Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thin Man Sandwich Shop

Seeking an alternative to the same old place for lunch, the IT guy and I went down to the Strip District today and checked out Thin Man Sandwich Shop.  I've had it in the back of my mind for a while since it opened earlier this year, but just never got around to it.

On the corner of 21st and Smallman (across the street from that church that you've probably walked by a ton of times), it has a very nice well-lit space.  I think they removed some of the walls and added extra windows.

The menu is artsy, gourmet, and eclectic.  When I woke up this morning, I didn't think I'd have a chance to have chicken liver mousse or skate wing or lamb sweetbreads as sandwich choices.  In the end, I went safe and chose The Smash.

It was goat cheese marinated chicken, avocado, alfalfa sprouts, and lemon pickled green onions.  The bread was a nice multi grained baguette.  The sandwich was $8.99 and it was a decent size, but I felt like it was a touch overpriced.  I feel like I'm getting old and crotchety, as it seems like every place I go I feel is overpriced by $1-3 per item.  I also could have used some chips or something.

The sandwich itself was very good, but I thought the onions were a little salty and took away from the sandwich.  I ordered first and got The Smash.  My friend got The Smash also, which made me regret not getting the excellent sounding Roast Beef.  Ordering regrets.

If DB~ and I go here on some Saturday after shopping the Strip, I'm sure she'll get the Roasted Butternut Squash and I'll get the Roast Beef.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A World Where Billionaires Own Cities

Recently, I got into the English Premier League (let's go Liverpool and Steven Gerard!) and was stunned to realize that there were teams more valuable than the vaunted New York Yankees.  Seriously, I don't know if that my narrow-minded Americanism shining through, but by all accounts Manchester United in the EPL and Real Madrid in la Liga are more valuable of franchises than the Yanks.

As I've researched the EPL more, I've been struck by the net worth of some of the owners.  I've known for a while that the Glazer family owned Manchester United, but did not know that John Henry and the Fenway Group own Liverpool.  Stan Kroenke (of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche) is the majority owner of Arsenal.  So arguably the top 3 franchises in the EPL are owned by Americans, which has to honk the Brits off to no end. Additionally, three other teams (Aston Villa, Sunderland, and Fulham) are primarily owned by Americans.

But take a look at some of the other owners.  There's a sheik worth $20 BILLION that bought Manchester City recently as a plaything.  Roman Abramovich (owner of the Brooklyn Nets) is worth $10 Bills, too.

These teams are the crown jewel of the sporting world with worldwide appeal.  They're treated as status symbols for these owners.

But what if they get tired of owning a sports team?  What if these billionaires want to expand their power base and buy a whole city?

Things would have to change dramatically, especially in the United States, to allow the general citizenry to accept having their government effectively taken over by a hostile takeover.  But at this point with Detroit, who would really object if someone like Bill Gates came in and purchased the city out of (essentially) a bankruptcy sale?

A proven CEO would be able to eliminate the unwanted chaff, sell off the appropriate assets, and figure out the best economical course of action to bring a struggling city out of the red, just like any other business.  There would be drastic, sweeping changes, which would probably affect the retirement benefits of workers.  This would be an issue.

As far as the United States goes, the threat of a benevolent dictator owning a city would not be appealing in the year 2013.  But if Detroit is only the first major city in the next two decades to go third-world, the general public may change their minds.  In countries where democracy is not so prevalent, the billionaire owner could be a smoother entry.

It wouldn't be a Communist country like China or a strong democratic country like Britain.  Maybe Russia would be a good test model, as they have a lot of cities that suck and seems generally lawless.  Putin strikes me as the guy who will allow anything as long as he gets a cut, so maybe another Russian billionaire could propose this venture.

Just imagine the year 2090 and watching the Ford Hovercar Detroit Tigers play the Facebook San Francisco Giants play a game of quaint old baseball.  Will we long for the days of corrupt politicians that we can at least try and vote out periodically?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pirates Pick Up A New Appalachian League Affiliate -- It's Appy Hour!

This past week, the Pirates announced that they became affiliated with an Appalachian League team in Bristol, Virginia.  Previously, Bristol was affiliated with the Chicago White Sox and were known as the creatively named Bristol White Sox.  So a name change is in order.

The Appalachian League is what's known as an Advanced Rookie league.  It's between the Gulf Coast League and the New York Penn League in terms of short-season pecking order.

It's a great addition to the roster of minor league teams and gives the Pirates 7 affiliates.  The Appalachian League will be good for an advanced high school draftee (like Austin Meadows this year) or an international player that may not be ready for the college-heavy New York Penn League (like Edwin Espinal this year).

Having an extra affiliate will help spread out developmental innings for all the pitchers in the Pirates' system, especially since they can't help themselves and draft tons of pitching each year.  It will also help hedge a bet in case the "Morgantown affiliate that we're building a new stadium for but won't acknowledge it to anyone yet" stadium has a delay in construction somewhere.  The Pirates' Jamestown affiliate has the 2014 season left in the original two-deal affiliation deal.  With the Morgantown stadium expected to be open for the start of the 2015 season in June, it should all fall together nicely.  But just in case, the Pirates can go without a NYPL team for one season and funnel everyone to Bristol or GCL.

It's a good developmental move.  I'm curious how long the Pirates will maintain 7 affiliates, though.  The Appy League is more of a luxury than a necessity.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Shrimp Fritters

For whatever reason, I've never been able to make a good beer batter.  I've tried numerous times to make beer battered shrimp and it has turned out poorly.  This has bothered me to no end.

So I found a recipe on Saveur's website for Shrimp Fritters.  It called for using chickpea flour, but there was no way I was going to search and then buy that, so I substituted corn meal instead.

1/2 lb of peeled/deveined shrimp, chopped fine
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup of corn meal
2 tbsp of flour
1/2 tsp of paprika
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 of a yellow onion, diced

Lemon wedges to squeeze on top
Salt and pepper to season when done

I sauteed the onions in a tbsp of oil until soft and set aside
In a bowl, I mixed the dry ingredients together, then added the onions and shrimp.  I mixed this together and let it set up for 10 minutes.

In a skillet, I heated the oil and then put about 1 tablespoon of shrimp batter into the hot skillet.  I got about 7 out of this recipe and fried them all at once.

I fried them for 2-3 minutes on medium-high heat, being careful not to burn the sides, and then flipped them over.

I patted them dry, sprinkled salt/pepper on them, and squeezed the lemon juice on top.  They were good, but next time I'm going to add some garlic into the batter for some extra flavor.  At least I finally made a good batter (w/o beer) that I can use in the future.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Gerrit Cole and the Pirates' History of Pitchers

For all of the Pirates legendary players, the vast majority of the truly great ones have been hitters.  The Pirates have not had many great long-term pitchers, especially since racial integration started to occur in the late 1940’s.

If you look at Baseball Reference’s Pirate Pitching Leaders page, you’ll see it is dominated by pitchers that played in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  This is to be expected for the traditional “counting stats” such as innings pitched, wins, and strikeouts.  It’s pretty easy to rack up the innings total and wins like Wilbur Cooper when you’re regularly pitching 285-325 innings per year.  Those totals will just never be seen on a regular basis again.

I wondered if the Pirates were just victims of their own long standing history, as it related to the leaderboards being dominated by old-timey pitchers.  I went on the Cincinnati Reds’ Pitching Leader page and saw plenty of modern-day pitchers like Jose Rijo (4th in K’s), Bronson Arroyo (7th in K’s, 9th in games started), Mario Soto (2nd in K’s), and Aaron Harang (6th in K’s).  

But even within the last 50 years, there just have not been many truly great Pirate pitchers.  Bob Friend leads them in both innings pitched and strikeouts, but that’s more to the fact of his longevity, as he was a Pirate for 15 seasons and finished with a 191-218 record with the club.  The strikeout was de-emphasized in that era, as well, which is why he has “only” 1,682 strikeouts in 3,480 innings pitched as a Pirate (4.35 K/9, which you couldn’t last in today’s game with that ratio).

Vern Law is perhaps the iconic Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher of the past 50 years, as he pitched all 16 seasons with Pittsburgh and finished with a 162-147 record.  He also appears throughout various Top 10 lists for Pirate pitchers (4th in IP, 5th in K’s, 6th in wins).

Bob Veale was like a less temperamental Oliver Perez, as he racked up some mammoth strikeout numbers, as well as large walk numbers, during his 11 seasons with the Pirates.  Veale finished with a 116-91 record and is 2nd in strikeouts with 1,652.

Since the advent of free agency in 1975, the Pirates have had even fewer all-time great pitchers in their history.  Perhaps the two best pitchers during this era have been John Candelaria and Doug Drabek.  There have been plenty of good to very good level pitchers, plus some fantastic single seasons (Perez in 2004 and Liriano in 2013), but no real iconic careers aside from those two.

Candelaria came up in 1975 as a 21-year old rookie and pitched 12 seasons for the Pirates.  He finished with a 124-87 record as a Pirate and was a key member of their glory years in the ‘70’s.  His 1977 season (20-5, 2.34 ERA, 5th place in Cy Young vote) was his masterpiece.

Drabek only lasted his 6+ seasons that the Pirates controlled his rights, after he came over in a trade with the Yankees, but he put his mark on the rotation during the 1990-92 run of division titles.  As a Pirate, he finished with a 92-62 record, 3.02 ERA, 1.15 WHIP (8th all-time for Pirates), and one NL Cy Young.

All of this is saying that the bar for Gerrit Cole to reach all-time Pirate greatness is pretty low.  He has all the tools and arsenal of pitches to enter into this relatively small modern pantheon.  After this season, he is under control with the Pirates for 6 more full seasons (2014-2019), until uber-agent Scott Boras whisks him away to free agency, where the Pirates may lose out on his services.

Cole is also entering a renaissance period for the Pirates, as it appears as if this is just the start of a prolonged window of contention.  At the very least, it should be a period of “not sucking”, which will afford Cole the opportunity to accrue bulk counting stats like wins, innings, and strikeouts.

While I would love to have Cole here for his entire career like Vern Law, it’s more realistic to expect him to have the Doug Drabek style of 6+ years instead.  If he can replicate Drabek’s career, but with more strikeouts, that would be quite an achievement.  It would probably allow him to be talked about in the same conversation as some of these pitchers mentioned in the article as All Time Great Pirate Pitchers.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Post About Hurdle I Never Wrote This Year

I felt that 2013 was going to be a key year for the futures of both Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle. The collapse of 2012 was a stinging gut punch to both the fanbase and the team.  It seemed to me as if both of these men were on short leashes.

Predicting the demise of a human is never pleasant.  Note that I said “human” and not “animatronic robot”, so it was perfectly OK for me to anticipate John Russell’s firing.  My thinking coming into the season was that Hurdle was going to get fired if:

a) The Pirates were under .500 by 10 or more games at any point
b) They had a losing record after 81 games

Obviously neither of those things happened.  In fact, Hurdle is the leading contender for NL Manager of the Year.  Not only has Hurdle guided the Pirates to a winning season, but it is a season that has them in the playoffs.  The narrative of the Pirates shedding 20 seasons of losing will help form a strong undercurrent during awards season and help propel Hurdle and Andrew McCutchen to their respective awards.

By no means does this season, though, make me believe is the best manager in baseball.  He has many in-game characteristics that are teeth-gratingly bad (overreliance on bunts, pitcher usage, an issue understanding pitcher/hitter splits at times), but he has restored hope to this moribund franchise.  

For me, Clint Hurdle is that zany uncle you see a few times a year at the holidays, birthdays, and reunions.  He has great stories, always makes people laugh, and generally makes the world a cooler place.  But that uncle is also not someone you want to entrust a key operation to, either.  Hurdle is an ambassador for the Pirates to the fanbase and his work with charities is unparalleled among previous managers.  I’m not exactly sure what Hurdle’s ideal role would be with the Pirates for me -- Director of Community Relations, perhaps?  He could maximize his folksy charm, do charity work, and draw people into attending games.

So Clint, even though you will probably never read this article, I say “Thanks”.  Thanks for making baseball relevant in Pittsburgh again.  Thanks for bringing back a sector of the fanbase that had given up on the Pirates.  Thanks for reminding Pittsburgh that baseball is allowed to potentially be played deep into October.

Sorry I was thinking you were going to be fired by July 1st.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

NL Wild Card Game

Some events are special because of the drama within the event.

The baseball game itself was never really in doubt; the Pirates got out early, got an extremely strong start from Francisco Liriano, and added on.

Some events are special because of the atmosphere surrounding the event.

The baseball game in question was the first playoff game at PNC Park and the first playoff game of any sort since 1992 for the Pirates.

I've never been part of a group therapy session...until Tuesday night.  At that time, I was part of a group of 40,474 people experiencing catharsis of their baseball souls.  Hearing that many people cheer in unison (and in one instance before a Neil Walker at-bat, everyone stop making noise simultaneously), to the point that they may have influenced the mental state of Johnny Cueto, was inspiring.

The section that I was seated in had a very enthusiastic fan, dressed in full uniform (complete with high socks).  After every out, every Pirate hit, every Pirate walk, he would ritualistically get up from him seat and walk up the aisle giving high-fives to every fan in sight.  I've never high-fived a thunderclap, but I now can imagine what the feeling must be like.  And he did this, without fail, the entire game.  He would dutifully trudge up the steps, high-fiving in the same exact order, the same people.  It was his job for the night and he did it well.

The left field rotunda was completely packed.  Presumably, it was three or four deep along the railing.  On Stubhub that morning, standing room only tickets were going for $191.  The SRO's contributed to this game being the largest attendance in PNC Park history.

Naturally, the food vendors were completely overwhelmed.  I very nearly missed the first pitch as I was waiting for my burger and fries for 25 minutes.  I didn't really care that much, because nothing was going to ruin this night.  Not even a Pirate loss, which didn't happen thanks to a 6-2 win, would have spoiled this night.

The Pirates won 94 games and were in the playoffs, even the bizarre 1 game Wild Card game is a playoff game, so everything else about this season from there on out is a gravy train on biscuit wheels.

The Pirates now go on to play the Cardinals in a "real" playoff series best-of-5.  I like the Pirates chances, especially in the pitching matchups besides Game 1 against Wainwright.  Are they underdogs?  Sure.  But the narrative of the Pirates has allowed them to capture the hearts of the rest of the baseball viewing public (aside from those fans of teams still in the playoffs).

The gut punch of a finish to the 2012 season, and the 19 losing seasons that preceded that one, seem like hazy fever dream memories at this point.  What I saw on Tuesday was the burial of all those bad memories and the beginning of an era that should see at least five years of success (meaning non-losing seasons, not all playoffs) for the Pittsburgh Pirates.