book review: up up and away

I grew up a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays. I was the perfect age to see them win back-to-back World Series in 92 and 93 and though I had my bleh years when I paid them less attention, I’ve been back in my childhood fandom for at least a decade. Since getting more into baseball I added the San Francisco Giants as my west coast team since it’s good to have a team to root for that’s in the same timezone as you. I chose the Giants because of Tim Lincecum and the Barry Zito fiasco and having missed all the Barry Bonds amazingness of the early 2000s (I did briefly flirt with Dodgers fandom, but I figured it made more sense to support a team because of onfield actions and players rather than primarily for their amazing play-by-play guy; I could still appreciate Vin Scully calling a game even if I wasn’t rooting for the Dodgers). More importantly, I needed a National League team to follow, and there wasn’t another that was an immediate obvious choice.

All of that is to say I regret not having paid more attention to the Montréal Expos when they existed. Jonah Keri did pay attention and wrote a book called Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montréal Expos. It’s a good summary of some of the team’s history and the stories around the teams that were good and the ownership troubles and the Big Owe and all of that. I quite enjoyed it.

I didn’t realize that the Blue Jays and their assertion of all of southern Ontario as their TV market was so detrimental to the Expos’ finances. Growing up I assumed there was a Québec law that said Expos games had to be in French and that was why we so rarely saw them play on TV. I remember the strike season and how even without watching the games we knew they were great and that it was a crime to not have a World Series. But I didn’t know the background fire-sale that decimated the team for the next season. And I totally didn’t know about the late ’70s early ’80s coke-fuelled party teams.

It’s a good book, written journalistically, with maybe a few too many personal stories of Keri’s games he was a spectator at, but whatevs. I have a better idea of the history of the Canadian MLB team I never knew I’d enjoy rooting for.

book review: dingers

Dingers is an anthology of short stories and poems about baseball. It’s also a Canadian anthology which is kind of neat. There were stories about the Expos and a leprechaun-assisted pitcher for the Vancouver Canadians. Dave Bidini had a story in it, and his was the only name I recognized.

The story of the author who had to pitch for a library visit was kind of memorable, as was the aforementioned leprechaun story, but as a whole the book didn’t set me on fire or anything. I think the reason might be because of how much baseball journalism I read, which twisted my notion of what this anthology would try to do.

tv review: star trek deep space 9 (season 3)

This is the season Deep Space 9 really came into its own. At the beginning of the season Odo finds his people and discovers they’re the force behind the Dominion which was brought up as a threat at the end of season 2. There’s some Klingon political action and we get a few Ferengi culture episodes. We learn about the intelligence operations that the Cardassians have and the Romulans and then they both get lured into a trap by the Dominion. Kasidy Yates shows up and the romantic interest with Sisko develops through baseball. Bashir and O’Brien are now firmly bros (and Keiko is off on Bajor botanizing). And Sisko goes back in time and becomes a fighter for better conditions in the 21st century. There’s a peace treaty between Bajor and Cardassia which Vedek Bareil dies while helping create.

The episode where that treaty is created showcases one of the things that made DS9 better than other Star Treks. Because they’re in one place they have to deal with their villains over and over again. And man, Kai Winn is way more of an infuriating villain than Gul Dukat ever could be. They’re both smug condescending assholes, but the graspy nature of Winn bothers me way more than Dukat’s opportunism. If I remember correctly, by the final seasons when the war is in full swing, their villainy gets kind of ridiculous, but Season 3 DS9 has them operating beautifully.

Of course, the other big thing that happens in this season is that they get the Defiant, which is a different kind of Federation starship than we’d really seen in Trek before. No niceties, just an overpowered shooting machine. When it first aired this is why I got back into DS9 (and these are episodes I do remember watching as a teenager, whereas I didn’t remember most of the first two seasons). Now they weren’t weak when they wandered away from Bajor. The stakes seemed higher. (Now I just love the tiny bunkrooms compared to Enterprise-D quarters.) Again, this is something that gets overplayed in later seasons, but at this point in the show it works. There are definitely missions they take the Defiant on that could use a more scientific ship, and it’s probably not entirely realistic, but this is the season the galaxy DS9 was in felt much less claustrophobic.

Finally, Sisko gets promoted to Captain at the end of the season, and one of the things that used to bother me so much about this show as a kid happens in the final episode. O’Brien refers to Sisko as being the best captain he’d served with. O’Brien who used to be on the Enterprise with Picard! That used to really bother me, because obviously Picard was the best ever and the writers were making O’Brien lie. Now though, I get where the character is coming from. Picard was so distant and above the rest of his crew, but Sisko is much more a hands-dirty kind of guy in the mud with a character like O’Brien.

Knowing a bit more about how the world of work goes, I no longer get mad at O’Brien for forgetting his past. He wasn’t in those Observation Lounge meetings seeing the high-level stuff Picard did. But Sisko includes O’Brien in decision making and trusts him to be more than just a competent expert in a narrow field. The two talk about parenting, which I don’t get the sense that Picard ever would do with an enlisted member of his crew. Anyway. Sisko growing as a leader is something I see very differently now than I did as a kid. Which is why I’m rewatching this stuff.

I’m amazed at how many episodes there are in each of these seasons. I guess I’m getting used to HBO-type 13 episode strings, but there’s a lot that happens in each one of these. I feel a bit bad for not doing brief episode by episode highlights, but also lazy. Now that I’ve said that, the second episode of Season 4 will be getting its own review, as it’s my favourite episode of any Trek ever.

book review: 21: the story of roberto clemente

I wanted to like 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente. It’s a comic about baseball after all. But I couldn’t really get into it. There were some good bits. I liked how the English dialogue had yellow-orange coloured speech balloons to differentiate it from what would have been Spanish. I liked the dynamic art for the baseball sequences. I just found the story muddy and not as engaging as it could have been.

book review: the bullpen gospels

Baseball is the sport I care about and I remember being a kid and having the astounding realization that ball players might actually eat and poop. The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran is a good book to help a person get over thinking of them as demigods.

I’ve followed Dirk Hayhurst on Twitter since just before he went to Tampa Bay from Toronto. He’s a baseball player, a relief pitcher, but he’s kind of interesting to follow. This book isn’t about his time in the major leagues but about a season in High A and Double A ball. It’s a great story and isn’t about exposing the seamy underbelly of baseball or anything, but about the humanness of baseball players. There are lots of bus exploits and practical jokes but also some of the logistical stuff like how spring training works for the guys who aren’t going to get a big league job. Very interesting stuff.

It’s got a motivational subtext to it, but isn’t preachy as it could be with his alcoholic brother and father who doesn’t say he’s proud of Dirk’s accomplishments. It’s an interesting memoir about being a baseball player who might not make it and how baseball is just a game.

book review: the whisper of madness (cthulhu tales vol. 2)

The Whisper of Madness is a collection of short Lovecraftian comics. And when I say short I mean 6-10 pages apiece. There are mad people, cultists, murder. One very short story is about a baseball team with a curse. There’s a cruise-line brochure showing all the Cthulhu-worshipping things that will happen underlying the generic text. A young woman sacrifices her roommate to become a Cthulhu high priestess after complaining about how the college wicca scene had failed her.

They were mostly kind of meh and didn’t really have the space to set up a good creepy mood. I wouldn’t recommend it.

The best story was Steve Niles and Shane Oakley’s The Hiding Place, which had a really cool angular black and white aesthetic, and was the story of a detective and his nemesis who’d hanged himself, leaving one last message behind.

my first real library school dilemma

I’ve had a pretty easy library school career. I’ve enjoyed or seen the value of most of my classes. I was one of those people who had an easy time getting a co-op position (some people never got one) at a place I really enjoyed (which some people did not, though they have very funny stories why not). I’ve had good experiences with different student groups. I have friends. But now I’m in a course that I’m not sure if it’s really for me.

It’s a class on data visualization and analytics: taking mounds of data and converting it into graphical forms people can play with. I love the idea of making this stuff, like Hans Rosling’s look at national life expectancy and income levels over the past 200 years.

I mean, seriously, you look at that and it’s pretty neat, right? The class assignments involve doing a project analyzing a dataset of my own choosing, and we get some training in some of the tools for making these things. I’d be able to do so much cool stuff with baseball stats with some of this expertise (though my project will probably involve analyzing independent publisher information I can get from Comic Book DB, since that’s a bit more applicable to libraries than baseball analysis).

But.

The applicability of this in my career is the big issue. The course seems to be much more focused on hardcore academic analysis of research questions for PhD students in information science. That ain’t me. The very first class gave an impression that we’d be focused on splitting hairs and using the correct definitions for things rather than making cool shit.

The thing is that I don’t really need need to take this course. I’m going to have to take a course in the summer anyway and this is kind of my fifth one for this term (four plus a directed study that might end up being a lot of work). Doing another in the summer wouldn’t be overwhelming (assuming I can get into summer courses). And now I have the reading list for doing data visualization which could be most of what I’d need. Though I wouldn’t get training in the software tools if I drop the course. But I can usually teach myself software.

So yes, there we have it. This course would be neat and esoterically useful and provoke a bunch of good discussions, but it has a focus that isn’t really where I want to direct my energies. I think I’m probably going to drop it, but am willing to be talked out of it. If you have an opinion, please share in the comments. I have until January 16 to decide (that’s one more class session).