Wednesday, April 28, 2010

High School Pitchers vs. College Pitchers - 1st round from 2000-2005

Over at Only Bucs, there has been a lot of debate over who the Pirates should draft at 1-2 (assuming that Bryce Harper is off the board). My personal choice would be Jameson Taillon, a high school pitcher from Texas that gasses it at 98 mph. However, I feel that this front office is averse to drafting HS pitchers in the first and paying a large bonus to them (too many eggs in one basket).

As a result, due to the lack of both HS and college bats in this draft, I believe they will go with a college pitcher and select Drew Pomerantz.

One poster is adamantly opposed to drafting a college pitcher, not only in the 1-2 spot, but in the entire first round. He's even made it his signature below his posts...."Say no to college pitchers in the first round".

This got me thinking about the relative success/failure of recent 1st round picks among pitchers. For this post, I'm going from 2000 to 2005, as I believe 2006 is a shade too early to evaluate all the selections at this point. Some are either still at AAA or below or very early in their MLB careers.

Now success...that's very subjective....I don't think that Sean Burnett was a successful pick. You don't draft Burnett thinking "Here's our future LOOGY". But Chad Cordero, for instance, was a good pick. He was picked to be a closer and at least for a few years he did just that. Of course, this is subject to debate.

This post will be lengthy, so I'll "Executive Summary" it for those who want the bottom line. If you want to see how the sausage is made, keep reading after.

Executive Summary
2000-2005 Results
15 out of 59 College Pitchers were a "YES" (25.4%)
10 out of 33 High School Pitchers were a "YES" (30.3%)

While HS pitchers have been more successful, I feel that the margin between the two categories is small enough to NOT warrant such a reaction to swear off drafting COL pitchers entirely. Personally, I feel that HS pitchers have more "impact" potentially, due to more careful overseeing of pitch counts and the ability to be in the majors by age 22 versus age 24 for college guys.

However, if I liked a COL pitcher I would not feel the need to pass on him because of pre-disposed tendencies.

Number Crunching Results
1-2 A. Johnson - MIN - No
1-4 M. Stodolka - KC - No [HS]
1-5 J. Wayne - MON - No
1-8 M. Wheatland - DET - No [HS]
1-9 M. Phillips - SD - No [HS]
1-10 J. Torres - LAA - No [HS]
1-14 B. Hale - BAL - No
1-16 B. Traber - NYM - No
1-17 B. Diggins - LAD - No
1-19 S. Burnett - PIT - No [HS]
1-20 C. Bootcheck - LAA - No
1-21 B. Bonser - SF - No [HS]
1-22 P. Dumatrait - BOS - No
1-24 B. Williams - SF - No
1-27 R. Stiehl - HOU - No
1-29 A. Wainwright - ATL - Yes
1/10 COL
0/6 HS
* M. Harrington did not sign

1-2 M. Prior - CHI - Yes
1-3 D. Brazelton - TB - No
1-4 G. Floyd - PHI - Yes [HS]
1-6 J. Karp - MON - No
1-7 C. Smith - BAL - No
1-8 J. Van Benschoten - PIT - No
1-9 C. Griffin - KC - No [HS]
1-11 K. Baugh - DET - No
1-12 M. Jones - MIL - No [HS]
1-16 K. Honel - CHW - No [HS]
1-17 D. Denham - CLE - No [HS]
1-18 A. Heilman - NYM - No
1-21 B. Hennessey - SF - No
1-22 J. Bulger - ARI - No
1-24 M. McBride - ATL - No [HS]
1-26 J. Bonderman - OAK - Yes [HS]
1-27 A. Horne - CLE - No [HS]
1-28 J. Pope - STL - No
1-30 N. Lowry - SF - No
1/11 COL
2/8 HS
* J. Sowers did not sign

1-1 B. Bullington - PIT - No
1-3 C. Gruler - CIN - No [HS]
1-4 A. Loewen - BAL - No [HS]
1-5 C. Everts - MON - No [HS]
1-6 Z. Greinke - KC - Yes [HS]
1-9 J. Francis - COL - Yes
1-12 J. Saunders - LAA - Yes
1-15 S. Kazmir - NYM - Yes [HS]
1-17 C. Hamels - PHI - Yes [HS]
1-18 R. Ring - CHW - No
1-21 B. Brownlie - CHI - No
1-22 J. Guthrie - CLE - Yes
1-24 J. Blanton - OAK - Yes
1-25 M. Cain - SF - Yes [HS]
1-29 D. Grigsby - HOU - No
1-30 B. Fritz - OAK - No
4/9 COL
4/7 HS

1-3 K. Sleeth - DET - No
1-4 T. Stauffer - SD - No
1-8 P. Maholm - PIT - Yes
1-9 J. Danks - TEX - Yes [HS]
1-14 R. Wagner - CIN - No
1-16 J. Allison - FLA - No [HS]
1-20 C. Cordero - MON - Yes
1-22 D. Aardsma - SF - No
1-24 C. Billingsley - LAD - Yes [HS]
1-25 B. Sullivan - OAK - No
2/7 COL
2/3 HS

1-2 J. Verlander - DET - Yes
1-3 P. Humber - NYM - No
1-4 J. Niemann - TB - Yes
1-5 M. Rogers - MIL - No [HS]
1-6 J. Sowers - CLE - No
1-7 H. Bailey - CIN - No [HS]
1-10 T. Diamond - TEX - No
1-12 J. Weaver - LAA - Yes
1-13 B. Bray - MON - No
1-16 D. Purcey - TOR - No
1-17 S. Elbert - LAD - No [HS]
1-19 C. Lambert - STL - No
1-22 G. Perkins - MIN - Yes
1-23 P. Hughes - NYY - Yes [HS]
1-25 K. Waldrop - MIN - No [HS]
1-27 T. Tankersley - FLA - No
1-29 M. Campbell - KC - No
1-30 E. Hurley - TEX - No [HS]
4/12 COL
1/6 HS
* W. Townsend did not sign

1-6 R. Romero - TOR - Yes
1-8 W. Townsend - TB - No
1-9 M. Pelfrey - NYM - Yes
1-15 L. Broadway - CWS - No
1-16 C. Volstad - FLA - Yes [HS]
1-18 C. Carillo - SD - No
1-20 M. Pawelek - CHI - No [HS]
1-22 A. Thompson - FLA - No [HS]
1-24 B. Bogusevic - HOU - No
1-25 M. Garza - MIN - Yes
1-26 C. Hansen - BOS - No
1-27 J. Devine - ATL - No
1-29 J. Marceaux - FLA - No
3/10 COL
1/3 HS

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Urban Dare Pittsburgh 2010

On Saturday, DB~ and I did the Urban Dare Pittsburgh 2010 race. Urban Dare is like a mini-micro-Amazing Race contoured to a different city each week across the United States. We had heard about it last year, but we couldn't do we've really been looking forward to it this year.

The race started at 12 noon at Finnegan's Wake next to PNC Park. We were given a clue sheet with 12 places we had to go. But to figure out each place, you had to solve a puzzle by using that clue and then determining what place to go. For instance, one clue said "Anthony Quinn played this character in a 1964 movie. Go to the restaurant with this character's namesake."

Our race got off to an auspicious start when we were jogging past Bettis 36 Grille, on the way to the Fred Rogers statue, and DB~ was reading her iPhone as she ran. She ran over one of those metal planters around a tree and tripped over it (it was raised up ever so slightly). If we were skiing, it would have been a total yard sale. She fell in stages and I watched the whole thing in shock. The first stage she just stumbled and I thought "She'll pull out of this" and then the second stage she went full-bore and sprawled all over the sidewalk, ripping her jogging pants in the process.

There were no tears but I thought our race was over before it really started...but she got up and dusted herself off and we soldiered onward.

We went from the North Shore to around the Golden Triangle to Duquesne University and back, solving puzzles and using the Googles on the Internet machine, thanks to our iPhone and Samsung Omnia. And no thanks to our "phone a friends" -- 2 of which didn't answer and the other...I don't know what version of Google he was using, but it didn't involve helping us try to win.
Some of the clues were hard, so we sort of stalked some other groups at times. But we figured out most of them with our own smarts and knowledge of downtown Pittsburgh.
We finished in 1 hour and 55 minutes...a very respectable time -- we thought in the middle of the pack. But when we got back to Finnegan's Wake, there weren't that many people there. When we clocked in, we found out we were roughly 15th out of 95 teams!! (Official results haven't been emailed out yet). We were only 10 minutes out of 5th place...which we easily could have made up....there's our goal for next year. The winners did it in 1 hour 10 minutes, so they must have sprinted the whole thing....freaks.

I was very proud of DB~ for fighting through her fall and resulting scrape...which was a nice bloody raspberry by the end. She was a real trooper and was the engine behind us finishing the race and finding all the clues correctly. I'm proud that she's not a quitter (when she could have after that fall) and that she is smart and semi-athletic.

/big e-kiss to DB~/

Friday, April 23, 2010

Earth Day message - belated

Yeah...this is a belated Earth Day post, but the Pens game went into triple overtime, so...

You shouldn't have to be reminded to not maul the Earth on a specific day. That's something that should be in the back of your mind each day. I'm sure the Earth Day organizers loved the image of an oil rig a) burning b) sinking into the Gulf of Mexico and c) discharging millions of gallons of crude into a slick that is 5 square miles. Happy Earth Day!

My message to you is a simple one. You don't need to plant 6 hectares of sustainable hardwood or complete an irrigation project in the Sudan. It's the little things that you can easily do every day to make the world a slightly better place than when you got it....that's the whole goal - incremental changes.

1. When you go to the grocery store, take your own re-usable cloth bags. They hold a lot more than the plastic ones do and they are sturdy. If you do get the plastic bags, re-use them before you discard them. I keep some on hand as garbage bags for the little trash baskets in my bathrooms. If you have a dog, there's your doggie "by-product" bag.

2. If you cook at home, go to farmers' markets when available and buy locally grown food otherwise. There is no difference from the tomato shipped from California or Chile, as opposed to the one from Evans City. Except for the huge amounts of fuel it took to get it there from non-local places. Try to grow your own "recession garden" of herbs and vegetables if you have the time and space. Fresh basil that you pick yourself is delicious.

3. If you eat out, stop going to the national chains. Support the local businesses, the ones that only have one restaurant and the chef himself is in the back cooking the food. The local Pittsburgh food scene is very lively nowadays, with restaurants of all price ranges out there. Get out of your food rut and try a new, local restaurant. It's good for the economy.

4. Don't shop at Wal-Mart. Kind of the same principle as above, but with Wal-Mart on a much more insiduous scale. Go shop at the locally owned stores and don't feed the 1000-pound elephant in the room. The quality of the goods is not as good and Wal-Mart has beaten up the purchase price from the vendor so badly that Wal-Mart is actually bad for our economy.

5. If you can do it, walk to work or take mass transit at least once a week. Every little bit helps in terms of reducing the amount of vehicles and pollution out there. This one isn't feasible for everyone, I know, but if you can do it the exercise you get is great and you feel a little bit better about your carbon footprint.

6. Don't litter. This one seems easy, but as you drive along the roadways, you are usually subjected to a stream of trash. It doesn't grow there, it's put there. By pigs that can't wait until they get to their destination and find a trash can that is most likely as soon as they step out the car. I used to be friends with a guy who reveled in littering as we drove around, even though he knew it burned me up. He just didn't care about it at all and wouldn't even change his viewpoint when I was with him. That's just one of a multitude of reasons that I'm no longer friends with that guy. Back to the original point - littering is childish. Even better, pick up a piece or two of litter as you walk around and help the idiots who think the world is their trash can.

So there you have it. Six easy things you can do to keep this blue marble of ours spinning freely around the bright yellow ball in the sky.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Italian Shrimp with Redskin Potatoes

I love to cook from scratch with no plan sometimes and I also love to clean out my refrigerator. Sometimes this can lead to catastrophic consequences, but this recipe was not one of those occasions. It was awesome from Jump Street.

I first boiled 6 smallish redskin potatoes with the skins on.

While that was going, I rough chopped 1/2 of a medium white onion and sliced 2 garlic cloves. I sauteed these in some olive oil over medium heat until the garlic was browning and the onion translucent.

As the onion and garlic were going in the skillet, I took out a can of diced tomatoes (always, always keep 2 of these on hand at all handy) and pureed them in a food processor.

Once the onion/garlic had sauteed, I spooned in the pureed tomatoes, added some dried oregano and let that marry together for a few minutes.

I deveined about 5 shrimp while the skillet mixture was working itself into a lather. Once the potatoes were fork tender, I put them on a cutting board and quartered them. I added these into the tomato/garlic/onion skillet and let them cook down for a few minutes.

Finally, I added the shrimp and covered them up with the sauce. I let them cook for about 4 minutes until the flesh got springy and white.

I served this with some green beans covered in a cooked-down glaze of mango-orange juice and cinammon, plus a couple of rolls. Eatin' good in DBS's neighborhood!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Impact Prospects - Who's got 'em?

One of the complaints that you hear from folks frustrated with the Pirates (and by tangent, frustrated with all things front office-related) is that the Pirates do not have any impact prospects, aside from Alvarez, in the system or on the horizon.

The feeling is that an opportunity was missed to add one to the organization by Neil Huntington when he traded Jason Bay. Yes, that trade is not looking great right now, but what people seem to fail to realize is that teams are very reticent to part with true impact prospects. The occasions that it has happened have had a mix of 2 parts desperation (Carlos Santana for Casey Blake) mixed with 1 part incompetence (Bill Bavasi's farm emptying for Erik Bedard).

I consider an impact prospect to be one of the four types of player:
1. A future #1 or #2 pitcher
2. A 30+ HR corner player (OF, 1B, 3B)
3. An offensive catcher with at least a modicum of defensive ability
4. An up-the-middle guy with 4 or 5 tools.

It takes a lot to be considered a true impact guy, so using Baseball America's recent offseason Top 10's for each team, I went through to pick out who meets the DBS criteria for an impact guy. Let's see how many are out there and who has them.

ATL (1) - Heyward. I'm not a Freeman fan and Teheran needs to go a full season
FLA (1) - Stanton. Same with Morrison about not being a fan.
NYM (0) - I like Mejia a lot, but I'm not 100% he's a starter long term
PHI (1) - Brown. They traded away some potential impacts and didn't get any back w/ SEA
WAS (2) - Strasburg and Norris. I'm a big Derek Norris fan

CHI (0) - Don't get me started on how overrated Castro is. Starlin, not Fidel.
CIN (1) - Chapman. He's not on the BA Top 10 because he signed late
HOU (0) - Blah.
MIL (1) - Escobar. A shade less defense than Andrus in TEX, more speed
PIT (1) - Alvarez. Lincoln is not a #2 w/o a changeup and Tabata doesn't have power.
STL (0) - Blah part deux.

ARI (1) - Parker. And he'll be out all 2010 from TJ surgery.
COL (1) - Friederich. Matzek needs to pitch this year to determine his status.
LAD (1) - Gordon. Still raw, but I like him.
SDP (0) - I think Tate will bust and Decker looks like a fire hydrant.
SFG (1) - Posey. Bumgarner has fallen way off the prospect earth

BAL (0) - I don't think Matusz is a true 1 or 2. I like this system's Top 10 a lot, though.
BOS (0) - It was a young, unproven system coming into 2010 and Westmoreland's brain surgery complicates his status.
NYY (1) - Montero. I don't think he plays more than 3 seasons with the Yanks before he's traded.
TBR (3) - Jennings, Hellickson, Davis. All three are future studs.
TOR (1) - Drabek. I really hedged on this one, but I'm feeling generous I guess.

CWS (0) - I wanted to say Flowers, but I'm hesitant about him staying at C.
CLE (1) - Santana. Stolen from LAD because they couldn't take any of Blake's salary back.
DET (1) - Crosby. Like Matzek, Turner needs to pitch.
KCR (1) - Montgomery. Another young system that may generate 1 or 2 more next year.
MIN (0) - What, did you expect me to say Sano?

LAA (0) - Very young system, Trout is interesting to follow.
OAK (2) - Carter, Taylor. They may be "just" sluggers, but they do it well.
SEA (0) - Ackley needs to play first.
TEX (2) - Feliz, Perez. I'm not bullish on Smoak.

So there you have it. 11 teams with zero impact prospects right now and only 4 teams with multiple impacts.

The Pirates are in the same boat as 14 other teams and better than 11. Yes, the Bucs need some power coming up in the org but let's not act like other teams are brimming with it themselves.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cleveland - Melt and Momocho

DB~ and I took a semi-impromptu trip to Cleveland last Friday night. We left right after work and got to Cleveland at 7:15 pm. We planned to eat at two places that I saw on my guilty pleasure show (Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives), check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and do a little geocaching. All in 24 hours.

The plan was to go to Melt on Friday for dinner. We heard ahead of time that there was usually a wait, but when we got there we got a spot right out front. Score. And then we got inside...2 hour wait. Really?! Really. After some debate, we went with Plan B and went to Momocho instead.

We only had to wait 15 minutes. I would have waited triple that for this place. Momocho, in Ohio City, just to the west of Cleveland, is everything that Yo Rita! was trying to be. I seem to be the only person in the Pittsburgh metro area that wasn't overly impressed with Yo Rita!, so maybe I have to try it again.

The tacos at Momocho weren't life-altering, but they made you consider some changes to your life at least. :)

I had the ancho braised beef brisket (marinated in coffee) and DB~ had the artichoke and goat cheese. What they do is serve you your filling in a dish and give you a stack of small corn "hand size" soft shells. I got 3 out of my dish and could have probably got another 3 more (all for $15, BTW) except I made a hog out of myself with their homemade guacamole.

Momocho makes 6 homemade guacs. They have smoked trout, crab, blue cheese, pineapple, traditional and the goat cheese/tomato/chile poblano (we got this one).

The decor was very hipster-ish, with a Mexican wrestler meets religious icon thing going on. Very cool and worth checking out.

After our big day of exploring downtown Cleveland on Saturday, we decided to try Melt again for lunch. This time, DB~ was smart and called ahead to see the wait at 2 pm on a Saturday. 2 hours. 2 freaking hours. Carry-out was 45 minutes, so we ordered a Smoky Russian for me (turkey/gouda/spinach) and a Summer Chicken for her (chicken/havarti/other goodness).

Melt's thing is that all of their sandwiches are put in the "meltification machine" as if they are grilled cheeses. No matter what you order, it comes on two buttery thick slices of bread with delicious hand cut fries.

We sat outside of Melt, in their back parking lot, and ate our sandwiches as if it were an urban picnic. DB~ had a great idea to open a restaurant next to Melt called "Where Do You Want to Eat Now?" as that's what everyone said when they turned away from Melt.

If you are in the Cleveland area, it is worth checking out both of these places. But for Melt, you may have to plan your day around it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pirates' Minor Leaguers - opening weekend

The minors started on Thursday (the 2nd opening day of the baseball season) and so far, the majority of the Pirates' top prospects and key players have gotten off to good starts.

The power hitters are hitting for power, the speed guys are stealing bases. And we have some 2nd and 3rd tier guys stating their cases as well.

At West Virginia (Low A), the bats were slow to start the season, but Jarek Cunningham is batting .375. Off the radar guy David Rubenstein is batting .400 in the early going and Evan Chambers has more BB than K's. Quinton Miller had a nice debut start going 5 IP, 1 run (unearned) with 1 BB and 3 K's.

In Bradenton (high A), the bats have been on fire in the supposedly-pitcher friendly FSL. Robbie Grossman is batting .500 thru the first 3 games with 2 BB and zero (!!!) K's. He may not have gone 3 consecutive games at any point last season without striking out. Starling Marte is off and running (.364) and DBS whipping boy Quincy Latimore is at .400 with 1 HR and 2 BB's. But the star at the plate has been Jeremy Farrell, heretofore a 3rd tier prospect at best. He is hitting .455 with 3 HR's and 12 RBI's. On the mound, both Locke and Morris have pitched decent starts their first times out. Hopefully, they move up sooner than later.

At Altoona, most of the bats have been slow to start, but Jordy Mercer is swinging at a .417 clip with 1 SB. Chase D'arnaud is only at .214 in the very early going. Jared Hughes had a decent first start with 5 IP, 4 K's and 1 R allowed.

In Indy, the future-is-now crowd of Alvarez, Tabata, and Lincoln have a mixed bag of results. Pedro has only 3 hits (.176) but all 3 are HR's and he already has 3 BB's. Tabata is batting .350 with a couple of 2B's and 2 SB's. Lincoln had a rough first game, giving up 3 HR's but did strike out 4 in his 3 IP. Walker is living up to his name, with 3 BB and 0 K's so far. And Pearce is making a case for getting a call up with a .471 start.

Hard to believe the minor league season is already nearly 3% done. Where has the time gone?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ocho Rios, Jamaica - more touristy-type post

So we didn't go down just to observe the locals and sympathize with their plight, as I may have portrayed in the last post. We went for sand in our toes, unlimited drinks at a swim up pool bar(s), and to see some natural beauty. (Besides the natural beauty of DB~, of course).

We stayed at the Riu Ocho Rios, a mega-resort of 864 rooms spread over 3 towers. And of those 864 rooms, it felt like we were checked into half of them thanks to a series of goofs by the front desk. The first room we got was in the standard Tower 3...normal room. When we used the key (not a keycard, a key, oddly enough) and opened the door...there were a man and a woman in various states of undress. But at least they were both wearing something.

After dragging our luggage allllll the way to the front desk, we got another room in Tower 3 from a different front desk guy. I asked him to ring the room to make sure no one was there this time. No answer. So we caravan back to the new room and have a good laugh about the first room on our way there. When I open the door to the new room, we are both greeted by the site of a swarthy naked man running out of the shower, crank bobbing in the breeze, coming to slam the door in my face or punch me...whichever comes first.

This time, I had DB~ hang out with the luggage and I quietly complained about the unacceptable nature of this situation. For my efforts, we got upgraded to a junior suite in Tower 1.

That was the last bad thing that happened...the rest of the time at the Riu was fantastic. The food was great at the 5 restaurants you could make reservations for, plus the buffet restaurant and the Italian restaurant.

The first picture above is a shot from our kayak out on the Caribbean Sea looking back towards the Riu. We were staying on the very far right.

The second picture is a shot of Dunn River Falls, a must-do if you are in Jamaica. Dunn River Falls are a series of cascading waterfalls that descend over 300 feet into the Caribbean Sea. You are given a tour, one in which you will definitely get wet, by forming a human chain of people and then ascending the falls by climbing up the rocks. It's an idea that you would never do back in Pittsburgh, but it seems perfectly acceptable in Jamaica. It was a ton of fun and we got a lot of great pictures of us in the falls themselves, thanks to tipping our guide $5 to keep our camera dry and take shots of us periodically.

The one picture that I wish I could show you was that of Glistening Waters. This was another off-site tour we did to a lagoon that has micro-organisms in it that absorb sunlight during the day. At night, these micro-organisms emit bioluminescence when disturbed. The boat ride you take at night causes the boat's wake to glow a neon blue. And then you can get in the lagoon and swim around too -- this causes the water around you to glow as well as the hair on your arms. The bottom of the lagoon is this bizarre gelatinous mud type of mixture that feels super weird when you walk on it (you're only in 4 feet of water at this point). It's even harder when you are carrying your girlfriend who doesn't want to touch it with her feet!!

All in all, Jamaica was a great place to visit and there is plenty to do over the course of a week. It's not a place we will rush back, as both of us love to explore different places, but I do recommend Jamaica. Yea mon.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ocho Rios, Jamaica - observing the local artisans

DB~ and I got back on Saturday from a well-deserved, week-long vacation to Ocho Rios, Jamaica. There will be some more posts about more "tropical resort-ish" aspects of our trip and the other places we went, but I thought I would lead off with a gritty, grindy post about our trip to downtown Ocho Rios.

First things first...if you are going to Jamaica, you have to know that if you step 1 foot off of your resort, you will be haggled by someone trying to sell you something. DB~ and I were well aware of this going into the trip, but it still seemed to take aback some others that we met on the trip.

We took a shuttle, along with 12 other people from our resort, to downtown Ocho Rios's shopping district on Monday (3/29). This was mainly our chance to get some souvenirs at better prices than on the resort, but I always want to really get a feel for the local flavor when I visit somewhere, too. When we got off the shuttle, we were dropped in the heart of the area and told we would be picked up in 2 hours.

We instantly went into this "gated community" of sorts for shopping called Soni's. It was where all the hagglers on the street are kept out by a gate and there is security patrolling inside. This was a good way for us to get our feet wet before what would come later. While inside this Soni's complex, we were stunned to see that it was run and primarily staffed by a large amount of Indians. When you go to a place like Jamaica, it's just a little jarring to be bartering a piece of jewelry for your girlfriend with an Indian. We got the majority of our souvenirs here, and only had to go into a few stores to do it, so we had lots of time left to walk the town and get a feel for the pulse of a town that rises and swells like the tides with every cruise ship that comes into port. Once we left the semi-protected area of Soni's is when things got more real.

This area had the energy and street feel of a place like the Strip District on a Saturday in the summer, but amplified by a power of 10. At no point, walking by ourselves through this stretch, did we feel in danger but there is this element of unknowing that hangs in the air. There is such desperation to earn a dollar from everyone you meet. It will really alter my view of shopping, in general, and in the Strip District in particular from now on. It will be tough to not try and barter in the Strip!

I love grocery shopping so I wanted to see what one was like in Jamaica. We went into a place called General Foods to do a little price shopping. Earlier in the week, I had overheard from a person on the resort that the minimum wage here was 14 cents an hour. That's why when you tip someone on the resort $1 or $2 dollars, they will usually go out of their way for you. Think of your hourly wage or salary by the hour and then imagine if someone gave you a tip of 7 or 15 times that rate. The prices in the grocery store (using some quick goat math to convert 90 Jamaican into 1 US) were usually half of what we pay here. But then factor in the much larger wage scale and you can see that most groceries could be luxuries here. Case in point - the ground meat was roughly the same price there as it is here -- that's a huge deal for someone that may be earning $1.40 a day.

We had been souvenir shopping, wandered the streets taking photos of the hub-bub and the people, went grocery shopping, so now it was time to get gritty and grindy and go into the Craft Market.

This is where the local artisans congregate in this tight labyrinth of rows and pathways, all asking to come look at their store with open arms but flat tones in their voices. They know that most of the time they will be ignored or shooed away. In this area, at first, DB~ and I did feel slightly edgy. It's very tight and there are locals right on top of you at every turn. But then we had an epiphany, of sorts...this was a tight-knit community within Ocho Rios's own community. Nothing bad was going to happen to you here (aside from overpaying for something!), especially if you stayed aware of your surroundings.

And then we found our oasis in the form of a man named Tony. He is the picture at the top of the post and may have been our favorite Jamaican that we met on our trip. His area was all the way at the back and when we approached him, he was sitting on a concrete ledge carving a wooden fish out of a piece of cedar. He did not give us any high-pressure sales pitch, just asked us to look at his stuff and we could do a deal. Without saying anything, DB~ and I just felt...relaxed...wholly relaxed for the first time in downtown Ocho Rios. We could have been anywhere in Pittsburgh watching a man carve a fish out of cedar, but we were here in Jamaica.

Before the trip, we wanted to get some type of local art for the two of us to remember the trip by. This was it. We negotiated the price for this fish to $8 and then asked Tony if he could stain it for us while we finished walking through the market, a period of 20 minutes. He said sure. We perused the rest of the market and DB~ bartered a good deal for some wooden bracelets, but we returned to Tony's area in 10 minutes. It was our comfort zone.

When we got back earlier than expected, I told Tony we just wanted to hang out and watch him work. We asked him questions periodically about himself and his life, but mostly it was just really satisfying to know that the wooden fish on my mantle right now was made right in front of us and not in some factory in China (like many souvenirs in Jamaica). Tony had been carving for 15 years and his hands proved it -- there were many "uh-oh's" on his hands from stray awl and chisel misses. Tony gathers his own wood up in the hills outside Ocho Rios. He lived close by to the market and walked to his stand, which he pays the equivalent of $16 US/month to rent.

In a typical day, Tony makes 8 wooden pieces of art, whether it is fish, birds, or an elaborate barracuda and stains them. It is hard, manual work that he does. Most of them he sells wholesale to a friend who then distributes them all over Jamaica. You see a lot of similar looking fish at various souvenir places throughout the country. But ours was made right in front of us. And for that, I thank you Tony. Yeah, it was only $8, but you gave DB~ and I our lasting memory of Jamaica.

One love, Tony. Respec'.