Thursday, March 10, 2016

From Devastation to Exaltation: Oct. 2011 - Baseball as Therapy

This meme has been going around awhile. I first saw it right after David Bowie died. I'm not sure if that was the origin or it had been floating around a bit, but I like it. Of course, you could fashion around any great person or event at any point in time in history. But the point is, I think: appreciate this time because its the only one you've got and amazing things are happening all around you. 

I was fortunate enough to not only exist at the time of Game Six but to be present. One of the 47,000-strong citizens of Cardinal Nation, clad in red, hoarse by the fourth, literally standing in the stands for the duration of one of the greatest games in baseball history. Greater still because my team won, but among those talking heads, pundits and experts paid handsomely to talk and write about the game of baseball, it stands as one of the best games ever. 

I was there by happenstance. I didn't have tickets to the World Series. Baseball, while one of my passions, was barely on the radar in 2011. Oh I knew my Cardinals were vying for World Championship supremacy and had watched every inning. But over the preceding few months, I had also been watching my mom fade away-  a long, slow, painful death. 

She had been sick for awhile with a laundry list of ailments, and her time had finally come. She passed away early morning October 23rd, probably just after midnight. I wasn't there. I was out watching the game. 

It was a resounding 16-7 Game Three victory. Cards first baseman Albert Pujols singlehandedly destroyed the Rangers, clubbing three home runs among his five hits and a World Series record-setting 14 total bases. I was out with friends celebrating the victory. And mom was gone by the time I got back. 

The Rangers took the next two games, putting the Cardinals' proverbial backs against the wall by facing a three games to two deficit. I got a call from a good friend who knew me well. She knew I was devastated by mom's passing and also knew beer and baseball would be a much-welcomed respite from the crushing grief I was experiencing- at least for a few hours. She pulled some strings and got some sweet seats to the hottest game in town. We had no idea how hot a game it would turn out to be. 

Mom didn't love baseball as much as I do, that's a tall order. But she was always willing to discuss the game and the Cardinals . She would always get mad when they lost, assuming it was somehow a team deficiency and giving no quarter to the fact the other team was doing everything its power to win as well. A native of Germany, obviously she didn't grow up a baseball fan. But she recounted upon first moving to the States that she went to game in the then-new Busch Stadium in 1966 and instantly felt connected to the team, its fans and the city of St. Louis.  

We attended a few games in her final years. She was always asking questions and trying to figure out strategies. Not necessarily game strategies, like the right time to steal a base, but why the batter steps out of the box after every pitch to spit and adjust their batting gloves. It was evident that she wasn't there for love of the game but for love of her son.   

Game Six was a roller coaster. Five ties, six lead changes, over four and half hours of nail-biting drama. Dizzying highs were followed by crushing lows. I remember being physically and emotionally exhausted after hometown boy David Freese sent a Mark Lowe fastball deep into the St. Louis night for a walk-off win. 

My head hurt from screaming for 11 innings. My buzz was wearing off since they quit selling beer after the eighth inning and every subsequent inning seemed to last a half hour. None of those could dampen the sheer joy of what I'd just witnessed. Even though a deciding Game Seven was still to come, Cardinal Nation knew it was just a formality. 

While not exactly a formality, the Cardinals handled a shell-shocked Rangers squad in Game Seven by a score of 6 - 2. I watched the final out on that Friday night in mom's house, surrounded by family, texting with friends and celebrating the occasion. It was kind of anti-climactic. Saturday morning was mom's memorial. 

I feel bad about not being by her side as she drew her last breath. But I know she would have wanted me to be out having fun and living my life. She was selfless like that. Like only a mom can be. My only regret is that she would never get to meet the wonderful woman that would become my wife, Michelle. She reminds me a lot of my mom; whip smart, independent, kind, nurturing and supportive. I met her just three weeks after mom passed, and who knows, maybe she had something to do with it. I like to think so. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

PJ Harvey - The Wheel

Pretty pumped about some new PJ Harvey music. This is "The Wheel," new single off upcoming release, "The Hope Demolition Project" out April 15, 2016.  She, reportedly, is not pumped. As the album title suggests, the songs touch on what a horrible shit hole the world has become.

Friday, January 22, 2016

David Bowie's last words

Much like everyone else around the world, I've been drowning my sorrows by immersing myself in Bowie's art. It stands alone as an amazing piece of work, but after reading the back story about how Blackstar was made and how he knew he was dying and pushed through to finish this, it gives it so much more weight. RIP Starman.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Soul Man - Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats tear up the Ready Room in St. Louis

Riding a tidal wave of good press from appearances on late night television, and steady play of "S.O.B" on alt-rock radio, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats brought their infectious brand of soul-infused, foot-stomping rock to the Ready Room in the Grove district of St. Louis. 

No worse for wear however, as the band was tight and energetic, whipping a sold-out crowd into a frenzy from the first note of set opener, "I Need Never Get Old," the intro of which really allows the dynamic horn section of Wesley Watkins on trumpet and saxophonist Andy Wild to let loose. 

Keeping the groove going and the energy up, the band ripped through the songs on their eponymous album before mixing it up with a cover of Neil Young's "Out on the Weekend." Allowing the crowd to catch its collective breath, Rateliff guided his band through "Mellow Out", "Shake", and "Thank You", allowing each to take a turn showcasing their chops.

As expected they saved their big hit, "S.O.B," for the end encouraging the willing crowd to clap and sing along with the whoa whoa whoas. Not ready for the night to end, the crowd continued to serenade the band with whoa whoa whoas wooing them back to the stage after a brief exit for an encore. After profusely thanking the crowd, including many family members in attendance, and lamenting the loss of Missourians passed, Rateliff closed the show with a cover of "The Shape I'm In" by The Band.

There's nothing better than watching a band that truly enjoys playing together and having fun. It goes without saying that this comes across in the performance. I've seen this band
three times now and they get better each time out. I look forward to more from the Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats in the future. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sunday Autumn Hike - Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area - Highlandville, MO

Ahh, there's nothing quite as invigorating for both body and soul as a hearty constitutional through a dense forest on a crisp, sunny fall afternoon. About 20 miles north of Branson on Highway 65, this forest is literally right off the highway, no need to drive ten miles off the road to find it. That said, there are 18 miles of trails and it still feels secluded and very much like wilderness. There are a three trails of varying degree of difficulty on the east side of the forest, two three-milers and one four-miler. The west side offers three trails as well; two three-milers and one that spans 2.1 miles.

We crossed several creeks and the water was crystal clear, for a moment I thought we were in a beer commercial in 1985. The water was down so crossing was not an issue provided you find solid logs and rocks to anchor you. Littered with rocks and roots, you have to keep your eyes on the trail if you don't wanna crawl out of the forest with a twisted ankle or knee. The trails at Busiek are also popular amongst the horseback riding set, which makes dodging constant land mines part of the fun exciting challenge! 

Fall colors were in full view with trees and bushes morphing into vibrant shades of purple, orange, yellow and red.  The entire trek was very scenic, but a little less challenging that we would have liked.  My only complaint is that the trails could be marked a little better. There are so many forks and separations that you are not sure if you're still on one trail or have veered off onto another. Luckily I had my trail master wife with me.  She has come to be known as Sacagawea as soon as we step into the woods for her uncanny ability to know exactly where we are and which way to go at all times. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

What does an interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve mean for consumers?

The promise or threat of an imminent increase in interest rates by the Federal Reserve has been looming for some time now. The Federal Funds rate, or benchmark rate, has been at or near zero percent since the height of the financial crisis in 2009.

Many economists and pundits expected Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to announce a raise at the Federal Open Market Committee meeting in September, but she cited too many risk factors that figured in the decision to hold firm.  The most recent jobs report released on October 2nd, illustrating slowing job growth, emboldens that decision.

However long the delay, be it next week or next month, the rates will rise. So how will this move effect the average American?

Banking: Those with money parked in savings or money market accounts know the returns have been minuscule for several years, barely outpacing and sometimes being eclipsed by the rate of inflation.

According to, the current average return for a money market or savings account is 0.51% or just over one half of one percent.  That means if you were to have $10,000 in a savings account, and made no other contributions or withdrawals, after one year you would earn $51 in interest. Sure, your money is safe but it is not working for you.

With a Fed raise of the benchmark rate, that savings rate will bump up a bit but not enough to notice. In fact, unless it is funding your Emergency Fund (enough to cover six months worth of expenses) you'd be better off taking that money out of savings and paying down high interest accounts, namely credit cards.

Annual percentage rates on credit card accounts, however, may or may not rise with a Fed Funds rate hike. Ultimately it is up to the card issuers to raise rates, and they don't want to alienate their best customers. Competition for consumers to carry their cards is fierce and issuers know lower rates attract customers. Issuers may opt to keep rates lower and phase out the "zero-percent interest transfer" promotions that are so ubiquitous in the current climate.

Consumer Loans: A hike in rates for banks will almost certainly be passed to consumers. New auto loans and home mortgages, while not necessarily tied to the Fed Funds rate, generally move in lockstep with it.

While rates are still at historical lows, a slight uptick won't break the bank and probably won't suppress car and home buying. However, if you've been considering refinancing in the future, now may be the time to execute that strategy and lock in a lower rate, before the rates do indeed go up.

Investments: As this is a daily story topic on the financial networks and news outlets, the market is well aware of this inevitability. Even though the exact level of increase is not known, the market has already accounted for an increase and securities have been priced accordingly.

Either a raise or lowering of interest rates is generally done in stages rather than all at once so its effect will be gradual. The best approach is to invest for the long term and not let the everyday ups and downs of the market effect your investment strategy.

As the economy hums along, new jobs are created, tax rolls swell and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) continues to grow, the threat of inflation looms. The Fed will lower rates to make borrowing not quite as attractive, thus reducing the number of dollars out there in the market. It is designed to balance the economy, so it is not growing too quickly or too slowly. The Fed only raises rates in the midst of healthy, robust economy. And while it may bring some short term pain, its generally a sign that good times are here again.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ray Bonneville-"Bad Man's Blood"

Saw this talented troubadour last night at a very intimate space called the Focal Point in Maplewood. This tune could easily be the opening theme for the next True Detective, assuming there is one after last season's debacle.