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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Announcing my newest blog, devoted to Michigan State sports

For years, I've lamented that this blog had turned into my "MSU sports" blog, to the detriment of other subjects.  I think I was giving the false impression that Spartan sports was my entire life, rather than just a hobby.  Okay, who am I kidding, I'm fairly passionate about MSU sports, but I really never intended for this blog to be consumed by it.

That's why I have decided to create a second blog called "Treasures from the Spartan Attic" which will focus on my Michigan State University sports fandom, leaving Brainsplotch to focus on other aspects of life.  So if you're dying to keep reading my thoughts about Spartan sports, simply google Treasures from the Spartan Attic.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


On Saturday, I returned home from a wonderful trip to Charleston, South Carolina, having tagged along with my wife Lynda, who had to go there for a fairly swank insurance conference at the Doubletree Inn and Suites in downtown Charleston.  (The photo above is St. Philip's Church at 142 Church Street, taken by me with my junky old Verizon LG phone camera. This church is located only a few blocks south of the Doubletree).

We flew in from Flint on Wednesday, October 12 and arrived in Charleston in the late afternoon.  My wife registered for her conference at the hotel and then attended an informal reception.  I called my old grad school classmate/friend/native Charlestonian Rick R. to see if he was still interested in getting together at some point during our stay.  I hadn't seen Rick since I finished Eastern Michigan University's historic preservation program in '04, but through the miracle of social media we had reconnected through Facebook and had gotten to know each other better there than we had in our time at school.

As far back as a few years ago, Rick had said that he'd love to have us come down to Charleston, and when in the spring of this year it looked like we'd definitely be coming down for Lynda's conference, Rick had said to definitely call him when we arrived.  After playing text message tag for awhile, Rick and I hooked up on Thursday evening for beers at a burger/pizza/sports bar joint called the Mellow Mushroom on King Street.  The next night, Rick and his wife graciously took Lynda and I out to eat at a pretty good seafood restaurant in nearby Mt. Pleasant called RB's, where I had the shrimp and grits.

The rest of my time was spent wandering around while Lynda was in her conference.  On Thursday morning, I took the ferry to Fort Sumter out in Charleston Harbor.  It was a lazy, relaxing trip out there.  I was amazed to learn just how far the fort is from the city of Charleston.  The park ranger, an extremely energetic and engaging young guy named Brent Everitt (I was impressed with his presentation and made sure to catch his name tag) went to great pains to make sure we all understood that the first shots of the Civil War were NOT fired from the Battery at Charleston, but at Fort Johnson.  Charleston is about 3 1/2 miles northwest of Fort Sumter, while Fort Johnston was about one mile due west.  1860s technology prevented a shot from Charleston being possible, but apparently some tour guides in Charleston perpetuate this myth.

Another thing I always seem to notice about historic sites I visit is that they end up being far smaller than I envisioned them to be.  I felt that way about the White House, Historic Jamestown, and certainly Fort Sumter.  Let me tell you, I sure as heck would not have wanted to be stationed at Fort Sumter: it's a tiny and remote location and with it's lack of shade must have been oppressively hot in the summer and probably not much better in winter.

When I returned from Fort Sumter, I made my way to King Street and felt completely out-of-place among all the high-end boutiques and ultra chic and expensive clothing stores.  My destination was Blue Bicycle Books, the main used book shop in Charleston.  I make a point of visiting whatever local bookshops I can find whenever I'm on vacation.  Blue Bicycle was fun to browse, though I found their prices a little high and didn't buy anything.  The store is long and narrow with several small rooms dedicated to a particular type of book ("history room", "childrens room", etc.).  Used bookshops always have their own peculiar layout and vibe, and Blue Bicycle is no exception.

Well, I don't want to bore everyone with a blow-by-blow recap of my entire stay in Charleston, but Lynda and I managed to pack in quite a bit in the short time we were there.  I bought a sweetgrass wreath from a friendly weaver (of the traditional Gulla sweetgrass style) named Mildred who had her works set up outside a church on Meeting Street.  Lynda and I wandered through the Battery and up East Bay south of Broad and saw the amazing houses there.  Did I mention that the architecture of Charleston is nothing short of incredible?  The city breathes history and tradition in a way that few other places in America even come close.

My real education in the culture and history of Charleston came from Rick, who (as I mentioned) is a native Charlestonian and has his own building contracting business.  Rick is committed to historic preservation, and drove me around town on Friday and show me some of his current projects, located on the northwest side of town near The Citadel.  Rick and his wife also live in this area, in a freedman's cottage that they have been restoring.  Rick told me that this part of Charleston is notable for the number of freedman's cottages, which are small one-level vernacular houses that were built in the late 19th century for newly freed slaves.  Check out this link for more information about freedman's cottages:

I could go on even further about Charleston, and I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but I need to cut it short.  It was a wonderful adventure and I would gladly return in a heartbeat.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Evil Empire is vanquished...and the Tigers move on

It was 3 plus hours of heart-stopping tension on Thursday night, when the Tigers took on the Yankees.  I had to watch most of the game in the Magic Basement, because I was so nervous that I had to alternately pace or lift my free weights to burn off a little steam.  Outside of a Michigan State game in (name your sport), I have never wanted a team (i.e. the Tigers) to win a game so badly.

The Tigers must have been reading my previous blog post, because they jumped off to an early 2-0 lead when supersub Don Kelly and valuable newcomer Delvon Young hit back-to-back home runs.  And thus began the almost unbearable tension as the Tigers hung on to that lead and eventually won, 3-2.  Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Joaquin Benoit, and Jose Valverde pitched wonderfully to contain the powerful Yankee hitting.  Sure, the Yankees managed to threaten a few times, but the Tigers' pitching bore down to get out of these jams as they did for most of the regular season.  Outside of a solo homer by Robinson Cano, and a bases loaded walk to Mark Teixeira pushing home a run, the Yankees were silent.

A few random observations of the game:

Yankees' manager Joe Girardi may have been overthinking his constant pitching changes.  I don't think this helped his team.

The Yankees are essentially a collection of superstars (some of whom, particularly in the case of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, are aging and overpayed), the Tigers are a TEAM.  This team concept is best exemplified in the way Don Kelly played.  A-Rod probably makes more in one week than Kelly makes in a year, yet Kelly had a much better series and his first inning homer (quickly followed by Young's homer) set the tone for the entire game.

This matchup reminded me of the 2004 NBA Finals between the Pistons and the Lakers.  The unheralded Pistons beat the Lakers' collection of superstars. 

The energy and excitement in Michigan for this team, and for the resurgent Detroit Lions, is palpable.  You can feel it in the air.  It's amazing the way that a successful sports team can capture the imagination of  a divergent group of people.  It may not solve all the problems we have in Michigan, but it will at least take our minds off it a little while...and also let the rest of the nation know that there is still life here in the Rust Belt.

Well, I'm getting booted off the computer.  Maybe I'll have a chance to finish these thoughts later.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

R.I.P., Steve Jobs

By now, you've all read every conceivable salute, requiem, remembrance, and obituary of Steve Jobs, so I don't know that I have that much to add.  The man was truly a visionary, and shaped our modern world (for better or worse) in a way that no other single person has.

Today, I heard for the first time his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford.  It is quite stirring  and a great way for even us regular mortals to try and live our lives.  Check it out if you are so inclined:

Requiem for the Tigers?

...I guess we'll find out at the conclusion of tonight's game.

Doug Fister takes the mound against the Yankees in the Bronx.  After his lackluster appearance in the rain-delayed first game of this American League divisional series, I fully expect the tall lanky one to pitch a good game.  After pitching in Yankee Stadium last week, he should have the butterflies out of his system now.

The key for the Tigers is this: Get the bats going early and often and hope that Fister pitches the way he did down the stretch in the regular season.  Detroit has to somehow get guys like Avila, Peralta, and Jackson going, and hope that the big guns like Cabrera, Martinez, and Young can keep it going--and get it done before the eighth inning because if the Yankees bullpen gets involved, it'll be lights out for the good guys from Detroit. 

I still give the edge to the Evil Empire tonight, but am definitely not counting out the Tigers.

So in conclusion, let me just say:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tough loss for the Tigers

Tough loss for the Tigers last night.  Curtis Granderson always seems to save a little extra for when he plays his old team the Tigers--and he was a one man wrecking crew last night.  It almost seemed as if Granderson could have played all nine positions for the Yankees and they still would have won.

More from me later (I hope--we'll see if I can make it back on the computer tonight!).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It's a great time to be a sports fan in Michigan

Remember me writing that I was going to try and cut down on the number of sports posts in this blog?  Well, it remains true--I'm going to try hard and branch out into my other interests besides sports, but the level of excitement in Michigan regarding our local athletic teams will probably prevent me from maintaining this promise at least for the foreseeable future.

For the first time in eons (okay, maybe not eons, but it sure feels that way) both the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions are good at the same time.  The Tigers will attempt to eliminate the Evil Empire (i.e. the New York Yankees) tonight and advance to play the Texas Rangers for the American League championship.  And for the first time in 31 years, the Detroit Lions are undefeated at 4-0 with their stunning win over the NFL's evil empire, the Dallas Cowboys.

To top things off, on Saturday all the major college football teams in the state of Michigan won their respective games.  For those keeping score, that's Michigan State, Michigan, Central Michigan, Western Michigan, and Eastern Michigan.

I'm usually guardedly optimistic about my favorite teams' chances, even in the best of times, so I'm trying not to get too geeked about the Tigers or Lions, but both teams are looking great right now.  The Tigers will have Rick Porcello on the mound tonight.  He's been inconsistent this season, but I sure hope he can pitch his best game of the year this evening--and maybe the Tigers' bats will cut loose against the Yankees' A.J. Burnett, who has been a disappointment all season for the Bronx Bombers.

The toughest part about this game, at least on a personal level, is that the starting time is 8:37 PM. (Don't ask me how Major League Baseball comes up with these weird game times).  It's just too late!  I stayed up until the end of last night's Tigers/Yankees game, which did not conclude until about 12:30 AM.  Of course, after the Tigers' anxiety-enducing 5-4 win, I was so wired that I didn't feel like going to bed right away and watched a half-hour of the postgame commentary.  I didn't finally get under the sheets until 1:00 AM, and believe me, I paid for it this morning when I had to get up at 6:00 to get out the door for work.

The worst part of these late game times is that Major League Baseball has made it quite clear that they aren't concerned about the future of the game: i.e., the kids who will hopefully grow up to become baseball fans.  At least the Rangers/Rays game started at 2:00(ish) this afternoon, and the Cardinals/Phillies game started at 5:00(ish).  Kids who are interested will at least be able to see those games, but if there for all the young Tiger or Yankee fans out there, forget it.  Unless those kids have lenient parents, there is no way they can stay up to see the entire game tonight.

I'm heading towards my diatribe against Major League Baseball, and all the ways that it is mismanaged by Commissioner Bud Selig, but I'll save that for another time.

Well, it appears my writing time is being interrupted by that thing called "life", so I may or may not come back to complete my thoughts here.

Go Tigers! Go Lions! Go Spartans!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My lack of Michigan State football posts this year (and the Secret of the Magic Basement)

Perhaps you've noticed, dear reader, that unlike years past I have neglected to weigh in on my views of MSU football.  I'm sure you're desperate to know why.  Well, the quick answer is that I just haven't felt like it.  So far, the season hasn't seemed all that compelling.  After all, who gives a damn about the Youngstown State, Florida Atlantic, and Central Michigan games?  Booorrrriiiinnnnggg!  I almost wrote about the Notre Dame loss, but just never got around to it.  Today, the Big Ten season begins with the Spartans taking on Ohio State in Columbus.  Maybe the result of that game will inpire me to write about MSU football.

I have a feeling that this is going to be "one of those years".  By that I mean...a disappointment.  I just have little confidence in this MSU football team this season.  The offensive line has been weak thus far, and Kirk Cousins' confidence has looked shaky.  And anyone with any knowledge of MSU's gridiron history over the last 45 years knows that the Spartans have a tough time stringing together two good years in a row.  However, I hope that the MSU football team proves me wrong.

(I'm also trying really hard to get beyond having this blog merely as a sports blog.  I'm still entertaining the thought of creating a separate "sports only" blog, and leaving this for other--more important--aspects of life).

I may be able to change the Spartans' football fortunes by watching this Saturday's Ohio State game in my "Magic Basement".  The magic basement, as I have begun to call it, is where I have witnessed several sports miracles in the last four years.  Now on the surface there is nothing that appears remotely magical about my semi-finished basement.  By all outward appearances it is ugly, somewhat dank, and rather unkempt.  A good 75 % of it is dominated by my two boys' playthings.  On either end of the basement are the cats' litter boxes, so the basement frequently has the subtle scent of cat pee or poo--lovely eh?  The basement, however, is the main repository of Mark's Sports Archive and Museum, and also features our old Sharp TV (with cable) and an old leather sofa.  It is on this old television, in this dank underground dwelling, that I witnessed MSU's come-from-behind win over Penn State in '07, the '08 Michigan win, the '10 comeback win over Northwestern, along with several memorable Spartan NCAA tournament basketball wins.  In all fairness, I also saw the MSU losses to Michigan in '07 and the end of the last-second loss to Iowa in '09, so maybe the basement isn't so magical after all.  I like to remember the good games, though, and remain convinced that fairy dust has been sprinkled in the basement.

Maybe in a future post, I'll present some photos of the Magic Basement.  I'm sure after my dazzling description of its beauty and charm, you are dying to see it.