favorite part is in bold. Have a great day, y'all.

A mansion on a hill is a lovely sight to see
But like any other house, it’s only temporary
Home is anywhere you choose to put your heart;
If there’s no love inside, it’ll soon fall apart.

Ashes to ashes, dust into dust
Buildings will crumble, bridges will rust
Mountains will disappear, rivers will dry up
And so it goes with everything but love
And so it goes, with everything but love

You can drive around in a long limousine
If you don’t know where you’re going,
it don’t mean a thing
He who’d walk a mile,
just to hold an empty hand
Knows what it means,
to be a wealthy man

Ashes to ashes, dust into dust
Palaces will crumble, bridges will rust
Mountains will disappear, rivers will dry up
And so it goes with everything but love
And so it goes, with everything but love

Worldly treasures will all pass away
There’s just one thing
that’s put here to stay

Ashes to ashes, dust into dust
Kingdoms will crumble, bridges will rust
Mountains will disappear, rivers will dry up
And so it goes with everything but love
And so it goes, with everything but love

'Benchwarmers' cracks the bat and a few laughs

What if nerds finally struck back at all those bullies who make their lives hell? What if the stakes are a new baseball park? What if somebody made a movie about it?

Those are the unlikely questions answered by the new film "The Benchwarmers," and if this isn't exactly Oscar material, well, sometimes you just need a silly movie to unwind with at the end of the day.

Gus (Rob Schneider) is a 30-something regular guy who runs his own business and is trying to start a family with his wife Liz (Molly Sims). He's pals with all the nerds in the neighborhood -- paperboy Clark (Jon Heder) and video store clerk Richie (David Spade).

When Gus sees a young kid getting picked on at the playground, he rushes over to stop it. Turns out the local little league team won't let the nerds practice on their field. So Gus challenges them to a game. He and the nerds win. They get to play on the field.

Into the mix rides, in both KITT and the Batmobile, wealthy former nerd Mel (Jon Lovitz). His kid was the one Gus saved from the bully. Mel offers his millions to build a baseball park to be used by everybody if The Benchwarmers (the nickname of Gus's nerd squad) can beat every little league team in the tournament.

And so it goes. Like I said, this film isn't up for any Academy Awards.

But that's OK, cause you laugh out loud a few times and there are some surprises. Turns out Schneider is a likeable straight man when he's not being forced to play the moron. Spade and Lovitz turn in amusing if forgettable performances.

The plot is terribly cliched and features virtually every potty joke you can think of, but it was a nice diversion for an hour and a half. The film never aspires to be anything else but what it is. And that, at least, is something.

I saw this movie after work yesterday. The theater was filled with several pre-teens and early teens home from school for the in-service. They shifted around in their seats, laughed at all the silly parts, whispered to each other and were generally obnoxious teenagers. Some things never change.

So, no, "The Benchwarmers" isn't going to challenge for Best Picture. It may not even be worth seeing as a matinee. But it was fun, it re-enforced some positive values and, heck, it's about baseball.

Not a bad way to blow a couple of hours between appointments.

"The Benchwarmers" is rated PG-13 for mild language and crass humor.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A new look and a great sight

Hope y'all like the redesigned blog.

I'm experimenting with a more modern, easier-to-read look. I've also included one of my favorite songs on the main page, the music video of Kenny Rogers' "The Greatest." Drop me a line and let me know what you think of the new look.

Speaking of "The Greatest," which is all about a little boy and baseball, I saw a great sight during the Braves game Saturday night. A pitch went flying off into the stands. The camera showed the crowd go after it and then lingered a moment on a father and son.

The little boy was 5, maybe. He wore a brand new little Braves cap and had a fresh face and bright blue eyes. He looked up at his dad in wonder when the ball came near them. The dad smiled, held the kid in his arms, and the boy looked back out onto the field, eyes big as saucers.

If that could melt a cynical writer's heart, surely it will melt yours. What a moment.

It made me forget all about John Smoltz' four hit shutout gem and think a few minutes on the truly important things in life.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Turn of the Century

I'm going crazy about a CD I picked up this weekend -- the second volume of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," the second recording session, from 1988-89. Everybody's on here, from Johnny and June to the Johns (Denver and Prine) to Ricky Skaggs and Emmylou Harris, Michael Martin Murphey and Jimmy Martin. This is music to heal your soul by -- the kind they don't play on the radio anymore.

Here's the lyrics to my favorite song on the album, "Turn of the Century." I guess I'm in a contemplative, "better life ahead" mood this weekend. Too bad things didn't quite turn out like this. Happy Easter, y'all!

(J. Fred Knoblock and Dan Tyler)

There'll be flying boats, and condos with moats;
Cultivated oceans, floating cities in the sky.
Living underneath a bubble;
No more toil and trouble
Singin' 'bout that sweet ole by and by.

We'll all have lots of money
That we won't have to spend;
You'll be given everything
When everyone's your friend
Hanging out together
In picture perfect weather
This time 'round the party never ends.

Hallelujah, I can't wait to see it
Hallelujah, come on and go with me
Let me show you just how great life’s gonna be
At the turn,
The turn of the century.

We won't have no TV preachers
To ask how much we gave
We won't need no TV preachers,
See, by then, we'll all be saved
No more fighting for a country
No child will go hungry
We'll be smiling from the cradle to the grave.

Hallelujah, I can't wait to see it
Hallelujah, come on and go with me
Let me show you just how great life’s gonna be
At the turn,
The turn of the century.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Hopes for heaven

I hope heaven is a lot like springtime in East Tennessee.

Endless blue skies, mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine. Just leave the pollen out, will ya, God?

The good Lord knows a lot better than me, of course, but here's some other things I hope are there:

Heaven is one endless baseball game. It's always a beautiful afternoon, the home team always comes from behind to win, Dale Murphy is always playing right field and Greg Maddux is always on the mound.

The hot dogs are always fresh and the Coca-Cola always comes from a fountain. The girl you love more than anyone else in this world is always sitting beside you.

Your sister and her husband show up just as Maddux strikes out the side in the top of the first. After while, your mom and dad will come along and stay a few innings. Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren are always doing the broadcasts. Skip still hates to explain the infield fly rule.

By the top of the third, your four best friends show up to sit with you for a few innings. There are no mindless promotions, no loud rock music, no obnoxious guy in front of you trying to start a wave. Nope, it's just baseball with those you love.

The game will start back up, just like this, tomorrow afternoon. But after the big win in the bottom of the ninth, you head on home to a steak dinner topped by (Please, God, "Yep, she made it") your favorite dessert.

After dinner, you take in an episode of "Gunsmoke" or "Magnum, p.i." while she watches the latest reality show on the other TV. As twilight falls, you sit with your sweetheart on the back porch swing, watching the sun set and listening to Seldom Scene on the radio.

At night you pull her close and take her into your arms, neither of you ever to leave the other's side. There are no problems, no ambiguity, no worries and no broken hearts.

The first pitch is always at 1:05 p.m., the sun's always shining and she is always mine. And everybody you love is right there with you, just in time to watch the Braves win it in the ninth.

Hey, God, I'll love whatever Paradise you have in store for us. But I don't need a mansion, streets of gold, a harp or a crown.

Just give me baseball, mom and dad, Mamaw and Papaw, Jenna and Rance, Skip and Pete, my best good friends and the one I love.

If that ain't heaven, I don't know what is.

Friday, April 14, 2006

What a life

In case I haven't told you lately, I've got the greatest job in the world.

I stumbled into my home office around 8 a.m. this morning. Having already written two major stories, my assignment today was to compose a story about the new concession stand at Halls Community Park.

I went out there last night. Of course, they made me sample both a hot dog and a hamburger. Pretty good stuff. I think I may head out there on weeknights for a burger and a dog on my way home to watch the Braves.

You gotta love Halls. Park directors and just plain folks are banding together to make the new concession stand a success. The improvements to the park look great. Guess the government can do something right every now and then.

After finishing that story, I edited a couple of sports stories, saving Marvin West's column for last. Marvin writes like Sandy Koufax used to pitch. Lean, mean and perfect. Not one wasted word.

I had already written a story about one of my favorite Halls families, the Humphreys. Cody earned All-America honors at the NCAA Division II national wrestling championships last month. His sisters, Stephanie and Ellisha, were standouts first at Halls, then at UT, on the softball diamond. Their mother, Vickie, works at my alma mater, Brickey Elementary. We're proud of all of them.

Writing can get lonely sometimes. You can talk to as many people as you want. But at the end of the day, you just gotta sit yourself in front of your computer and go to it.

But it's cool. I can't imagine doing anything or being anywhere else. As much as I dream about being Pete Hamill, wandering around Manhattan in search of the latest nugget, that's just not for me.

The secret to Hamill's success is he writes what he knows. As do all scribes worth their salt. Hamill has New York. Faulkner had Mississippi. West is best at Tennessee sports.

Guess that leaves me with Halls. Which is fine. I'll take life here in the 'burbs any day.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Jordan crosses over to 19

Jordan Newgent is a pretty good fella, even if he is my cousin.

He's one of those kids you hope you have one day -- big, friendly, is rarely without a smile and picks a mean guitar.

Jordan's taking classes at Pellissippi. He works at Three Ridges golf course on days off. He thinks he might want to be a youth minister one day.

Even as a baby, he'd always greet you with a smile. If he's ever had a bad day, you wouldn't know it.

Jordan plays music with his buddies on the weekend, when he's not heading up to Carson-Newman to see his high school pals. The rest of the time, he's over at Beaver Dam church, helping out and having fun.

It's hard to believe, but Jordan turned 19 today. I remember the day they brought him home from the hospital. He was a whopper -- more than 9 pounds. He smiled most of the time, but when he got hungry, he let out a big squall.

We used to swim together and watch old episodes of "Batman." Now we swap bluegrass CDs and trade movies. Some nights when the family gets together, I'll sing while he picks the guitar.

Happy birthday, Jord-o. You turned out to be a pretty cool kid.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Back to reality

KODAK, Tenn., April 11 -- All good things, the cliche says, must come to an end.

Thus it was at Smokies Park last night. My annual spring baseball extravaganza (three games in three days!) ended with a yawn, a 3-1 loss here on opening night in front of just a few thousand fans. The announced crowd was 3,051. Actual butts in seats was something closer to 2,500.

Speaking of seats, we had great ones, Row 2 in Section 110, literally right behind home plate. Don't know why everybody stayed away tonight. It could have been the school night timing of the opener. But the weather was beautiful -- 70 degrees when the first pitch left Smokies starter Adam Bass' hands at 7:32 p.m.

The game was what baseball people call "a good ol' good one." The score was close the whole way, with the Smokies poised to take the lead on several occasions. But when you strand seven men in scoring position, it's going to come back to haunt you. And the Smokies lived dangerously all night.

One of the great, heartbreaking moments of the game happened in the eighth. With the bases loaded and one out, Smokies left fielder Alex Frazier struck out. Then first baseman Jesus Cota grounded harmlessly to second.

Just like that, it all went up in smoke.

By 10:18, the game was over and reality was setting back in. Time to go home. Gotta go to work tomorrow. Get back to real life.

It's just as well. I'm beginning to like this lifestyle too much. Don't want to wake up and be 40, fat, and alone, with nothing but baseball and ballpark food to keep me warm.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A perfect ending to a perfect day

I'm headed up I-75 North today, working my way back to Knox Vegas from my annual spring baseball weekend in Georgia. My column on the Atlanta Braves home opener will appear in Monday's Shopper-News, so here all I will say is that last night's game was the perfect ending to a perfect, wonderful, "Please, God, don't let it end," day.

Macon (Ga.) columnist Michael Lough captured the moment perfectly in his column today. Click on the link at the top of this post, or visit

Good stuff, indeed.

"There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family and baseball. The only problem -- once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit." -- Al Gallagher.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Diamond of dreams

ROME, Ga., April 9 – They play baseball in what used to be a cornfield here in northwest Georgia. Nope, Shoeless Joe Jackson didn’t come walking out of left field this afternoon. But this is as close as it gets to a field of dreams.

Single A is the bottom rung of the tough-to-climb ladder that is minor league baseball. Most of these guys will never wear a major league uniform. Oh, some might have a cup of coffee for a few minutes. But only a few, if any, will make it to the Show.

State Mutual Stadium is a beautiful diamond. Fans flock here in the spring and summer to root on the Rome Braves. There isn’t a lot else to do except eat and go to the Wal-Mart.

One Rome native says boys used to play ball here in the cornfield, long before an organized team ever showed up to build a park. He says children used to wade into a stream near here and go swimming.

He and his wife have been married for 53 years. They met just before he went into the service to fight in Korea. They don’t know all that much about baseball, but they catch a few games a year.

He finally got help from the VA hospital in Atlanta. She’s worried about prescription drugs. But they make it.

The Braves have a shortstop with a decent arm and a great name – Elvis Andrus. Each time Elvis comes up to bat, the public address announcer blares Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love.” The fans love it and cheer.

Elvis is being touted as a minor leaguer to watch. He’s only 17. Today he’ll go 1 for 4 with a walk. But he turns a couple of tough plays to first.

Rome starter Beau Jones struggles early, walking two in the first and giving up two runs in the first and third. But he settles in and the Braves rock Kannapolis starter Ryan Rote in a six-run fourth inning. Rome wins 8-2.

The crowd is down for an endlessly blue spring Sunday afternoon. The official attendance is 2,794, but the closer number was something like 2,000. It matters not.

There is something almost religious about baseball in springtime. The earth is new again. The sky is blue and the grass is green. The season is full of possibilities. Wishes do come true, each team can win a championship and everyone has a chance to make it to the bigs.

It all begins right here, in an old cornfield, on this diamond of dreams.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Get this album now!

Let's cut to the chase. Country music sucks.

Long gone are the halcyon days of Merle, Conway and George. Not much good singing. Rarely any cool pickin.' Nope, now it's homogeneous lyrics performed by cookie cutter supermodels without any talent.

Thank God for bluegrass. Some of the finest American music of the last 20 years has surfaced under the auspices of Kentucky's great export to the rest of the world. Alison Krauss and "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" has also helped the genre cross over into the mainstream and make a well-deserved comeback.

Another Missouri native has been tearing up the bluegrass charts these last few years -- sometimes lost in Krauss' shadow. But Rhonda Vincent's talent is such that she can more than hold her own with Union Station's most famous member.

Vincent has been named female vocalist of the year four straight times by the International Bluegrass Music Association. She's been nominated for a Grammy award. And she has released the best album I've heard in 20 years.

2005's "Ragin' Live" captures a live recording at the Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis. This is one of those albums that stays with you long after the CD player reaches the final track. It blindsides you from the moment Vincent hits the first note on "Kentucky Borderline" and takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions -- high, low, upside down and back again.

The set includes everything from the Ernest Tubb classic "Drivin' Nails in My Coffin," to the Flatt and Scruggs Gospel favorite "So Happy I'll Be," to a stunning version of Dolly Parton's "Jolene." In Vincent's hands, the singer is pleading, almost begging the auburn haired vixen Jolene to leave her man alone.

Vincent and her band, the Rage, create tight harmonies throughout. She shines brightest as a vocalist, but is equally adept at plucking the mandolin, dropping licks here and there like new fallen snow in winter.

Her urban approach to bluegrass is best evident on the mid-tempo ballad "I've Forgotten You," a tear-jerker in which the singer has done everything but forget a lost love. The heartache is palpable on lines like "I've forgotten you/How you held me and you felt like it was what you were born to do." Ouch.

You think that one's bad? Immediately following "I've Forgotten You" is the hauntingly beautiful "Ghost of a Chance," in which a man is haunted by the great love of his life, the woman who slipped through his hands right about the time she stole his heart. "His future is linked to the past," she sings, "by the ghost of a chance."

Excuse me while I pick my broken heart up off the floor.

This song may have replaced "He Stopped Loving Her Today" as my all-time favorite sad song. It's that good.

If you buy only one CD this year, "Ragin' Live" should be it. Don't wait. Go straight to the store now. Don't stop for red lights. Don't worry about the speed limit.

Just get this album. Get it as fast as you can.

"Ragin' Live" is available on compact disc from Rounder Records.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Hammerin' Hank's home run

Nope, I wasn't around to see it. But those who did say they will never forget it.

At 9:07 p.m. thirty-two years ago today in Atlanta, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing threw what he hoped would be a low-and-outside pitch toward the plate. But the pitch sailed toward the strike zone.

The waiting batter, Atlanta's Henry Aaron, connected. The ball sailed just over the fence into the Braves bullpen, where reliever Tom House caught the ball and began running like mad toward home plate.

Henry Aaron rounded the bases and walked into history.

Aaron was a ballplayer's ballplayer. He never led the league in single-season home runs. Never puffed out his chest. Never drew too much attention to himself.

Nope, he was just consistent. Year in and year out, he'd hit 35, 40, 42 home runs a season. By the end of the 1973 season, Aaron was on the verge of passing Babe Ruth's seemingly gargantuan mark of 714 home runs.

Not everybody was excited. The commissioner of baseball, Bowie Kuhn, was not in Atlanta that spring night. He said he didn't want to be a distraction. More seriously, "fans" across the country sent Aaron hate letters, many of them filled with racial epithets.

It must have cut to the very soul of this sensitive, decent, private person. But Aaron kept a stiff upper lip. He let his actions serve as his answer.

Even on what should have been the greatest night of his life, Aaron was self-effacive. "I just thank God it's all over," he said after he hit No. 715. He didn't even break into a smile until his mother grabbed him at home plate. Atlanta fans, who had finally found it prudent to show up at the park, cheered and cheered and cheered some more.

"Much has changed since 1974," author Tom Stanton wrote in his fine book on Aaron's home run, "Hank Aaron and the Home Run that Changed America. "Atlanta Stadium is gone... Chief Noc-A-Homa has retired, and the Braves have become a dominant franchise."

And Aaron's record finally, unbelievably, is close to being broken. But, even in this, the circumstances are so different from years ago.

San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds is but a few homers away from Ruth, 47 away from Aaron. Unlike either of these legends, Bonds has apparently had a little help to reach this plateau.

Unless you've been living in a cave, you know all about Bonds, steroids, and BALCO. I won't regurgitate all that here.

But every time ESPN cameras follow Bonds around, every time another article is written about his home run chase, every time he whines on TV that his life is ruined, I think back to the video footage of humble Hank Aaron trotting around the bases. I think about the weariness in his eyes. I think about all that crap he put up with. I think about his quiet, gentle spirit.

And I hope with all my being that Barry Bonds never, ever replaces Aaron's name in the record books.

("Hank Aaron and the Home Run that Changed America" by Tom Stanton is available from William Morrow. Retail price (hardcover) is $23.95.)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Twists and turns

It dawns on you slowly after you've taken in several games. Well, you notice it immediately, but the significance of it takes a little longer to digest.

There is no clock in baseball.

Football is marked by sudden, spasmic bursts of action. Basketball is a constant blur of movement. (I would make a comment about soccer, but why even bother?)

In the other two major American sports, you can hold the ball, at least for awhile. Run the ball up the middle. Pass the basketball around until the shot clock hits 10.

But not in baseball. Nope, you just have to go out there, face down your opponent, and win the damn thing.

Baseball's pace is called boring by the ignorant, leisurely by the kind. Perfect is a better word. There is time, as Roger Angell once wrote, to ponder inaction.

The batter steps out of the box to take a couple of swings. You gaze out at the left fielder, watch him move from side to side. You glance at the scoreboard, to make sure your scorebook matches the official count. You look at the pitcher, watch him grab the rosin bag and walk around the mound.

You have time to chat with your neighbor about the great catch Andruw Jones made the night before. You gaze up at the pink and red hue of twilight, marveling at the beauty of the setting sun. You glance in the bullpen, if you can see it, to see who might be warming up.

This is the action. This is the moment. This, and a million other reasons, is why baseball is the greatest game of them all.

And it feels a lot like real life. You could be on the verge of victory, only to suddenly, shockingly, be handed a defeat. Sometimes a freak turn of events swings the game in your direction. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it pours.

Take last night in Los Angeles. The Atlanta Braves spotted the Dodgers a 5-0 lead. Starting pitcher Horacio Ramirez was lit up early and often. The Dodgers were headed toward a rout.

All of a sudden, Odalis Perez lost his control. Just like that the score was tied. Then the Braves scored three runs to take an 8-5 lead. Tamahawk Chop time, right?


Relievers John Thomson and Mike Remlinger got into trouble. The Dodgers clipped away, the momentum ever-so-subtly shifting from Atlanta Red to Dodger Blue. The home crowd woke up. And the score was tied yet again after seven innings.

Then Ryan Langerhans hit a ground-rule double in the eighth to put the Braves back ahead. Closer Chris Reitsma restored order. Atlanta escaped with the game (and series) win.

There is a great old John Denver song, "Looking For Space," about life's twists and turns. "When I think that I'm moving, suddenly things stand still" the song says. "I'm afraid cause I think they always will."

Then a little bit later: "Then I look in the center and suddenly everything's clear. I find myself in the sunshine and my dreams."

And so it goes. Things start moving just about the time they stand still. Your dreams are lingering somewhere in limbo. And then, out of nowhere, everything falls into place.

Something to ponder on this journey called life. And during a chilly early spring ball game at Dodger Stadium.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

This and that

Here's some random thoughts and a prayer at mid-week:

Today at 1:23 p.m., we'll have the rare opportunity to say that the time and date is 1:23 4/5/06. I don't know why that's so cool, but it is.

Whoever said it never rains in Southern California is full of... well, you know. It looked like the Atlanta Braves needed Noah's Ark to navigate out to Chavez Ravine for their game against the Dodgers last night. The game started on time (and in time for John Smoltz to serve up four runs in the first), but was soon halted because of, what? Rain in Southern California!

Pete Van Wieren and Don Sutton said on the Turner South telecast last night that it rarely happens. There have only been something like 16 rainouts in the 40-something years the Dodgers have played in the City of Angels.

"Most of them have come in April," the normally sharp Van Wieren said.

What a shock. Guess it really is true what they say about April showers.

By the time play resumed, I was nodding off during pitches, so I gave up and headed for bed. The morning box score says that the Braves scored four, but couldn't overcome Smoltz' bad first inning.

Should have remembered the last line of that stupid song: "It never rains in California/But girl let me warn you/It pours/Man, it pours."

The state of Tennessee was hit with several tornadoes Sunday night during a series of intense electrical storms. Several are dead and Gov. Phil Bredesen has asked President Bush for help. Our thoughts and prayers are with our "cousins" in West Tennessee this week.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Just go to the house

This is an open letter to the 12 Knox County Commissioners who, by a state supreme court decision upholding a 1994 vote for term limits that never should have taken this long to enforce, are now term limited out of office: Head on home, folks. Turn out the lights, the party's over.

Let's call a spade a spade. You're gone. Done. There is no loophole. There is no confusion. Go home. Retire, like Cincinnatus, back to your farm and your plow. Thanks for the memories. It's been fun.

Panic spread through the City County Building faster than the Bubonic Plague last week following the court's decision to uphold term limits on county commissioners, which Knox County voters passed 12 years ago by an overwhelming majority. Chicken Little had nothing on those who ran around last week saying the sky was falling. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

Consider this history lesson for a few minutes:

In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt was arguably the most popular American on the planet. His first term had been, by nearly any measure, a success. He crushed the Democratic nominee for president, Alton Parker, that fall, winning 33 of 45 states.

"It is all colossal," an observer wrote at the time.

TR was at the peak of his power. And he feasibly had two more terms to go. After having assumed the presidency in 1901 following William McKinley's assassination, TR had not technically served a full term. There was, incidentally, not yet a Twenty-second Amendment. Eight more years was his for the asking.

But Roosevelt didn't deal in technicalities. Nope, this Bull Moose didn't mess around. He thought about George Washington's two-term example. And he took the high road.

"On the fourth of March next I shall have served three and a half years, and this three and a half years constitutes my first term," Roosevelt said on election night. "The wise custom which limits the President to two terms regards the substance and not the form. Under no circumstances will I be a candidate for or accept another nomination."

Nobody would have argued much if he had changed his mind in 1908. "Election night euphoria," they would have said. "Just Teddy being Teddy."

But he kept his word. He groomed William Howard Taft to be his progressive successor. Made plans to take a year-long safari to stay out of Taft's way. Did his job, sent the Great White Fleet on one glorious trip around the world, and went back to his home at Oyster Bay.

And though he loved the presidency more than any of his predecessors, TR gave it all up. He walked away -- voluntarily and on his own.

He was "happy at the large things he had managed to achieve," historian Edmund Morris wrote, "... contented with myriad smaller triumphs, proud of his appointees, passionate about his country... happy, above all, having kept his promise not to hold on too long to power."

Roosevelt was 51 in 1909. He was still full of vigor, not yet plagued by the illnesses that would eventually kill him. His popularity was at an all-time high. He had more to give. But TR kept his word and went home.

But, wait, you say, Roosevelt came back and ran again --- even started his own party! Yes, he did. But only after sitting out for four years and looking on in dismay while Taft and conservative Republicans destroyed his big stick progressivism.

Step up and be a hero. Do the right thing, say the will of the voters must be upheld and go on home.

It ain't the end of the world, guys. Some of you are bright. Many of you have good jobs to occupy your time.

If you still want to serve your community, just go do it. Pick up trash on Saturday mornings. Find a charity. Build Habitat for Humanity houses with Jimmy Carter. If you feel like you have more to give, come back in four years and let the voters decide.

But, for now, just go to the house.

Monday, April 03, 2006

New Year's in April

Today is the day the Lord hath made. Forget Jan. 1. Happy New Year!

And baseball fans everywhere rejoiced.

The season opener last night, the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians on the South Side, was delayed three hours by rain. It was just as well. An electrical storm here on Rocky Top knocked the power out for more than an hour. Just as the lights came back on, and the TV flickered back to life, the Sox grounds crew was pulling the tarp across the field.

Some timing, huh? No worries, though. They got the game in later.

The Atlanta Braves opened the year on the West Coast today. The Bravos survived a rainstorm and two come-from-behind surges by the Los Angeles Dodgers to win an ugly, error-filled slugfest, 11-10.

We've got 161 more to go, but the out-of-the-gate feeling is good. The Braves can score runs. Now let's just hope they can play defense. And develop a solid bullpen.

Hated to see former Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal sporting Dodger blue. My pal J.M. Ramsey says Furcal should have grabbed the ball, headed back to the Braves dugout and said, "Give me a uniform." Sigh.

Somewhere south of Chavez Ravine, the San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres are underway at Petco Park. Thanks to the magic of Directv, J.M. and I are there, too.

Barry Bonds, he with the juiced muscles, is getting booed every time he shows his face. Poor Bonds. He says his life is ruined. Why do I not feel sorry for him? I'm just glad I don't own BALCO stock.

The Yankees open the year in Oakland tonight. That great freak of human nature, 40-something Randy Johnson, will take the mound for the Bronx Bombers. Facing him is Bay Area stud (and Patrick Duffy's cousin) Barry Zito. With a little luck, they will treat us to a pitchers' duel.

Up in the heartland, Florida and UCLA will tip-off around 9:15 for the college basketball NCAA Championship. The Bruins are old-school basketball, the Gators are like family (even if they're the bum of a cousin you don't talk about much).

I'll flip over there during the commercials. Can't be distracted tonight.

Not on New Year's Day.