The Guest Room #1 - Halloween

Here's a guest post by Stephen Pretak (you may recognize him from finishing about 10 minutes ahead of you in a 10K) on how to enjoy Halloween (of course, this year it looks like we may have some massive hurricane-ish storm ruin it like last year's pre-halloween blizzard - we'll just recycle this for next year if that's the case).

Halloween is approaching quickly. Do you have your costume set? Are you prepared to have some fun and eat some candy?

Check out these Halloween tips to ensure a safe and fun Halloween experience.

 Don't be going trick-or-treating dressed as 2009

Part three here
Editor's Note: What's your craziest Halloween story? I once went to a party with a mask and outfit (Chef from South Park) I could slip over what I was wearing - a typical business casual outfit. Since only about a third of the people at the party were in costume and it was dark and a band was playing, I'd slip into the bathroom and put on my outfit for about 10 minutes and dance wildy to the band then change back and talk to all my friends. None of them (except the guy I drove with) had any idea. I won best costume - and no one knew it was me until the guy I drove with slipped and told our co-workers a week later.


Paul Wellstone - 10 years after his death

On October 25, 2002, Paul Wellstone, his wife and daughter and members of his staff were en route to a funeral by plane when a few miles before landing, the plane disappeared off radar and crashed killing all on board. The plane was piloted by experienced pilots, had no signs of distress beforehand and the weather conditions were ideal. Conspiracy-theorists who usually have a field day with an event like this (Wellstone was 10 days away from likely being re-elected to the US Senate when control of the senate eventually went to the Republicans by one seat) have talked little of the crash compared to other events, but there are still some interesting conspiracy theories about Wellstone's death out there (like this one or this one ).

Regardless of how the senator was killed, his pro-worker, pro-women and pro-liberal legislation left an impact on American Politics. Wellstone's legacy (well documented in this piece in the Atlantic) continues on today in the work of the Wellstone Foundation.

But had Wellstone not died in the crash, it would have dramatically changed the history of the past decade and the actions of the Bush Administration (and future administrations after that - as I will detail below, I doubt an Obama presidency would have occurred at this point).

Wellstone was the only senator to vote against the War in Iraq. He also voted against the Department of Homeland Security. Wellstone was an enemy of the Bush-Cheney team. Just days before he died, Wellstone met with Cheney to vote his displeasure of the course in Iraq. Had Wellstone been elected, the first major change would have been democrat control of the US Senate. Wellstone said that his vote against the war in Iraq would likely cost him the election, but in polls leading up to the election, Wellstone was leading. Votes that come "out of the wood work" in Minnesota caused the defeat of Wellstone's predecessor, Norm Coleman, losing to democrat comedy writer Al Franken (yes, Wellstone would have probably kept SNL out of the US Senate).

Wellstone's opposition would have made him an extremely popular democrat in the 2004 election cycle. The vice president selected by John Kerry, John Edwards, was a recently elected senator. While the Edwards choice was an attempt to revitalize southern democrats in the way that Bill Clinton did, a Wellstone VP pick would have helped tremendously in the midwest. However, Wellstone had no known intentions to seek higher office. Regardless, the 2004 DNC, which was highlighted by Barack Obama's keynote address, would have had another major contributor in Wellstone's anti-war voice. The 2004 election was close - it's impossible to say for certain, but Wellstone campaigning with John Kerry and John Edwards in Florida and Ohio certainly would have helped the effort. While Ohio was putting anti-gay legislation on the ballot to fire up conservatives who would vote for Bush, the democrats could have rallied their troops strongly behind Wellstone (who wasn't in an election cycle of his own) and his anti-Iraq message - popular especially with younger voters.

In my opinion, had the democrats played the Wellstone asset the right way in 2004, they would have won the election - but the democrats did so many things wrong in 2004 - they somehow allowed a criticism that their candidate came home and protested the Vietnam War in an unpatriotic way, while the republican's candidate was a draft dodger! In hindsight, that's hilarious, isn't it? Let's say that the John Kerry/John Edwards team won the election in 2004 - the scandals of Edwards personal life and death of his wife before and during his electoral term would not have allowed Edwards to remain as vice president. Obviously Wellstone (and Hilary Clinton) would have been high up the list to succeed Edwards. Also, Kerry would have been less likely to allow some of the deregulation that occurred which led to the banking crisis of 2007 and Kerry would have had to have ended the war in Iraq quicker. I'm sure there'd have been some recession, because these things are cyclical, but I don't think it would have been to the same extent. If Kerry had an Iraq timetable on the table as part of a 2008 re-election campaign, he wouldn't have lost. John McCain would not have run against John Kerry, so your 2008 GOP ticket could have been Mike Huckabee and (hopefully?) a more centrist republican like Tom Ridge. I think Kerry would have a tougher time get elected than re-elected.

As for this election, as stated before, there's no reason to think Paul Wellstone would have been seeking higher office and there were so many in the vast far-right bureaucracy that would have made him the target for the republican party in the way Hilary Clinton was during the 2000s. But Wellstone or not, Kerry would have been handing off a fairly strong US to the vice president he choose to succeed John Edwards (which would have likely been the biggest scandal of a Kerry presidency). Barack Obama, now finished with one full term as senator may be running for the presidency had Kerry somehow not been re-elected. The Tea Party movement probably exists in a much smaller form.

This is all speculation - but it goes without saying that I believe the country would have been better if Wellstone's plane landed uneventfully on that runway 10 years ago today.


The dumbest thing I ever heard - UConn edition

When I was a student at UConn, they changed the school logo to the phallic looking leafs one they use now, originally it was a more "1960s academic looking" circle and a more cartoonish looking leaf. But when anyone thinks of UConn's logo, the thought that comes to mind is the Husky Dog head. Whether it's Jonathan XI (I recently read they've lost track of how many Jonathan the Husky Dog there's been) or the uniforms, or the scoreboard logo on sports websites - people think of UConn as the Huskies.

The Hartford Courant reported this week that the University of Connecticut feels so strongly about their identity with the Husky Dog Head logo that they've asked a Connecticut high school to stop using it. I doubt this will hurt UConn's recruiting of athletes within the state any worse than Randy Edsall's personality did, but it still made me shake my head.

The Morgan School (that's it's official name, not "Morgan High School") is the school for the town of Clinton. If you aren't from that part of the state, the school is probably known as the school "right by the Clinton Outlets" or "that school right off exit 63, the exit before Hammonasset Beach." The school was actually there before the outlets were built and is roughly the same age as the Hammonasset Connector which leads from I-95 to Connecticut's largest beach.

Morgan, one of the largest schools in the Shoreline Conference, plays in one of the conference's oldest gymnasiums - in one of the areas oldest high schools. The Huskies, I mean Morgan School teams, have had great success even when the Shoreline Conference included larger schools. Long-time volleyball and girls' basketball coach Joe Grippo has led Morgan teams to over a dozen state titles combined in the two sports. The football team was once a power, with a state title led by Ron Stopkoski (4,000+ career yards rushing) in 1991. Morgan football was also involved with one of the most infamous plays in state history when their undefeated team was facing their (at the time) football arch-rival, Daniel Hand, and a player from the Morgan sideline jumped off the bench to make a game saving tackle (trust me, its legendary on the shoreline). They've also produced two of the greatest UConn baseball players of the Big East era - Jeff Scott (UConn '96) and Jason Grabowski. (UConn '98). Grabowski, who played in the major leagues and hit his first career home run off Kerry Wood, left UConn as the program's all time leader in home runs with 43. I wonder what those two former UConn greats think about this.

Clinton has gone through a major demographic change in the past two decades, becoming a more affluent beach town, but also a town that has struggled mightily to pass spending increases in town referendums. Just this last May, in its second referendum (and after years of attempting to pass) Clinton finally voted to build a new high school at a cost of 31.3 million dollars. The Clinton budget is typically one of the most frugal of its neighboring towns on the Connecticut shoreline. East Haven's new high school looks like a hotel. Madison's new school looks like it could be an Olympic facility. Both of these schools have been around long enough for full high school classes to go through them without having ever attended the older buildings that used to house grades 9-12.

Regardless of the new Morgan School which will not contain the Husky Dog logo, the old gym at the current building has a UConn-looking logo at its center and UConn is asking Clinton to foot the bill of roughly $20,000 to remove it. Twenty-grand, that's like one student's cost for tuition for a couple years. Morgan's gym is small, cramped and the bleachers make an awful noise when the students jump on them during games (something they do a lot during basketball season when Morgan regularly has the largest home crowds in the Shoreline conference despite the old facility). The Shoreline Conference doesn't host any league playoff games in Morgan's gyms. Visiting coaches often talk about the intimidation factor of playing in that gym, with the crowd so close and the noise. Seems ridiculous to me not just to let Morgan use the gym in its current form until the new school is built. Is that too crazy?

If anything, the article in the Courant is really bad press for UConn, which really doesn't need any bad press right now with the debacle of a football season going on and the retirement of Jim Calhoun. But if UConn continues to press the matter and make the Morgan School close their home gym and spend weeks and dollars to remove a logo which does nothing but promote UConn in the southern part of the state, I really have to question the motivation of the Husky athletic department. Maybe I just need to give a couple Morgan School kids some spray paint and let them into the new 24-million dollar basketball facility at UConn.

Go Huskies!


Goats and Rabbits - the 2012 Yankee season in review

In mid-August I tried to remove myself from being a Yankee fan for a bit and try to figure out where this team was going - my thoughts were exactly right - probably win a round in the playoffs then lose in the ALCS - although they way they got there was a lot different than I would have predicted. It's an odd season when there's no measuring stick in Boston (and as it turned out, none in Tampa either, despite their late charge with positioned them much closer in the standings than they were for more of the season).

The post-season was full of many goats. Somehow Alex Rodriguez was the head goat, probably because he makes the most money and, well, because he's A-Rod. Boston fans despise A-Rod, even though he was willing to take a pay cut to go there. He's the only player who was leaked on the list of players who failed baseball's "secret drug test" to admit what he did was wrong, but he didn't admit what he did. Also, he was injured through no fault of his own (broken wrist, hit by pitch, an injury that takes a long time to heal in full.) A-Rod only had one hit in the ALCS, but he also only had nine at-bats. And his replacement, Eric Chavez, didn't hit at all and made two key errors at third, including one that ultimately cost them Game 3 of the series.

Chavez and Cano also fall into the "instant goat" category. Cano was absolutely crushing the ball, especially in the final series of the year against Pawtucket, err, I mean the Red Sox. Chavez had a nice hot streak in the middle of A-Rod's time on the DL, but manager Joe Girardi tapered down the at-bats of Chavez, who can be described as "frail" (I believe this was his first season in 5 years where he wasn't on the DL at some point). Chavez fizzled down as he was relegated to the bench.

Curtis Granderson was a goat all season, despite the fact that he's now hit more home runs than any player in baseball over the past two seasons. He, like Mark Texiera, got a little too friendly with right field. Texiera appeared to snap out of it, but he too (for the second straight season) was playing on one leg at the end of the year. Texiera, quietly, had a respectful post-season. I'm still screaming at the TV wondering why he didn't lay a bunt down in Game 2 with no outs and a fast runner on first. There was only one infielder who could have had a chance at the ball - the pitcher. If done with any accuracy it's first and second no outs or first and third if you sent the runner. Risky move, but they didn't score any runs that game anyway.

Injuries were a problem most of the year but the Yankees (at least in their talking points) didn't mention them as excuses. Brett Gardner was down most of the year before he willed himself healthy enough to play in the ALCS (which deserves some applaud). With the speedy rabbit Gardner down, the Yanks made their second trade of the season with Seattle (we'll get to the other one shortly) and acquired future hall-of-famer Ichiro Suzuki. All the talk of Ichiro has washed up and a bad teammate proved untrue. Ichiro was the new rabbit on the team, and especially in the ALDS win over Baltimore, he was a multidimensional weapon of speed, hitting and power. The one bright spot in the ALCS came from Eduardo Nunez. At one point, he was a forgotten; he didn't hit like he had in the past and he made 7 errors in the 19 games he started in the field (as a comparison, Derek Jeter only made 10 errors all season). But Nunez was the one bat that came alive in the ALCS, hitting a line drive home run off nearly perfect Justin Verlander in Detroit in Game 3 - a day where the ball was carrying as poorly as it can in a giant stadium.

People will knock this team as underachieving for the simple reason of their giant payroll. Keep in mind, however, that only one of the top five payroll teams made the playoffs and the one with the second highest payroll to make the playoffs was Texas, which blew their division with a three-game sweep by Oakland, then lost the one game playoff to Baltimore.Money helps but guarantees nothing. Despite "only" making baseball's final four, there were some great moments this season. The highlight has to be Game 3 of the ALDS where the Yankees were down to their final two at-bats facing a one-run disadvantage, Girardi sent up Raul Ibanez, and he promptly tied the game on the second pitch he saw. On the next pitch to Ibanez, he ended the game with his first Yankee walkoff. Ibanez came through again in the ALCS as the Yanks staged a miraculous four-run comeback against Detroit in Game 1. I still don't know how they didn't win this game. That, and no error by Chavez in Game 3, and that series probably goes back to New York. Credit the Tigers for finding a way to beat the Yankees in the post-season in 7 of their last 9 meetings over two years, with only one of the games decided by more than 3 runs.

The regular season had its enjoyable moments too. The April 21st game against Boston where they set the tone for the season with the Red Sox, trailing 8-0, they put up matching seven run innings in the seventh and eighth inning on their way to a 15-9 victory. The interleague series with good Atlanta and Washington teams, both road sweeps by the Yanks, were pluses too. Derek Jeter followed up a strong 2011 second half (when he reached 3,000 career hits) by having his best season since 2009. Jeter led all of baseball with 216 hits. Sadly, his season was cut short in the playoffs when he broke his ankle ranging to his left on a ground ball. Surgery and a long recovery during the offseason could keep Jeter from being ready even for opening day next year. It also will hurt Jeter's typical off-season routine, a key to his long-term success. Ace CC Sabathia may also have surgery in the off-season on his shoulder, another ominous cloud heading into 2013. Russell Martin and Nick Swisher had their strong moments, Martin batting right around .200 most of the year, but he was the only Yankee who seems to hit better in the clutch then during other at-bats.

The year when the term "RISP" (runners in scoring position) became synonymous with frustration had some difficult moments. First there was the season-ending injury to Mariano Rivera, which was caught on camera as he was catching flyballs during batting practice. It was replayed like the Zapruder film, Rivera writhing on the ground clutching his knee. Even before that, Michael Pineda, the off-season's big move (in a trade for former Yankee super prospect Jesus Montero) pulled a Pedro Feliciano, getting hurt in spring training and not playing a game the entire season. Pineda had surgery May 1. It's unlikely he'll even be a factor before the 2013 all-star break, if ever again. Rotator cuff surgery doesn't have a great prognosis. Ivan Nova was hurt off and on with the infamous "tired arm", which scares me personally heading into 2013. Phil Hughes showed an upside, other than his penchant for giving up solo home runs. Hiroki Kuroda was as good as any Yankee pitcher in 2012's second half. Rafael Soriano was wonderful in place of Rivera while David Robertson, who battled an injury then slumped, was back to his old self in the eighth inning during the last week and playoffs. Joba Chamberlain, who battled a freakish ankle injury after Tommy John surgery, contributed but was rusty. I get the feeling 2013 will be a good season from him; the velocity and movement is back, just not the command. Ageless Derek Lowe even contributed. Even though he missed much of the middle of the season with another "freak" injury that had nothing to do with age, it was great to have Andy Pettitte back from the Core 4 (Core 3, Core 2?). At the end of the season, Pettitte was the only of the four to be on the roster with Jeter and Rivera's injuries and Jorge Posada retired.

There's a lot of old offense coming back next year. Will Ichiro and Swisher be back? Who will catch next year? How much of a lost year was it in the minors (virtually every Yankee prospect had a stepback last year, Betances will miss 2013 and it didnt' help that the Yanks' AAA affiliate had to play all their games on the road in 2012). Is Nunez the only chip they have left? Will Rivera and Jeter be back next year to their pre-injury forms? Fittingly, no Yankee had a save in the post-season in 2012 (none of the four wins required a save). Soriano can opt out forcing Rivera/Robertson/Joba/Boone Logan bullpen we were familiar with in the past.

I say I won't get involved as much in 2013 as I did in 2012 but a long, cold New England winter can change that quickly. I just hope we see a golden year from the Core 4 that return, another solid year from the starting pitchers and can someone please get a hit with runners on?


How I met my grandfather

 My grandfather as a child

Two years ago I watched the HBO mini series "The Pacific" about Marines in the South Pacific during World War II. I knew that my grandfather, Paul Smith, was one of those Marines (although the mini-series is mostly about the 1st Marines and my grandfather, I would come to find, was in the 4th Marines). My mother Paula adored her father and most of the stories of my grandfather have been of his kind, loving nature. She knew very little about his war experience or even his upbringing. Paul was adopted as a child by his Uncle Elbert Smith and his wife Estelle, who he considered his parents, never speaking of what happened before his adoption.

My grandfather died in a house fire on March 22, 1981 in Upper Arlington, Ohio. He had struggled with alcohol his entire adult life and one night while smoking cigarettes in bed and drinking, he fell asleep and the bed caught fire. He was found a few feet away from the door. I had just turned 5 years old, so my memories are not too good of Grandpa Smith. My son (who was born 27 years and 3 days after) is roughly the same age now as I was then. I don't expect him to recall much of this time in his life. We had visited Columbus the summer before he died and it's hard for me to tell if memories I have are real memories or recollections of stories from that summer that my mother told me. She said the next couple times we went to Columbus that I knew where all the roads were and how to get to the nearest Baskin Robbins. My grandfather and I shared a love of ice cream. I think I remember his voice, but there's probably no way for me to prove this. I definitely remember his wife, Nyla (my grandmother), her voice. She died in 1997 however, when I was in college.

Something about the watching that mini series on HBO made me want to dig a little deeper into my grandfather's military history, then later on, into the rest of his life. With a name like Paul Smith, searching for records on the internet was nearly impossible. After a week of searching I found this:

I was fairly certain from pictures I had seen that the man on the left was my grandfather. I confirmed with my mother. From the site I had hit a goldmine - complete information on where he served. My grandfather, Captain Paul Smith, was the company commander of the 4th Marines, 3rd Division, 23rd Battalion, Company L. It was fairly easy to find out from there that the division saw combat in Roi-Namur, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. Casualties were alarmingly high. Nearly a third of the company was killed in action. My mother recalled that Captain Smith was injured twice and I found out that he was seriously injured in Saipan and when he recovered was moved off the front line. I found that all but three of the officers of Company L were killed.

After a month of searching, I found, searching Facebook of all places, that the Company L has an annual reunion. Roughly two dozen or so of the men of Company L or their spouses are still living and have gathered annually for the past 30 years. Through the article I found with Facebook's web search engine (never came up on Google or Yahoo), I got in contact with Company L veteran Everett "Bud" Hampton. Bud Hampton is still actively speaking on behalf of veterans at VFW Halls and other military reunions throughout the South. I found his contact information on the internet through a VFW Hall where he had spoken and waited a day then called him from work one afternoon. My first impression was, this is what an old Marine sounds like! We spoke for 15 minutes or so and I asked him what he remembered of his company commander. Said he was fair, well respected, and followed the rules. Told me he'd taken away his weekend pass at Camp Pendleton (where they were training) after a mistake he'd made. At the time Bud was upset, but then he'd later realize that sort of discipline was necessary (although even the commanding officers had no idea what they would be experiencing at war.)

I got on the Company L mailing list, which included the names and contacts of the living veterans and their family. One caught my eye right away: Wilbert Hager - Meriden Connecticut - as in, the town where I worked, an amazing find since most of the Company was from the midwest or deep south. I waited a day (I found it best to write down exactly what I wanted to say and be prepared for long answers) and called Wilbert. He agreed to have me visit him that afternoon. Wilbert's house was about a mile or so from my office (about 3 blocks from where I got coffee). He lived in a part of Meriden that has definitely changed since he'd moved there (which was over 40 years ago). I don't know if it was because of my visit, but the Marine colors were visible in the window. I knocked on the door and it was another "raggedy ass Marine". Wilbert and I talked for an hour - he loaned me a book from the 4th Marines (which I would scan that evening). Wilbert knew my grandfather too, had a few small stories about him, mostly during training. It seems the commanding officer was fairly separated from everyone else during combat. My grandfather likely suffered his serious wound in Saipan with other officers by ambush, not in combat. I came back the next day to return the book to Wilbert and enjoyed our discussion, which was about the military, the Marines and the country in general. He certainly had some interesting opinions which I'd not frame as either "extreme right or extreme left".

I read through the materials and got a very close first-hand recap of what Company L had accomplished. But there was one more detail my mother remembered - she remembered that Grandpa's best friend died in his arms and another friend died at Iwo Jima. The one who died at Iwo Jima, I found through my research, Felix Bevens (third from the right in small photo above), had a daughter that he never met. He was killed right after she was born. Through another article I found her, Anne Adkins. Anne's story amazed me. Her mother remarried, and her stepfather (who was raised her as a daughter) and mother provided her with a wonderful loving home. In her later teen years, Felix's mother passed away and the family travelled to Louisiana (where Felix was from) to retrieve personal items. Anne had two caring parents and knew in her early teen years that Felix was her father, but learned of her father mostly through letters written home that were saved by Felix's mother. Boxes and boxes of letters. Cherished words. This image has stuck with me ever since the day she told me this story. Her advice, talk to people now, no one is getting any younger.

Alas, part of the problem was time. Frank Sullivan (second from the left in the small photo above) died about a decade ago. He would have been a great resource. So would have the other men. My mother remembered my grandfather being close with "Sullivan".

I had a good idea now about my grandfather's experiences in war and as a leader. My mother told me about how he had gotten his doctorate at Penn State, then moved on to teach at University of Arkansas, then Ohio State. I'd met his best friend and fellow faculty member Elvin Davenport at my grandmother's funeral. I remembered meeting Elvin as child as well. Elvin and his wife Minnie both passed away a few years later, as did their son, at a young age. More people I could have talked to who were gone. But those years when grandpa was at Ohio State, my mother has very clear stories about - how he defied Upper Arlington culture by not tending to his yard weekly, how he was a science professor, but strictly believed in the seven-day creation of the world as described in the Book of Genesis, how he worked with Indian students who had come to the United States to study (before many Indians were in the country). My mother and father (who also attended Ohio State) as well as my grandma and grandpa Smith - all big Buckeye football fans. Scarlett and Gray runs in the blood on both sides.

After this, I decided to research my entire family's genealogy, but most of it was to find out more about my grandfather's family, since he'd been adopted. After learning the adversity he'd overcome as a child, it's amazing he even went to college let alone finished high school.

Paul David Locke (I found out from my mother that this was his birth name) was born February 17th, 1919 in his house in Lebanon, Kansas to Opal Smith Locke and Terrance M Locke. Paul was their fourth child. Paul had two brothers, Charlie and Lewis, who were born when Opal was a teenage, and a daughter Vera who was a couple years older than Paul. At some point Paul was adopted by Elbert and Estelle Smith, Elbert the older brother of Opal. The rest of the family genealogy came together quickly (mostly due to research by my great-grandmother Mary Isa Teel and numerous research projects of the Pidcock, Phillips and King-Lay families on my father's side).

I was stuck on what happened to Opal or Terrance. After my grandfather died, my mother got in contact (through her mother Nyla) with Lewis Locke and his wife Polly. They lived in Oregon, and traded phone calls and letters throughout the years (sadly, during my research in June I found that Polly had passed away. Polly was really the "glue" that held together the remaining Locke family. My mother never uttered anything but kind words for her aunt Polly, who she never met in person - she never met Charlie or Lewis in person either). Vera was cared for by Elbert and Estelle (although never actually adopted) and Vera and Paul grew up together. Paula was close with cousins Elmer and Tranda (Vera's children) as a child, although they lost contact throughout the years before Tranda and Paula got back in touch a couple years ago through email.

After six months of spinning in circles, I'd found a couple of my mother's second cousins who were Lockes, Anita and Beryl, who knew much of the Locke family, but not much of Terrance, other than he had a well attended funeral in the 1950s. One day, I randomly stumbled on to the "Find a Grave" website which contained information on Terrance Locke's grave, among others in the Locke/Smith families. I contacted the man who put up the information, Earl, and I could tell right away that he'd done some very extensive research (he'd also pieced together quite a bit of Terrance's mother's family going back to German roots in the 1700s). He sent me this picture:

This was the first time my mother ever saw what her grandparents (by birth) looked like. Amazingly, Estelle and Elbert in the photo as well (although the child labelled Vera is not Vera, but she's in the photo as well.) Paul and his brothers are together. My mother hadn't seen a photo of her father so young before. I received a few more photos as well from Earl. It was while providing some information to Earl that I learned of Polly Locke's death. I got her daughter's name from my mother, who had old letters from Polly (she wrote every year at Christmas except 2011, when it was too hard for her to write anymore due to blindness). I found her daughter's daughter (my second cousin) through Facebook, and she got me in contact with Becky (Polly's daughter, my mother's cousin).

Becky and I finally talked while I was on vacation this summer. I told her how grateful my mother was for Polly's letters and gifts. She told me that Polly was devoted to Christ and to family. I read her obituary and knew that this was a truly wonderful person who I wish I could have met. Becky sent dozens of photos and provided family information as to what happened. My mother had a living Aunt she never knew (Charlie's wife Marguirite). All the Locke kids died fairly young, and in fact, Opal Hoff (she remarried) was alive until 1984 and outlived three of the four of them. All those years my mother was alive with these aunts and uncles she never met or never knew existed. They all mostly lived in Oregon. One of her cousins she never met, Terry, is in Maryland. During his life, my grandfather didn't have much to do with his birth family. My mother says it's because he thought it would have been disrespectful to his adopted parents.

I had much of the story now.

The Locke family was poor. Paul's father Terrance, who may have had an alcohol problem himself, was a  preacher. He and Opal married when Opal was a young teenager and they moved from Newmarket, Iowa (where Opal grew up) to Smith County, Kansas. Terrance travelled frequently, and left Opal with the young kids and not much money. Charlie and Lewis used to hop trains and catch turtles to sell for food. My grandfather got tasked with stealing milk of other people's porches. Opal began to travel and leave the kids behind to earn money in ways which likely included prostitution. One day, Opal stranded  the four children in a train station. Likely, this is the last time Paul ever saw his brothers. Charlie and Lewis fled, Charlie joined the military. In the 1940 census they would resurface with Terrance in Colorado. Terrance lost his church, scrambled for odd jobs, remarried, formed a church in Colorado, but died of a heart attack in the early 1950s. He was a well-revered man by all accounts. Opal moved to Kansas City, got married once, or twice, moved to Colorado, then disappeared by my account, before resurfacing in the 1970s in Oregon. Opal attended the same church as Polly, but lived the end of her life blind and deaf and it put her in a bad mental state. Her obituary listed four children (she had no other children other than the four with Terrance) and listed the proper number of grandchildren (my mother and her cousins) and great-grandchildren. Opal knew that I existed (likely through Polly). Lewis had a daughter, Margaret (a cousin of my mom) who passed away a few years ago never meeting or speaking to Paula.

Paul's adopted parents weren't wealthy, but got by by early 1930's Kansas standards. Paul attended Lebanon High School, where he was a basketball player and honor student, earning admission at Kansas State University (where he met Nyla). He definitely overcame a lot, a childhood he wouldn't even mention to my mother (she learned nearly all of this from Paul's wife Nyla, my mom's mother).

I saw a photo from Becky (Lewis and Polly's daughter)'s wedding with all the Lockes there, my grandfather not in attendance. My mother is an only child; she doesn't have much family. It would have been nice for to have known these people. Now they are gone and she'll have to search like I did to find more about their lives.

It was always easy for me to look up to both my grandfathers. I'm absolutely spoiled to have the relationship with my Grandpa King that I have. He's still living, still sharp as a tack in his early 90s. He was a professional baseball player, and his stories in baseball are great. He's also got one of the best senses of humor of anyone I know. My daughter is his spitting image, other than the blond hair. My Grandpa Smith was a war hero, a scientist and a college professor - a lot to be proud of - knowing how he got there is even more impressive. I've only gotten the ability to know him more now by talking to others, seeking out others who knew him. I also think how my kids are the only thing left in the world that will continue from him when I'm gone. My mother was an only child and my sister has no children. My mother told me the first thing she thought about when she saw Josh at the hospital after he was born was how happy her parents (my grandparents) would have been.

My only regret with this research is that I wasn't able to start at this earlier.

If you don't live in a swing state, you should vote for Gary Johnson

The TV media outlets, especially the polarized news ones, spend hours and hours this year covering elections - especially the presidential election. I'd like to tell you your vote matters for president, but it probably doesn't. If you live in Texas, California or New York (our three most populated states) your vote doesn't count. If you live in New Hampshire vote counts, but the state south of the Granite State which has 5 times the population, Massachusetts, your vote doesn't matter. If you live in the south outside Virginia, North Carolina and Florida - your presidential vote is worthless.

The electoral college (which won't disappear until it costs the Republicans an election, as it already cost the Democrats and Al Gore an election - which didn't really turn out too well for any of us in the long run) makes roughly 2/3rds of the voting population fairly "voiceless", because their states are locked in with a certain party. But there is hope. I guess "hope" isn't such a great word though, right?

I'll be voting for Gary Johnson in November. I don't agree with the entire platform of the Libertarian Party - I'm just not that afraid of government unless they are invading random countries in the Middle East (but you have to give the Libertarians credit for being just as upset at democrats for health care reform as they are for Republicans in the Bush administration starting wars). I do like the platforms on gay rights, non-entangled foreign policy, medicinal marijuana and women's rights. Gary Johnson's slogan "Live Free" could just as easily be "Live and Let Live" but it could also be "Live and Let Die".

Gary Johnson vetoed 47% of the bills that came to his desk the first six months of his governorship due to spending concerns and non-simplified pork - bills with an agenda outside the scope of the spending. Johnson made major education reforms from his first to second terms as governor, which were mostly successful. He also was known for a successful approach as a border state with immigration and drug policies.

Back to why I'll vote for Johnson. There's no incentive for either party to make any changes to this system. Republicans have the "religious right" locked up and with citizens united and the increased financial electoral power of corporations, they've done the political move of destroying (through vilification) all unions. Republicans are going to crush the Dems financially for many years. Democrats, on the other hand, have swung so far to the middle that they are almost pre-Reagan republicans. Because much of the far right is xenophobic and another set of the right that believes in a strong pre-emptive military the Democrats are going to have a huge advantage with minorities and women. They are the underdogs, financially, but have enough power in the government not to be "voiceless" (I use that word again for a reason). There's no incentive to change any of this. We'll hear about voting for president as positioning for supreme court justices and Roe vs. Wade for the rest of our lives. Introducing a third party into the mix will force the Republicans back toward the center, push the democrats left. The Libertarian Party is not a moderate party; they are a merging of extreme views. This is the perfect election for their interjection.

If I lived in a state where my vote had electoral power, I'd be voting for Obama. What it comes down to, the right has tried to paint a mediocre president as Bush the democrat. If you don't believe me, try this experiment - go on twitter and search #Romney and then #Obama. Read the intelligence level of the positions opposed to both candidates. That's not to say there isn't legitimate criticism of Obama (I'm constantly reminding voters who think Romney's tax rate is unfair that it's existed in Obama's government - I think Obama is just trickle-down light when it comes to economics - but I also think he hasn't had much choice economically since the House went to the Republicans in 2010). Obama is not a muslim who hates the United States and is a socialist - that's stupid - he's just a weak leader at times economically who is helping the rich get richer. Obama "threw money away in the stimulus" but the money did mostly go to American citizens unlike the bridges we build in Iraq that went to Iraq and Halliburton. Obama also doesn't have embarrassing things like DOMA and Don't Ask Don't Tell attached to his presidency like Bill Clinton, but I do wish Obama had gone with a budget plan more like Clinton.Health care reform under Obama was a good start, but Obama wasn't strong enough a leader to do what should have been done in full.

The Republicans are probably going to lose this election - and they've done it to themselves by nominating a candidate who is John Kerry without the Purple Hearts. Mitt Romney was a moderate republican governor who had gay marriage (which he did not support, for the record) and state-lead health care reform come into place during his unpopular governorship. Hard to drive the right with that record. His business record, when analyzed, was about making money for Bain, rather than improving the country economically (which makes sense, he was a businessman, not a politician). Romney did a good job with the Olympics in Salt Lake City, has moderate views (at least talk of bipartisanship too) but you never heard about these things until the last month (a mistake, not a calculated play if you ask me). Romney plus a far-right House just means a far-right government, Romney as a puppet for the right. Everything he said in the debates about reproductive rights and keeping parts of health care reform like coverage of pre-existing conditions will become "flip-flops". Take a look at Romney's record in Massachusetts on job creation, popularity among voters and budget compared to Johnson's tenure in New Mexico. Try to justify why Johnson got no traction in the primaries. It's not easy. Couple that with the disenfranchisement of Ron Paul supporters at the GOP Convention this year. It paints a bleak picture for the election.


I really wish this was the year there was the BCS 4 team playoff

BCS apologists - this year will be your last chance to defend the awful one-game playoff system in college football. I think you're going to have to defend against a lot. I think the BCS system picked the two best teams last year in LSU and Alabama, but certainly not the best game (which would have involved Oklahoma State). This year it may be even tougher to pick the best.

Alabama is undefeated now, nearly unanimous #1. Unless they lose to undefeated Florida, a loss will take the SEC out of the top spot. The brutal game left is at Baton Rouge with LSU. LSU is flukey this year but winning there is no easy task. Two other ranked teams (surprising Mississippi State and conference newcomer Texas A&M visit Bama). Then there's the SEC title game (likely Florida, but Georgia or South Carolina could still fall in). Florida is playing above their talent which is tough week-to-week in the SEC. I see Alabama losing to LSU. Alabama is the better team, but the home field advantage will tip this close battle. There's also the matter of the rivalry game (as we'll see later, there's some huge ones this year) - Auburn. Even with one loss (especially if they beat LSU and with the SEC title) they are probably in the title game. If they lose to LSU, they may not be in the SEC title game, which would virtually eliminate them. Also from the SEC, Florida has Georgia next week, Florida State out of league (that's actually a tough match up for them this year) and the SEC title game if they win out. If the SEC winner is undefeated, we all agree - they are playing in the title game. Don't forget that Mississippi State is undefeated - but that road is as impossible as it gets (At Alabama, Texas A/M, At LSU in consecutive weeks, plus a good Ole Miss team on the road, then the SEC title game).

Lets go out West where speed punishes then kills. Oregon is #3 in the polls and they can't afford to take a week off. Colorado is the only game they have left where they can have a bad day and lose. At USC (they will have a huge stake in the final outcome this year and if teams lose, they could still be in the hunt if they win the Pac 12), a solid Cal team and Stanford. Then there's the Civil War. Oregon State is currently undefeated but they have quite possibly the most easy and bizarre schedule of any team in the Pac 12 (they close with Nichols State in December AFTER the rivalry game with Oregon - I'd expect to see the Beavers lose at Washington or at Stanford). Oregon State is dangerous in this match up every year, despite Oregon usually being much more talented. After that, Oregon has to play USC again (or another solid team in the conference title game). I don't think they can beat USC twice (USC is quietly better every time they take the field). If Oregon losses the regular season game at the Colosseum and comes back to win the conference title game, they are the first one-loss team in (assuming no other two contending teams go undefeated).

Let's talk USC. They don't have any cookies left at all. Their non-conference game is Notre Dame. I love Brian Kelly but I also know USC still has double the talent of Notre Dame. Remember that year Notre Dame grew the grass an inch higher and played USC during their winning streak and they almost beat them? The game is in LA this year, so there will be no such grass. If Notre Dame can get by one-loss Oklahoma (which could also find their way into the title game if they won out and things broke right), Wake Forest is the only other team they play that would even have a chance of beating them. Notre Dame deserves to be in the title game if they win out and only one of Alabama, Florida and Oregon goes undefeated. Beating OU and USC on the road and either of those teams winning their conference title games makes Notre Dame close to a  lock. I don't think they beat either team (but they should get a BCS bowl berth with Ohio State out of play for an at-large, even if they lose both games).

The Big 12 is the defenseless conference, although Kansas State's game against West Virginia (keeping them out of the end zone on offense until the fourth quarter) turned some heads. I would like to see Collin Klein against an SEC defense. I think they could complete. I'd also like their defense in that game. Other than Oregon, I think they would have the best chance of knocking off an SEC team. One could argue that Kansas State's win at Oklahoma was the best win any team has had this year (as far as the title picture) - although there are games coming up that will eclipse this. Their road may be the toughest. Texas Tech (one loss, probably done title-picture wise after narrowly avoiding the loss to TCU) and OK State visit the Wildcats. At TCU, At Baylor and Texas (who they usually give a lot of trouble as an underdog - but will the same thing happen as a favorite). There's no Big 12 title game anymore, which may be a saving grace. If Oklahoma and Kansas State both finish with one loss, K-State wins the conference due to head-to-head, but we all know the BCS always picks the team that loses their game first - the B.S. of the system. Oklahoma will be ranked higher if K-State loses a game.

Ironically there likely will be 2 undefeated teams totally out of play. Ohio State has a fairly easy schedule left other than Michigan at home. Michigan snapped a long Ohio State winning streak last year at the Big House. Urban Meyer will not let his team lose this year in Columbus. Will not. Michigan probably has the better team at the non-skill positions but you can bet the Buckeyes will have scheme to stop Denard Robinson. Then Michigan will win their division and probably the Big Ten. The Big Ten is brutally bad this year. Usually they are right there with the Pac 10-11-12 (whatever they call themselves now) and Big 12, a notch below the SEC. Not this year. This year they aren't that much better than the MAC (which is better than the Big East while the Big East is arguably better overall (and head-to-head) than the ACC). Nonetheless, undefeated Ohio State can't play for the title due to probation. Better get the Buckeyes this year, Big 10, once Urban Meyer has his own players it's over.

Speaking of the Big East, one of those teams likely will go undefeated. Cincinnati (one loss, to.. yikes Toledo?), Rutgers and Louisville are unbeaten in the league with the former two undefeated overall. I doubt they will split 3 ways, despite the most inferior team, Cincinnati's ability to win games late. I say Rutgers wins out - Louisville isn't a finisher. Rutgers undefeated in the Big East with their signature wins over Louisville and usually-strong-this-year-tire-fire Arkansas isn't playing in the title game, nor should they. Probably not even top 4 this year unless things got completely wild at the end.

Prediction time: Alabama loses at LSU, but still gets to the SEC title game against Florida and Alabama wins. Oregon losses to USC in the regular season, but Oregon wins the conference. Notre Dame drops both games to Oklahoma and USC. Kansas State drops one of their remaining conference games, wins the conference but Oklahoma gets the at-large and is ranked higher.

Outcome of this - Kansas State beats the tar out of Florida State (didn't mention them even with one loss, just because the ACC is worse than the Big East even this year). Rutgers earns the Big East a little respect with a win in a bowl game over Notre Dame. Florida and Oklahoma duke it out in a classic. USC destroys Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Alabama plays Oregon in the title game. It's hard to pick against the SEC in the title game. And I'm not doing it this year. The crown stays down south until we get our four-team playoff... and probably after that a bit too.


My 2012 Season

When I was a child, maybe every other year or so, my mother would get us tickets on a bus trip to Yankee Stadium. Trips to see that late 1980s Yankees team, the definition of mediocrity, are one of my favorite memories from youth. We sat way up near the top in the outfield, got to the game in time for batting practice and stayed until the end. One time I crept down for batting practice and got a "hey kid" from Steve Sax. Was the highlight of my baseball youth until the late former Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks told me to have an aneurism at Fenway Park my junior year in high school.

Two decades later, my work involves Major League Baseball it isn't uncommon for me to make two trips to different ballparks in the same week. I've been fortunate in some of the games I've attended in the past - David Cone's perfect game, the clincher of the 2001 ALCS, Cal Ripken's last game at Yankee Stadium, the game where Billy Martin decided to use pitcher Rick Rhoden as his designated hitter (he batted 8th, ahead of Rafael Santana, and Rhoden was 0-1 with a sac fly) - but this year I was spoiled.

My first game of the year was working opening day at Citi Field. I got to walk through the field before the gates open, got a picture of the new walls at Citi Field and sent them off to the handful of Mets' fan friends I have. The following week I worked the opener at Fenway - which, from a work standpoint, was a difficult day. It was my third trip to Fenway that year (had two offseason meetings up there). As a life-long Yankee fan, I don't think I've fully digested the fact that my main working relationship in baseball is with the Red Sox. I think their staff thinks I'm a Mets fan. It's still a surreal feeling when I go through the "authorized personnel only" doors at Fenway.

A month later, during a warm early May Saturday afternoon, I took my two-year old daughter to her first game. Being a younger child, she's an observer - she learns by watching - and she's also very outspoken and uses humor to get attention. I got her to sit in a seat for a couple of innings at Fenway before I finally had to take her out to Yawkee Way to play with the kids activities there. On the way home (we left after the game was official) we stopped and got ice cream and got off the T to play at that playground in that station before Newton. Megan still talks about the day and asks to go again - a great feeling for a dad. Later in the month, my wife and both kids and I went to a Sox game (highlighted by Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt singing the national anthem). Such talent those two have. I also took my father-in-law to his first Yankee game - a win over the Orioles.

I attended the Fenway 100th anniversary game (which I blogged about before). Now that a few months have passed, I get chills thinking that Johnny Pesky and Carl Beane passed away during the season, two major parts of that ceremony. Even the Yankees (who never wear retro-uniforms) were in the 1912 road grays. Mariano Rivera got the final outs - fitting that any memorable game is closed by Mo, whether it's a Yankee memory or any memory. The last player to ever where #42 as their regular number. It fits him. And that would be the last time I saw him in person that year.

We started a tradition which I hope continues - my father, brother and I spent father's day at Nationals Park for the interleague series between the Yanks and Nationals. Friday night we were in the luxury seats and on TV much of the game. I gave Nick Swisher and "O-H" and got an "I-O" back, and got to speak with him for a couple minutes during batting practice. I know he had a rough post-season, but I'm a fan for life. What a great guy.

By the time the regular season was over, I had been to nearly a couple dozen games. Saw the Yanks 7 times, 5 times on the road (they were 6-1 when I saw them in the regular season). Just missed seeing Santana's perfect game (was at Citi Field 3 times that week). Watched the Red Sox flounder as teams like the Orioles and A's came into Boston and surprised them.

Maybe the best game I saw was the post-season. Game 3 of the ALDS (little did I know at the time the Yankees would win only one more game after that all season, while losing 5). Raul Ibanez's 2 HR game. The New Yankee Stadium isn't like the old one. The moated fans are quiet and isolated. The upper deck (where I sat) was alive.

Now the season is nearly over. Even though the World Series teams will be clients of my company, I won't need to travel to assist. This was a memorable year. I took many pictures, filled out a couple scorecards, had a Shake Shack custard shake, watched the Phillies put up 16 runs on the Mets and shared games with most of my immediate family and close friends. I watched my Yankee team look great mid-season, lose Rivera, Pettitte and Jeter to injury during the year at different times, and still managed to get to the ALCS. A memorable season with Mike Trout having one of the best rookie seasons ever, Miggy Cabrera winning the Triple Crown and R.A. Dickey bringing some excitement in an otherwise dull season for the Mets. I don't know if I can keep up this kind of schedule for the 2012 season. I always say that. Then it's three months into the offseason and I can't wait to go back again and again and again.