Friday, March 24, 2006

"Take Five" Comes Alive

Something about the announcement of Dave Brubeck performing with his sons intrigued me, so we had the good fortune to attend a performance by the jazz master himself, accompanied by two of his sons and a saxophone player from his Quartet. He played several of his pieces, with a twinkle in his eye. The piano ranged from being the strongest instrument, to being the backgroud or a chord used as an accent to fill in a break in the melody. His sons delighted in playing with him and surprising him with their drum or guitar improvizations. It was a delight when Dave Brubeck told of how and where the songs were written -- once knowing that, you could hear that in the music.
But, when he played the opening notes of "Take Five", it was with the energy and passion of a song he had just created, not one written in 1959. It came alive, and is something we will remember forever. He was so amazed by the drum performance of his son that he leaned forward over the piano. This man helped cross the racial barriers in jazz in the 1960s, when he had African-American musicians and refused to change when performing certain clubs or TV shows. He helped make jazz accessible for everyone with his magic fingers. I never knew you could do so much with a piano. It was like watching a special recipe being made: the piano was the crust holding the pie together, with layers of bass guitar, drum and saxophone blended over the top, all the while with the piano accenting the melody. It was delicious.
Dave Brubeck travels all over the world performing, up to 80 concerts annually. We are honored to have shared an evening with him.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Post-WBC Reflections

It is a blur, but it was a blast. The semi-finals and finals in San Diego of the World Baseball Classic were a blend of cultural and national pride for the countries that made it -- Cuba, Dominican Republic, Korea and China. Flags, banners, signs, horns, face painting -- all the fans from the various corners of the globe shared their passions. Bands of traveling minstrels paraded around the stadium, drumming, cheering and revving up the crowd. I loved the fact that all the Latin American countries banded together in one traveling minstrel group at the finals, encouraging Cuba to win for all Latinos. The band from the Las Vegas show, "Havana Nights", drove down for the finals, and treated the crowds to continuous drumming and cheering for Cuba. They were about 3 rows behind us, so it was hard not to join in their enthusiasm.
Lots of cameras of all types (and camera phones galore) flashed whenever Ichiro batted; the fans loved Big Papi and Albert Pujols; the umpires got more than their share of boos (which they deserved.) The Cuban players kept throwing something out of the dugout, but we don't know what. Even the sedate Japanese team was so excited in the ninth inning that the umpires had to ask them to step back into the dugout.
It was hard not think about what politically was at stake for the Cuban players -- what would they get for winning, or maybe, what would they lose for losing? The South Korean President waived the mandatory two years of military service for 11 of the Korean players, so national pride and politics were at play, even if understated. After the game, a speeding police car followed by a van of men in beige suits made us wonder if one of the Cuban players decided not to go back.
I scored the last Cuba hat in the Padres gift shop after they said they were out, when I found one tucked inside another hat. Odd to be able to buy something that says Cuba, as well as see their flag flying with the American flag.
In the long run, what I remember most is the opening ceremony for the final game. A giant globe was in the center of the field, with the San Diego Symphony performing an original piece composed just for the event with a few lines of each national anthem. As the music played, flags in groups of the WBC rounds were raised. It was weird to see the Cuban and Japanese flags displayed front and center, since they are two countries with negative feelings about the US. Then fireworks exploded around the field, followed by a shower of strings of ribbon in the colors of the WBC logo. Needless to say, I brought home one of each, to drape around the house when we want to relive the memories. It was so many memories that it was overwhelming. The closing, award ceremony had fireworks as well, and the Cuban team went out on the field to congratulate the winners before receiving their silver medals personally from MLB Commissioner.
One forlorn fan had his Team USA jersey on and held a sign: "I am here for my country; where is my team?" That's how we felt about it too. Also would be curious, in about six months, to see a followup on how many of the various international players have ended up on MLB teams. We are looking forward to the next World Baseball Classic. Until then, only 4 days until our next spring training game.

Friday, March 17, 2006

MVP = Class + Heart + Cash

Being an MVP for the Phoenix Suns means more than just a title for Steve Nash. He obviously loves someone very much that was born in Paraguay. The following news caught my eye as, having been there, there was a tremendous need for the ICU and medical unit, increasing the chances of survival for children born in Asuncion and the surrounding countryside. Wow, a person of character....

Nash spends endorsement cash on Paraguay hospital

Paul Coro The Arizona Republic Mar. 16, 2006 12:00 AM

It's not just that Steve Nash is the reigning Most Valuable Player and favorite to become the eighth player in NBA history to repeat.And it's not just that a Canadian computer company called one of its systems the "MVP" because Nash pitched it in commercials.It's what he did with the fees he received for a rare corporate endorsement. Nash did commercials for MDG, a Canadian computer company, and used his pay to cover half the costs of a new intensive care post-operative pediatric cardiology ward in Paraguay. Nash paid for the other half, too.

There was no neonatal care unit or operating room at Hospital del Clinicas in Asuncion, Paraguay, where his wife, Alejandra, grew up. He said it was one of the most fulfilling things he has ever done."This is paramount for the children," said Nash, whose charitable foundation targets youth causes. "The kids either have to fly to Brazil or, unfortunately, a lot of them die."

Monday, March 13, 2006

National Pride in World Baseball Classic

My thoughts are varied after attending all six games in World Baseball Classic Round 1, Pool B in Arizona, not to mention three exhibition games with WBC teams. Yes, it is a big blur, but a good one. My reflections have been on the tremendous demonstrations of national pride that have emerged.
Mexican fans are draped in flags, have their faces painted, adorned in all sorts of clothing with the colors of Mexico's flag. There is also cheering, singing, horns playing, doing the waves, clapping and unabashed excitement at being part of this event. The usher at Chase Field agreed that we had never seen so many photos taken, of people in front of home plate, ranging from disposable cameras, phones and videocameras.
Canadian fans are more subdued, wearing the red and white, taking photos, with a few cheers for their country. There were folks decked out in all sorts of odd hats and shirts. I wonder who has the concession to make jester caps for every nation's flag colors??? And, who would buy them?
South Africa -- those young players went home with a piece of my heart. They played their best (when we wished them good luck in their game against Team USA, one player replied "we will do our best.") And they did throughout the tournament, going winless but their pride carried them through the tournament. They attended all the games in which they were not playing, were very well-behaved and appreciative of fans seeking photos or autographs. The supporters were enjoying the moment as well. As they were losing 14-0, a group of fans in South African flags and cricket uniforms paraded through Scottsdale Stadium cheering, with the flag waving proudly in the wind. I can make no excuses for the USA fan behind me who hollered a politically-insenstive comment as they passed. But, when his friends asked him to tone it down, he replied "I stayed up all night planning my comments and intend to use them."
USA fans -- they were there, they were cheering, but I must admit that I always go for the underdogs. Of the USA players, two stand out as approachable and available for their fans, signing at each game -- class act Derrek Lee, who is an amazing first baseman, and Johnny Damon -- cuter in person than you could even believe.
I overhead a MLB official say that the demonstration of pride at the games of Caribbean nations was even more exhuberant. I cannot wait until next weekend.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I Admit I am Starstruck

I have to admit I am starstruck at the World Baseball Classic. Up close and personal, at Scottsdale Stadium, we are about 30 feet from Damon, A-Rod, Jeter and Street. I even used my new camera phone to snap photos as souvenirs. Our seats are in the area with scouts, managers, team owners and, yes, Hall of Famers. It allows me to continue my favorite sport of spotting World Series rings. Last night I saw my first guy with three rings! I have discovered a "scout" ring, with a blue background and one single diamond in the center. It was my first sighting of two Cardinals rings.
What I don't understand is fans jeering at A-Rod, screaming out "you suck" ,various comments about his sexual orientation and boos -- my husband says it is because he is not playing for Dominican Republic team. It is reminscent of the games on the east coast, where everyone yells "you suck". I don't get it, but I think they are just jealous that they are not out there playing baseball for milllions of dollars. Damon, got screams of "traitor", but most of the crowd loved him; he loves them and signed everything for everyone. The flashbulbs flash most for A-Rod, with a close tie for second with Jeter, Damon and Griffey, Jr. Flashes were rampant for Roger Clemens as well.
At Chase Field, I was in the crowd waiting over the USA Team dugout for players to come out -- and ended up on the big screen where they play my beloved relish races. I loved the little clips they made for the World Baseball Classic (spinning globes instead of hats, three balls running around the map to each country in a race past all their flags). I am touched by the ceremonial hat exchange that follows the playing of the various National Anthems. I screamed and cheered so furiously for South Africa that I was asked if I was South African. I replied that they were playing their hearts out, we had met some of the parents and I was cheering for them as underdogs. Unlikely that they will move on, but they are sure trying.
We have a new family favorite -- Vinny Castilla. We spotted him and his teammates, still in uniform, in the bleachers at the Canada-South Africa game. Yes, they were sizing up their competition, but smiling, having a great time and soaking up the whole event. Kind of the same thing we are doing...

Monday, March 06, 2006

South Africa: It's In The Wind Today

South Africa is in the air the past few day. "Tsotsi" won the Best Foriegn Film Oscar; Charlize Theron (South African-born) was nominated for Best Actress. Yesterday, at the Giants-Team USA event, the coach and some players from the South African team in the World Baseball Classic sat near us as they soaked in the moment. The afternoon before, however, they were the center of attention as they played the Oakland A's.
The South African team was enthusiastic and excited to be at the ballpark. Every player was standing in the dugout during the entire game, despite the score 14-1. They played their hearts out. Their few fans and family members cheered them on, waving little flags and wrapping themselves in flags. The two coaches talked during the game, perhaps discussing Oakland's hope to not embarrass their earnest rivals.
At the end, Coach Rene Lachman led his team to do a full team handshake with the South African team; it spanned the entire diamond and demonstrated tremendous class and diplomacy. There was also a hug for South Africa's pitching coach, Lee Smith. The Giants were not so classy with Team USA, so that Team USA did their own handshake line. That was weird, but it was Oakland's Coach that led his team over.
After the game, we waited at the bus, with family and friends. They were delighted to share their South Africa baseball stories with us as some people gathered autographs and photos. The mom of one player said he was so happy to be at the Classic, elated by all the free Coke he could have and a locker full of new baseball gear. He was thrilled to be part of this, no matter how long they last in the tournament. I cannot help but think that the contrasts of life in South Africa, with the racial and economic issues portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie, make such dramatic extremes for the players and their families (or for that matter, the two young stars of the film that attended the Academy Awards ceremony).
The World Baseball Classic will be a few weeks that these players remember forever; their enthusiasm and genuine delight will be something I remember as well. I look forward to the Team USA game vs. South Africa on Friday and hope that their moments of playing with A-Rod, Jeter, Damon, Utley and Street will be memorable.

A Retail Store

The string cheese package has riddles on each piece: the riddle on the one I ate had "Where does a monkey go after they lose their tail?" (answer above). But, if the monkey goes, they should be patient while waiting. We went to Radio Shack today to buy an obscure replacement battery. The young man working there had 3 customers ahead of us and he had to also take inquiries about products on the phone. Two of the people in line were older customers that had been given hand-me-down electronics (cameras) by their children, obviously when they were upgrading. The salesclerk had to find the parts they needed, install them and then do detailed explanations. The third guy in line was rummaging in some replacement parts bins, put his intended purchases on the counter and waited. He obviously grew impatient, wandered about and ultimately left, with, as my husband said, "a five-finger discount". When it became our turn to be waited on, the clerk looked around for the parts the previous guy had left behind and then focused his attention on us. They did not have the part, but we left with a part number to use at other Radio Shack stores and some empathy for the young man, who was working hard, courteous, trying to please the customers --- he probably had a frustrating afternoon.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Olympics I Could Get Into

I have never been a fan of The Olympics. Don't get me wrong -- I admire the ambition and drive of the athletes to compete for their country -- but I am not interested in watching the events. But, now, reading about the Knitting Olympics -- I see an Olympic event that I could be interested in. I recently took a knitting class with my daughter, so we would have something we could do together and knit items for the homeless, children's hospitals or other groups in need. It was also something I felt would be a practical use of odd periods of time, while waiting here and there.
The idea of the Knitting Olympics was very creative. The event was to start a difficult project during the opening ceremonies, work on it throughout the games and complete it during the closing ceremonies. An admirable goal, in which 4000 people in 22 countries participated, many neglecting their jobs and families to achieve their goal. It started from an idea on a popular knitting blog and spread rapidly around the globe. Good activity for all the armchair athletes around the world, and, best of all, there was no drug testing required. I do admit that I am often overwhelmed by the stories of human drama surrounding the Olympics.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Let The Good Times Roll

Last fall, during Fall League baseball, we were handed a small card promoting the World Baseball Classic coming in March. It was on our calendars from then on, though not very well known to others at that time. Yes, we bought tickets to all the Arizona games and the semi-finals and finals in San Diego the minute (really) they went on sale. Actually, there was a glitch and MLB did not release the tickets as promised at 10:00 a.m., so I called every 10 minutes until they were available, taking a total of two hours. I was very friendly with the accessible operator by the time we were done.
That time was well spent as it all starts in the next few days. We both have our new WBC clothing --me a t-shirt with the logo, my husband has 12 shirts with country logos for those that had them online last month and I even got two assorted caps. We will be decked out and grinning from start to finish.
Our seats in Scottsdale are 9 rows up, behind home plate, close enough to actually look at major stars up close. The seats in Chase Field are great, but not quite so up close and personal. San Diego, well, we will be up close in more ways than one as we happen to be staying in the media hotel. As I said, let the good times roll. I will delight in seeing my husband run trying to catch it all on film.