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Archive for March, 2011

The 2011 state of the NL

Posted by keithosaunders on March 30, 2011

Ah, the senior circuit:  Land of no designated hitter, the double switch, and the greatest team in the world, the New York Mets!  What follows will be a biased and warped view of the aggregations that comprise this fine league.  I’ll begin with the…

NL West 

I moved to Berkeley, California last year, arriving in the Bay Area on August 18th.  At that point in the 2010 season the Giants were mired in a slump and sitting three games behind the front running Padres.  They proceeded to go on a 10 game winning streak, and in September they won 18 of 26 games, clinching the division on the final day of the season.  They did it with stellar starting pitching and a bevy of clutch hitting from the unlikeliest of sources.  (can you say Cody Ross and Pat Burrell?)  I see no reason, barring injuries, that this year should be any different.

Poor San Diego.  Even though they play in a Republican city, they deserve better.  They managed to lose over half of their offense to free agency, and by half I mean Adrian Gonzalez.    

Speaking of once proud organizations, the Dodgers followed up their putrid 2010 season with an equally putrid offseason.  At this writing the bottom third of their lineup features Juan Uribe, Rod Barajas, and Tony Gwynn Jr.  Tony Gwynn Jr?  I just threw up in my mouth.

Everyone wants to make sexytime with the Rockies.  I don’t.  Troy Tulowitzki is a top five player, and Ubaldo Jiminez is an outstanding pitcher, but I’m not sold on the rest of their staff, and Huston Street can’t play a full season.  Talk to me when Aaron Cook and Jorge De La Rosa emerge as legit 2nd and 3rd starters.

Arizona has John McCain as their senator and J.J. Putz as their closer.  Nuff said.   

NL Central

For some reason the central division teams have always reminded me of the more obscure Justice League heros.  Like The Atom, Hawkman, and The Flash, they never get as much play as they should.   The division is chock full of old-time teams that fly under the radar, but are fun to watch and root for.  Call me nuts, but I have a soft spot in my heart for these koo-koo central teams.  Even Houston.

2011 could be the  Cubs year.  Hold on, I’m getting a deja vu.  Oh yeah, I said that last year….and the year before that, and the year before that…

I’d like to see Milwaukee finally get over the hump.  Be prepared for a monster walk year from Prince Fielder, and enjoy the young studs, Ryan Braun and Casey McGehee.  John Axford is a premier closer but their starters, outside of Yovani Gallardo, are a bunch of question marks.

I like the Reds.  They’re our oldest, most venerable team, and I wish them the best.  There’s a lot to be excited about in the Queen city.  Joey Votto is an animal, and Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs are stars of the future.  Reliever Aroldis Chapman can throw a baseball 150 miles per hour —  I’ll set the over-under on the date of his first rotator cuff surgery at July 2nd. 

Of Tony La Russa and the Cardinals I have this to say:  Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.  Get out of here with that delicate genius bit of batting the pitcher 8th, and emptying the entire bullpen in a two inning span in a barrage of lefty-righty matchups.  Bite me.

And now for my Charlie Sheen impression:

[clears throat] 



NL East

If I believed in reincarnation, which I don’t, but just for the sake of the story let’s say that I do —  I would want to come back as the Mets team doctor and see to it that INJURED PLAYERS SOMEDAY RETURN TO ACTION!  Carlos Beltran hasn’t played in a ballgame since the 80s.  He’s on the opening day roster, but I have the feeling that it’s more for show than anything.  Johan Santana is working on his third injury as a Met — he is expected to make his return sometime this August, which in Met years means 2015.  What can I do, they’re my team.   So oil up the home run apple, wheel out Ralph Kiner, and let’s go Mets! 

The Phillies.  Ugh.  Cliff fucking Lee?!  Are you ^%$#%^ kidding me?!!  I’ve got news for you, though.  Their starting lineup, which is missing Chase Utley, and features a brittle Jimmy Rollins, an over-the-hill Raul Ibanez, and a bevy of role players, is not going to make anyone forget the ’27 Yankees.  I am not a Brad Lidge believer, nor a Ryan Madson fan.  Still…starting pitching.  I get it.

The Braves, with their inane Tomahawk-chopping fans, are experiencing a renaissance of a sort, and could well challenge Philly for the division.  But I don’t feel like writing about them now — I’m too aggravated.

It looks like a another long year for the Nationals, but if Steven Strasberg’s arm ever heals, and first round draft pick Bryce Harper lives up to expectations, the future could be bright.  I’d like to see them finally get good —  I always liked the Expos.  It was a shame that for all the great players they developed, they were never able to make it to the World Series.    

Which brings me to Florida.  Has there ever been a team that has able accomplish so much for so few fans?  With a roster that boasts Wes Helms, Randy Choate, and Javier Vasquez, this doesn’t figure to be a year rife with accomplishment.  In fact, they could break an attendance record of sorts:  Most surly Jews ever to attend a ballgame.

Enjoy the season!

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2011 baseball preview: AL picks and pans

Posted by keithosaunders on March 29, 2011

Two more days remain until the start of the 2011 baseball season.  This can only mean one thing:  It’s time for Keitho’s first annual baseball predictions.

Now anyone can predict.  I easily predicted that San Diego State would win the NCAA tournament.  How did that work out? 

Without further ado I give you a slanted, pinko-commie view of my hopes and dreams — my pet peeves and annoyances.  I shall begin with…

The AL West

Oakland all the way — East Bay rules!  This year, with the addition of has-been Hideki Matsui, never-been Josh Willingham, a good young pitching staff, and a return to the gold uniform top of yore, the As could well contend for the division.  I give them points off, however, for having Brian Fuentes.  I’m looking forward to riding that nutty BART train down to the Coliseum from North Berkeley, and having my pick of seats in the empty old dump of a stadium that is the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.  No sushi there — working class, baby! 

Texas is still plenty good and could well contend, even without Cliff Lee.  I like their wacky run and gun style, as well as the cut of their gib.

I like the Angels even though they play in Republican Anaheim.  Their time of relevance, however, has passed. 

The Mariners play in a progressive city.  Unfortunately their team is from hunger. 


 The Al Central

This division has some classic old teams in it, but this year I have a hardon for the Chicago Whitesox.  If Peavy — that brittle bum — can get healthy they are going to be tough.  Check out this list of animals in the same lineup: 

Adam Dunn

Paul Konerko

Carols Quentin

Alex Rios

 I hate the Twins.  For years now they have been screwing up the playoffs after having had solid regular seasons.  Hey Minny, can you beat the Yankees one time?!  Look at Texas, Anaheim, and Detroit.  All of those teams succeeded where you failed miserably.  You suck. 

I like Detroit.  There’s a lot of talent on this team.  Miggy Cabrerra may be a fat tub of goo and a degenerate alchy, but let’s face it, the man can hit.  If V-Mart’s and Mags Ordonez’s, AARP cards hold out, and they get good years out of Verlander, Scherzer, and Penny, who knows… wild card?   Godspeed.


Will the Royals ever get good again?  For years they were a dominant AL West team.  Now look at them.  I SAID LOOK AT THEM!  Jeff Francis and Luke Hochevar are solid arms, and Joakim Soria is a premier closer.Let’s now examine their starting lineup… 

Mike Aviles, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Jeff Francoeur….. 

JEFF FRANCOEUR?!  Forget about them.  Next.

The Cleveland Indians.  I like them but…moving on.

The AL East 

What’s that sound I hear?  It sounds like wheelchairs and walkers in need of oiling.  Why it’s the 2011 Yankees!  The only running that Jeter, Posada, and ARod will be doing this year is to the early bird special when they play in Tampa.  Notice I didn’t throw in Mariano with that bunch.  For some reason he never gets old.  In fairness, Texiera, Cano, and yes,  Arod, are premier hitters.  But come on — there’s a lot of arthritic bones on this squad —   Oldsters such as Andruw Jones, Bartolo Colon, and Damaso Marte will be roaming the streets of New York, asking for directions to the Bronx.

I’m getting sick of Boston’s act too, but it’s impossible to deny that with the addition of Adrian Gonzalez, Bobby Jenks, and Carl Crawford, they’re going to be a tough out.  The only thing standing in their way is injuries.  

There’s a lot of talent on Toronto.  They also have a great hot dog stand out there called Shopsies.

Has there been a better story than the Rays these past few years?  An orginzation that was once the laughing-stock of the league has transformed themselves into one of the better teams, not to mention a producer of young talent.  I hope they can contend without Crawford.

The Orioles stink.

There you have it.  Tomorrow we’ll go over the National League, and Wednesday we’ll review weights and measures.

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Thank you, NCAA

Posted by keithosaunders on March 28, 2011

We’re home free.  Three more days — bink, blank, blunk — and it’s baseball season.  I can do that standing on my head.  The NCAA tournament did its job well this year.  It bridged the gap between unwatchable midseason hockey and basketball, and got us through to the other side to baseball season.

This years tournament was a honey.  The first Thursday was chock full of buzzer-beating game winners, and third round (really the second round)weekend gave us some compelling upsets and a generous dose of Jimmer Fredette. 

This past weekend, beginning with Friday night’s late games, saw a run of great endings, the likes of which I have never seen before.  Six taut, thrilling games in a row.  The Ohio State/Kentucky sweet 16 game,  a back and forth shoot out, featured a great ending that saw Ohio State tieing the game up with a three with 20 seconds to go, and Kentucky’s Brandon Knight immediately answering with a 20 footer.  

VCU won their sweet 16 game in overtime and two days later stared down Kansas to become just the third 11th seeded team to advance to the final four. 

What a run Butler has had these past two years!  They’ll be going to the final four as an eight seed after their sweet 16 victory over Wisconsin, followed by the overtime win against Florida two days later.

The two underdogs will play each other, ensuring there will be at least one cinderella team in the final, which will be played a week from Monday.  Kentucky and UConn will square off in the other game.  Me, I’m rooting for Butler to finish the job they started last year, but most of all I’m rooting for these next three days to be over with!    

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Seriously corny

Posted by keithosaunders on March 24, 2011

One night I was scanning around the upper reaches of my satellite feed (DISH network) when I came upon a series of Sirius radio stations.  Most of them have lame themes, such as 70s rock, or sounds of the 40s — not the good 40s, as in be-bop, but the corny 40s, as in Glenn Miller.

There are two stations, however, that are worth listening to.  One is Little Steven’s Underground Garage, hosted by the guitarist, and erstwhile Sopranos actor, Steven van Zandt.  The title of the station is somewhat self-explanatory.  He’s just a guy with great taste in rock.  He plays lots of obscure stuff from the 60s, and he plays some modern stuff as well, sprinkling  in a smattering of  history, as well as interesting anecdotes.  He does this with a relaxed, post-beatnick veneer of hipness.

The other station I listen to is Sirius Sinatra  I’m a big Sinatra guy, so this is right up my alley.   Sinatra is played every third or fourth song, and they’ll also play Tony Bennett, Jack Jones, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Johnny Hartman. 

Every once in a while they’ll play Rod Stewart singing a standard.  Why?   While it’s true that Stewart is singing great songs, such as You Go To My Head, and For All We Know, the level of musicianship is so far below the aforementioned artists, that it is painful to listen to. 

It’s times like these when the corporate essence of a company like Sirius shines through.  Some suit must figure that Stewart will entice the coveted baby boomers. Anyone serious enough (no pun intented) to listen to this station for any amount of time, does not want to hear the American songbook butchered.  Rod Stewart singing standards is like me performing the soliloquy from Hamlet.  

If I was Rod’s manager I would have given him this advice: 

 “Rod…bubby…what happens in the shower, stays in the shower.”

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Show and tell

Posted by keithosaunders on March 22, 2011

Here are some odds and ends while we come up for air from the weekend’s basketball bacchanal.  It was a rainy week in the Bay Area, complete with thunderstorms and golf ball-sized hail.  Coming home from a gig on Friday night the streets appeared as if they were coated with an inch of snow.  It was the remnants of a brief hail storm.  (Aren’t all hail storms brief?  I’ve never heard of an extended one, with the exception of the apocalypse)  A lot of people were outside checking out the ice-coated streets.  I heard that someone was seen skiing down the main drag.   I took this photo from my garage as I was unloading my keyboard.

  There was a Supermoon on Saturday night.   The moon was at its closest point to Earth while it was full, thus the fancy moniker.  We didn’t get to see it since it rained all weekend, but I found this photograph online taken by someone fortunate enough to be in good weather.



Finally, here is a photo I took on a break during a gig I played in San Francisco last Wednesday.  I was at a restaurant on the Embarcadero, a main thoroughfare which runs along the edge of the bay.  This was one of the few times during the week that it stopped raining, and it made for a nice photograph.   It looks like there is a rainbow in the photo, but it’s not —  just some nice cloud formations.   

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Play card baseball

Posted by keithosaunders on March 19, 2011

Back in 1945 my Dad served in the army during WW Deuce — the big one.  He was on a transport ship going overseas to Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The war was over and he ended up serving in the occupation.

On his way back to the States somebody in his platoon came down with hepatitis and the entire company had to be quarantined for a week before being allowed into the general populace.  Dad had a lot of time to kill, and he ended up inventing a card football game.  It was a pretty cool game, not only for its simplicity, but for its proximity to a real football game.  He had it all figured out — passes, running, interceptions, fumbles, and kickoff returns. 

A few years later he showed the game to my uncle, who was friends with the publisher of Esquire magazine, and the game ended up being written about in one of the issues.  It was impossible to copyright the game because anybody could play it — all you needed was a deck of cards and some free time.

He subsequently invented card baseball and card basketball.  He even invented a card boxing game but that one was a little silly.  All you needed was four cards of the same color to come up in a row and it was a knockout.  That was the entire game!  Still, we would make him play and announce match after match, and his faux-boxing announcing had us in hysterics. 

When I was around 12 years old he showed all of the games to me and I was instantly hooked.  I would spend a day or two scheduling an entire football season.  I followed the same system as the NFL — 14 game seasons (at that time) and you play the teams in your division twice.  I made a schedule for each team in the NFL and I would play every single game, plus the playoffs and Super Bowl.  The games took about 20 minutes to play so I could knock off the entire week’s worth of games over the span of three or four days. 

With baseball and basketball there were too many games to play every team, so I would pick a team — the Dodgers with baseball, and the Lakers for basketball — and I would make a schedule for them.  These were also patterned on the real life NBA or MLB schedules. 

I’d be in my room by myself, flipping those cards, announcing the game out loud in the style of Vin Scully or Chick Hearn.  I was out of my mind, but I had a ball.  It became part of my routine and I kept playing year after year. 

I played those card sports games well into my adulthood, finally giving them up around the time I moved back to Manhattan from Brooklyn in 1987.  I don’t remember making a conscious decision to stop — I gradually petered out.  I suppose I finally became an adult, or at least a semblance of one. 

Last week I downloaded an iphone app called 9 inning Pro Baseball.  The game allows you to pitch, field, and hit, and the app enables you to play entire seasons.  Ironically I seem to be stuck with the Yankees as my team since I am unable to figure out how to switch to another team.  Otherwise I would be the Mets.   

It’s a fun game, but right now I’m terrible at it.  I can pitch OK, but I can’t hit worth a lick.  My team must lead the league in strikeouts and men left on base.  Hopefully there is a learning curve and I will improve enough to make the season interesting, but right now I’m floundering at 2-7.  On the bright side, at least the Yankees will not make the playoffs.  Hopefully life will imitate fantasy this season.   


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Reinventing the interview

Posted by keithosaunders on March 17, 2011

My best friend, who worked in radio, once told me that the response from a guest that an interviewer most fears is,    “…well there’s not much to tell.” 

I submit to you exhibit A —  a promotional video of Chick Corea called Reinventing the Trio. 

When asked to talk about his acoustic trio, which features Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, Chick responds, “Very cool trio.  Good friends.  Lots of potential.”

Ya think?!  Chickey baby, throw us a fricken bone!  I know there must be some gems from the olden days that you could unearth.  How great would it have been if the Chick had offered, “I remember during the Light As a Feather Sessions– we were zooted out of our minds, having mixed ludes with jack and coke, when Stanley suggested we all get naked and sing La Marseillaise while going through Scientology auditing.”  

Now that would have been a something worth hearing.  Instead we get this nugget: 

 “It just became too complex to play electric instruments.  I realized what a pleasure it was to play with acoustic bass.”  

What the…?  Now you come to that conclusion?!  It took you thirty-five years to realize that fusion is a dead-end street?  I could have told you that thirty years ago. 

On the plus side, he’s still playing great piano.  This link will get you to Nick O’Conner’s blog where you can see a video of Chick playing Someday My Prince Will Come.  Here’s hoping for more acoustic music and less interviews.


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Posted by keithosaunders on March 13, 2011

The onset of daylight savings time draws us one critical step closer to that approaching nirvana which is the baseball season.  I refer to the period that we are in now — between the Superbowl and the beginning of the NCAA Tournament — as the dog days of winter.  It is a time of meaningless midseason NBA and NHL games, and mind-numbing spring training reports out of the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues.  

This is the time of year when we learn that Pablo Sandoval has arrived in spring training in the best shape of his life, a refrain, by the way, that Mets fans became initmate with for the duration of Sid Fernandez’s career.  It is also the time of year when we tune in to such television fodder as Battle of the Network Superstars, Tractor Pulls of the Rich and Famous, and Great Moments in Mormon Sports history. 

Now, however, we are into the homestretch.  Tonight we have the NCAA selection show, followed by a four-day respite from compelling TV, before the beginning of the Big Dance.  

I look at the NCAA Tournament as a kind of suspension bridge which takes us out of the winter doldrums into the excitement and promise of a new baseball season.  It’s a great diversion, allowing us to focus on something other than who will be the Mets fifth starter, or whether or not Jason Isringhausen will make the big club.

For the next eighteen days I’ll be glued to my TV and Twitter feed rooting for upsets.  Let’s go St Johns, George Mason, and Ferris Bueller State!    

Justin Brownlee

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Brush with greatness

Posted by keithosaunders on March 10, 2011

One of the things I like most about being a musician is that your life rarely gets boring.  You never know who you will meet, or what you will play at any given gig.  In the old days, when I was first starting out, all I wanted to do was burn.  If I wasn’t playing straight ahead jazz with great players, I wasn’t happy.  Of course this is still the pinnacle for me, but my criteria for enjoyment on a gig has evolved throughout the years.  Part of this is due to the systematic beat-down perpetrated over the years by club owners, rude audience members, and shady band leaders, but it’s also due to my own ever-changing priorities.

Here’s what I need:  First of all I need a good parking spot, one fairly close to the gig, preferably on the side of the street that is facing in the direction of home.  I would like the club to have a TV tuned to whatever sporting event is in season, and I would like it to be facing the bandstand.  If it’s baseball season, I need the Mets game to be on.  Free beer goes a long way towards my gig enjoyment, and dinner is a plus as well.  I do not require filet mignon, just enough sustenance to get me through the evening without any light-headed dizzy spells. 

All these criteria were met at a gig I played in North Beach the other day.  The gig was with a quintet, led by a singer.  It was one of those gigs where everyone in the club was pleasantly half-drunk, extremely convivial and obliging.  A good time was had by all. 

The singer had a sore throat that night so she asked us to transpose everything to lower keys.  You would think that she would want the keys taken down a whole step, or at the most, a minor 3rd.  Nope.  She had us transpose a 4th, sometimes even a 5th lower!  It got to the point where she was approaching Barry White territory.

 Towards the end of the night this older lady sat in.  She said to me, “Play All of Me, but play it like Louis Prima would!”  So I did, and although she clearly was not a trained vocalist, we had a good time romping our way through the old standard in the swing-shuffle style of Prima. 

At the end of the night the bass player asked if I knew who that singer was.  I said I didn’t, so he informed me, “That’s Carol Doda, who is credited with being the world’s first topless dancer.”  Apparently she is also the first woman ever to have breast implants. 

There you have it.  A true brush with greatness, and according to Keitho’s Approved Standard of Gigs — ASOG ™ — a succesful evening.

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Return to Al Di Meola

Posted by keithosaunders on March 8, 2011

Last night, to celebrate my wife’s birthday we went to Yoshi’s with a couple of friends to see the guitar legend, Al Di Meola.  I had never seen him play before but I remembered him from his work in the mid 70s with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever.

Being that I’d never been much of a fusion guy, I hadn’t closely followed the Di Meola’s career.  I remembered that he had prodigious technique, and that back in the day he was considered something of a guitar god.  I was half-expecting to see a decrepid old man hobble out to the stage, sit in a rocking chair, and recount stories of the glory days with Chick, Stanley, and Lenny.  Instead this vibrant, raven-haired man bounded onto the stage looking like he was ready for a triathlon.  I checked his bio and found out that he is 56 — he could easily pass for 36.  

Di Meola has an easy, relaxed rapport with the audience and sports a dry, deadpan wit.  He spoke for a few minutes before beginning the set, introducing the band, which consisted of musicians from all over Europe, Cuba, and the Bronx.  I always like it when musicians take some time out to talk to the audience.  When it’s done well, as in Di Meola’s case, it establishes an intimate rapport.

The set began, and it soon became apparent that Di Meola has retained the impeccable technique that he is known for.  He played the first two-thirds of the evening on an acoustic guitar that was connected to a synthesizer. (probably through MIDI.)  The synth doubled the note one octave higher, adding some texture, and was not overpowering.  It   He would alternate between the synth and a distortion effect, which he used on some of the more frenetic songs.  

While Di Meola’s playing was remarkable, it was tough for this old hard-bopster to connect with much of what he was doing.  There was a lot of odd time signatures, as well as songs in 6/4 and 6/8.  Very little of the music was in 4/4, and there were hardly any grooves that fell into a pocket for any length of time.

I find that the older I get, the less fascination I have with how many notes can fit into a bar.  I’m more interested in how wide a quarter note can be, and building tension through interplay within the musicians.  Even when Bird was playing at the most impossibly fast tempos, the music always felt relaxed and in the pocket. 

Not that Di Meola does not seem relaxed.  It is remarkable how easily he executes, and he does have his lyrical moments.  It’s just that I, as a listener, am not relaxed.

That said, it was a great night of food and music.  I finally got to see Yoshi’s, which is a nice spot to hear music, if not a little cavernous.  It’s a big club, or a small theatre — take your pick!

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