Sunday, August 22, 2010

Concert Review - Crosby, Stills & Nash at Jones Beach

After my recent deja vu experience, it seemed obvious we were supposed to see Crosby, Stills & Nash at Jones Beach. I was pleasantly surprised to find $20 tickets online. I asked the kids if they wanted to go, and they did (we have cool kids!), so I got four tickets.

On a nice summer night, there is no better venue than the Jones Beach theatre. We had one of those nights, about 75 and breezy, with a clear sky and a bright moon.

My daughter Rebecca (17) was somewhat familiar with Crosby, Stills & Nash, but of course I had to go on and on about how they are "cultural icons of the 60's".........part of a "dying breed of social commentators"......"they were at Woodstock".......and "they did the song OHIO, which is about Kent State, and it changed my world view". She accepts my commentary, but I heard myself sounding like a big "blah blah blah", so I decided to can it. She did ask me if I thought they would play "Deja Vu", and I said I hoped so.

Here are three guys in their late 60's, who still play and sing at the highest level and with tremendous feeling. The only noticeable concession is that Stephen Stills can't sing as well as he used to. However, they adjust their song selection to accommodate this, and he still plays a mean guitar. He was attacking his guitar solos, almost in defiance of his lowered place in the singing.

David Crosby and Graham Nash can still sing and harmonize like nobody else. David Crosby did most of the intros and talking, and after a few songs said "We always do one Neil Young song, and we always have a big discussion deciding which one to do, so here's tonight's Neil Young song." They then did "Long May You Run". It's a great song, though it is such a Neil Youngish song that I kept thinking "This song is missing something.....Neil Young". You can't replace this , but it was still nice.

I was also surprised that they played many covers, including Norwegian Wood, Ruby Tuesday, Midnight Rider, Behind Blue Eyes and Girl From the North Country (a Bob Dylan song). These were well chosen and very enjoyable.

About halfway through the show, David Crosby said, "You know you can't come to one of our concerts without us playing Wooden Ships, but before we do, we want to get weird on you." Then they played Deja Vu. As we used to say at Stony Brook......"Pretty heavy". Here's a youtube of them performing the song 20 years ago It will give you the flavor, but I like the way they do it now even better.

The best song of the night was one that I had not considered a favorite, but I now change my mind. It was Guinevere. It was haunting and beautiful, and it also received the ultimate compliment when halfway through I noticed Felicia had a tear in her eye. (Not our show, just a representative sample).

They did not do every song in their catalogue, and while everyone expected them to do "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" in the encore, they did not. When I looked at youtube clips of this song, it struck me that it's a Stephen Stills song that he probably can't sing to a satisfactory level. No big deal. Here is an interesting Wikipedia entry about the song, with some history and facts and I never knew

After the concert Rebecca wondered what these guys looked like when they were young. I had a great time looking at youtube clips and showing them to her. Here are a few..... (Teach Your Children) (Suite: Judy Blue Woodstock) (this one is "Down By the River", performed on the David Steinberg show) ("Almost Cut My Hair", in 2009, and a good sample of what they look like now)

Comments on this blog are always welcome.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Strange but True, Deja Vu

On Saturday we decided to drive down to Princeton to take a tour of the school. Princeton is a long-shot for anyone, but Rebecca warrants an application, so it was worth spending a day.

I have been to the campus many times, since my Mom lived the last 10 years of her life in Plainsboro, New Jersey, the next town from Princeton. I had not been around there since 1998, the last time being when Brian and I finished cleaning out Mom's apartment. I did not have any particular trepidation about going back there, I just haven't had a reason.

Our GPS suggested getting off at Jersey Turnpike Exit 9, and then taking Route 1 for 18 miles to Princeton. This seemed like a stupid way to go (too much Route 1 with lights), so I decided to ignore the GPS and go to Exit 8A (9 miles to that Exit) and go through Plainsboro to Princeton. Naturally, as soon as I passed Exit 9 we encountered heavy traffic all the way to Exit 8A, but in hindsight, I think we were supposed to get stuck in traffic.

When we got off at Exit 8A, we started driving on the very familiar Route 130. I had driven this route MANY times, and felt a warm feeling when we came upon the first cornfields. We were listening to a local Princeton radio station. Just as we approached the first cornfield, the Crosby, Stills & Nash song Deja Vu started playing.

I had to pull over for a moment. Deja Vu during my deja vu was a lot to handle. After I composed myself, I turned it up and kept driving. The cornfields were beautiful. Here's a youtube link If you are not familiar, check it out.

If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do.
Don't you?
If I had ever been here before on another time around the wheel
I would probably know just how to deal
With all of you.
And I feel
Like I've been here before
Feel Like I've been here before And you know It makes me wonder
What's going on under the ground
Do you know?
Don't you wonder?What's going on down under you.

We have all been here before
We have all been here before
We have all been here before
We have all been here before

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Softball Playoff Update

The game lived up to its hype. The championship round matches up the two rival Lake Success teams. I'm a ringer on my team, an "outsider", but the other teams never care because I catch and bat 11th. Of course, if they realized I am our teams secret weapon and closet manager, they'd be seeking to bar me. I don't know if the teams have names or my mind there's only "our team" and the "other" team. I love my team, but I don't feel the rivalry the way my teammates do. However, if my team is psyched, I'm psyched. If the rival is talking trash about our team (I heard one of them say we were 8-1 underdogs in the series), I'm mad and I'm playing hard.

The first game drew a big crowd, with wine drinking wives and extended family and friends. Lots of yelling and cheering. I admit it, the biggest crowd I've played in front of in a long time. It had both teams playing intensely and at a high level.

Softball wise, everybody knows what this series comes down to. The teams are evenly matched (personally I think we have significantly better players), but the other team has a great pitcher. OK, maybe "great" is too strong. He's a "B" league pitcher, pitching in a "C" league. He is MUCH better than any other pitcher in our league. He throws hard, and he never gives in and throws an easy one. He never "lays the first one in" to try and get ahead. His control is good enough to throw hard on any count. I actually like hitting against him, because he seems nice, and it's a challenge.

The other team also plays a smart defense, suited to their pitcher. They play their outfield very shallow, especially against weaker hitters, and they play their right fielder practically on the right field line. I will also say something nice about the other team.....they batted all the players who showed up. This makes it harder to score runs, as the better hitters bat less often, and some weaker hitters are using up outs. After all, in a seven inning game there are only 21 outs, and they all count. End of nice comments. I'd love to teach the opponents a lesson, the lesson being "it ain't much to brag about when you boost your mediocre team with a ringer pitcher". I do realize that regardless of the outcome of the series, lessons like this are lost on some people.

The game turned out to be a pitchers duel. We expected to have some trouble scoring runs. Not only is their pitcher good, but we went with a long lineup too. What was most impressive was that our pitching and defense made it a battle.

Both teams played tight defense and were making all the plays, with few errors. Going into the top of the 7th, we were down 2-1. In the top of the 7th we scratched out a run to tie the game at 2-2, and had a man on second with two outs. Had we managed one more hit to take the lead, I think we'd have clamped down and won. However, we didn't get it, and went to the bottom of the 7th, in the field with a tie score.

It's never comfortable for the visitors when the home team is batting in a tie game. There is no margin for error. With a man on first and one out, one of their batters hit a long drive to right center. I knew it was trouble right away, and I saw that as our shortstop went out for the relay, the runner was going to score easily, all the way from first. When the throw came in I didn't even bother to catch it, because the winning run had already crossed the plate and the other team was celebrating.

Except.....our third baseman (Jeff) was screaming at me "GET THE BALL!!!". I yelled back "WHY?!?!?" He said "APPEAL AT THIRD". So I got the ball, and noticed the umpire was still on the field, a good sign. I threw the ball to Jeff at third and looked at the umpire. He mumbled "You have to say something". I said "Appeal, he missed third base." And then....
the umpire made a fist with his right hand and and said "OUT".

Of course, the other team went nuts. Lots of screaming, calling the play "bush league" and the like. I had a good vantage point to hear all this nonsense, and at one point I turned to one of the apoplectic opponents and said "How hard would it have been to touch third base?" As an aside, I was told later by their third base coach that the runner had "missed it by a mile".

So it was back to baseball. Now we had a man on second and two out. We decided to walk the number six hitter and pitch to the next batter. I guess there was some poetic justice in what happened next.....the batter hit a single to left, and the winning run scored.

So, the 8-1 underdogs lost a nail-biter, 3-2.

Nothing to be ashamed of. Next game is Tuesday.

We can beat these guys!!! Let's get it on!!!!!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Softball Playoffs

Our team made the playoffs. Our opening playoff game was a single elimination against a team called "The Rookies". In the regular season we had split with them, winning the first game and then having them kill us in the second game. However, we played a flawless game and advanced to the next round.

Now we were in a "two out of three" series against "Sterling". Average age 35; strong and fast and aggressive. Their pitcher was pretty good too; very competitive and threw hard when he was ahead in the count.

In the first game we had a solid defensive effort, got some timely hitting, and some sloppy defense from the other side, and won 12-8.

In the second game we had a rude awakening, when we realized Sterling had been missing a few players the first game. Suddenly we saw guys hitting the ball to places we had never seen balls hit, and a shortstop who was catching EVERYTHING, both on the ground and in the air. We also got treated to the opponent taking extra bases and daring us to stop them. In short, they were treating us like "old guys", which we are. We lost this one 13-7, but it was really not a close game.

Going into the deciding game, the sentiment on our side was "What can we possibly do to beat these guys?" A few things were obvious:

- We had to play solid defense, and keep the extra bases to a minimum.
- We had to run the bases well, and be selectively aggressive. (We did notice they had a few weak outfield arms and could be pressured into throwing the ball around).
- We needed to hit well enough to make them make the plays. In other words, stay away from pop-ups and fly when in doubt.....DOWN AND HARD.
- We needed a good pitching strategy.....because in the prior game they killed us with long balls.

As catcher I was directly involved in pitching strategy. Our pitcher, Rick, has great control. It's a great feature, but when he becomes predictable, it is a downfall against strong hitters. He can throw harder when ahead in the count, but he is not overpowering. He does have an effective change-up, but again, when it becomes predictable it yields tremendous home runs.

One thing I noticed about the long hits in the second game, they were all to center field. They were also all on outside pitches. In the second game our left fielder didn't have a single fly ball hit his way. Very unusual, especially since Rick is not overpowering and throws change-ups. I suggested to Rick that we throw more pitches inside, even change-ups. I know as a hitter I hate inside pitches. They tie you up and take away your power. Outside pitches are much easier to hit hard because you can extend your arms and hit the ball on the best part of the bat. Throwing inside is easier said than done, but Rick agreed with this strategy and said he would try it. He also suggested that when he threw his change-up he would throw it with a higher arc, and even have some float in high, to try to tempt the aggressive Sterling hitters. I agreed with this idea. I also suggested that every so often he let loose a wild and hard pitch, maybe even over the batters head, just to keep them unsettled. He agreed to try it.

Our change in approach was VERY effective. Adding the inside pitches worked. There were quite a few fly outs to left and left center, and some infield pop-ups (which happens when big hitters try to hit inside pitches up the middle). Some of the pop-ups were on high change-ups. Rick threw a few high and inside too, and I sensed behind the plate that the hitters were not nearly as comfortable as they were in the prior game.

We had some timely hitting throughout the game, and the fact is, in the later innings Sterling made some errors on what should have been easy plays. However, this is not "luck" on our end, we applied pressure by forcing them to make plays and by hustling.

In the 6th inning I was involved in a big play in the field. The opposing pitcher also turned out to be one of their best hitters. In the 3 game series he had 10 hits in 11 at bats (no lie). Almost every hit was a line shot up the middle, and he also ran hard out of the box and went for a double every time. He was able to make it because our outfielders had to play so deep. When he came up in the 6th inning, we were ahead 7-6 and they had a man on second. He lined a single up the middle which scored the runner and tied the game 7-7. However, this time we held him at first. The next batter hit a single to right center, and I had a feeling the runner on first would try to score. Sure enough, he rounded third and never stopped, BUT, our shortstop (Mike) went out and got the relay from right, and realized the runner on first was probably coming. He threw me a strike, which I received in enough time to trap the overly aggressive runner between home and third. What ensued was an extended run down play, which ended with me tagging the runner out at home. The run down went on so long that the runner seemed exhausted. Run down plays SHOULD result in an out, but at our level they are by no means routine. It felt great to end their rally this way.

In the top of the seventh we scored two to make in 9-7. This did not feel comfortable, and it wasn't. They strung together a few hits and tied the game at 9-9. They also had the winning run on second with two outs. Time for some strategy. I went to the mound and suggested to Rick that we intentionally walk the hitter. Rick wanted to "pitch around him", but I really did not like that idea. There were a few reasons: I like setting up a force at third. I also thought that the next batter (the opposing catcher) was not as good a hitter as the batter. In addition, the next batter was a dead pull hitter, who had hit a triple down the left field line earlier in the game, and I thought he might change his swing with a force at third. We called in the infielders and collectively agreed to intentionally walk the batter. With first and second, the next batter hit a ground ball back to Rick, for the third out, and the game went into extra innings. Personally, I think he hit the comebacker because he altered his swing due to the intentional walk, but hey, I don't need to take credit.....walking that guy was the right move any way you look at it.

In the top of the 8th, we scored three times to make it 12-9. I had a small role in this. With a man on first and no outs, I hit a ground ball to third. My thought as I ran to first was "Oh shit, I just hit into a double hard!!". I ran hard, figuring I would be trying to beat a relay throw on a double play. Instead, as I reached first I heard a lot of yelling, which turned out to be our fans cheering when the third baseman's throw to second pulled the second baseman off the bag. Another example of "down and hard" being better than balls in the air. Our next batter hit a single, which scored a run and sent me to third. I then scored on a sac fly.

So we went to the bottom of the 8th with a three run lead. Before the inning started Rick said to me "These guys are so aggressive they will probably still be swinging for the fences, even though they need baserunners. I'm gonna let 'em do that. What do you think?" I said "Go for it." We had our outfielders playing VERY deep, enabling them to catch very long drives for very big outs. Had Sterling just hit some line drives, they would have been doubles, that's how deep we were playing. But I have no problem letting opponents beat themselves. They went down one-two-three on two fly balls and a grounder to short.

I've played in a lot of games over the years, but this one was the most exciting and most gratifying.

Now we advance to the finals, against our arch-rivals. They lost only once during the regular season, they have a very strong pitcher, and they beat us twice. Can we come up with a winning strategy?

We'll sure try.