Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Baseball Road Trip: Fenway Park

PORTSMOUTH, NH - I've been up here the last couple of days on a business trip but last night afforded me a wonderful opportunity: to see my first game at Fenway Park in Boston. If I wasn't such a devoted Cubs fan, I would have become a Red Sox fan after their dramatic win last night. Wrigley Field is still my favorite ballpark I've ever visited but Fenway is a very, very close second.

When we left Portsmouth yesterday to make the hour drive to Boston I wasn't sure we had a chance to see the game. It had rained continuously here for three days. In fact, it was pouring rain until we got to Boston. The closer we got to Fenway, the more the rain tapered off. An on-time start looked more and more likely. We had no idea what we were in for once we got to the park.

Before I elaborate on last night's drama let me just say this: if you are a baseball fan you really need to see a game at Fenway if at all possible. It's worth whatever you have to spend to get there. It is a unique park and one that every fan should experience.

The Red Sox ownership has wisely decided to close off Yawkey Way prior to each game to allow a place for vendors to sell their wares prior to the game. It adds to the wonderful atmosphere of the park.

When you first walk in through the gate you're immediately confronted with the age of the park. The place looks and feels old. It's crowded. It's clear that it is showing it's age. But once you walk through the tunnel to your seats it's a whole different feeling. Looking out on the field you realize that you are about to step into a park steeped with history. The Green Monster looms larger in person than it does on television. The park is also a whole lot smaller in person than on television. The quirks of the outfield are much more obvious and far more charming.

We were fortunate that our seats were at field level just 10 rows away from the action. From our vantage point just to the first base side of home plate we got a terrific view of the pitches that you don't get watching games on television. Watching a game from the centerfield camera vantage point you really don't appreciate how hard major league pitchers throw or far a curveball actually curves. I know baseball has been rocked by steroids allegations in recent years but after seeing this game I have a whole new appreciation for anyone who can make contact with major league pitching on a regular basis. It's just not that easy.

When my friend called to say that we had tickets to the game and the opponent was going to be the Toronto Blue Jays I thought this is not an ideal matchup. I was figuring it would be an easy win for the Sox. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Jon Lester started for the Sox and immediately showed that he was going to be tough to hit. In fact, he allowed only one hit over eight innings. Maybe Lester knew he was going to have to step up and pitch a fabulous game to beat Toronto starter Roy Halladay. Halladay's complete game performance was his fourth consecutive nine-inning start. Anyone who follows baseball knows how rare one complete game is much less four in a row.

For eight innings it was a duel of two terrific starting pitchers. In the top of the ninth, the Sox brought in their stopper Jonathan Papelbon to shut down the Blue Jays. Except for a two-out double he surrendered to Scott Rolen, he was perfect striking out three. Remember what I said about how hard pitchers throw? Watching Papelbon pitch I realized that everything that has been said about how great a pitcher he is was absolutely true. He throws extremely hard and is even more formidable than he appears on television.

But it wasn't just about pitching last night. There were also a number of great defensive plays as well including Dustin Pedroia's diving stop in the top of the ninth on a Vernon Wells ground ball that would have scored Scott Rolen and given the Blue Jays the lead.

Then it was the Red Sox turn to try to put it away. The top of the order came to bat and if you tried to script a Red Sox win you couldn't have written the story any better. Coco Crisp and Dustin Pedroia were both retired quickly. Then David Ortiz who is Mr. Clutch Hitter (he's had 16 game winning hits in his career) came to bat. The crowd was expecting a big hit from Ortiz. He did crush one ball down the right field line that was only a few feet away from being a game winning home run. Still, Ortiz managed to draw a walk and that brought up Manny Ramirez. Ramirez has been on a home run chase of his own. As the banners above the Green Monster told everyone, Manny was sitting on 496 career home runs. Would Manny be the big hero? He managed to single advancing Ortiz to second and bringing up another fan favorite, first baseman Kevin Youklis. It was Youklis who would be the big hero as he also singled to drive in Ortiz and win the game for the Sox. It was an incredible finish to a fantastic game.

Last night was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don't be surprised if these Red Sox are back in the World Series this year. Last night they showed that they have the stuff to win the tough games. I don't think anyone could have asked for a better game. Anyone who loves baseball should make the trip to Fenway. It's worth it.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Baseball Quote of the Week

Every player should be accorded the privilege of at least one season with the Chicago Cubs. That's baseball as it should be played - in God's own sunshine. And that's really living.

~ Alvin Dark, Chicago Cubs third baseman, 1958-59

Friday, April 25, 2008

Quick Takes 4-25-08

It's Friday and time for another roundup of random links for your consideration:

Some startling statistics that show the consequences of couples living together prior to getting married. It doesn't always work out as well as the couples think that it will. (Hat tip: Jonathan)

Blog tip of the week: How to link to other blogs.

Some sage advice on how to raise chaste teenagers in a sexually immoral society.

Could this year's election mark the end of the two-party system as we know it? Probably not, but both parties could look much different after November.

Nashville highlight #1: Earlier this week I made my semi-annual jaunt to Music City. I stopped off at this used book store which has quickly become a favorite. It's not in the best part of town but definitely worth the trip. The Knoxville store is also pretty good and a little bit easier to get to off the interstate. I've now got about three dozen books sitting on the shelf "to be read". I really should stop picking up books but when they're free or almost free (trade credit is wonderful), how can you resist?

Nashville highlight #2: The other treat in going to Nashville is the abundance of great dining options. Our big trip out was to The Loveless Cafe which is a Nashville institution even though it's outside of the city a little ways. The fried chicken, country ham, and fried catfish were all terrific. The biscuits, however, left a little to be desired. Maybe I'm just biased because I think my wife's biscuits are better.

Some thoughts on a troubling aspect of the Texas polygamist compound case. When the story first broke, I wondered whether the child protective services agency had overreacted. Now I'm sure of it. Though I don't support the FLDS and what they stand for, I agree they are entitled to protection under the Constitution.

Hillary Clinton's win in Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary did nothing to stop the Democratic bleeding. It's looking more and more like John McCain will win in November regardless of who his opponent is.

What it really means when you say you're a Protestant.

This means I might have to start watching CNN more often. (Hat tip: The Corner)

One of the interesting aspects of the Democratic nomination battle between Senators Clinton and Obama is how much better the Republican nominating system looks by comparison. Having winner-take -all apportioning of delegates seems to make more and more sense. Maybe folks will finally realize that we shouldn't tinker with the Electoral College, either.

I'm disturbed, too. I thought Newt was supposed to be a smart guy. Now I'm not so sure. Seeing Pat and Al together in the other spot didn't make me feel any better.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Developing a Christian Impact on Society

Author's note: I've been travelling this week and haven't had as much time as I would like to devote to posting new material so I am recycling this post from December 2004.


These are my notes from a lecture delivered by Dr. John Stott on November 4, 1986 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill entitled "Developing a Christian Impact on Society". For more on Dr. John Stott, see this post.

What values or standards are going to dominate our national culture? Most countries are increasingly pluralistic. It means that many things are competing for the soul of America. It's partly an evangelistic question but it's also a social and cultural question. Do Christians have a social as well as evangelistic responsibility in the community?

Look at Matthew 5:13-16:

13 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Salt was used as an antiseptic and a preservative in Jesus' day. Jesus meant at least four things by these models:

1. Christians are radically different from non-Christians.
Jesus contrasted Christians to the rest of the world. We are to be the light for a dark world and the salt for a decaying world. We are called to be radically different from the rest of the world.

2. Christians are to penetrate non-Christian society.
Though morally distinct we shouldn't segregate ourselves from society. Jesus commands us to let our light shine into the world. The salt can't do any good unless it is rubbed or soaked into the meat. The application of this is what Christians decide to do for a career. Ministry is a generic word and does not merely refer to the pastorate. Through whatever career we choose we can be a minister for Christ. There is a wide variety of ministry.

3. Christians can change non-Christian society.
When you switch on a light a room is no longer dark. When you rub salt into meat bacterial decay stops. If society becomes corrupt society is not to blame because that's what happens when fallen men are left to themselves. We have to ask, "Where is the church?" We also must accept the role Christ has given us to be salt and light. Society cannot be perfected but it can be improved.

How does social change take pkace and how can Christians make an impact? One way is prayer. Prayer is an effective weapon in asking for help for our national leaders. The second weapon is evangelism. We have to be socially active Christians and that's not possible without evangelism. The third weapon is example. Humans are very imitative. A good example can have an enormous effect on society. The fourth is argument. Legislation can reduce evil in our social structure. We have to get into the public debate and argue the goodness of God's law. The fifth weapon is action. We need to be willing to take action.

4. Christians must retain their Christian distinctiveness.
Salt is no good if it loses its saltiness. If light loses its brightness it is no good. We must retain our Christian standards, values, and lifestyles without compromise. The differences are listed in the Sermon on the Mount.

Christ calls to the narrow road of life as opposed to the wide road of death. We must repent of our compromises and ask Christ to be Lord of all of our life. We also must repent from our pessimism. We don't have any reason to be pessimistic. We need to be salt and light so that people can see Christ in us through our good works.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Baseball Quote of the Week

There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best.

- Joe DiMaggio

Friday, April 18, 2008

Is Our Gospel Too Big?

Marshall Shelley, editor of Leadership Magazine, shares some observations from this week's Together For The Gospel conference. He focuses on Mark Dever's address on evangelism that raises some questions work considering.

Also, Justin Taylor links to the audio streams from the conference.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Looking for Loved Stories

Lori Smith, author of the wonderful book A Walk With Jane Austen, is looking for stories for a new book project she is working on. Check out the details at this post and if you have a story to add, let her know.

By the way, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lori recently and will be posting about our conversation and her wonderful book soon.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Developing a Christian Mind

Author's note: I'm in the midst of several writing projects at the moment so I'm taking the liberty of recycling this post from December 2004. We were discussing the issue of developing a biblical worldview following our Sunday morning worship this past week and this post came to mind.


The following is my notes from a lecture given by Dr. John Stott entitled "Developing the Christian Mind" presented on November 3, 1986 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. See my previous post for more on Dr. John Stott.

Key verse: Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20)

The mind is important because the use of our mind is glorifying to God. He is a rational God, has made us rational and has given us a rational revealing about Himself. We ought to approach Him rationally.

A proper use of the mind enriches our Christian life (in particular our discipleship). We cannot worship God worthily without using our minds. See Psalm 105 - To worship is to glory in God's holy name.

A proper use of the mind strengthens our witness. The apostles reasoned with people over the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit brings people to conversion because of the evidence when He has opened their mind to it.

A Christian mind is the mind of a Christian. It could also be defined as the mind of Christ. A Christian mind has a Christian mindset or a Christian perspective on things. A Christian mind is searching for the will of God.

The Christian mind focuses on two things: the reality of God and the paradox of man made in the image of God. The Christian mind is a godly mind and God is in all his thoughts. There are two implications of this. The first of these is the definition of wisdom. The Christian mind gives meaning to life. The second of these is humbleness. Since God is in the mind then it should be humble. The Christian mind is a godly mind and refuses to honor anything that is not glorifying to God.

The second focus is the paradox of man made in the image of God. The paradox is we have dignity and depravity. We are able in one moment ot be like God and in the rest turn around and be as unlike God as any human can be.

How do we apply the paradox? One of these ways is the self-image. We need to have an accurate self-image. Developing a balanced self-image requires remembering who we are and who created us. Another application is dealing with political ideology. It is unwise to try to support one political system and say it is the absolute right ideology. Christians exist on all parts of the political spectrum.

We want to be a Christian who is integrated. All parts of the body are intergrated into the lordship of Christ. We need a heart that feels deeply with a mind that thinks clearly. A mind without a heart is nothing.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Getting Ahead of God

Author's note: This is a post I originally wrote in January 2005. I'm recycling it because the message is worth examining again.

In a previous post, I included this valuable piece of advice from Tod Bolsinger:

"Don't just do something, stand there."

This statement got me thinking about how easy it is to get ahead of where God wants us to be. In other words, we are so busy pursuing our own agenda that we don't seek what God wants for us first. Recall Jesus' command in Matthew 6:33:

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be
given to you as well."

Therefore, our first priority in everything is to seek God's desires. So often we fail to do that and often with devastating results.

Perhaps on of the most vivid examples I can recall of getting ahead of God in my own life was right after I graduated from college. All of my friends had gone their separate ways after graduation and I quickly lost contact with them. I was floundering in my career and was not doing much better in my walk with Christ, either. I was dating someone at the time and that did ease my loneliness to some degree. But it was not the type of relationship that God wanted for me. Of course, I didn't come to that conclusion on my own. One of my former housemates, Jeff Johnston had come into town and we talked at some length about this relationship I was involved in and the problems I had with it. He helped put my situation in perspective by telling me that I was "snacking on poundcake" and then proceeded to share the following illustration:

Imagine that a woman has invited you over to your apartment for dinner. When you arrive, there is a poundcake sitting on the coffee table. She is in the kitchen fixing dinner. You can smell the dinner and it smells good. You are hungry. You also see the poundcake and it looks good. You want the poundcake. If you eat the poundcake you will not have any appetite for the dinner. If you eat the poundcake you miss out on the blessing of the dinner.

I was getting ahead of God's plan for me. I was missing out on the "dinner" that God had in store for me. Just a few short months after Jeff challenged me with that illustration I was in a new city, in a new job, and met the wonderful woman who would become my wife and mother of my two beautiful children.

Sometimes getting ahead of God's plan doesn't just mean missing out on the "dinner". Sometimes our choices have dire consequences. One of the best examples of this that the Bible offers is Abraham. God promised to make a great nation from his offspring (Genesis 12:2-3), specifically promised his offspring land (Genesis 12:7) and that his offspring would be of greater number than the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). There was just one small problem: his wife, Sarah, could not have children (Genesis 16:1-2). Rather than relying on God to fufill his promises, Abraham (with encouragement from Sarah) come up with another plan: Abraham would sleep with their maidservant, Hagar. Their plan worked. Hagar became pregnant (Genesis 16:3-4). Rather than being a blessing, the son that was born to Hagar, Ishmael was father of the tribes that eventually became known as the Arab nations that were and are still enemies of Israel.

The challenge to "Don't just do something, stand there" is a difficult one. It requires a different mindset. The world teaches us to rely on our own wisdom, our own knowledge, and our own reasoning. We are to be self-reliant. But the apostle Paul reminds us:

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)

Rather than reacting reflexively to whatever comes our way, we should follow the advice of Brother Lawrence:

"We ought to give ourselves up to God with regard both to things temporal and spiritual and seek our satisfaction only in the fulfilling of His will."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What's Ailing The Church

Chuck Colson, speaking yesterday at the 19th Annual National Conference on Preaching, hits the nail on the head in describing what's wrong with the churches today: they don't know what they believe. (Hat tip: WorldMagBlog)

“Of course we care about the world. Of course we care about everything happening in society, including politics, but we better get our own house in order because what we see in the cultural collapse of America around us today and in the Western world is exactly on our doorstep,” argued Colson, who was a top aide to former President Richard Nixon before being jailed for the Watergate scandal.

Colson believes the root of the church’s problem is that Christians don’t know what they believe in.

“I think that is at the heart of the problem of the church – we replaced truth with therapy,” he said.

“Most people are basically ignorant,” he said referring to believers’ lack of knowledge on their own religion.
It's time for churches to return to the Bible, examining it, understanding what it says and how each of us need to apply it. As Colson remarked at the conclusion of his speech:

“We cannot defend our faith nor can we live it if we don’t know what it is,”
Colson concluded.

Interview: Mark Frost, Author of The Match: The Day The Game Of Golf Changed Forever

Mark Frost has had a long and successful career as a novelist and screenwriter. Among his best-known creations are Twin Peaks (which he co-created with David Lynch) and Fantastic Four. But he's also a golfer and his love of the game has led him to write about the sport.

Hearing the story of Francis Ouimet during coverage of the 1999 Ryder Cup at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts (the same course where Ouimet beat the odds and won the Open) led Mr. Frost to write The Greatest Game Ever Played which he would later adapt for the screen. The success of that book led to The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America, and the Story of Golf, which documents the career of perhaps the greatest amateur to ever play the game. In his latest book, The Match: The Day The Game of Golf Changed Forever, he has managed to document yet another pivotal moment in the history of the game.

"The game had always proceeded along two parallel tracks: the amateurs who were the gentleman players who played for the love of the game and not to make a living; and the pros who for the most part worked at golf clubs, who made golf clubs, gave lessons, and who kind of scratched out a living from the game," said Mr. Frost in a recent interview.

Click here to listen to the interview with Mark Frost.

The match started out as nothing more than a simple wager. Eddie Lowery, the self-made millionaire who got his start in golf as the 10 year old caddie for Francis Ouimet during the 1913 U. S. Open, had been on the lookout for the next great amateur. He would routinely hire golfers to work in his car dealerships as salesmen and help them pursue a career in golf. In 1956, when the match takes place, he has working for him two of the best amateurs of the day: Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward. While at Pebble Beach for the 1956 Crosby Pro-Am he makes a boast that Venturi and Ward can beat any other pair of golfers in a best-ball match. When fellow millionaire George Coleman asks if Lowery's golfers are wiling to play professionals Lowery says yes. Coleman then goes and gets two of the greatest pros of the day to play: Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. Thus the stage is set for a golf match like no other that had ever been played up to that point or since.

"As you zero in on this day in 1956 when they play (two young amateurs against two seasoned professionals) the 'who is going to become the dominant force in the game' is still up for grabs," said Mr. Frost. "the fact that in the immediate aftermath that both Venturi and Ward nearly win The Masters in separate years, I think, gives some weight to that argument that, yes, even as late as this game occured in 1956, there were still amateurs around who could play with the greatest pros in the world, play them toe-to-toe, and beat them if necessary."

In 1956, the PGA Tour was not nearly as lucrative as it is for today's professionals, as Mr. Frost was quick to point out.

"The PGA Tour struggled through those years as a way to make a bare-bones living for club pros. I foung that it was through the hard work and persistence of people like Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan that the Tour became anything it all. It really wouldn't have had they not been such extraordinary personalities in their own right."

It is the personalities of all four of the participants that really makes up the heart and soul of the book. The golf action is, in and of itself, compelling drama but it's the players and their connections to one another that really propel the story. But as the title suggests, this match, though not well-publicized until now, marked a watershed event in the history of the game.

"Now what's about to happen in the aftermath of this day in '56 is two things: the advent of televised sports coverage and golf in particular which is going to bring a whole new level of interest to the game; and the arrival of the extremely charismatic Arnold Palmer who we now know is the king of the sport," said Mr. Frost. "When he arrived he had a very Tiger Woods-like impact on the middle clas interest in the game around the country. He galvanized people and brought them to the game like no one since [Bobby] Jones and suddenly the pro game no only became a viable way to make a living but a way to make a killing. Very soon thereafter there was no percentage at all for a gifted player like a Jack Nicklaus who was about to come along (who briefly flirted with the idea of staying an amateur) to resist the temptation to turn pro and to embrace all the financial opportunities that were to come their way."

Part of what made this match possible, in addition to the pro vs. amateur tension and lack of 24/7 sports coverage, was the Crosby Pro-Am itself, a golf tournament like no other in history.

"There was something kind of magical about that event," said Mr. Frost. "It was the first professional/amateur event in any sport, really, and golf is the only sport where you could stage something like this where because of the handicap system guys can play on an equal playing field more or less. The Crosby was a unique blend of these entertainment personalities who loved the game of golf and played with various degrees of skill and the top professionals who, through [Bing] Crosby, having a foot in either world. were able to rub shoulders with movie stars and titans of industry and for a week all those names and ranks and considerations were forgotten and everybody was thrown out on the golf course to compete. Apparently it was more fun that humans should be allowed to have."

"Over time, as Crosby stepped back from it and it became a corporate event it became less and less about the fun of the week and the camaradarie and just embracing the joy of playing this game and it became about television and getting Bill Murray to do something funny, promoting CBS' sitcom stars. The magic of the event has sort of faded over time as well and that is something I also wanted to try to recapture because it is a unique chapter in the history of American sport."

No one could have done any better than Mr. Frost in not only capturing the atmosphere of the event, the incredible action of the match itself, and the portraits of four of the greatest players the sport has ever known. Much more than a history of one of the most amazing matches ever played, The Match is a wonderful history of a turning point in the history of golf as it is on the cusp of becoming a major part of not only sports but American culture.

This article originally appeared at Blogcritics.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Goat No More

The Boston Red Sox held their first home game yesterday at Fenway Park with a ceremony honoring the 2007 World Champions. Among those in attendance were many legendary Boston sports figures and one who had up until now been considered something less than a hero: Bill Buckner. (Hat tip: WorldMagBlog)

The year was 1986. Game Six of the World Series against the New York Mets. It's still considered one of the classic World Series games ever played. In the bottom of the 10th inning at Shea Stadium the Red Sox lead the series three games to two and were ahead 5-3. The Mets managed to score a run and had the two on with two out when Mookie Wilson came to bat. A wild pitch scored the tying run. Then Wilson hit a ground ball down the first base line towards Buckner. The ball rolled between Buckner's legs and allowed the winning run to score. The Mets would then go on to win the Series in Game 7 the next day.

For years Buckner was blamed for losing the Series. But yesterday Boston fans displayed their forgiveness by honoring Buckner with a four minute standing ovation yesterday before the game. Buckner told the New York Times that returning to Fenway was not easy:

“It was hard for me to do,” a teary-eyed Buckner said about returning to Fenway.

When the Red Sox first invited Buckner, he said he figured he would decline. But he said he prayed about it and decided to accept. Two titles in the past four years for Boston have lessened the sting of what happened in 1986.

“I really had to forgive, not the fans of Boston per se, but I’d have to say in my heart I had to forgive the media for what they put my family through,” Buckner said.

Hats off to Bill Buckner and the Boston Red Sox fans for giving us a wonderful picture of what forgiveness looks like.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Book Review: Hand That Rocks The Cradle by Nathaniel Bluedorn

Our family loves to read. Since my kids were young I have read aloud to them as well as encouraged them to read independently. When we travel, we always pass the time listening to our favorite audiobooks. So it's safe to say that books are an integral part of our family life.

This is exactly why we were so excited to get the brand new book Hand That Rocks The Cradle: 400 Classic Books for Children by Nathaniel Bluedorn. In this slender volume is a concise reference of the best books to read together as a family or for your children to read independently. Each entry includes a brief summary of the book, the time period in which the story takes place, geographic setting of the story, publication date, and the reading level. There is also a topical index in the back that makes it easier to identify books on various subjects. In addition, the book has been cleverly shaped to make it an easy reference tool to carry to the bookstore or library when looking for new books.

Most of the selections listed tend to be older books. Mr. Bluedorn states in the introduction that his family is more conservative and so the selections tend to reflect their preferences. However, he has also included a few more recent books that may come as a surprise to a few readers.

When the book first arrived in our mailbox, my youngest daughter, who is 10 years old, immediately started going through to see what books she had read were included on the list. On her very next trip to the library she started checking out books that she had seen listed in this book.

These days finding suitable books to either read to children or to let them read on their own has increasingly become a challenge. With this book, Mr. Bluedorn (and his parents, too) have done a tremendous service to families everywhere. Homeschool families will also particularly benefit from this book as it will make selecting appropriate books to incorporate in their curriculum a much easier task. I highly recommend Hand That Rocks The Cradle as it is one of the best resources I've discovered in quite a while.

Baseball Quote of the Week

"Whoever heard of the Cubs losing a game they had to have?"

Chicago Cubs first baseman/manager Frank Chance on the eve of the replay of the Merkle game against the New York Giants that would decide the 1908 National League pennant. The Cubs defeated the Giants 4-2 and then went on to easily defeat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Ironically, this would be the last time that Chance's observation could be made about a Cubs team. They haven't won a World Series title since 1908.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Solution for Democrats?

Richard Bond, writing at, presents an intriguing solution to the Democrats' presidential primary problem: name Hillary Clinton as Senate Majority Leader. For this to work two unlikely events would have to occur: Harry Reid would have to step aside and Mrs. Clinton would have to abandon her futile attempt to secure the Democratic nomination, be willing to accept the position and bide her time until 2012 to try to run again.

Rather than doing what's best for her party, Mrs. Clinton continues to help Democrats snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. No matter how appealing Mr. Bond's idea might seem it's still not likely to happen.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

DVD Review: Enchanted

When it comes to fairy tales, no movie studio does them better than Disney. In fact, if you think about popular fairy tales that have been made into films you're more than likely to think of the House of Mouse. With its latest release, Enchanted, Disney has added an instant classic to its library.

The opening of the movie suggests that the film is going to be just another animated fairy tale. However, it ends up being something quite different indeed. The story opens in the fairy tale land of Andalasia.Giselle (Amy Adams) is a charming young woman who has fallen in love with Prince Edward (James Marsden). Once Edward meets Giselle he also falls in love much to the consternation of his evil stepmother Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon). They immediately decide to get married since that's how things happen in fairy tales. As Giselle arrives at the church for the ceremony, she is intercepted by Narissa who is disguised as an old hag. Narissa encourages her to make a wish at the magical wishing well and as Giselle leans over Narissa pushes her end sending her to the "place where there are no happily ever afters": New York.

Giselle arrives in New York by climbing up through the sewer and is immediately confronted with a world that is vastly different than her fairy tale world. She soon encounters Robert Phillip (Patrick Dempsey), a divorced single father who is also a divorce lawyer. Robert does not believe in fairy tale romance and does not hesitate to say so. Giselle is still very naive at first about the ways of the real world. But as Robert and Giselle spend more time together each begins to learn a little more about real love from the other.

Meanwhile, Edward has followed Giselle to New York in an attempt to rescue her and return her to Andalasia. Narissa, wanting to be sure that Edward does not succeed, sends Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) her assistant, to follow him and make sure that they don't have the chance to rekindle the romance. Will Edward and Giselle be reunited? Will they discover that their love is true love or something entirely different?

Although the film follows a typical fairly tale plot it also turns the genre on its head with the soon-to-be princess Giselle having to cope with life in New York. Along the way there are subtle references to previous Disney classics that provide added enjoyment for fans of the animated classics.

The film works in large part because of the fantastic performances of Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, and James Marsden. Ms. Adams is perfectly cast as the lovely Giselle. Early in the film she perfectly captures Giselle's naivete when she first arrives in New York. She honestly believes that life should be lived like a fairy tale and that "happily ever after" isn't just a dream, it's a reality. She's a stark contrast to Patrick Dempsey's Robert who sees only the dark side of relationships. He's skeptical that true love that lasts is possible. It takes Giselle to show him what's really possible. James Marsden is a wonderfully dense, self-absorbed hero who is smitten with Giselle but doesn't have enough of an idea of what true love really looks like to know whether what he feels is real.

Another bright spot in the movie is the wonderful soundtrack composed by Disney veterans Alan Mencken and Stephen Schwartz. They have come up with songs that are reminiscent of show-stopping tunes from previous Disney films.

The filmmakers also chose to not taking some available shortcuts and create more elaborately choreographed moments that add to the charm of the film. For example, in the early part of the movie Giselle decides to help out Robert by cleaning his apartment. In a sequence reminiscent of "Whistle While You Work" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves she calls upon the animals of the city (pigeons, rats, and even cockroaches) to help her clean up while singing the "Happy Working Song". The sequence could have easily been done entirely through computer-generated creatures but the producers decided to include live animals in the sequence. As a result, it's a more realistic shot and is far more believable to the viewer.

Another great moment occurs a little later in the film when Giselle is trying to help Robert express how he feels to his current girlfriend. She provides her advice through a rousing song "How Will You Know" that is an elaborate song-and-dance sequence filmed through Central Park with over 100 professional dancers.

The bonus features include great behind-the-scenes looks into how the different effects were achieved. They also show the great care that was taken in crafting the production to make sure that it's a fitting tribute to Disney's fairy tale legacy. The Blu Ray disc has an added feature: a pop-up guide to the cinematic references throughout the film.

With Enchanted, Disney has done only what they could really do: pay tribute to their fairy tale legacy while at the same time gently poking fun at the conventions of the genre. With stellar performances from the entire cast and an uncompromising production design, they've outdone themselves. Enchanted is sure to be another Disney classic.

This article originally appeared at Blogcritics.