Monday, July 22, 2013

Back to the Wooden Bat Game of Baseball

     There is a distinct crack from a wooden baseball bat when the ball is smacked on the sweet spot. And when you don't make good contact you hear a splat and the ball doesn't travel very far.  When using a metal bat and hit it good you'll hear a ping, and when you don't you still hear a ping.
      Baseball is going back to the days of the wooden bat after years of kids swinging the metal. The metal bats give a routine hit more distance and the possibilities of of a ball rolling to the fence. With wood, outfielders can challenge the hitters by playing in closer to the infield.
     There are arguments for both sides, some say using metal makes for a more offensive and action packed game. Others like the fact that teams can play small ball with wood, bunt and hit and run manufacturing runs instead of just hoping someone will hit a pop that will carry out of the park.
     I'm all for the return to wooden bat game. Kids will get more accustomed to it with time. Instead of one base at a time mentality, coaches take more chances and I feel that the games are just as exciting.
     And what's wrong with leveling the playing field and having a good old fashioned pitchers duel. Bats will splinter and break and that can be a danger but it's also a problem with balls whizzing by the mound clanging off the metal ones.
     I feel Pennsylvania is on the right track and school districts still using metal bats need to get on board. They can argue it's costly to keep replacing broken wooden bats and school budgets are already tight. But, when's the last time a kid arrived at a game without carrying his own bat bag. So that argument is a bit weak.
     Even when I played decades ago, I had my own bat that I used in all of my games. If I broke it, then I'd use one the team supplied until I got back to Bechtel's Sports for new one.
     There was a couple things a baby boomer kid had on a bike when he pedaled off for the day's adventures. One was a baseball glove looped over the handlebars, also a baseball jammed into the bike frame. If you had a pickup game planned with the many other kids running around the neighborhood you brought
your wooden bat and held it across the bars as you steered.
     I'm still waiting to see a homer off of a wooden bat this summer and with several state tournaments coming up I'm sure someone will hit one out of the park. Abner would be happy to see the game returning to it's roots.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Travel - Touring Connecticut and Sneaking into Vermont

     After finishing up my Saturday work shift, my wife Deb and I headed to Guilford, Connecticut for a week of day trips and sightseeing with longtime friends Anne and Ted who had a loose itinerary set up for daily adventures.
A view of the architecture at Yale University
     It's a four-hour plus ride on Route 78 through the Lehigh Valley onto Route 95 and over the George Washington Bridge in New York. Heading to Connecticut it was white knuckle driving and quick lane changes to stay on course. I sneak a quick peak at the horizon of the Manhattan skyscrapers while keeping one eye on the snaking traffic.
     Crossing the state line into Connecticut, Deb dials up Anne and we meet at Wilson's Holy Smoke Barbecue, a joint my wife picked out after watching her favorite food shows. We keep a list of restaurants and diners to visit on upcoming trips and this was a nice start munching on a pork barbecue sandwich with collards, baked beans and cornbread.  Deb had the perfect words after dining stating, "The food was yummy!" After dinner it was a short thirty minute ride to their home which is near the Long Island Sound.
Pepe's Pizza
     On Sunday afternoon we stopped at Chamard Winery and shared a bottle of Chardonnay. Later we made our way to New Haven for a walk on the grounds of Yale University and snapped some shots of their historic buildings. I've grown to appreciate the value of taking the time to look at architecture and famous places during our travels.
      Dining in spots also takes on a new meaning looking for family run businesses with a unique style so we dropped in at The Original Pepe's Pizza in the town's Italian district. The pizzeria was opened in 1928 and still serves up delicious pies from their coal fired brick oven. We waited in line outside the popular pizzeria along with other hungry guests before a booth opened up. It was worth the wait.
   The following day we went sailing on the Long Island Sound with Ted's neighbor. This was new to me as I've only been on the sea in power boats and cruise ships. I was put to work by Captain Fred and he had me hoist the main sail and jib and tie them off.
Captain Fred and 1st mate Ted prepare to sail
He also gave me a turn manning the tiller and it took a while to keep the boat on the correct heading and the sails filled with air. We sailed out on the sound 3.5 miles and circled Faulker Island lighthouse and back to the docks. The two men know the water and are able and knowledgable sailors. They sat relaxed giving me instructions as I took control of the boat. The winds were light so this landlubber wasn't concerned about tipping the boat and dunking us into the water but it does take some time to get a feel for controlling the boat.
    We were up early the next morning and drove to Hartford with our main stop at the home of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. I enjoy reading his novels and got a kick out of touring the family home and seeing his upstairs area where he wrote at his desk, smoked cigars, took a nip of the spirits and shot pool with friends. We stopped at the book store inside the welcome center
The Mark Twain house
which is on the grounds and is larger than the home. Deb and I bought a book and I am saving mine for reading on cold winters nights later this year. The center has some of his catchy phrases cast in the cement walls.  There is a short movie of his life and some of his memorabilia displayed in the building.        
Deb's in the fast lane on the alpine slide in Vermont 
     From there we headed north. I took the wheel and drove through Massachusetts for a hour until we crossed the border into Vermont.  The state was the destination as we really didn't have a plan in
mind. The previous day while talking I stated, that while Deb and I have been to every state in the east from Maine to Florida, we never set foot in Vermont. To date,  I have been to thirty four states in the union. But whenever I would look at a map of the United States, I'd stare at Vermont, nagged that I hadn't made it there.
     I would have been content to stop the car, stick my toe on
the ground and drive back, but we decided to head to Bromley Ski Resort that had zip lining, an alpine slide and other summertime activities. The clouds were forming and a
View of Long Island Sound 
thunderstorm was nearby. The owner told us to head up the mountain on the chairlift and kindly offered for us to pay when we got back so we could at least get one run on the zip line. But when we got to the top workers told us we'd have to do the alpine slide with the fast approaching storm.
Gillette Castle
     Deb and I had ridden on the alpine slide at Camelback Ski Resort until they dismantled the run years ago. The rider sits in a sled with nylon runners and speeds downhill on a concrete or fiberglass bobsled track. It's lots of fun and I've crashed a number of times racing Deb in the lane next to me. I'm a little older these day but still zipped down the lane at a swift pace but did pull back on the brake at times to keep from getting out of control. We could only make one run as heavy rain wiped out the rest of the afternoon. On the return trip we stopped at a country store and bought the obligatory bottle of maple syrup, cookies and other snacks. Another state checked off of my list.
     The rest of the week we rode around Connecticut and toured a number of locations including Gillette Castle, the home of Broadway stage actor and writer William
Drawbridge opening in Mystic, Connecticut
Gillette. His castle sits on a hillside with a breathtaking view of the Connecticut River. Gillette was famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes with the play opening in 1899. We took the time to read a number of Gillette's personal letters that are set under glass for visitors to see and we also looked over the unique interior decorations of the home.
      A side trip to Mystic, Conn. had us walking around the nostalgic town. Large sailboats passed by the open drawbridge on the Mystic River at the main street in town.  For lunch we chose Mystic Pizza, the restaurant where the Hollywood movie "Mystic Pizza" starring Julia Roberts was filmed.
      It was a fun-filled week and we boarded the Sea Mist for a boat tour of the Thimble Islands. The captain navigated the waterway where multimillion dollar homes are neatly built onto the small islands dotting the cove.
     We put in close to six hundred miles that week driving over some of the lesser traveled forest covered mountain roads and also along speedy interstates.  I prefer the two lane roads where I can turn my head on occasion to view the scenery without my co-pilot Deb offering her driving instructions to me about watching the road. I can't wait for the next time we hit the trail for another countrywide adventure.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Fly Fishing - I've Never Had A Hobby Until Now

     Yes sports fans, I recently took up the art of fly fishing.
The first thing I learned is that there is a lot to learn. And I am waist deep getting accustomed to the technique of casting and retrieving line, talking the jargon and figuring out what the heck is needed to be tied onto the end of a tip it ( new term for me ) to catch a fish.
Strick's Pix tries his luck.
     The main reason for the new hobby is an idea for my brother Gary and I to travel to West Yellowstone for an outdoors adventure together. We've never done anything like this and while I'm in still able, the time seems right for some hiking, sightseeing and fishing. And out west it's mostly fly fishing in the streams and rivers. This gives me a reason to try something new and I don't want to feel like a tourist when I get into the water.
     I am no purist and the journey will be long. Friends and family who fly fish give me ample opportunities to pick their brains as I launch question after question in their direction. I'm also watching videos, reading blogs and stories and books about line tying and what type of bug, nymph, wet fly, streamer or dry fly may help in the effort for a successful day on the creek. And it will take practice. Lots of practice.
     I've bought a number of flies with the recommendation of knowledgable sportsmen at several fly fishing businesses. Also bought a four piece rod and reel set prefect to start.
     Any day out will be a great day regardless of whether or not I've figured out what fish are biting on. So far the best I can say is that I'm a work in progress. One thing I need work on is tying a fly to the line.  I have hands of stone, the dexterity is lacking and it takes a while to get a proper knot tied with these shaky mitts. The improved clinch knot is fairly easy, but learning the surgeons, albright and nail knots will take practice.
     When winter rolls around and I'm not in the stream as much, I will sit down and perfect these knots. I'm too anxious now with the nice weather not to run down to the stream and drift a line in the water.
Small mouth
      I've been out to the creek a number of times and casting as close to a spot that I pick out. Sometimes good other times ugly, but for the most part I am getting the line where I want. I haven't ventured into any trout stocked waters yet, preferring to start in areas where with open spaces so not to snag brush losing those two dollar lures with a single bad flip of the line. Even so some have ended up snapped off out of my reach. A sad trophy for nature dangling from a tree branch.
    I have had success getting a feel for stripping in line and enticing fish to bite and take the fly. I've caught a number of small mouth and rock bass in Manatawny Creek in an area in West Pottsgrove Township. A bunch of blue gills some nice size others small but none the less, I am catching fish.
     In one hole while nymphing I managed to catch eight rock bass knowing I must be doing something right. I wasn't only drifting line downstream and waiting for fish to bite but worked the fly to have a fish bite. I missed a number of times failing to set a hook or watched one jump out of the water and spit the hook but that's okay I'm tossing everything back. That way, there will be smarter fish waiting for me to try again.
   I'm off to a fly fishing trout area in the French Creek with brother Gary for the first time together. He has been working the streams too, looking for areas where we novices can start out. Wish me luck!