A Fantasy Virgin

In this, my 58th year on the planet, I’m doing something for the very first time. Yesterday I drafted a team for a fantasy baseball league.

Yes, I’ve managed to avoid taking part in fantasy leagues until now, even though a lot of friends and family members participate. I figured I never had time for it, or I don’t follow sports that intricately to be able to do well. Actually, I love sports, but what I love is the drama of the games, and following the rises and falls of a given team’s chances throughout the season; individual players’ stats don’t really excite me that much.

But the last two years, my friend Kurt has asked me to help out at his fantasy league’s draft. This league is less hands-on than a lot of fantasy leagues. You draft a team at the beginning of the year, and then your players’ cumulative stats for the year are calculated for the league’s standings; you don’t have to decide before each game who’s in your lineup or whatever. Once your team is drafted, the only work you have to do is preparing for monthly free-agent nights in which you can drop players who are hurt or underperforming, and add players who aren’t already on someone else’s team.

Helping Kurt on his draft day was fun, and this year, when a slot opened up, I jumped at the chance to have a team of my own.

The league has 12 teams; I drew draft position No. 11, which is fine, because the draft “snakes”; in the even-numbered rounds, the teams draft in reverse order, so I had positions 11 and 14, then 35 and 38, etc. The draft consisted of 21 rounds, so there would be 252 players drafted. This fantasy league uses only players on National League, which of course makes researching players a lot easier. Also, though, it means the last few rounds of the draft feature a lot of players most people don’t know anything about.

That would present an opportunity to do a lot of research, to get to know the universe of National League players and try to figure out who the best 252 are, and in what order they should be placed. Me, I’m a newbie at this, and I chose to rely on the “experts” at CBSSports.com, where there is all kinds of research on players, with stats and rankings by position. I made a list of what I consider the top 75 players in the league—that would get me through the first six rounds—and printed ranking lists, by position, of all of the rest of the players.

My rankings were based on three-year stats, rather than last year’s, which, in retrospect, may have skewed my team a little bit. I wound up with a lot of vets on my team, and few youngsters. There could be guys there who are twilighting their careers and I just don’t know it yet. I guess I’ll find out over the next couple of months. I did land some very good starting pitchers, so I hope to do well in the ERA and strikeout categories, if nothing else.

But hey, it’s my rookie year. I’m only here to gain experience. As the season unfolds, I’ll understand a lot more about what it takes to do well in this league, and on next year’s draft day, I’ll be better prepared.

The way the league works, your team has 21 players (eight pitchers, five outfielders, two catchers, one each at the other four infield positions, plus one “corner infielder,” who can be a first or third baseman, and one “middle infielder,” who can be either a second baseman or shortstop.) Those players are ranked according to their cumulative stats for the season in eight categories: batting average, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases for batters, and ERA, wins, saves and strikeouts for pitchers.

Not that you care, but these are the players I ended up with:

Pitcher: Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, Joaquin Benoit, Shawn Kelley, Fernando Rodney, Carter Capps and Hector Rondon.

Outfield: Kyle Schwarber, Jayson Werth, Jay Bruce, Andre Ethier and Franklin Gutierrez

First Base: Brandon Belt

Second Base: Neil Walker

Shortstop: Corey Seager

Third Base: Jose Reyes

Corner Infielder: Martin Prado

Middle Infielder: Howie Kendrick.

Play Ball!

 

Reading List: My Last (And Next) Five Books, March 2017

The election of our first woman president was a momentous occasion, and I decided to commemorate the milestone by reading a lot of books by female authors this year.

Oh, wait…

Turns out, we didn’t elect a woman president. (Well, WE did, but the Electoral College chose someone else, but that’s another story…) I’m not going to let that deter me, though; I’m still going to read a lot of books by women this year, including my first five, listed below.

My standard goal is to read 25 books in a year. I haven’t reached that goal lately, but I think I’m going to stretch it this year, and try to read 25 books BY WOMEN. In addition to a few by men. So I’m really challenging myself, but I’ve discovered that I can get through thrillers and mysteries pretty quickly, and there’s certainly no shortage of books in that genre by women I’d like to read, so I think it’s doable. And even if I don’t make it, I don’t think I’ll die trying.

Another thing about my reading lately: I normally try to alternate my books, one novel followed by one nonfiction. Lately, though, I’m finding the real world’s nonfiction—or maybe I should put that in quotes, like “nonfiction”—is a little too much to take, so I’ve been taking refuge in fiction. It’s been all novels so far this year, and that will probably continue for at least the next couple of books. I did get a couple of enticing (and male-written) nonfiction books for Christmas, though, so both of these trends will be broken at some point, probably later this spring.

In any case, here are my first five books of 2017:

The AwakeningThe Awakening, by Kate Chopin. This is actually a novella, I guess (but when you’re stretching your goals, novellas can count as books).

I chose to start off my feminist-reading year with this 100-year-old book by an author from St. Louis. I enjoyed it for the most part, but it did feel, well, a little dated.

Rubyfruit JungleRubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. In addition to books written by women, another reading theme of mine, lately, is gay/lesbian books. As a straight guy, it’s an area I haven’t explored much in my reading, but I’ve been working on remedying that over the last six months or so. As is true of all of us, I have a lot of friends who are gay, almost certainly more than I realize. A couple of them have mentioned this book as a classic of lesbianism, so I hunted for it and found it through the library.

I enjoyed the book. It’s basically a coming-of-age story, starring a full-of-life protagonist who knows what she wants and generally ends up getting it.

SalvageTheBonesSalvage The Bones by Jessmyn Ward. This one had been on my “want to read” list for a long time, mainly because it was a National Book Award winner about Hurricane Katrina, an event I remember vividly although I didn’t experience it personally. The book is about a poor family living in coastal Mississippi in the days leading up to and including the hurricane, a time during which the protagonist, a 14-year-old girl, learns she’s pregnant. The family tries to prepare for the coming storm, while she tries to keep her secret. The drama builds and by the time I was halfway through the book, I didn’t want to put it down. Fair warning: there is a fairly intense scene of dogfighting in the book which will certainly bother some readers.

TheRiverAtNightThe River At Night by Erica Ferencik. I’m not generally a reader of thrillers, but I was in the mood for a quick, intense read. So, while at the library dropping off Salvage The Bones, I took a look through the New Releases rack and found this one. I’m kind of a sucker for books (or movies or music) with bodies of water in the title, so it didn’t take long for me to decide it would be my next read. It was a good choice.

Four friends, all women, head to Maine for a whitewater adventure on an uncharted river. They have a guide who has run the river a few times before, but some of the women have doubts about him. Safe to say, their inexperience catches up with them, and they have to deal with a lot of unexpected hazards along the way. I found it very well-plotted and well-written, and I read it in about five days, which is extremely rare for me. I’ll be reading more in this genre this year.

TheBeanTreesThe Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. This is this third book by Barbara Kingsolver that I’ve read. (Flight Behavior and The Poisonwood Bible were the first two.) I’m always impressed by her descriptions of nature; “place” is always a key element in her books, although maybe a little less so in this one than the other two. And I also love her ability to create unique, memorable characters. This was her first novel, but her voice was already well developed. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of her work.

*****

An interesting (for me, anyway) note: four of these five books came from the library. I’ve been a booster and a trustee of our local library for years, but, oddly, more often than not I end up buying books for my Kindle rather than checking them out of the library. Well, I’m making a conscious effort to use the library more, and saving some money in the process!

*****

Usually, at this point, I list five more books, my best guess at the next five I’ll be reading. Rather than go out on that particular limb, though (I don’t think I’ve ever gotten it right; inevitably, some other book strikes my fancy or suddenly becomes available or something), here are some books that I have my eyes on to read in the coming months. My next reads will certainly include some of these, probably not all:

The Woman In Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware.

In The Woods, by Tana French

Consenting Adult, by Laura Hobson

The Roundhouse, by Louise Erdrich

Stone Butch Blues, by Leslie Feinberg

Illumination Night, by Alice Hoffman

Land of Enchantment, by Leigh Stein

*****

As always, if you’re interested in keeping up with what I read in real time—rather than waiting for me to write about it here in Shoulblog—you can friend me up on Goodreads. I’m always interested in recommendations for books to read.

Old Trees, New Trees

IMG_4154

IMG_8876These pictures were taken from the same spot on the Gateway Arch grounds, looking north toward the Arch. The top photo was taken in October 2014, just before workers started removing all of the rosehill ash trees that lined the walkways. The ash trees were threatened by the emerald ash borer, and for that and other reasons, CityArchRiver, the group that is spearheading the renovation of the grounds, decided to remove them all at once.

They are being replaced by London plane trees, which are said to be much heartier and more disease resistant. The bottom photo was taken last week; the walkways and new paths around the Arch have been reopening in increments, and this area just became available a couple of weeks ago.

It will be a while, though, before the new trees will provide much shade.

(You can read more about the trees here, and about the overall CityArchRiver project here.)

Checking In

Just checking in here.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written. There have been any number of posts I’ve thought about writing, some of which I’ve actually started, but they all just fell by the wayside.

This has been a difficult year for my psyche. It’s still hard to wrap my head around the way the 2016 election turned out. And when I begin to accept that, it’s with hope that maybe the new president won’t be as bad as he promised during the campaign. Then all too often, he turns out to be worse.

The country’s in a bad place now. And the enormity of it is hard to fit it into a few hundred words in a blog post. Meanwhile, the political space seems to be pretty well filled these days; there’s no shortage of people writing about that, so the world doesn’t really need my political pontifications.

So maybe I’ll just ignore the political situation all together. I’ve probably lost enough friends anyway.

Meanwhile, Shoulblog turned 7 last week. Mardi Gras is the official anniversary of this blog (even though the exact date changes from year to year). In the past I’ve often done anniversary posts, but like Mardi Gras in general, this year I just let it slide by, barely noticed.

Anyway, I just wanted to pop my head in here for a bit to let you know that I’m still around, I’ll be writing more soon. Keep those checks coming.

Thanks,

-J

16 In ’16

Many people I know would say that 2016 was the worst year ever.

For me, personally, though, it was a pretty darn good year.

Here are 16 things I did in 2016: And yes, like two years ago, there’s one extra thing on this list, one that I didn’t actually do. But I’m not telling you which one it is, allowing me to preserve deniability for everything on the list.

  • Held a one-day-old baby.
  • With Jean, celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. 
  • Got a new sewer lateral, a new roof and two new cars. Oh yeah, and a new mortgage.
  • Discovered that, after all these years, I can still do a damn good flip turn. I actually did quite a bit of swimming in the first half of the year, but then fell away from it as I remembered how time-consuming it is, relative to, say, running. I ended up dropping my new YMCA membership and now I’m just trying to stay in shape through dry-land exercise. Those flip turns, though—I don’t mind saying, I rocked.
  • Hiked through a “slot canyon.” It was fun, I thought. It was excruciating, Jean thought.
  • Ate chocolate ice cream with chili peppers in it. Better than you might think, but probably not for everybody.
  • Became an empty-nester.
  • Reached a quarter-century of tenure in my current job. Is that long enough? “Well, maybe so,” I said. “No way,” said my financial advisor.
  • Attended the christening of a 9,000 horsepower towboat.
  • Rode the Monongahela Incline up Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh, and the tramway to the top of Sandia Peak in Albuquerque.
  • Swam in Lake Michigan in October. Well, waded in up to my knees, anyway, and yeah, it was like the first day of October. But still, I was in, and it was October.
  • Went to eight Cardinals games, including six against the eventual World Series champion Cubs. My record was a dismal 2-6 (2-4 vs. the Cubs). 2017 will be better.
  • Became married to a retiree. This was probably the best development of the year.
  • Rode my bike naked through the streets of downtown St. Louis. Nobody believed I did this two years ago, so I’m using it again here.
  • Became a “great uncle” (or grand-uncle if you prefer) for the first time—and second time, and third time, and fourth time! The next generation is quickly populating itself.
  • Ran in exactly one race. I think it’s quite possible that I won’t run in any in 2017.
  • Gained/lost exactly 0.0 pounds. Yep, I weighed exactly as much a year ago as I do today. Of course, it fluctuated in a range of about 15 pounds during the year, but in this way, at least, I wound up the year right where I started.

Happy New Year from Shoulblog!

End Of An Era

For 20+ years and through three kids, we’ve had a minivan in our family. I can’t remember when we got our first one, but it was probably back in the early 1990s—a Plymouth Voyager, I think. One of the old ones, with a passenger door only on the right side. We went through a few more over the years, and they served us well, carting around not only three kids and their car seats their friends and their stuff, but a lot of other things as well.

Now, though, the boys have moved on, with cars of their own to haul their own “stuff.” We’re basically empty-nesters now, and don’t really have any need for a big vehicle any more. So this week we did some shopping, and yesterday we bought Jean a little slice of tomorrow.

It’s a tricked out 2017 Toyota Rav4, with all kinds of cool technology, including a little drone that flies above it and takes top-down pictures so you can see who’s close to you (OK, that’s not true, but the car has a feature that makes it LOOK like there’s a drone.) This is Jean’s new chariot, and she’ll be driving it into our smaller, less-cluttered future.

Back To The Arch

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Construction of the new museum that will be mostly underneath the Arch grounds.

They’re making some progress on the Arch grounds. More than a year ago, contractors for CityArchRiver project started cutting down all of the ash trees, and when they did that, they closed off all of the sidewalks that criss-crossed the park. Just in the last couple of weeks, they reopened some of the sidewalks, and today—sunny, and although it was a chilly 35 degrees, it was the warmest it’s going to be over the next week—may have been my last chance to get over there before the end of the year.

It turns out only the north end is open, and not fully open at that. But it’s definitely better than it was over the summer, and it’s nice to be able to stretch your legs and not be confined to the construction zone right in front of the Arch legs.

According to the project’s website, most everything will be done soon except for the construction of the new museum and visitor center, which is scheduled to be done in the summer of 2017 (a little optimistic, maybe?). It will sure be nice when the whole thing is finished and all of the temporary chain-link fence and construction vehicles are gone. At least, by the time it starts to warm up again in the spring, we’ll have a lot more of the park we can walk in.