Saturday, December 31, 2011

What If Andrew McCutchen was drafted by the Rays?

It's hard to believe that the Rays were at one time not The Little Franchise that could, but you have to go alllllll the way back to the year 2005 to find when they were still flailing away. At that time in 2005, they were in the midst of the final death throes of the GM Chuck LaMar/Owner Vince Namoli era.

It was June 2005 and the annual draft was upon the "Devil" Rays. The Rays were in their customary spot of picking in the Top 10 of the draft, this time in the 8th slot. There was a great amount of internal debate within the Devil Rays' front office on who to take with their first round pick. There was a faction in the front office that wanted to take Florida high school star Andrew McCutchen, but there was a larger more vocal faction that wanted to get a college player to help the team much sooner (read: try and save their jobs). If anything of these first two paragraphs sound hauntingly familiar to you, just flash forward two years to the summer of 2007 when the Pirates went "safe" and picked Danny Moskos in the draft. It's no coincidence that LaMar and Littlefield were both considered two of the worst GM's in modern years.

I thought it might be interesting to contemplate how Andrew McCutchen's career may have been different had that minority faction in the Devil Rays' front office won out.

Let's assume that McCutchen signs with the Devil Rays and at the slot amount, just as he did with the Pirates. He would probably have been assigned to Princeton of the Applachian League, as the Devil Rays don't have a Gulf/Arizona League team for HS players. The Rays are notorious for going slow with their young pitchers, but not as much with their hitters, so in 2006 let's say that McCutchen would have been assigned to the Southwest Michigan Whitecaps in the Low A Midwest League. The Midwest League is a much tougher hitting environment, especially in the early part of the year due to cold conditions, but it is safe to assume that McCutchen would still have done well.

In 2007, McCutchen would have been promoted to Vero Beach in the Florida State League. The FSL is considered to be a pitcher's league, due to the oppressive heat and humidity in the summer, plus some expansive outfields at certain parks. The Pirates aggressively promoted McCutchen to Double A Altoona Curve in 2007, but the Devil Rays would probably have taken it one rung at a time with him.

2008 would have seen McCutchen promoted to the Montgomery Biscuits in the Southern League, which skews towards a hitters league. It is easy to envision the 21 year old McCutchen doing quite well in this league. Continuing with the one level at a time theory, McCutchen would have gone to the Durham Bulls in 2009 as a 22 year old in the International League. The Devil Rays are very cost conscious and like to control their assets more than any team in the league, so it is not hard to imagine McCutchen spending all of 2009 in the IL.

What would have happened in 2010, though? At the major league level, BJ Upton was firmly entrenched in CF for the now-Rays. Carl Crawford was ensconced in LF, but would soon be leaving the Rays for free agency at the end of the year. Ben Zobrist was coming off of a huge breakout year in 2009, even though his 2010 was a down year, but he wasn't going anywhere in RF.

If the Rays were out of playoff contention, it would be conceivable that they could have traded Crawford mid-season to recoup some value in prospects. However, the Rays made a playoff push in 2010. As a result of the playoff run, plus the presence of three solid options, it seems as if McCutchen could have spent a 2nd full season in AAA.

McCutchen may not have made his major league debut until the start of the 2011 season (as a 24 year old), replacing Crawford in LF, as Upton is considered to be a high quality CF. This past season may have been McCutchen's rookie season if he were a member of the Rays, not his 3rd overall season and 2nd full season like it was with the Pirates.

As we have seen with Evan Longoria, Wade Davis, and recently Matt Moore, the Rays are not shy about locking up young talent early on in the process. The Pirates are trying to do that right now, but McCutchen may have concerns about the future of the Pirates. That may not be the case with the Rays, as they have been quite successful in recent years.

As difficult as it would be to imagine McCutchen in any other uniform, it is possible that he would have had a slower yet ultimately more rewarding career, in terms of both team success and short-term financial success, if the "Devil" Rays had made a different decision in that draft room in 2005.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Meat and Potatoes

On Saturday I was at Piratefest and near the end of it DB~ met me down at the convention center. We were joined for dinner by my friend Tim and originally intended to go to NOLA on the Square. However, when we called ahead the earliest possible reservation was 9:15 (it was 7'ish).

A restaurant that I've had in the back of my mind is Meat and Potatoes. I liked the name, liked the logo, and liked its description as a pub. That was about all I knew about it, though, aside from it being on Penn Avenue. We walked from the Convention Center to Meat and Potatoes and were surprised that it is practically IN the O'Reilly Theater.

There's a seperate entrance, but the hostess stand is kind of in an O'Reilly-feeling lobby and is a little exposed to the elements when the door is open and closed. Those minor concerns were all that we could find wrong with Meat and Potatoes, though.

When you enter the restaurant, it's darkened to give off a relaxing mood. There's a large chalkboard to your left that show the specials of the day. Also to your left is a private "party" room that has a white farm-style sliding door with glass panels and black hardware and handles. The private room might hold 10 people tops.

There was a long wait for a table here also, but we were able to be seated immediately at the bar. DB~ and I actually prefer to eat at the bar sometimes because you get quicker service and the bartenders tend to engage you more than a typical server. It also seemed as if the granite top bar had more depth to it for your plates and drinks than the typical table here.

The bartenders wore dark colored vests and ties tucked in the vests. The one bartenders had a "chaffeurs' hat" on with his pinstriped vest, reminding us of the bartenders at the erstwhile Embury (single tear in memory of that great place). As it turns out, our bartender was actually the head bartender at Embury at the time of its closing.

He was able to mix a mean Sidecar for me. DB~ and Tim both had special craft beers -- one was a raspberry chicory stout and the other was a winter ale.

For dinner, DB~ wanted one last hurrah with her autumn beau of pumpkin, so she ordered the pumpkin ravioli. Tim ordered the pork chop. I ordered the chicken pot pie.

Unfortunately, my pictures turned out very dark (no flash on my phone), but DB~ loved her dish. It was in a brown butter and sage sauce with parmesean, but the key here were the pecans that were roasted in (I believe) nutmeg. They really finished off the dish.

Tim's pork chop looked like it came straight out of the Flintstones. I was concerned it was going to tip his plate over, just like the brontosaurus chop did to Fred's car. It was served with some baked beans and a spicy slaw that had Tim sweating a little bit.

My chicken pot pie was great. The peas were actually whole sugar snap peas, slices of carrot, slivers of celery, roasted sections of chickens. However, the star of the show here were the tiny purple Peruvian potatoes and tiny white potato halves. Quite tasty.

All 3 of us loved the restaurant and would definitely check it out again. Perhaps in conjunction with a show at the O'Reilly next time.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Will they elect a fake City Council, too?

Here we sit at the tail end of 2011, with large masses of people around the country upside down on their mortgages, or worse...homeless, living in their cars or the streets. And what does one company, Pegasus Holdings, propose to do?

Build a ghost town from scratch in the desert expanse of New Mexico. Seriously. If they want to utilize a ghost town, what's wrong with Detroit? Snark.

Pegasus is proposing to construct the Center for Innovation, Testing, and Evaluation (CIT-E, get it?) in order to implement different energy-saving technologies in building and streets and then field test their performances. They may bring in some human test subjects from time to time to groundtruth the mechanisms, but for the most part the only humans will be confined in underground laboratories watching every quirk and nuance of these different experiments, ranging from surveillance to power grids to smart streets to security systems.

And this won't be some 10 city block testing lab. It will 20 square miles, consisting of an urban core, suburbs, and outlying rural areas. The infrastructure (water, sewer, electric, cable, gas) will be laid out to accomodate a potential 30,000 person population.

Coupled with PlanIT that I wrote about, the egghead community sure seemed to play as much SimCity2000 as I did growing up. But then my 2nd-tier thinking/conspiracy theorist starts kicking in....

By locating in New Mexico's deserts near Las Cruces, rife with energy and defense contractors, I highly doubt that CIT-E will be only for energy and traffic experiments. I have a feeling that the military will be field testing tactical weapons shortly after this opens -- to see how a city block reacts to different cutting edge technologies dreamed up by DARPA.

Just as long as the government powers-that-be don't set up their own Science City Zero, we should be OK, I suppose.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Now that the dust has settled....

Today marked the end of the annual Winter Meetings in Dallas that started on Monday. The Pirates weren't as busy as the Marlins or Angels, but they did churn quite a few moves up during the meetings, with some fairly interesting little moves.

Here's a summary of some of the Pirates moves:
1. They signed Nate McLouth. I guess McLouth didn't completely burn all bridges with his crying and whining after his trade in 2009. McLouth signed a 1 year, $1.75M deal with the expectation that he would be the 4th OF. McLouth may be a good reclamation project, as he readily admitted that he dug himself into a hole in Atlanta that he couldn't get out of easily.

2. The Pirates traded Brooks Pounders and Diego Goris to the Royals for Yamaico Navarro. Set aside Goris, who was a 4 year player in the DSL -- without going to the trouble of tattooing it on his forehead, you can assume Goris is not a prospect. Pounders was my personal #31 prospect, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over him. Pounders pitched out of relief this year in West Virginia (and did well), but he may lack the stamina to be a starting pitcher long term. The Pirates have a large amount of starting pitching options going to Bradenton next year, so this was a good use of trading from depth. In return the Pirates get Navarro, who will be 24 in 2012. Navarro was a well-regarded Red Sox prospect that was traded to the Royals last summer for Mike Aviles. Navarro has his warts -- he has an attitude problem and concerns about his weight -- but he should be a nice option as the utility infielder this year for the major league club.

3. The Pirates signed Erik Bedard. This was the most surprising one, to Pirate fans and the media alike. Bedard signed a 1 year, $4.5M deal with some incentive clauses. When healthy, Bedard is a legit #2 style pitcher. The problem is that he hasn't been healthy much in the last 4 years. In 2011, he pitched 129 innings, which was the most since 2007. It's too bad you can't time pitcher injuries, because if Bedard can hang in until Morton comes back from his hip surgery, then get injured, then come back and hang in until one of the AAA pitchers (Owens, Locke, McPherson) are ready....well, that would be handy.

Additionally, the Pirates cleared some space for these guys by:
1. Releasing Ross Ohlendorf. This one hurts a little because Ohlendorf seems like a real good guy that will probably do better things in his life post-baseball. Ohlendorf has had too many injuries to warrant his $2M arbitration award that he was likely to receive this year.

2. Designating for assignment Jason Jaramillo and Pedro Ciriaco. I hope Ciriaco saved all that money he accumulated by being, inexplicably, on the ML squad in 2011. He barely played, even as a defensive replacement or pinch runner, yet hung around for the better part of the year. Jaramillo is a completely fungible back up catcher that will not be missed long term.

Derrek Lee also treated the Pirates like the chubby girl at the dance by declining arbitration, in hopes of getting a gig with whoever missed out on the Pujols-Fielder sweepstakes. It will be interesting to see if the Cubs have interest in bringing him back, as they had some interest in Pujols. I can't see Fielder going there, though.

I have a feeling that the Pirates will be definitely in on Lee or Carlos Pena, as I can't buy the notion that Nick Evans and Garrett Jones will be platooning there in 2012.

The Pirates also signed Jose Morales as AAA depth at catcher. In the Rule 5 draft, the Pirates lost Brett Lorin to the Diamondbacks and picked up Gustavo Nunez from the Tigers. I just don't see where Nunez will fit in at the ML level or even at AA if they can work out a trade.

I will continue to beat the drum that the Pirates should trade some prospects for a pitcher like Ervin Santana or Gavin Floyd. The Angels need to offload some payroll to accommodate the new salaries of Pujols and Wilson. The White Sox are in the midst of a rebuild and can use every prospect they can get their hands on.

The Pirates have made marginal improvements around the edges of the team, with Bedard being a nice upgrade pending good health. Not a bad Winter Meetings period, but I expect another move or two.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Salt of the Earth - Part Deux

It's rare, if ever, that I have posted about a restaurant a second time. But DB~ and I had a gift certificate to use up by the end of the year at Salt of the Earth. We asked our closest friends to join us for dinner last night (Friday). The first time we were there was in June.

My friend and his wife are casual readers of the blog (meaning that they read it once) and he had one request during dinner -- he wanted a nickname, too. He even provided his own suggestion -- Mickey Mantle's Liver.

So last night, the four of us (DBS, DB~, MML, and MML*) got to Salt of the Earth at 6:30 pm. It was packed and we were told it might be a 1 hour wait. So we had a cocktail. None of us anticipated it would be that long and it wasn't. After about 20 to 30 minutes, we were asked if we would like the kitchen-side seats. I practically blurted out "absolutely!", even as MML sort of made a face, not realizing what a great opportunity this would be to watch the artful masterpieces be created in front of us.

We strategically laid out the seating order to maximize conversation potential. It went MML*, DB~, DBS, and MML from left to right (I guess if you've been married for 9 years, you don't need to talk with each other all the time!).

As soon as we sat down, I noticed the grill master had a sleeve of tattoos on each arm, a buzz crop of blond hair, and a placid look on his face. He sure looked like Kevin Sousa, but he was not wearing his thick framed black glasses that I was familiar with. But sure enough, DB~ confirmed via her iPhone that he did not always wear his glasses.

It was fascinating to watch the kitchen staff of Salt of the Earth work together in harmony during the night. It is said, and I believe it to be true, that the demeanor of any operation starts at the top. This was true last night...Salt was very busy, yet Sousa calmly and coolly tended to the great quantities of duck and hangar steak on the grill in front of him. Each cut of meat was salted and seasoned in the same exact manner -- his hand was held at mid-chest height, with his wrist cocked, and the salt was released and gently sprinkled. Coming off the grill, each cut was plated and sliced with calm and detached efficiency.

We started our dining experience off with two appetizers. The first were Vegetable Lettuce Wraps for the girls. The chicken was a spicy Korean type of chicken with excellent flavors. Check out the great camera work by Squiggle to get Kevin Sousa in the background of the wraps picture.

The second appetizer was for the carnivores of the group. We got Gnocchi, but it was primarily a meat appetizer. The dish was tiny cubes of beef cheek, with spots of persimmon puree, small bites of sweet potato gnocchi, all served on cow tongue. Our server called it Tongue and Cheek when he presented it to us.

It goes without saying that both were excellent. Even the girls tried the paper thin tongue and liked it well enough. The beef cheek was perhaps the most tender piece of red meat we have ever had. It disintegrated in my mouth upon touching my tongue. The tongue itself was pretty neutral. It absorbed the flavors of the cooking liquids that it was braised in, plus it blowtorched for a few seconds upon plating.

For dinner, all four of us ordered something different.

MML* ordered the Mushroom. I didn't really get a good luck at it, but it had farro for the starch, some pear, and "root". Not sure what type of root that entailed.

DB~ ordered the Trout. The skin was well seasoned and slightly crispy, but tender on the inside. It was sitting in a broth known as Birch Dhani, that DB~ asked me to reverse-engineer. I'm not sure I can. There were also udon noodles, turnips, and in the words of DB~ "a nice little touch with some peeled grapes".

MML had the Duck. It was served on a puree of parsnip and served with apple butter, pomegranate, and brussel sprouts. The duck was a shade less than medium rare, but MML liked it that way. MML stated that the Duck was easily one of the top 5 dishes he has ever had in his life. Judging by the amount of duck dishes we saw being prepared at our kitchen-side seats, there were a lot of people that might be saying that today.

I had the Hangar Steak. It was served on a bed of rice porridge, a kimchi and broccoli mix, with toasted ginger on top of the steak. Kevin Sousa fermented his own kimchi for this dish. It was a new kimchi...only fermented for 4 days, instead of 3 months. My steak was done medium and it was perfectly tender. The toasted garlic was fantastic, the kimchi spicy, and the porridge gave a different texture that otherwise may have been missing.

Kevin Sousa leaned over to talk to us after our meal. I asked him how his new place, Union Pig and Chicken, was coming along in the construction. He said he hoped to be open by the end of February. I asked him when he was going to go on Iron Chef and show them how it was done. He responded by saying he hadn't been invited yet (things to do -- submit Kevin Sousa to Food Network), but if he did he wanted to take on Morimoto before he was shuffled out of the Iron Chef show. Morimoto is basically a machine that never loses, so it's commendable that Sousa would want to challenge himself like that.

It was yet another fantastic meal at the best restaurant in Pittsburgh. It was only heightened by the fact that we got to interact with the chef, see the process in action, and spend the night with our great friends.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Butternut Squash Lasagna

Much like any good pair of dancers, DB~ and I have found a good rhythm in the kitchen. Up until now, that relationship consisted of "I make the food and you enjoy it." It always left me feeling like she would just eat whatever I had the interest in making that day...kind of like a restaurant but with only 1 or 2 choices on the menu.

But in recent weeks, DB~ has found her niche. She is on a huge roll of finding great recipes for me to make. It started with the Cheddar Chicken Crumb recipe, moved to a Stuffed Pepper recipe (a variation on a Greek stuffed pepper recipe I've been doing) and then last Sunday came the Butternut Squash Lasagna.

I've probably mentioned this before, but DB~ with a little extra convincing could easily be a vegetarian. She doesn't like red meat very much, doesn't eat barbeque (!!!), tolerates pork, and is OK with eating chicken. So in turn, I've become a bit of a vegetarian myself. That's OK with the Moroccan tagines, and the stuffed pepper with no meat, but...lasagna? I'm used to a nice little layer of ground meat inside all that melty ricotta.

She found the recipe on this site called Design Sponge. After looking at it, I realized this needed to be a weekend meal, because it seemed time-consuming. I modified the ingredients for this post to correspond to my experience making it. This will serve 4 people.

1 medium butternut squash - peeled, cored, and sliced width-wise
6 lasagna noodles - cooked
1-1/2 cups of spinach leaves
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 stick of butter
scant 1/4 cup of flour
1-1/2 cups of 2% milk
2 cups of mozzarella
1/2 cup of parmasean cheese, shredded

Start your large stockpot of water boiling. Turn your oven on to 375 degrees Farenheit.
While the water is coming to a boil, peel and slice the squash into the wing-like shaped pieces (make sure you cut in half and remove the seeds too). Drizzle some olive oil on a baking sheet, place the squash on the sheet and season with salt and pepper. Bake the squash for 15 minutes until softened.

Hopefully your water is boiling by now and you can drop your lasagna noodles in to cook fully.

While that's going on, start making your cream sauce. Take 1/4 of a stick of butter (half of your half stick) and melt it in a small saucepan on medium heat. Mix the flour in to create a roux. When this is whisked together, slowly pour in the milk and mix well. Add in the garlic and let the mixture thicken a little bit (keep stirring periodically, as the milk will cause the mix to bubble up with the flour).

Once thickened, pour this mix into a food processer and add the spinach. Process this thoroughly and add some salt and pepper to taste. There's your cream sauce.

Your lasagna should be cooked and drained by this point. Your squash should be out of the oven, too. Time to start assembling the lasagna.

Use a 9 by 13 baking dish for this. Pour some of the cream sauce in the bottom (enough to cover the bottom), then add one layer of lasagna noodles. Add some of the mozzarella cheese, some of the parm cheese, then a layer of the squash. Repeat as necessary (I did 2 layers) and end it with some parmasean cheese on top.

Bake covered in foil for 40 minutes, then take off the foil and bake for 15 minutes more. Let it rest for 10 minutes when you take it out or else it will fall apart when you cut it.

The link has a recipe for a sage-butter sauce, but we felt the lasagna stood on its own merit. And you never even notice there's no meat.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Smoke gets in my eyes (and stomach)

A friend of mine told me about a new taco place in Homestead a couple of months ago called Smoke. We've been meaning to check it out for a while now, but we wanted to wait until we had a reason to go to the Waterfront as well.

Last night, with DB~'s brother in town from Cleveland, the three of us decided to check out a movie at the Waterfront and go to Smoke beforehand. The day before DB~ and I looked at the reviews online at Urbanspoon -- they had an amazing 95% approval rating.

We had heard that there was very limited seating at Smoke, so we were a little worried about getting there at 5:45 pm on a Saturday. Smoke only has 15 seats because of a Health Department regulation based on the fact that they only have 1 small bathroom. When we got to the restaurant (no illuminated sign so you have to keep your eyes peeled at night), all the tables were occupied but after a couple of minutes, the two young people at a 5 seat table invited the 3 of us to join them. We accepted their gracious offer.

Smoke is quirky and deliberatly so. None of the chairs match. There may be different silverware at the same table. There is a staircase that goes up to a dead end in the ceiling. The large incedescant bulbs reminded me of the bulbs that Nikolai Tesla (played by David Bowie) handed Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) upon arriving to his Colorado retreat. The bulb lit up in Angier's hand, due to the natural current running through our bodies and the current in the field they were standing. I didn't grab one of the lights last night to test that.

We spoke with our server and she told us that if things keep going well, the owners have plans to expand into the rear of the store plus renovate the downstairs as well. But first they have to add more bathrooms to accomodate the extra seating. The owners are originally from Texas and they couldn't find good tacos up here, so they opened up their own place. Because they are from Texas, they incorporated some barbecue efforts into their taqueria.

Prior to us going, we had read about how great the mac and cheese was, so we definitely planned to order that. Our dining companions did order it and got it before us, so we eyeballed them and asked them what they thought of the mac and cheese and the tacos they ordered. They loved it all. The guy and girl, both around 22 or 23, were very pleasant to talk to and we were very happy they allowed us to share their table.

DB~'s brother ordered the Brisket taco and an order of mac and cheese ($4 for the taco and $3.75 for the mac and cheese). The taco had sauteed onions, jalapeno pepper slices, and a barbeque mustard sauce. No lettuce, no cheese, no tomato. Each taco is served wrapped up in aluminum foil with a black magic marker scribbled on it to designate what type of taco it is. Each tortilla shell at Smoke is hand made when you order it, so they take a little extra time to arrive. The whole taco experience reminded me of what it must be like to eat at a taco stand in Mexico. From seeing them on TV, there are only a few chairs and you squirt your own sauce on the taco as it is laid in front of you.

DB~ ordered the chicken taco, with the sublime avocado cream sauce and picked onions (no hot sauce for her), and the mac and cheese. Both she and her brother really enjoyed the mac and cheese (so did I from the forkful that I had).

I ordered the pork taco with an apricot habanero sauce and onions. My side that I selected was the Red Potato Salad that had leeks and bacon ($3.00). It was equally awesome.

The tacos are small, so her brother and I each order another one before we left for the movie. He got the chicken taco and I tried the brisket taco. We both enjoyed our second tacos as well. Tacos that are on the menu also include: ribs, chorizo, a chicken apple, and a philly cheesesteak type of taco. They also serve breakfast style tacos all day long with eggs in them.

The drink I had with my meal was called horchata. I asked our server what it was and she told me it was cooked rice milk with the rice strained out. Cinnamon and organic sugar are added to it and served over ice. It was, with no exaggeration, one of the best drinks I have ever had. I wanted to keep ordering it and hang out drinking it all night, but we had a movie to catch.

Much like Blue Dust, there are good places to eat outside of the Waterfront, in case you want to try a local joint instead of a chain restaurant.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Treetops Restaurant at Polymath Park

Last Saturday we spent the day in the Laurel Highlands at Polymath Park. That evening we dined at Treetops Restaurant, located on the grounds at Polymath. When we entered Treetops, there were 3 other tables occupied.

Each of the tables had high-backed chairs in the style of furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. We both agreed that the restaurant would be very pretty in the summertime, as the restaurant has a outdoor seating area that overlooks the forest and the mountains in the distance.

We were given an amuse bouche, a tiny complementary appetizer that roughly translates to "happy mouth" but I prefer to think of as "party in my mouth". It was a little piece of crostini with a tomato/basil mix. It was tasty enough.

For dinner, DB~ had the Chicken Roulade. It was a chicken dish stuffed with spinach and ricotta. The side dish was a classical risotto that she loved, although not as much as the risotto she had in Greece. I had a fist-sized and shaped piece of steak filet done perfectly medium-well. It was crusted in espresso and then served in a pool of bourbon cream sauce.

After our dinner, the chef came out to see the patrons in the restaurant. We ended speaking with Chef Miller for about 15 minutes and he was quite pleasant to speak with. He had spent a few years performing various jobs at Nemacolin Resort, from food and beverage coordinator to executive chef at one of the restaurants. He was there at the same time as Dave Racicot, the owner/head chef of Notion in Oakmont.

Chef Miller also shared his vision concept for a restaurant that he would like to start up in Pittsburgh in the near future. I don't want to say what it is, because his concept is a unique one that I would hate to see scooped up by someone else. It's such a great concept that I would love for DB~ and I to be part of it...even if our stake would only involve us getting a free meal now and then.

Treetops is worth going to even if you don't want to stay at Polymath Park. It's that good of a restaurant.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Just a standard weekend in the Laurel Highlands

Last weekend, DB~ and I used a gift card we received as a Christmas gift (cough, back in 2009, cough) to Polymath Park in the Laurel Highlands. What is Polymath? Well, I'm not sure of the "polymath" part, but the place is set in the forest and is composed of 3 separate houses, one of which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (Duncan House). The other two houses (Balter and Blum) were designed by apprentices of FLW. We stayed for one night in the Blum house.

We drove up early on Saturday and got to the general area around 10 a.m. I say "general area" because we couldn't find this place for at least 15 minutes. We were looking for a side road called Dillon, but the problem was that there was no sign marking the road or a directional Polymath Park sign pointing to the right (like there was in the opposite direction pointing to the left once we doubled back).

Then once we got to the place, we followed the sign to the Blum house, but it was locked. There isn't a check-in place, so we drove to the Duncan house just to verify no one was working there, either. DB~ called the number on the website and Heather answered. She was surprised when we told her we were at the Blum house, because apparently the gate into Polymath was supposed to be closed and we drove right through the open gate. Heather blamed it on a group of Chinese people from Hong Kong that had a "language barrier".

We were the only people scheduled to be in the 3 bedroom Blum house that night, but our room wouldn't be ready until 2:30, so DB~ and I decided to see what the area had to offer. She had never been to Seven Springs, which surprised me, but I knew she was more of a Hidden Valley girl.

After we wandered around the ski shop and checked out a bunch of ski and snowboard apparel that we would never buy, we went into the main lodge to see if anything was cracking. As soon as we walked in, there were a large group of people clustered around the entrance to one of the convention halls. Most of them had blue T-shirts on with lanyards, so we knew it was some type of conference. As we continued to walk through the hallway of the lodge, we saw more and more people with their blue shirts that said Start to Live! on them.

"When we sit down, we should Google..." I started to say.
"I'm already on it," DB~ replied as she furiously was thumbing away at her iPhone.

By the time we bought our hot chocolate, we found out that Start to Live is a Narcotics drug rehab group that stresses positive thinking during the recovery phase for users. So for the next 20 minutes, she and I were deciding what type of drug each person was addicted to and what their back story was. We saw a lot of boyfriend-girlfriend types and wondered if they were both ex-users or if one was supporting the other. There were packs of young 20-something guys, older women, older men, people both black and white. We couldn't imagine what it would be like if we were staying the night at Seven Springs, instead of Polymath. Would the bar be packed or empty?

After that experience, we headed down the road to a little bar/restaurant called Black Diamond Pub. It was good, nothing spectacular. Once we left there, we did a couple of multi-caches in Laurel State Park. By the time we did those, we were able to check in at Blum House. The house was unlocked and our key was waiting in the foyer, delivered by Heather. We started to joke that Heather would be our server at Polymath's restaurant (Treetops) later that night...until we needed a chirping battery looked at and our eventual chef (in his chef outfit) came over to replace the battery. I've have a separate post about our excellent dinner at Treetops.

Neither of us had ever heard of Polymath before. Of course we knew about Fallingwater and I have checked out Kentuck Knob in the past, but I wondered how many Pittsburghers know about Polymath.

It's pretty expensive and I'm not sure it's entirely worth it. The house is in Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian style. The Blum house is a low-slung ranch, with a single sloped roof. The center piece of the house is a large dry-stack massive fireplace that really throws out the heat. The bedrooms were nice enough, although we weren't sure how it would have been if all the bedrooms were occupied. There was a nice sitting room that we couldn't fully enjoy because it wasn't heated. The house had a large amount of glass full-length windows, which was great for us to enjoy the views of the forest and mountains in the distance.

However, the decor was very dated and seemed like cheap 1960's stuff. The bathroom was very dark in color scheme and the water from the shower head smelled like rotten eggs, indicating the presence of sulfur dioxide in the system somewhere. The rate for the Blum house was $250/night regularly and for the Duncan House it would be $350/night. We didn't pay full-rate, as we had a gift certificate, but I don't think I would pay that rate normally.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

2012 DBS Top 30 Pirate prospects - #5 to 1

Everyone keep calm and try not to rush the's the finale of the annual DBS Top 30 Prospects.

As always, 130 AB's or 50 IP or 30 relief appearances in the majors disqualifies potential candidates from the list. The age in parentheses is the 2012 season age for the player, using the July 1st cutoff date.

5. Josh Bell (19) OF, A -- Bell received a record-breaking amount of bonus money for a 2nd round draft pick in 2011 ($5 million). That's "we think you're going to be a star" money. He is probably the best power threat in the whole system. So why isn't he higher? Bell has yet to swing a bat in anger and his lack of arm/range will confine him to LF (RF in spacious PNC Park). I've seen his videos on Youtube of his defense and he looks awkward and lanky. All that said, it would not be surprising to me if he is #1 on this list next year...even if Cole and Taillon are still eligible.

4. Luis Heredia (17) RHP, SS -- He's only 17. (Seventeen!!). Yeah...Winger!!! Uh....right...Heredia. For all of the 2012 season, Heredia will be 17 years old, which is the equivalent of a high school junior. He'll be at State College and will hopefully pitch around 60-70 innings. Even though he is an International phenom, his progress will be slow for the next 2 years. I could see him spending all of 2013 in West Virginia, maybe maybe splitting time between Bradenton and Altoona in 2014, and then all year in Indy in 2015. That will have him debuting in 2016 and the ripe old age of...21. Jeebus.

3. Starling Marte (23) OF, AAA -- The future of CF. I could probably end it right there, but I'll infect your brain with his numbers from this year. Marte hit .332/.370/.500 (870 OPS) at a park in Altoona that is not conducive to offense. Marte actually had a road OPS significantly higher than his home OPS. It also helps that his defensive range is spectacular and his arm is a small howitzer. Even though Neal Huntington recently said that Marte needs a full year at AAA, it wouldn't surprise me to see him blitzkreig AAA and be here in July 2012.

2. Jameson Taillon (20) RHP, A+ -- I had to decide which future ace to put 1 and which one to put 2. It's nothing that Taillon did wrong to be here instead of Cole. In his first full year, Taillon pitched 92 innings, gave up 89 hits, walked only 22 and struck out 97. He worked on commanding his pitches and not striking out everyone he faced. All while sitting 93-94 and hitting 97 at times. His curveball is major league ready right now and his changeup is developing as a plus pitch.

1. Gerrit Cole (21) RHP, A+/AA -- Cole is only 1 year older than Taillon, but his fastball is already sitting 96-97 and he routinely touches 99 and 100. His changeup and curve are both plus pitches right now. He was dominant at times in the Arizona Fall League, even in 3 inning stints, so it would not be surprising to see him start the season at Altoona. If Cole does what everyone expects Cole can do, there is an outside, remote, maybe but don't tell anyone chance that he's here in September 2012. More realistically is that he is here in June 2013 and fronting the rotation.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

2012 DBS Top 30 Pirates prospects - #10 to 6

Here we go into the Top 10 of the DBS Top 30 prospects.

Just a reminder that the thresholds for prospectiness are no more than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 30 relief appearances at the major league level.

The number in parentheses is the player's 2012-season age, using the standard July 1st cutoff date. The level shown is my assumed level that the player will start at in 2012.

10. Robbie Grossman (22) OF, AA -- Grossman is the belle of the ball as far as Pirate prospects were concerned this year. A lot of people are fawning over the 100 walks and 100 runs he had this year, the first person since Nick Swisher in 2004. Grossman had a fantastic year for Bradenton this year with a line of .294/.418/.451 (869 OPS), but the questions still remain that Grossman may be a tweener. He played most of his games in RF this year, as he is said to not have the range to play CF consistently. If he is confined to a corner, his 13 HR's won't cut it -- unless you think he has 20 HR potential long-term. I'm waiting to see what AA brings for Grossman. I'm thinking the pitchers will challenge him much more and his walks will drop. Keep in mind that Altoona is a very difficult place to homer, for both sides of the plate, which is a problem for the switch-hitter.

9. Colton Cain (21) LHP, A+ -- Cain's velocity wavered at times this year, with on-site reports putting him at 86-88 mph some starts. But Cain has been in the 93-95 mph range in the past, so I'm hoping it was just the effects of being in full-season ball for the first time. Cain's walk total was impressive, just 31 in 106 IP, coupled with 81 K's. He'll be part of a great potential Bradenton rotation if Cole starts there instead of Altoona. At this point, I still have hopes for Cain becoming a #3 starter, but if his velo doesn't improve in 2012 he may get dropped down.

8. Tony Sanchez (24) C, AA/AAA -- Sanchez is this year's version of Chase d'Arnaud for me. In 2010, d'Arnaud had a horrible year at Altoona due to pneumonia, but his K/BB rates were still intact. Move to 2011 and Sanchez had a horrible year, but kept his fundamentals together. Sanchez's defense was also good, as I witnessed him live 3 times. He presents a very quiet target behind the plate and has good reaction times on his throws, which are strong. Sanchez was scheduled to be the starter in Pittsburgh in 2012, so this is a setback for him, but I'm confident he will rebound this year.

7. Jeff Locke (24) LHP, AAA -- Locke was the most successful of the Altoona Four from 2010 (Locke, Owens, Morris, Wilson) and he actually made 4 starts in Pittsburgh at the end of the year. So Locke gets the benefit over some other pitchers below him because of his proximity to the majors and success at upper levels. Locke was pretty well gassed by the time he got to Pittsburgh, but the Pirates were out of healthy arms and needed him. Locke could become a Maholm-lite pitcher, but is probably a #4 long-term. He had 3 average pitches and didn't seem to have a strong out pitch, but I'm accounting for a long year as well.

6. Kyle McPherson (24) RHP, AAA -- This may be one of the higher ranks you'll see for McPherson, but I'm a big fan. McPherson had a dominant stint at Bradenton to start the year (71 IP, 60 K, only 6 BB) and then had a real nice AA run (89 IP, 82 K's, 21 BB) for 170 total innings. McPherson has a 92-94 mph fastball, killer curve when it is on, and a great changeup. McPherson is not afraid to pitch inside and establish the inner part of the plate, as evidenced by the numerous welts from the high number of batters he hit this year. It would not surprise me to see McPherson in Pittsburgh in August.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I'm really porking up

On Saturday night, we had one of my work friends and his wife out for dinner. Originally I wasn't going to do anything crazy, but his wife saw me in the parking lot a few days before the dinner and said "I can't wait to try one of your crazy recipes on Saturday!" can't serve breaded chicken after a comment like that, right? So I racked my noggin for something interesting to serve and came up with Pork Belly.

Pork Belly, in today's high-speed cuisine couture, is already a little passe. Up until about 5 years ago, pork belly was an afterthought in American cuisine...mostly relegated to stews and stocks. It has always been popular in Asian cuisine, especially Korean, as it's fatty flavor and tender meat are quite revered and prepared in a variety of different methods. The American chefs got a hold of the cut of meat, identified by its striated layers of fat and meat, and made it gourmet. This caused the price of pork belly to go from "cheap" to "still affordable".

I went to Market District and paid $3.99/lb for a 2-lb slab. I decided to pay homage to the Asian influences by doing an Asian-esque preparation.

First you have to score the fatty side of the pork belly in a cross-hatch pattern in order for the flavors to soak in to completely.

In my dutch oven, I sauteed 1/2 of a white onion in some oil. I then added 3 sliced garlic cloves and 1 tbsp of ginger once the onions were translucent. To that I added 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, and 2 teaspoons of white pepper (the key to all Asian recipes, in my opinion).

I added the pork belly slab in to the dutch oven and then rubbed 2 tablespoons of honey on top of the pork belly. Then put enough water into the dutch oven until the water level comes up to the top of the pork. Bring this up to a boil and then reduce it to low heat for 2 hours.

I put the meat in fat side up for the first hour on the stove and then I flipped it fat side down for the last hour. I took the pork belly out after 2 hours, tented it on a platter covered in aluminum foil and let it rest for 30 minutes.

While that was going on, I brought the remaining liquid up to a boil and reduced it down to a glaze to put on top of the pork.

I served a slice of pork belly to each of us on a bed of Udon noodles. These noodles have some weight to them and absorb flavors naturally. They are very versatile to use in Asian cooking. The side dish was a Bok Choy salad that I prepared as well.

We all enjoyed the pork belly, but we all trimmed the fat away for the most part. It's kind of like the prime rib of pork, in that respect I guess. The pork tenderloin is still my favorite cut of pork ($5.99/lb at Market District) and we actually had that for dinner on Monday, but pork belly is interesting enough to try again.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

DBS 2012 Top 30 Pirate prospects - #15 to 11

Before we have a small dinner for friends tonight (post to follow tomorrow), I thought it was time to squeeze in a post about the start of the top half of the system, as determined by me.

Just a reminder that the thresholds for prospectiness are no more than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 30 relief appearances at the major league level.

The number in parentheses is the player's 2012-season age, using the standard July 1st cutoff date. The level shown is my assumed level that the player will start at in 2012.

15. Nick Kingham (20) RHP, A -- Kingham is like a good Cuban cigar...once he starts, it's like a slow burn and he never goes out. OK...I've never had a Cuban cigar...I'm watching Die Another Day right now and they talked about a certain type. In real life, Kingham is the best prospect that you never hear about. He was drafted in 2010 and has been completely overshadowed by Taillon and Allie in terms of hype. This year Kingham pitched at State College and was fantastic. He pitched 71 innings, gave up 63 hits, but walked only 15 while striking out 47. From early July to the end of the season in September, Kingham did not give up more than 1 ER in any of his individual starts. At present, Kingham possesses an 89-92 mph fastball, curve, and developing changeup. He'll be at West Virginia in 2012 and is the best candidate to spring into the Top 10 next year.

14. Jarek Cunningham (22) 2B, AA -- Cunningham has incredible raw power, which is a bigger plus considering that he is a 2B. In 2011, Cunningham hit 15 HR, 23 doubles, and 6 triples in an injury-shortened 310 at-bats. Cunningham had a concussion in late July and never felt comfortable enough to come back. He did recover enough to play in the Arizona Fall League (going on right now). The bugaboos for Cunningham are twofold -- the first is his alarming K/BB rates. In 310 at-bats, he only walked 17 times (just under 6%) while striking out 82 times (around 26%). The second problem is his less than fluid defense at 2B. There may be a time when Cunningham has to move to the OF, but his bat should still carry him.

13. Rudy Owens (24) LHP, AAA -- Owens pretty much had a season to forget in 2011. In 112 IP, he gave up 129 hits, walked 32, and only struck out 71. He's this high based on what he showed in 2010 when he was dominant at Altoona. His velocity was down this year and there were rumors that he did not come into the season in shape. He missed some time with various injuries, as well. Owens was supposed to be a mid-sesaon callup in 2011. Now he's almost an afterthought. This is a make or break year for him.671

12. Justin Wilson (24) LHP, AAA -- Wilson has always been a half-step behind pitchers like Owens, Morris, and Locke. This year, though, Wilson started off hot before he fizzled out by the end of the year. He pitched 124 innings, gave up only 121 hits, and struck out 94, but he had an unseemly 67 walks which undercut his effectiveness. Wilson had a short stint as a reliever at the end of the season and was clocked at 97 mph from the left side. His future has always been suspected to be a reliever...there's a chance we'll see him in Pittsburgh in 2012 as one.

11. Matt Curry (23) 1B, AA -- Curry was placed too low at the start of 2011 and responded by abusing Low A pitchers, to the tune of .361/.477/.671 (1148 OPS). He was promoted to Altoona in late May, which was a 2 step jump in level. Curry did struggle at the level as he hit only .242/.320/.374 (694 OPS) with a marked increase in strikeout rate to 30%. I'm giving him a pass because of the 2 level jump, but he needs to prove himself in 2012 with the newly drafted Alex Dickerson presumably one level behind him at Bradenton.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cheddar Chicken

DB~ found a great recipe this week for a simple chicken dish, perfect for a mid-week meal. She found it on a website called Real Simple and it's called Cheddar Chicken.

I used 4 small chicken tenderloins for this recipe. First I crushed up 16 Ritz crackers, which was about 3/4 cup. I then put the crushed Ritz crackers into a bowl with 6 oz of shredded cheddar cheese, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, and 1 clove of garlic diced up. All of these ingredients were mixed and tossed together.

I dipped the tenderloins in an egg bath and then rolled each one in the Ritz cracker/cheese mix. I pressed the remnants of the mix on to each side of each tenderloin.

I baked the chicken at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. The cheese was bonded to the Ritz, so there was a crunch to it on the outside with the cheese not completely melted, yet still nice and smooth when eaten. The garlic, salt and pepper were mixed into each bit of the cracker and cheese when I tossed them together.

I served this with some fresh aspargus and a risotto mix that DB~ got from Trader Joes'. This recipe was definitely a keeper. Next time I might do a few more crackers to get an even better crust.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

2012 DBS Top 30 Pirate Prospects - #20 to 16

This will be the post that covers the first half of the Top 30 prospects in the system, according to...this guy.

Just a reminder that the thresholds for prospectiness are no more than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 30 relief appearances at the major league level.

The number in parentheses is the player's 2012-season age, using the standard July 1st cutoff date. The level shown is my assumed level that the player will start at in 2012.

20. Bryan Morris (25) RHP, AAA -- Morris is the lone wolf remaining in the pack from the Jason Bay of 2009. Morris was forecast to be a mid-rotation starter, or even a #2 starter if everything went right, but last year he was injured again and moved into the Altoona bullpen where he experienced success and a velocity bump. At this point his durability must be questioned and the Pirates should try and get value out of him as a power reliever.

19. Zack Dodson (21) LHP, A+ -- Dodson started off well in West Virginia and a case could have been made early on that he was the best starter on a staff that included Jameson Taillon and Colton Cain. Then Dodson got injured and started a long rehab sojourn that saw him spend time in the Gulf Coast League and State College again. His Low A stats were 66 IP, 61 hits, 15 walks, and 46 strikeouts with a 2.57 ERA. Dodson should move up to Bradenton to start 2012 and be part of a stunning rotation that may be Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Dodson, Colton Cain, and...some other guy (maybe Fuesser?).

18. Jordy Mercer (25) SS, AAA -- Mercer has seen fellow 2008 draftees Pedro Alvarez and Chase d'Arnaud experience the good life at the major league level. Mercer's turn may come at some point in 2012. After a down 2010, Mercer rebounded to have an impressive display of power at Altoona in 2011 (13 HR's) and another 6 HR after being promoted to AAA Indianopolis. His overall season line between the two levels was a so-so .255/.317/.440 (757 OPS), but 30 doubles and 19 home runs plus above-average defense at shortstop, will get you a look in just about any system. Interesting note about Mercer -- here's his batting averages by year with the Pirates: 2008 (.250), 2009 (.255), 2010 (.282), 2011 (.255). So let's just pencil him at a .250 batting average in the majors and move on.

17. Clay Holmes (19) RHP, SS -- So a tall, projectable high school righty pitcher walks into a bar...Holmes is a 2011 draftee (6'-5") and has a fastball that sits 91-93 right now. His other pitches are a mixed bag right now, but the Pirates offered him $1.2 million on the promise of better things to come. He will join a bunch of other tall righties at State College in 2012.

16. Stetson Allie (21) RHP, A -- This will probably be one of the lower rankings you'll see for Allie this offseason. I just can't hype up a pitcher that had as bad a 2011 as Allie did. His final line at State College (as a starter and reliever) was 26 IP, 20 hits allowed, 29 walks, 28 strikeouts, 9 hit batters, and a 6.57 ERA. Add in that his age makes him one year older than most HS players in his 2010 draft class and his projection of being a reliever (a sentiment shared by Allie himself) and you see why I have him here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

DBS 2012 Top 30 Pirates Prospects -- #25 to 21

Let's keep on rolling with my personal top 30 prospects in the Pirate system for 2012.

Just a reminder from the last post, the thresholds for prospectiness are no more than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 30 relief appearances at the major league level.

The number in parentheses is the player's 2012-season age, using the standard July 1st cutoff date. The level shown is my assumed level that the player will start at in 2012.

25. Ryan Hafner (20) RHP, A -- Like most HS drafted pitchers, Hafner went to short-season State College in his first true season. Hafner played second fiddle to Nick Kingham in the Spikes' rotation (3rd if you consider Stetson Allie's aborted attempt at starting this year) and acquitted himself well. In 65 innings, Hafner allowed 58 hits and only 20 walks. Hafner only had 31 strikeouts, but with the caveat that State College is primarily about establishing fastball command and control. There is not much emphasis on strikeouts. Hafner does not have an overwhelming fastball, even though he is 6'-6", as it sits 86 to 89 mph at present. He'll move up to West Virginia in 2012.

24. Jose Osuna (19) 1B/OF, SS/A -- Osuna was a 2009 international signee that made his stateside debut in 2011. Much of the attention in the GCL, among position players, was on Willy Garcia, Jodaneli Carvajal, and Luis Urena. But it was Osuna that outshined them all with a .331/.400/.511 (911 OPS) line in the GCL. I'm not sure about his 2012 placement, as I'm wondering if Eric Avila and Elias Diaz's complete failures in jumping from the GCL to Low A will make the Pirates reconsider such a jump with the next batch of internationals in 2012.

23. Alex Dickerson (22) 1B, A+ -- Drafted in the 3rd round this year, Dickerson is by some accounts the best 1B in the system right now. So why isn't he higher? Dickerson is a bat-first player, which is OK since his defensive position is 1B, but he does not have a great physique. Plus he has already had some back issues in his college career, so I'm going to ding him for that until I can see him have a complete season in the system. During his time at State College in 2011, Dickerson hit well with a line of .313/.393/.493 (886 OPS).

22. Gift Ngoepe (22) 2B, A+ -- This one in retrospect may be too high for Ngeope at the end of 2012, but I'm putting high on Ngoepe, especially after it seemed he was on his way to a huge breakout season in 2011. Ngoepe started out hitting .306/.359/.459 (818 OPS) with West Virginia, showing power previously untapped. Ngoepe had 5 doubles, 1 triple, and 2 HR's in his 85 at-bats before getting injured. He returned in July for 2 games in the GCL, but that was it. His defensive range is fantastic, so if he can hit at all he will be an asset. Ngoepe has been aggressively moved, so he could start out in Bradenton in 2012.

21. Tyler Glasnow (18) RHP, SS -- Stop me if you've heard this one before. The Pirates like to draft tall, projectable right-handed pitchers. Glasnow is a 6'-7" specimen that has an already nice fastball that sits 93 mph. Right now that's all he has, but has the makings of some good secondary pitches. He'll be at State College and because of his birthdate, he will be considered 18 for the 2012 season -- just one year older than Luis Heredia at the same level.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

DBS 2012 Top 30 Pirate Prospects - #30 to #26

It's that time of year again to start reverse ranking the Top 30 Pirate Prospects for the 2012 season, as determined by a panel of one

The thresholds for prospectiness are no more than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 30 relief appearances at the major league level.

The number in parentheses is the player's 2012-season age, using the standard July 1st cutoff date. The level shown is my assumed level that the player will start at in 2012.

30. Yhonathan Barrios (20) SS/2B, SS/A -- In 2011, Barrios debuted in the United States at the Gulf Coast Rookie League and put up an impressive line of .299/.382/.433 (815 OPS) while committing only 5 errors in his short season. Barrios will definitely be promoted in 2012, but time will tell if he plays at State College or West Virginia to start 2012.

29. Jake Burnette (19) RHP, SS -- Burnette is a 2011 draftee that had a 1 inning cameo in the GCL. Burnette is your standard tall, projectable righty that the Pirates love to draft. He will most likely follow their standard path of going to the Fastball Academy known as the State College Spikes in 2012.

28. Matt Hague (26) 1B, AAA/MLB -- Hague did Matt Hague-type of things in 2011. Great strike zone discipline (47 walks, only 68 K's in 534 AB's) at AAA and only average power (12 HR's). He did also have 37 doubles and 3 triples, but his power does not profile as a typical 1B in the majors. He may be a JT Snow or Casey Kotchman type of player if everything goes right. The telling part to me is that during the Lyle Overbay Chronicles of 2011, there was never a hint from the Pirates front office or manager that Hague was a candidate to come up. Hague did not receive a September callup, either, in order to preview what he may provide. For all of these reasons, plus his advanced age for a prospect, are why he is here.

27. Zac Fuesser (21) LHP, A+ -- Fuesser had a great season in Low A in 2011, as he pitched both in the rotation and out of the bullpen and was effective in both roles. In 108 innings, he gave up 111 hits, struck out 95 and only walked 33. There were no major splits between rightie and leftie batters, either. The downside to Fuesser is that he is a little bit of a soft-tosser at this point, with his fastball typically sitting 85-88 mph. Fuesser will get promoted to Bradenton, but with the potential super rotation on tap, he could be back in the bullpen.

26. Elevys Gonzalez (22) 3B/2B, AA -- Gonzalez is just "that guy". He consistently gets overshadowed by other teammates, but continues to produce great numbers. This year in 2011 at Bradenton, he put up a line of .322/.374/.467 (841 OPS) with 48 extra base hits (36 doubles, 6 triples, and 6 homers), but most of the attention was focused on Robbie Grossman all year. Gonzalez does not really have a truly great defensive position, but there is some value in a super-utility player with his hitting potential.

Monday, October 31, 2011

French to the rescue --- that's a new one

Last week it was reported that Veolia Transportation may (triple underline "may") be interested in taking over the Port Authority in the future.

I, for one, would like to welcome our new French overlords.

Veolia Transportation is a sector of the overall Veolia conglomerate that includes a wide variety of functions like water, wastewater, transportation, energy, etc. The headquarters is in France, but they are a global megacompany with plenty of offices here in the United States.

Veolia Transportation is running public transportation systems in New Orleans, Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Toronto. By all accounts, those systems are doing fairly well.

The Port Authority in Pittsburgh is so underwater, to use the parlayance of our times, that there is a common perception that the only way for them to be successful long-term is to go bankrupt. This will get them out from under the long-term legacy costs of pensions and retiree healthcare. In cold, bloodless theory that sounds like a great way to rectify the problem. Just the scorch the earth and let the pine trees grow anew from the enriched soil.

But those are good hardworking people that worked a long time to get those benefits. Are they in some cases overpaid? Sure, they are. But no one put a gun to the head (I think) of the Port Authority's management team to approve those Collective Bargaining Agreements over the years.

Part of my problem with the Port Authority is that they have no vision. Well, I shouldn't say that in light of the new North Shore Tunnel/Connector/Money Pit getting ready to open soon. The inevitable leaks in the tunnel under the Allegheny River will start probably 1 month after it opens. Their lack of vision stems from not realizing the demographics of the region and how they fluctuate, then adapting to those changes.

Trying to do light rail, by piggybacking off of the PENNDOT High Occupancy Vehicle lane up I-279 North, to the northern suburbs is about 20 years overdue. The "T" in the South Hills is a decent enough system, but the North Hills line could have less stops and higher speeds.

They could also link the "eds" and "meds" more efficiently to downtown and some of the more popular places to live in the City, thus making it easier for students and young professionals to live in the City and work at the various medical centers or go to schools in the Oakland/Shadyside area.

Would Veolia do any of this? Maybe, but probably not. But I would feel a heck of lot better getting a fresh set of eyes on the problem and trying to revive the patient currently on the operating table that is the Port Authority.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mussel Up

DB~'s favorite restaurant is Point Brugge in Point Breeze. Nearly every time she eats lunch with her aunt, this is the place they go. Point Brugge is probably the most underrated restaurant in the city -- you never hear about or see any advertisements about it, but it is constantly filled to the gills with people waiting outside (sometimes the wait is 1 hour plus).

Point Brugge is a Belgian themed place, with their speciality being mussels served with pomme frites (french fries, basically). I've always asked DB~ if she would like me to make her mussels here at home, but she has always demurred.

I decided this past Sunday to "surprise" her and make us mussels for dinner. I say surprise because I can never surprise her and she guessed it when I told her I was going to make her a special dinner. A little frustrating sometimes.

I did some research ahead of time and it turns out that mussels are a real pain to get ready to cook. If you get them fresh, they are actually still alive, which was a shock to me. I thought it was like shrimp or crabs, but inside those little black shells is a living...mussel, I guess. So if you get them fresh you should put them in water so they can take in the water and filter out sand inside. They also have little fuzz that needs to be sometimes cleaned off, too.

I'm not one to shy away from work when preparing food, but when DB~ found a 2 lb bag of fresh frozen mussels at Wholey's for the same price as fresh, fresh mussels in a 2 lb bag...well, that's an easy choice.

I went with a Mussels Provencal recipe. Here's what I did:
Diced 1 shallot
Diced 1/2 white onion
Sauteed the shallot and onion in 3 tbsp butter in a deep saucepan

Diced 2/3 cup of celery
Diced 1/2 cup of red pepper
Once the shallots and onion were soft, I added the celery and red pepper plus 1 cup of wine to the saucepan and stirred it up.
Put a sprinkle of black pepper over top

Once that mingled together over medium-high heat, I added 1 lb of mussels to cover the base of the saucepan then covered with a lid. After 6-8 minutes, the mussels popped open (indicating they were cooked) and I took them out with a slotted spoon.

I put the mussels into bowls and poured the wine and vegetable broth (plus the veggies) over top of them.

I cooked the 2nd lb of mussels the same way, just added a little more wine to the pan to replace what was poured out.

The mussels were tender and tasty, but like chicken wings of the sea. You only get a tiny amount of meat from each one, but it was kind of fun to pluck them out with a fork and watch them float in the broth.

Next time I might try a coconut milk red curry broth as something different for my squiggle.

Friday, October 21, 2011

We went to a real Dive last night

I didn't feel like cooking at home last night, so DB~ and I braved the cold, damp rainy night and went out to eat. After brainstorming over email while at work, I went to Urbanspoon and searched the area around our house.

After sifting through the list, one name popped out that I did not recognize -- Dive Bar and Grille. After eyeballing the approximate location, it appeared to be in the old Devine Wine Bar in a strip mall off Route 19 (shared by Arhaus Furniture) next to that megachurch complex.

Looking at the menu online, it seemed very creative and the menu was very diverse with a lot of different options. I texted the choice to DB~ and she seemed game to try something different.

When we got there, it was in the location of old Devine and it sure seemed Dive used parts of the same sign for their sign. Eventually we asked our server that question and she assured us that was not the case, but that other people have asked the same question. What was true is that Dive did not change much of the decor from Devine, but that's not a bad thing. The cut stone border around the bar shelves is still there, the hightops and normal tables are still present, and the little alcoves with a couple of tables are still tucked away. They may have added some giant white ball lanterns from Crate & Barrel, but that's about it.

The music was an interesting mix of two stations: 90's rock and Top 40, so that appealed to me (90's rock) and DB~ (Top 40). The only problem is that it was turned up too loud, which makes me sound like an old man, but it was hard to talk at times.

Now that I've moaned and whined all over this post, let me say that Dive Bar and Grille is awesome and we will be going back again, probably with more people in tow. The food was outstanding.

We were there on a Thursday night around 6 pm, so Happy Hour was in effect until 7 pm. That meant appetizers were 1/2 off and we took advantage of it by selecting the Loaded Croquettes. These were a drool-inducing combination of a potato pancake (the potatoes were whipped smooth and then covered in breading and fried) and a loaded baked potato, as they were topped with sour cream, green onions, and BBQ shredded pork. The portion size is three croquettes, but I was so busy stuffing food I forgot to take a picture until the last one was left.

For dinner, DB~ selected the Mahi Tacos dinner. The tacos were chunks of mahi tuna, shredded cabbage, and a nice aoili sauce. For her two sides, she selected wilted spinach and the Sweet Potato Tater Tots. If you are reading this and live within driving distance of Wexford, go to Dive Bar and Grille and at least get a side order ($3) of the Sweet Potato Tots. Holy. Crapola. Sweet potato side dishes can go pear-shaped on you...fries can be soggy, fries can be bland pieces of cardboard, sometimes the potato by itself is not cooked all the way through.

Not here. They are scrumtrilescent coupled with a side of cinnamon butter to dip them in.

For whatever reason, slider dishes were half-off last night too. There's about 6 different options, so I figured I would take advantage of a $4 dinner (plus $3 for my side of tots). I went with the Cheese Steak sliders, which are shaved prime rib, carmelized onions, melted Mozzarella, and peppers. They were served open-faced in an interesting plating pattern.

Dive Bar and Grille's name was selected for its irony, but it is anything but a dive. Highly recommend this place, especially if you can grab some of this great food during 1/2 off happy hours.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Charm City Weekend - Fells Point

The Sunday after the wedding in Baltimore, DB~ and I went with my cousin on a quick tour around Fells Point in downtown. Fells Point was its own neighborhood based on maritime endeavors until it was incorporated into Baltimore. It was named after Admiral Fell, who now has a charming little boutique hotel named after him in the form of the Admiral Fell Inn.

When I was a younger hellraiser, Fells Point was known as the South Side-esque area of Baltimore, with bars layered on top of pubs. The summer of my 21st birthday, I went down to visit my cousin and meet up with some friends from college. We partied in Fells Point one night and one of my friends from college did the most outrageous stunt I have ever seen in person. For purposes of this family blog, I'll just refer to it as the Squirrel Nut Zipper in the middle of a crowded bar named Bertha's.

I got so drunk in another establishment named the Greene Turtle that I had to be carried out and on another occasion we went down for a Halloween bar crawl to a bar that I can't remember its name. Perhaps the $10 all you can drink cover had something to do with that. Or all the naughty nurse/trashy pirate/Catholic school girl costumes. One or the other.

I also bought my first Tricky CD, Pre-Millenium Tension, in 1997 while in the midst of the Squirrel Nut Zipper bender of a night.

In short, Fells Point to me was party central and a semi-rough neighborhood with a lot of tattoo shops and proximity to drug dealers (not that I partook in that sort of thing).

But here we are in 2011 and Baltimore is cleaning up Fells Point and making it trendy. There are now establishments like a whisky bar that also serves sushi, an interesting furniture store called Su Casa, and a whole block of residential loft-style housing.

The bars are still there, but now they are augmented by Spanish tapas restaurants, Greek restaurants, and a great looking Cajun restaurant called Louisiana. And it is all a short water taxi ride away from the Inner Harbor. DB~ and I will probably go back in the near future and stay either in or around the Fells Point area.

Our little Fells Point is growing up. Sniff. Makes me so proud.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Charm City Weekend

This past weekend DB~ and I went down to Baltimore for one of my cousin's wedding. Most of my mom's side of the family moved to Baltimore from Pittsburgh in the '60's. We re-discovered that side of the family in 1984 and since then Baltimore has been like a second city to me.

Like all good cities, Baltimore is in the midst of re-vitalizing itself. The city is still rampant with drugs and crime, but they are doing a lot to rehab some neighborhoods (like Canton) and augment others (Fells Point).

One neighborhood that doesn't need any changes, though, is Little Italy in Baltimore off of Eastern Avenue. My mom's side of the family is Italian, so growing up we would go to Little Italy periodically when we would visit. Unlike Bloomfield in Pittsburgh, Baltimore's Little Italy is just Italian restaurants. And this past Saturday, every single one of them was packed to the brim. The family wedding was a smaller one, only around 85 people, so we had the entire upstairs of Chiapperelli's located on High Street.

The food was fantastic at the restaurant. This sure wasn't your typical Italian wedding at the fire hall. The appetizers were pretty good, but not spectacular, but the dinner was excellent. The salads were a light Caesar dressing with black pepper giving some bite. The dinners were family style portions of the following:
Penne in Vodka Cream Sauce
Sausage and Peppers

All were great, especially the penne and the meatballs. I'm not a huge fan of sausage and peppers typically, but I tried the sausage and was stunned by how soft it was. Sometimes you bite into a little fat pocket or the sausage is overcooked. But this sausage had none of that and the sausage was perfectly cooked and tender.

The lasagna was a touch watery, but it had excellent flavors and the ricotta cheese mixture was very smooth. The penne in vodka sauce had a yellowish-orange tint and wasn't drowned in sauce, which can be the downfall of that dish sometimes. Big thumbs up to Chiapperelli's.

Around 8 pm, I needed to get up and stretch and catch a breath of fresh air (it was a little tight seating arrangements) so I went outside to take in the scene. When I went out, I actually checked my phone to see what time it was. Sure enough it was 8 pm, but there was a car everywhere you turned and massive traffic backups when the valets would grab a vehicle to park.

After he caught his breath, I asked one of Chiapperelli's 5 (!!) valets if this was normal. He told me it was never this busy. I wandered a couple of blocks away to Vaccaro's. Vaccaro's is a famous restaurant that specializes in desserts.

Even though I go back to Baltimore at least once every other year, this trip felt different. I felt like I was going back to the beginning of things, like I was re-discovering Baltimore for the first time. Maybe that's due to DB~ and how I wanted her to see the city with me and how I feel when I'm with her. Whatever the reason, I flashed back to one of our earliest trips to Baltimore when we went to Vaccaro's after dinner. I was probably 9 or 10 and my cousin Paul practically triple-dared me into ordering the Death By Chocolate dessert. It was a massive orgy of chocolate cake, hot fudge, and chocolate gelato. If I finished it, he would give me a dollar. I did.

So this past Saturday after the wedding reception broke up and before we went to the after party, my parents and DB~ and I went to Vaccaro's for dessert. At 9 pm, the line was out the door and into the center of the street. After a few minutes wait we were ushered in by an employee who finally split the line into take-out and sit-down.

When we settled in, I didn't realize I was going to be an idiot. Truly, I didn't. But we were telling DB~ about the Death By Chocolate and I was still kind of hungry after dinner...

Boom. There it is in the forefront. My dad's peanut butter gelato dessert is in the upper left hand corner, my mom's rum cake is the upper right, and DB~'s sensible single cream puff is to the right of the Mount Rushmore Of Chocolate. It was a huge piece of chocolate canoli cake with 5 scoops of chocolate gelato, drizzled with hot fudge.

"Don't eat so much that you get sick" was the warning from DB~. I laughed it off. I ended up finishing all but 3 bites of it. And true to DB~'s warning, I had some stomach indigestion later that night. But it was worth it, even if I didn't get a dollar this time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Did I Sleep Into March 2012 Already?

With today's announcement by Pirate President Frank Coonelly that the Pirates would most likely not pick up Paul Maholm's $9.75M option for 2012, coupled with yesterday's announcement that Charlie Morton would undergo labrum surgery on his hip, most Pirate fans on the forums went into full-scale freak-out mode.

One particular poster respected by some in the blogosphere went so far to proclaim that the Pirates were sliding towards a 100 loss season in 2012.

This is October 12th, right? The World Series isn't even started, let alone over when free agency starts, yet some have bypassed the whole offseason and gone right to the ol' Pirates Suck Card.

Neal Huntington himself has previously said that the Pirates will actively explore the trade market this offseason. They will probably sniff around some 2nd tier free agents, as well. And keep in mind, this is Paul Maholm we're talking about. The same Paul Maholm that some of the same people decrying this move as "Pirates are cheap!" were busy slamming all during the 2011 season and predicting his eventual downfall.

These same people will also wring their hands and cry into their bushy salt-and-pepper beards when Ryan Doumit's dual options are not likely picked up. The same Ryan Doumit that is hurt all the time and in possession of some of the worst, if not the worst, catcher defense in Major League baseball.

The type to say the sky is falling on the Pirates' 2012 season should probably start in, say for example, 2012.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Kevin Sousa's Next Adventure

I've had an interesting range of feelings on Kevin Sousa and his culinary delights over the past few years. A few years ago, I went to Yo Rita! on the South Side and was underwhelmed by his genious being infused into foodie tacos.

Then a few months ago, we went to Salt of the Earth and I was moved by the artistry on a plate.

So in today's Post-Gazette comes word that in early 2012, Kevin Sousa will be opening a new restaurant in the heart of East Liberty called Union Pig and Chicken. It's not just any restaurant, either, it's a barbeque (I sure could go for a good barbacoa) restaurant.

Confession - I'm a recovering BBQ-holic. I've allowed it to recede into the background because DB~ isn't a fan of BBQ sauce and is a borderline vegetarian. When she goes out with her friends or has a night meeting, this place turns into the Kansas City Stockyards. Red meat flies all over the place, I rub BBQ sauce on my face, and roll around in baked beans. (Not all true).

I'm intrigued by Sousa's take on barbeque, as he wants to fuse different regions and flavors into something local. He has pledged no vegetarian dishes to the menu. Delightful.

East Liberty is already arguably the top neighborhood for dining in Pittsburgh. With the addition of a Kevin Sousa restaurant (Salt of the Earth is technically in Garfield, not East Liberty), this will probably tip it over into first place hands down.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pumpkin Gnudi

Around late September of every year, the murmurs start. Once the calendar flips to October, it is in full effect...Pumpkin Lust from DB~. At times it is like the end of the Michael Jackson's Thriller video, except DB~'s eyes glow orange instead of yellow.

Last year I wrote about a great new recipe I discovered called Gnudi. It's a gnocchi-like dish, except the dough is composed primarily of ricotta cheese. I thought it might be a good idea to try and incorporate some canned pumpkin into the recipe.

I used the standard recipe, but added 1/2 of a small can of Libby's canned pumpkin into the mix. I needed to increase the flour from 3/4 of a cup to 1 cup to account for the additional softness and extra liquid.

I split the ball of dough into two ropes, as usual, and then sliced them up into 1 inch wide disks. I got about 16-18 pieces out of the recipe. Instead of the cream basil sauce, I went with a melted butter and cinnamon mix to drizzle over the cooked gnudi. It just felt more like fall.

Both of us agreed that the recipe was a winner and DB~ asked me to make it one more time before Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Something Wicked this way comes (thru my intestinal tract)

DB~ is a fan of musicals; I'm more of a theatre play man, myself (but more of a movie guy above all of them). Rent is her all-time favorite...I think she's up to seeing it 8 times...but Wicked may be her 2nd favorite with 4 viewings before Friday night.

DB~'s good friend and work associate organized a group of nearly 20 people to go to dinner beforehand and then go sit in 2 rows together at the Benedum. There was also the added bonus of 2 people being able to go back stage after the show to see the sets and costumes. To decide which 2 of us out of 20 would get the tickets, a blind drawing would be done at the restaurant by putting all of our names in a bag.

The restaurant selected for our dining pleasure was McCormick and Schmick's on Wood Street, next to Capital Grille. McCormick and Schmick's is perfectly fine, but it has always struck me as a stuffy, clubby restaurant where captains of business power lunch over a martini and a non-sustainably fished Chilean Sea Bass.

There are plenty of fine choices on the menu, including the Cashew Crusted Tilapia that DB~ selected, but I felt like having some Fried Buttermilk Jumbo Shrimp and fries with Old Bay seasoning. Just felt right. Foreshadowing!!

At the end of dinner, the selection for the backstage pass occured and guess who got it? That's right...your favorite baseball/city of Pittsburgh/food blogger and his Wicked-loving new wife.

Upon arrival at the Benedum, we settled into our balcony seats 2 rows from the front with a great view of the stage. And then approximately 2 song numbers into the show, the rumblings from somewhere within my 6 feet of large intestine started. Uh, oh. If I left to go to the bathroom, I would probably not be able to come back into the theatre until the intermission. So I started to think pleasant thoughts and focus on the love-hate relationship between Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West.

At intermission, I thought I had it kicked so I didn't run out and enjoy the finest porcelain toilet on the 2nd floor of the Benedum. Mistake. Two songs into the 2nd Act, I knew this wasn't going to work, so I asked DB~ for a Pepto Bismol tablet (she's like a mobile Walgreens with her purse).

That Pepto helped, but it was just a Band-Aid. But we still had the backstage tour after the show. We did a run through of the backstage area and it was very cool. We were there 10 minutes after the end of the show and everyone was already cleared out. All the costumes and makeup was off and the actors gone. The theatre and backstage area were dark. It was sweet to walk around the Benedum's stage and try to envision what it must be like during the actual production.

We asked our backstage guide (one of the flying monkeys, I think) how long it took to set it up when it came into town. He told us it takes a huge crew 2 days, working around the clock, to set it up. It takes 6-8 hours to break it down and put it in the trucks at the end of the run, which for the Pittsburgh leg was today.

It's a grueling tour with 43 cities on the run. I can't imagine what it must be like to do the SAME thing EVERY day for your job. Unfortunately, all the pictures I took with my cellphone turned out too dark to adequately put up here. Bummer...there was a nice one of the giant Wizard Statue Head.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Teams to target in the offseason

I've been writing about how the Pirates should be looking into shanghai'ing talent this offseason by trading for young veterans with multiple years of control left on their contracts.

Rather than discuss players like I did last year, even though I think most of those players would be good candidates to obtain this year, I thought it may be interesting to evaluate which TEAMS may be in the market to trade.

Teams with financial problems:
NY Mets
LA Dodgers
Oakland A's

The Mets and Dodgers' financial problems are well-known, but perhaps lesser known to us East Coasters are the A's problems. Owner Lew Wolff desperately wants to move the A's to San Jose and build a corporately funded stadium, to the point that he recently backed a mayoral candidate who vowed NOT to build the A's a taxpayer-funded stadium in Oakland.

Further complicating the situation is that the Giants feel that San Jose is part of their "territory" and are actively fighting against them being able to move there. If things continue to drag on, the A's will be looking to burn the whole team down, perhaps this offseason.

Teams that need to cut salary and reload/rebuild:
Chicago Cubs
Houston Astros
Baltimore Orioles
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins
Seattle Mariners

Whether or not all these teams realize they need to reload or rebuild is another story (I'm looking at you Minnesota).

Teams that may want to move salary in order to add salary:
St. Louis Cardinals
Florida Marlins
Washington Nationals
San Francisco Giants
Toronto Blue Jays
Los Angeles Angels

Oddly enough, all of these teams are in the market potentially for either Pujols or Fielder. All of these teams are up against their self-imposed salary caps, so they may need to move a mid-sized contract in order to clear space for these top 2 free agents.

With the Pirates showing increased attendance and Huntington already alluding to the idea that they may explore the trade market to improve the major league club, it makes sense that these teams will be mined for potential players. Each of these teams, with perhaps the exception of the Mets, has at least one interesting player with multiple years of control that could be a trade candidate.

The offseason will be an interesting one for the Pirates.

Sunday, September 25, 2011 bad about the Pirates

On July 23rd, DB~ and I were married. A few weeks earlier, Ben Roethlisberger and I got together for lunch and decided how to handle the media pressure on both of our weddings that day. Ben was a good man and stepped up and said he would bear the brunt of the media, allowing DB~ and I to have a paparazzi-free day.

The day we were married, the Pirates were 51-47, coming off a 9-1 loss to St. Louis that night. DB~ and I stayed downtown at a hotel that night and had a celebatory drink in the lobby with some in-town St. Louis fans. They were in their baseball jerseys and shorts. We were in a tux and full length wedding dress (as per DB~ --- if I'm paying all this money for it, I'm going to get some use out of it).

At that point in the season, all pistons were firing for the Pirates, especially the pitching. The hitters weren't all that hot, but Alex Presley was the sparkplug at the top of the lineup and the Pirates were getting just enough from a different person each night to win. Every pitcher was pitching well above their standards, especially Jeff Karstens, but you just wanted it to keep going.

After that night of July 23rd, the Pirates have gone 20-40, which is a .333 winning percentage -- which equates to a 54-108 record over a full season. That's very close to the Pirates 57-105 record they posted last year. Maybe after getting married, I somehow lost my laser-like focus on the Pirates and this resulted in the Pirates free fall into 5th place from 1st place.

Today is the final home game for the Pirates and DB~ and I will be in attendance. Sorry that our blessed union is apparently the cause for the Pirates slide. We'll try harder next year.