One Movie, One Kid and 295 Questions

TOWER GROVE — Since he grew as weary as his parents of the Little Einstein videos, the boy wonder has been a movie nut. It was “Happy Feet” that sparked his love, “Star Wars” that strengthened it and, recently, a summer loaded with superhero movies that cemented it. Perhaps this fondness for movies was most obvious when on our way home from school one day he outlined his plan to make “Spider-Man 4” and told me that he was readying other movies he planned to make.

“They’re in development,” he said as if he knew what he was talking about.

That said, watching a movie for the first time with Ian, age 5, is a rigorous experience. This is when it’s clear that as much as he loves movies he is still the son of two journalism majors. The questions start before you can press play, and they don’t end until the movie does. He recently woke up while I was watching “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and decided to watch it with me.

“Is this real, Daddy?” he asked.

“No, it’s just a story.”

“Well, then why are they using real days of the week, like Wednesday? Why did they say Wednesday if this isn’t real?”

And that’s an easy one. Continue reading

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Fore Below: Paying Our Greens Freeze

ST. LOUIS — One of the few drawbacks of disappearing for spring training ever February is that all of those coupons and gifts certificates that stack up around Christmas with March 31 expiration dates have to be used before Valentine’s Day. That includes golf. Even in this weather. And so it was this afternoon that I found myself looking down Normandie Golf Club’s No. 15 looking for the best liver spot of mud to stick my tee — sploorch! — and watching as my breath became a cloud. Temps were dipping below 40. My score was rising toward 100. But historic Normandie, the oldest course west of the Mississippi River still on its original footprint, was the place to be on a January afternoon with rain in the evening forecast. After all, we had a coupon. Golf is not my game. In the family sports lottery, my dad claimed this 18 holes of torture. I got swimming, grandpa got basketball, my eldest cousin took cycling, his son grabbed hockey, and so on. The boy wonder is on the clock. We all share baseball. With my vacation days dwindling and spring training wiping out my March, this was the day my dad and I could hit the course and use a coupon that expires sometime during spring training. The weather … Continue reading

A Computer’s Coming for My Job

TOWER GROVE — Over the past couple weeks, I’ve spent some time updating the book I wrote on the Cardinals for a new edition that will include the 2011 World Series and Tony La Russa’s retirement. The final update was completed last week from a hotel room in Curacao, which is fitting because some of the previous book was written off the coast of Greece. The book is more well-traveled than it deserves.

The trick with the update was to write something I’ve written dozens of times before — hey, did you hear that the Cardinals came back from 10 1/2 games back in August? No, seriously, it happened! And Game 6, wasn’t that great? — with fresh sentences. I kept stumbling into familiar phrases. Unforgettable. Underachievers. Unexpected. These were verbal blankies that I kept wrapping around my copy because they’re cozy and reliable. I was unable to avoid all of them because there are only so many ways to peel the same onion.

That said, I hope I was able to keep from sounding repetitive. The worst thing to do would be to become so numbed by writing about the events (again) that the emotion, thrill and drama is sucked out of the description. The writer has to remember the reader may be visiting these stories for the first time, and the writer owes that reader the same verve.

Or else, the story will seem … well, robotic.

There’s that word again. Continue reading

The Day the Picayune Was Born

TOWER GROVE — One afternoon in Lafayette, La., I had some time to kill before meeting New York Yankees great Ron Guidry at his night job with the Bayou Bullfrogs and, as luck would have it, the Cajun capital had a bookstore built for killing time.

This was my first full year out of college and my first full summer at The New Orleans Times-Picayune. A news tip from a friend who knew about my dream of covering baseball had taken me west over the Atchafalaya to Lafayette and Guidry’s home for a story on Louisiana Lightning’s unexpected role with an independent league baseball team in his hometown. By sheer luck, the day I spent with Guidry was the 20th anniversary of his 18-strikeout game in 1978, the centerpiece of one of the best season’s by a pitcher since Bob Gibson set the standard in 1968. Gator was a colorful host and we agreed to meet at the ballpark so I could sit in the bullpen with him “and his boys” during the game. He just needed a few hours to clean up, finish chores … fish, whatever. The hours I spent with Guidry are a story for another day.

This is about the hours I spent away from him — and the book I found as a result. Continue reading

“There Will Be No Baseballs in the White House”

WASHINGTON — The official invitation instructed us to meet at the White House’s Southeast Gate at 2:15 local time, and from across the street it was clear we were going in the right direction.

A line of people had already formed, and their plumage gave them away as Cardinals fans.

Many were wearing Cardinals caps. A few had “World Series championship” hats on or headgear with some other variation of the team’s logo. Some of the ties that looked simply Cardinal red from a block away proved instead to be dotted with small baseballs, subtle Cardinals logos or not-too-subtle interlocking STLs as Post-Dispatch Washington reporter Bill Lambrecht and I got closer and took our spots in line. With the exception of a few kids who clutched their baseballs tightly, it was hard then to tell how many in line had a baseball tucked into a pocket somewhere in hopes of getting it signed. They wouldn’t keep that secret for long. The Secret Service was on the lookout for baseballs.

“There will be no baseballs in the White House,” an agent tells us as we approach the first of two or three security screenings (it was hard to tell when one ended and another began). “Sorry folks. No baseballs.” Continue reading

A Field Guide to Embedded Journalism

Photo by Alyssa Schukar of The Omaha World-Herald taken in Afghanistan on April 7, 2011, after she and my friend Joe Morton, a writer, were in a firefight with a National Guard squadron with which they were embedded. To understand the scale, consider that's an armored vehicle and a National Guardsmen in silhouette to the vehicle's right.

SILVER SPRING, Md. — After showing me video he shot from the war zone and telling me the stories of life as an embed, friend Joe Morton — the Joseph Morton, Washington correspondent for The Omaha World-Herald — came upon this photo taken by his colleague, Alyssa Schukar.

“This is my favorite,” he pointed.

The photo, shown big enough to fill a laptop screen, is striking. There is a solitary figure in the distance next to an immense and armored vehicle, and yet both are dwarfed by the landscape around it. The mountains rise up in three levels like rolling waves, one almost more impossibly tall then the next, and they overwhelm the image. Joe explained to me that that’s why he likes it. The picture shows the impenetrable terrain the military is dealing with in Afghanistan — even as it serves as a metaphor for the war effort itself. The enormity of the challenge is difficult to comprehend let alone tame. There is also the possibility that this picture means a lot to Joe because of when it was taken and what it represents: survival.

I had the chance today to catch up with Joe, a dear friend from college, at the start of a whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C. Today started with the final morning of Winter Warm-up. Then it was off to the airport to catch a flight to D.C. where on Tuesday I’ll join the Cardinals on their visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and follow them to the White House for the customary reception champions get with the president. A seat, I’m told, is waiting for me in the East Room. From the White House, I have approximately four hours to race to BWI, write a story, and catch the last flight to St. Louis out of the Beltway so I can make the family vacation to Curacao.

On my mark. Get set. Here we go. Continue reading

“A Quick Game of Catch with Gramps”

On what would have been my grandpa Fran’s 101st birthday — July 16, 2011 — I wrote about how he played catch, and our last time tossing the ball around.

TOWER GROVE — Whether we were tossing a baseball or chucking a football around outside his home in Sarasota, Fla., or at The Dells, the game with grandpa was always to transfer the ball from catch to throw as quickly as possible. He was a master at it. I remember how he could catch a football and throw it back all in one slick, swift motion – his left hand controlling and redirecting the ball into the right hand and then firing it back underhand, spiral and all. This wasn’t catch as much as it was a ricochet. Gramps would do this faster and faster and faster until, inevitably, I would laugh too hard to keep up, holding the ball until I caught my breath.

Grandpa would just stand there, grinning.

He won. Again. Continue reading