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Slow and steady April 29, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Exercise.
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Ben Butterworth Parkway, 4-28-10

My running is coming along gradually. I’d been a little sidetracked the past few weeks, not keeping to my three-times-a-week schedule. A look at the calendar this week and realizing how quickly July (with the Firecracker Run 10K on July 4 and the Bix on July 24) will be here got me to literally pick up the pace.

When it comes to running, though, time is needed to build up endurance. Progress has to be slow and steady – it’s the only way I’m going to succeed without injury. And I’ve been sidetracked enough with injuries in the past seven years of running!

Yet I also know I have to push myself to keep building up. There was an article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat this week about Cardinals relief pitcher Trever Miller, an avid runner. It included great running advice, and this quote guided my running this week: “It’s jogging if it doesn’t hurt. If you want to be a runner, it’s got to hurt a little bit.” So I’ve worked harder to see how much I can do. 

At first it seems easy and I feel great, confident. Last night I ran a mile nonstop for the first time since last summer, and only took a very short walking break before running another nonstop mile. About three minutes into that second mile, I was looking at my watch already. That wasn’t going to help. Time for running’s mental game. So I turned to my inner Chris Carpenter once again – how would he handle this? The perfect situation was right there: he pitched Tuesday night and again was not dominating like in 2009. But he settled in, settled down, continued on and made it through six innings (and was the winning pitcher on his 35th birthday!) And I too settled in and just kept going, one foot in front of the other and one deep breath after another, until I finished that mile.

It always helps that there are friendly people down along the riverfront. Usually it’s the slower runners like me who say hello and smile – the faster ones typically can’t be bothered. But last night, one older and very fast gentleman did wave and say hi as he zipped past me. That gave me a little boost, since it was about halfway through that second mile. Vanity sometimes pushes me along too. I saw a high school friend of mine as I was starting out last night. During the second mile, I could see she was up ahead and we would pass each other once more. So I tried to run as quickly as I could, plus focused on trying to not look like I was dying (even if I felt otherwise) as we said hello.

When I finished last night, it was a nice sense of accomplishment. I can’t always necessarily say that I like running, but I love when I get done – especially on days like yesterday when I’ve pushed myself and made it through. Now, onward and upward from here!

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Will there be a bird omen this Cardinals season? April 25, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Baseball.
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I’m becoming a believer in omens when it comes to my baseball team – bird omens. Now that a new baseball season is in progress, I’m wondering if there will be another one.

At work, I’ll occasionally be startled by a bird flying into one of the two windows in my office. It happens every so often. Usually the bird is merely stunned and flies away a few seconds later.

In September 2007, a bird smashed into my window harder than one ever had. I looked out and saw a brown bird on the ground, not moving. Some coworkers heard the bird crash and came to look also. Later, when we checked again, it was still there and not moving. We decided it would likely be gone by morning – we see woodchucks, deer and other creatures in the adjacent strip of wooded area. Someone suggested asking one of the guys in the office (the company is predominantly female) to get rid of it the next day if it still remained. I told my friend Hideki about it and asked if he’d take care of it tomorrow. He was not thrilled.

The next morning, I looked out the window. The bird was still there, but partially covered by a white cloth with a wooden cross stuck in the ground next to it. Immediately I knew it was Hideki’s work and started laughing. Turns out he’d done it before leaving the previous day, using a napkin and chopsticks. The bird memorial was the hit of the office that morning – everyone in my department and others who’d heard about it came to my office to check it out. Another of the guys, Doug – a Cubs fan – saw it, laughed and wanted to know if the bird was a cardinal. At the time, my Cardinals were in the midst of an eventual nine-game losing streak after they’d been battling the Cubs and Brewers for the division lead. I said it was some brown bird, someone had said a robin, but a cardinal would have been far more appropriate – a little too obvious omen, actually. Doug asked if I wanted him to get rid of it, so he (thankfully!) took care of it.

That afternoon, I was in a meeting. Someone mentioned the bird, and not everyone had yet heard the story. So I told it, and said that someone thought it had been a robin. Connie, who works with Doug and loves birds, said she’d taken a look at the bird. It hadn’t been a robin – it was a female cardinal. It really was an omen. A cardinal was dead, just like the 2007 season for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Fast forward to last July, just after the All Star break. This was before the Matt Holliday trade, and the Cardinals held a slim lead over the Brewers atop the NL Central. I was working at my computer and heard a noise at the window. I looked over and there was a male cardinal – identical to the uniforms – sitting on the ledge, just looking in. And all he did was sit there for a few minutes, then fly away. It made me smile, and seemed like a positive sign for the remainder of the Cardinals season. Turned out to be another omen.

One more bird encounter did happen last year. It was in early October, as the Cardinals were beginning their short-lived effort in the playoffs. A bird again crashed into the window. At the time, following the Cardinals lackluster September, I was too afraid to go look. I expected another cardinal lying on the ground. In retrospect, given how the Cardinals played against the Dodgers, there probably was one.

So far, there have been no bird encounters since last October. Only time will tell what’s ahead for this baseball season.

How I became a Cardinals fan April 21, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Baseball.
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Busch Stadium

My baseball history is rather long and covers a lot of territory: Little League fan in my youth, Cubs fan in high school and college, Cubs intern, 10-year baseball hiatus, Cubs fan again in 1998, losing interest in 1999, conversion to Cardinals fan in 2000, happily ever after since then. The entire story is part of a new blog, Cardinal Diamond Diaries, which I’m part of along with my Cardinals friends Erika and Angela. Check it out here.

Sharing the Cardinals ups and downs via Twitter April 18, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Baseball.
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A nearly seven-hour Cardinals game wasn’t part of my plans for yesterday. Watching the game was on my agenda, of course – it started at 3:15, so I figured it would end by 6:15 or 6:30, giving me the opportunity to head to Panera for dinner and work on compiling the notes and ideas I’ve accumulated this week for a new novel. Perfect schedule! Then the game started …

Jaime Garcia was terrific, so it was fun watching him no-hit the Mets for five innings as part of his seven total innings. Johan Santana also was good, which made watching the Cards’ continuing offensive struggles not so fun. The game remained scoreless through nine innings and then 10 innings and 11 – and I was hungry. It was after seven o’clock – after my planned dinner time – and I had nothing to eat. The 12th inning came and went. I headed to Panera, laptop in tow in case the game ended and I could continue my writing plan. Yet once there, all I could do was check Twitter to see what was going on. The tweets kept me updated, but I still hurriedly ate my salad and arrived back home as the 15th was starting.

While the game was (to me) highly entertaining, it also was the camaraderie of my fellow Cards Twitter pals that made it even more so. It was about a year ago I joined Twitter, to learn more about it so I could start using it for work. My friend Kathy (the Yankees fan) was already on Twitter and gave me some suggestions of baseball people to follow. She also said I should look for some Cardinals fans who tweet during games – she had a group of Yankees fans she did the same with and it was a lot of fun.

I don’t remember how I found the first Cardinals fans to follow, or even how I started tweeting with them. Through “follow Fridays” I discovered more and more fellow Cards fans. Now I’ve gotten to know fans from all across the country – Oklahoma City; Racine, Wis.; “Podunk,” Mo.; Dallas; New York City; Murray, Ky.; of course St. Louis and many other places. And it’s a great group of online friends to have. There’s so much I’ve learned about Cardinals history from Bob in Dallas, also known as @throatwarbler.  I’ve also learned much about other things – Murray State basketball, for example, from their play-by-play announcer, Neal Bradley (@nealbradley). Had I not known him, I wouldn’t have picked Murray State to win their first round NCAA game – nor enjoyed watching, and tweeting, during their second round game with my Cards pals. I’ve found a fellow writer in @LSMurphy, so it’s great to combine my passions. I could go on … In addition, following the Cardinals beat writers has expanded both my enjoyment and knowledge of the game. I love reading in-game tidbits about the game in progress.

But nothing will compare to last night’s game and the in-game tweeting that took place. Yes, it’s very disappointing the Cardinals lost after all that. But being able to share each excruciating inning, and then the entertainment in the later innings, was a special experience. One of the things I love so much about baseball is that each game offers the opportunity to see something you’ve never seen before. And last night, with Felipe Lopez pitching and allowing a base hit to the relief pitcher he hit a grand slam off of Friday, had so many “I can’t believe this!” moments. Sharing those moments as they happened with my Twitter friends (and Kathy, who chimed in several times) is something I’ll never forget.

And now, time to end. Another game is starting – and my Cardinals tweeps are waiting!

The official start of baseball season April 13, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Baseball.
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Shelby Miller, 4-11-10

Even though the Major League Baseball season is in its second week, baseball doesn’t officially start for me until I attend my first baseball game. It takes seeing the green of the grass in person and having that first hot dog and beer to make a season real. Happily, the season began on Sunday when I went to the home opener for the Quad Cities River Bandits.

 

The Bandits play at Modern Woodmen Park on the banks of the Mississippi River, a beautiful ballpark in a picturesque setting. Last week it was named one of the “10 great places for a baseball pilgrimage” in USA Today and was the setting for many of the baseball scenes in last year’s movie “Sugar.” I’ve been going there since I was a kid, having watched the Quad City Angels, Quad City Cubs, the first go-round of the River Bandits (when they were a farm team for the Astros then the Twins), the Swing of the Quad Cities (with the unfortunate baby blue uniforms that both Rick Ankiel and Mark Mulder wore) and now back to the River Bandits again. 

Watching minor league games, especially at this level, is about the future – which of these players is a real prospect, and will they make it to the big leagues? With the Bandits a Cardinals farm team for the last several years, I’ve had the chance to see guys like Colby Rasmus, Jaime Garcia and Nick Stavinoha play here. And hopefully the top draft picks of 2009 who are now here, including Shelby Miller and Robert Stock, are guys I will see in St. Louis in years ahead. 

The future focus of attending Bandits games isn’t just with the players, though. It’s a generational thing. For Sunday’s home opener, I took my niece Lily and nephews Sean and Drew to the game. All three love baseball, and it’s okay for now that Lily and Sean are Cubs fans. Drew has already realized it makes more sense to be a Cardinals fan – great wisdom for an 8-year-old! 

We arrived early for the game. Sean and Drew were interviewed by a local television station outside the ballpark, the reporter asking them what they liked the most about opening day. (Nachos and home runs were the common theme of their answers.) Inside the ballpark, our first stop was the team store so they could check out all the new merchandise and make a purchase. They chose our seats – right next to the River Bandits dugout, since they all wanted to get autographs. The boys brought along baseballs they’d received last season, plus their own markers, but also were hopeful of getting a ball thrown to them since they were in the front row. That plan worked for Lily, as the Bandits third base coach tossed one to her after it went foul. 

The boys both play baseball and Lily plays softball, and all three impressed me with their knowledge of the game. During the top of the first, Sean was telling me what pitches Miller should be throwing at each count. He walked the first batter and gave up a hit in the inning, but ended the inning with a strikeout. In the second, he struck out the side and then also struck out the first batter in the third for five consecutive Ks. He had two more strikeouts, a couple more walks and only one other hit during his four total innings of work. 

The Bandits took a 1-0 lead when Stock and D’Marcus Ingram hit consecutive doubles. Cedar Rapids tied it, although I’m not sure how – at the time, Drew and I were walking around the outfield. It’s obvious the kids are growing up and appreciating the game more: walking around the entire ballpark and visiting the play area used to be the top priorities. While all four of us started walking around, Lily and Sean went back to the seats quickly because they didn’t want to miss the game. Drew and I continued walking and spent several minutes at the right centerfield wall, watching the game from this vantage point until the end of the inning. Minutes later, Bandit Matt Adams hit a homer – directly to where we’d been standing. 

The Bandits hung on for the 2-1 win. Sitting right by the dugout was a nice vantage point. Such a close game, and a walk in the top of the ninth inning, made for a dramatic couple of minutes. With two outs, as the crowd cheered for strike three, the Bandits all lined up along the railing in anticipation of a victory. The excitement with the third out wasn’t just contained to the fans. The players leaped over the railing and onto the field, looking genuinely excited about the victory. And the three kids, and many others, leaped into places along the wall to wait for autographs. 

Several players obliged. It also was “run the bases” day. Before the game ended, I’d asked the kids if they wanted to do it. Lily said no, since she is recovering from a cracked bone in her ankle and has to wear an orthopedic boot right now. The boys wanted to get autographs first. Many kids, though, went out to the field to run. Three Bandits, including Robert Stock, were lined up between third base and home to high-five the kids as they passed by. When the crowd died down, they signed autographs on the field. 

Lily, Sean and Drew all climbed over the wall onto the field. Since parents were too, I did (feeling like a mom carrying bags that contained our sweatshirts, their purchases and the Easter eggs from the pre-game on-field hunt). The three were waiting to get Stock’s autograph. As Lily approached, he said to her, “I don’t think I can sign anything if you’re wearing a Cubs shirt.” She laughed, and of course he signed her baseball. A moment later, when a girl didn’t have a marker, he asked Lily if he could use hers. When she said yes, he said, “I guess you’re OK then, since you share.” He made a couple of new fans right then. 

The boys ran the bases and Lily met them at home plate for a picture. The stadium was mostly cleared out as we walked through to leave. The kids looked over their baseballs, to see how many autographs they’d obtained. Walking through the parking lot, we talked over the game and the best parts (going on the field). It was the perfect ending to the official start of the season.

Baseball’s moments April 9, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Baseball.
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Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium, 7/29/08

They’re the instances that bring goose bumps, cheers from your living room or even tears – and still come to mind years later. The ones that I immediately recall are Rick Ankiel’s homer in his major league debut as an outfielder, Adam Wainwright’s curve ball to Carlos Beltran, Albert’s homer off of Brad Lidge and, going back to my Cub days, the Sandberg Game (since I liked the final outcome). But what about being there, in person, for one of these moments?

That’s what my friend Kathy experienced on her first trip to Yankee Stadium.

Kathy’s been a die-hard Yankees fan since 1984, when her then-favorite Cub Henry Cotto was traded to them. (I am not alone in revoking my Cubs fandom!) Yet it wasn’t until 2005 that she attended her first game at Yankee Stadium. At the time her favorite Yankee was Bubba Crosby. Chances are you’ve never heard of him, and that was part of his appeal for Kathy: “He was my favorite mostly because he was a ‘nobody,’ especially in comparison to everyone else on the team. He always hustled and went all out. He was also awfully darn cute. That always helps.” Of course! (See for yourself.)

So Kathy and a friend went to New York and to Yankee Stadium on Sept. 19 to see her guys take on the Orioles. They had good seats for the game, about 20 or so rows right behind home plate. I was watching the game too – I was taping it for her (yes, with a VCR) and at the time, with DirecTV, had to watch whatever I was taping. Bubba was in the starting lineup, which made me very happy since I knew Kathy would be thrilled. He was batting eighth and playing right field, since Gary Sheffield had a leg injury. Bubba singled in his first at-bat, which was awesome. In the fifth inning, with the Yankees down 2-0, he bunted for a single and later that inning scored the tying run. The score remained tied into the ninth inning.

Bubba was up first in the bottom of the ninth. And he launched a long fly ball to right field that sailed deep into the bleachers. As I watched on TV, I screamed and clapped and couldn’t believe it. The crowd, understandably, went into a frenzy and I wondered how Kathy could even stand it. Her Bubba hits a walk-off homer at her first-ever game at Yankee Stadium! I couldn’t wait to call her.

But I had to talk to someone immediately – the moment was too perfect to not share right then. So I called my Mom, because at least she would understand it. (We had called each other during those two walk-off victories the Yankees had on consecutive nights during the 2001 World Series too – I didn’t yet know Kathy at the time.) Now I remember nothing of that conversation with my Mom. I do, however, vividly remember calling Kathy a short while later. It was very hard to hear – we were both screaming, for one thing, but there was also a very loud chant in the background from fellow Yankees fans around her: “Boston sucks! Boston sucks! Boston sucks!” Which, of course, is the perfect thing to chant after just beating the Orioles. (But the Yankees were battling the Red Sox for the division lead at the time.)

Our conversation was thus understandably short, but I kept watching the Yankees post-game that Kathy would now be all the more interested in. It was worth it just to see that homer replayed over and over. Plus I had the chance to hear Bubba interviewed. I excitedly e-mailed Kathy about it, even though she wouldn’t read it until she got home, and still have the message:
“God, he’s cute! And to hear him talk about this just makes it that much better! This was the first walk-off homer he’s ever hit, even going back to Little League. Of course he wasn’t expecting to hit one — he thought about bunting, then thought maybe he could get one to the outfield for a double. As he running the bases, he tried to slow down and take it all in but he could only think about what would happen at home plate. He said it was an out of body experience! He didn’t know what anyone was saying to him, with all the guys screaming and pounding on his helmet.”

Even now, more than four years later, just thinking about that game amazes me. The ultimate baseball moment for Kathy. As she herself said this week: “Ahhh….just thinking about that night made me smile. Still SO surreal. Too perfect.”

Who’s your favorite baseball player? April 5, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Baseball.
10 comments

At last, the baseball season is officially here! While the six weeks of spring training were a nice appetizer, the main course is served today (and daily through October). I can’t wait. Six hours until game time!

While all baseball fans have a favorite team, they also have a favorite player. Who’s yours? Why? Everyone has their reasons, and I want to hear them.

I’ve mentioned mine, Chris Carpenter, and the reasons why he’s earned that spot several times already. (His determination, his approach and his general kick-ass attitude, as well as this.) I’m thrilled he’s again the Cardinals Opening Day pitcher, yet also nervous. He’s been up and down during spring training, and his last time pitching in a meaningful game – last October against the Dodgers in the playoffs – wasn’t a typical Carp game. Yet I have to feel good about his chances today. He’s Chris Carpenter. It’s Opening Day.

Today I want to hear from you about your favorites – yes, Cubs fans, even you. Who’s your favorite and why?

What a difference a week makes April 1, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Exercise, Uncategorized.
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Ben Butterworth Parkway, Moline, IL, 4-1-10

Last Thursday and today have one thing in common: it was very windy both days. A week ago, the temperature when I headed out to run after work was 48 degrees. Combined with the wind, that was enough to send me to the gym. Today: 84 degrees. So down to the river I went.

With a temperature like that on April 1, it wasn’t surprising the riverfront was even more crowded today. (The river was also, as several boats were out.) I dodged all the walkers — and endured all the runners passing me — and took it slow and steady. Today’s running program called for two stretches of eight minutes at a time, which is a new high. Driving to the parkway, I gave myself an internal pep talk. And, yes, I was calling on my inner Chris Carpenter to make it through the second section. Happily, I survived!

The Mississippi is encroaching onto the parkway in certain areas. Over the last two weeks, it’s risen a bit higher each day I’ve been there. Today, at the first area that floods, the river is lapping at the asphalt path and the mud shows that it has crossed the path on occasion. I believe the latest flood forecasts call for only minor flooding this year. Hopefully that’s the case. Two years ago, there were two major floods that closed Ben Butterworth Parkway for parts of the spring and summer. The unfortunate price to pay for taking advantage of such natural beauty.