Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Interview With Joe Toscano of The Donut Bag

One of my favorite podcasts to listen to lately is The Donut Bag by Joe Toscano. While I asked him to describe the podcast below, the short description from its Twitter page is that The Donut Bag is "A podcast about Pittsburgh sports & other stuff." I thought I would ask Joe about how he started the podcast, his relationship with Chris Carter (not that Chris Carter unless it's the Chris Carter you're thinking of), and more.

My first question is how did you decide to do a podcast, how did you get started, and did you have type of media experience or did you just grab a microphone and begin? (Yes, I guess this should be first questions.)

I decided to do a podcast because I had too much to say and being a loudmouth on Twitter wasn’t enough :)
In early 2018, a couple podcasts were nice enough to have me on and I had so much fun that I thought about doing one of my own. But I was so shy and had no idea how to even start something like that so nothing happened. I thought I needed a cohost so I asked a few friends if they wanted to do a podcast with me and they turned it down. That ended up being a huge blessing because it gave the freedom to do whatever I wanted :)
So in July 2018 I decided it was now or never. Steelers training camp was starting and I wanted to do a lot of Steelers coverage so I decided to start the podcast. I never had any media experience other than a little writing but I did have a technical background so that helped. I tried to register with Apple Podcasts but they need an episode to get registered. Then I discovered I needed a host so I signed up with podbean. I was able to get out that first episode, get registered on all of the podcast platforms and the rest is history :)

Did you have an idea when you started of what you wanted the podcast to be?

Yes, and it turned out to be nothing like that :) I listen to a lot of podcasts and one of my favorites is This Week In Tech. Each episode is 2 hours and features a host and 3 experts talking about tech. So I thought I’d do the same thing but with sports and pop culture. I did a couple episodes like that but it was hard finding ‘experts’ to commit to 2 hours so I had regular fans talking. Then I tried to live up to the ‘donut bag’ aspect by having 3 or 4 different segments on one episode. That didn’t work because people complained it was too long. So now I put out a number of episodes a week that are 30-60 minutes long and each episode focuses on one subject.

Going off this question, I’m impressed by how prolific you are in putting out multiple episodes each week. How do you decide on the theme of each episode?

Some of it is planned ahead of time and some of it just happens :) During football season, I have a structure of doing a show previewing the upcoming week’s game then a show reviewing the games. For baseball and hockey, I try to do an episode a week. But then things come up, like the Le’Veon Bell situation or the Antonio Brown trade where I feel the need to do an episode ASAP. The Antonio Brown trade was funny because I found out about it on 6am one Sunday morning and saw that frequent guest Mark Hagelauer was online and I messaged him that we should do a podcast now. He said ‘huh? Dude it’s 6am!’ But we did one anyway :)
And sometimes things just come up, like when it was the 30th anniversary of Seinfeld so I decided to do an episode about it!

While I’m a little late in discovering your podcast, my favorite reoccurring podcast guest is Chris Carter of DK Pittsburgh Sports because of his knowledge of the Steelers and the rapport between the two of you. I feel like I’m going to go into Chris Farley mode here interviewing Paul McCartney on SNL, but that was awesome.

Thanks! Chris is awesome and we always meet in person to record. I usually talk to people over the phone or Skype but talking to someone in person is a whole different dynamic.

Is there a dream guest that you would like to have?

There’s so many :) I want to talk to athletes, current and former. I want to do episodes with Pittsburgh media personalities but I’m too shy to ask them :)

What has surprised you about doing the podcast?

That anyone would want to talk to me :) But I’ve had so many guests on and it’s been so much fun meeting new people. Also, since I’m a one man operation, I had to do a better job of getting organized. I’d be sitting at home and someone would message me that they’re ready to record and I’d forget that we agreed weeks ago to talk :)

What should we expect to see (well, hear) in The Donut Bag future?

I don’t know! :) Maybe less episodes. Some weeks I put out 5 or 6 episodes a week and that’s a bit much :) Being a one man operation gives me the freedom to do what I want, and sometimes things just come up so we’ll see what happens :)

Do you have a favorite podcast episode?

I don't really have a favorite podcast episode - they're all like my children :)

Oh, what is the song that’s played at the end of each podcast?

It’s a song called ‘restaurant at the end of the universe’ by a band called Gumband. (This is the band's website.) They usually do rock covers (and are REALLY good!) but this was one of their originals.

Thanks to Joe for taking the time to answer my questions. He really likes smiley faces! :)

I highly recommend checking out his podcast, particularly if you're a Pittsburgh sports fan. Even if you're not, skip those episodes and listen to those about The Office, Seinfeld, and more. You can also follow Joe on Twitter.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Best Books For Every Age

The Washington Post recently put together a really cool feature where they highlighted the best books to read at every age, from 1 to 100. I thought it would be fun to share the list and see how many of these books I have read (in bold). I also included a few of my own thoughts here and there. Please leave your number and any thoughts about the books and list in the comments section below.

Age 1
“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle

Age 2
“Llama Llama Red Pajama” by Anna Dewdney

Age 3
“Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak

Age 4
“Charlie Parker Played Be Bop” by Chris Raschka

Age 5
“The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein

Age 6
“Ramona the Pest” by Beverly Cleary, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers

Age 7
“The Complete Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson

Age 8
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling

Age 9
“Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” by Judy Blume

Age 10
“Smile” by Raina Telgemeier

Age 11
“Ghost” by Jason Reynolds
Sean's note: I saw this movie with Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg. Not sure it it's appropriate for an 11 year old though.

Age 12
“Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor

Age 13
“I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai

Age 14
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky
Aaron Brame's favorite book!

Age 15
“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

Age 16
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë

Age 17
“Once Upon a River” by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Age 18
“A Gate at the Stairs” by Lorrie Moore

Age 19
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

Age 20
“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Díaz

Age 21
“The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway

Age 22
“Democracy in America” by Alexis de Tocqueville

Age 23
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

Age 24
“Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand

Age 25
“I Capture the Castle” by Dodie Smith

Age 26
“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Age 27
“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey

Age 28
“Sister Outsider” by Audre Lorde

Age 29
“In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan

Age 30
“The Joy of Sex” by Alex Comfort

Age 31
“Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child
Does seeing Julie and Julia count?

Age 32
“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck
Partial credit since I've read "Of Mice & Men.

Age 33
“Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story” by Paul Monette

Age 34
“Beloved” by Toni Morrison

Age 35
“How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Age 36
“Life Among the Savages” by Shirley Jackson

Age 37
“The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan

Age 38
“The Sportswriter” by Richard Ford

Age 39
“What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarty

Age 40
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Jean-Dominique Bauby

Age 41
“Rabbit, Run” by John Updike

Age 42
“The Woman Upstairs” by Claire Messud

Age 43
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston

Age 44
“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

Age 45
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple

Age 46
“Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward

Age 47
“Stretching” by Bob Anderson

Age 48
“Bossypants” by Tina Fey
It's nice to see another book that I've read on the list again! Unfortunately, this may be the last one.

Age 49
“Walden” by Henry David Thoreau

Age 50
“Fifty Shades of Grey” by EL James

I just felt like adding a picture at the half-way mark.

Age 51
“Who Do You Think You Are?” by Alice Munro

Age 52
“Men Without Women” by Haruki Murakami

Age 53
“A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman
Not to be confused with "A Man Called Ovi" about the Washington Capitals player.

Age 54
“The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker

Age 55
“Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout

Age 56
“When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chödrön

Age 57
“Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro

Age 58
“The Plague of Doves” by Louise Erdrich

Age 59
“Dynamic Aging” by Katy Bowman

Age 60
“The Five Years Before You Retire” by Emily Guy Birken
Seems like I should probably read this when I'm 70.

Age 61
“Fear of Dying” by Erica Jong

Age 62
“Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson

Age 63
“Our Souls at Night” by Kent Haruf

Age 64
“Old in Art School” by Nell Painter
With this last name, you sort of have to write a book about art.

Age 65
“65 Things to Do When You Retire” edited by Mark Evan Chimsky
Again, I'll need the book of 75 Things to Do When You Retire.

Age 66
The “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon

Age 67
“Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes
I think I've read this, but I'm not 100% sure.

Age 68
“The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion

Age 69
“I Remember Nothing” by Nora Ephron

Age 70
“Master Class: Living Longer, Stronger, and Happier” by Peter Spiers

Age 71
“Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie
He was fantastic in Bridget Jones's Diary.

Age 72
“Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel García Márquez

Age 73
“The Years of Lyndon Johnson” four volumes, by Robert Caro

Age 74
“Paris in the Present Tense” by Mark Helprin

Age 75
“The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss
The working title was You Can't Hurry Love.

Age 76
“Women Rowing North” by Mary Pipher

Age 77
“Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson

Age 78
“Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White

Age 79
“The Coming of Age” by Simone de Beauvoir

Age 80
“Coming Into Eighty: Poems” by May Sarton

Age 81
“Devotions” by Mary Oliver

Age 82
“The Summer of a Dormouse” by John Mortimer

Age 83
All the thrillers and mysteries
I think The Post mailed this one in. All the thrillers and mysteries? Here's the description from the story:

If you haven’t yet acquainted yourself with Easy Rawlins, Mrs. Pollifax, Maisie Dobbs, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Commissario Guido Brunetti, invite them over. They’re great company.

Age 84
“The Last Unknowns” Deep, Elegant, Profound Unanswered Questions About the Universe, the Mind, the Future of Civilization, and the Meaning of Life edited by John Brockman

Age 85
“Ravelstein” by Saul Bellow

Age 86
“Old Filth” by Jane Gardam

Age 87
“King Lear” by William Shakespeare

Age 88
“Nearing Ninety: And Other Comedies of Late Life” by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Laura Gibson

Age 89
“A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing 90” by Donald Hall

Age 90
“Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God” by Joe Coomer

Age 91
“Selected Poems: 1988-2013” by Seamus Heaney

Age 92
“Nothing to be Frightened Of” by Julian Barnes

Age 93
“Sapiens” by Yuval Harari

Age 94
“This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism” by Ashton Applewhite

Age 95
The Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante

Age 96
“Somewhere Towards the End” by Diana Athill

Age 97
“My Own Two Feet” by Beverly Cleary

Age 98
“Life Is So Good” by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman

Age 99
“Little Boy” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Age 100
“Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author” by Herman Wouk

I'm pretty good in the books before you reach the age of 10. After that...not so much. Overall, my total number is 11.5 since I can't remember whether or not I read Don Quixote.

Just for fun, take a look at the top 100 list of books Entertainment Weekly put out a few years ago and see how this list compares.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

My Fight With United States Soccer

I’ve been a certified soccer referee since 1990. That’s a long time! Back in high school, this was the perfect job. I made pretty good money, and I only worked weekends which allowed me to participate in school activities and (to my parents’ approval) not have to worry about balancing homework with a job during the week. I didn’t ref much during college though I always managed to work a big tournament when I got home for the summer. (Hi Edinboro University!) I took several years off after college, during graduate school (where I already had three jobs), and in my early professional career.

With my wife busy with work and graduate school, I had some extra time and decided to get back into being a soccer referee. I got recertified and got connected with an outstanding youth association in Northern Virginia, who truly supports their referees. I got paid to exercise! I’ve continued to work as a ref since then doing games for kids as young as 8 up to adult league games. I’ve had to cut back my time working as a ref significantly with three kids, particularly since I was an assistant coach for two teams this spring. Even in the rare instance when I planned on working some games last month, I had to cancel one set of games since my middle son had to go to the emergency room in what turned out to be two broken bones in his left arm. I felt awful for retuning the games only an hour before I was to be at the field, but my kid+emergency room took priority. It was the only time I ever had to cancel games and the referee assigner was extremely supportive. This is a really long introduction to my recent correspondence with the United States Soccer Federation ("USSF").

Here we go:

Dear USSF,

My name is Sean, and I've been a certified referee for approximately 25 years. I've enjoyed working as a referee since I was a teenager and now also coach my kids' teams. The reason that I'm writing is because referee fees go up every year, yet, it seems like referees get less and less for these fees. Specifically, we used to receive a paper copy of The Laws of the Game annually, and we haven't received a copy in years. While I understand that the Laws expanded greatly over the last few years, I still like having a handy reference at the field or after the game instead of trying to find something in a PDF format on my phone. Basically, I'm writing to see how I can get a free paper copy of The Laws. I find it completely unreasonable that our fees go up each year, and if we want a paper copy of The Laws, we need to pay for it.

Thank you,

The reply:

Hi Sean,

Unfortunately, we cannot distribute a free copy of the IFAB Laws of the Game. You can access them with the pdf attached or through the free app “Laws of the Game” in the app store.

I apologize for the inconvenience.

My turn:

Thank you for your quick response. I guess my question is why are you unable to distribute copies of the Laws to referees? It seems like this should be a part of the fees we pay for recertification each year.

I sent a second similar message to USSF 9 days later after not receiving a response. After the second message, I received this reply:

Hi Sean,

Although we appreciate your desire to always have a physical copy handy, it no longer makes sense to distribute over a 100,000 physical copies for free when it can just be accessed online.

We understand where you are coming from, but hope you can respect our rationale with this.

My turn again:

Dear U.S. Soccer Referee Program,

Thanks again for your response. While I understand that it's probably cost prohibitive to print a physical copy for all refs every year, it seems like it could be done once and then (like we do now) we get a printed few pages of only the changes from one year to the next. I guess my main question is this. If it doesn't make sense to print physical copies, why are referee fees going up each year? Where are our fees going? Is there somewhere online (or even a printed copy!) where referees can see the budget specifically for referees?

I sent a second message to USSF after not getting a response for a week, and it appears that I'm not going to get a response to this one.

Look, I know this is a somewhat trivial fight. It really isn’t that big a deal that the Laws of the Game are only available online. I’m just a little old-fashioned. I’d much rather read a physical book than to try to read one on my phone or tablet. I even have a blog and few people have blogs anymore! I just prefer having a physical copy of the Laws. I'm also not happy that fees go up each year, and we were just required to purchase new uniforms since (I believe) a new company now makes the shirts and USSF didn't want refs to wear the logo for the old company on the uniforms. All of this and I want BBQ Fritos back! Well, at least I’m comforted in knowing that my referee fees are going to the US women’s national team which will receive an equal amount of money for winning the World Cup as the men’s team would have received for winning the World Cup.

Wait, what?

Monday, July 08, 2019

Loudoun United Update

The United States women's national team won its fourth World Cup title on Sunday thanks to an impressive 2-0 victory over The Netherlands. So I'm sure that you're thinking, Sean, why are you writing a blog post about Loudoun United, a team in the USL Championship league, only a day after we should be celebrating Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Julie Ertz, Crystal Dunn, and soon-to-be superstar Rose Lavelle? That's a good question, proving again how smart you are. I guess the best reason is that soccer is the top story in the United States today, and I'm here to reaffirm my commitment as Loudoun United's (still not) official team blogger.

In mid-May, Richie Williams, the first head coach in Loudoun United's history, left to join the New England Revolution staff after coaching only 9 games. This was only several months after "Dane Murphy, D.C. technical director who was hired in the fall and oversaw Loudoun’s roster, departed before the season started to pursue a high-ranking job in England." Ryan Martin, who became the director of D.C. United's academy in January 2017, was hired as Loudoun United's second coach in team history.

So even though the team only started playing a few months ago, Loudoun United is already on its second head coach and second technical director. I would hope that the team doesn't already have a second (still not) official team blogger too. I'm not here to make any demands or anything. All I'm asking for is a tour of the stadium, which is scheduled to open in August, prior to its opening where I can take pictures of the field, stands and concession areas and share this with all of you. Then, just a few tickets to the first ever home game. I've already written several blog posts about the team and promoted them on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. That's the least I can do as the (still not) official team blogger. Let's make the (still not) official blogger title, official, Loudoun United. Let's build on the success of the women's national team to help grow the game. Help me, help you!

Photos by Alex Grimm/Getty Images and Loudoun United.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

DC United Field Trip

One of my favorite topics to write about on Sean’s Ramblings has been attending live sports events and concerts. From Max Scherzer’s no-hitter (and nearly perfect game) to Fleetwood Mac and Paul McCartney shows to my hockey road trips, it’s fun to look back at events I’ve attended over the years.

Last week, I received an email from DC United informing me that I won two tickets to its game against Toronto FC. I won these tickets from their booth at Celebrate Fairfax, proving again that I made a fantastic decision to take my two older kids to the festival despite a little rain. With eight year old The Moose set to go to a friend’s birthday party, I decided to take five year old Pedro Tulo with me. I knew that this would bring some challenges, but that he would also enjoy going. Unlike The Moose who could (and has) sit in his seat at a live sporting event for hours, Pedro Tulo needs to move around. Plus, I figured that an 8:00 PM kickoff would not be ideal for him. I was right.

Let’s get to DC United for a second. The team started in 1995 when Major League Soccer formed and has been the second most successful team in league history, winning 4 MLS titles. Granted, most of those titles occurred in the 90s, but they still count. I attended a few games over the years at crumbling RFK Stadium, but this was my first time at Audi Field which opened last summer. Let's just say WOW!

I’ve been to soccer specific stadiums in Columbus, Ohio and New Jersey, but Audi Field just blows them away. The stadium in Portland is the only one I’ve been to that rivals this, but I only saw a portion of the stadium in Portland as it wasn't open to the public. (If the Portland Timbers or Portland Thorns want to fly me and my family out on an all-expenses paid trip to Portland to get a full comparison between the two, please contact my agent. Of course I don’t have an agent, so just contact me. Maybe fellow Pittsburgh native Meghan Klingenberg can hook me up!) I don’t think there’s a bad seat in house at Audi Field. As you can probably tell from some of the pictures above, we were in the southern end of the stadium right above the corner flag.

Props to the Kind people for giving out free bars outside the stadium! Props to Audi Field staff for letting people bring the free bars into the stadium!

After having the Kind bars and about 10 minutes into the game, Pedro Tulo decided he wanted something else to eat. There were some good options including food like pupusas and arepas that you usually don't see at concession stands. Naturally, Pedro Tulo requested pizza. Since he had pizza for dinner about 2 hours earlier, I said no. He decided on popcorn. Then, as soon as we got in line, he wanted a soft pretzel instead. Despite all of the appetizing food including options curated by famed chef José Andrés, the soft pretzel was below average and that's being generous. Before the end of the half, Pedro Tulo decided to launch a small piece of the pretzel several rows in front of us. I scolded him and made sure not to make eye contact with anyone in front of us. The last thing I wanted to hear during my first trip to Audi Field was, “Sir, please come with us.”

Of course, we missed Toronto scoring a goal during our time getting food as well as Wayne Rooney having an amazing opportunity to score but pushing the shot just high and wide.

DC United watered the field at halftime. I've never seen this before. Is this normal?

There is no parking at the stadium. The team encourages you to take Metro or drive and park using the SpotHero app. While I would normally take Metro (which is still a good 1/2 mile walk from the stadium), I knew this wouldn’t be a good option for Pedro Tulo because it would be crowded and probably an hour-long Metro ride starting around 10:00 PM. Besides it being so late, the bigger issue was that Pedro Tulo was still in a temporary cast from breaking two bones in his left arm recently. I didn't want to take a chance of him possibly re-injuring his arm by getting bumped on a crowded Metro train.

At the 58th minute (9:25 PM), Pedro Tulo turned to me and said that he was tired and wanted to go home. While I felt safe around the stadium, there are always people asking for money outside any sporting events, so I didn’t particularly want to walk the 1/2 mile or so back to the car by ourselves. Over the next 20-25 minutes, we walked towards the stadium entrance/exit with stops at the restroom and clubhouse store where he really wanted to buy a Christmas tree ornament, the perfect souvenir from a late June game. (I didn’t buy one.)

I've decided there should be a rule in sports. If you have naming rights to a stadium, then you also need to give away your product to the fans. In this case, one person should win an Audi at each game. Seems reasonable to me!

Wayne Rooney didn’t score a goal from 70 yards away like he did in preceding DC United game. Doesn't something like this happen in every soccer match?

I can say, though, that I saw Rooney play in person and was at a game where he scored a goal. Granted, I didn't see the goal, but we heard the roar of the crowd from about two blocks away from the stadium and a second one about a minute later. (It turned out that the first roar was for a VAR call awarding DC United a penalty kick. The second roar was for Rooney converting said kick.) Here's proof that I saw Rooney on the field via this somewhat blurry photo.

I did not, however, see Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore play for Toronto as they are away playing for the US national team at the Gold Cup.

The best name on DC United is clearly Frederic Brillant. Guinness even had an entire advertising campaign a few years ago in his honor.

I find it very cool that many soccer teams have sections for its most passionate supporters. I don't know if it's the team's supporter club Barra Brava or Screaming Eagles or both, but the people in the section on the opposite side from where I sat stood, chanted, and waved flags the entire match.

Who do these Toronto fans think they are taking pictures of themselves? Actually, they are Toronto fans thinking about celebrating an early Canada Day during halftime. That's who they think they are!

Finally, here are highlights from the game and recaps from DC United and The Washington Post

Looking forward to going to another DC United game at Audi Field soon. Maybe for an afternoon game!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Pittsburgh Vacation

We took a family trip to Pittsburgh recently, and I thought I would share some pictures of the trip which included stops at the Children’s Museum, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and PNC Park for a Pirates game. Enjoy!

I have family that live on Mount Washington, and I went into their home for the first time during this trip. If I lived here, I don’t think I’d ever leave. The view is just spectacular.

I know that I’ve shared memories of this place before, but I love going to The O. This is a medium order of fries!

We took the kids to the Phipps, and this was the first time I’d been there in over a decade. It’s so beautiful. There was a Vincent van Gogh exhibit, and the Phipps staff deserve major credit for creating a scavenger hunt booklet where kids need to find replicas of van Gogh paintings. The Moose (8) and Pedro Tulo (5) were all about completing the hunt. They also had a special project where kids could dig and make and take a plant. The picture above is Pedro Tulo before he got dirt all over the place (including on his cast). Not pictured is Luigi (1 & 1/2) falling causing a bump on his forehead and a cut above his lip.

These are from the Children's Museum. On Thursday, he ate through four strawberries, but he was still hungry.

I was really hoping to have llama AND iguana during this trip, but sadly this place in The Strip District was out of iguana.

One of my favorite things to do in life is attend a Pirates game. As an added bonus, it was fireworks night!

Until next time, Pittsburgh!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Batman Field Trip

For most of my teenage years, I spent summers attending or working as a counselor at an overnight camp just outside Morgantown, West Virginia. As a camper, you never left the campgrounds except for a once-a-session field trip to Coopers Rock where you climbed on or rappelled down, you guessed it, rocks.

Thirty years ago this summer, we were supposed to go to Coopers Rock but took an unauthorized trip to Mountaineer Mall instead to see the recently release film, Batman starring Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Kim Basinger. It was awesome!

In hindsight, I have no idea if the counselors really pulled this off on their own or if they got approval from the camp director. We were actually a well-behaved group of about 15 boys (as extreme as we got was one of my cabin-mates playing an Eazy-E cassette every morning), particularly compared to the other group of teenage boys. I also don't remember how we paid for movie tickets or snacks. Did the counselors use the money that was supposed to go towards Coopers Rock entrance fees for this?

While we were sworn to secrecy at the time, I now think that someone above must have given the okay on this trip. If not, sorry if you're only finding out about this now. I hope there’s a statute of limitations on this!

Photo via Warner Brothers.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

2019 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Recap

The 2019 Major League Baseball draft took place a few weeks ago, and I’m happy to present my annual(-ish) recap of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ selections. Please note that if you’re looking for serious, in-depth assessments of the players selected, you’ve come to the wrong place. This post is for entertainment purposes only. Actually, even places with serious, in-depth analysis of the Pirates’ picks should be for entertainment only, so maybe you have come to the right place. Welcome!

In the over 130-year history of the Pittsburgh Pirates, no player has ever had a first name beginning with the letter Q. There have been several players with the last name starting with Q including pitcher Chad Qualls, shortstop Rey Quinones, and who can forget second baseman Joe Quest from the team's 1884 season. In addition, every other letter has been accounted for in Pirates history including one player with the first name starting with U (U.L. Washington). This is why I applaud the team for taking Quinn Priester, a pitcher from Cary-Grove High School in Illinois with the #18 overall pick in the first round. Sure the Pirates could have taken University of Kentucky pitcher Zack Thompson, who was ranked #14 and taken with the next pick by the St. Louis Cardinals, but I understand that the team couldn’t pass up this opportunity to make history, especially with Quinn being ranked #19.

After taking outfielder Matt Gorski (OF from Indiana University) in the 2nd round and Matt Fraizer (OF from Arizona University) in the 3rd round, I feel like there was a directive not to select any more "Matt"s in the draft. An entire draft of Matts would have been very confusing.

Although I’m about 15 years late, I started watching the HBO series Deadwood. Sixth round pick pitcher Will Matthiesen from Stanford sounds like the perfect name for a Deadwood character. (By the way, I used a similar observation when the team selected Wyatt Mathisen in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft. Hopefully this Matthiesen with more letters in the last name works out better.) Meanwhile, sneaky pick by the Pirates here. Even though they were told not to draft anyone else named Matt, they picked someone with Matt in his last name. Very clever!

With their 5th round pick, the Pirates chose pitcher Grant Ford from the University of Nevada. Since his first name is the last name of the 18th President and he shares the last name with the 38th President, I feel like it’s only appropriate that his middle name should be Harding. (I don’t actually know his middle name, but we can dream right?) By the way, KevinInABQ deserves credit for the Harding reference.

As someone with young children, it’s hard not to see the team draft outfielder Chase Murray from Georgia Tech in the 13th round and think that he’s on the case.

In the 11th round, the Pirates picked Jase Bowen, an outfielder from Toledo Central Catholic HS. Jase can also be on the case.

I applaud the Pirates for selecting players with Pittsburgh ties. For example, Blake Sabol, an outfielder from USC and the team's 7th round pick, is Troy Polamalu’s cousin. The team also picked Pittsburgh sportscaster Guy Junker's son, Cameron Junker in the 10th round, former Pitt basketball player Chevy Troutman's nephew, Ryan Troutman in the 26th round, former Pirate Pedro Alvarez's cousin's roommate Andres Alvarez in the 22nd round, and Deion Walker from Hillgrove High School (named for Pitt and Steelers broadcaster Bill Hillgrove) in the 35th round.

In honor of this Saturday's Faith Night, the team also went with a biblical theme by selecting Eli (Wilson), Samson (Abernathy), Elijah (Dunham), Jasiah (Dixon; we’ll just say that this is close enough to Josiah), and of course, the famous prophet highlighted numerous times in the Bible, Dawson (McCarville).

The Pirates’ scouting department clearly watched a lot of late night television and were inspired by this State Farm commercial. How else can you explain the team drafting three players named Jake? 20th round pick Jake Snider, 32nd round pick Jake Wright, and 36th round pick Jake Sweeney)?

In the 28th round, the team picked pitcher Bear Bellomy of Wright State University. What a cool name! Unfortunately, Tiger Thompson was taken earlier by the (you guessed it), Marlins.

Another cool name. catcher Ethan Goforth from Carson-Newman College. I can just see his manager telling him, “Ethan, goforth and call for a slider on this pitch.”

As always, I highly recommend checking out Pirates Prospects for actual in-depth information about the players mentioned above.

To see more of my draft recaps of the Pirates, Steelers, and Penguins over the years, please click here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Father's Day 2019

Even though Father's Day already occurred a few days ago, I thought I would share these gifts from my 8 year old (The Moose) and 5 year old (Pedro Tulo). I have to admit that I'm a little disappointed that Luigi (21 months) didn't make one too!

Clean up the dishes? Yes, he puts dishes in the sink, but he's never loaded or unloaded the dishwasher. That may need to change immediately! (By the way, The Moose's picture of me is spot on!)

Pedro Tulo is exactly correct with a few items here. Clearly, I'm a really good writer person. I also don't like it when he hits me. As far as baseball games, I've taken him to exactly 2 in his life and the last one was last September, and we spent about 4 innings walking around the stadium because he couldn't keep still.

I have no idea where my favorite foods being tacos and sandwiches came from, though I do eat both quite a bit.

A belated Happy Father's Day to those of you who celebrate! HULK SMASH!

Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday Video: Death Metal Grandma

This Friday video is different than usual where I generally post videos of current song. Ithaca College graduate Leah Galant's "Death Metal Grandma" won the best documentary at the American Pavilion Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Here's a description of the documentary from Ithaca College:

There are sweet, kind grandmas, and there are cool grandmas. Then there’s Inge Ginsberg, the subject of 2015 Ithaca College graduate Leah Galant’s new documentary, “Death Metal Grandma.” The short film, which debuted at the SXSW Film Festival and can be seen on the New York Times website, follows the 96-year-old Holocaust survivor as she turns her poetry into heavy metal music and auditions for “America’s Got Talent.”

“I wanted to show that beyond the spectacle of ‘Death Metal Grandma’ lies an incredible, resilient and fierce woman named Inge Ginsberg,” said Galant, who studied documentary studies and production at the college’s Roy H. Park School of Communications. “Throughout the filming process, I was privileged to be the recipient of so much of her wisdom — much of which ended up in the film. I also wanted to highlight the importance of intergenerational relationships, which Inge and I both benefited from enormously.”

This less than 13-minute documentary is fascinating and definitely worth watching.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

I'm Going To Die

Maybe not the best headline here. I mean, not to be depressing or morbid, but everyone is going to die. Except for Betty White. We can't let her die.

Anyway, two articles that I saw over the last few days really concerned me. Here's the first from CNN.

Several popular breakfast foods, including Cheerios and Nature Valley products, continue to test positive for trace amounts of a controversial herbicide that may increase the risk of cancer, according to a report released Wednesday by an environmental advocacy group.

I have cereal for breakfast nearly every single morning. While I've mixed in some Wegmans brand cereals lately, I generally eat Honey Nut Cheerios. Is it really too much to ask to not have herbicides in my cereal?

Although this second study funded by the National Institutes of Health relates to women, I feel like this must impact men too.

Sleeping with a television or light on in the room may be a risk factor for gaining weight or developing obesity, according to scientists at the National Institutes of Health. The research, which was published online June 10 in JAMA Internal Medicine, is the first to find an association between any exposure to artificial light at night while sleeping and weight gain in women. The results suggest that cutting off lights at bedtime could reduce women’s chances of becoming obese.

So they're saying that falling asleep the majority of nights while sitting on the couch with the lights, television, and computer or phone on (usually with Ziggy curled up next to me and then waking up a few hours later and spending a few minutes checking email or seeing sports results before going back to bed) is a bad thing?

I'm going to become obese because of my terrible sleep pattern (which leads to other health problems) and get cancer thanks to herbicides in my Honey Nut Cheerios. Lovely.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

2019 Celebrate Fairfax Recap

The 38th annual Celebrate Fairfax took place over the weekend and this was my 18th festival. Based on the time I’ve spent at the festival, I can now vote (which I’m actually going to do today). Here are my notes and thoughts about this year’s event:

* Let’s start with the headliners. Better Than Ezra sounded good in the 2 minutes I saw them perform during sound check. I saw Smash Mouth on Saturday night and was a little surprised by the size of the crowd. I probably shouldn’t have been though. It was a beautiful day, so why wouldn’t people come out to the festival and see the headliner, particularly one that had three monster hits in the late 1990s and early 2000s? Unlike Sugar Ray last year (where Mark McGraph continuously talked with the crowd), there was almost no banter with the audience for Smash Mouth and its lead singer Steve Harwell. They just played one song after another. Here’s my one complaint about their set. Go to around the 8:45 mark of these videos to see All-Star.

Now you can say that it was really cool to let the audience sing the song. Or you could say that if someone wanted to sing All Star, they could do that at home or at karaoke without having the actual band playing the music on the stage. At least sing a line or two to start the second verse, Steve!

* The days of me volunteering for the entire three days of the festival are over. With three kids and their activities, it’s just not possible. I still enjoy helping with set up, and there’s definitely a bit of a rush seeing everything that happens before the gates open. I highly recommend helping out with Celebrate Fairfax or another event like this if you can. There's definitely a camaraderie too with all of the volunteers. With that written, I seem to know fewer and fewer people each year. There are only a handful of people who still volunteer at the festival from when I started in 2002 and probably only a few more than that from even 7 or 8 years ago. I guess that’s natural. It truly is a young person’s thing to be able to volunteer throughout the weekend.

* I think part of the reason for the big crowd on Saturday was the call for rain on Sunday. Even though it rained Sunday morning and definitely scared people away, when I arrived on site with The Moose and Pedro Tulo in the afternoon, it was just cloudy with some sprinkles. Basically, we had the run of the place. We had front-row seats (under a tent!) to see the animals brought by Wildlife Ambassadors. We stood almost directly in front of the stage to see the final song by Herr Metal, and one of the guitar players threw Pedro Tulo a pick. (Amazingly, he hasn't lost this yet.)

We also had perfect views of the US Army Band Downrange which the boys loved watching while eating big ice cream cones. For possibly the first time ever, there was no line to spin the wheel for the Great American Restaurants booth. As a comparison, there were easily 25 people in this line at 11:30 on Friday morning before the “Sneak Peak” for county employees. The booth didn’t even open until noon!

Exhibitors were more than happy to interact with us and give us stuff. We probably received about 6 plastic cups from Glory Days and about the same number of DC United temporary tattoos. We won 6 tickets to see the George Mason men’s basketball team’s first home game in November. The kids barely had to wait to play Cox’s virtual reality baseball game, and we spent some time with on-air personalities from the local ABC affiliate (WJLA). Kidd O’Shea actually took pictures of us. Basically, if it’s not raining very much, definitely go to a festival!

*Comedy hypnotist Brad Matchett is amazing. I have no idea how he does it, but if you have a chance to see him, go (though I don't see any upcoming events currently listed on his Facebook page). You won’t be disappointed.

* I only got 4 Fairfax Water cups this year. If we still had all of the cups from them since 2002, we’d have well over 100 by now!

That's really all that I have for this year. I ate a gyro from Bethel Park's John the Greek since his gyros are great. I walked 24,618 steps on Friday with about 23,000 of those steps being at the festival site. And yes, I'll be back again next year.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Friday Video: Snow

It seems like almost everyday, there is some news or story that is pretty unbelievable. Things that you can’t imagine are happening. Although there are still seven months remaining this year, I’m not sure that anything will astonish me more than the fact that Snow is part of hit song in 2019.

Let’s go back to 1992 when Canadian rapper Snow had a #1 song, Informer.

At least in my world, this song was everywhere. Snow rapped so fast that you really couldn’t understand what he was saying expect for "a licky boom boom down," which didn’t make any sense but seemed cool. Then, the tide started to turn against Snow, and (at least in my mind) he was done after In Living Color (hi Jim Carrey!) did a sketch making fun of him.

Fast-forward to 2017. The biggest song in the world was Despacito by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee (not to be confused with Derek Jeter) featuring Justin Bieber. Although Daddy Yankee was a huge star in Puerto Rico and had some success on the mainland, Despacito catapulted him to nearly A-level status in the US. Now, Daddy Yankee has a song called Con Calma with Snow, who he seemingly brought out of retirement.

The song certainly had (and is having) success around the world (see below), but Daddy Yankee and Snow themselves didn't get the song massive radio airplay on most English stations. Enter Katy Perry on the remix.

Sadly, Snow did not appear on American Idol in this performance by Daddy Yankee and Perry.

Apparently, according to this fascinating Rolling Stone article, Snow can't enter the US:

Snow also appears in the video for “Con Calma,” but his part had to be filmed separately in Canada. Thanks to his past legal issues, including an assault conviction in 1995, Snow is currently unable to enter the U.S. without a waiver, which would have allowed him to apply for a work visa. “You’re supposed to renew the waiver and he didn’t,” says Farberman. “It’s a technical matter.”

I guess that's why he on American Idol. Anyway, Con Calma is currently in the top 40 in the US, and I wouldn't be surprised if it moves into the top 20 or even top 10 by the end of the summer. Meanwhile, according to Wikipedia, the song reached #1 in Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain, and reached the top five in Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, and Slovenia.

Please let me know if you find a story more unbelievable than Snow being part of a top 5 song in Poland and Slovenia in 2019!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

My Brother, The Yinzer

A blog post to make fun of brother? Yes! Over the weekend, my brother attended a wedding and rehearsal dinner in the New York/New Jersey area. (Actually, I’m not exactly sure where it took place, but the key as you’ll soon see, is that this didn’t occur in Western Pennsylvania.) Here is a picture from the dinner:

Once you get passed the fact that I don’t have Photoshop and simply colored in everyone’s faces, you’ll notice that the people pictured are dressed nicely (including the waiter.) Except for that one guy on the end wearing a Steelers polo shirt. That's my brother! Look, I've heard stories about people wearing Steelers jersey to church and other more formal occasions, but an out-of-the-area rehearsal dinner just doesn't seem appropriate.

Since I'm making fun of my brother, I should probably make fun of myself too. In one of my first jobs about a month or two after moving to DC after grad school, I attended a meeting on Capitol Hill only a few days or weeks into that job. For this meeting, I wore a Steelers polo shirt similar to (though nicer than) the one in the picture above. My boss at the time made sure to tell me to wear a tie for the next meeting, though I did get a compliment or two from folks from the Pittsburgh area. I should also mention that I was only 25 or 26 during this time as opposed to 41 like my brother is now. Basically, I didn't know better then but he should know better now!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Garth Brooks' Pittsburgh Outfit

Country music superstar Garth Brooks played at Heinz Field on Saturday night. During the performance, he wore, um, this.

While I commend Brooks on wearing the Pirates jersey, having Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's name and number on the back makes no sense. You know since Ben plays football and not baseball. I understand that Brooks "is in love with Ben Roethlisberger" per his quote in this Post-Gazette article and spent time with the Pirates during spring training. However, combining these two jerseys into one make no sense. Sort of like a blog post combining Celebrities in Pittsburgh Gear and Sean on Fashion.

By the way, I wonder if Jeff King got really excited seeing Brooks wearing his old number, only see Roethlisberger's name on the back.

Photos by Bob Pompeani and Tim Williams. Video courtesy of Garth Brooks.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Fairfax Connector Problems (You Have One Job!)

Look out world! A few years ago, I wrote a letter to the editor of a local newspaper (based on this blog post). Now, I'm writing the government. Well, the transportation agency, which is part of the government, but it's still the government. The issue is that the buses aren't running. The entire job of the bus system is to pick people up and safely take them to their destination.

My slightly redacted email is below as is how this impacts you even if you don't take the bus or even live in Northern Virginia.

Dear Fairfax Connector,

I have been a regular rider of Fairfax Connector for over 14 years and have had positive experiences riding the buses during this time. While I understand that you currently have a shortage of bus drivers, the fact that bus routes appear to no longer be in service is completely unacceptable. I ride bus [redacted], and on April 26th, May 8th, and today (May 14th), the bus that generally picks me up at 7:40 going to Vienna did not show. The 8:10 bus on April 26th also did not show. I didn't take the bus on many of the weekdays between April 26th and today, so my guess is that there were no buses on this route during one or more of these days. I'm fortunate in that I have access to a car and can drive to Vienna. It's inconvenient and also costs about $5 a day to park not including the wear and tear on the car, but I generally have this option. I don't know what people on the route who don't have access to cars are doing.

Since this bus route no longer seems to be running, I guess I have no other choice than to drive to Vienna. Please let me know when you hire drivers and decide to run the [redacted] route again.


This story shows a little more about the current driver shortage.

You may think that this story doesn't impact you, but it actually does. I do much of the writing of Sean's Ramblings on the bus, so you're missing out on quality (though this is debatable) blog posts. If you want more Sean's Ramblings, we need the buses to operate on schedule. (Or you can babysit my kids so I have more time to write!)

When (if?) I hear back, I'll provide an update.

Photo from the Fairfax Connector website.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Shocking News About Mr. Knick Knack

There's little that surprises or shocks me while seeing the news anymore. As I mentioned in Thursday's post, mass shootings seem to occur all the time, and many seem like an afterthought in the news coverage now. The President saying or tweeting something outrageous? Oh, it must be Tuesday...or Saturday...or Sunday...or Friday...or Thursday...or Monday...or Wednesday. However, I was truly surprised by this headline.

‘Mr. Knick Knack,’ children’s entertainer, charged with possession of child porn

Having young kids, I feel like I've seen or heard of most, if not all, of the children's entertainers in Northern Virginia. Between festivals (like Celebrate Fairfax) and multiple summer concert series (serieses?), it's a great (and generally free) activity for the kids. Rocknoceros has a massive following. 123 Andres always puts on an energetic show. There's also The Great Zucchini, and Blue Sky Puppet Theater, and The grandsons, jr., and others. Including Mr. Knick Knack, who for years has had a regular gig on Monday mornings from May to October or so at the Reston Town Center. Here's more about Mr. Knick Knack from The Washington Post:

A Northern Virginia children’s entertainer who is known as “Mr. Knick Knack” has been charged with possessing child pornography, and investigators are exploring whether the man had any inappropriate contact with juveniles, Fairfax County police said.

Steven Rossi, 58, of Reston was arrested on April 30 on 10 counts of possessing illicit images of children after authorities received a tip earlier in the month the entertainer had child pornography, police said.

Detectives have not uncovered evidence that Rossi had contact with the children in the images, but they are asking anyone who might have information about inappropriate interactions between Rossi and children to come forward, police said.

Holy crap! We've seen him perform a few times, and it wasn't anything memorable, but it was something to do with the kids, and they seemed to enjoy it. Of course, I think they enjoyed eating Goldfish just as much if not more than the show. I'm still shocked about this.