Cranky Man’s Lawn Diary ’14: Poking holes in the patient

How core aerator works

How core aerator works

Some will say aerating should be done in the Spring, some in the Fall.  Some will even do both!

Personally, I prefer the Spring for aerating as it ensures soft, receptive soil (here in southeastern Pennsylvania) from months of rain and slow melting snows.  Waiting until the Fall is much riskier – Success wise – because of the possibility of long periods of dry, rain-free weather.  No rain means hard ground and limited penetration.

Last weekend I aerated my lawn; so I am now ready for some serious lawn treatments (currently pre-emergents for crabgrass) and a few patching jobs on some damaged areas.

So when will you be aerating?

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It’s how you say it, even when saying nothing at all

Photo from sportsnation.com

Photo from sportsnation.com

Much angst has plagued Philadelphia sports fans the past several weeks over the words or behavior of some the city’s biggest sports stars.  As with just about every other situation in Life, there are lessons to be learned and subtle insights into truths that can lie just below a stormy surface.

Two recent cases-in-point need no introduction to any Philly sports fan not lying in coma the past month.

The first incident was the very public benching of Phillies shortstop, Jimmy Rollins.

Rollins was benched – somewhat stealthily – by new manager Ryne Sandberg, a Hall of Fame player who earned his plaque from both Production and Effort.  Although it was obvious that Rollins had wandered into Sandberg’s doghouse, it was only slightly less obvious the likely reason was Rollins “Who cares?” remark to questions about his slow start to the Spring Training season.

I have always been a big Jimmy Rollins fan.  Even more so since his 2007 statement that the National League East Championship passed through Philadelphia.  Not only was this an aggressive statement in a season following several where the NL East was dominated by the Atlanta Braves, Rollins walked the talk; won the 2007 National League MVP; and ensured the Phillies first Division Title in string of division titles!

Yet, no one found fault with Sandberg’s public – though muted – benching of the team’s senior statesman during the spring lead-up to Sandberg’s first full season in the Phillies captain’s chair.  He needed to set a positive attitude, including a mindset where caring mightily about wins and losses would be paramount.  So even though it was “only Spring Training”, Rollins was sent a message about Leadership, Substance, and Mentoring.

HMC03_ChaseUtleyNow read the views on Spring Training ’14 as uttered by Chase Utley, the Phillies second baseman in The Philadelphia Inquirer’s April 5 article on Utley’s hot season start in contrast to his quiet spring.

“Obviously, you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing.”, Utley said.  “The most important thing is getting your rhythm going into the season.”

First off, no one is going to confuse Utley and Rollins in either personality or demeanor on the field.  Utley is all business all the time.  Rollins enjoys the game and is not afraid to show it.  Personally, if blessed with the ability to play the game at their level, I would prefer Rollins approach to enjoying the game as much as possible, if not necessarily his undervaluing the Power of Words.

In reality, Utley was expressing the very same mindset Rollins expressed when it comes to Spring Training success … or lack thereof.  The difference is that Utley’s quote was not issued in the midst of a slump – even if only a spring training slump.  Secondly, it’s not like Utley to be so flippant as to reduce his well-stated sentiment into two words certain to curdle the milk in Ryne Sandberg’s corn flakes!

Moral:  It ain’t so much what you say as how – and when – you say it.

Photo from the source.com

Photo from the source.com

Sometimes what’s not said that says all you need to know …

By now most of us are a bit sick of hearing about the Desean Jackson Philadelphia Eagles debacle.

When I first heard the rumors about the Eagles shopping Jackson, I chalked it up to off-season football beat writers being a bit bored waiting for the April college player draft.  No way could I see the Eagles wanting to jettison a skilled player that yielded 1300 yards and 9 TDs in just the previous season.

How could they be so stupid?!?

But then the stories – or rumors for all we really know – began to come out.  A lot of it was disturbing from a team unity/distraction-avoiding point-of-view … The most incriminating pieces of evidence coming from Jackson’s own Instagram account.

Until the whole story comes out – if it ever does – no one will really know what the Eagles knew and when they knew it.

The Big Aha! – for me however – was not what was being said; it was in what was NOT being said … by those in the Eagles locker room.

Where were the players when “one of their own” was being pilloried in the press and set adrift by a team that lives or dies by the profligacy of its Offense?!?  Why was there no circling of the wagons, no outward signs of support from those still with the team?  Where was the All for One and One for All?

Only LeSean McCoy came out in tacit support of Jackson, but that was only after the deed was done.

To me, that said so much more than all the stuff that was being said about the character of Jackson.  It was apparent that his standing among his team and teammates was lacking significantly.  It was obvious that there was certainly something behind what was being said, even if we never really know for sure what it was.

Moral:  Sometimes saying nothing says it all!

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcA

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcAGQh.99

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcAGQh.99

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read mhttp://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcAGQh.99

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcAGQh.99

Christian Laettner, I still hate you!

Laettner cutting out my heart

Laettner cutting out my heart

I never win anything even remotely related to skill or the ability to analyze complex data sets to project a likely outcome.  Gave up on sports wagering years ago after – finally – coming to the realization that I sucked at it.  Could never even begin to understand horse racing and handicapping odds.  Nor could I fake the slightest understanding of a daily racing form …

Recent years I gave up on one of my last remaining weaknesses … the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brackets (for entertainment purposes only). I have always enjoyed the tournament, especially the early rounds where upsets lie in deadly ambush.  But winning “entertainment purposes” from my finely honed college basketball acumen?

Not gonna happen …

Funny how most people I know rarely ever watch pre-March Madness college basketball, yet they believe they can reasonably predict the end result of the sport’s 66-team, rabidly emotional, magically unpredictable, championship-determining tournament.

I was one of those wackadoodles once; but it hasn’t been the same for me since 1992.

That was the year the East Regional was held in Philadelphia’s Spectrum.  It was the year of Duke, Kansas, UCLA, and Ohio State as the top ranked teams.  It was the year Michigan made the run from a 6-seed to runner-up, losing to Duke in the National Championship game.

It was the Year of Christian Laettner.

I know the feeling.

I know the feeling.

Normally the NCAA Tourney was just a reason to spend several afternoons in a public establishment amply equipped with televisions in the company of friends.  But in the early rounds of the 1992 tournament bracket I was en fuego!  As the Round of 32 ended, I realized I had a pretty good bracket collection going … through no fault of my own.

As luck would have it, I had ridden Michigan as my surprise entry into the Final Four.  I had the potential – with a Kentucky win over Duke – of having three of four Final Four survivors! (Kansas and Ohio State having been ousted earlier by University of Texas – El Paso and Michigan respectively.)

So, like any other stat geek with a finely developed obsession common among baseball fans and fantasy sports addicts (Guilty x2), I spent hours analyzing the various permutations and likely results from the conveniently supplied Excel spreadsheet provided those like-minded “entertainment purposes” fans who had ponied up the $10 donation.

And I quickly realized that if Kentucky won its Regional Final matchup against Duke, I would be in the primo “entertainment purposes” driving seat heading into the Final Four and almost unbeatable due to a significant “entertainment purposes only” point lead!

I was on top of the world!

And then this happened …

For a more rounded, less suicidal (mine) version of this History of Misery event watch Ric Bucher‘s video report of The Carnage that left me with a nervous facial tic for years whenever I glimpsed the basketball floor at the Spectrum.

Of course, I don’t really hate Christian Laettner.  I simply hated what his exceptional skills on the court contributed to my wakening realization that fortune did not await me as the result of my keen sports betting insight.

So yes, I guess I hate Christian Laettner for saving me untold fortunes in the 20 years or so since.

It’s a complicated anti-relationship!

Birth of a Phillies fan

(In celebration of Opening Day 2014, a trip down my personal baseball memory lane …)

My first recollections of Philadelphia Phillies baseball came during that Season From Hell – 1964!  You really do not have to explain that reference for most Philadelphia baseball fans, especially those over the age of 55.  Most long-time Phillies fans and – due to generations of legend sharing - even many of those newer to the game can recite the scenario that played out that year.

Gene Mauch

What I remember is my father sitting at the kitchen table; the radio playing; listening to By Saam, Bill Campbell, and Richie Ashburn (in just his second year with the Phils); usually smoking cigarettes with a quart bottle of Schmidt’s or Ballantine’s beer and a glass sitting on the table beside him.  He would sit there throughout the game, because in those days the games were rarely televised during the week.

So some of my first Phillies memories were the turmoil and angst being lived and endured – one game after another – as the Phillies frittered and fumbled away a 6 1/2 game lead over the rest of the National League with only 12 games to play.

(Of course none of this in any way lead me to feel sorry for NY Mets fans who went through two straight years of this in 2007 & ’08!!) 

It was difficult watching Dad go through that September.  He lived for his Phillies, much more so than the Eagles.  He would just shake his head, when he wasn’t yelling at a botched play or a wasted at-bat.  But he was hardly the only one suffering from Phillies Depression in my young 8-year-old universe.  Neighbors – both adults and older, more aware kids – could find little else to talk about.

And when the end finally came, there was a sense of disbelief, then anger … anger at Phillies manager Gene Mauch especially.

That was a HUGE part of my introduction to Phillies baseball.

The Phillies didn’t make it easy back then for their young, impressionable fans in the 1960s and early ’70s.  From 1965-1974   the Phillies posted just three seasons with winning records.  Among the more abysmal campaigns were losses that totaled 99 (’69), 95 (’71), 97 (’72) and 91 (’73).  It’s hardly the kind of performance that builds loyal fan followings in most cities.

And yet they remained Our Phillies … Dad in particular never lost his love for the game, especially his affection for the Home Team.

Bobby Wine

The players I remembered from my first years paying attention to Phillies baseball were Clay DalrympleTony Taylor, Johnny Callison, Jim Bunning, Bobby Wine, Chris Short, Wes Covington, Frank Thomas, Cookie Rojas, John Briggs, Rick Wise, Jack Baldschun, and of course Richie Allen.

My biggest thrill as a young Phillies fan was my first visit to Connie Mack Stadium as the Phightin’s took on those Houston Colt .45s.

Back in the day, we only saw baseball and all our sports on TV in black & white.  I can remember sitting down next to Dad as he watched a football game (most likely Notre Dame) and asking him which team he was rooting for, the “white” team or the “dark” team?   Whichever one he picked - for some contrarian reason – I would say I was rooting for the other team.  Maybe it was just my sense of balance that demanded someone root for the ‘other guys”.

Clay Dalrymple

That night at Connie Mack I can remember entering the stadium bowl from the tunnel and being absolutely stunned by the colors.  The bright green grass especially … the red and white uniforms … the grays of the visiting team … the colorful billboards … the right field “spite fence” … the brown dirt of the infield … When you are used to seeing an event purely in blacks & whites & grays, you suddenly realize what you have been missing; what color and natural sound add to the spectacle.

To top it off, as we took our seats in the upper stands along the third base line, I was horrified at the steepness of the grandstand seating.  For the first three innings I was so afraid  that, if I leaned forward too far in my seat, I would go tumbling down the rows of seats and be thrown from the grandstand to my untimely – though spectacular – death.

The images and sounds are memories still so vivid I doubt they’ll ever fade.  For me, there was no turning back.  I was hooked.  Hooked forever …

For that, Dad, I cannot thank you enough!

(Joseph Vincent Shortall passed away in August 2001.)

Cranky Man’s Lawn Diary ’14: The Promise of Spring

What will yours look like in Spring '14?

What will our lawns look like this year?

Spring is coming!

It’s right around the corner, or so I’m told.  Just around the corner … in the neighborhood … over the horizon …

It has to come this year, right?!?  Eventually …?

Now assuming Spring does get here, you should be prepared for a few things you haven’t seen or felt in the last 6 months or so … Like the warmth of the sun, fresh air that doesn’t cause freezer burn, and green stuff growing all over the place.

I still expect these things to happen, recent weather aside.  So we must be lawn-prepared for when – if – Winter decides to head towards the southern hemisphere as it usually does this time every year.

Pay attention to your Lawn and Garden equipment

Now’s a good time to drag the lawn mower out from behind the snow blower, shovels, sleds, winter storm clothing, generator, your snow shoes and the Snowcat.  I wouldn’t dream of putting the Winter gear into storage just yet; but let’s be overly optimistic and assume at some point we may need a functioning lawn mower.

If you use your mower a lot (i.e. You are not a godless purveyor of lawn cutting contractors.) and value its reliability, get your machine into a reputable repair shop (or DIY it) for a tune-up and service.  Regular maintenance for your mower should extend its usable life.

In my case, I will be looking for a new mower this Spring, having gotten somewhere between 7-9 seasons out of my current Toro!  No doubt it could last another year or two if the power drive hadn’t started balking last year, making it more difficult to handle during lawn cutting.  I cannot see the point in replacing the powerdrive on a seven year-old mower.  So a new machine it will be!

Just don’t mention it to the spousal unit yet.  Such a plan must be carefully prepped and sold like Obamacare.  (OK … That was a painfully poor analogy …)

doctor-obamacareMake sure you also check and test grass trimmers, edgers, leaf blowers, etc. for possible maintenance issues.

What’s your Lawn Plan, Kenneth?

You should have a treatment plan in mind for your lawn each season to address known weaknesses, damage, or simply to build on efforts from the previous year.  In my case, I have all three.

After a particularly bad September, where I discovered some nasty grub damage and had a disastrous encounter with a large man-eating spider, I have several areas of lawn damage to repair.  I caught the grub damage early enough to make significant recovery before the seasons changed from Fall to UnEarthly Cold  & Stormy Winter.  On the other hand, the damage caused by the carnivorous web spinner was akin to an EPA Superfund site, requiring months and months just to disperse the chemical fallout.

One good thing about all that snow!

A good snow cover slowly soaks the soil as it melts dragging that winter feeding you applied (You did this, right?  Right?!?) down to the roots where it is stored for the onset of WhereTheHeckIs Spring!  In addition the snow pack will also protect the grass plants from drying out in the extreme cold and wind of NeverEnding Winter.

Long story short, I’ll be spending a lot of time nursing a man-hole cover-sized spot right in front of the house that is currently deader than Francisco Franco!

A smaller issue was minor construction on one side of the house requiring some decent grading and grass seeding.  The construction resulted from the installation of an egress system for the basement, into which my father-in-law moved over the EndlessDeath Winter.

Ejector_seat_test_at_China_Lake_with_F-4B_cockpit_1967

Maybe one of these for me …

Unfortunately the escape hatch wasn’t for my use.  I must rely on the time-tested method of tied-together sheets tossed out the bedroom window.  But I digress …

In short, I have more repair work to perform on Cranky Man’s lawn (the REAL lawn, not the blog) than in any other recent year.  But the best time to address problem areas is certainly the Spring growing season.  Given the normally expected level of sun, rain, and decent weather, you have to be damned with a Black Thumb if unable to make grass grow.

The key is being prepared and acting early enough in the season to wring every drop of growth from your lawn before the heat and humidity (mid-Atlantic climate here, remember) starts to retard lawn growth.  The problem is not knowing when that heat and humidity will appear in sufficient strength to make growing anything a challenge.

The secret?  Start E-A-R-L-Y!

If you wait until May it could be too late, unless we have a late Spring like last year.  Don’t bet on that if you’re serious about making progress.

Early-to-mid April is the time to start, weather permitting.  And the only weather that should stop you is a lot of rain.

Lazy lawn bioterrorist

Lazy lawn bioterrorist

Part Two of my plan for 2014 is the continuance of my bio-warfare campaign against the grubs.  Seems I got cocky and ended up with a nasty surprise.  So I decided to go all milky spore on the little bastards!

This year I want to buy the milky spore some time to develop and multiply.  The spore has to be ingested by the grub, which it then devours from within and explodes with millions of additional spores that spread across the area.

Yeah, that might be too much information.  Hope you’re not a grub reading this.  Scary stuff … if you’re a grub …

So I’ll buy time this year by applying an anti-grub treatment in early July (along with my other routine fertilization) even though in theory the application of the milky spore should render such applications unnecessary.  Since I applied the spore powder to the front yard only, I will consider the merits of sporing up the back yard as well.

So that’s my plan.  What’s yours?

PA Attorney General Kane gets taken to the wood shed

woodshedThe story of Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Kathleen Kane and the political corruption case she punted for reasons, which – if nothing else – have not as yet been explained to the satisfaction of anyone, just gets juicier and juicier.

Bad enough Kathleen Kane is being subjected to much second-guessing, her decision a head-scratching confusion; now she’s taking fire from a much disgusted fellow Democrat in Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Willliams.  In an opinion piece published in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, Williams comes out swinging in defense of those who now work for him.

It’s a telling piece that throws even more doubt on the decision and Kane’s behavior in reaction to what should have been predictable and anticipated criticism.

Among Williams points revealed in Sunday’s op-ed (my editorials):

  • Williams confirms that the corruption case’s lead investigator, an African-American (such a distinction should not be necessary in almost any other situation) confirmed to Williams that racial targeting was never a direction of the sting operation.
  • Kane’s office was not in possession of the case files when she took office.  (Appearances suggest that Kane specifically demanded return of the files from the FBI before summarily acting to destroy the investigation and trove of case work.)
  • Kane’s reasoning for dumping the case due to the questionable deal given to undercover informant, Tyrone B. Ali, suggests the State AG has little appreciation for how such cases have been prosecuted successfully over-and-over again.  (How can that be the case for someone who acted as Assistant D.A. in Lackawanna County for 12 years?!?  Hmmmm … Maybe only if you never actually prosecuted anything?)
  • Williams is incredulous that Kane would hire personal lawyers that would keep her from answering any questions the public is rightfully entitled to hear.  (Why the veil of protection if a public servant is confident and – most of all – honest about her motivations and judgement?  Not to mention the fact that Kane … is …. a … LAWYER!  This among all the other mysteries connected with this fiasco reeks to high heaven in my humble opinion.)
img_newDayNewDA

Philadelphia D.A. Seth Williams

Perhaps Williams’ most damaging observation is that Kane has now sullied a tried and true technique used time and again by prosecutors ferreting out political corruption in the public arena.  She has stated for all the world to hear that turning a criminal into an informant, where some quid pro quo to the operative is normally a condition of their cooperation, renders any subsequent testimony suspect.

This is not at all an unusual view on the suspect motivations for a criminal turned informant and expected to testify against those further targeted.  Normally this would be a strategy for Defense Attorneys to attack at trial, not denounced in general as an investigative tool by those that prosecute.  

As a defendant’s strategy it should be analyzed; weighed; and judged by criminal magistrates and juries of one’s peers.  To have a State’s lead criminal prosecutor admit to such as a precursor to pressing any current or subsequent cases based on the same sort of ugly but sometimes necessary dirty work is simply incomprehensible!

Then to top off Kathy’s Day of Reckoning: Part 1 Frank Fina, the former State Prosecutor now working for Williams in the Philly D.A.’s office, challenges Kane to sit with him and The Inquirer to answer any and all questions posed in an effort to put this ridiculous episode to rest.

Fina fortifies his challenge by stating, “I have been a lawyer for 22 years, and a public servant for almost all of that time. I have not retained an attorney to advise me to speak, or to remain silent. I am an attorney.”

The question of course is exactly how large will Kathleen Kane’s legal entourage be … assuming she has the professional integrity to even show up?
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Part 2 of Ms. Kane’s reckoning should rightfully occur when next she runs for re-election.  She has already lost this vote from her first campaign!
 
 

Failure to launch

Sydney Cricket Grounds

Sydney Cricket Grounds

Mission Plan:  Awaken at 0330-0345 hrs and catch Major League Baseball‘s first game of the 2014 season, between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks from the Sydney Cricket Grounds in Sydney, Australia.

Mission Status:  Failure, Complete & Utter

I finally woke up at 0550 hrs, well past the 0400 hrs starting time, and figured I might as well fahgettaboutit.

So in the tradition of Great OverSleepers such as Jean-Paul Jean-Paul, what do you think did in my ambitious plans for MLB’s Australian Opening Day?

Was it the …

  1. Snooze button
  2. AM/PM confusion
  3. Radio alarm volume control

Answer will be posted tomorrow!