Hey Mark Mulder, thanks for Yonder Alonso and Mark Rzepczynski

20150529_053726_YonderAlonso

So the A’s made a minor move today, flipping swingman Drew Pomeranz, minor league pitcher Jose Torres and a PTBNL or cash to the Padres for first baseman Yonder Alonso and left-handed reliever Mark Rzepczynski. I get the impression that Oakland wanted to plug some holes ahead of the winter meetings and San Diego was motivated to squeeze some value out of two players they weren’t planning to tender contracts to today.

My knee-jerk reaction to the deal when the news broke on Twitter was I’d rather see Pomeranz pitching out of the A’s bullpen in 2016 over watching Alonso’s all-leather, no-power routine at first base and Rzepczynski’s attempt to bounce back from a lackluster 2015 season.

In terms of money, Alonso and Rzepczynski are due arbitration raises on their $1.65 million and $2.4 million 2015 salaries compared to Pomeranz’s bump from his $517,500 pay which is all chump change in a world where David Price just agreed to a deal that will pay him more than $30 million a season. The A’s have plenty of payroll flexibility this winter and adding Alonso and Rzepczynski to the books probably won’t have any significant impact on the team’s ability to make any other roster moves between now and Opening Day.

For the moment, the A’s have a slick-fielding platoon first baseman with strong on-base skills and a veteran LOOGY who may be a decent bet to bounce back to the form that made him one of the better left-handed relievers of the past few years. But that could all change very quickly with the way the A’s tend to wheel and deal in the offseason. Give it a month and Alonso and Rzepczynski could be on to new destinations without ever lacing up a pair of white cleats.

Even though I’m mildly annoyed to see Pomeranz go because I thought he could thrive in a full-time relief role in Oakland for a very affordable price, I can easily imagine him plagued by injuries and control problems in San Diego. Of course, the pessimistic, frustrated A’s fan in me can also easily imagine Pomeranz following in the footsteps of Tyson Ross and developing into a stud for the Padres.

markmuldebenmargotapBut as much as the 2016 roster implications of this trade intrigues me, it’s the long, winding transaction trail that amuses me the most about the Pomeranz-Alonso/Rzepczynski deal. Because you can’t get to today’s move without good old Mark Mulder.

Mulder, a 1998 first-round draft pick and beloved member of the Big Three, was traded to the Cardinals for Dan Haren who was traded to the Diamondbacks for Brett Anderson who was traded to the Rockies for Pomeranz who was just traded for Alonso and Rzepczynski … who will probably be traded one of these days for a few young players who will continue to give the A’s some tangible value for Mulder’s acquisition 17 years ago.

It’s kind of a neat trick to squeeze almost 20 years of roster moves out of one late-’90s draft pick. Sure, that’s about as trivial as it gets but at the moment winding through all the transactions associated with today’s trade is a lot more entertaining than looking at Alonso’s and Rzepczynski’s pedestrian, uninspiring stats from last season.

Despite my tepid initial reaction to seeing Pomeranz dealt to San Diego, I’ll cross my fingers that today’s little trade just netted the A’s a couple of reasonably-priced, key, complementary pieces to an entertaining 2016 club that can be in the playoff hunt in the last couple of months of the season.

At a bare minimum, the A’s snagged a couple of trade chips that can eventually be used to stretch out Mark Mulder’s seemingly neverending impact on the franchise. That’s a halfway decent amount of entertainment value for a minor trade leading into the winter meetings.

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The hot stove slowly starts to heat up in Oakland

jed-lowrie-astros

Despite my better judgment, I’ll invest some time and keystrokes kicking around the A’s early offseason moves because I’m a transactions geek with some time on my hands. I assume that every trade will lead to at least one or two other trades or minor transactions in the next couple of months and the real time to assess Oakland’s winter moves will be a couple of weeks before spring training starts. Assessing each move as they’re made can become an exercise in futility when the front office kicks into high gear and starts its annual, dizzying flurry of transactions. But for the sake of amusement I’ll run through Beane and Co.’s recent moves.

10/14/15: Released CF Jason Pridie

A center fielder who hits .310/.380/.515 at Triple A? Wow, the A’s might have the next Mike Trout on their hands. Oh wait, he’s 32 and he’s been taking his hacks at that level for about 9 years? And he’s only hit .216/.290/.351 in limited exposure to MLB pitching since 2008? Scratch those big hopes for a young, cheap, fantastic position player exploding out of the farm system. Feel free to cut him loose, make room for a younger player and give Pridie a chance to latch on with an organization that may offer a clearer path to the majors. 2015 was a helluva a year Jason Pridie, Nashville will never forget you.

10/19/15: Toronto Blue Jays claimed LHP Pat Venditte off waivers

Well, the Pat Venditte Experience was fun while it lasted. Athletics-Switch-Pitcher-BaseballThe switch pitcher’s long-awaited major league debut was one of the few highlights in a dismal 2015 season for the A’s. Venditte’s 4.40 ERA wasn’t particularly impressive but he held opposing hitters to a .210 average and struck out almost twice as many hitters as he walked. Right-handed hitters crushed him to the tune of a .896 OPS but he held lefties to a paltry .407 mark. One amusing tidbit (OK, it’s more like a sad, frustrating tidbit): $30 million man Billy Butler posted a abysmal -0.9 WAR in 2015 while little Pat Venditte came in on the positive side at 0.1. Best of luck to Mr. Venditte as he heads north of the border.

11/3/15: Philadelphia Phillies claimed RHP Dan Otero off waivers

It’s amazing how maddeningly inconsistent relief pitchers can be from year to year. Otero went from key member of Oakland’s bullpen in 2013 and 2014 to a train wreck in 2015. On the bright side, unexpectedly effective relievers like Otero seem to come out of the woodwork every year around the league so patching up Oakland’s ineffective bullpen should be an affordable, promising venture for the A’s front office this winter.

11/6/15: Claimed Andrew Lambo off waivers from Pittsburgh Pirates

I’m immature enough to like any A’s player whose name rhymes with 20150310pdPirates01Rambo. I’m enough of a Baseball Reference stats geek to like any player coming to the A’s with a history of slugging percentages north of .500 throughout his minor league career. The natural pie-in-the-sky hope is that Lambo excels in the A’s organization and blossoms into the second coming of Brandon Moss. Moss’ career Triple A line? .276/.354/.497 in 5 years. Lambo’s? .267/.336/.495 in 3 seasons. The chances of Lambo being lost on waivers in the near future are far more likely than him emerging as a poor man’s Brandon Moss but it doesn’t hurt to dream on a slow day in the offseason does it?

Approximately 11/9/2015: A’s miss out in the bidding for Byung Ho Park
The Twins earned the right to negotiate a contract with the Korean slugger on the strength of their $12.85 million bid. I’m not a moral victories kind of guy, but hearing that the A’s made a strong run at Park is an encouraging sign. It shows that Oakland is being aggressive, has some money to work with and it wants to fill the power void that hampered last season’s offense. Then again, this is the same franchise that came in second in the bidding for Aroldis Chapman and even though it won the bidding for negotiating rights to Hisashi Iwakuma several years ago they couldn’t seal the deal when it was time to hammer out a contract. Whether it’s losing closely-fought ALDS Game 5s or making failed bids for international players, the A’s seem to be mastering the art of just barely coming up short. But the offseason is young, maybe there’s still a splashy international signing in the A’s future.

11/20/15: Traded RHP Jesse Chavez to Toronto Blue Jays for RHP Liam Hendriks

Chavez gave the A’s a lot of good innings as a low-cost purchase from the hendriks-liam-620Jays back in 2012. And now that he’s advancing into his 30s with a price tag climbing over $2.1 million he’s been flipped back to Toronto for a younger, cheaper, much-needed relief pitcher. At the moment, it looks like a good deal all around for everyone involved. Hendriks has bounced around over the past several years but it looks like he’s found his niche and some extra velocity since he switched from starting to relieving last year in Toronto. The A’s bullpen can use all the help it can get and Hendriks is the first of what’s likely to be a few new additions to the beleaguered relief corps.

11/20/15: Signed free agent LHP Rich Hill

$6 million for a veteran left-hander to pencil into the back of the rotation? Yes, Hill is 35 and this deal is mostly based on the stellar 29 innings he worked with the Red Sox last year, but I have no problem with this deal. I mean, it’s just $6 million. Other than pro sports, where else can you say that? For a mere $6 million the A’s get some rotation depth and the flexibility to move Drew Pomeranz to a bullpen role in 2016. With one modest transaction the rotation and bullpen get a little better. It’s a small move, but in the early part of the offseason it looks like a decent one.

11/25/15: Release A.J. Griffin

Griffin was a colorful, effective starter for the A’s through a couple of playoff runs but it looks like there’s only room in the organization for one pitcher recovering from Tommy John surgery and his name is Jarrod Parker. With an influx of young pitchers via trade the past couple of years Griffin got pushed out of the picture as he works his way back from arm surgery at a tediously slow pace. It’s not too hard to see why the A’s would prefer to use a roster spot on someone other than a 27-year-old lacking top-shelf stuff who has barely pitched in two years.

11/25/15: Houston Astros traded 3B Jed Lowrie to Oakland Athletics for RHP Brendan McCurry

OK, let’s be patient and wait for the other shoe to drop because this move can’t be the last one for the A’s infield can it? Will Danny Valencia or Brett Lawrie be on the move? Will Marcus Semien be pushed to a new position? You have to think the A’s are just getting started in juggling the roster around as the hot stove league slowly heats up.

My gut feeling is the A’s got the best out of Lowrie for the best price during his first tour of duty in Oakland. If Lowrie is the brittle, injury-prone, light-hitting, mediocre defensive infielder I fear he could be, then $7.5 million is a high price to pay in 2016 for his services. But if Lowrie can stay healthy, play passable defense (hey, it’s hard not to look like a Gold Glover in the wake of Semien’s mess of 2015 season with the leather) and post his typical .700+ OPS then this could turn out to be a very successful reunion depending on how the A’s front office moves forward with the rest of their offseason plans for the infield.

So there you have it, a quick and dirty look at the A’s opening moves in the offseason. Nothing too big, but some interesting little moves that may hint at Oakland’s plans for the rotation, bullpen, infield and need for power. Now it’s time to sit back, relax and wait for the bigger moves to come as David Forst’s first offseason as the team’s general manager continues to unfold.

The Valentine’s Day Love Stinks Movie Marathon

It’s Valentine’s Day, an annual Hallmark-driven time to express love and affection which is all well and good if you’re into that sort of thing. Personally, I’ll pass on going nuts with a card, flowers, candy and a nice dinner out on Feb. 14 for my wife and simply keep telling her I love her every day. It’s worked for about 10 years and I’ll stick to it until it fails miserably.

But even though I’m not an active participant in Valentine’s Day I’m not going to rail against it. Love is obviously a tremendously worthwhile sentiment. Like I tell my wife all the time, I love love – even when it’s been nauseatingly commercialized into Valentine’s Day. I’m such a fan of love that I even tipped my hat to Valentine’s Day on Facebook in my own odd way by sharing an amusing Jean-Claude Van Damme clip with the world.

But I was a lot more amused by the Facebook tributes to Valentine’s Day when my friend pointed out on his timeline that TCM was currently running “Days of Wine and Roses.” It’s a great movie but it’s a thoroughly heartbreaking look at booze-soaked love gone terribly wrong.

The whole thing got me thinking that there should be a movie marathon for all the lonely hearts out there and the people who embrace love but roll their eyes at the sappy nature of Valentine’s Day.

So, without further ado, here are my top films for the Love Stinks Movie Marathon:

“Days of Wine and Roses”

I already mentioned this movie as the jumping point for this thoroughly unromantic post. Alcoholism and love don’t mix very well for Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in this classic film. Note to all the sweet, young female teetotalers out there: Watch this movie and forever beware the dangers of Brandy Alexanders.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

MV5BMjIyMjgyNzA3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTUxNzYxMTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_We go from booze and a marriage gone bad in “Days of Wine and Roses” to … well, more booze and another marriage gone bad in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” This time it’s Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor watching their relationship take a turn for the worse in this Mike Nichols-directed movie. Note to self: If the wife and I ever become raging alcoholics it may make for a powerful movie but a horrible relationship.

“Play Misty for Me” and “The Beguiled

MV5BMTIzMTMzOTg5N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTc0NzYyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_I’m a big Clint Eastwood fan so I’m wedging two of his films into this anti-Valentine’s Day group of movies.

In “Play Misty for Me” Eastwood’s character is a playboy disc jockey who falls into bed with the wrong woman. If Eastwood’s character thought he could just love Jessica Walters’ character and leave her he was terribly wrong.

In “The Beguilded” Eastwood plays an injured Civil War soldier who hides out at a girls boarding school only to be undone by his own lust as he sleeps his way through the joint.

Both movies came out in 1971 which makes it the year of big-screen love gone wrong for the former mayor of Carmel. Eastwood had a far easier time dealing with cutthroat criminals in the “Dirty Harry” films than he did dealing with women in “Play Misty for Me” and “The Beguiled.”

“Fatal Attraction” and “Basic Instinct”

I guess some men just love crazy women. Michael Douglas has the bad judgement to jump in bed with psycho Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” and the equally crazy Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct” with death and mayhem breaking out after each set of passionate, ill-advised encounters. Douglas could send Close and Stone an endless amount of Valentine’s Day flowers and it would never bring an end to the bunny boiling and icepick killings.

“Dial M for Murder”

MV5BMTMwNzc1MzM2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDUxNDU2._V1_SX214_If I was married to Grace Kelly back in her heyday I’d thank my lucky stars. But Ray Milland’s character in “Dial M for Murder?” Not so much. He’s out to kill the poor girl for her money. Hallmark wants to sell us on the idea that Valentine’s Day is all warm and fuzzy but sometimes love is just a crock which is what Kelly’s character learns the hard way in this memorable Alfred Hitchcock production.

“The Graduate”

Congratulations Mike Nichols, you managed to direct two movies on this list.

One the one hand, you can look at “The Graduate” and say that love reigns supreme because the characters played by Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross end up with each other at the end of the movie. Personally, I see a hot mess. Hoffman spends most of the movie boffing Anne Bancroft and then crashes a wedding to the chagrin of almost everyone in attendance to get Ross back. Sure, they love each other enough to hop into the back of a bus together while Simon and Garfunkle play us into the end credits but I see a young relationship already burdened by a series of bad decisions with a gloomy forecast for longterm success. At a bare minimum, “The Graduate” spits in the eye of a sappy Valentine’s Day notion of love and romance being picture perfect.

“The War of the Roses”

MV5BMTgwNTAyMDIwOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjcxMTU1MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR2,0,214,317_Look who’s back on this list? It’s Michael Douglas! This time he’s starring as a man watching his marriage to Kathleen Turner go down in flames. They seemed so darn sweet together in “Romancing the Stone” it just breaks my heart to see them at each other’s throats in this movie. When love dies it ain’t pretty as this black comedy directed by Danny DeVito goes over the top to illustrate.

“Leaving Las Vegas”

Well, here we go again with booze and love combining to make one big mess for everyone involved. In “Leaving Las Vegas” Nic Cage is a self-destructive alcoholic who’s lost his family and job due to his addiction and Elisabeth Shue is a hooker with a heart of gold who falls in love with the big lug despite his obvious flaws. The only time this cute couple enjoys a moment of intimacy is in a dark, flea-bag hotel as Cage’s character is in the throes of death. Isn’t that romantic? Does Hallmark make a card for that? Nah, probably not. Things turned out so much better for Cage when he was in Sin City in “Honeymoon in Vegas.”

“Unfaithful”

MV5BMTU4MzUzNjk5OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjc1OTc5._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_You have to assume that when Diane Lane’s and Richard Gere’s characters in “Unfaithful” exchanged wedding vows they thought they’d live happily ever after and the “better or worse” part of the equation wouldn’t involve adultery, murder and jail. But that’s how it pans out in this rather depressing flick. I’d hate to see what Valentine’s Day looked like for these characters in the years following the conclusion of this movie.

“The Grifters” and “The Ice Harvest”

My wife claims that I have a man-crush on John Cusack but I’m just a longtime fan of the man’s work. For the sake of this post, Cusack makes it into one slot on this list because love runs through so much of his filmography. His early career was marked with rom-com’s such as “Better Off Dead” and “The Sure Thing.” As his career matured he shined in “Say Anything” and peaked in “High Fidelity.” In those movies, love eventually conquers all. But in Cusack’s mid-career films “The Grifters” and “The Ice Harvest” love stinks to high heaven.

In “The Grifters” Cusack’s girlfriend is just trying to manipulate him into working a long con and she eventually sets her sights on killing his mother. Charming. As for his mom, Cusack’s character was a weird relationship with her which is fraught with sexual tension that eventually leads to a tragic end for everyone involved.

In “The Ice Harvest” Cusack plays a sad-sack lawyer incompetently trying to make off with a pile of mob money while attempting to win the affection of a femme fatale. She’s bad news but I guess she wouldn’t be much of a femme fatale if she was all sunshine and rainbows now would she? Cusack’s character is also burdened with a frosty ex-wife who not only cheated on him with their divorce lawyer but she eventually married the guy. Just for kicks, she’s now ruthlessly crushing the divorce lawyer’s soul too.

No matter where Cusack turns in these movies, he’s looking for love in all the wrong places with dismal returns on his emotional investments.

Honorable mentions: “Taxi Driver,” “The Last Seduction,” “Red Rock West,” “Romeo is Bleeding,” “Kill Me Again.”

So there you have it, a celluloid celebration of how love can sometimes be nothing at all like the sappy, commercialized version of amore shoved down our throats every year on Valentine’s Day.

Cue up some of these movies tonight, curl up on the couch with the one you love and enjoy the fact that while the relationship you’re enjoying may not always be the stuff of cheesy Valentine’s Day cards at least it’s never as bad as it is for the characters in these films.

Suburban Safari

The horses of Diablo Downs never fail to amuse and entertain my kids when I don't have enough time to take them to the Oakland Zoo.

The horses of Diablo Downs never fail to amuse and entertain my kids when I don’t have enough time to take them to the Oakland Zoo.

Here’s the mother of all understatements: My kids are animal crazy.

I’ve lost count of how many animal toys they have scattered throughout the house and I’ve lost track of how many animal-related cartoons, movies, and documentaries we’ve seen over and over and over and … well, you get the point … on Netflix Instant.

A big part of Daddy Days is finding a way to keep my 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter amused during the day but sometimes there just isn’t enough time to make the trek out to the Oakland Zoo to give our season pass a workout.

Fortunately, there’s a surprising wealth of wildlife within a short drive of our house in the Clayton Valley Highlands that never fails to bring a smile to my children’s faces and burn a decent chunk of time off the clock.

Here’s a quick roundup of our little suburban safari:

THE LOOP

This is the easiest way for me to kill about an hour when the kids get restless and I’m not up for taking them out for a big day trip. A casual afternoon cruise through these local spots with a side trip to a drive-through restaurant for some grub can easily transform my kids from restless rugrats into content little buggers snoozing away on nap time after lunch.

We start our journey by venturing down Mitchell Canyon Road to Diablo Downs Drive where there are a ton of homes with horse stables.

The horses are clearly the stars of this part of The Loop but my kids love animals so much that they even get excited every time we drive by a set of deer lawn ornaments on Tally Ho Court. It’s a little crazy but totally adorable when we drive away and they say, “Bye-bye deer, we love you!” Every time we go out for this little trip on a Daddy Day I know I desperately need a regular paycheck ASAP but moments like that are priceless.

After we crawl our way past every single horse stable on Diablo Downs Drive we make our way to Eagle Peak Avenue near the Oakhurst Golf Course where we wind our way to the end of Ohlone Heights and back to revel in the wild kingdom rounded up by Albert Seeno Jr.

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There’s emus in them thar hills! Seeno Hill, to be exact.

Good ol’ Seeno Hill is populated by llamas, goats, donkeys, wild turkeys and (drum roll please) emus. My kids go nuts for the emus which can usually be found right at the corner of Oakhurst Drive and Eagle Peak Avenue. Seeing the other animals can be a hit or miss proposition but the emus are usually where you expect them to be. Surf over to Google Maps and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

I have no idea what an emu is doing out here in suburbia and I can’t begin to fathom why anyone in their right mind would buy a few of them, but I guess when you have the kind of money Seeno has you can buy your own hill and fill it with as many out-of-place animals as you damn well please.

The next part of The Loop comes after we bid a fond farewell to the emus and make our way out to CSU East Bay’s Concord campus after hitting the local Burger King or Carl’s Jr. to get some lunch to bring home.

Most people head to CSU East Bay for an education, but not us. Nope, we make our way up to the university to slowly drive around and see if we can spot any wild turkeys, cows, or coyotes.

More often than not, we see a ton of cows which always elicits cheers from the back seat. Sometimes we see a bunch of wild turkeys which also gets my kids all fired up. We’ve only seen a coyote once but I hear about it every time we make this drive.

After we part ways with the cows of CSU East Bay we head for home to scarf down  lunch before hitting the sack. It ain’t exactly counting sheep, but wildlife on The Loop always does the trick when I need to settle the kids down for nap time.

The rise of Daddy Days

I have no idea how I'd make it through a trip out of the house with my kids without this little potty in the back seat of the car to bail them out of their frequent, urgent need to pee.

I have no idea how I’d make it through an extended trip out of the house with my kids without this little potty in the back seat of the car to bail them out of their frequent, urgent need to pee.

Since tomorrow marks the 2-month anniversary of my layoff I figured there’s no better time to dive into my post-employment adventures taking care of the kids most of the week.

Yes, you read that right.  I got laid off at the end of February when my job took a fatal plunge off the edge of the Fiscal Cliff.  Damn you Fiscal Cliff, damn you all to hell.  After sending out more resumes and cover letters in 2 months than I have in my entire career I can vouch for the cold, hard fact that it’s a brutal job market out there.  All kidding aside, I’m a little jealous of the 40-hour-a-week job opportunities available to Lloyd and Harry in “Dumb & Dumber.”

But an amazing thing has emerged from the ashes of a steady paycheck that went up in smoke: Daddy Days.  The ability to pay for full-time day care for our rugrats vanished as soon as I got my pink slip which meant I suddenly had to take care of our 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter all day, all by myself for the first time ever.

Since my wife and I have sold our kids on the idea that weekdays at day care are School Days and weekends when we’re all together are Adventure Days I decide to call my post-employment time with them Daddy Days.  The name stuck and at this point my son yells, “Daddy Day’s the best!” when I tell him around bedtime that the next day is going to be a Daddy Day.  At times like that, unemployment doesn’t seem half bad.  Of course, when the mortgage is due unemployment truly sucks.   

It’s been a daunting, exhausting, exhilarating experience learning to fly solo with two energetic kids and here’s a quick rundown on some random observations:

  • YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY SNACKS: I learned this the hard way the first day I had the kids all to myself and they were starving by the end of our little trip to the Lawrence Hall of Science.  It’s not that I didn’t bring some snacks for them, I just didn’t bring anywhere near enough for their voracious, unpredictable appetites.  After that I started filling one section of my backpack with a wide variety of munchies and in the wake of a couple of afternoon meltdowns at the park I finally started packing full lunches in addition to the load of snacks I was carrying around.  Problem solved. 
  • TINY BLADDERS RULE MY WORLD: Our spare Fisher-Price stepstool potty has been an absolute lifesaver for me when I’ve been on the road with my son and daughter.  I keep that sucker in the back of our Toyota Highlander and it’s bailed me out of some potential wet messes when we’ve been a long way from a restroom.  There’s nothing worse than being backed up in traffic approaching the Bay Bridge when your kids start yelling that they have to go pee-pee.  A quick exit onto Treasure Island and a couple of minutes later we’re parked, the potty is set up in the passenger seat, and everyone’s happy.  I owe you one Fisher-Price. 
  • THANK GOODNESS FOR POTTY TRAINING:  Fortunately, our daughter took to potty training over one weekend around her second birthday in December because I have no idea how I would have managed taking care of both my kids if I had to deal with frequent diaper changes while we’re at a busy park/zoo/etc.  She may have a bladder the size of a peanut but she knows when she has to go and she’s never had an accident on my watch.  Bless her cute little heart. 
  • THE LIBRARY ROCKS: My friend’s wife told me about the library’s free Discover & Go passes a couple of months before I got laid off and they’ve been an awesome way to entertain the kids for a big chunk of time.  The passes have already gotten us into the Lawrence Hall of Science, Lindsay Wildlife Museum, Ardenwood Historic Farm, and Aquarium of the Bay.  Aside from that, my kids are absolutely in love with picking out books and videos at the library.  My son actually insisted on going to the library instead of the park this week.  Very cool. 
  • BIG BIRD IS NO MATCH FOR CONAN:  I’m sure some 4-year-olds and 2-year-olds are watching Sesame Street these days, but not my kids.  They’re watching “Conan The Destroyer” on Netflix Instant and loving it.  My son and daughter also have an amusing fascination with Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Lionheart.”  They love all the “owies” Van Damme doles out during the fight scenes.  If there was ever any doubt that these are my children they’re long gone now.
  • I feel your pain Mr. Mom and I totally dig the beard.

    I feel your pain Mr. Mom and I totally dig the beard.

    “MR. MOM” DESERVES A REBOOT: Since Hollywood often seems to be bereft of new ideas they might as well inject some fresh blood into this Michael Keaton classic.  I’m sure I’m just one of a rapidly growing number of suddenly unemployed, utterly unprepared dads out there who have been thrown into the deep end to fend for themselves tending to their kids during the week while picking through the wreckage of a devastated job market.  I’ve already followed in the footsteps of Keaton’s character and sported an unemployment beard for a little while (my wife hated it), gained a few pounds (I hate’em), made a mess out of the house, and been totally out of place in a strange, new world full of stay-at-home moms.  When you get right down to it, I’m almost ready to star in a reboot of “Mr. Mom.”    

  • EVERYONE LOVES ANIMALS:  If there’s one thing that always brings a smile to my children’s faces its animals.  So far I’ve put our Oakland Zoo and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom passes to good use and kept us out of the house all day several times.  Even little Borges Ranch down the hill from our house does the trick when the kids get restless and want to get their animal fix.  Fuzzy little creatures never fail to entertain. 
  • RAIN SUCKS … SAME GOES FOR HEAT WAVES:  So far the toughest thing I’ve had to deal with is keeping the little tykes entertained when it’s rainy or roasting outside and we can’t burn off time and energy at the park in the afternoon.  I’ve taken them to Studio Grow and Super Franks with varying levels of success.  The one thing I know for sure is that I’ll never take them to The Jungle.  If you read the Yelp reviews you can almost smell the place from where you’re sitting.  No thank you. 
  • I HAVE NEWFOUND RESPECT FOR STAY-AT-HOME MOMS:  I always knew taking care of kids all day was hard work and I always had a world of respect for friends and family who took on that gigantic challenge.  Now that I’ve been dealing with it for 3 days a week for the past couple of months I have a whole new respect for parents who do it full time.  Sure, it’s a blast spending a ton of time with your kids during the week but it’s also exhausting.  It often makes a standard full-time job look like a vacation.

At some point Daddy Days will be a fond memory when one of the countless resumes I continue to send out eventually pays off, but until then I’ll make the most of the rare opportunity to spend as much time as possible with my two favorite people in the world.

Daddy Day means getting the heck out of the house and so far we've stayed busy.

Daddy Day means getting the heck out of the house and so far we’ve stayed busy.

Oh no, here it comes: “Because you watched ‘Blubberella’ “

Hey, a movie starring Michael Pare and Clint Howard can't be all bad, right?

Hey, a movie starring Michael Pare and Clint Howard can’t be all bad, right?

There are plenty of times I can’t make heads or tails of the suggestions Netflix offers and I’ve been trying to invest a few minutes here and there to rank stuff just to weed out some of the more absurd movies and TV shows that pop up for my consideration. Tonight’s head scratcher that appeared while I was scrolling through our streaming account was “Blubberella,” listed as one of the Witty Revenge Movies I might like based on the fact that I recently watched “Miller’s Crossing” and “Hopscotch.”

I have no idea how the heck you get from the Coen Brothers and Walter Matthau to “Blubberella” but Netflix, in all its wisdom, made the connection.

I bet Albert Finney never thought he'd be mentioned in the same post as "Blubberella." Loved ya in "Miller's Crossing" pal.

I bet Albert Finney never thought he’d be mentioned in the same post as “Blubberella.” Loved ya in “Miller’s Crossing” pal.

Hate to break it to you Netflix but I don’t want to watch “Blubberella,” the “gleefully low-rent action-comedy” in which “hefty half-vampire Blubberella sets her always-ravenous sights on a Nazi leader who’s concocting a diabolical plan: to create an army of undead soldiers to help his Führer conquer the globe.”

My wife can vouch for the fact that I love some truly absurd movies and TV shows — which probably explains a lot of the horrible suggestions Netflix churns out — but even my juvenile sense of humor can’t embrace “Blubberella.”

Maybe I just need a few dozen drinks to see the appeal of “Blubberella.” Would beer goggles make “Blubberella” attractive to me? Who knows? I have a pretty high tolerance for booze so it’s a little frightening to try and guess how much I would have to drink to get a twinkle in my eye for “Blubberella.”

Do you get the sense that I’m trying to write “Blubberella” as many times as possible in this post? I dare you to say “Blubberella” five times as fast as you can … I’m willing to bet it’s a lot more entertaining than actually watching “Blubberella” (sweet, I just wrote “Blubberella” two more times!).

Of course, the worst thing I did tonight was accidentally play the movie for a split second when I was just trying to click on “More Info” to get some fodder for this post. Now the next time I log in to Netflix I’ll be hit with a load of suggestions “Because you watched ‘Blubberella.’ ” Can you hear me slapping my forehead?

I guess it serves me right for complaining so much about Netflix’s suggestions.

Then again, maybe I’ll get lucky and Netflix will suggest a lot of really good Coen Brothers and Walter Matthau movies because somehow, some way, they’re all related in the wonderful world of Netflix streaming.

Fat chance.

My (not so) triumphant return to the softball field

On Wednesday night, after a layoff of more than 10 years, I stepped back into rec league softball. I left the game as a position player and I came back as a pitcher.

If you’re a fan of the movie “The Natural” you can see that I kind of pulled a reverse Roy Hobbs. On the big screen he comes back to the game as an old man playing the role of slugging outfielder after last being seen as an amazing young pitcher decades ago.

Of course, the big difference is that Hobbs was great as a pitcher and a hitter and I’m terrible no matter what position I play. But none of that takes away from the great time I’ve had playing ball again.

I warmed up for our opening night doubleheader with a couple of team practices and two trips to the batting cages and came away from one practice session bloody and bruised. Some things never change.

When I was younger, faster and thinner (but just as uncoordinated) I broke my leg and dislocated my ankle at a coed practice. I kept up the knack for stupid injuries by straining a muscle in my leg in my first at bat in my first game this week. The whole thing cracks my wife up.

Want to hear something crazy? I sort of like getting hurt in a “Fight Club” kind of way. The pain makes you feel alive in a primal, moronic, pig-headed fashion. Would I rather be at home fruitlessly cleaning dishes, dying a slow death every day, or dragging myself through two softball games in a mild form of agony?

I love dishpan hands as much as the next guy but I’ll take the pain that comes out of competitive activity any day of the week. I may stink when I pitch and hit but I wouldn’t even be out there if I hadn’t lost 38 pounds this year. And you know what? I’m proud to be able to be on the field again — playful mocking by my better half be damned.

In case you’re curious, we lost our season-opening doubleheader. In fact, we got killed. But I’m used to that and it’s not a big deal. The last rec league softball team I played on, the Riflemen, lost 19 in a row before pulling out an extra-inning win in the last game of our second season thanks to a free out courtesy of an opposing player ejection.

The best part of getting out there and playing again was competing with friends. There I was, back on the field for the first time in a decade as fired up (and non-productive) as ever. Spiking the ball after catching the final out of an inning, screaming out encouragement, bad jokes and all kinds of nonsense all night long.

As a pitcher working the first game in my life I threw enough strikes to hold my head high and when I stepped to the plate I made contact every time. It’s nothing to write home about when the woman you share your life with excelled as a fast-pitch softball player through high school but it means something to me.

I was finally back on the field. Maybe not better than ever, but just being there was all that mattered after a decade of sloth.