Thursday, July 31, 2008

(Flickr Post): Diamond Vision

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I had a couple of days of vacation left over after Sarah went back to work, and decided to take in a weekday game down at The Prog. Since only I was going, I decided to look for the best seats I could find, and brother, did I find something special: Section 151, row F (in the so-called Diamond Box seating, first row, just to the side of home plate, and at the very edge of the safety netting). No contest, these were the best seats I'd ever had to a game, not to mention the most expensive by some distance, but oh were they worth it.

The day itself was damn near perfect for end-of-July-baseball: blue skies, a slight breeze, and blazingly hot (sunscreen and a steady supply of liquid refreshment were a must). Having never attended a weekday games before, I was pretty surprised at the large turnout. The atmosphere at the park was great: the people seated around me were a riot and we had a roaring time razzing the visiting batters as they took their practice swings in the on-deck circle. It felt like the crowd as a whole was equally energetic and into the game throughout: made easier, I suppose, by the Tribe delivering a sound thrashing to the Detroit Tigers and their ace, Justin Verlander.

Just seeing the Indians winning a contest for a change made this one the best games I'd seen all year, but this day was more than that: for me, this was easily the best day of the year, and certainly the peak of a too-brief one week vacation from work. Driving down E. 9th Street after the game, I literally felt more relaxed, recharged, and at ease with things than I have in a long time. This is what a good vacation is supposed to do, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

(Flickr Post): Mezzanine

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I had deliberately chose my vacation week to coincide with a competitive homestand, so that I could go see a game on almost any night the urge struck me. With attendance stagnant following the team's downward trajectory over the early summer, an offer was floated to Indians fans for free tickets redeemable in exchange for any purchase of $40 or more at a team gift shop. The only "catch" in this deal was that the free tickets would be for seats in so-called "Pronkville" (the mezzanine level behind right field, named for an Indians player I seem to remember being quite dominating a couple of years ago).

As it turns out, the mezzanine seats weren't bad at all as the photos in this post's gallery will attest (though I can't imagine getting any farther away from the action and still feeling any sense of involvement in the game). You get blasted in the face with sun for a few innings, yes, but our slightly elevated perspective was a new vantage point and that enough proved worthy of the trip.

Unfortunately, the game itself was just more of the same in this unending trudge through despondent sub-.500 mediocrity that we Tribe fans call the 2008 season. Indians emergency pitcher Matt Ginter put up a decent fight for a while, but was eventually chased off the mound after giving up 4 runs, followed by Detroit plating an additional 2 off reliever Juan Rincon.

Cleveland tried to make a late comeback off the Tigers bullpen to at least make this game look a bit more respectable in the end, but the final of 8-5 is really all that matters in the long run. We had already left by that point: Sarah wasn't feeling well as the evening grew late, and we both had seen this particular movie a few too many times before.

It hit me at some point before the game that Sarah and I hadn't attended a night game in some time, certainly not this year at least, so I also used this opportunity to get some night-time shots of the downtown Cleveland area with my new camera from the upper deck concession areas. I hope y'all will find them as fetching as I did.

Monday, July 28, 2008

(Flickr Post): Revisiting Mentor Headlands State Park

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I headed back to Mentor Headlands Beach Park a few hours after the Twins game finished in order to get some more sunset pictures, this time under much calmer conditions than my last visit.

Here's the best of what came from that excursion. Enjoy.

(Flickr Post): Indians Vs. Twins 7/27/08

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Strange as it may seem, especially in this season of discontent and disappointment, the baseball fever that Sarah and I contracted over the last couple of years has now managed to infect my brother and my niece.

My brother and I had recently been hitting a couple of Sunday afternoon games that Sarah had opted out of attending, and he apparently enjoyed the experience so much that it piqued his daughter's curiosity as well. With her cousin in tow and Sarah wanting to go to today's contest, the five of us took in a game against the Minnesota Twins.

For five remarkable innings, Cleveland starter Jeremy Sowers was literally perfect: he allowed no base runners at all until the sixth, which is when Minnesota managed to pull ahead by a run, ultimately winning in the ninth with two additional runs scored against the Tribe's unremittingly terrible bullpen.

On the brighter side, however, these regular Sunday excursions are turning into a kind of regular family outing, and I couldn't be happier about that. If nothing else, it helps to further alleviate a truly depressing year to be a Cleveland Indians fan.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

(Flickr Post): Another Cruise On The Goodtime III

Looking back towards shore from the observation deck of the Goodtime III.For those of you always on the lookout for a new word to keep yourselves on the bleeding edge of hip, apparently "staycation" is the buzzword of the season. As skyrocketing fuel prices have left people of modest means suddenly re-thinking their hypothetical vacation plans in the current economic reality, many are opting to take it easy around the house (or immediate area of which) instead of, say, taking that long dreamed-of road trip adventure to dearly missed Northern Michigan or the exotic California coast. Sigh.

Despite her mortal fear of water (large bodies of it, anyway), I somehow got Sarah to accompany me on the Goodtime III on the first day of our vacation. While the standard cruise route downriver wound up being altered midway through due to the appearance of some unexpected river traffic (a large freighter was being towed northbound, necessitating a quick turnaround and default to Plan B for our ship), the hazy views of downtown Cleveland from a few miles out on Lake Erie were every bit as magnificent as before.

Interestingly, I found myself wobbly in the knees a bit faster than my last time aboard, probably due to the stiff wind that was pushing heavier waves against the hull of the ship, and I had an amusing chat on seasickness and "staycations" with a guy on the observation deck while I snapped some more pictures of downtown Cleveland. The sun on my shoulders, the wind in my hair, and the view before me was an absolutely incredible feeling ... maybe the closest thing to true inner peace and an approximation of transcendence you can get around here for fifteen bucks, in my opinion.

I'm going to have to try this trip at night sometime ...

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight

"Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

Let's get this part out of the way first: I am not going to join the hordes of delirious fanboys on IMDB who have unanimously claimed The Dark Knight to be the best movie ever made (and I suspect their collective afterglow will last only until The Hobbit comes out). Yes, this was a very good movie and certainly one of the best comic book themed films in the long history of the genre, but it's also nowhere near as flat-out enjoyable as genre benchmarks Superman, Spider Man II, and, yes, Batman Begins.

If nothing else, you haveAs was the case with Batman Begins, this is primarily a deadly serious exercise: whole reels of The Dark Knight feel more like a "straight" crime film where the protagonist just happens to wear a full body black kevlar costume with a flowing cape than any comic book movie I have ever seen. It's also oddly thoughtful for a summer action flick: returning director Christopher Nolan has no problem steering the movie into discussions on the natures of heroism, vigilantism, and that post-September 11 perennial: privacy versus security.

Before your eyes begin to glaze over, The Dark Knight always remembers after a few minutes of dialogue that it is a summer movie after all (and one based on a long-running comic book character to boot). Thus, every scene of indulgent, chin-stroking rumination over sundry aspects of the human condition is generally followed by people in costumes kicking each other's asses around the block and/or blowing shit up.

Unless you've been in a cave the last seven months, you're probably aware that most of the media hype surrounding The Dark Knight centers on the late Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker. Just how much of an effect Ledger's untimely death had on the absolutely insane box office this film is presently pulling down is impossible to know for certain, but I'm pleased to report that the acting does, for once, live up to the advance notice. Ledger gets some of the biggest laughs to be had during the movie (he is playing The Joker, after all), but his Joker is far less a jolly buffoon than a shambling, vaguely reptilian escapee from a supermax prison. The eerie thing about Ledger's Joker is that this repulsive, pitiless sociopath manages to get under your skin in the same way Anthony Hopkins' turn as Hannibal Lecter wound up in your head after The Silence Of The Lambs: it's a magnetic, disturbing performance and alone worth the price of your ticket.

Elsewhere, the acting on the whole in The Dark Knight is arguably on a higher plane than Batman Begins, with Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman as dependable as ever, with Maggie Gyllenhaal making a fine impression as Bale's old flame and Aaron Eckhart playing the most overtly comic-booky role of the bunch as the Sir Galahad-styled Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent.

Now comes the spoiler-proof rub: for the first time since I've started following his work, Nolan over-reaches during the course of The Dark Knight and tries to pack just a bit too much plot into what is initially a near-faultless work. It almost feels like Nolan realized that "oh, hey, we have a movie to wrap-up here" about two hours in, and the epic ending sequence that follows unfortunately starts to feel tacked-on and increasingly unnecessary (and perhaps a bit similar to Spider Man 3).

One last tangent: this was one of the "hardest" PG-13 films I've ever seen (I had to check the promotional poster in the lobby as we left to make sure this wasn't an R), and the fact that kids quite plainly below the age of 10 were in the audience and watching this movie gnawed at me on the way home afterward. Times and kids have changed, sure: when I was 7 or 8 years old, I remember being taken to see some Ray Harryhausen-animated version of Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger and being scared out of my freakin' mind all the way through. Goat knows what I would have made out of The Dark Knight, especially when Two-Face makes his dramatic appearance (looking an awful lot like Griffin Dunne towards the end of An American Werewolf In London) or when Batman interrogates the mob boss of Gotham City after first breaking his ankles.

These same thoughts came back to mind a few hours later while I was surfing around on the web and came across a page selling all sorts of tie-in merchandise for the movie, including a batch of children's toys. Incredulous, I looked over these poseable Joker action figures, shirts and posters and wondered if we were only a couple of steps away from trying to get these same kids to bug their parents for Saw play sets or Red Dragon action figures.

Then again, I guess we did have Alien trading cards when I was in fifth grade ...

The Dark Knight rating: 4/5

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

(Flickr Post): Fausto Carmona Pitches At Classic Park

Fausto pitched four innings of shut out ball in his first rehab start. Too bad he couldn't have hung around for three or four more ...The Lake County Captains haven't quite managed the same winning pace in the second half of their season as they had during the first, but their playoff appearance is still secure, which is a lot more than can be said for the Cleveland Indians these days.

Anyway, with Indians starter Fausto Carmona set to make his first rehab appearance since coming off the Disabled List only a couple of miles from my front door on my day off (which also happened to be yet another wonderfully gorgeous summer's day), this was going to be a must-see game.

Thankfully, Carmona did not disappoint this evening ... those duties were handled instead by Captains reliever Josh Judy during a disastrous seventh inning. The Fautastic One racked up four innings of near-spotless work, allowing only one double and reminding everyone present just how much he is missed at Progressive Field.

Oh yeah, and none other than Dick Goddard sang the "The Star Spangled Banner" at the game. Bonus.

Monday, July 14, 2008

(Flickr Post): A Windy Sunset At Headlands Beach

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As yet another perfect summer weekend wound to a close, I felt the desire to capture another sunset on Lake Erie, this time from Mentor Headlands State Park, a few miles down the freeway from where I live, and a far more picturesque location than Willowick's Lakefront Lodge.

An added bonus that really helped make these pictures interesting: a high-pressure system had started moving in over the area earlier in the day, and it was very windy when Sarah and I reached the beach about a half hour before sunset. The scene that awaited us as we walked over the small hill (and suddenly were able to see the whole beach before us) was breathtaking: the normally calm lake was roiling and churning with restless energy: the waves crashing onto the beach as if it were late November instead of mid July while the trees and grass swayed and bent around us in the steady wind.

Enough from me. Enjoy the pix!

(Flickr Post): Sweep!

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Initially, I had resisted buying tickets to today's game, wondering what positive gain could come out of watching what was left of the Cleveland Indians getting steamrolled by the hottest team in baseball. Then, from out of nowhere, the Indians improbably won the first 3 games in this 4-game series (and by a decisive margin at that), and I suddenly had to make the trip downtown to see if they could somehow pull off the sweep, even with Jeremy Sowers on the mound.

Guess what? Even though Sowers remains winless on the year (despite five perfect innings of work to start off this particular game), the Tribe somehow came out on top yet again and the sweep (sweep?!) of the Tampa Bay was complete.

Into the All-Star Break we go, our 2008 season a wreck, our ace traded off to a National League team in the midst of a pennant race, and we have just taken four in a row from the biggest surprise team of the year (in a positive sense, at least).

This is the weirdest season ever.

Monday, July 07, 2008

(Flickr Post): Another Perfect Day

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Though my first real vacation from work in nearly a decade doesn't start for another three weeks, the promise of a clear, sunny day on Sunday (coupled with Sarah needing to use my car all day on Monday) presented an opportunity to do some local photography that was too good to pass up.

I slept in a bit later than I'd have liked (forgot to set the clock for 10 AM instead of 10 PM), but I was still able to take full advantage of the weather and arrived downtown at the old municipal parking lot on the south side of the Shoreway just after 1 PM and set about wandering the area, eventually heading over to Burke Lakefront Airport, the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, the U.S.S. Cod, the Great Lakes Science Center, and the William G. Mather, taking pictures of whatever caught my eye.

While relaxing for a few moments at the end of a long brick walkway that juts out into North Coast Harbor from behind the Rock Hall, a much larger vessel appeared from behind the William G. Mather and approached the inlet. It was the Goodtime III, which I had glimpsed occasionally over the years while gallivanting around the Flats, but had never seen this close-up. I also didn't know that its mooring was directly behind the Rock Hall, across that little man made bay from where I was sitting. Since I was going to be walking underneath the Rock Hall and down the brick pier at the end of E 9th Street anyway, I decided to investigate the ship's fares and tour schedule up close, and when I realized that another two-hour cruise would be departing in a half hour, made a snap decision to go along for the ride.

Once out of North Coast Harbor, the Goodtime III hugs the Cleveland shoreline for a mile or so before entering the Cuyahoga River and cruising six winding miles upstream under countless bridges and between dozens of old factories, warehouses and supply dumps. Upon reaching the gigantic Mittal Steel Mill just south of Interstate 490 (whose riverfront is apparently the hangout for every seagull in the Northeast Ohio area), the Goodtime III executes a 180 and retraces its path to the mouth of the Cuyahoga. From there, the ship cruises straight out past the breakwaters and into Lake Erie proper, where it then describes a long, slow, circle, allowing sight seers a half hour of amazing panoramic views of downtown Cleveland (not to mention miles of shoreline to either side) before finally returning to its home port.

Incidentally, I had heard that The Flats were being redeveloped over the years, but I was utterly gobsmacked when we steamed past what was left of the East Bank. Granted, I had not been down in this area at all since the fall of 2000 (and not regularly since maybe 1998 or so), it has been razed almost completely flat and looks as depopulated and forbidding as a weapons testing area. The old Watermark seemed intact, though it looked to be abandoned or in disrepair. The West Bank, on the other hand, looked pretty much the same as I remembered, though the Plain Dealer Pavilion (formerly Scene Pavilion, and before that, Nautica) looked significantly more "tarted-up" than it had been since my last concert experience there a decade earlier. It was difficult to ascertain from my angle looking in if the old clubs and restaurants (Metropolis/Trilogy, The Spaghetti Warehouse) I used to frequent in my mid-twenties were still around behind Tangiers and the Powerhouse: that might have to be an excursion for a future date.

Having expected nothing more than a pleasant ride around the harbor, I was completely awestruck by the number and massive scale of the structures that lined the once-thriving Cuyahoga River. It was also fascinating to see areas of the Flats I had only previously glimpsed while driving around aimlessly in the middle of the night a decade and change before, and taking in the shoreline and skyline from an unobstructed, peaceful vantage point a couple of miles offshore was fantastic.

Full disclosure to those with a propensity for motion sickness: it was only towards the end of the ride when we were heading out onto Lake Erie proper that I started feeling a bit off-balance. My camera battery had just run out, and while replacing it with the backup (and changing out the memory stick for safety's sake), I suddenly realized that it was taking a conscious effort for me to sit up straight. Puzzled, I leaned back into the chair I was sitting in, sitting myself straight up and feeling a strange sensation like some invisible force was pulling my body a few degrees towards the right and I had been subtly leaning to my left to counter it. I stood up and a slight wave of wobbliness pass through my legs.

At no time during the voyage on the Goodtime III did I ever felt outright seasick, but I definitely experienced a mild dizziness that kept at me until I was on walking on land about an hour later. Having been aboard a few high-speed ferries bouncing happily across the Straits Of Mackinac as a kid, I know what true seasickness feels like, and this was certainly nowhere near that level of nausea or imbalance, but it is something a few people might want to keep in mind before climbing aboard.

Thoroughly blown away with the trip and elated at the pictures I had taken so far, I drove back home in a lighter mental state than I had felt in weeks. My day wasn't quite done yet, however: part of my original plan had been to locate a place I had come across a few years before in order to get a picture of Lake Erie from one of the highest elevations in the area just a few miles inland. After a stopover at the condo to let Sarah know I was still alive, I set off into Concord Township: the premier district in all of Lake County for people who want to live in fenced-off monster homes that scream "get the hell off my lawn and leave me the fuck alone."

At first, my destination eluded me: I knew it was on King Memorial Road somewhere south of Little Mountain, but a few rolling miles of southbound travel brought me to the border of Chardon Township with no evidence of the view I had been looking for. Mystified, I turned around and retraced my route backwards, wondering if I might have forgotten an important turn or landmark. As I climbed the last rise before the Little Mountain Road intersection, right at the entrance to the Lake County Historical Society and I suddenly found the view and nearly drove off the road in surprise. Sadly, by that time, the sun was too low in the sky for the image I wanted to obtain, and the glare off the water largely obscured the intended effect of the shot, but at least I know where to go when I return in a few weeks for a better-composed second chance.

I had promised Sarah I wouldn't be more than an hour and change when I left the condo around 1:30, but now the sun was setting and it seemed suddenly obvious that the best way to end the day would be with a lot of sky/sun pictures from the beach as well (there had also been a striking crescent moon over the last few days as well, which factored into my desire for some additional captures). My obvious choice from where I was would have been Mentor Headlands State Park, but I decided to stop home first, see if Sarah wanted to come along, and then go to Willoughby Lakefront Lodge instead. Since Sarah wasn't feeling well, I headed up alone and managed to get some pretty good images of the day's end, along with a few of what I call "texture" shots of sand, rocks, waves, water, and the like. It sounds a bit silly, perhaps, but I felt honestly drugged as I headed back to the car a short while later: it was a beautiful, serene end to another perfect summer's day.

For those who have never done so (and don't have an aversion to being afloat for a couple of hours), I highly recommend an afternoon trip on the Goodtime III: without question the highlight of a leisurely, gorgeous, breezy sunny day that did wonders for the soul. I really needed this ...