In Memoriam: Mark Marinelli, @MarkM625

(Note: I’m not sure that this blog post flows all that well. It’s been a rough week, and my reaction to the subject of this entry probably makes for crappy writing. Sorry about that.)
Today, I lost a friend I never met in person. But we had a lot in common.

Mark Marinelli was a year younger than me (he was 39).
He was a resident of Bethlehem, PA (where I lived and worked for several years).
He lived with Becker’s Muscular Dystrophy, which robbed him of the ability to walk at 15.
(My pyoderma gangrenosum flared for the first time at 16 — but I was lucky. After three months of incredible pain, I was eventually able to walk normally. Despite several flares and giant ulcers on my left leg, I’ve been mostly fine with walking since then.)
Clearly, my disease was/is nowhere near as bad as Mark’s.

In fact, he wasn’t supposed to live to see 19. It’s a testament to his strength of will and character that he more than doubled the doctor’s expectations.

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The biggest common bond we had was the Philadelphia Phillies — whom we both rooted for and often discussed on Twitter. (It is worth noting that the Phillies are the losingest franchise in the entirety of sports history, with more than 10,000 losses on record.)

As men born in the early 1970s, we each lived through a wildly up-and-down period in Phillies history:

* 1980 = The Phillies’ dominant run atop the National League East in the late ’70s culminated in the 1980 World Series championship.
* 1983 = The “Wheeze Kids” included a bunch of, um, “not young” players that went to the Series again but lost.
* 1993 = Somehow, the 1993 squad of dirtballs, tramps and thieves scratched its way to the Series again — but heartache came in the form of Joe Carter.
* 2008 = Another dominant run in the East led to another World Series title.

In between those four highlight years, there was a lot of mediocrity and a bunch of lousy players.

And unfortunately, it’s pretty likely that the Phils’ “window of opportunity” is closing, as the stars of 2008 are mostly fading as they get older.

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When it came to his health, Mark had a strength and spirit that we can all aspire to. Naturally, he had dark times and went through periods of doubt and depression. But I will always remember his “presence” on Twitter — smart, witty and always ready with a joke or insight.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how much you plan — life WILL throw you a steady diet of 12-6 curveballs. What’s important is how you deal with them.

At bat, a good hitter recognizes that a curveball is coming and in a nanosecond, alters his swing and hits the ball to the “opposite field.”

In life, a person who handles adversity with dignity and humor is someone to be admired and respected. That’s what Mark was to me, even though we never hung out live and in person.

I admired and respected Mark Marinelli, and I will carry inspiration from him for the rest of my life.

#RIPMark

Mark’s blog: http://icantwalk.com/

Phillies: What If…Everything Went Right?

Thanks to my constant suckage at fantasy baseball, I’m used to rebuilding — and recognizing the signs that it’s time to rebuild.

But I’ll do that blog post later. This one is about how the Phillies could potentially win the National League East.

It’ll take some minor miracles, but here we go (in order of likelihood):

1) The healthy return of Roy Halladay. If Doc comes back fine, the Big Three starting pitchers can keep the team in games and allow the bats to do their work. (This one is pretty obvious.)

2) Improvements in the bullpen. Whether we’re talking about these guys buckling down and getting the job done…or Ruben Amaro, Jr.  buckling down and doing his job to find some solid middle relief arms via the trade market or free agency.   

3) The healthy return of Ryan Howard. If the Big Man comes back healthy and does his thing, that is a huge boost to the lineup (clearly). He and Hunter Pence make a solid lefty-righty RBI combo and take the pressure off Ty Wigginton and John Mayberry, who most likely will perform better with slightly less playing time.

4) The healthy return of Freddy Galvis. If the offense is good enough, they can bury him in the 8 spot in the lineup and enjoy his defensive wizardry.

5) The healthy return of Chase Utley. Good Heavens, we’re stretching now. The mysterious knees of Mr. Utley are a conundrum, an enigma shrouded in a mystery of riddles. But if he came back and gave the team a couple solid months of offense? Wow.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Take a look at the 2008 lineup, rotation and numbers here. While there is no way the 2012 team can pile up the offensive numbers of the 2008 version. But good health and solid performances from the returning DLers could go a long way.

Rotation-wise, 2012 should destroy the 2008 version. And if you’re telling me that the Madson/Durbin/Condrey/Romero/Seanez bullpen combination can’t somehow be duplicated, then I’m not sure I want to watch any more baseball this year. (Papelbon should be very good, if not Lidge-esque.)

So it’s all about health and RAJ making a good move or two. (Or the coaches getting the current bullpen guys to pitch better.) 

And if it all goes according to plan and the Phillies climb back into contention, the medical staff will be the real MVP.

If It’s Rarely “Sunny” in Philadelphia (In My Opinion), Why Do I Love “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia?”

I was born and raised in Philadelphia. “The Great Northeast,” actually…which is not “Center City” or even all that close to downtown. But our mailing address was Philly, so we were official.

And I didn’t realize until we moved to Texas in 2006 how I basically never really dug where I was from. Yes, I’m still a Philly sports fan — despite the negative connotations. And I love me some Tastykakes and soft pretzels. (Thankfully, Rita’s Water Ice has made it to Texas.)

I don’t know if it’s my love for the open spaces, warmer climate, better cost of living and Southern hospitality (yes, it exists) of the Lone Star State or my distaste for the crowded streets and frozen slushy winters of the Illadelph. Whatever the case, I’m happy where we are now.

So why do I love “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia?” Possible reasons:

a) It’s funny.

b) I’ve described it as “Seinfeld with Philly jerks who own a dive bar.” And I love Seinfeld.

c) Danny DeVito’s finest and most absurd work.

d) Occasional shots and mentions of Philly places that are somewhat nostalgic/sentimental.

Did I know people like Mac, Dennis, Charlie, Sweet Dee and Frank? Not really.

Did I hang in dive bars? Rarely.

Bottom line: It’s a funny show, and it’s a weird love/hate letter to my hometown.

Oh well, too much unnecessary examination. Just know that I recommend the show. It’s an acquired taste for some, given its mostly unlikable cast of characters.  But so was the world of Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer.

Seven Ways I’m Like Barry Bonds (but better)

1. We’ve both done steroids, although mine were legal and prescribed (and not the muscle-creating kind) and didn’t swell my head three times.

2. He’s the godson of Willie Mays; I’m the godson of Willie Mays’ biggest fan – who wanted to (but didn’t) name his daughter Wilhemina Mays.

3. Nobody will hire him to play ball in 2008; nobody will hire me to write for them in 2008 – but there’s pretty much zero stigma attached to hiring me.

4. We both played college baseball, although I did it for the love of the game – that’s how we roll in Division III.

5. Bonds refuses to appear in video games – me, too, but only because of the way they portrayed me in Grand Theft Auto: Des Moines.

6. He spent 1986 – 1992 playing for Pittsburgh; I was across the state in Philly playing for the Mayfair Shamrocks (and my high school and college teams).

7. He’s the all-time home run champion (for now); I’m the all-time best at Season Ticket Baseball 2001, a simulation game for PCs.

Philly to phly?

In the past week or so, two Philadelphia sports teams have done big things in their attempts to build contenders. (This goes against everything Philadelphia.)

The 76ers signed free agent power forward Elton Brand away from the Los Angeles Clippers, who had hoped to keep him (and are mad at Brand’s agent for allegedly sketchy tactics). Brand will give you 20 points and 10 rebounds a night, and is a bona fide star player to go along with budding star swingman Andre Iguodala, steady point guard Andre Miller and a good core of young guys.

Just like that, the 76ers are a contender. (Of course, it only cost like $82 million.)

And tonight, the Phillies made the best possible trade they could make at the moment. They sent three prospects (two pretty good ones and a question mark guy) to the Oakland Athletics for starting pitcher Joe Blanton.

Reasons to like Blanton:

He’s only 27, he “eats innings” (pitches a lot), he’s durable, he has pretty good control (which he’ll need in the homerun-happy Citizens Bank Park), and he’s coming to the National League – where he’ll get to face pitchers instead of designated hitters. That’s a big help for one’s ERA.

He may not be CC Sabathia (who was the best available pitcher until Milwaukee got him in a trade from Cleveland), but I think he’s less risky than A.J. Burnett of Toronto and Erik Bedard of Seattle (both of whom were rumored to be in the Phillies; sights).

Will these moves guarantee a championship or two? No. But at least they’re trying. (That’s a new one for us.)

P.S.: Just picked up Blanton for my “money” fantasy team. He’s 5-12, so it figured that he was available.

“It’s got cache out the yin-yang!”

[[UPDATE: Many of my visitors are being directed here…please view THIS blog for an explanation:

My blogapology to misdirected readers.

September 26, 2008]]

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Ah, George Costanza. One of television’s greatest characters.

Welcome back to my insane ramblings. I hope you missed me. I missed you…or at least the thought of actual people out there, bathed in the soft light of your monitor, reading what I type in off the top of my head. I appreciate you very much.

Fantasy baseball update, Yahoo league: Still bouncing between 7th and 9th place out of 11 teams. Traded away Lance Berkman, J.D. Drew and Heath Bell for Carlos Quentin, Jon Rauch and Chris Perez. I figure for a keeper league, Quentin is a big-time guy to have – and his numbers were Berkman-like for much of this season.

Fantasy baseball update, CBS (and money) league: Also still bouncing, although I had a tremendous week and went from 13th to 7th for a few glorious days. I thought that some of my long-time slumpers were finally living up to their usual stats, but then they kind of went back into suspended animation.

Turns out I will *not* be staying on at my current freelance gig, at least not in the same role. We’ve discussed another position in the company, but I still need to talk about it with the person who would be my supervisor. If this doesn’t pan out, I’m working on some other options. Stay tuned…

No big boxing this past weekend, but that’s OK because we were in Philly for my friend Howard’s wedding. They had it at this little winery north of New Hope, PA. (I enjoyed their sweet riesling.)

This weekend, it’s pool time for sure. Dallas has been hovering around 100 degrees the past couple days, and it’s supposed to “cool down” to the mid-90s for a while. And summer officially starts this weekend.

Our apartment complex is being really jerky about trash. We were putting out our trash bags (no garbage can be left out unless it’s in a bag, by the way) the night before trash pickup – which is 8:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. It wasn’t hurting anybody. But the complex policy, which was redistributed in memo form, says that we can’t do that anymore. So trash has to be out some time between sunrise and 8:30 a.m. This is an inconvenience that annoys me.

The Phillies are doing very well. Of course, now that I’ve said that, they will probably begin to suck. Sorry for the jinx, boys.

Writer’s block, jet lag and overall malaise have overtaken me.

I promise…

…to blog more often soon.  When I can.  Probably the weekend.

Life has just been hectic, for more reasons than I have the energy to go into right now.  (You’ll just have to trust me.)

Still diggin’ the two-month freelance on-site corporate gig, still wondering/hoping it’ll turn into full-time.

Heading back to Philly again for another whirlwind weekend in mid-June.

Fantasy baseball update: My teams suck.  I made a bunch of cuts to my Yahoo team, and I’m working the trade talks in the CBS league.  This is just not my year at all, fantasy-wise.

Just got two songbooks in the mail–Ben Folds and Rent.  Guess which is for me and which is for Shannon.  I’ll probably start practicing them on my keyboard this weekend.

I’m halfway to 70 (have been for several months now), but does it really count like that?  I barely remember any of the first five years.

It’s late and my contacts are still in.  But not for long.

Peace out.

Nothing like a good fight on a Tuesday afternoon.

A few years ago, I started getting into boxing.  Not actually fighting myself, but as a fan of the pugilistic arts.

It probably hearkens back to sleeping over my grandparents’ house and going through my grandfather’s “Ring Magazine” and hearing him talk about fighters like Larry Holmes and Joe Frazier coming into the Center City Philadelphia sporting goods store where he worked.

At any rate, I’ve been a pretty attentive fan the past several years–and my lovely wife puts up with it, even watches the occasional match with me.  Together, we enjoy The Contender on ESPN as well.  (If you didn’t know, that’s the “reality” show where they put a bunch of boxers in a house, they train together, but basically end up fighting for a big cash prize.)

Today, since I’m home, I’m catching up on stuff we’ve DVR’d.  And I watched the Pacquiao/Marquez fight from a couple weeks ago.  It was pretty much everything you want in a fight.  Two veteran warriors battling it out–some rounds were more “boxing,” some were them just slugging it out.  Each guy had a cut or two, and the one above Marquez’s eye threatened to end the fight–it was that ugly.

But blood and guts is what these two dudes are all about.  And the difference-maker, according to the judges, was Pacquiao’s knockdown of Marquez in Round 3.  So Pac-man ended up winning in a split decision (two judges to one), taking away Marquez’s championship belt.

[Note: My friend and former co-worker Andrei is from the Phillippines, and he told me that when Pacquiao fights, the entire country shuts down to watch.]

And there are some tremendous fights scheduled for the next few months that I’m psyched about (courtesy ESPN.com):

March 28
At Salamanca, N.Y. (ESPN2): Kassim Ouma vs. Cornelius Bundrage, 10 rounds, junior middleweights

Note: Bundrage was a scrappy competitor on a previous season of The Contender, and Shannon and I really rooted for him.  It’s good to see him getting exposure on Friday Night Fights.

April 12
At Atlantic City, N.J. (HBO): Miguel Cotto vs. Alfonso Gomez, 12 rounds, for Cotto’s WBA welterweight title; Kermit Cintron vs. Antonio Margarito, rematch, 12 rounds, for Cintron’s IBF welterweight title

Note: Alfonso Gomez is Shannon’s favorite…a good-looking, smart, “nice guy” from The Contender.  I like him because he’s got great heart and works very hard, and he even beat legendary warrior Arturo Gatti so badly he retired.  The Cintron/Margarito rematch is exciting for me because the last time I saw Cintron fight, he knocked out a guy in 29 seconds.

April 19
At Las Vegas (HBO): Bernard Hopkins vs. Joe Calzaghe, 12 rounds, for Hopkins’ Ring magazine light heavyweight title

Note: This is a huge one.  Bernard is a former convict from Philly, and has had an amazing championship career after turning his life around.  He’s currently the Ring Magazine Light Heavyweight Champion, after spending much of his career as a middleweight.

Calzaghe is a crazygood Welshman who first came to my attention (and pretty much the non-UK-world’s attention) when he pounded the poop out of much-heralded U.S. Olympian Jeff Lacy, just utterly dominating the young Yank.  Since then, Calzaghe basically crushed everybody else he faced, and he’s the first undisputed super middleweight champ.  Not to mention that he’s 44-0-0.

Can’t wait for this one, and the great thing is that it’s not a pay-per-view fight–it’ll be on regular HBO.  Sweet!