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Friday 19th Jan 2018

Somehow, I think I wrote the same column last year, though I am not certain Justin Masterson was the target (though he well could have been).

You might ask why, unless you have Masterson on your roster, and have been playing roster Russian Roulette this season trying to figure out when to keep him active on your roster, and when not to.

I remember biting it for weeks last season until just before the end, finally stashing Masterson on my reserve clause till he tossed a one-hit shutout over the last weeks of 2009. So, thinking he had his command, and that facing September roster expansion lineups meant at least one or two more decent--and decent would have been fine--outings, but he got clobbered, and only some last day brilliance from Carl Pavano helped me eek a title out of Tout Wars.

And, truth is, I have been a Masterson fan low these last three years, when he went from a spot starter in 2008 with good success, to a spot starter and then sort of flop last year, finally being swapped to the Indians where he was mediocre till that shutout.

Maybe I should have known better, then, than to gamble on Masterson on both my XFL and LABR teams, but the price was right, and he does get some whiffs, and one of these days I think he will get it all together.

Only "one of these days" does not seem to be today.

In LABR I have had Masterson inacative for three of his four wins this year, but somehow have had him active for something like eight of his ten losses.

In the XFL, I have just one win as well, though only six losses.

The problem is he pitches a good game and that man-love stuff overwhelms me and I am just sure that this time Justin has it. Only, whatever "it" means, Justin does not seem to have "it" after all. Unless "it" means getting tattooed for six hits and seven walks and five runs over four innings. That "it" he has down cold.

Now, maybe you don't have Justin Masterson. But you know who I mean.

Maybe his name is Scott Olsen. Maybe his name is Alex Gordon. Maybe his name is Rick VandenHurk. Maybe his name is Daniel Cabrera.

But, he is there. On our rosters. Hiding. Subverting. Giving us grief. Tempting. Tantalizing. Begging us to believe.

Then letting us down in frustration and endless second guessing.

Thanks Justin. Like I really needed it.


This is the third time this summer I have mostly been, as they say, "off the grid."

I wrote earlier during the season about being in Death Valley, with no wi-fi, no cell phone, in fact our hotel at Panamint Springs did not even have a phone in the hotel room. Which made an adventure of driving out of the valley, which can be no small feat, and took us three-plus hours from the hotel to Stovepipe Wells, across and around to Shoshone, then to Baker, and Barstow, so we could finally hit the interstate and head north for home.

During that time nothing save the Las Vegas NPR station, which was actually ok with me, and ultimately, we got Dodgers and Fresno Grizzlies and Giants baseball on the radio. And, I confess, I love listening to baseball on the radio more than I enjoy watching on TV.

Anyway, a month ago Diane and I met our music community friends near Yosemite, and once again, no cell phones or internet, which is kind of a treat, as I noted.

But this week Di wanted to come to the Tahoe house for her birthday, which I was glad enough to do save once again, no cell, and though the house does have a TV and DVD player, no cable, and up here that means no TV. Which was a little strange as I was kind of jonesing for a game to watch in the afternoon when I write, or later, after dinner.

Instead it was Robot Chicken and Harvey Birdman and Ken Burns vids, which was again fine, but, at least, as you can tell, we do have DSL at the house (and a telephone, though it is one of those archaic land lines).

Now this week I was tracking my teams, most of which have crawled out of the early season hole we (I have to share responsibility) dug for them. Especially my SOMBOE team which is not really out of the hunt, though catching Wil Kimmey or Brendan Roberts lies ahead with a couple of weeks worth of games to go.

Mostly, though, since the trade deadline looms, logging into the various lines and seeing that Miguel Tejada and Roy Oswalt and Christian Guzman and Lance Berkman were all swapped, and rumors abound around Adam Dunn and Ryan Theriot and Ted Lilly.

Which makes me wonder what, say The Astros are doing as I don't see much of a core roster evolving there, unlike Baltimore, who seem to be moving in the right direction along with the Nats. On the other end as much as I would enjoy the Athletics making the post season, it is great to see the Rangers really going for the throat, acquiring as many breathing contributors as they can get their hands on. 

For I like Ron Washington a lot, and in deference to his somewhat rugged off season, and the crazy pending sale of the bankrupt team, pushing for first and post season glory is awesome. Not to mention they have a very good heavy hitting team.

In there is a good lesson for all us: any player you can pick up, via the free agent pool or trade and put your opponents away, don't hesitate. For, he who hesitates is indeed lost, and you can be sure your opponents are doing everything they can to wipe your team off the face of the earth.

I have to say, though, as much fun as it is to be off the iPhone and such, I am glad I can hit the net and track my teams and the transactions and the baseball universe in general.

For, just like listening to games on the radio, following teams and players is comforting. It is familiar, and, well generally puts me in a good mood.

And, well, following baseball while I look out at the forest where the dogs are happily sniffing everything in site and running and romping in the sun? Well, that is even better!

As I have written many times. I live a charmed life!



There is one really wonderful thing that has slipped through the cracks of human stupidity during the recent Shirley Sherrod controversy.

In case you have not watched NBC or CNN or any news agency the last couple of days, you probably wonder who Shirley Sherrod is.

Ms. Sherrod is a former employee of the Department of Agriculture, a woman who has worked for the working classes and downtrodden for her entire professional life.

She is a modicum of dignity who was chased from her gig last Wednesday after a selectively edited tape of Sherrod, which presented her as a racist in front of the NAACP, was railroaded by the same--ironically racist--blogger who destroyed Acorn to Fox News who went on a metaphorical lynching, and succeeded (I refuse to dignify this guy by naming him).

In the tape, Sherrod acknowledges she had trouble treating white people fairly in her then position in Georgia's Department of Agriculture, and if all you listened to was the one sentence, well, you might think this woman, whose father had been murdered by white people 40 years earlier, held a grudge.

So, Fox let the blurb spill and what happened?

The NAACP and then the US Government itself, in a frenzy of knee jerk that should at least make the Tea Party nod in understanding, reacted by distancing themselves from Sherrod.

The Secretary of Agriculture texted Sherrod three times on her Blackberry, and insisted upon her resignation while she was driving which kind of suggests he was more interested in making his statement than her safety.

But then a few folks decided maybe the whole tape of Sherrod's speech should be viewed, rather than just one excerpted sentence.

And, low and behold, the speech was about redemption, and Sherrod's realization of how racism really cuts both ways, and how she began to understand her own prejudices in the cosmic scheme.

So that within a day of her being villainized, The Department of Agriculture wants her back. The NAACP is admitting its error. And even Fox news notes that she was wronged.

Now, in my work as a project manager, I have learned to research things. Because it gives context, so, why major news agencies, let alone public groups like the NAACP, or god forbid the US Government, cannot spend ten minutes doing their homework before making major decisions, is beyond me.

But, sadly, we seem to be a country that loves being stupid and ignorant for the most part. For it is not cool to be a nerd and smart. Our president is an elitist because he is well educated, which is funny considering his 2008 opponent was wealthy, owned eight homes, and something like 13 cars, and lived a life style most of us would never get close to.

So, it makes me wonder about that word elitist, just like I wonder about the word activist, which apparently our president was when he was younger. Of course, if one is a member of the Tea Party, then that kind of "activism" is acceptable, but if on the left side of the poltical spectrum, the word is evil.

And, with that it would be easy to point our fingers at the right, but, well, then Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack reacted just as pathetically as any Tea Bagger, as did the NAACP.

Instead of taking a deep breath, and looking at the big picture, Vilsack and the NAACP cut off Sherrod just as easily as the right cuts off anything that has to do with liberal politics.

And you know what that means?

It means, as painful as it is, that we are slowly moving towards past our differences, because liberals and African Americans can act just as stupidly as conservatives and red neck crackers.

Now, I wish there was a more gentle way to phrase the above, but, well, the truth truly does hurt. Although, it is kind of sad that the ethnic and cultural diversity is not what binds us, even though that is what brought us all here--save the Native Americans--in the first place.

It should be reassuring, you know, because we are indeed all frail and vulnerable and scared for some reason, and that, and understanding and kindness are the things that we should recognize as our human commonalities.

Sadly, it appears that ignorance and stupidity are the things that will prove we are all the same. Too bad. We can do so much better.


OK, to start I watched the All Star Game last Tuesday in bits and pieces. I caught a couple of innings early on, and then listened on the radio on my way to band practice. Tuesday is the day The Biletones practice, and that has generally been true the four years we have been playing.

But, the fact that I did not even attempt try to reschedule practice to another night during a week when there was not so much baseball happening says it all.

Not that I hate the game. As a kid, I loved it, and attended the 15-inning 1967 affair in Anaheim, remembering well Tony Perez' homer and Don Drysdale pitching (how could you forget as the Dodger hurler was hated in Anaheim). And, I also was at the Coliseum in 1987, when the Nationals beat the American Leaguers, 2-0 in 13, meaning when I go the National League wins in extra innings.

I do remember, growing up as a Dodger fan (in Giants territory Northern California) wanting the National League, who had been dominated by the American League when the All Star Game first mattered to me, to win. After a while they had more wins that the AL, and I started playing Strat-O-Matic and then roto ball, and suddenly I was an American League fan.

And suddenly the National League did not win very often. But, since my favorite players in the 70's, and into the 80's were George Brett and  Rickey Henderson, that was ok with me.

But, somehow in the interim, I became disinterested in the game. Maybe it is more a factor of the break really being a break for me the last couple of years. No games to score. No boxes to track. An evening when I can watch It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World without worrying about tracking games.

Still, every year, I tune in for an inning or two because it is simply too much to resist, I suppose. Not that giving the winning team post season home field advantage made me care more or less. Though it is clearly an advantage, whether I wish to acknowledge the game matters or not.

And, well, I guess the allure of Chase Utley and Tim Lincecum and Hanley Ramirez on one side, and Arod, Joe Mauer, and Jon Lester on the other is too much for my curiosity to resist. Because, like it or not, baseball is a pretty game to watch, and when great players play the game together, the chances to see something, as I like to say, "jaw dropping," seems like it should increase exponentially.

Not that my curiosity forced a rescheduling of band practice. Or prompted Diane to beg that I change the channel during dinner so we could watch the game.

So, All Stars or not, it was business as usual Tuesday night, as for the most part we took an Al,l Star break.

I did have a feeling this year that the NL, who had not won since 1997, would come through for no reason other than the odds suggested they were due, would win. So, later that night I was happy to have my prediction vindicated.

And I swear, I only sneaked a couple of innings of the game into my life.

I have been amused the past few weeks surrounding the debate as to whether Stephen Strasburg, the Uberprospect of the Nationals, should make the All Star team this year.

Certainly Strasburg has had a strong debut, going 2-2, 2.45 over his first five starts and 36.1 innings. Those are good numbers, to be sure, but the sample size is quite small. Still, as my friend Trace Wood notes, Strasburg is the most strongest pitching prospect to come along since Roger Clemens appeared in 1984.

And, when you think about it, that is saying a lot. Roy Halladay and Pedro Martinez and Tim Lincecum and Greg Maddux, to name a few, have all appeared--with Maddux, and possibly Pedro now having completed their careers--since Clemens debuted. And, that is just a few of terrific arms (and none of these guys made the All Star Game as rookies).

Not that rookies making the All Star team, let alone a pitcher doing that, is beyond comprehension.

In 1976, Mark Fydrich, a rookie who created as much buzz as Strasburg was an All Star as a rookie. And, when "Fernandomania" was sweeping the country in 1981, Fernando Valenzuela made the NL squad.

The difference is that Fernando matched Strasburg's 2.45 ERA over the first half of his rookie year, but he went 9-4 over 110 innings, and Fydrich was 9-2, 1.78 over 101.1 innings. Meaning Strasburg has toiled barely a third of the time of his counterparts.

Of course it is important to keep the context that the All Star Game is an exhibition affair. True, there has been an attempt to legitimize the game recently by awarding the World Series home field advantage to the winning team, and that is truly no small prize.

The Game, though, is still an exhibition affair. The stats don't count, for one. But, the game was introduced in the 30's to rekindle interest in baseball, after attendance tanked as a result of the Great Depression. Originally, the manager of each league selected his team, but in the 50's, when fan voting in Cincinnati ran amok, and Wally Post and Gus Bell made the team along with their outfield mate at Crosley Field, Frank Robinson.

Now, Bell and Post were pretty good, but the NL had some outfielders at the time who were as good. Like Hank Aaron. Wille Mays. Duke Snider. So, the selection from the votes of the fans, to the consensus best nine among the players, coaches, and managers was invoked. And, that is arguably the best solution for truly selecting the best players.

Unfortunately, fans were and are not so enamored and after the game became ho-hum, the power to select the starting eight position players was returned to fan voting in 1970.

Since then, there have been controversies, as there always will, about who makes the team and who doesn't. Equity, with the manager selecting 24 more players, including the pitching staff, which will round out the team lies with the manager of the respective team.

To me, knowing all the above, I don't think Strasburg deserves to be selected, and not just because he has not paid his dues, for Fydrich and Valenzuela had not really done that when they played in the game their first time. It just doesn't seem right. But, the fans, it seems, want Strasburg in the game. Of course, they also preferred Wally Post to Roberto Clemente, so the judgement of the fans is not always so keen.

But, one other change in the game over the years is that the manager of each team will nominate five players, and the fans get to vote and select that player. So, if NL manager Charlie Manuel is smart, he will nominate Strasburg as one of the five. And the fans will vote him in. And, justice will be served. Should Strasburg not be voted in, well the fans will have spoken.

In either event, justice will have been served. 



Interleague play hasbeen a lot of fun this time for a few reasons.

I got to see Jake Arrieta and the Orioles take on the Giants, and even wrote some thoughts about Arrieta at the Zen Zone a few weeks back (in a nutshell, Arrieta was not as effective as his stat line showed).

Last Sunday, the Giants played the Red Sox at ATT on a glorious Sunday where everything was perfect except for Tim Lincecum, who stuggled through 79 pitches over three innings, and was bested by the totally dominant Jon Lester. I did see Red Sox rookie, and personal fave, Daniel Nava that game, but it was pretty hard to get a read on him. Although, since Nava is from the Bay Area, I want to think the best.

In between, however, I saw the Pirates play the Athletics in Oakland, and that meant seeing the quartet of Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, and Brad Lincoln, who was the starting pitcher.

Walker was most impressive, drilling a single, then a double, and then a homer over his first three at-bats, zeroing in a the cycle. That was until he collided with Ryan Church and suffered a concussion, pulling him from the game. Note Walker's defense was at best adequate: he committed an error and his range was not particularly good.

Tabata, who I saw at the Fall League, got a hit and stole a base, and was holding his own. I actually like Tabata as a prospect in every way, shape, and form. I do think he will become a solid player, and as a 21-year old rookie, he will struggle, hitting around .240-.250 for the remainder of the season.

On the other hand, new third sacker Pedro Alavarez was seriously overmatched. He took the golden sombrero, whiffing four straight times, hitting .152 as the game started. Undisciplined, I have to think Alvarez will go back to Triple-A to get his confidence and his swing back.

But, it was Lincoln who confused me. He is a big guy, listing at 6'4", 215, but I would bet he weighs more than that. Not dominant, Lincoln was in trouble all through his six innings, allowing eight hits and a pair of walks, striking out just batter, the last one he faced. 

Five days later Lincoln tossed seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and a walking while striking out six Cubs. Now, the Cubbies are not as patient as the Athletics, but despite a 1-2 mark his last three starts, which were all quality starts, I just don't see Lincoln as a future Mark Buehrle.

He looked more like a middle reliever, or at best fourth starter, and those he only has allowed nine walks over his 33 innings (31 hits), Lincoln has whiffed just 14 (1.31 WHIP), as noted, I see Kiek Reuter more than Mr. Buehrle.

Of course, the beauty of prospects is speculation and hope, not harsh reality. At least not for a few year.

From all of us at Mastersball, have a wonderful and safe Fourth of July.

I remember when an apology not only used to mean something, but when people would actually stand behind their words.

I also remember being expected to apologize when I was youmg, when I wronged someone. And, somehow or other I took it seriously.

Unlike my step-kids, many years back, who clearly said "I'm sorry," because they knew by saying those words, whoever was upset with them would lay off. But, the apologies clearly had nothing to do with remorse, as I remember them mumbling to themselves as they walked off.

I am not sure--though I hope--they now don't utter those words unless they mean it.

But, I find it disturbing these days when our politicians and celebrities apologize after wrong doings.

Mel Gibson and Michael Richards make good examples of celebrities who drank just enough to let their guard down, and the results were nasty ethnic slurs. Then, both apologized, suggesting they were not really like that. Yeah, right. Possessed. For, the reason we do refer to liquor as "spirits," is that it was thought the stuff came with demons it unleashed when consumed.

But, the reality is neither of these guys would have said the things they did if they did not hold the beliefs somewhere inside. Which makes the apologies ring false, to me. Maybe they are sorry they got caught being racists. But, I would bet neither of them minds being one. If they are honest enough to see themselves for what they are, anyway.

How about Manny Ramirez and his HGH use? Or George Huguley, the Virginia Lacrosse player who killed his girlfriend, esentially suggesting his snapping her neck was an accident?

OK, maybe I am stretching it, but it is depressing. No one takes responsibility anymore.

And, as bad as say British Petroleum is about just that, no one is worse than our politicians.

Mark Sanford is sorry for having an affair with the woman who proved to be his "soul mate." Joe Wilson yells at the president, "you lie." Richard Blumenthal lies about his Viet Nam service. Or, my recent favorite, Joe Barton apologizes for our shaking down the same irresponsible British Petroleum.

In all the cases above, all these guys made vaunted public apologies.

But, the thing is, we all KNOW none of them has any more of that remorse than my kids did when they were little. They are all just sorry they got caught, or in Barton's case, called on the carpet.

Ideally Barton is one who would scream for his right to free speech. So, when he spoke, he noted that he was speaking for himself, and then he apologized to BP for forcing the $20 Billion escrow relief fund. Suddenly, Barton has to apologize for apolgizing.

Which, incredibly, he did..

Which I don't understand. Because, either he was lying when he apologized the first time to BP, or he was lying the second time, when he apologized for apologizing.

Either way, it tells me Barton has absolutely no convictions. If he had an ounce of courage, he would not back down, and stick by the original apology and his view that we should leave corporations like BP alone when they mess up. Because that is what he believes, and well, that is his right.

I personally have no use for people like that, let alone electing a leader who lacks what Saturday Night Live's late Mr. Lupner also failed to have: a spine.

I try to be ambivalent about changes to the rules in baseball.

To a large degree, I think the game is so beautiful and perfect as it is, that there is no need to change.

I am indeed against Instant Replay being used (same with football because, as stated, the human element is what makes the game interesting and worth discussing). And, while I can accept the DH, I like the game better without it. And, no question that I like baseball to be played on grass.

But, I have to say, I love Interleague Play. It is so much fun.

For example, last Saturday I found myself scoring Saturday night's Giants game with the Athletics. And, I am very used to seeing both these teams play against their league indiginous opponents, which means I am used to seeing the Orioles play Oakland, and the Pirates square off against the Giants.

But watching the locals square off is fun. It always sells out. There are always a bunch of zealots rooting for each team. And, the whole area gets kind of jacked up with energy. Just the same, I like watching the Cubs and White Sox play, and the Yankees and the Mets, and the Dodgers and the Angels. Because those rivalries are like the local one.

Of course it is equally fun to see the Phillies and Red Sox go at it at Fenway, or during the past week Oakland face of the Cubs--meaning my home and my adopted home were going at it--at the Friendly Confines.

Last Tuesday I scored the Giants and the Orioles do battle, and though the game itself was pretty ho-hum, it was still a gas seeing Adam Jones patrol centerkn and get a real good look at Matt Wieters from my spot in the booth, directly behind home plate.

Not too mention Tuesday afforded the two teams with orange and black colors, in fact on Monday the Giants management help a "Halloween in June" event where orange and black costumes were solicited. Fun.

Next week I get to watch the Red Sox play at ATT, and then the Buccos take on the Athletics at McAfee, and again those match-ups will be a blast because, well, even with TV and cable, they are match-ups we don't get to see on a regular basis.

I confess to generally not being much of a Bud Selig fan (though we cannot blame him for astroturf or the DH), but kudos to interleague play. It helps immagination become reality. At least for me.

If you have been paying attention the last month, you will have noticed the latest wave of the next big thing.

This has been occurring for the past few years, actually, but let's face it, in the face of a tough economy, and teams like the Twins keep coming up with good young players and competitive teams without the bankroll of the Yankees or Red Sox, well, Carlos Santana is in, and Jermaine Dye is definitely out.

Truly, I cannot remember a week like this past, however, when in addtion to Santana, Stephen Strasburg, Jake Arietta, Keith Lincoln, Jose Tabata, and Mike Stanton all made their major league debuts since Monday.

Now, we need only look at the same transaction cycle and see names like Mike Carp and Homer Bailey to recognize that some of the prospects above will need to go back to Class-AAA to really get it down, but, another look, at those same transactions suggest that.

Because names like Mark Grudzielanek and Jamie Walker (who will again be the source of a Zen Zone) were jettisoned, and teams realized for a minimum salary, they can indeed advance the youngin's, even on a solid team, and build some confidence.

Not like this has not been, as noted, occurring. Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria and Tim Lincecum were all advanced as the past few seasons were in progress.

To be sure, it is not that prospects have not been promoted during the season before this wave the last few years, but it is true the jobs of most vets were a lot more stable. In the past, Dye would have been resigned, and Grudz and Walker would have eeked out another season's worth of meaningless stats.

The thing is, I think this trend is going to get wider and wider, at least for a few years, and then the pendulum will swing back in favor of the vets again.

But, as veteran salaries have skyrocketed--and I think locally names like Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito exemplify the bad economic decisions teams can make--and teams have investments in prospects like Strasburg, as long as the prospects are performing, the teams may as well try to take advantage of those investments and put them to use.

The times, my friends, are a changing, and we should watch because, if nothing else, it is interesting.

As long as your name is not Adam Everett, that is.

I first noticed that Armando Galarraga had such a wickedly good game Wednesday as I perused the daily totals of my LABR team, for whom Mr. Gallaraga and his stunning, if not unexpected performance, were active.

But, I did not really see any of the related controversy surrounding Jim Joyce's now admitted bad safe call of Jason Donald, the would be 27th batter and 27th out that would have made an amazing third Perfect Game in less than a month.

I actually worked Dallas Braden's perfecto on Mother's Day, so I can pretty much imagine how intense it was. Because, trust me, from the
seventh inning on, the air was thick with tension, even though at the time, I doubt many of us would acknowledge anything unusual was afoot. And, that does mean the folks in the booth were in denial, rather we all tried to do our work and still be mindful of baseball's glorious history of superstition and jinx.

Furthermore, I have seen my share of bad calls, some of which, like Ed Armbrister not being called for obstruction by Larry Barnett in 1975, when I was rooting so hard for the Red Sox, while some, like Don Denkinger's call in the '85 series went the way of the Royals, of whom I was a huge fan at the time (they were my Strat-O-Matic team in those days).

And, it seems there is very little in the world that Bud Selig and I would ever agree upon, but his decision not to overturn Joyce's call,
despite the fact that everyone in the universe knows it was wrong, is the correct move to make. I more than understand those who say, "but we want to get it right." For surely, I want the umps to get it right, I trust, as emphatically as they want to get it right.

But to me, baseball is the last vestige of the beauty of our human frailties. Baseball is the sport where the split second rendering of "justice" must be meted out by well trained humans who are doing the absolute best they can in a completely imperfect setting. The reality is it is amazing how often these guys actually get the calls correctly, when you think of 162-plus games times 30 teams, times a minimum of 54 outs, and hundreds of pitches per game.

But, aside from having to determine which of these calls can be challenged, I think we essentially make umps decisions, which are currently final save questionable home run/foul/doubles calls where the ball leaves the playing field, impotent.

And, that is contrary to the spirit of baseball. Because, embracing a bad call as part of the game is, "just baseball." That is the way it goes, along with the folklore of "we wuz robbed."

The best definition of existentialism I have ever heard relates to baseball, where the subjective umpire says "I call them as I see them," the objective umpire says, "I call them as they are," and the existential ump says, "until I call them, they ain't."

For better or worse, for richer or poorer, I think we have to leave the Heidigger-esque in the hands of the Joyces and Barnetts and Denkingers because that is the way was conceived, and because that is the way it has always been played.

By humans, against humans, with humans adjudicating and watching. If baseball is a perfect game, then that is part of why.

I can deal with the DH, and astroturf. But, I cannot deal without the umps being that final say.

As any of you regular readers would know, this column usually appears on Saturday mornings. Sometimes it is a day late, and sometimes I actually do take the week off, though rarely.

For this week, I actually had all my timing planned pretty well.

As I have noted, Diane and I have been driving back across country, where last Saturday we started in Chicago, working our way to St. Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo, Santa Fe, Cortez (in Colorado), then to Bryce Canyon, and then to Death Valley, before stopping at Harris Ranch Resort, in Central California, for the last shot home.

It was a long haul from Bryce on Friday, even though we started early. But, if you know Death Valley, it is not exactly accessible, with pretty much one road leading in from each direction. It is an interesting place, in fact on that day, we started the morning at Bryce looking at the Huddus at 8300 feet, and by the end of the day, had shot down to 190 feet below sea level.

Traveling across our wonderful country, seeing sights and towns and simply soaking in the atmosphere of each, for each state is kind of like a different country, is just a great way to travel. Aside from the breathtaking beauty of Arches, or Zion, or the desolation of Death Valley which is as singularly beautiful as Mesa Verde in its own way, well, there are other things.

Armadillos in Oklahoma. Antelope in Bryce. Killer vegan Thai Curry at Harry's Roadhouse in Santa Fe, that Diane rated among the best meals she ever tasted. Let alone the Church there built in 1610. There was a killer tortas and prawn burritos at a little shack in Baxter, California that we scarfed Saturday morning after spending four hours driving the length of Death Valley and driving 300 miles around the park to get to a highway that led back north, towards home. The ridiculously gaudy Texas Steakhouse (you know, the place they show on the Travel Channel where if you can eat a 72 oz. steak, baked potato, salad, and roll in less than an hour, it is free. Of course, if you cannot, the price tag is $72.).

Even so, we were told during the off season at least one person a day tries, and during the summer, up to three. But, that was not the only adventure in Amarillo (I did knock off my 16 oz. strip steak, by the way) for there were tornado warnings and that golf ball sized hail that was previously rumor, thundered down on us on the Interstate, and that night the local storm sirens went off as we watched Di's Explorer get pelted once again by that crazy hail.

I did all the planning and reservations, including using AAA's great trip planner, but sometimes, as with Mapquest, the directions can be goofy, and the Death Valley reservations I made were at Panamint Springs, where after chasing ashphalt rainbows, we finally arrived at 8:15 on Friday night. About the time I planned on writing this column.

First we ate, though, and I had a great flat iron steak with garlic potatoes and fresh brocolli with cheese, while Di gulped an Asian salad with coconut shrimp, all of which were delicious with a capital D.

However, in this remote spot, though all the rooms were full, there was no TV. Or Internet. My IPhone was equally dead, and that left Di and me having to read our books and talk, and maybe play a little Tetris on our IPhones, but, for about 36 hours, we were pretty much untraceable.

Funny, though, that that funky dusty old resort in Death Valley wound up being our favorite stopover, despite, or maybe because of the lack of their amenitites. Which meant for a little over a day, Diane and I had only ourselves and the spectacular country we were rambling aorund in to keep us entertained.

I do love writing these pieces, even though when I start them, as often as not I have no clue where they are going. Kind of like trying to get out of Death Valley.

Not that I am complaining.

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