Sunday, March 31, 2013

Satchel Paige: 'Don't look back'

Satchel Paige as a Cleveland Indian
With another Major League Baseball season about to get underway and the local team, the Richmond Flying Squirrels, about to open their season on Apr. 4 at the Diamond, I can’t help but think of what was a temple of baseball in my youth, Parker Field, which was located where the Diamond is now.

Parker Field opened in 1954 to serve as home for a new International League club — the Richmond Virginians. The Baltimore Orioles (formerly the St. Louis Browns) joined the American League that year, leaving an opening in the IL for the Richmond entry.

As the V’s became one of the New York Yankees’ Triple A farm clubs, in those days the Bronx Bombers paid Richmond an annual visit in April. Just before Major League Baseball’s opening day, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and the other great Yankees of that era played an exhibition game in Richmond against V’s.

It was always a standing-room-only affair.

Other than the pinstripe-clad hometown V’s my favorite club of the IL then was the pre-revolution Havana Sugar Kings. They played with an intensity, bordering on reckless abandon that made them a lot of fun to watch, especially for the kids.

One of my all-time favorite players I saw pitch at Parker Field was Leroy “Satchel” Paige (1906-82). Yes, the legendary Paige, with his windmill windup, high kick and remarkably smooth release still working for him, plied his craft on the mound here in Richmond to the delight and other reactions of local baseball fans.

In 1971, Paige (pictured above, circa 1949) was the first of the Negro Leagues’ great stars to be admitted to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame, based mostly on his contributions before he helped break the Major League color line in 1948, as a 42-year-old rookie. The statistics from his pre-Big League days are mind-boggling. It's been said he won some 2,000 games and threw maybe as many as 45 no-hitters.

Furthermore, long before the impish poet/boxer Muhammad Ali, there was the equally playful Satchel Paige, with his widely published Six Guidelines to Success:
  • Avoid fried meats that angry up the blood.
  • If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
  • Keep the juices flowing by jangling gently as you walk.
  • Go very lightly on the vices, such as carrying-on in society - the society ramble ain’t restful.
  • Avoid running at all times.
  • Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you.
Long after his days as the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues, following his precedent-setting stint in the American League, Paige was on the roster of the Miami Marlins (1956-58). Like the V’s the Marlins played in the International League. When I saw him Paige was in his 50s. Not a starter, anymore, he worked out of the bullpen.

In the late-1950s live professional baseball in Richmond was mostly a white guys’ scene. Which meant the boos would start as soon as the crowd noticed Paige’s 6-3, 180-pound frame warming up in the middle of a game. When he’d be called in to pitch, in relief, the noise level would soar. Not all the grown men booed, but many did. That, while their children and grandchildren were split between booing, cheering, or embarrassed and not knowing what to do.

Naturally, some of the kids liked seeing the grownups getting unraveled, so Paige was all the more cool to them. Sadly, for some white men in Richmond, then caught up by the thinking that buoyed Massive Resistance, any prominent black person was seen as someone to be against. So, they probably would have booed Duke Ellington or A. Philip Randolph, too.

The showman Paige would take forever to walk to the mound from the bullpen. His warm-up pitches would each be big productions, with various slow-motion full windups. Then the thrown ball would whistle toward home plate with a startling velocity, making some of the kids cheer and laugh ... to mix with the boos.

Paige as a Miami Marlin

Paige, from Mobile, Alabama, must have understood what was going on better than most who watched him pitch then. He was a veteran performer, who knew perfectly well there wasn’t much he could do to change the boos; they were coming from folks trapped in the past.

So, Paige played to the cheers, as experience over time had taught him to do.

Of course, as a 10-year-old I lacked the overview that what I was seeing was an aspect of the changes the South was going through, to do with race.

My guess is few knew the reaction to Paige, largely being split on generational lines then, was a sign of how America’s baseball fans were going to change -- one day Jim Crow attitudes would have no place at baseball temples.

Now, with the benefit of decades of reflection, I understand that Satchel Paige was a visionary. He was seeing the future by following his own advice -- Don’t look back.

– Images from

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Memes! Schmemes!

Next to a photo of Allen West, a former congressman from Florida, is the following text: “It used to be that movies reflected American culture. Now it seems they’re trying to define American culture. But then again, it used to be that mainstream media journalists reported the facts.”

It was one those meme things that clutter the news-feed of my Facebook home page regularly.

West, a darling of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, is referred to as Colonel Allen West in the meme graphic. After a long career in the Army, he retired as a lieutenant colonel following an ugly prisoner abuse incident in Iraq, for which West was disciplined. Nonetheless, he was allowed to retire promptly with full benefits. 

Actually, most of the memes I see on Facebook express liberal points of view, if they are at all political. That’s because most of my Facebook friends who care about posting political statements are lefties. I also see a lot of memes oozing with cuteness about animals, especially cats. Religious and pop culture memes make regular showings in my news-feed, too.

Which means that I haven’t yet hidden all the “friends” who tend to click and share such annoying sayings/captions with pictures. Still, even when I agree with the point made, I routinely hide the popular memes that annoy me the most. 

Back to West’s statement, I don't doubt the man knows something about the military world. But given what he said about the history of movies and journalism in America, I have to say they are both subjects he apparently knows little about.

Like many Republicans, who like to strike poses of righteous indignation as they rant against modernity, West is a grouchy guy who's plainly unhappy with today's popular culture and political trends. So, as some conservative pundits and politicians are in the habit of doing, West happily takes the liberty to rewrite history -- to suit himself -- then he suggests we all follow him back to his imaginary better times.

A week-or-so ago the same Facebook friend -- a nice guy who knows plenty about race cars and rock ‘n’ roll -- also posted a copycat meme citing the wisdom of Hank Williams, Jr., on deploring Americans who refuse to do any sort of useful work, live on the government dole ... and who always vote the wrong way to suit him. Like so many memes seen on Facebook, posted by folks of varying political persuasions, it was put there mostly to piss off people who disagree with its thrust.

Come on you lazy Facebook addicts! Enough of the insights of louts like Hank Willaims, Jr. and Allen West. If you want to ruffle some feathers, can't you at least do it using your own damn words?

A pox on your memes! 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ghostly Spider's Skitter

Fifteen years ago, a spider bit me on the temple area next to my right eye. The first symptom was an itchiness that got steadily worse. Initially, I thought it was poison ivy.

It was my then-girlfriend who first suggested, “Spider bite.”

At first, I doubted her call. Since I hadn't seen or felt the little culprit poisoning my face I didn't know if she was right or wrong. By the end of the first day there was some swelling and redness. Over the next couple of days the swelling increased dramatically until my eye was completely closed by it. By then I felt weak and nauseous, with chills and body aches.

Usually, I don't go see doctors much ... almost not at all.

This time was different; the doctor I saw confirmed the spider bite diagnosis. He guessed it was a brown recluse; he told me he didn’t know all that much about spider bites and he said most doctors don’t. He told me it was just a matter of how my body would react to the venom. An antibiotic was prescribed to deal with the infection problem that sometimes comes along with any sort of bite.

Unfortunately, said the doctor, there was nothing he could give me to prevent the venom's tricks from running their course in my body.

Once I started taking the medicine, some of how I felt for the next week probably had something to do with a reaction to the pills, too. In general, I wasn’t as sick as the worst day of a full blown flu. It was somewhat similar to the flu, but it was much more disorienting.

As the swelling went down, the seven spots that had formed in the middle of it gradually turned from reddish-purple to bluish-black. Naturally, I looked at them every few minutes, to see what would happen next.

To understand my problem better I read about brown recluse bites online. That only scared me more. I came to understand the spots I was seeing on my face, grouped within an area the size of a penny, were necrotic flesh.

It was a sobering thought -- my flesh was dying. Not somebody on the Internet.


After looking at gross photographs of people who had huge tissue losses from brown recluse bites, I swore off my research. The sick feeling gradually went away. The swelling disappeared. The dark spots, most of them the size of a piece of rice, rotted away and dropped off ... leaving seven little holes.

Today the scars are mixed in with the crows feet lines extending from the corner of my eye, so mostly they are only noticed by someone who remembers the ordeal and wants to look for them.

Like other healing wounds there was an itching problem that was a distraction at times. That went on for months. What was the strangest aspect of it all came later, after I had stopped worrying about the spider bite all the time. You see, every so often, there was a feathery, fluttering sensation that felt just like a spider was skittering across my eyelid, or the eyeball itself.

Each time it happened I flinched, believing -- at least for a fraction of a second -- that it could be a spider on my eye. It was torture. Maybe a year after the spider bite that last spooky effect of it faded away, too. I've since believed that meant the healing was over.

Never worried about spiders much before this experience. Live and let live was my approach. After that fluttering eye thing, if I see a spider indoors these days, its biting days are over.

Eventually, I began to wonder -- why seven spots/holes?

Were there seven separate bites? Or, was it one big bite and seven reactions? The doc said he didn’t have the answer.

Bottom line: I was lucky it wasn't worse. 

-- 30 --

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mondo Softball

With the 34th Biograph softball reunion party on the horizon (Sat., May 4), here's a flashback to a 1990 newspaper article that includes some related Fan District Softball League tomfoolery:
Richmond News Leader
Date: 07-05-1990
Byline: Paul Woody

Years ago when Terry Rea was manager of the now defunct Biograph Theatre, he organized a softball team for the Fan League. But this wasn't just any team. This team had two illegal French aliens.
"One spoke no English at all," Rea said. "Neither had ever seen a baseball game. But they went out to a yard sale, found some funky `50s uniforms and they were a laugh riot."
The Biograph team also had a life-size, cardboard figure of Mr. Natural, a comic-book character created by R. Crumb of Zap Comics. Rea and his teammates took Mr. Natural to every game. They would carry him onto the field and chant to him.

"Some thought it was funny," Rea said. "Some thought we were mocking them. Some thought we were mocking the game."

All Rea was trying to do was enjoy a little softball and make the team and the league, "a rolling comedy show," he said. "I'm not sure everybody on the team was 100 percent behind me on that."

Rea began playing softball in 1976, but now, at the age of 42, he's in semi-retirement.

"I try in the offseason to lower my expectations, but I'm losing my game faster than I can lower my expectations," Rea said. "That drives everyone out of the game except the most fanatic."

Rea, however, is hardly done with softball. In fact, he may be contributing more to the game than he ever did as a player. Rea, a freelance graphic artist by trade, is the originator, host and creative force behind "Mondo Softball," a weekly, one-hour talk and call-in show seen Tuesday nights at 9 o'clock on BLAB-TV (Continental Ch. 7, Storer Ch. 8).

Mondo is Italian for "world." Rea took it from the drive-in movies of his youth that were all the rage.

"There were a bunch of `Mondo' films," Rea said. "Then, you started to see it thrown in front of almost anything to give it a bizarre connotation. People just know it has some sort of bizarre edge to it.

"And, of course, I'm using that."

Rea isn't the host of "Mondo Softball."

The host is Mutt deVille, a man of mysterious origin who always wears a baseball cap, sunglasses and softball jersey. Mutt deVille is Rea's alter ego. Mutt deVille was created by Rea as a pen name for the sports writer in Slant, the twice-monthly newsletter of commentary that Rea publishes, writes and edits.

DeVille initially existed to give some diversity to the pages of Slant, "and to create the illusion there was a staff of writers," Rea said. But the more Rea wrote as deVille, the more he liked it.

"My name, and my approach to things, like anyone who stays in his hometown long enough, carries a certain amount of baggage with it," Rea said. "I could move more freely as Mutt deVille.

"When I decided to do a show and it was a sports show, it seemed like a good idea to use Mutt. That led to the idea that Mutt should become a character and the time I was on camera should be a performance. Mutt is a device to make me feel at ease on stage."

"Mondo Softball" is not like any other show you'll see on BLAB. It's a one-hour play, softball as kitsch. It's part news -- standings, results and tournament highlights provided by Paul Joyce, the `field' reporter and a veteran local player -- part conversation with a guest, questions from callers and wisecracks, subtle humor and outright gags whenever possible. It's clever, and it's as entertaining as a show on recreational softball can be.

Rea said he has borrowed from shows he's seen. From the "Tonight Show," Rea took the idea that Johnny Carson is at his best and funniest when things go wrong.

"Part of live TV is that there are a lot of glitches," Rea said. "I've tried to incorporate the production values of an old `50s sci-fi movie and try to go with whatever goes wrong."

Each week, there is a great uproar over the magic word. If a caller says the word, he or she receives a $20 gift certificate from a local restaurant. The magic word is straight out of "You Bet Your Life" with the late Groucho Marx. In that show, it was called the secret word.

"If you're going to steal, steal from the best," Rea said.

Part of the attraction of "Mondo Softball" is that you can never be sure what will happen next.

"I think some people watch shows on BLAB just to see if the set will fall over," Rea said.

Rea brings a unique element of surprise to the screen. He isn't afraid to take a chance or play a little joke. When he was manager of the Biograph, a repertory theatre located near Virginia Commonwealth University, Rea once offered free admission to "The Devil and Miss Jones."

The line for the show, which most believed to be a well-known X-rated movie, stretched around the 800 block of West Grace Street. But the X-rated movie was "The Devil in Miss Jones." "The Devil and Miss Jones" was a 1941 comedy.

"Most people thought it was funny," Rea said. "But you always have some who get mad about something like that."

"Mondo Softball" has something of the same problem. Hard-core softball players don't always appreciate Rea's attempts at humor.

"I've heard some don't like Mutt's approach," Rea said. "But that's the reason Paul is there. Overall, though, the reaction I get is that they (the hardcore players) like Mutt."

BLAB-TV likes Mutt so much that another show already is in the works. "Mondo Pops," covering everything from sports to who knows what will premier this fall. It should be an interesting experience. Who knows, maybe even Mr. Natural will make an appearance.

Note: To see a 1990 video promo for Mondo Softball click here

Monday, March 25, 2013

Dr. Franken-Smart's Monster

Along with the buzzer-beaters and blowouts of March Madness come the firings in the coaching ranks. Along with the head coaches of losing teams getting fired, some coaches whose teams made the 68-team field of the NCAA tournament get axed, too.

Accordingly, UCLA has fired Ben Howland and Tubby Smith is out at Minnesota.

Howland, 55, was 233-107 in 10 years at UCLA. This year his team won the Pacific 12 regular season title and went 25-10. Ironically, his Bruins lost to Smith’s Golden Gophers in the NCAA tournament. Smith, 61, was an overall 124-81 in six seasons at Minnesota. He went 21-13 this year. Minnesota just lost to Florida in the round of 32.

UCLA and Minnesota qualifying for the NCAA's championship tournament wasn't enough. Headlines (here, here) are linking those two openings to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Shaka Smart (pictured above).

Which means, with the Sweet 16 games still to be played, the annual Shaka Watch has already started. In four years at VCU Smart, 35, has an overall record of 111-37. During the 2012-13 season Smart became the second youngest coach to win 100 games.

Last year Smart turned down an offer to make $2.5 million a year coaching at the University of Illinois. Why did he turn down roughly a million dollars more than he makes at VCU?

Perhaps Coach Smart had a list of good reasons to stay. Maybe he likes his job. Maybe he likes Richmond; he and his family have bought a home in the Fan District. Maybe he’s not chasing money, so much as it is chasing him. And, it could be that VCU’s phenom of a basketball coach is still in the process of building a project -- a basketball monster.

VCU's monster-in-progress looks like it's being built to consistently compete for the national championship. And, before Dr. Franken-Smart leaves his West Broad Street laboratory, this intense mad scientist wants to see his brainchild strut its monster stuff in the last tilt of the NCAA’s Big Dance.

When Smart first came to VCU, right away, he talked about his new system. He called it “Havoc.” Later, after one of his first games, in the media room in the Siegel Center Smart explained how it would work. He said no one would likely be playing 38 minutes a game, because to go at the pace he wanted, no player -- no matter how well conditioned -- would have the stamina. He said he would use his bench more liberally than many coaches do, because starters would play fewer minutes. 

The problem in the beginning was that he was using the previous coach’s recruits. Not to say they were bad players. Not at all. But to make Havoc work as he envisioned, Smart needed better defensive players than Joey Rodriguez, like maybe a Briante Weber. He also needed big men who could run the floor better than Jamie Skeen, like maybe a Juvonte Reddic. And, yes, he needed slashers to the basket with more finishing ability than Brad Burgess ... like Treveon Graham, for instance.

All three of the former Rams stars mentioned above were good basketball players -- guys who gave their all to the program and brought glory to it. While Smart coached them quite effectively, they weren’t handpicked by him to execute his trapping, overplaying defensive scheme.

Smart’s game plan also calls for open-court, unselfish play on offense -- a total commitment to group thinking. Truth be told, it’s harder to find the sort of player who is capable of thinking that way on most of the rosters of successful schools in the top six conferences. Weber, Reddic and Graham will all be back next year and Smart’s recruiting class for 2013-14 is fast afoot and impressive.

The pampered stars at Kentucky and Kansas don’t want to have to practice or play the smothering defense Smart insists upon. Nor do they hope/expect to play four years of college basketball.

Whereas, at VCU, the players are onboard for four years and they graduate. If Smart were to take his demanding system to a major conference school, it might be harder to sell it to talented one-and-done kids on their way to pro basketball. What Smart now has at VCU is a group of bright kids, who want to prove they can consistently beat such teams with a well-executed plan and an all-out effort.

With Dr. Franken-Smart as their coach the Rams seem to believe they can do it. After all, most of their opponents have no way of practicing realistically to face the monster known as Havoc.

Last year Smart’s players had to have loved it when he walked away from the temptation of more money. Coach is all in, too, is what they must have taken away from Smart’s continued dedication to building a program at VCU. If he does it again this time that feeling will only expand.

Yes, it’s reasonable to assume Smart will one day leave VCU to coach elsewhere. Someday an irresistible offer will come. Still, Rams fans hope the good doctor will wait for a call from an athletic director at a major program who wants to replace a longtime successful coach, a guy who's retiring as a happy man.

In the meantime, maybe next season, the biggest fans of Havoc are hoping for the Rams to be dancing to the Monster Mash, as their coach, a smiling Dr. Franken-Smart, cuts down the net for the last game of the 2013-14 season.

-- 30 --

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The RUMS free ride

Why isn’t there already a free shuttle bus service running a loop from VCU Medical Center to VCU Monroe Campus, to Virginia Union, to the Museum District, to the University of Richmond and back again?

It seems to me like there ought to be.

The shuttle bus could stop at a dozen-or-so appointed places in linking up Richmond’s three universities, its Arts District and several of its key museums.

Let’s see, the bus stops might go like this: VCU Medical Center, Carpenter Center, City Library, November Theater, VCU/ICA (a work-in-progress), VCU/Library, Virginia Union, Science Museum, VMFA, Cary Court, Grove and Libbie Avenues, UR/Modlin Center, UR/Commons … then back the way you came. Free WiFi. Of course, free tourist pamphlets and brochures with savings coupons would be available.

Buy a few small green-friendly buses and have them running every half-hour from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. on weekdays. Maybe a truncated schedule after 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. and on weekends. Perhaps special stops to accommodate some college sports events could be made. Coffee, bottled water, granola bar snacks, etc., for sale.

What if it all got set up by wealthy corporations (that need to do good deeds) and governmental grants? After all, why wouldn't our community's leaders with vision want to see students and workers and families of tourists able to move about Richmond's cultural loop freely? 

Maybe the GRTC could adjust its operation to shift some of its resources out of that corridor.

If it was safe and dependable, wouldn’t a lot of people and businesses in the metro area benefit from such a system being in place? What about a free ride on a Richmond University/Museum Shuttle?


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mar. 19, 2003: Protests and Warnings Ignored

"I don't listen to focus groups."
In March of 2003, in dismissing the protests of millions in other countries who demonstrated against the invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush said, "I don't listen to focus groups."

So don't believe the history revisionists who say everyone believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that it was itching to share with al Qaeda. I believed the UN weapons inspection team headed up by Hans Blix, who said there were no such stashes of weapons. 

So did a lot of other people, including Sen. Robert Byrd (1917-2010). 

Byrd will be remembered for many things. Among them, he was the longest serving senator (1959-2010). Ten years ago, on the eve of a war, Byrd's words of warning were blown off by the deceitful hawks in the Bush administration. 

Byrd was cast by war mongers as an old goat out of touch with the times. His brief, passionate speech delivered on the floor of the U.S. Senate on March 19, 2003 makes for a particularly interesting read now, in light of all we've learned since that time.

Here are Sen. Byrd's words of advice that Congress and President Bush ignored:

I believe in this beautiful country. I have studied its roots and gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution. I have marveled at the wisdom of its founders and framers. Generation after generation of Americans has understood the lofty ideals that underlie our great Republic. I have been inspired by the story of their sacrifice and their strength.

But, today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of a strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.

Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of preemption which is understood by few and feared by many. We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place.

We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are split.

After war has ended, the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America's image around the globe.

The case this Administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice.

There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The twin towers fell because a world-wide terrorist group, Al Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles, one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on board.

The brutality seen on September 11th and in other terrorist attacks we have witnessed around the globe are the violent and desperate efforts by extremists to stop the daily encroachment of western values upon their cultures. That is what we fight. It is a force not confined to borders. It is a shadowy entity with many faces, many names, and many addresses.

But, this Administration has directed all of the anger, fear, and grief which emerged from the ashes of the twin towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But, he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war. If we attack Saddam Hussein, we will probably drive him from power. But, the zeal of our friends to assist our global war on terrorism may have already taken flight.

The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to "orange alert." There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home?

A pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.

What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?

Why can this President not seem to see that America's true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?

War appears inevitable. But, I continue to hope that the cloud will lift. Perhaps Saddam will yet turn tail and run. Perhaps reason will somehow still prevail. I along with millions of Americans will pray for the safety of our troops, for the innocent civilians in Iraq, and for the security of our homeland. May God continue to bless the United States of America in the troubled days ahead, and may we somehow recapture the vision which for the present eludes us.
-- Illustration (2000 for by F.T. Rea

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Mission: Win and Advance

Opinions are like, er, noses. Most people have one. So as we look ahead to the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, we can see the regular season, the conference tournaments and lots of opinions in the rear-view mirror.

The polls came out today. The Associated Press dropped VCU from its list of the elite 25. After the weekend’s action, the Rams were were seen by its voters as what amounts to No. 26. The Coaches Poll has VCU as No. 23. The Rams' RPI is currently at No. 24, according to CBS Sports. ESPN’s BPI system has VCU at No. 21. And, so forth…

More importantly, the NCAA selection committee put VCU in its South bracket as a No. 5 seed. Which basically says it viewed the Rams as one of the best 20 teams in the field.

All those opinions say VCU (26-8) had a pretty good season. From here on opinions won’t matter. In the Big Dance, it’s a win-and-advance or a lose-and-go-home deal. On Thursday at 9:45 p.m. the Rams will face their first opponent in the tournament -- the Akron Zips (26-6)

VCU has beaten Akron in the recent past, but they didn't face one another this season. Doesn’t matter. Akron’s head coach, Keith Dambrot, and Shaka Smart are good friends. Doesn’t matter. VCU plays in what is considered to be a better conference. That's an opinion, so it doesn’t matter now.

Moreover, this tournament usually makes a mockery of the concept of the power conference teams having a big advantage. We’re looking at March Madness. All that matters is for the Rams to prepare and execute … and keep on dancing.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

VCU is a No. 5 seed

 Shaka Smart at his first press conference at VCU in 2009.

VCU was shown some respect by the NCAA tournament selection committee, in that the Rams were placed in the South Regional as a No. 5 seed. That, in spite of VCU’s loss to Saint Louis in the final game of the Atlantic 10 tournament on Sunday afternoon: SL 62, VCU 56.

Saint Louis is a tough, well-coached team. But on Sunday afternoon VCU's head coach Shaka Smart, 35, was at a disadvantage. He had to outsmart both the Billikens’ current head coach and the ghost of their former head coach.

Jim Crews, 59, runs the show at Saint Louis. Crews is now considered a prime candidate for being named national coach of the year, because of the way he got the job and what he has done with that opportunity. His boss, the legendary Rick Majerus, died at 64 on Dec. 1, 2012. So, Crews was essentially coaching his old friend’s last team.

On defense Crews had his guards forcing Smart’s guards out further from the basket than they were comfortable being. The tactic worked like a charm to cut off angles for passing and driving with the ball. So the Rams senior point guard, Darius Theus, had a bad game. So did senior shooting guard Troy Daniels. But make no mistake, Saint Louis’ aggressive defense was what made them struggle on the court.

VCU had only five assists, so the Rams were taking tough shots and hit only 33.9 percent from the field. SL had 13 assists and shot at a 45 percent clip.

Click here to see the box sore. 

Since Saint Louis got a No. 4 seed that probably means the committee had already decided, before the game, to put the winner of the A-10 championship game at a No. 4 seed in the brackets and the loser at a No. 5. In its first match-up VCU (26-8) will face Akron (26-6), a No. 12 seed, on Thursday at 9:45 p.m. (EDT) in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

What a difference changing leagues can make. Last season, after winning its conference’s tournament -- to represent the Colonial Athletic Association in the NCAA tournament -- VCU left the CAA abruptly to join the Atlantic 10. The news from the NCAA selection committee Sunday evening underlined what a good move that was for VCU.

The A-10 not only has its conference champ in the Big Dance, four additional teams were given at-large bids. Whereas, the CAA has only one team in the hunt for the national championship, its tournament winner -- James Madison. And, the Dukes (20-14) were assigned one of the tournament’s first-round/play-in games.

Which means the CAA is apparently regarded as less than a mid-major conference in 2013. To make matters worse, next year, the CAA will lose two more members. And, the A-10 is also in a flux, with expectations that it will soon lose multiple members to the “new” Big East. So the musical chairs game of conference departures and additions is hardly letting up.

Meanwhile, there’s a tournament to be played that will end in Atlanta on April 8. Click here to see the brackets.

While directing his team in its effort to beat the Akron Zips, VCU's Smart will be facing one of his former colleagues/mentors, Keith Dambrot, the Zips head coach. For two seasons (2003-05) they were assistant coaches on the same staff at Akron. When Dambrot was promoted to head coach, Smart stayed on and assisted him for one season (2005-06).    

From here on it won’t matter what a committee or any sports pundits might think of the teams in the NCAA tournament. Only results matter. One loss ends your season, no matter who you are. If VCU defeats Akron it will face the winner of the South Dakota St. (seeded 13th) vs. Michigan (seeded 4th) game on Saturday.

Click here for a look at a report on the upcoming game at VCU's web site.

Friday, March 15, 2013

VCU’s 10 Basketball Coaches

Sonny Smith VCU's head coach 1989-98
Since 1968 none of VCU’s head coaches have left the job having accumulated a losing record. The highest winning percentage of any of the 10 coaches is currently held by Shaka Smart, who is still in his fourth year. It’s an eye-popping .755. Sonny Smith had the lowest winning percentage with a .517. However, Smith still holds the record for the most overall victories with 136.

Coach (number of seasons) wins-losses
Benny Dees (two) 25-21
Chuck Noe (six) 95-42
Dana Kirk (three) 57-23
J.D. Barnett (six) 132-48
Mike Polio (four) 65-57
Sonny Smith (nine) 136-127
Mack McCarthy (four) 66-55
Jeff Capel (four) 79-41
Anthony Grant (three) 76-25
Shaka Smart (work in progress) 108-35

Until Shaka Smart came along, it was easy to say J.D. Barnett has been the Rams most successful VCU coach. With the Rams playing in the Sun Belt Conference Barnett took VCU to five NCAA tournaments in the 1980s; his overall record at the Big Dance was 4-5. With this season’s story still being written Smart has taken VCU to two NCAAs in three seasons; his all-time record stands at 6-2 … and counting.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Where the Frisbee Landed: Part 3

Post No. 3: Developing the Game: Rules & Routines 

Note: Read post No. 1 here; read post No. 2 here


In May of 2013 the 71st singles tournament under the auspices of the Greater Richmond Frizbee-Golf Association will be staged. As noted before, the group began holding tournaments after it had been playing for a couple of years.

Accordingly, in 1978, there were two singles tournaments, spring and fall. Three were played the next year (1979) and then just one the following year (1980). Three was clearly overkill, but I don’t remember why there was only one tournament held in 1980. I’m guessing it might have been weather related. Nonetheless, since then there have two per year, every year.

The GRFGA has also had lots of other tournaments with different formats, including various configurations of partners and teams. We’ve even played some of our courses backwards. The less said about that sort of thing the better.

By the fall of 1978 we had established Friday afternoons as a set time when we would meet, without any sort of checking in with one another beforehand. More than tournaments/special events, our game became institutionalized as a pastime flowing from those scheduled rounds on Fridays, which throughout the 1980s, were inevitably followed by a trip to a nearby pub for happy hour duties … maybe dinner after that, too. Much of our social life revolved around the group of regular golfers.

We play year round in all but the worst of weather. The regulars know without question there will others there to play at least nine holes on Sunday mornings at 10 o’clock. In good weather the playing of 18 holes is preferred. The Sunday morning time to meet and play goes back to the early-‘80s. In those days several of the guys also played on a softball team in a bar league that practiced on Sundays in the spring and early summer. So we began playing golf afterwards and it stuck after softball season ended.  

In the beginning we were all roughly the same age, somewhere in our 20s. In 2013 a typical weekday afternoon’s group might range in age from 29 to 69. Some of the same tees and objects to hit have been in use since the start, although mostly the history of our courses is one of change. By the way, none of the tees or target objects are marked. We make a point of being stealth in that respect.

Over the years of play the courses have been changed for two basic reasons. One has been necessity, which meant one of the target objects -- like a tree -- died and disappeared. The other most likely reason has been something that went on mostly during the ‘80s and ’90s -- the radical evolution of golf discs. We lengthened our courses repeatedly in that time period to adjust to the greater distances the newer discs could fly.

The rules we developed to govern our game were created out of necessity, as well. We made no attempt to look outside of our own experience to set our rules.

That remains true today, although some of our younger players -- who also play on other courses with baskets as targets -- grouse about how our rules differ from those of the Only True Intergalactic Professional Disc Golf Federation, or whatever…

Examples of our rules and practices which differ from the OTIPDGF’s are:
  • We require a player to throw with one foot on the spot where his disc landed. But it can be either foot. So the foot on the proper place is like a pivot foot in basketball, which means a player’s front foot can extended toward the target. Some heathens outside of our group like to call that extra step the GRFGA (pronounced griff-guh) Stretch.
  • Although we use objects other than trees as targets, mostly we use trees. One nine-hole course, called the Dead Dog Nine, uses utility poles. Otherwise, our targets are usually prominent trees, which frequently means exposed roots. So we needed a rule for how to count roots and how high on the tree counted as good. The way to handle that has been the same since we started. The shot is good if it strikes the tree’s trunk below the first major limb. Roots count as good, so long as they are connected above ground to the trunk.
  • We have water hazards on two courses, a lake on one and a creek on the other. If your disc goes into the water in either case, it earns a penalty stroke, even if the disc doesn‘t end up in the drink. The player is obliged to throw the next shot from approximately the place where their disc entered the water. Landing in mud puddles and other such temporary gatherings of water is not a penalty. 
  • Hitting a parked car earns a penalty stroke (tires don't count). If the car is moving it's two strokes. 
  • It has been our practice to play in large groups. For tournaments we play in foursomes, but for everyday play we play in one cumbersome group. In the pretty weather that can sometimes mean 15 or 20 players. So, such outings move slowly and are as much social gatherings as they are athletic contests.
As much as anything we do, the large group factor keeps the young and impatient golfers from joining us for a round too often. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The younger players in our group know what they’re in for and that’s a good thing. And, from the start, collectively, we haven't felt the group's best interests would be served by over-recruiting.    

Other rules, peculiar to the GRFGA, will be outlined later, when this meandering history touches on the dicey topic of cheating and particularly amusing incidents of such.


Note: The photo above (by Steve) is of the area just behind the target object (a pole) on the tough fourth hole of the Carillon West course (aka the Back Nine). Part Four in this series will be posted soon. 

Hank's Cadillac

The postcard above is from VCU’s Rarely Seen Richmond Collection, which includes over 600 scans of postcards, mostly from the 1900-30 era.

The first train pulled out of Broad Street Station at 1:07 p.m. on January 6, 1919. Designed by John Russell Pope, what was originally known as New Union Station was constructed on the site of what had been the Hermitage Country Club. A partnership of two railroad companies, the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad and the Atlantic Coastline, built the station to satisfy the growing city’s needs.

Directly across the street, at 2501 West Broad Street, the William Byrd Hotel opened in 1925. The twelve story hotel primarily catered to travelers heading north and south. At the other end of the block the Capitol Theater opened for business a couple of years later. It was the first movie theater in Richmond to be equipped for sound to screen talkies.

Boasting a first class train station and the new businesses that popped up close by the area became a cosmopolitan neighborhood. After all, in those days residents of the Fan District lived within easy walking distance of direct access to the entire East Coast.

The William Byrd’s barber shop open in 1927. Legendary barber Willie Carlton began looking out of the barber shop’s windows at Davis Avenue in 1948. He bought the business in the 1950s. Carlton still works at that same barber shop, when he’s not playing golf. He usually comes in on Fridays and Saturdays.

Recalling that for many years automobiles parked on the 800 block of Davis at a 45 degree angle facing the barber shop, Carlton chuckled as he described a visit by singer/songwriter Hank Williams, who was asleep in a convertible when it was time to open the barber shop.

“Well, he was taking a little nap, out there in his Cadillac,” Carlton the storyteller recalled in a warm tone that signaled he could still see the picture he was describing.

Apparently, after the hard-living country music great finished sleeping off his road weariness, he got out of his snazzy ride and came inside for his haircut. Carlton says the price of a haircut in those days was 60 cents. Lunch in the hotel’s busy dining room cost about the same.

During the station’s peak use, the years of World War II, an average of 57 trains passed through Broad Street Station on a daily basis. During the ensuing decades rapid outward growth of the city combined with the withering of America’s passenger rail system to change the character of the neighborhood.

In 1975 Broad Street Station was no longer the hub of metropolitan life it had been; the last passenger train left the station at 4:58 a.m., on November 15 of that year.

In 1977 the distinctive building’s second life as the Science Museum began.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Withering Fear of Being 'Primaried'

Because so many elected Republicans have become witheringly fearful of getting “primaried,” the GOP has developed a problem that is steadily getting worse. In order to stave off such challenges from extreme rightwing candidates, incumbents have been preemptively moving to the right on all sorts of issues.

That crab-walking migration toward the past is making Republicans less appealing in general elections, because John Q. Public usually isn‘t so happy voting for candidates who seem to have lost touch with reality. And, Jane Q. Public isn't getting any happier at all about voting for candidates who appear to be marching to the cadence of a "war on women" strategy.

"If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” said losing senatorial candidate Todd Akin. "I'm not a witch," said losing senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell. That's not the end of the career-crushing quotes, but there's no need to go on.

The point is, if Republicans could get better turnouts, if the turnout in primaries could be larger and more representative of the whole party, there would be less need for Republican incumbents to fear crazy rightwing challengers. And, there would be less need for them to distance themselves from the center of the political spectrum for the entire nation.

Still, for whatever reasons in the last few years, many Republicans have acted like that option hasn't been possible. By that they're saying that most conservatives can't be motivated to participate, so the party has to go on being at the mercy of activists on the far-right.

At this writing, it seems young voters are likely to keep moving that hypothetical center of the spectrum further to the left than it is now. If that's true, the problem for Republicans is going to snowball.

Maybe Republicans should consider doing away with primaries.

When using primaries, instead of conventions, suddenly became much more popular -- 40-some years ago -- the thinking was that primaries would make the nominating process more inclusive. It was seen then as a boon to undiluted democracy, because it would do away with the decisions made behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms.

As far as either party is concerned, how has moving the decision-making to taking place in ad agencies and Super Pacs been a boon to democracy? Truth be told, primaries frequently empower the candidates with deep pockets, because they can throw a lot of money at two elections.

Well, maybe the experiment hasn't really worked so well for either party, but right now -- via primaries -- it's the Republicans who seem to be choking on their own bile.

-- 30 --

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Havoc in Brooklyn

VCU Athletics is sending a message about its brand of basketball to New York City. The Atlantic 10's postseason tournament will be played out Mar. 14-17 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

The Rivalry: Spiders vs. Rams

The University of Richmond Spiders vs. the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams: Once again, it’s the match-up local hoops junkies love. It pits the private school kids from the West End against the public school kids from Downtown. As rivals in the same city the two schools are a perfect match-up.

The Cross-Town Rivalry: Since 1976 this will be the 68th meeting between them. The Rams have won 41 times; the Spiders have won 26 times.

This Season: Richmond won the first meeting this year, 86-74, in overtime at the Robins Center.

The Numbers: At the moment the Richmond Spiders (17-12, 7-7 in A-10) and the VCU Rams (23-6, 11-3 in A-10) are both members of the 16-team Atlantic 10 Conference. This week VCU is ranked No.21 in AP Poll and No. 19 in the Coaches Poll. As of today, VCU is No. 30 on the CBS Sports RPI list; Richmond’s RPI is No. 81. RPI-wise, their loss to the Spiders is the Rams worst loss of the season.

The Betting Line: The latest published betting line has Richmond as a 12.5-point underdog.

Postseason Tournament Prospects: The tied-for-eighth-place Spiders are still battling for a better position in the field of the A-10’s championship tournament to be played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Mar. 14-17. The Rams have locked up a bye through the first round of play. The league’s top four regular season finishers get byes, while the bottom four don’t get to play at all.

The Coaches: Chris Mooney is in his eighth year as Richmond’s head coach. Shaka Smart is in his fourth year as VCU’s head coach.

It’s Senior Night at the Siegel Center: VCU’s three seniors, who’ve been with the program for every game Shaka Smart has coached on West Broad Street -- Darius Theus, Troy Daniels and David Hinton -- will be playing their last game on their home court.

The Remainder of the Regular Season: The Spiders will close out their season at home against Duquesne. The Rams last regular season game is at Temple. Both of those games are on Saturday. 

Tonight's Game: If you don’t already have a ticket to this tilt, it’s probably too late. This will be the Rams 35th consecutive sell-out at home. The game will be on the CBS Sports Network. Tip-off will be shortly after 8 p.m. The live radio broadcast is on WBBT (107.3FM).

Other Previews: 

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Biograph Times

A collection of firsthand stories being written and illustrated by yours truly, Biograph Times is a work-in-progress. It has been such for too long, so this year it will get finished.

Here's the foreword:

The Intro: A note from Rebus

“Have a good time!”

That was my first line on a Biograph Theatre midnight show handbill about six months after the theater opened at 814 West Grace Street, Richmond, Virginia, in February of 1972. Eventually, the line became the Biograph's slogan/motto and I became its official spokesdog.

My name is Rebus. That’s me in the illustration above that was lifted from the top of the Biograph Theatre’s Program No. 53, published in January of 1980.

In case you're wondering what my name means, a rebus is a puzzle using symbols. For example, the viewer sees a line drawing of a person's eye, then a plus sign, then the letter “c”, then another plus sign, then the letter “u.”

Decoded that rebus means “I see you.”

If I look vaguely familiar, in addition to my work at the Biograph, you may remember me from my breakthrough appearances in the Commonwealth Times’ special all-comics issues of Fan Free Funnies in 1973, or from my appearances on posters promoting rock ‘n‘ roll shows and various other schemes.

First at the Biograph, then afterward in countless projects, I’ve worked for the guy who wrote the stories that follow my comments here. F.T. Rea, who goes by Terry, likes to say he keeps me around because I’m a lucky charm. 

Well, I know Rea is a little superstitious, but I think it has more to do with real charm. Although his memory is getting more fuzzy every day, my boss is still smart enough to know that most folks have always liked me more than him.

Naturally, I told him to put more funny stuff in the stories, but Rea rarely listens to me these days. Now that he sees himself as more of a writer than a cartoonist, he doesn’t spend all that much time at his drawing board, anymore.

To set the stage for the stories about the theater, Chapter One offers some context. Its stories begin with the telling of how a lesson was learned about the nature of cool in 1961. Ever the baby boomer, Rea also dredges up some memories associated with the Vietnam War and then an account of his initial plunge into the world of show business and after-hours shenanigans.

Hopefully, this recounting will offer the reader some insight into how those times passed in Richmond's Fan District. These yarns serve up some firsthand pop history about a repertory cinema in what was the golden age for such movie theaters. One thing for sure, some of the events described could only have happened in the 1970s.  

The stories in this collection of remembrances are supposed to be true. Hopefully, readers too young to know better will have a good time reading them, anyway, even if they do seem somewhat fanciful, at times.


Naturally, I prefer the illustrations.

Since Rea claims his earliest memory, which he sees as a picture in his mind of a dog running -- a yellow dog chasing a car -- perhaps it was only fitting that he would eventually conjure up a cartoon dog character. 

As a ten-year-old Rea created a series of newspaper-like sports sections. He invented eight teams in an imaginary baseball league made up of cartoon animals -- monkeys, bears and dogs. He played out the games in his head and wrote stories about them. And, he drew illustrations of the action.

Immediately following the Beatles initial appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, in February of 1964, Rea drew caricatures of the band members that had girls at Thomas Jefferson High School lining up in the cafeteria to buy for a dollar each.

In the Navy, in 1967, Rea got busted for drawing an X-rated comix-style parody of what he saw as a lurid training film. The offending artist was sentenced to extra duty -- he spent several hours wielding a sledgehammer for his punishment, breaking big rocks into little ones. Whereupon, the wiseass sailor said it was perfect: A cartoon punishment for a cartoon crime.

At the Biograph, as its manager, he had the perfect opportunity to hone his skills as a advertising copywriter, film note-writer and graphic artist. In the 1970s he collected old magazines and studied the looks of the designers and popular illustrators going back to the late-1800s. He poured what he was learning into his regular chores of designing handbills, programs and T-shirts.

Among other goose-chases, Rea spent most of the 1980s trying to gather and depict how his memories looked and how imaginary, fresh images looked in his head ... and the difference between them.
During that decade he wallowed in the study of 20th century American and European political art. He experimented with doodles, thinking they were close to some pure form of expression. He tried to stretch his cartoonist sensibilities and techniques into different applications. He made intricate collages he saw as frozen movies.

Rea became a self-publishing political cartoonist with his satirical card set about a prison break on death row, The Brileys. That story is told in Chapter Eight.

Eventually, Rea began dumping his single-panel cartoons and caricatures into his vanity press magazine, SLANT, which was distributed almost regularly in the middle of town for several years. Perhaps one day Rea will put together a highlights package of that off-the-wall story.

It’s now my job to say I hope the reader will have a good time consuming what's being offered as Biograph Times.

Here are the four parts of Chapter One:
Here is Chapter Two:
More posts will follow soon.