The Blog Squad

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Let’s Not Get Caught on the Rebound

I purposely avoided writing about the Richmond Braves last week to see if people still cared about the topic. Turns out, the hurt and anger still linger, and fingers are still being pointed.

It’s so easy to blame the city and the mayor for the Braves leaving town. Anyone with a platform can use anecdotes to stir negative emotions aimed at our leaders.

But what if it’s our fault? What if we’re truly the ones to blame, and the local leaders reacted based on our action the past few years?

It’s OK to admit we’re hurt by the team’s pending departure. Somehow, the Braves leaving makes us feel like we failed. Could we have shown more affection? Could we have paid more attention? Could we have expressed more pride?


But we didn’t. And now they’re leaving.

It started out as a great relationship. We adored each other. Remember 1993, when more than 540,000 of us visited The Diamond? Now that’s love. That was the start of an eight-year run of more than half a million fans at the old ballpark each season. Those were the best of times. Jermaine Dye. Chipper Jones. Even John Rocker.

But something happened in 2001. We started to drift apart. What came between us? Were we having too many problems at home? What was the reason for a drop-off of nearly 80,000 fans from the previous season?

Whatever the difficulties, they persisted because we didn’t spend nearly enough time together. Only 321,696 showed up in 2006, with a slight improvement to 356,028 in 2007. Richmond’s decline in attendance occurs at a time when minor-league baseball is seeing unprecedented attendance numbers elsewhere.

Minor-league baseball drew 900,000 more fans in 2007, setting a record for the fourth consecutive year. That figure was compiled based on numbers supplied by 12 leagues.

So why would we want another team when we’ve proven we don’t want to support the one we have now?

It’s been reported that organizations are lining up to come to Richmond. Some suggest that we should move forward with our stadium plans. Bring in another team, people say, and everything will be better.

It’s natural when there’s a breakup to seek the nearest quick fix. But rarely does that heal the wounds.

The best course of action is to think for a minute and consider if we really want another relationship so soon.

I think it would be unwise to move too fast.

Why? Because Richmond is not a professional sports town — not in the slightest.

Take Fort Wayne, Ind., for example. There’s no interstate flowing through the Hoosier state’s second-largest city, which has a population of roughly 252,000. There are no companies like Circuit City or LandAmerica Financial or Genworth Financial or MeadWestvaco with headquarters there.

But there are professional sports teams — six of them, including the Mad Ants of the NBA Developmental League and the Wizards of the Class A Midwest League.

The folks in Fort Wayne love their teams so much that they supported a plan to build a new 5,000-seat downtown stadium for an estimated cost of $30 million, to be completed before the 2009 season. And that’s for a Class A team.

The company that owns the team, Hardball Capital, pledged $5 million toward the project. The city will borrow $16 million, with the debt being paid with tax money collected by special downtown taxing districts.

The Wizards’ old haunt, 6,300-seat Memorial Stadium, was dedicated on April 18, 1993.

What would be the reaction of Richmonders and those who live in the surrounding counties if such a deal was proposed?

I’ll give you one guess.

Let’s consider all our options before dropping millions on another team that might one day leave because we won’t support them.

Perhaps the answer to the situation was written previously on this blog. One person suggested we build a football stadium.

The new facility would give the emerging University of Richmond program a competitive edge in recruiting. It also might encourage Virginia Commonwealth University and the school’s president, Eugene Trani, to field a team.

Can you imagine a Spiders vs. Rams game on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in a stadium that’s unique to Richmond?

If that ever happened, all of this angst over the Braves might be forgotten, and forgiven.

Super Bowl Prediction: Giants 35, Patriots 24. Yeah right.

OK, I would switch places with Tom Brady. He’s No. 2 on the smooth list behind George Clooney.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Love Is on the Menu

Turn up the heat this Valentine’s Day without, well, turning up the heat — in the kitchen at least. Let some location restaurants arouse your senses with special love-brewing menus. Below is a sampling of Valentine’s Day offerings; be sure to make reservations in advance.

Manakin Grill
12912 Plaza Drive, 784-0544
Three-course prix-fixe menu for $45 to include choices such as she-crab soup, coconut shrimp, pecan chicken and pan-roasted escolar (be advised that the latter could disrupt your romantic intensions).

Edible Garden
12506 River Road, 784-2011
Chef Ed Blasé is cooking up a fabulous meal — served Feb. 14-16 in conjunction with the restaurant’s third anniversary — focusing on local ingredients that both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike will love. Menu items include an appetizer of grilled Italian sausage, fennel, cannelloni beans, sun-dried red pepper and a roasted garlic crostini; and a roasted Portobello mushroom, butternut squash, caramelized onion and parsnip Napoleon entrée.

Berkeley Hotel

1200 E. Cary St., 780-1300
This four-course menu is $150 per couple, excluding tax and tip. Menu items include Surry sausage and oyster-stuffed clams in a roasted tomato broth; broccoli Reggiano Parmigiano bisque with grilled lobster; petite grilled beef tenderloin topped with Hudson Valley duck breast, whipped potatoes and baby broccoli with sherry balsamic reduction; and red currant key lime tartlets.

Zed Café

5109 Lakeside Ave., 261-5656
Prix-fixe five-course dinner ($75 per person) starting at 5:30 p.m.

Virginia Crossings Resort
1000 Virginia Center Parkway, 727-1400
At Virginia Crossings Resort look for several special offers between Feb. 14-17, including entertainment each evening. A room package ($249) includes a Valentine’s Day dinner and breakfast. If you’d rather romance your honey in your own bed, try the “Celebration of Romance” dinner ($49.95 per person), a four-course meal that includes soup, and shared candied-curry crab martini and grilled shrimp cocktail appetizers. For your entrees, choose from wild mushroom ravioli with mozzarella-stuffed portabella served with creamy risotto and asparagus; chicken oscar with lump crab and hollandaise; to grilled petite lamb chops with balsamic drizzle; grilled salmon with caper berry beurré blanc; and twin tornados filet with au poivre cognac cream. Finish off the meal by sharing a cheesecake sampler or chocolate-dipped strawberries.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What Else Should I Be … All Apologies

Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman returned to work Thursday after being suspended for two weeks. She was disciplined after saying during the season-opening tournament that other PGA Tour players should take Tiger Woods and “lynch him in a back alley.”

Tilghman rightfully apologized to Woods, who acknowledged her mistake and said the issue was over. However, the Rev. Al Sharpton and members of other organizations called for Tilghman’s firing. Her words were predictably twisted, and the controversy spread like wildfire.

That’s when the Golf Channel stepped in and suspended its anchor.

Tilghman recorded another apology that was played at the top of a telecast Thursday.

“I’m Kelly Tilghman. It’s an honor to be with you again,” she said. “In a recent live broadcast, I used an inappropriate word that was offensive to many. Over the last two weeks, I’ve taken this time to reflect and truly understand the impact of what I said. While I did not intend to offend anyone, I understand why those words were hurtful. I am terribly sorry for any hurt that I’ve caused. I would like to express my deepest apologies.”

It’s my opinion that Tilghman did not have to apologize again. She definitely made a mistake and used poor judgment — hence the initial apology and subsequent suspension. That should have been enough.

I also don’t like how the most recent admission of guilt sounds so PR. Who talks like that anyway? If you are a public-relations professional, please tell me how this sort of language is beneficial?

I wonder if she were really allowed to apologize with her own words, what would they be? Maybe something like this?

“I made a terrible mistake, and I’m sorry. I tried to associate a posse of young guns on the PGA Tour taking down the most powerful man in town with a lynching. It was in poor taste. I know better. But never did offending African-Americans enter my mind. Tiger is my friend. I have infinite respect for him. I know and Tiger knows I’m not a racist. I’m very pissed off that anyone would imply that. You don’t know me. And stop trying to make me out to be a bad person. I’m not and neither are my employers. It’s over. Go away.”

Perhaps that kind of response would encourage the situation to last a little longer. But hell, Tilghman would probably feel better about herself.

Tilghman is not the first to read an apology crafted by some high-powered but clueless PR firms. It happens almost monthly in sports. An athlete gets in trouble and reads a statement. The press event is cold and really, does anyone ever heal from hearing a sterile apology?

The only genuine request for forgiveness I’ve heard in years is the one Michael Vick gave. More PR firms should study that moment and copy it. Vick appeared to speak from the heart, and I believed he truly was sorry for his actions. Not like he owed me an apology. But it was nice to learn that Vick was human like me.

Now another sports anchor is in trouble. ESPN’s Dana Jacobson apparently said something “inappropriate” about Notre Dame, Touchdown Jesus and Jesus while drunk at a roast. I believe the f-word was used often.

So what did the co-host of First Take on ESPN2 say in her apology?

“My remarks about Notre Dame were foolish and insensitive,” she said. “I respect all religions and did not mean anything derogatory by my poorly chosen words. I won’t make excuses for my behavior, but I do hope I can be forgiven for such a poor lack of judgment.”

Too bad she couldn’t just say, “I was drunk and words came out of my mouth that I thought were funny at the time. You people are so sensitive and judgmental. Get over yourself. But if you can’t, I’m sorry if I offended you.”

OUT AT HOME: I have good news and bad news. The good news is I’m taking a multivitamin every day now. The bad news is my diet is not working. I haven’t lost a single pound and still top the scales at over two bills.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: For all you sports bachelors out there — ninja shirt folding.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Richmond Braves Moving

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting on its Web site that the Class AAA Richmond Braves are moving to Gwinnett County, which is a suburb of Atlanta.

The move will come following the 2010 season when the Braves’ lease with The Diamond expires.

Reporter David O’Brien cites two unnamed sources familiar with the situation. John Emmett, public relations manager for the Richmond Braves, said the team had "no comment on today's report."

The Braves have played at The Diamond since the mid-1980s and have been a part of the Richmond community since 1966. However, the deteriorating ballpark has raised questions from the Atlanta Braves franchise, local fans and Richmond city officials whether a new stadium should be built or an extensive renovation of The Diamond should take place.

No decision was reached and further discussions were put on hold after the Braves agreed to extend the current lease for up to three years in late August. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the parent team also said it was ready to hike annual rent payments to nearly $750,000 a year over 20 years for a new stadium that would cost around $35 million. That contribution would have accounted for nearly half of the annual cost to finance the stadium.

But the city hesitated and began a search to hire a developer for the Boulevard. The Times-Dispatch reported that this move frustrated Atlanta officials who were eager to sign a new agreement quickly.

It would appear the city was trying to play chicken with the Braves instead of sharing the road. There was no way the Atlanta franchise was going to entirely pay for a new stadium. It would seem each time the parent club tried to be reasonable and nail down a deal, the city came up with a reason to balk.

Now, the Braves have blinked and turned off the road to head back to Georgia. Maybe the city was gambling upon the perceived lack of interest in keeping the Braves. It will be interesting to realize if this notion is true.

A guess? Richmonders will not miss the team.

Too Young to Diet

Flipping through the TV channels recently, I came upon an episode of My Super Sweet Sixteen on MTV. I watched just long enough to see a stick figure of a teen throw a tantrum about how fat she looked. I was appalled, but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. According to the Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders (ANRED) organization, about one out of every 100 women between the ages of 10 and 20 are starving themselves to look thin, and about 4 percent of college-aged women have bulimia. In 2005, 12.3 percent of high school students reported they had gone without eating for 24 hours or more to lose weight or to keep from gaining weight during the last 30 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In her book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body, journalist Courtney E. Martin explores eating disorders through first-person accounts. The book is a 2007 nominee for the Books for a Better Life Award. On Feb. 16 from 10 a.m. to noon, Martin will speak at Commonwealth Parenting (4121 Cox Road, Suite 110) as part of its distinguished speakers’ series.

Martin has written for Newsweek, the New York Times and the Village Voice. She’s also been featured in Seventeen, Glamour and Family Circle and has appeared on the NBC’s Today show, MSNBC, and Fox News. Martin is currently an adjunct professor of women’s studies at New York’s Hunter College and is collaborating with Emmy-winning, HIV/AIDS activist Marvelyn S. Brown on a memoir of her life, set for release later this year.

Registration is required: Tickets are $30 per person; the first 100 students to register will attend for free. For more information, call 545-1272 or visit Commonwealth Parenting.

Friday, January 11, 2008

And Now … Random Thoughts

Since there is so much going on in sports, I thought it would be best to write a random thoughts column. But before I start, I forgot my manners last week and didn’t wish you a Happy New Year. So there it is. May you have the best year of your life.

Let’s start with the Redskins coaching situation. As you already know, Joe Jackson Gibbs stepped down to spend more time with his family. Not a bad decision for a 67-year-old with diabetes and a very sick grandchild. Thank you, Joe, for restoring my team — two playoff appearances in four years is a great accomplishment considering the previous 13 years with just one postseason showing.

I certainly hope owner Dan Snyder stays in house and hires Gregg Williams. This will allow the Redskins to continue to ride what Gibbs has built. Give Williams a two-year contract and keep the coaches and core players and let’s see if the team can maintain the momentum.

If Snyder goes outside and hires a young defensive coordinator like Jim Schwartz (Tennessee) or Rex Ryan (formerly Baltimore), then you can bet that current offensive coordinator Al Saunders will stay but there will be changes and a year or two of rebuilding.

However, the most drastic changes will come if Snyder can entice Bill Cowher to end his self-imposed two-year retirement. Cowher will be expensive (I’ve read nearly $10 million per year); he will want personnel control and prefers a 3-4 defense. In my lifetime, the Redskins have never played a 3-4 defense. That would be a complete overhaul of the team. Not the best scenario.

So please, Snyder, you said Gibbs left the team in good shape. Let’s explore if that statement is true by keeping the Redskins together. Hire Williams.

University of Richmond coach Dave Clawson is leaving for the University of Tennessee to become the offensive coordinator. That’s great news, although many Spider fans may not agree. For Clawson, it is a direct path to a head coaching position at a football powerhouse.

In addition, Clawson nearly doubles his salary after being offered a three-year deal worth $1.2 million, according to published reports.

Ironically, Clawson, 40, signed a five-year contract last week with Richmond after leading the football team to its finest season and an 11-3 record. He was 29-20 over four years with a pair of conference championships.

Good luck, Coach Clawson.

I’ve been reading about what’s going on in Michigan. Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia to become the Wolverines’ new coach a few weeks ago. Then after Michigan beat Florida in the Capital One Bowl, freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett said he was transferring. Mallett’s pro style of play does not fit Rodriguez’s spread offense that requires a running QB.

Here’s where I have a problem with the NCAA’s current system for transferring. Mallett was the second-rated prep quarterback a year ago and came to Michigan because of the pro style of Lloyd Carr. Mallett now has to SIT OUT a year if he transfers to another Division I school, per NCAA rules. (Players don’t have to sit a year if they transfer to a Division I-AA school like Richmond).

It’s a sure bet Mallett will be a professional quarterback on some level. His primary objective at this time is finding a college that helps him accomplish his goal. So why does he have to sit out a year and be penalized? It’s not his fault that Rodriguez came in and changed the system. The NCAA should allow players under these circumstances to transfer to a Division I school and play immediately.

I was 1-3 on my picks for the NFL wildcard playoffs. I’m back to try again. The winners this weekend will be Jacksonville, Indianapolis, New York and Green Bay.

OUT AT HOME: My wife declared “we need a new vacuum” late last Sunday. I shrugged and said, “let’s go to Best Buy.” We came home with a new vacuum and a stinking carpet cleaner! I have to admit the carpet cleaner has been money. We’ve done half the house and already I’ve noticed a huge difference in our air quality. Now I’m obsessed with air. This week our furnace will get a new filter.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: I haven’t seen the new show yet, but this promo is pretty funny.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Business of Being Born

Life is full of choices, but some women are concerned they no longer have a choice when it comes to delivering their babies. The concern largely stems from an increase in births via caesarean section. For example, in 2004, the caesarean rate was 29.1 percent, an 8 percent increase over the previous year and a 41 percent increase from 1996, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These figures lead to speculation. Are more women being coerced into C-sections because doctors are afraid of lawsuits stemming from vaginal births? Or are women just not informed of their choices — doulas, midwives, home birth?

Ricki Lake (yes, that Ricki Lake ) tackles those questions and talks about her own home birthing experience in a documentary set to be shown at the Byrd Theatre in February. The Business of Being Born, directed by Abby Epstein, has been screened across the country; this will be the third and final preview in Richmond. “We want the dialogue to continue and the conversations to grow so that women, men and families know what their options are, what their choices are so that they can make truly informed decisions on how best to bring a dear baby into this world,” says Richmond organizer Therese Hak-Kuhn. Jenny Simpson, who owns and operates Birth and Baby Kneads in the West End, agrees: “Women don’t understand birth anymore,” she says. “I’m not pro-home birth or anything, but I’m just like, ‘Ladies, get a grip; you’re going in for major surgery.’ ”

Doors open at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 3, and the movie begins at 1 p.m., with small facilitated group discussions afterward. Tickets are $2; students get in free with I.D.

Friday, January 04, 2008

On the Picket Line

Richmond native John Aboud (of VH1 and Modern Humorist fame), who now lives in Pasadena and is a Hollywood writer, says that things are “sucky” right now, with the writers’ strike having taken over his life. You can read his “near-constant blogging” on the subject at United Hollywood. Aside from the strike, Aboud and comedy partner Michael Colton also appear on newly released Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place DVDs explaining everything you wanted to know about these twin pinnacles of 1990s American culture (no, that isn’t a Tori Spelling reference). Like Dave Barry says, we aren’t making this up.

The Playoff Posse

I asked my 6-year-old nephew the other day if he liked school. He said not really. I beckoned why. He had no reply.

“Would you rather be at home or at school?” I pushed.

“At home.”


“Would you rather be at home all alone in your room or at school?”

“At home because I have four stuffed animals on my bed. So I won’t be alone.”

That response turned my nose sideways.

“Wanna know their names?”

Now he was in control. I nodded.

“There’s Teddy.”

It wouldn’t be a bed posse without Teddy, probably the lieutenant of the clan. Just like Todd Collins, the quarterback who now gives the Washington Redskins (9-7) a platoon leader who can execute the colonel’s commands. He does it with precision, completing nearly 71 percent of his passes in three of his team's four victories to close the season.

Collins hits the passes that move the ball just enough to continue the ride on the momentum train. That’s the beauty of this offense right now. It is methodical and unspectacular, but it is physically brutal on a defense.

And the leader of this professional football offense is Collins, who will be the difference Saturday afternoon against the Seattle Seahawks (10-6) in the NFC wildcard playoff round.

The Redskins won't win without a big game from their 36-year-old. The Seahawks are too good, especially their defense. They attack and create opportunities with sacks and turnovers — two things this quarterback has shown he can limit.

Collins has waited for this opportunity his entire professional career. It’s a game that he can decide. What a wonderful opportunity to bear such a responsibility and to confront such a burden.

I submit that he’ll play his best game yet this weekend — Washington 31, Seattle 20.

“There’s Shrek,” my nephew added.

“Teddy and Shrek, dangerous one-two punch.” He agreed with me. Smart boy. Shrek does kick butt.

Just like the Jacksonville Jags, entering their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers as an unstoppable force. The Jags (11-5) beat the Steelers (10-6) on Dec. 16 by a touchdown.

But it’s hard to defeat a good team in its house two times in a month, especially if one game is during the playoffs. Though the Steelers struggled down the stretch, I like Ben Roethlisberger. He knows how to win in the postseason — much more than his counterpart, David Garrard.

This game is perhaps the hardest to call. But the wintry conditions and home-field advantage will help Pittsburgh prevail in this upset — Steelers 20, Jags 17.

“There’s Harry,” he said.

“Harry? Why do you call him that?”

“He’s a monkey with orange hair that sticks up, and it looks real.”

“Oh, Hairy?”

My nephew nodded.

Hairy would best describe the New York Giants (10-6). What team will show up against the Tampa Bay Bucs (9-7) on Sunday? Make no mistake, New York has talent, when it runs the football, the Giants are one of the top five teams in the league.

But when New York relies on Eli Manning to win games, then it’s 50-50. There’s no telling what Manning will do. Granted, he played well against the Pats, but he has not proven that he can string a few good games together.

So will the Giants grow frustrated against a stout Tampa defense and abandon what they do best early in the game? Or will they keep pounding Brandon Jacobs and hope Eli will convert those tough five yards on third down to sustain drives?

I see Jeff Garcia returning to the lineup with some fire. He has always played well against the Giants, having engineered two playoff victories over New York in the past six seasons.

There will be a coaching vacancy in the Big Apple come Monday — Bucs 27, Giants 21.

“There’s a dog, but I haven’t given him a name,” my nephew ran upstairs and retrieved the stuff animals. The dog was a beagle. He was flimsy, small and quite frankly, boring.

“He’s my favorite.”

I’m glad I kept that thought to myself.

Boring best describes how I feel about the San Diego Chargers (11-5) and the Tennessee Titans (10-6) game. The Chargers will win this one big, no doubt about it in my mind. San Diego, despite Norv Turner’s best efforts to undo a great team, has won six in a row and LaDainian Tomlinson has rushed for 679 yards and six touchdowns during that span. Chargers 34, Titans 13.

OUT AT HOME: I was seriously considering buying myself Guitar Hero III for Christmas. But then I remembered I’m 38 years old and maybe the game wasn’t age-appropriate? It would be like me wearing pooka shells.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Speaking of video games, here’s the next generation. Now if this was available, I would buy it.