Reliving deadlines past

gillickA year ago we were in Washington wondering what was going to happen. The Phillies were supposedly involved in the bargaining for Manny Ramirez as well as a handful of relief pitchers as the trading deadline approached. Ultimately, nothing happened, but that didn’t make the day any less fun.

Shane Victorino, a player who was rumored to be the chip in some of those supposed deals, put on a show by pretending to sweat out the final minutes to the deadline. The reality, as we learned, was that the talk was just a lot of hot air. However, in looking back at quotes from then-GM Pat Gillick, the Phillies nearly made some deals.

One of those was, indeed, Manny Ramirez.

“I think at some point we had a good feeling about it,” Gillick said after the deadline had passed a year ago.

Good? How good?

“We were talking,” Gillick said then. “We were involved. We just couldn’t get where they wanted to be, and we couldn’t get where we wanted to be. So it was just one of those things.”

“Good” and “talking” are such ambiguous terms. The truth is some people talk about doing things that make them feel good all the time, but instead end up following the same old patterns day in and day out. Plus, everyone’s interpretation of “talk” isn’t always the same. For instance, it would be interesting to hear if Boston GM Theo Epstein had the same “good feeling” about sending Ramirez to the Phillies, but in the end it turned out to be “just one of those things.”

In retrospect, the Phillies were better off without Ramirez. They have three All-Stars in the outfield and the worst thing that happened to any of them was an extended trip to the disabled list for Raul Ibanez.

Otherwise, smooth sailing.

In looking back, the Phillies nearly pulled off a deal for a starter, too. It was going to be a three-way deal according to Gillick and one insider with the club portrayed the starter as, “decent.”

At the last minute one of the teams backed out.

“It was a three-way deal and we got agreement form one club and they were trying to get agreement on players from another club,” Gillick revealed of the unknown starter last year.

Think about this for a second… what if the deals had gone through? Would they have changed the season in any way, shape or form? Could it be the best deal the Phillies made last year was not making a deal at all?

IT’s difficult to speculate because the Phillies got so hot in mid September and tore through every team all the way to the end. Guys like Jayson Werth, a player who emerged during that hot streak and carried into his All-Star year, like to point out how strong the Phillies always play in September and beyond.

It’s difficult to argue with the results.

But now that Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco are with the team, it’s interesting to wonder “what if.” Would Lee even be here if the Phillies had gotten that “decent” starter in the three-way deal? We’ll never know, but in the meantime Lee will make his debut with the Phillies on Friday night… hours after Pedro Martinez wraps up a rehab start in Triple-A.

That’s decent.

*
falafel houseLast year at this time the Phillies were in Washington where a dude like me got to visit The Amsterdam Falafel House. It was such a good time that I thought I’d re-post an excerpt of it here:

Now I have never been to Amsterdam or Holland, but folks who know better say the Adams-Morgan Amsterdam Falafel Shop is as authentic as it gets. In fact, one giveaway to the authenticity of the TAMF (not sure people call it this, but you know, I’ll put it out there) is that they serve brownies and make it a point to inform the consumer that they are not “enhanced.”

Enhanced is my word. On the menu they were called “virgin” brownies.

Yeah.

Anyway, the menu is very basic at The Amsterdam Falafel Shop in Adams-Morgan, located just a half block from the famous Madam’s Organ – the place Playboy magazine named the best bar in the United States. In fact, they serve just falafel (two sizes), Dutch baked fries (two sizes) and un-enhanced brownies (square shaped).

Each sandwich is made to order and each diner can add any of the 18 different sauces and toppings from the garnish bar.

It’s definitely a treat, man. Plus, they usually stay open late (but not past midnight on a Sunday as I learned last month) so if you find yourself in the area and get a hankering for authentic Dutch falafel, by all means, drop in.

After lunch, I drove to the ballpark via Capitol Hill where it looked as if there was a lot of governing going on… a lot of gentrification, too. It seems to me that The District has at least one Starbucks for every household. Interestingly, neighborhoods that were once talked about in hushed, scared tones are now filled with people walking around in madras shorts and business suits with a chai latte in hand.

Good times… good times.

//

Hey, it’s Barack! Yeah, that Barack

Phew!

Lots of craziness going on here… where do we start? Maybe with Google Chrome? I downloaded it yesterday hours after its launch and have been using it ever since. I was a Firefox devotee for years, but I am going to give Google’s new browser a try. So far it seems a little quicker and maybe even a little less buggy. We’ll see how it goes.

Or do we begin with Donyell Marshall, the newest addition to the 76ers. Interestingly, I actually recall the very first time I ever saw Marshall – a 14-season NBA veteran – play basketball.

It was either 1988 or 1989 and I was sitting on the home team bench our gym at McCaskey High School. Marshall, probably a freshman or sophomore in high school at the time, rolled down 222 with his teammates from Reading High. Back then Donyell was built like a Q-Tip. He was all legs, tall and skinny. Like, really skinny. Even though Reading was always a good basketball team that usually gave us fits, no one knew much about Marshall. He just looked so young and we figured he was in the game because he was taller than his other teammates.

You can’t teach height, they say.

Nevertheless, no one really paid too much attention to Donyell until a point early in the game when he caught the ball on the low block at the hoop on the far end of the gym, turned around with a man on him, jumped straight up into the air and dunked the ball with one hand.

That one got our attention. Besides, the gym got really quiet after that. “Uh-oh,” is what we thought.

Anyway, Marshall is with the Sixers now. Too bad they don’t train at Franklin & Marshall College any more…

Maybe we can start with the Phillies and the trip to Washington, which is where I am sitting as I type. Certainly left-handed starter Cole Hamels turned in another stellar outing last night to beat the Nationals to keep the Phillies two games behind the Mets in the NL East. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that Hamels will start in the big, nationally televised Sunday night game against the New York Mets and Johan Santana.

Coming off a 4-0 win over the Nationals on Tuesday night where he tossed 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball, Hamels pushed his league-leading innings total to 203. More importantly, Hamels threw 104 pitches on Tuesday and 108 in seven innings in the previous start in Chicago on Aug. 28. Hamels has thrown 100 pitches or more in 17 of his 29 starts, but has gone over 110 eight times and just twice since July 3.

Moreover, Hamels has better statistics this year when he pitches on four days rest (8-2, 2.47) as opposed to five (4-5, 4.14). Sometimes, Hamels says, he feels a little “off” with that extra day of rest.

“I understood the situation. I think this is the time that really matters,” Hamels said. “I know five days is what I just did five days ago. That’s what I’ve been able to do all year, and that’s what I’ll do this time. The main guy, when it’s the playoffs or the division championship or the big division rivalry, that’s what I want to be. It’s time to step up to the plate, and I know that I’m ready for it.”

Manuel and Dubee feel the same way.

“He’s coming off 108 pitches and 104 [Tuesday],” Dubee said. “You have to give the kid credit – he’s worked hard and kept himself in shape. He’s preserved his body and prepared well.”

Besides, with just 22 games remaining in the season after Wednesday’s game against Washington, the Phillies are putting a lot of stock into the series against the Mets. Sunday’s game, in particular, is one of those two-game swing outings. Since Kendrick turned in a 6.08 ERA during August, and was tattooed for six runs, eight hits and three walks last Monday in a loss to the Nats, the decision wasn’t too difficult.

Actually, it was just a matter of Hamels recovering well enough following Tuesday’s start to give the thumbs up.

“I talked to Kyle – he wants to pitch,” Dubee said. “I respect that. But we want Cole.”

However, it seems as if the weather could play a role in this weekend’s pitching matchups against the Mets. Saturday’s early forecast shows lots of rain in the New York Metropolitan area, which could force a wash out. If that occurs, Sunday would set up a day-night doubleheader in which both Kendrick and Hamels would pitch.

No, we’re not going to discuss the weather.

However, it should be noted that it is pretty damn hot down here. But then again (as we have written in the past) this city was built on top of a swamp.

Speaking of Washington (weren’t we?), the town is rather empty this week. Part of the reason is because the Republican convention is in St. Paul, Minn. this week. Another reason is because Congress is not in session. Still another reason is because campaign season is in full affect so everyone is out doing all of that stuff.

Nevertheless, Washington is an industry town (yes, we’ve broached this topic in the past, too) and the product is government. However, it seems different here these days. Most of the time the politicians eschew the so-called Georgetown cocktail circuit or even routine weekends hanging around with each other in The District in order to return to their home districts. As a result, the theory goes, fewer behind-the-scenes deals get brokered and the government is less efficient.

If that’s possible.

Yes, that was too easy.

Speaking of Franklin & Marshall, Washington, the campaign season and basketball enthusiasts, get this:

Barack Obama is going to be in my backyard tomorrow.

Yes, that Barack Obama.

And when I mean in my backyard, I’m not kidding. See, the Senator from Illinois will bring his presidential campaign to Lancaster’s Buchanan Park at 5 p.m. tomorrow. Chances are he will give a speech and rally his supporters into being even more supportive. Plus, such events are fun because it brings out all sorts of people – both pro- and anti-whatever the issue is. Frankly, I enjoy the spectacle.

Since it’s early September and steaming hot out there, Barack won’t be showing up at Buchanan Park to sled down the ol’ hill. However, I imagine they could open up the wading pool on the other side of the sledding hill for him.

Of course, he could hang near the dog run, too.

Whatever Barack decides to do, it will be a fun event. Guys running for president don’t make it to Buchanan Park all that often, and I should know. After all, not only have I lived in the neighborhood near the park most of my life, but back during the summer of ’88, I was the Buchanan Park playground supervisor for the Lancaster Rec Commission. Yep, that was me. I coached the softball team, planned activities, lifeguarded the pool and generally kept the riff-raff of my home neighborhood in line.

Then again, Buchanan Park is named for a president. President James Buchanan, in fact, and the guy lived two blocks away on Marietta Ave. I even suspect the land that was quartered off and developed into Buchanan Park was originally part of the President’s estate, called, “Wheatland.”

Buchanan Park, of course, is directly adjacent to F&M College, which just so happens to be where John McCain will visit next Tuesday.

Yes, that John McCain.

That’s two different presidential candidates in less than a week, if you are scoring at home. That’s also two different spectacles I hope to attend.

Regardless, those guys must really like Lancaster. Tomorrow will be Obama’s third trip to town and it will be McCain’s second in two months. If either guy wants to stop by, they are more than welcome. We’ll be in the neighborhood.

Look who’s out of the house

I don’t get out much. That’s pretty obvious. I go outside to run, I buy groceries and I hang out with the kids in the yard or the Country Day playground across the field from my house. My friends have jobs and kids with early mornings looming. As a result, most of my conversations with people are electronic.

Then there is work, which usually takes place in a large stadium or arena with professional ballplayers and media types. Obviously, the nature of the conversation in this realm is limited as well. After the game is finished and the stories all finished it’s usually close to midnight or a little after and  I have to drive all the way back to Lancaster. That means my post-game social life is limited to time spent in the car with an iPod loaded with downloaded podcasts and loud music to keep me alert on the way home.

But that’s all fine. Besides, is there anything more pathetic than a guy pushing 40 just hanging out?

No. No there is not. It’s just plain creepy.

Anyway, because I don’t get out much and because my wife and I are always looking for different forms of entertainment, excitement and travel opportunities, she went all out and surprised me with tickets to see Pearl Jam in Washington, D.C. last Sunday. Actually, it was a Father’s Day gift for me, which is totally unnecessary. As long as I get a drawing from the kids or a bottle of Brut or Old Spice, I’m as happy as can be. I don’t wear anything like that – in fact, I don’t even brush my rapidly thinning hair [1]– but if my kids got me some I’d splash it on like it was pay day.

Hell, if they got me a wacky tie that didn’t match anything I have in my closet I’d wear that, too. If they took the effort to get me something, by golly I’m wearing that thing out in public… all the time.

But instead of Old Spice or a gaudy tie, we left the kids with my mom and went to The District so she could stare at Eddie Vedder for three hours (more on that in a bit). Sure, we could have gone to one of the two shows in Camden just before the band hit Washington, and perhaps I should have picked up on her hints when she asked me about going to Philadelphia vs. Washington. Instead, I lauded the drive from The Lanc to The District and ripped away on the town where I work.

“There is no comparison between the cities,” I told her and quickly tamped down any type of social activity that involved me going to Philadelphia for something other than work.

Clearly we made the correct choice. In comparing notes with a friend who attended the shows in Camden, the D.C. crowd was treated to a better show and the folks who skew toward the older end of the demographic didn’t have to tolerate ridiculousness from fellow concert-goers.

I’m sure there is another rip job on Philadelphia fans between those lines there. Let’s just leave it with what my friend told me:

“Everyone was either 18 and looking to buy drugs or trying destroy anything they could get their hands on,” he said, noting that Washington and Philadelphia “Were totally different.”

Having lived in both places I agreed, noting that the D.C. natives I knew well all were similar in that they were all intensely into what they liked. They focused on it passionately, yet always knew where to draw the line. With Philadelphians, the line doesn’t exist.

Needless to say, both approaches have their plusses and minuses.

Just like sweeping generalizing about residents of specific geographical areas.

When presented with a choice between seeing a rock show in Washington or Philadelphia, it’s a pretty easy decision. Barring that, if both cities were equal in terms of things to do and cultural selections, Philadelphia would lose simply because one has to drive on the Schuylkill Expressway to get there.

Yes, ultimately it comes down to the pavement.

So we went to Washington to see Pearl Jam, though, truth be told, I was more interested in the opening act, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists. In fact, had any other outfit opened the gig for Pearl Jam, I doubt we would have even considered going and I’m sure there might have been like five or six other folks in the big Verizon Center, right there in the heart of downtown, with the same sentiment.

Regular readers of this little dog & pony show already know that we are big fans of the Pharmacists led by Ted Leo. In past missives I believe I wrote that I follow Ted Leo’s rock-n-roll outfit the way some folks follow baseball. If he plays within driving distance of my house and I can get away, I go. If not, I’ll check out the set list on the web and maybe even find an audio copy of what I missed because I was hanging out with the kids or watching a baseball game or something like that.

Generally, though, the venues Ted Leo typically performs in are nothing like the Verizon Center. When he played in Lancaster in November of 2006, Leo played at the Chameleon Club, which is a medium-sized rock house a lot like the 930 in D.C. or the Trocadero in Philly only… well, nicer. It’s in those types of places – or the steady amount of live radio interviews and sets – where Leo built his following and continues to pack them in with (strapping on the newspaper writer hat to drop the clichés) an energetic assault of melodic punk rock with a solid ‘70s feel, harkening back to the early Clash.

That’s what they always write, and it’s true. But there’s something missing there that doesn’t quite grasp the appeal of Ted Leo. Sure, he and the Pharmacists are energetic and have a tight, melodic sound – but there’s more. Maybe it’s something about the ethic of the guy and the fact that at 37-years old, there definitely were easier routes to take rather than fighting for everything in the indie scene? Maybe there is some hopefulness in just seeing someone like Leo – a Jersey native educated at Notre Dame with stints in D.C., Boston and NYC – sticking to the notion that the work and the aesthetic is the most important thing? Maybe with Leo there’s something there that people can touch – it’s real?

Then again, what do I know? Michael Bolton has sold 53 million albums[2].

Nevertheless, the idea of Ted Leo in the Verizon Center warming up the crowd for Pearl Jam was an intriguing concept. How would that D.I.Y. vibe and stripped down sound and stage work in a basketball arena? Would 20,000 people be in their seats waiting for him to go on? What would it look and sound like from the nosebleed section?

Truth be told, seeing Ted Leo & the Pharmacists in a quarter-filled arena looking like a Gibson-playing dervish dressed in white was… interesting. Yes, it seemed as if he was bringing the energy from the clubs into the big building, but with so few people in the seats there wasn’t enough to absorb the sound. As a result, the sharp-edged melodies bounced all over the place just like something Gilbert Arenas tosses around in the joint.

Still, in the 45 minutes he played, Ted and the Pharmacists ripped through 12 songs, half of which were brand new. Leo told the crowd that since he was a DCite of sorts and the people who were hyped on him likely knew his body of work, he trotted out the new stuff, which should appear on an album this fall.

I wish I could report on the details of the new material, but it took a lot of concentration to keep up with the sound before it was swallowed up by the vastness of the arena. However, compared with the last record, the spring ’07 Living with the Living, the new stuff sounded angrier.

That’s good. What also was good was my wife leading my four-year-old son in a sing along of the chorus of “Rappaport’s Testament,” the tune Ted sang to close his act.

I never gave up, I never gave up
I crawled in the mud but I never gave up

Afterwards, Ted and the gang helped the crew pack up the gear to clear the way for Pearl Jam.

***

OK, how does one write about Pearl Jam in a way that hasn’t been done before? Have they become so ubiquitous and so entrenched in the pantheon of agit-rock that all that’s left is for them to cruise into the ether much like their predecessors? Will they turn out to be like The Who, a group that lead singer Eddie Vedder claims “saved his life” and whose guitarist, Pete Townshend, Vedder says should receive a father’s day card from him every year? Twenty years from now are we going to see a Pearl Jam reunion tour like something out of the Rolling Stones’ playbook? You know how they do it – it’s always the last one ever until the next one.

I doubt it any of this will occur with Pearl Jam. You don’t stick round for a long time and produce meaningful work by getting old.

But whatever. The notion that someone should quit doing what they want just because they get old is arrogant and stupid. Who doesn’t want to do what they love forever? Hell, I hope I’m engaged in all of my passions when I’m old. Better yet, I hope I’m lucky enough to get old.

When Pearl Jam gets that old and takes their act out on the road, I suspect it won’t be any different than what we saw last Sunday in Washington. Stripped of all the bloated, rock-star excess, Pearl Jam played for nearly three hours. That includes short breaks between the pair of encores, though the extra sets lasted nearly as long as the initial, 18-song preliminaries. Actually, the 13-song encores went on so long that some of the workers in charge of cleaning up the Verizon Center had gathered near one corridor waiting for Eddie and the gang to call it a night.

Even when the house lights went on a little after 11 p.m., the band raged on for another 30 minutes.

But rather than beat the crowd into submission with a show longer than my last few marathons[3], Pearl Jam hosted a sing-a-long in which 20,000 folks screamed, chanted, pumped fists into the air and recited the lyrics back at the band. Unlike a lot of big-arena rock shows where some folks in the audience are intent on ingesting various organic and inorganic substances meant to alter some sense of reality, the Pearl Jam crowd in Washington was rapt by what was taking place on the spare stage decorated with just a mural of a pair of waves crashing toward each other in the background.

Some critics have written that the Pearl Jam crowd seems to be an updated version of a Grateful Dead audience in that many of the fans will travel from city to city to see the shows, they take a painstaking interest in the set lists and the scarcity of the performances of particular songs and they collect the “bootleg” versions of the shows the band offers for download on its web site.

But unlike Dead shows that I witnessed in three different cities in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was more of a sense of community in Washington last Sunday. Everyone (at least where I was) was focused on the music and the performance instead of “where their trip might take them.”

Besides, is there any band more overrated than the Grateful Dead? OK, how about The Doors?

However, similarly to Dead shows of a generation or two (or three) ago, the mainstream media (I guess that’s me, right?) likes to charge Pearl Jam shows as some sort of cultural statement or at least the antithesis of popular culture. That’s especially the case when it comes to Vedder, who in Washington railed against the White House, the war, off-shore drilling and voiced his support for a certain presidential candidate when he said, “It’s going to be great to get some color in the White House!”

But come on… how alternative can a group be when it has sold approximately 50 million records? How “anti-” can people be if they take one specific side in a two-party system? Better yet, why are people shocked when I guy with a microphone uses it to say something?

Hell, even some Pearl Jam fans don’t like hearing Vedder’s politics or opinions. That seems to be the general opinion about all celebrities too – a lot of people want their celebrities and rock stars to be just as vapid as there are.

And that’s a damn shame. Frankly, I wanted to see the Pearl Jam show in Washington more than any other city specifically because it would be more politically charged. I like hearing other people’s ideas – I know, it’s crazy. In fact, I don’t care if I agree with what’s being said at all, I just want to hear someone say something interesting. For instance, take baseball pitcher Curt Schilling – he and I probably agree on very few political issues. I’m sure I’d even ridicule some of the things he says to friends or in print (check the archives here, I’m sure I ripped him). But Curt Schilling isn’t boring. That counts for something.

Eddie Vedder isn’t boring either. Though he fronts a really tight band with guys who are stars in their own right, all eyes were on the singer. I know that because my wife was damn-near swooning from the second he took the stage. During a couple of stretched out jams, Vedder left the center of stage to wait in the wings where he drank from a bottle of wine, caught a quick smoke and chatted up some of the fans. Yet the entire time the band was wailing away, I heard, “Look at him… I wonder what he’s saying to them.”

It was the same thing in July of 2003 when Vedder showed up at Veterans Stadium before a Phillies game. Everyone swooned. Mike Lieberthal got an autograph, others tried to wiggle past the extremely large body guard to get close enough to say something to the singer. Hell, even I wanted to walk over to the guy and tell him that Fugazi is the greatest band of the past 30 years because I knew he’d agree.

And then we’d both be right.

Regardless, only one person – a player’s wife – penetrated the wall and chatted up Vedder and even she had the same look on her face that my wife had last week. Shoot, the guy was so short and wiry that I thought about picking him up and putting him in my pocket.

Yeah, that was creepy.

Anyway, Pearl Jam is far from perfect. There a few songs that are so odious that they have become very difficult to listen to. But presented in a nearly perfect rock show format even the bad ones are kind of good. For instance, the song “Black” is so heart-wrenching that I can’t stand to hear it. When 20,000 people sing along to one of the saddest songs outside of Elliott Smith, it’s tough.

The same goes “Last Kiss,” the remake of the early-‘60s number, which gave me a good chance to sneak out to the nearly deserted concourse to find the restroom. “Crazy Mary,” the sublime number from the Victoria Williams benefit soundtrack was a little overdone with the addition of keyboards.

However, “Yellow Ledbetter,” another one I always found a little… well, awful, was pretty good with the house lights up and guitarist Mike McCready finishing it off with a Hendrix-style “Star Spangled Banner.”

The highlight? Try Vedder singing “No More” from his solo record made for the film Into the Wild. Actually, it was just Vedder and an acoustic guitar singing a perfect, folk/protest song that he wrote as a tribute for a soldier injured in Iraq.

The song also made it onto the documentary Body of War.

Finally, the most in-the-know bit of stage banter came when Vedder introduced “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” with, “This one is for Mt. Pleasant…”

He didn’t have to come out and say Ian MacKaye, right?  I mean, Vedder is on record saying that MacKaye should be put up for sainthood – and he’s right – but everyone got that reference…

Right?

***
Afterwards, we rolled up to Adams Morgan to The Amsterdam Falafel Shop only to find it closed at 12:15 a.m.

Oh well, at least I got out for a change.


[1] I wash the hell out of it, though.

[2] Do you know anyone who owns a Michael Bolton album (or will admit it)? Fifty-three million! Who is buying 53 million Michael Bolton records?

[3] Was that me bragging? Yes, I believe it was.

End of the road

headWASHINGTON – So far this weekend’s trip to The District has been pretty eventful for everyone in the Phillies’ travelling party. A few of the players were given a private tour of the White House and were even granted an audience with the President in the Oval Office.

Another got to show off his superhero poses, while a few teammates were given the chance to show off a softer, more feminine side in formal evening wear.

But the best part of the last road trip of the season that ends tomorrow with the final Major League Baseball game at RFK Stadium hasn’t been the quiet time spent away from media mass at Citizens Bank Park, nor the special perks granted to the gentry athlete class.

Instead, the Phillies have simply taken pride in their work.

“Nothing beats winning,” manager Charlie Manuel.

That certainly has been the case for the Phillies, who enter Sunday’s game with an 8-1 record during the 10-game road trip. Actually, it has been on this trip that the Phillies went from sitting on the edge of oblivion, to a team with an incredibly legitimate chance at winning the division OR the wild card.

To think, when the Phillies left for New York after the victory over the Rockies on Sept. 13 they were a distant 6½ games behind the Mets in the NL East. But when the team returns home to host the Braves on Tuesday night, they very well could be tied for first place.

Then again, in a worst-case scenario, they could be four games back, too.

The District
As far as northeastern cities go, Washington, D.C. provides the perfect urban experience. The city has an extensive public transportation system, an incredible system of trails and parks for the recreationally and fitness inclined, every type of cuisine or entertainment offering imaginable, and of course, all of those free museums

Yes, Washington, D.C. has culture coming out the wazoo.

Need an example of how D.C. is unique? Check this out:

During Friday morning’s run I meandered through the Northwest quadrant of the city’s confusing grid, passing by such notable places as JFK’s last residence before he was elected president, Bob Woodward’s towering Q Street crib and, of course, the childhood home of the legendary iconoclast, Ian MacKaye, until I filtered back toward the Key Bridge and the C&O Canal Tow Path. This part of the run took nearly 30-minutes at a modest clip where I made sure I ran hard up the inclines on Q Street and Observation Place. After all, D.C. was built on top of a swamp, which (I assume) are relatively flat. So when one arrives at the base of a hill during a run, they should take it with some pace.

Anyway, I hit the tow path, which is the ultimate urban biking/running trail in these United States. Instead of a modest nine-mile loop around the Schuylkill River like Philly’s Kelly Drive, the C&O goes from the Key Bridge (just off Georgetown’s main thoroughfare) through the western edge of the city along the Potomac River, into the Maryland suburbs and onto the countryside for nearly 200 miles.

One runner, named Scott Douglas, ran the entire trail during a seven-day stretch.

ANYWAY, the towpath…

George HamiltonNeedless to say I wasn’t about to run the length of the entire path. After all, the weather in D.C. has been hot and sticky and the main reason I wanted to run on the riverside, tree-shrouded trail was to get out of the sun. Besides, if I bake beneath those ultraviolet rays any more than I already do, I’m going to have the complexion of George Hamilton.

C’mon, who wants to dress in a tuxedo all the time even if it does give Georgie’s epidermis the hue of rich, Corinthian leather?

The plan was to run for 13 miles, which takes about 86-to-90 minutes. Or, if I felt good I would run for an hour and then weave my way back through Georgetown. But I didn’t feel good because it was hot, and, truth be told, since the birth of our son, I have only been able to run about 70 to 80 miles per week. My fitness level is a little lacking these days, so 90 minutes in the heat and humidity would be fine enough.

And it was. On the way up the trail I enjoyed the shade, the sweeping river views into Northern Virginia and the quietness of the day where the only audible noise was the cadence of my feet pounding on the hard, packed dirt. I just couldn’t believe that I was in Washington, D.C.

But as the run progressed I really could not believe that I was in one of the biggest cities in the country.

At first glance I thought it was a dog…

After getting good and tired and deciding that approximately four miles on the trail was plenty, I made a u-turn and retraced my steps. I also decided to ease off a bit after doing half-mile intervals at lactate threshold pace. However, upon noticing some hikers and what I thought was some type of amber-colored dog, I figured I could put on the pace one more time before knocking off and cruising in to the finish.

It was hot, though. I was also thirsty and the combination of the heat and dehydration narrowed the focus of my vision causing me to weave ever-so slightly on the path as I attempted to run down the hikers.

That’s when I brushed up against what I originally thought was a dog… only it was a white-tailed deer.

Yeah, that’s right. A white-tailed deer. I rubbed shoulders — quite literally — with a freaking white-tailed deer a little more than a mile from M St. You know, where the Barnes & Noble, Banana Republic, Dean & Deluca and Starbucks are mixed in amongst all of those tourist-trap bars and restaurants. In Washington, D.C. …

A white-tailed freaking deer.

Needless to say, my brush with Bambi straightened me right the hell up. For the next half mile I ran as hard as the heat and my legs would allow for fear that I somehow angered the deer and he was hot on my rear in attempt to chase me down and give me a beating like that scene in Tommy Boy.

As if I could out-run a deer…

robo deerAnyway, I suppose robo-deer remained in the brush to munch on some leaves and shrubs while I settled down, finally eased up on the pace, and cruised on toward the end of the path. But there, again, in the last copse of woods before nature gave way to the giant cylinders of concrete that supported the bridge and menaced the landscape as cars sped to and from Northern Virginia, another white-tailed deer stood as it picked away at the brush from the left side of the trail. This one was even closer to all of the action of G’town, yet really didn’t seem to mind when the walkers, runners and bike riders passed by just inches away.

Perhaps this proved that political animals are not the only species that inhabit Washington.

Though the deer might be less frightening.

Anyway, that’s some of the highlights from the trip. We’ll have more from the equally deer-laden tranquility of The Lanc tomorrow.

First in war, first in peace, last in the National League…

Based on a very informal poll of the scribes covering the ball club, Washington, D.C. is quickly becoming the most popular stop on the circuit. For anyone who has spent any time in our nation’s capital, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise – there is tons of stuff to do in the District away from the museums and touristy-type places.

But throw all of that stuff into the mix and it’s quite a place.

I’m hardly a sentimental person (OK, others will disagree with that, but whatever), but it’s hard not to get a tingle from standing on the top steps of the Lincoln Memorial and looking out upon The Mall and wondering what Martin Luther King Jr. felt when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1964.

Or a walk through the Vietnam Memorial at night is downright chilling. Certainly I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic or saccharine sweet type of way. You really have to see it to feel it.

Oddly, the first name I focused on after scanning the list that seemed to stretch through the landscape all of the way to the Washington Monument was of a man named Sanford I. Finger. For years I was always interested in Sanford Finger’s story – who he was and what he liked to do. What was he interested in and what did he look like? And how did he end up in Vietnam where he met his untimely death in 1971.

Finally, after all of the years spent wondering and thinking about some guy who died before I was born who just so happens to share the same last name as me, I stumbled across this on the Internet.

Anyway, last night after the Phillies’ loss to the Nationals, I took some time to unwind by taking a midnight stroll past the White House, down to Constitution Ave. and back up 15th St. for a quick pit stop at The Old Ebbitt Grill.

This morning I loaded up the iPod with DC-type songs (late ‘70s and Dischord Records stuff) before heading out on a run to see if our old wiffle ball field was still entact (a big tree was planted where the pitchers mound was, but the paint we used to mark the home run fence was still visible on the bricks).

From there I circled The Mall on the way out to RFK Stadium and back for a spirit-reviving 13-miler.

I’m sure my mom is going to love hearing about the trip through our neighborhood and stomping grounds.

Sadly, though, RFK has seen better days. The clubhouse is a dungeon, and the dugout has a Veterans Stadium-type odor. Worse, the view from the press box is severely obstructed and any time a ball is hit out of the infield we have to watch the result on TV.

More than a few writers had trouble with the wireless Internet connection, which made it difficult to send their stories in to the office.

Still, it’s always a blast to make it back to D.C. and until something sways my point of view, I’ll say RFK is so bad that it’s charming.

No one can call Shea charming.