Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Best Ball of All: Baseball at the Edge of Teen

This post is for Andrew Rusca.
But anybody else is welcome to watch the game, of course.
Please click on the images to see much better versions.

Looking in from behind the right field fence, first inning. The venue is the Will C. Wood School's baseball complex in Alameda, California, an island city in San Francisco Bay. The right fielder, #13 on his back but #1 in our cheers, is Andrew. (Photo by Adam Harrington.)

Last Saturday, April 18th, Adam and Lynda invited me to Alameda to watch Lynda's son, Andrew Rusca, play with his Little League team (the Diamondbacks) against the league's A's. It was a gorgeous day for a little drive, and a great opportunity to see how Little League had changed since I was of that age. (Not much, really, as it turns out: the uniforms are fancier, and there are a lot more regulations concerning safety and injury issues, but a fastball is still a fastball, a line drive into the left field corner is still pretty surely a double, and the big kid on the other team who yells a lot is still a jerk.)

Andrew started the game in right field for the Diamondbacks. Here he measures a fly ball for the grasping. (Photo by Adam Harrington.)

I had hoped to see Andrew pitch, since he does very well on the mound, but he had pitched in the team's previous game and according to pitch-count regulations was ineligible to pitch on Saturday.

The view from right field in the first inning. (Photo by Adam Harrington.)

Above: In the bottom of the second inning, Andrew (batting fourth) led off and made his way to second base, but only after two were out. He leans toward third (actual off-base leads are forbidden in Little League until the pitch is thrown, just as was the case half a century ago)...

... and, rounding third, tries to score on a single...

... makes a textbook slide as the throw from the outfield comes to the catcher...

... and is CALLED OUT ON THIS PLAY. Can you believe it?? After this play, the Diamondbacks' manager came out to argue with the ump, but to no avail. (To all of our credit, the adults in the stands didn't make a peep -- but, damn, he was safe. Really.)

Between-innings entertainment: a gorgeous, elegant CKCS-Terrier mix enchants the photographer.

Adam and I talked about Andrew's batting stance and swing between his first plate appearance and his second (above). Andrew's a big kid for his age, and really, really wants to pop one over the fence -- an urge that can lead a kid to overswing and try to "kill" the ball, leading to an undisciplined, unproductive effort. Adam expressed some worry that Andrew was falling into that trap, but I didn't see any evidence of it on Saturday. What I did see was a patient, controlled batter with a compact, efficient, level swing -- the kind of batter I hated to see half a century ago when I was a pitcher!

... and, in this at-bat, that compact, level swing paid off with a laser-shot double down the left field line.

Andrew coasts into second base as the throw comes in from the left fielder to the shortstop.

Andrew surveys the territory from second base after his double.

Ready to go to third...

... where he is stranded as the third out is made. No matter how good you are, you still need your teammates to come through.

Mid-game, Andrew was moved from right field to first base on defense. Above, he takes a throw from the third baseman on a ground ball...

... recording the forceout at first, but -- seeing a runner break toward home from third base...

... fires the ball back to home, where the runner is O-U-T. Double play!

A later at-bat, and that great compact swing is still alive...

... putting Andrew at first base...

... from which he takes off for second...

... and puts on another sliding-form clinic. Better result this time, though.

He eventually makes his way to third...

... and the batter slices one that might allow Andrew to score...

... but it wasn't to be. Baseball, she breaks your heart.

As I drove back South after the game, across the causeway from the island of Alameda to the East Bay mainland, I stopped to look across the estuary to the Oakland Coliseum complex.

It struck me that my sons and I -- and, as they matured into men, their families and I -- had sat in those stands for many, many afternoons over the past 40 summers, and always the final score was important when we left. Did the A's win? Did the A's lose?

And I was struck by the fact that I didn't even remember the score of the Little League game I had just seen. I had been connected to the details, not the uniforms, as I was when I played the game. What I remember most clearly about playing the game 50 years ago, when I was Andrew's age, are the little things -- the pitch well-thrown, the ball well-struck, the out or the safe arrival at a base -- not whether my team won or lost. Watching Andrew go through the details of his game took me back to that sense of baseball, and he handled those details extremely well.

And that pleased me.

Thank you, Andrew, and I hope to come back to watch you play again sometime soon.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I Used to Be Able to Do That...

... when I was a lot younger. I think.

Photo by Lynda Hermosa.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Lookit What I Got In the Mail TODAY!

... one in an ongoing series.



Oh my, oh my, oh my.

I have heard its praises sung in academe, its values debated in high halls, its import profoundly enunciated from all the far-flung corners of realms governed by TCP/IP, and its products displayed on every monitor and slick paper, everywhere.


I never had it in my hands, though. Until now.

Two thoughts:

1) It's a good thing that I spent my first 61 years doing other things, because the next 61 are probably going to have to be devoted to figuring out how to use this damn' thing, and

2) Thank God (and Martha) for deep academic discounts. I feel like I've just gotten the keys to a Maserati for $1.98. How does any ordinary person afford this stuff?

What's really scary is how quickly its power can be applied, even before someone becomes particularly adept with it. The disks for Photoshop arrived in our mailbox while Diane and I were in San Francisco, visiting the Legion of Honor art museum on one of our Friday "Playin' Hooky" outings. As part of that, we walked across the street to visit (and pay homage to, on this Good Friday) the San Francisco Holocaust Memorial sculpture by George Segal.

I took this snapshot of the sculpture, looking through the barbed wire toward the Golden Gate, the Marin Headlands, and freedom:

... and toward an alert-yellow traffic hazard sign, too, unfortunately (upper-right quadrant).

When we got home, the Photoshop disk was waiting for us in the mailbox. After I installed it, and after I had glanced at our photos from the day, the first thing I wanted to do was to see if Photoshop could get rid of that bright lemon distraction.

It could, and it did, with very little expertise required on my part:

No sign? Nope, no sign.
(How can any jury believe "photographic evidence" now?)

In anticipation of receiving Photoshop in the mail, I visited a number of bookshops looking for "manuals" or "how-to" books. The major bookshops had entire sections -- bigger than the entire libraries of some small towns, I reckon -- devoted to Photoshop guides. Given what I was able to do with that distracting sign with only a few minutes' fumbling, I am staggered by what I've got in front of me in the way of a learning curve.

'Scuse me while I set out to climb a virtual El Capitan! How exciting!


Received on the same day as the Photoshop disk's upper: this major downer.

I don't care how damn' free it is, I'm not opening this offer. If I conk out, Diane will do what traditional widows do here in the Santa Cruz mountains: sometime in the next rainy season she'll drag my sorry carcass up the hollow a ways past the last cabin and into the woods, sprinkle it with gasoline, and set it afire.

Been done afore, ay-uh. Lots.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Martha, My Dear!

Martha Kanter's Facebook Face

My friend Martha will probably be going to Washington soon, as the Obama administration's new Undersecretary of Education.

Martha Kanter is currently the Chancellor of the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District, in which I have been employed as head of (and, for a while, the only member of) DeAnza College's astronomy department for the past 20 years. I first met her in 1993, when she came to DeAnza from just down the 280 freeway. Previously VP of Instruction at San Jose City College, she had just been tapped to be only the second President of DeAnza College, succeeding the locally-legendary A. Robert DeHart.

We all looked at her like she had come from some Mel Brooks version of Mars. DeHart had been dignified and almost aloof; Martha is gregarious and joyful. DeHart was very tall and almost forbidding; Martha is about five-foot-nothing and as welcoming as your favorite auntie. DeHart had established a clear chain of command; Martha takes everyone's opinions very seriously, even students', for God's sake. DeHart accomplished magnificent things for DeAnza College. Martha Kanter did not shy from that legacy. Her ten-year term as DeAnza President terminated only by promotion: six years ago, she was designated Chancellor of our District (which we share with the older and smaller Foothill College.)

It took her about five minutes, it seemed, to win us over in '93, and it seemed like she did it one person at a time. When she arrived, I was beginning my stint as an officer in the Faculty Senate. By the time she had really hit her stride as President in '95, I had entered my term as Senate President. As a result of our positions, we served and worked together a great deal, and I had a chance to see first-hand her remarkable skills in working with smart, contentious people with high opinions of themselves (faculty, in this case, but it would later become evident with other groups, too, like CEOs of Silicon Valley principalities.)

She's a superb politician, in other words, in the best sense.

But she's also a person of great dedication to her cause: making sure that society doesn't waste its ability to benefit from any person's potential because that person couldn't go to college. She has dedicated her working life to the cause of making higher education available to as many people as possible who might otherwise have been denied access, and she has achieved astonishing things in that effort throughout her career. As Chancellor of our District, for example, she has energized the Silicon Valley high-tech community to support public education in substantial and unprecedented ways, has orchestrated a partnership with NASA and UC to transform part of the former Moffett NAS into an innovative shared technology education campus -- and has convinced the voters of our District to overwhelmingly approve more than half a billion dollars in capital expenditures for our two Colleges (including my beloved new Planetarium renovations), a record by any measure for a Community College district.

Martha is not only a believer in what community colleges can do for society, she has become a prime mover in allowing that potential to be realized in California.

And now she will be able to bring that joyful energy and vision to a national stage. Yesterday, the Obama administration announced that Martha Kanter is their choice to be the new Undersecretary of Education, a position that has public higher education as a major focus. While her nomination is subject to Senate ratification, I can't imagine that she would be rejected. I'm pretty sure she's paid her taxes.

I'm biased, I'm prejudiced, sure. But I really, honestly think that there couldn't possibly be a better person alive for that job.

God bless, and God speed, Martha.

Chancellor Martha Kanter (left) with her two Presidents: Brian Murphy of DeAnza and Judy Miner of Foothill.