Oh, the places you go

image from fingerfood.typepad.com NEW YORK – It wasn’t too long ago that Major League Baseball clubs used to fly commercial. These were in the days before a person had to take their shoes off and throw away their toothpaste just to walk into the waiting room before boarding a flying Greyhound bus, but it’s still amazing nonetheless.

Imagine dropping in to Denver International and seeing the Kansas City Royals these days. The traveling secretary would be gathering all the suitcases and bags while Mike Sweeney and Zack Grienke sported over-tailored suits with single-breasted jackets and mock turtle neck shirts.

Someone get those guys an Oxford shirt and a clip-on tie.

Yes, we’ve come a long way since 1974… kind of. These days teams like the Phillies fly chartered planes from city to city because they don’t want to mix with the rabble lying shoeless about the concourse inhaling Cinnabon and begging for autographs or snapshots from a cell phone. They also get to avoid the security lines by going through their preflight screening at the ballpark.

Yes, that’s right. Big league ballplayers go directly from the clubhouse and through a metal detector with a TSA representative waiting on the other side so the players can autograph the Homeland Security-issued handheld scanner.

Nope, don’t expect to see pro ballplayers dashing through the airport like O.J. in that old TV commercial on his way to the Hertz counter. Hell, don’t expect to see anyone you recognize from red-and-white pinstriped double knits renting a car at the airport. Not when it’s easier to send for a town car if the shuttle from the hotel to ballpark leaves early.

Anyway, aside from the splendor of private, first-class travel with no lines or shoe removal, ballplayers get their own private cars on the Amtrak train when they roll into towns less than two hours away. Oh, even though the MLB players’ union is the most powerful union in history (you know, since the average salary of the rank-and-file is over $2 million), even they aren’t so wasteful on insisting on a chartered flight from Philly to New York or D.C. … you know, because buses and trains are so efficient.

The point is the Phillies are rolling up to New York for a four-game (wrap-around) series this weekend and Monday. In an unforeseen twist of fate, the series isn’t built up as a clash of teams seeking revenge or battling for the top spot in the NL East. Instead, the big news is the return of an ex-Met turned Phillie and an ex-Phillie turned Met.

Weird, wild stuff.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com But not as weird and wild as the stories coming out of some of the other transportation hubs in and around New York City. According to reports via the wonder of social media, musicians Ted Leo and Biz Markie were stranded at LaGuardia Airport. The thing about that is Ted Leo was supposed to be in Toronto with his bandmates, The Pharmacists, for an opening spot on a bill with Pearl Jam.

You know… that Pearl Jam.

Apparently three-fourths of the quartet, including Philadelphian Chris Wilson, made it Toronto ahead of the fierce weather the tore through the eastern seaboard. Leo, however, spent the day wiling away the time in Queens hoping for a flight to get him to the gig on time.

Word has it he’s still in Queens… right next door to CitiField, in fact.

A text message was sent to Chris Wilson – the splendid drummer as well as hardcore Phillies and Eagles fan – for the finer details of the evening, but according to preliminary tweets from Leo, The Pharmacists will play before Pearl Jam’s proper set this evening. We haven’t heard back from Wilson yet probably because, you know, he’s on stage rockin.

“Word I’m getting is that there WILL be a Pharamcists’ show, just w/o the ‘Ted Leo & the’ part!” Leo tweeted. “I have to admit, I wish I was in the audience.”

Yeah… here-here. Then again, it’s always a good thing to be in the audience for a Ted Leo & The Pharmacists show. More intriguing is the idea of Eddie Vedder & The Pharmacists, which just might be the opening act in Toronto this evening.

Ain’t that something?

Anyway, maybe the best way to make up the gig would be for TL/Rx to play one of the four shows at The Spectrum in late October.

Finally, it’s worth noting that even some of the Phillies had trouble getting out to Queens this afternoon. Pedro Martinez was supposed to be at CitiField for a press conference at 3:30 p.m. but got snarled up in the traffic leaving Manhattan. In one of the stranger sights the visitors’ clubhouse was completely bare at 3:30, though since the game was delayed by 76 minutes at the outset, it all worked out in the end.

It is worth noting that the baseball scribes were all seated in the press box long before 3 p.m. …

That No. 7 train runs like clockwork.

updated Aug. 25
Eddie Vedder + The Pharmacists

Making the scene

Ryan HowardPhew! It was a rather eventful weekend what with the big fight in Las Vegas and putting up the Christmas decorations and all of that.

But aside from the Bonnie & Clyde kids or “Rittenhouse Swindlers[1]” as they could be called, and the Eagles loss to the Giants, not much happened in these parts. In fact, it seems as if the Philly folks were looking to get their names in the papers they had to leave town this weekend.

Yes, it seems that not only was Bernard Hopkins making the scene at Oscar de la Hoya’s party before Floyd Mayweather dropped Ricky Hatton in 10 in Las Vegas, but also Ryan Howard was on the prowl, too. According to the gossip columnist in Vegas, the Phillies’ slugger was at the Tryst nightclub [2]inside the Wynn resort with ex-Phillie Kenny Lofton. Charles Barkley was there, too, the paper reported.

Apparently, Sir Chuck was spotted at a lot of places in Vegas during the weekend before the fight. So too were Will Ferrell, Lennox Lewis and Sylvester Stallone.

Who knows, maybe Howard also hit Vegas to try and lure back local resident Aaron Rowand to the Phillies. That seems doubtful, though. Maybe Ryan was too busy in the hotel gym getting in shape for spring training?

Around these parts we got the ol’ tree up and all of that mess. Ever the traditionalists, a few years ago we bought a tree that appears to be made from the old turf they used to have at the Vet. I walked by it this morning and strained my anterior cruciate ligament.

If only it came in martini blue…

Aside from that I went in for a little A.R.T. on my tight-as-a-drum hip flexor. It’s a funny thing… I can run, walk and stand just like anyone else, but if I sit on a soft chair or the couch, the hip tightens up so much that I can’t get up and I’m left to sit there like a Buddha or Bill Conlin. It’s pretty damn frustrating.

What’s that about? I can run 90 miles per week but I can’t sit on a recliner?

Such a mess…

Ted LeoFinally, Ted Leo and his outfit, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, wrapped up a seemingly never-ending tour in with shows in New York City and Philly last week and a pair over the weekend in Washington, D.C. After playing and touring the United States and Europe quite continuously since 2005, Ted and the gang say they are going to take a bit of break to recover, rest and make another record.

The rest of us are left to ponder a world where the Pharmacists aren’t out there plotting and scheming their moves and walking that line for us. Yes, it’s a well-deserved and needed break, but we are weaker as a culture when Ted isn’t out there in the night on some stage playing as hard as he can. The Pharmacists go to work every time — it’s just so inspirational and so beautiful.

Michael Vick got 23 months! What’s that line from D.L. Hughley: Somewhere O.J. is watching and saying, “Man, I’m glad I didn’t mess with any dogs…”

Happy birthday to Meg White, Michael Clarke Duncan, Bobby Flay, Nia Peeples, J Mascis, Susan Dey, Emily Dickinson and Mark Aguirre.

[1] Isn’t that redundant? And did I make that up? It has a nice ring.

[2] Is it me or does a nightclub named Tryst sound like something out of George Carlin bit?

Everybody’s working for the weekend

Last night was an easy for those looking for the story at the ballpark. Despite the Phillies’ comeback to bring them within two runs in the 7-5 defeat to the Atlanta Braves, Adam Eaton and his latest poor outing was all the talk after the game.

And it made all the papers.

The reason why, frankly, is the numbers which are quite telling. Eaton’s his league-worst ERA jumped from 6.09 to 6.36; he has allowed 17 hits and 12 runs in his last 7 1/3 innings. Worse, he has given up 46 earned runs and 76 hits in his last 10 starts, covering just 52 innings. That’s a 7.96 ERA in a little more than five innings per outing for a team in the middle of a pennant race.

“If I pitch the way I’m capable of we would be in first place,” Eaton said in delivering the money quote.

That, of course, is the big issue. If Eaton could have given the Phillies anything over the past 10 starts the Phillies and Mets could be neck and neck in the East. Instead it could shape up to be another one of those woulda, coulda, shoulda seasons for the Phillies.

Afterwards, manager Charlie Manuel remained non-committal in offering classic non-denial denials regarding Eaton’s future in the Phillies’ rotation. However, while waiting in the clubhouse for Eaton to finish his post-game meal and chat with the scribes, general manager Pat Gillick scurried into the manager’s office and closed the door. It remained that way for at least 20 minutes.

Could they have been talking about Eaton?

Saturday was a fairly eventful day for those who follow both Floyd Landis and Ted Leo. Unfortunately/fortunately, those folks were able to get updates on one of those subjects, that being another legendary Landis ride in a pretty tough bike race.

On very little training and no racing since last summer, Landis rode for second place in the very challenging Leadville 100 mountain bike race in Leadville, Colo. It’s a challenging race not only because of the rugged terrain and monster climbs, but also because the race starts at approximately 10,000-feet of altitude. In fact, I recall asking Floyd about doing the race eerier this summer with a raised-eyebrows, “Dude, are you really going to do that race on no training” tone.

Here’s what he said in June when I asked him if he was going to do Leadville:

“Yeah, it seemed like a good idea back when I was training more… that’s going to be painful. I’ve been riding a little more since the hearing ending – I’ve been trying to get some more miles in. If I can just get a few decent weeks of training in I’ll be alright. I don’t particularly like to race at altitude and this one is at 10,000-feet, but I’ll be fine.

“I don’t like altitude at all. I hate it. I did that thing a few weeks ago in Vail (Colorado) at the Teva Mountain Games for a fund raiser and that was a problem. The problem there was that I sat in that hearing for 10 days and I didn’t do [anything]. I didn’t even move. It wasn’t like I even exercised, I just sat there. Then I got on my bike a week later and tried to race and it was painful. Hopefully I can get some time up at altitude somewhere.”

But Floyd, as described by his wife Amber in a famous interview, is “one tough bitch.”

Around the 25-mile mark of the 100-mile race, Floyd took a nasty spill where he bloodied his left his hip, knee and elbow, shredded his shorts and bled all gnarly-like on the rest of the ride. Nevertheless, it seems that a crash on that hip would be a good way to test it out to see how it’s holding up after last autumn’s surgery… right?

Despite that, Floyd battled mountain-bike Hall of Famer, Dave Wiens to the course record. According to reports – as always TBV out-performed itself – Floyd was fighting Wiens for the victory until he got a flat tire.

Still, he nearly caught Wiens, finishing 103 seconds behind.

According to The Associated Press: “I chased too hard after the flat,” Landis said, bandages on three fingertips and blood-soaked gauze from just above the knee to his ankle. “He probably was going to win anyway, even without the flat. He’s in great shape.”

Wiens said, according to Bicycling Magazine: “That was the hardest and the best mountain bike race of my life,” said Wiens at the finish. “Mentally, physically, it was brutal. And having Floyd Landis behind you sucks.”

He is, after all, a tough bitch.

Meanwhile, I found nothing in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post or from the DC-area scenesters regarding Ted Leo and The Pharmacists’ show in Towson, Md. last night.

What the hell?

Anyway, Ted and the gang play a free show in Brooklyn this afternoon before taking a much-needed and well-deserved month off.

Good show

If there is one thing the Phillies do well (and often) is pre-game ceremonies and alumni events. When it comes to remembering their past, the Phillies are very good. The interesting thing is that the Phillies don’t have too many good times to remember… one World Series title in 124 seasons? What would anyone want to remember about that?

But the Phillies forge on and put together very tasteful and not-too sappy programs despite, as one player asked me when I told him there was a ceremony before a game, “What, is this the 12th anniversary of the 10th anniversary?”

We all had a good laugh at that one.

Nevertheless, the Phillies put together a nice program for the late, great John Vukovich last night in which the true spirit of the “Phillies Way” was inducted into the team’s Wall of Fame. All of the team’s greats were there – Carlton, Schmidt, Boone, Allen and on down the line – and judging from the looks on the faces and the ardor of emotion it was easy to tell that the night meant a lot to them.

Quite simply, John Vukovich was the Phillies and if anyone deserves a ceremony or a remembrance before a ballgame, it’s Vuk.

But then again, every time there is a baseball game played by the Phillies it is a wonderful reminder of the man’s legacy. Nine innings on the diamond in South Philadelphia is a good ceremony, too.

Meanwhile, I have a dilemma. Adam Eaton and the Phillies face the Braves tonight in the middle game of yet another important series. It’s a game in which Eaton really needs to pitch well in not just for the Phillies, but for his survival in the team’s rotation. With a 6.09 ERA, Eaton has the worst ERA in the league.

But in Towson, Md. (a much more pleasant drive from my home than on the Schuylkill to the ballpark), Ted Leo along with his Pharmacists, will be playing.

What to do?

Well, what to do and wanting to do are always competing.

I “discovered” Neil Best’s Media Watchdog blog recently (kind of the way Columbus “discovered” America) and it’s an entertaining read.

Tonight’s Powerball drawing is up to $161 million.

Yep, this could be my last day of work.

In the need of relief

After looking at the names above the lockers in the Phillies’ clubhouse on Friday night it’s obvious that the team really needs another reliever or two. Because of the roster moves made on Friday where Jon Lieber and Freddy Garcia were placed on the disabled list retroactive to March 23, it seems very likely that Zach Segovia, the second-round draft pick from 2002 who missed all of 2004 recovering from Tommy John surgery, will make the Opening Day roster despite never having pitched above Double-A.

Of course there are a lot of successful big league pitchers who never pitched in Triple-A and Segovia could be one of them based on his solid numbers in 2006. But is Segovia a pitcher on a playoff-bound team in 2007? Maybe he is though it seems evident that the Phillies’ brass would rather have a complimentary arm or two.

As Ruben Amaro Jr. said while standing in the middle of a veritable rugby-esque scrum of baseball scribes, “The fact we’re going to have Opening Day on Monday for us doesn’t mean we’re going to stop working. We’re going to continue to try and improve our club. We feel comfortable with what we have right now and actually, the bullpen has thrown very well lately. They get a chance to hold down their jobs.”

Meanwhile, here’s what the authors of the Baseball Prospectus 2007 yearbook say about the Blue Jays’ Francisco Rosario, the reliever reported to be the subject of trade talks:

Once considered a high-upside guy, Francisco Rosario has had his share of arm troubles and has gotten older without the upside coming around, but he could be salvaged as a decent arm out of the bullpen if he maintains the uptick in control he experienced with Syracuse last year.

More observations and notes
Cole Hamels gave up four home runs to the Red Sox on Friday night, but he didn’t look all that bad. The telling at-bat was when the lefty had Manny Ramirez in a 0-2 hole, seemingly had him struck out on a 1-2 curve before giving up a 3-2 homer that sailed over the right-field fence like a waffle ball gently clearing a hedge in a suburban yard.

Afterwards, Hamels said he was just working on some stuff.

“I’m just throwing pitches on counts that I normally wouldn’t,” Hamels said, noting that he threw 20-plus pitches in each of the first two innings. “I think along the lines of throwing fastballs in fastball hitters’ counts, which is just something that will help me in the long run.”

This is the fourth season for Citizens Bank Park, which is one year more than the amount of time I spent covering games at the Vet… how did that happen? Regarding the Bank, I’ve received a number of e-mails from readers suggesting I post reviews of the cheese steaks and other concessions at the park. I assume these suggestions are serious so I’ll just start by noting that I’m one of those annoying vegetarians that leans toward the organic side of dining. That said, I was informed that Rick’s Steaks, the cheese steakery located on Ashburn Alley now serves something they call a “veggie” cheese steak, which I assume is not a steak at all. Besides, all vegetarians want to eat food that almost tastes like dead animal carcasses. I assume my sarcasm font works…

Nevertheless, I will walk out to Rick’s and give it a try at some point and tell everyone all about it.

I just heard Gary Matthews work with Harry and Wheels for the first time…

If more evidence of the Philadelphia print media was needed, it seemed to be proven this week in its relative neglect of Ted Leo’s arrival in town to kick off his much-heralded tour of the U.S. and Europe. I say much-heralded based on the almost ridiculous amount of coverage for a performer of Leo’s ilk and political stance. Outlets like NPR produced long interviews and even presented a web cast of his show in Washington, D.C. on Thursday night, while the The New York Times, Washington Post, New York Observer, and The Onion AV Club (just to name a few) have offered glowing a full reports on the new album and tour.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia – hometown of sumptuously tufted drummer Chris Wilson – there are crickets. Actually, that’s not true or even fair. There were six or seven paragraphs in two of the town’s papers, which includes all the local shoppers and “alternative” weeklies.

Anyway, here’s the MP3 of the NPR show at the 9:30 Club in D.C. Sounded like it was a good time.

More: NPR Interview
More: A.V. Club

Feelin’ groovy

It just figures that on the day Jon Lieber was banished to a seat near the parking lot in the bullpen so he can be closer to his environment-hating vehicle that Freddy Garcia would struggle through an outing with a sore right biceps.

Maybe they can trade Lieber for another starter?

Kidding (kind of) aside, if Garcia’s biceps turns out to be anything that could sideline him for any period of time general manager Pat Gillick will look very bright for not trading Lieber… that is if he even attempted to trade the big righty. With such a dearth of quality pitching out there it’s amazing that there wasn’t any team that wanted to make a deal. And in talking to the writers after receiving the news that he was no longer a starter, Lieber pressed on the notion that someone ought to want him as a starter.

Quoth Lieber: “It’s either 29 teams really don’t like me, or they’re asking too much …”

Most importantly, neither the Phillies nor Garcia seems too concerned about the biceps, the pitcher’s rather pedestrian velocity during the spring or his 11.42 ERA. Better yet, the only the Phillies seem concerned about is the bullpen.

Regarding Garcia’s velocity that reportedly has topped out at approximately 88 m.p.h., assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said, “He started off throwing 80 or 81 (m.p.h.). He’s a veteran guy. He knows how to get himself ready. People who have arm injuries usually their velocity goes (down), but his was building. Pain is an inhibitor of velocity. We were encouraged he was going north.”

There. All better.

In the meantime, Garcia will b re-evaluated on Saturday when team physician Michael Ciccotti arrives in Clearwater.

Here’s what I know about hockey:

a.) Keith Jones is one of the greatest story tellers ever. He’s like the Canadian Mark Twain or something. That guy can spin a yarn about anything and even better for whomever he’s with, he often does.
b.) When ESPN broadcast the NHL before the lockout, the national ratings rated below the WNBA.
c.) Boy is that Keith Jones ever a fun guy.
d.) The NHL or hockey seems to be able to take the extraordinary, like, for instance, a fight, and make it mundane. Actually, boring is a better word. Sometimes it seems as if the fights in the NHL are choreographed or worse, detracting from what really is an exciting sport. In the case of Todd Fedoruk, the Flyers’ designated fighter who was taken off the ice on a stretcher and to a hospital in Manhattan last night after catching a right-hand lead square on the jaw from Colton Orr, the recent bouts of fighting have bordered on dangerous. At least that’s the way it seemed to this untrained eye, which has seen Fedoruk catch more than his share of blows to the head lately. It seems as if Fedoruk isn’t just putting his career in jeopardy with the continued fighting, but perhaps even his long-term health as well.
e.) Have we mentioned Keith Jones?

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists new record is out and ready to be downloaded, burned or however else people legally obtain music these days. Critics are giving Leo’s Living with the Living much-deserved rave reviews, though in this wannabe critics’ view, the album isn’t as strong as his earlier releases.

Nevertheless, there are many more hits than misses in Leo and his Pharmacists’ latest opus, including live staples “The Sons of Cain” and “Army Bound.”

And the live performances are really where Leo’s appeal is. If he isn’t the hardest working and most engaging man in the music biz, then he’s damn close. Better yet, do yourself a favor and go see Leo & the Pharmacists at the TLA on South Street next Wednesday night. You’ll thank me later.

Ted Leo + Pharmacists in Philadelphia, Dec. 10, 2004 (and more)

Little Dawn

Timorous Me

Me & Mia

Counting Down the Hours

Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone

My Vein Ilin

Sons of Cain @ South Street Seaport, Aug. 26, 2005

Me & Mia video

The High Party @ South Street Seaport

Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone video

The High Party solo

Dancing in the Dark – Jan. 26, 2007

Johnny Appleseed/Rudie Can’t Fail – July, 2005

next week: The Evens

Ted Leo + Pharmacists beat Eagles every time

Last Sunday I caught the second half of the Eagles’ loss to the Titans while soaking my achy right hip and hamstrings in a Jacuzzi of a beachside resort suite while allowing Richard Ford’s workmanlike prose from his latest novel pour over me. As far as Sunday’s go, this one was hard to beat.

Until this past Sunday, that is.

Instead of the beachside resort with a Jacuzzi in the master bedroom, my wife and I ambled over to the Chameleon here in Lancaster to catch Ted Leo & the Pharmacists regale a couple hundred folks who, like me, decided an hour or two in a dark room with Mr. Leo and his Pharmacists was a more interesting way to spend an evening.

The only way it could have been better is if Ted and the gang played while I soaked my hip and hammys, but I’ll take what we got.

What we got was an inspired – though shortened because of a sinus infection – performance with one of the true punk bards in an “industry” sorely lacking of such things. In a workmanlike and rip-roaring set, Leo and the tightly knit Pharmacists (the demure Dave Lerner on bass and epically bearded Chris Wilson on drums) mixed in a few new ones from a soon-to-be released recording with the older favorites. Leo and the gang did this despite revealing that he was fighting a “bloody sinus infection” and working with a fingernail rebuilt with super glue.

Like an athlete trying to make it through a season, Leo says he does what it takes to make it through touring nine months out of the year. Better yet, the fact that Leo and his Pharmacists are able to get so many gigs even when they aren’t supporting a new record, DVD or some other multimedia explosion is a testament to the band’s ethic and spirit.

From a few interviews, it appears as if Leo is often asked about his ferocious ethic and why he chooses to grind out a living as a musician as opposed to something more mainstream or bourgeoisie. For instance, try this one:

So how to describe Leo for the uninitiated? According to a dispatch in a Hartford Courant from writer Brian LaRue:

Ted Leo’s almost impossibly melodic and wordy Celtic-Motown-punk rock tunes have themselves given thousands of fans hope in the face of political, social and personal bad vibes, certain events of 2006 have demonstrated that Ted Leo himself is one wiry, literary vegan in his mid-thirties whom you probably shouldn’t mess with. Dude is a veritable vibe-bulldozer.

That’s a hell of a paragraph with a lot to digest. Certainly there is a punk tinge to Leo’s work, kind of like a lot of the bands from England that followed The Clash to the U.S. during the late 1970s. Those bands weren’t “punk” like the Sex Pistols or Ramones, but they were “punk” because they had a DIY and progressive ethic.

Billy Bragg certainly comes to mind and is a popular starting point for many music writers. I suppose that’s fair simply because I remember the very first time I ever heard Billy Bragg just as I remember the very first time I heard Ted Leo. In fact, I can recall sitting in a chillingly cool air-conditioned room in New York City during my first year of college and hearing Bragg’s unmistakable brogue and jagged guitar. I also remember saying out loud to anyone who was in the vicinity, “Oh my. What is this”?

It was “A New England,” just as it was “Timorous Me” nearly 15 years later.

Actually, it seems as if the group is are a bunch of “musician’s musicians.” Though I’m far from an insider, most of the people I know who are speak glowingly about Leo. Is there a better compliment than one from one’s peers?

Anyway, Leo and the gang appear to have offered a more inspiring performance on Sunday night than the local football team. Besides, it’s pretty difficult to not shake and shimmy when “Me & Mia” gets going.

Ted Leo + Pharmacists in Philadelphia on Dec. 10, 2004

But by the time we got home there was still a lot of football to be played in Indianapolis. However, my wife grabbed the remote and opted for Brokeback Mountain on HBO instead of the Eagles. I guess they are kind of the same, right?

More: Me & Mia
Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?