Toasty of the Town

College and professional sports offer the perfect environment for several strange team mascots. Here in the U.S. of A, a bear or tiger or some other animal just doesn’t make the cut anymore. Instead, we have a wide assortment of weirdos: “The Tree” (Stanford University), “Blue Blob” (Xavier University), “The Phillie Phanatic” (Philadelphia pro baseball), and “Whatizit/Izzy” (Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics). If you prefer downright creepy, look no further than “King Cake Baby” (New Orleans pro basketball). The Pelicans just won the #1 pick in this year’s NBA draft. They should keep King Cake in the closet ’til they sign Zion Williamson.

       

   

I’m an avid sports fan, so coming up with these examples was a no-brainer. I could add another dozen without too much thought. But even the weirdest of these characters – take your pick – couldn’t prepare me for a local newcomer, debuting next month alongside our minor league baseball team, the Rocky Mountain Vibes. Meet “Toasty – the fun-loving S’more“. You heard that right – a dancing, cheering S’more.

“Toasty”

Salmon and maple syrup?  Incompatible.  Grounds for divorce?  Irreconcilable.  Oil and vinegar?  Immiscible.  But a S’more and baseball?  Super-duper immiscible!

The Rocky Mountain Vibes – formerly the Helena Montana Brewers – must have a twisted front office.  I’d like to meet one or two of their decision-makers.  Consider the five finalists in their “name-the-team” contest:

  1. Colorado Springs Happy Campers
  2. Colorado Springs Lamb Chops
  3. Colorado Springs Punchy Pikas
  4. Colorado Springs Throttle Jockeys
  5. Rocky Mountain Oysters

If these are the finalists, I don’t want to see the rest of the entries. Happy Campers and Lamb Chops?  What the heck is a Punchy Pika?  And for those of you unfamiliar with a Throttle Jockey or Rocky Mountain Oyster, click the links at your own risk.  I repeat, at your own risk.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

With a passing degree of intelligence, the Vibes nixed all five finalists and came up with their own choice.  They claimed “Vibes” was something of a spin on “Happy Campers”; that euphoric feeling experienced in the Colorado outdoors.  Whatever.  Even without the reference, it’s a pretty good name.

Otherwise, this baseball team goes off the rails.  The Vibes’ major-league affiliate is the distant Milwaukee Brewers (not the Colorado Rockies right up the road in Denver).  They have five team colors – can’t wait to see those perky uniforms – “rubine” red, navy, gold, sky blue, and tan.  They’ve never, ever won a minor league title.  And then there’s that mascot.  I can’t get past it; a dancing, cheering S’more?  And then you had to go and name him “Toasty”?

If we’re just talking S’mores as a dessert – remove the Vibes – we’d be having a whole different conversation.  I love a good S’more.  Er, qualify that; I love a good S’more for about ten minutes.  Then I’ve had enough for the next six months.  It’s like those plate-sized German apple pancakes you gorge on at carnivals and amusement parks.  They sound good and smell good, but you pay too much for one and you’re feeling sick after just a couple of bites.  Don’t forget to wipe all that powdered sugar off your face.

S’mores are a basic, fun dessert.  Like the wheel or the hamburger, the origin of the S’more is debatable.  The most credible story in my book: a recipe published by the Campfire Marshmallow company back in the 1920’s.  Since then S’mores have been a favorite of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts (or just about anyone with graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate bars, and a nearby campfire).  You can order a S’mores Frappuccino at Starbucks. You can even purchase an “Electric S’mores Maker” on Amazon.

With no lack of embarrassing small-town flair, Colorado Springs has completely embraced Toasty’s upcoming debut.  A handful of local diners want you to “Vote for Your Favorite ‘S’more'”, with the following choices (restaurant names omitted in a desperate attempt to save their reputations):

  1. S’mores cheesecake bar (“healthier” with GF graham crackers!)
  2. “Sweet Victory” Tableside S’mores (including mini-campfire!)
  3. Smoky S’mores Cannoli (apologies to Italy)
  4. Savory S’mores Lamb Chops (no comment)
  5. S’mores Pancakes (i.e. dessert for breakfast)
  6. S’mores Florentina (with rum flambé, naturally)

Mark your calendar – August 10th is National S’mores Day.  You’ll probably get a free one if you’re watching the Vibes at the ballpark that day.  As for me, I’ll be sitting at home lamenting our former minor-league baseball team, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.  I’ve already forgotten the Sox mascot. Pretty sure it wasn’t a dessert.

 

Some content sourced from the Springs Magazine article, “Toasty S’mores Tasting Contest”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

America Makes the List

Last Friday’s celebration of the Chicago Cubs in the Windy City made headlines the following day. The fantastic turnout to celebrate a long-awaited World Series victory – from those lining the parade route to those further south at the rally – was generously estimated at FIVE MILLION people. That’s a serious confluence of baseball fans. But the number really gave me a jolt several days later, when someone ranked the gathering as the seventh largest in human history.

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Five million.  Hard to picture that many people in one location.  The population of Chicago is only half as much so the suburbs must’ve emptied out as well (it was a record day for the Metra commuter rail service).  Maybe I should’ve hired a helicopter or the Goodyear blimp and flown overhead, just to see all those human heads from a single vantage point.

Perspective?  If you take the combined attendance to Major League Baseball games in the 2016 season – 73,159,044 fans watching 30 teams play 2,424 games  – Friday’s crowd was almost 7% of that.  If you only consider the attendance to the seven games of the World Series – 299,704 fans watching 2 teams play 7 games, Chicago’s party drew seventeen times that many.

Five million people live in Norway (though I challenge you to see every single Norwegian from one location).  Five million people also live in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg, but how would you get them all to stand still while you counted?

I still can’t picture five million, but maybe the following will help.  Dunkin’ Donuts just announced its “DD Perks Rewards” program exceeded five million members.  Whirlpool just announced a recall of five million tumble dryers in the UK because of “blaze risk” (same technology as the Galaxy Note 7 phone?)  A recent census indicated five million people have jobs in Switzerland.  By the year 2020, a bunch of new robots will be added to the global workforce, thereby eliminating – you guessed it – five million jobs.  Finally, here in Colorado the government’s ‘Project Baseline” built a vault to store all kinds of seeds for future experiments, in response to climate change and environmental degradation.  Scientists have been collecting the seeds since 2012 and the vault now contains… five million of the little buggers.

Those are some fun facts but they don’t really paint the picture I’m looking for.  Let’s consider five million another way.  When someone says “seventh-largest gathering”, you want to know about gatherings one through six, don’t you?  What would you guess – religious pilgrimage?  Papal mass?  State funeral?  Correct, correct, and correct.  Here are the top ten gatherings in mankind’s recorded history:

  1. Kumba Mela pilgrimage, India, 2013 – 30 million
  2. Arbaeen festival, Iraq, 2014 – 17 million
  3. Funeral of CN Annadurai, India, 1969 – 15 million
  4. Funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran, 1989, 10 million
  5. Papal gathering in the Philippines, 2015 – 6 million
  6. World Youth Day (also attended by the Pope), Philippines, 5 million
  7. Chicago Cubs World Series Celebration – 5 million
  8. Funeral of Gamal Abdel Nasser, 1970 – 5 million
  9. Rod Stewart concert, Brazil, 1994 – 3.5 million
  10. Hajj pilgrimage, Mecca, Saudi Arabia – 3 million

Thanks to the Cubs, America finally makes the list.  But I’m no closer to picturing five million people than I was at the start of this post, and I’m running out of words.  Tell you what.  If the Cubs win the World Series next year (meaning the world comes to an end again), I’m heading to Chicago to be a part of the victory celebration.  If I can’t picture the number, at least I can say I was “one in a million”.  Or five million.

Benevolence at the Ballpark

A man losing his wallet is akin to a woman having her purse stolen, even though a wallet is typically so much smaller.  The same level of angst and helplessness ensues when you realize this most personal of belongings is gone.  I should know, since I lost my wallet last Sunday at a baseball game in Denver.  But it was returned to me sooner than I expected, and that simple act of charity will leave an imprint far deeper than the carelessness of my actions.

59 - angst 1

Ironically, I made a deliberate effort to protect my wallet from the game-day crowds.  I put my cell phone in the same front pocket, making my wallet more difficult to “lift”.  It would take some real effort to bring one or the other item out into the open.

But that’s exactly what I did.  Unbeknownst to me, when I took out my phone after the game my wallet was pulled along with it, dropping unnoticed onto the gravel of the parking lot.  And off we sped for home, none the wiser.  Three or four blocks later that moment of angst kicked in when my hand grazed my now empty front pocket.  A frantic glance around the driver’s seat revealed the obvious: my wallet was really, truly gone.  Even though we were back to the parking lot minutes later (where we wondered whether this was a “loss” or a “lift”), our search through the gravel was fruitless.

Now I’d like you to meet Karen, my new friend. Karen lives here in Colorado Springs, maybe on the south side of town. She enjoys going to baseball games on Sunday afternoons. That’s all I know about her (and may ever know), but let’s add one more thing. Like the fellow from the Bible parable, Karen is a good Samaritan.

59 - angst 2

My wallet showed up in my mailbox last Thursday – intact and virtually untouched – wrapped in the note you see above.  What struck me immediately about Karen’s actions was the following: 1) she spent $2.50 or more for the envelope and postage; 2) she apologized for not getting my wallet back to me sooner; and 3) she chose to remain anonymous.  There was no return address on the envelope and the USPS tracking number protected Karen’s contact information.  In this day and age I am somewhat in awe of her decent, anonymous gesture.  My wallet may have fallen to the parking lot but it also fell into the right hands.

The same day my wallet showed up in my mailbox our local newspaper reported a nearby incident involving a stolen wallet from an unlocked car.  The thief is still at-large, and he/she attempted a purchase with one of the credit cards immediately after the steal.  I can’t help but think this is more than just a coincidence of events.

So thank you Karen – whoever and wherever you are.  I may not be able to repay your actions but I can certainly follow your lead.  After all, the world needs more good Samaritans like you.

Winning the Big One

U.S. News & World Report just ranked Denver and Colorado Springs high on its list of “best places to live” in America.  Apparently the job market, cost of living, and quality of life in the Rocky Mountains leaves little to be desired.  To add to the accolades, the Broncos just won the Super Bowl.

sequestered

Before you say “Honey – pack up the kids!  We’re moving to Colorado!”, you must pause if you’re a sports fan.  Sure, that Lombardi Trophy is shiny and new and will feed Denver’s ego for the rest of the year.  But it sure is lacking for company.  If the State of Colorado had a trophy case for professional sports, the Lombardi would almost find itself in solitary confinement.  Sequestered.  You might even feel bad for it.

Denver wasn’t even supposed to win this Super Bowl.  Fans from North Carolina (and frankly, anywhere outside of Colorado) never gave us a chance.  But we’re used to it out here.  Denver and Colorado are perpetual underdogs when it comes to sports championships.

The Super Bowl win got me curious, so I spent a few hours researching Colorado’s professional sports franchises (Wikipedia is my new best friend).  I desperately wanted to use the phrase “a list of championships a mile high“.  Far from it.  To be honest I had to dig deep to find any noteworthy performances.

To spin it positive, Colorado might earn your envy for being one of only thirteen states where the four major professional sports are represented.  whoop-dee-doo.  The last time the Broncos won the Super Bowl was last century.  The one and only time the Avalanche (hockey) won the Stanley Cup was 2001.  The last time the Rockies (baseball) won the World Series was never.  But at least the Rockies made it to the World Series .  The Nuggets (basketball) started play in 1967 and fifty years later we’re still waiting for a spot in the Finals, let alone an NBA Championship.

To add a miserable exclamation point to Colorado’s track record, the Nuggets will once again miss the playoffs this year (it’s a tradition), the Avalanche are battling a half-dozen teams for the very last playoff slot in the Western Conference, and the Rockies… well, the Rockies haven’t even begun the new season yet they’re projected to finish in last place in the National League.  Go COLORADO!

My Wikipedia search – ever more desperate – moved on to college championships.  Colorado’s six D1 schools have accounted for a grand total of one football championship in their entire un-storied histories (Univ. of Colorado, 1990).  None of these schools have come anywhere close to tasting college basketball or baseball glory.  But then, mercifully, we have hockey.  On the college ice the Centennial State shines.  Denver University and Colorado College have combined for nine hockey championships; the most recent in 2005.  I need to become a better fan of the puck.

If you’re reading from California, Massachusetts, Texas, or Florida, you feel none of my pain.  Each of you can account for five, ten, even twenty professional or college sports championships in the last fifteen years alone.  But if you’re reading from Georgia or Washington D.C., you’re pitching the proverbial championship shutout.  You have my sympathies.

On the heels (hooves?) of the Broncos’ Super Bowl victory, Peyton Manning hung up his cleats for good – a justified decision.  But Peyton’s backup just signed with the Houston Texans.  In fact, several marquee Broncos have already left the state for other (better?) teams and higher salaries.  Sigh.  Back up the truck boys; the Lombardi Trophy is heading to another state soon.  Let Colorado’s next sports championship drought commence.

So go ahead sports fans – move to Colorado.  But I suggest you follow soccer.  The Colorado Rapids have only been kicking for twenty years and they’ve already made the finals twice and won the whole thing once.  Go RAPIDS!

Left, Left, Left-Right-Left

I’ve never been a baseball fan, but I do like the nostalgic origin of the term “southpaw”. Baseball claims the word because early ballparks oriented their fields with the batter facing east (to avoid the setting sun).  That put the pitcher facing west, and in the case of a lefty, his pitching “paw” to the south.

30 - sinistral

I am a southpaw myself.  The more formal term for me and my left-handed brethren is sinistral.  We are the ten percent of the world’s population who curse as we ladle from the punch bowl, write in our spiral-bound notebooks, or cut that not-so-straight line with our scissors.  We are the annoying person to your right at dinner parties; the one who bumps your elbow every time we lift our fork.

Handedness is often determined in the womb but almost always by the age of two.  Handedness suggests a tendency towards the opposite side of the brain (that is, left-handed people are more “right-brain” and vice-versa).  But it is also believed that left-handed people have the hemispheres of the brain reversed, so that their right-brain skills actually reside in their left hemisphere.  Confusing, no?

Whether left or right, the connotations go beyond the body itself.  Left-brain people favor analysis, logic, and facts, while right-brains favor creativity, imagination, and feelings.  I generally behave left-brain (which would confirm that reversed-hemisphere notion), but just to be sure I took the following 30-second test: http://braintest.sommer-sommer.com/en/ .  Try it yourself.  It tells me I am 59% right-brain.  Huh?  Then again – to squash this approach completely – logic tells me a right-brain person would not even subscribe to the idea that a test can determine these distinctions.

When we lived in San Francisco there was a small shop in Fisherman’s Wharf called “The Left-Hand Store”.  Among its more popular products: watches that could be set from the left, measuring cups that could be read when held in the left hand, and notebooks spiral-bound on the right.  They also sold an impressive selection of scissors and cutlery with the cutting edge on the -ahem – correct side.  Finally, they sold a “Super Power” hoodie proclaiming “Left is Right”, which is really just a desperate plea for sympathy from all you righties.

We lefties may need super power to overcome the perception that we are out of favor in a right-handed world.  After all, “right” connotes “correct” and “proper”, while sinistral connotes “unlucky” and “clumsy”.  The English derived “sinister” from sinistral, while the French termed “gauche” for “left”, but also for “awkward”.  Black magic is sometimes referred to as the “left-hand path”.  Many cultures seek to convert their left-handed children to the right.  Why is it never vice-versa?  Hence the perception.

Admittedly, some tasks remain nightmarish when performed from the left.  I will never again take chalk to board (as most ends up on my hand).  My spiral notebooks will always be bound from the top, to avoid the indent of metal wire on the edges of my palm.  My writing will forever be illegible since my hand curves awkwardly around the words I write, (to avoid smearing).  And if I ever wish to play the guitar – or the accordion – I need to play them upside-down for the benefit of my more dexterous hand.  At least Sir Paul McCartney feels my pain.

Here’s an interesting premise.  It is said that more left-handed drivers die in accidents than right-handed drivers.  Why?  Because in the effort to avoid that head-on collision, we southpaws instinctively pull the wheel down to the left… which takes our car into oncoming traffic.  At least in America.  Perhaps I should move to England.

From the Facebook community That’s One Awesome Mommy, we read “Left-handers are wired into the artistic half of the brain, which makes them imaginative, creative, surprising, ambiguous, exasperating, stubborn, emotional, witty, obsessive, infuriating, delightful, original, but never, never dull.”  Whoa.  Now that’s what I’d call a left-handed compliment!