Friday, August 31, 2012

Quickie Sports Chowdah Update: Knockaround Guys- Former Sox Hitters Feast on Boston Pitching; Gone in 60 Seconds- Minutemen Flat in MAC Football Debut

RED SOX- What a way to head into the final month of the season- and make no mistake about it; September WILL be the final month of the Red Sox 2012 season.

Following Monday's win against Kansas City at Fenway, the Sox made their way to the West Coast where they proceeded to get swept by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, including closer Alfredo Aceves blowing a 1-run lead in the bottom of the 9th on Tuesday.

As bad as that was, it paled in comparison to Friday night's series opener against the Oakland A's. A number of former Sox players and prospects came back to haunt the Old Towne Team in a 20-2 drubbing.

Aaron Cook didn't even last three innings in Friday night's start, leaving the game as the Sox trailed 6-0. Limiting my mentions of Oakland's offensive contribution to just the former Red Sox or farm hands, catcher George Kattaras went 3-5 with 2 homers and 5 RBI, Brandon Moss went 4-5 with a homer and 4 RBI, Josh Reddick went 2-5 with 4 RBI and a homer and Coco Crisp had a relatively quiet night, going 0-5 with a walk and a run scored....but hey- why do down when the former Red Sox now in green and gold accounted for 13 RBI against their former team.

The A's bats burned through Cook, Tazawa, Aceves, Bard, Breslow, Melancon and Padilla during Friday night's romp. So far on this west coast road trip, the Red Sox are winless and have been outscored by a 31-12 margin in three games against the Angels and the Labor Day weekend series opener against Oakland.

For those of us who inexplicably feel that the remaining month of Red Sox baseball will be a worthwhile investment of our time, Saturday's game from Oakland gets underway at 9:05 PM Eastern, 6:05 Pacific. Felix Doubront [10-6; 4.79 ERA] will get the start against AJ Griffin [3-0; 2.42 ERA] and the game will be televised on NESN.

NCAA FOOTBALL- The UMASS Minutemen football program's debut as a member of the FBS Mid-America Conference took off with a resounding *splat!* Thursday night after getting shut out by former Yankee conference archrival UConn 37-0 at East Hartford, CT.

UConn's sophomore QB Chandler Whitmer threw for 219 yards going 15-25 while UConn scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams against the Minutemen. The Minutemen hope to rebound next week with a 'home' game at Gillette Stadium in Foxbourough, MA against the Indiana Hoosiers. Curiously, the away game at East Hartford was closer to UMASS' Amherst campus [where they played for decades as a FCS and Division 1AA team- NANESB!] than upcoming home games in Foxbourough- on the opposite end of the Bay state from Amherst.

UConn, meanwhile, will host the North Carolina State Wolfpack at East Hartford next weekend. NC State is coming off a 21-35 loss to Tennessee on Friday night.

Meanwhile, New England's better know FBS College Football team- the Boston College Eagles- will kick off their regular season on Saturday against archrival Miami at the home opener on Chestnut Hill.

NCAA VOLLEYBALL- The Lady Eagles trek out the the West Coast has been a little more successful than the Red Sox- although now that I think about it, that's not saying much.

Mississippi State freshman Middle Blocker Sarah Nielsen had 13 kills for the Bulldogs in Friday night's losing effort against Boston College at the Luxe City Center Trojan Invitational in Los Angeles. Mississippi State Bulldogs Photo
The Lady Eagles started out their West Coast road trip by dropping their opening match against the Northern Iowa Panthers 3 games to 1 on Friday, but rebounded against the Mississippi State Bulldogs later on in the day to win by a 3 games to 1 margin and improving their record to 4-2.

Boston College's Katty Workman lived up to her surname with 20 kills against the Bulldogs on Friday- Courtney Castle added to that total with a strong performance of her own including 16 kills. On the Mississippi State side of the court, freshman Sarah Nielsen led the Bulldogs with 13 kills followed by Taylor Scott with a dozen to her name.

The Lady Eagles will take on host USC on Saturday afternoon before their next match is set to take place at the Spring Hill Suites Invitational at College Park, MD next weekend where they will face Maryland, George Washington and Tennessee.

ELSEWHERE IN NCAA VOLLEYBALL- The defending NCAA women's champions got their regular season off to a rather unique start with an exhibition game against professional Chinese volleyball club Jiangsu ECE at the John Wooden center earlier this week. The Chinese club would win the contest in five sets, with the professionals from the other side of the Pacific never trailing in the decisive fifth set.

On Friday, the defending national champions faced off against Northeastern at the UCSB Invitational- just up highway 101 from their campus- where they handed the Lady Huskies their first defeat of the season with a 3-0 sweep, winning 25-21, 25-18 and 25-21. The Bruins head into the 2012 season ranked #3 in the nation while Northeastern is 4-1 despite the loss. On Saturday, Northeastern will take on the tournament host UCSB Gauchos followed by the Idaho Vandals before facing off against the Cal Poly Mustangs on Sunday.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hurricane Isaac Makes Landfall in Louisiana Ahead of Katrina Anniversary

Michael DeMocker, The Times-Picayune photo

Evacuation orders were lifted along much of the Gulf coast on Thursday after the considerably weaker but slower-moving Hurricane Issac moved inland in the run-up to the seven year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall.

There was some concern about the possible impact on New Orleans, which is still recovering from Katrina some 7 years later, but the Big Easy was spared a direct hit from Isaac as the storm made landfall twice, coming ashore southeast of New Orleans in Plaquemines Parish for the second time. The storm continued north from there, continually losing strength as it made its way into Arkansas.

While pumps and levees in the Crescent City held up during the city's latest brush with Isaac, suburban and rural areas just outside of New Orleans were hit with flooding as rain from the slow-moving storm overwhelmed neaby bayous.

Earlier in the week, a strengthening Isaac had sideswiped Haiti and the Dominican Republic and forecasters put the hurricane on a trajectory to hit the Florida Gulf Coast around the same time as the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL. Governors Bobby Jindal or Louisiana, Phil Bryant of Mississippi and Robert Bentley of Alabama had pre-emptively declared States of Emergency in the coastal regions of their respective states ahead of Isaac's arrival. The three governors- all Republicans- also cancelled their scheduled visits to the GOP convention to attend to the neccesary disaster prepeartions and cleanup.

Although Isaac was relatively mild compared to other hurricanes that came ashore from the Gulf Coast in recent years, the Cat 1 hurricane still caused widespread problems- particularly in Louisiana. As many as 820,000 residents were without electricity on Thursday- some 39% of the state's population.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Steamy Iron Horse Roundup for August 2012

NORFOLK SOUTHERN- Throughout much of their 22-state system, the Norfolk Southern railroad has been observing its 30th anniversary with a employee specials powered by steam locomotives from NS predecesors.

This included the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society's Nickel Plate Berkshire #765 making a rare trip to the Keystone State to power employee specials out of the NS facilities at Conway and Enola, PA [just outside of Pittsburgh and Harrisburgh, respectively- NANESB!].

Scores of rail enthusiasts, photographers and onlookers record the big Nickel Plate Berkshire #765 as she storms through Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, PA on her way back to Indiana on August 20.
With Norfolk Southern Nickel Plate heritage ES44AC #8100 trailing, the 765 steamed across the Alleghenies on the former Pennsylvania Railraod mainline from Conway to Enola under her own power on August 13th. The 765's Keystone state sojourn marked the first time since 1977 that the famed Horseshoe Curve just west of Altoona has seen a steam engine pass through the landmark under her own power- former Pennsy K-4 4-6-2 #1361 was on static display at Horseshoe Curve until the 1980s.

It had also been nearly as long since a steam locomotive crossed the ¾ mile former Pennsy stone masonry Rockville bridge [the Aug 19th run shown at the top of this entry] over the Susquehanna north of Harrisburg. Interestingly, in addition to the dozen or so coaches and equipment cars for the #765, the train had made the ferry moves from Conway to Enola and back with four NS gondolas in tow- at least two of them loaded down with coal and one carrying a front-end loader, making the 765's ferry move and return trip to Indiana undoubtedly the most popular mixed train to operate in Pennsylvania in decades.

Earlier in the month, the 765 had powered employee specials on the former Norfolk & Western Pocohontas Division and in early September will head to Missouri to operate specials out of the St Louis area.

Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum's former Southern 2-8-0 #630 seen leading an employee special out of the Bristol, VA area on a rainy mid-July day. Sid Vaught photo
The 765 wasn't the only steam locomotive active on Norfolk Southern this summer, however. Norfolk Southern's original partners in the pilot excursions for the 21st Century Steam- the Chattanooga, TN-based Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum- provided the use of their recently restored 1904 built 2-8-0 Consolidation for a series of employee excursions throughout the southern part of the Norfolk Southern system.

The former Southern Railway ALCo steamer spent a good deal of this summer on 'home' rails powering excursions out of Atlanta, GA, Chattanooga and Knoxville, TN as well as Bristol and Roanoke, VA. She reportedly suffered some mechanical difficulties while on one excursion out of Bristol, leading the Norfolk Southern to pinch hit with their Savannah & Atlanta-painted heritage SD70ACE. The #630 was reportedly brought back to Chattanooga for inspection where she was recently put back in service hauling the TVRM's Missionary Ridge excursion trains this month.

The TVRM is also working on restoring 101 year old former Southern 2-8-2 Mikado #4501. Given the Baldwin's Southern Railway ancestry, it's also highly likely that the #4501 would also be made available for Norfolk Southern excursions and specials.

Ohio Central 4-6-2 #1293 preparing to depart the Indigo Lake station in North Arkon, OH in September 2008. Peter Bowler photo
OHIO- Northeastern Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley announced that they will be holding their 'Steam in the Valley' event, with Ohio Central's former Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 reportedly doing the honors on September 8th..

This would mark the first time since the Genesee & Wyoming's 2008 acquisition of the Ohio Central that locomotives from the former OHCR system would be operating. With GWI's acquisition in 2008, former OHCR CEO Jerry Jacobsen began working on building a roundhouse from scratch from a 34 acre lot in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Although the 2008 transaction with Genesee & Wyoming's included all the modern equipment, Jacobsen retained possession of the OHCR's steam fleet and some vintage rolling stock while construction began on the Age of Steam roundhouse. Interestingly, although Jacobsen had reportedly carved out a provision to retain possession of all ten steam engines, the Age of Steam Roundhouse reportedly has no plans to operate excursions over the OHCR, instead oping to allow tourist lines to make use of some of the former OHCR fleet as well as operate over the Ohio Central for break-in runs and transiting to another tourist line. Apparently the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic is the first railroad since the Genesee & Wyoming takeover to borrow one of the former OHCR's steam loco from the Age of Steam.

Interestingly, since former Canadian Pacific #1293 is no longer part of the Ohio Central's steam fleet, the locomotive will reportedly revert back to its Canadian Pacific lettering. Since the GWI takeover of the Ohio Central, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society's Nickel Plate Berkshire #765 has put in a couple of appearences for the Buckeye State scenic railway.

Started up in 1972 on a former Baltimore & Ohio branch between Cleveland and Arkon, OH, 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of CVSR operations through Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The historic line dates back to 1880 and much of its route parallels a former Ohio & Erie canal and towpath.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Borderline Psychosis Update- US Officials Shot, wounded by Mexican police; Off to the Races- Zetas Racehorses Up For Auction; Cartels Trying to Gain Foothold in Sin City;

MORELOS- Mexican prosecutors and US State Department officials are trying to determine what happened after Federal police officers and gunmen in civilian clothes opened fire on US Diplomatic vehicle outside of the resort city of Cuernavaca over the weekend, wounding two Americans attached to the US Embassy in Mexico City and a captain in the Mexican Navy.
The two Americans, attached to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, were hospitalized with gunshot wounds and reported in stable condition. A Mexican naval captain traveling with them sustained minor injuries in the Friday attack.

No one disputes that Mexican police opened fire on the Americans' black armored Toyota with diplomatic license plates. The question is why.

The Americans were traveling on the road to Cuernavaca, a popular tourist resort south of Mexico City, when their vehicle was intercepted by a carload of gunmen who gave chase as the Americans attempted to escape, U.S. and Mexican officials said. Federal police in at least three patrol cars joined the chase and opened fire on the Americans until the Mexican military, summoned by the naval captain under fire, intervened.

The carload of gunmen and the federal police reportedly fled the scene at that point.

Pictures of the heavily damaged car showed the front passenger window splattered with bullet holes and most of the tires blown out. More than 30 spent casings reportedly littered the roadway where the crippled vehicle came to a stop.

The Reforma newspaper quoted an unnamed Mexican marine who was part of the rescue effort as saying the police and the first group of gunmen appeared to be working together.

"This was an aggression by the federal police," the marine said, according to the paper. "We don't know who they are working for."
A federal judge in Mexico ordered at least 12 Federal police officers involved in the shooting to be placed under house arrest on Monday. Remnants of the Beltran-Leyva cartel, reconstituting themselves as the Cartel de Pacifico Sur in 2010, are active in the state of Morelos.

In February of 2011, assailants from a local Zetas cell pursued two US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents (ICE) in a clearly marked Suburban with US Diplomatic plates and opened fire on the vehicle after running it off the highway in San Luis Potosi. Agent Jamie Zapata was fatally shot by the gunmen and his partner Victor Avila was wounded.

NICARAGUA- A Nicaraguan judge ordered 18 people caught attempting to enter the country from Honduras with more than $9 million in cash placed into 'protective custody' on Saturday.

The detained individuals, which reportedly include a former Mexican police officer, will face a September 5th court date where they will face charges of money laundering. The party was travelling in multiple vehicles bearing the logo of Mexico's Televisa network and claimed they were journalists. Televisa later confirmed that none of the detained individuals were working for their network.

While some speculate that the cash was ultimately destined for Colombia in a deal brokered between the cartels in Mexico and Colombia, the bogus journalists were caught just days before a high profile trial in the capital city of Managua where 24 people stand accused of trafficking Colombian drugs to Guatemala where they would ultimately be handed off to Mexican cartels.

NEW MEXICO- A Federal judge in Texas ruled that more than 400 racehorses seized in June during a coordinated series of raids on horse farms in Oklahoma and New Mexico can be put up for auction. Federal prosecutors allege that high ranking members of the Zetas invested proceeds from their drug trafficking into breeding and training racehorses.
Authorities seized 49 of the most valuable horses and claimed control of the remaining 414. Prosecutors said in court documents that four horses have died. Others have been injured due to overcrowding. Caring for the horses is also expensive.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks last week ruled proceeds would be held until the case is resolved. Five horses won't go up for sale.
In a number of instances, its not unusual for bidders of opaque origins to pay large sums of cash for prize racehorses at auction.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the June search warrant, a senior member of the Zetas had bragged about rigging the 2010 American Quarter Horse Association's All American Futurity at New Mexico's Ruidoso Downs.
Just after he watched his quarter horse win almost $1 million at a prestigious race in Ruidoso two years ago, one of the main leaders of the brutal Los Zetas drug cartel boasted that he had fixed the race by bribing the people who held horses in the gates, according to a federal court document.

Another informant said the horse, Mr Piloto, was doped with drugs purchased in Juárez before his long-shot win at the 2010 All American Futurity, the affidavit said.

It's unclear whether the claims are true or just boasts by members of Mexico's macho cartel culture. Seven people were arrested on charges that Los Zetas laundered $20 million since 2009 in U.S. quarter-horse racing -- much of it in Ruidoso.

A federal grand jury sitting in Austin on May 30 indicted Miguel Treviño in connection with the alleged money laundering. Federal prosecutors describe Treviño, 38, as "co-leader" of the Nuevo Laredo-based Zetas, who are known for ruthlessly killing and dismembering scores of victims.

Also indicted was his brother, Oscar Omar Treviño Morales, known as "42," whom the indictment describes as also a member of Los Zetas' leadership. Both brothers are believed to be in Mexico.

Agents on Tuesday arrested a third brother, Jose Treviño Morales, 45, and his wife, Zulema Treviño, 38, in Oklahoma. They ran a company, Tremor Enterprises LLC, that is accused of helping launder drug money by buying, selling and racing quarter horses.

Federal agents searched property used by Jose and Zulema Treviño and Trevor Enterprises in Balch Springs, Texas, on Tuesday. The affidavit, in which claims about race fixing and horse doping are made, supports the warrant to search the property.

U.S. officials have offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Miguel Treviño.

The affidavit says he, his brother Oscar, and two confidential informants watched the 2010 All American Futurity on a computer -- presumably in Mexico, where the informants say they met Miguel Treviño.

After the win, which paid Tremor Enterprises $968,440, Miguel Treviño said "he and his associates paid approximately $10,000 to the gate keepers to hold back the horses competing against Mr Piloto," the affidavit quotes the two informants as saying.

Mr Piloto only won the 2010 All American Futurity by a nose over JLS Mr Bigtime, the 2-1 co-favorite.

Darrel Soileau, trainer of JLS Mr Bigtime, wouldn't comment Thursday on claims in the federal affidavit that the race had been fixed and that the winning horse had been doped
The running of the 2010 AQHA All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs is archived on YouTube- contrary to Treviño Morales' boasts, the video shows no significant delay in the other horses leaving the starting gate. In fact, Mr Piloto is seemingly at a disadvantage at first as the horse veers off towards the railing closest to the crowd before regaining lost ground. The race ended in a 3-way photo finish between Mr Piloto, JLS Mr Bigtime and Dominyun.

NEVADA- The days of mob-run casinos on the Las Vegas strip may be gone, but that's not to say organized crime is no longer interested in Sin City.

Mexican cartels attempting to move product in Clark County or use southern Nevada as a staging area to ship drugs elsewhere are anxious to get a foothold in Las Vegas, according to a recent report from the Las Vegas Sun.
The vast majority of drugs entering the region still come via long-established routes through Phoenix or Southern California and are overseen by middlemen. But with greater frequency, traffickers here are ordering drugs directly from cartels in Mexico, enforcement officers have found.

“There’s no denying that these cartels are slowly inching themselves into our community,” said Lt. Laz Chavez of Metro Police’s narcotics section

The deliveries from Mexico include cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine, typically transported by vehicle in hidden compartments.

Last year, task forces seized more than $66 million in drugs in Southern Nevada, more than double the amount seized in 2010, according to authorities.

Authorities suspect Mexican drug cartels are sending splinter groups — associates but not cartel leaders — to the Las Vegas area to, as Chavez puts it, “test the waters.”

They’re purchasing homes and own enough vehicles to operate in the region, all funded by money from the cartels, he said. Chavez said he thinks that as these associates attempt to set up shop, they’re keeping an eye on police activity — in other words, “how much they can get away with.”

There’s not one cartel running Southern Nevada, though. Authorities have come across drug traffickers with direct connection to the Sinaloa, La Familia and the Knights Templar cartels.
Besides the potentially lucrative drug market, cartels could also possibly use the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip to help launder proceeds from their drug trafficking. From a criminal's standpoint, part of the problem with money laundering and large scale black-market transactions is the largest denominated currency typically available is the US $100 bill or Mexican 1000 Peso bill (currently worth US$75 give or take). While some drug traffickers in Europe or South America have gravitated towards the €500 note, some organized crime groups in Canada have been known to transfer high-denomination casino chips between one another in order to launder money. Althugh one is usually limited to redeeming the chips at just the one establishment, some casinos issue chips worth as much as US$500 or $1000, making them easier to handle or transport than the cash equivalent.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sports Chowdah Update- Going Going Gone(zo)- Red Sox, Dodgers Make Blockbuster Post Deadline Trade; Colon Blow- A's Starter Suspended 50 Games; Tour De Farce- Armstrong Stripped of All 7 Tour Titles

RED SOX- The Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers completed a massive nine-player trade over the weekend that sent Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto to Southern California as well as $11 million in cash. In return, the Dodgers sent first baseman James Loney, minor leaguers Alan Webster and Ivan DeJesus to Beantown as well as two players to be named later.

The trade- reportedly the largest in Dodgers history- has triggered hyperbolic comparisons from Boston sportswriters who claim the transaction is on the scope of sending Babe Ruth to New York [personally, I think its more along the scale of the 2004 trade that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs in exchange for Boston getting Orlando Cabrera from Montreal and Doug Mientkiewicz from Minnesota. Not quote as big money, but even more moving parts to potentially complicate the deal- NANESB!] .

Beckett was reportedly shopped around by Boston about 48 hours prior to the trade deadline last month. Although the Braves and Rangers had reportedly expressed an interest, no deal was reached by the trade deadline and if the front office still intended to move Beckett, it was assumed such a move would take place in the upcoming offseason. Just three games out of first place in the NL West and flush with cash from a new ownership group that includes NBA legend Magic Johnson, the Dodgers decided not to wait for November to try and swing a massive deal. Despite sending more than $11 million in cash to LA, the Red Sox are expected to save more than $260 million in salary after being free from Beckett, Gonzalez and Crawford's sizable contracts. The Los Angeles Times points out that the Dodgers payroll for 2013 will be $100 million more than it was on opening day this year.

A number of other Red Sox fans had pointed out that manager Bobby Valentine seemed largely unaware of the August transaction, despite its unprecedented scope. That in and of itself seems to point out that he most likely won't be back for the 2013 season.

Steven Senne/AP Photo

OTHER RED SOX NEWS: With all this taking place, the Red Sox still had a 4-game series against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway to contend with over the weekend.

After taking two out of the first three home games against KC, Daisuke Matsuzaka would return to the mound for his first start since going back on the DL in early July.

Matsuzaka, who had never gone more than 6 innings this season, started off by allowing an unearned run in the top of the 1st before getting out of the inning. Jacoby Ellsbury tied the ballgame up at 1-1 with a 2-out solo homer in the bottom of the first. Cody Ross would then break the deadlock with a 2-RBI wall-ball base hit in the bottom of the 3rd- it had come close to landing in the stands, but the umpires ruled it had stayed within the park. It remained a 3-1 game until the bottom of the 6th when Cody Ross and new acquisition James Loney each had RBI base hits to make it a 5-1 game. Matsuzaka and the bullpen did not squander the run support they got, either. Daisuke went 7 complete innings allowing 5 hits and the unearned run while striking out six. With Alfredo Aceves serving a 3-game suspension, Clay Mortenson, Vincente Padilla and Andrew Bailey closed out the game for the Red Sox.

Monday's Day game was the last before the Red Sox embark on their west coast Road Trip. Things kick off in Orange County on Tuesday night when Clay Buchholz [11-4; 4.47 ERA] gets the start against the Angel's Jared Weaver [16-3; 2.74 ERA]. First pitch is at 7:05 ET Pacific Time and 10:05 ET and the game will be televised on NESN and Fox Sports West.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS- The Los Angeles Dodgers were shut out by the Colorado Rockies by a 10-0 final in Josh Beckett's debut in Dodger blue. Beckett went 5 and ⅔ innings allowing three earned runs on 7 hits and 3 walks at Coors Field before the Dodgers bullpen imploded- giving up 7 runs in the bottom of the 8th inning.

Adrain Gonzalez is presently batting .250 for LA with 4 RBIs and a homer in three games with the Dodgers.

OTHER DODGERS NEWS- Hall of Fame Broadcaster Vin Scully announced that he would be returning to the Dodgers broadcast booth for a 64th season starting in 2013.

Scully had stated that the recent trade with the Red Sox that brought Beckett, Crawford and Gonzalez to LA had revitalized the organization as well as himself and demonstrated that the new ownership group was serious about bringing another World Series to LA.

The venerable play-by-play man was in the booth for a number of baseball milestones, including Henry Aaron's 715th career home run in 1974, Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series and a walk-off homer from a hobbled Kirk Gibson in Game 1 on the 1988 World Series.

ELSEWHERE IN MLB- Oakland A's starter Bartolo Colon received a 50 game suspension from MLB after testing positive for banned substance- reportedly synthetic testosterone.

Colon- a 15 year veteran- admitted to violating the MLB substance abuse policy and will reportedly not appeal the suspension, which would carry over into next season if he were to continue playing in the MLB.

In 24 starts with Oakland this season, Colon has a 10-9 record and 3.43 ERA. Since 2008, Colon has started for the Red Sox, A's, Yankees and White Sox. The suspension comes after another Bay Area ball player- San Francisco's Melky Cabrera- also tested positive for a substance prohibited by MLB.

BC sophomore Courtney Castle gets in a dig during the Eagle's match against Fordham at this weekend's Boston College Invitational. BC Eagles photo via Twitter
NCAA WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL- The NCAA's volleyball season got underway this weekend in Chestnut Hill with the 2012 Boston College Invitational.

To kick off the 2012 campaign, the Eagles played host to Texas Tech, Fordham, Siena and SUNY Binghamton on Friday and Saturday.

The lady Eagles got off to an 2-0 start on Friday when they swept the Binghamton Bearcats 3 sets to none.

Siena Junior Taylor Akana- named the MAAC Conference's Offensive Player of the Year in 2011 and Preseason Player of the year for 2012. Siena Saints photo
The Siena Saints and captain Taylor Akana presented a little more of a challenge to BC as the Eagles dropped the opening set 25-19, but the BC would rebound and win the next three consecutive sets by totals of 25-14, 25-18 and 25-20. Katty Workman led the Eagles with 12 kills while outside hitter Courtney Castle had 11 for BC. Over on the Siena side of the net, Taylor Akana and Rachel Stoklosa led the Saints with 11 each on the losing effort.

On Saturday, the Eagles went .500 on the court, sweeping Fordham 3 sets to none, but then dropping the match against the Texas Tech Red Raiders after taking a 2-0 lead.

With a 3-1 record, the BC Volleyball team will next head out to the west coast for the USC Tournament where they'll take on the host Trojans as well as Northern Iowa and Mississippi State.

CYCLING- Seven time Tour De France winner Lance Armstrong will reportedly be stripped of his titles after announcing he would no longer fight an investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

The announcement from Armstrong means that the USADA will recommend Armstrong be banned from all International Cycling Union (UCI) sanctioned events and that he be stripped of all titles dating back to 1998. The decision was made even though Armstrong had passed hundreds of tests administered during that timeframe.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Astronaut and First Man on the Moon Neil Armstrong Passes Away

Famed test pilot, Korean War veteran and astronaut Neil Armstrong passed away from complications related to cardiovascular surgery on Saturday at Indian Hill, OH. Armstrong holds the distinction of being the first man to walk on the surface of the moon while captain of NASA's Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Armstrong had turned 82 earlier this month.

On July 20, 1969, Armstrong famously radioed back to mission control in Houston, TX "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" as he disembarked from the lunar module, followed shortly by fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Having flown an extensive number of hours as a test pilot in the California desert, Armstrong compared the lunar landscape to the southwestern high desert of the American southwest while in contact with mission control. Armstrong and Aldrin would collect samples of lunar rocks and soil to bring back to the earth for further study. With their work done, the ladder that Armstrong and Aldrin descended from as well as a US flag and plaque that read Here Men From The Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We Came in Peace For All Mankind were left behind. By that point, the Apollo capsule successfully re-joined with the Columbia command module in a series of maneuvers that would still be complex and difficult even with today's more advanced technology.

Born on Aug 5th, 1930 in Wapakoneta, OH, Armstrong's father was an auditor for the state of Ohio and his family moved around within the state in the early years of his life before returning to Wapakoneta for his high school years. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Armstrong first took flight from a grassy runway outside of Wapakoneta in a single-engine two-seat Aeronca 7AC Champion at the age of 16.

After graduating from Wapakoneta's Blume High School, Armstrong enlisted in the Naval ROTC and began attending classes at Purdue university in Lafayette, IN. The ROTC program called for two years of classes at Purdue, three years of military service before returning to Purdue for the final two years of classes. Halfway through his sophomore year, the Navy needed pilots for the war effort in Korea and he underwent military flight training before being assigned to the USS Essex. By 1950, the 20 year old Armstrong was flying combat missions over enemy territory in a single-seat F9F Panther jet fighter. In 1951, while flying low through a mountain pass in North Korea, Armstrong's plane clipped a metal cable- shearing off the aircraft's right wing. Armstrong was able to limp back to South Korean airspace and eject before being rescued by US Marines on the ground.

Before becoming an astronaut, Armstrong would become a test pilot for a number of military aircraft- some of which are still in service to this day. Armstrong also was an engineer for the part jet, part rocket X15. The aircraft was capable of speeds greater than mach 5, testing the limits of human endurance for the pilots.

In a 2001 interview, Armstrong said he felt that his work with NASA was much riskier than being a test pilot since there were far fewer points of reference and known tolerances in the nascent science of manned space flight.

In 1966, Armstrong was given his first command as an astronaut- the Gemini 8 mission, which was the first successful docking of two vehicles in space. The mission also demonstrated Armstrong's ability to react in a crisis situation when shortly after the successful docking, the Gemini capsule began to spin uncontrollably. After fellow astronaut David Scott noticed their fuel supply was depleting rapidly, Armstrong and Scott conducted a test of all 16 thrusters before determining that one of them was stuck in the 'on' position. Mission parameters dictated that the Gemini 8 flight be cut short and the Gemini returned to earth. Armstrong's handling of the Gemini 8 crisis had apparently factored into NASA's decision to make him commander of the Apollo 11 mission.

The Apollo 11 flight and moon walk was Armstrong's last space flight. After retiring as an astronaut, he accepted a teaching position at the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. He also was appointed to two NASA panels to investigate two different incidents- Apollo 13 in 1970 and the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

Upon the announcement of his death, Armstrong's family released the following statement.
While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.

For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink
Including Armstrong, a grand total of 12 people have walked on the surface of the moon in human history.

Earlier this summer, the first American woman to travel into space- Sally Ride- had passed away after a 17 month battle with pancreatic cancer.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Today's Train of Thought- Deep in the Heart of Texas, August 25, 2012

Today's train of thought features what could easily be one of America's most overlooked Class 1 railroads. Despite boasting more than 3200 miles of track, the Kansas City Southern operates mostly in the MidSouth, parts of Texas and some of the Midwest. Of course- that's not including some of KCS's subsidiaries that have been acquired in the past decade such as the Texas Mexican Railroad or their more than 2600 mile Mexican subsidiary- KCS de Mexico.

Traffic along the original KCS route between Kansas City and Shreveport, LA [with lines branching off to New Orleans, Fort Worth and the Texas Gulf coast at Port Arthur- NANESB!] includes coal, aggregates, plastics, wheat, auto parts, chemicals, corn and intermodal traffic. The 1990s saw the KCS expand considerably with the acquisition of former Illinois Central lines between Shreveport and Meridian, MS (formerly Midsouth Rail) and Kansas City and St Louis (formerly the Gateway Eastern).

Fort Worth is about as far west as the KCS goes- at least on the American side of the border. And it is just to the north of here that contributor Chris Starnes caught this duo of  SD40-2s heading north on BNSF trackage rights at Justin, TX on a stormy July 2008 afternoon. The lead unit- SD40-2 #3061- is in the slightly newer Kansas City Southern grey with yellow trim paint scheme while the trailing SD40 is in the older all-white version with red letters. The train still has a few miles to go before reaching home rails at Wylie, TX.

With the recent expansion, KCS has purchased newer motive power from GE that's in the company's eye-catching orange black and yellow 'Southern Belle' livery reminiscent of the KCS early streamliners.

Blue State Graft Watch- Audit Finds California State Parks Director Sitting on More than $50 Million in 'Hidden Assets'

Wildflowers in bloom at Anza Borrego state park, which straddles San Diego and Imperial counties in Southern California. Anza Borrego is one of 278 state parks in California that has recently been threatened with closure or drastically reduced services while the State Parks' Director was sitting on $54 million in undisclosed or underreported funds.
California State Parks Director Ruth Coleman stepped down and her second-in-command was fired after it was learned that the agency had been sitting on an unreported surplus of $54 million that had been accumulating over the last decade.

The funds were discovered shortly after the Sacramento Bee published an investigative report and internal audits from the California Department of Parks and Recreation regarding an unauthorized vacation buyout program among senior Parks officials that was thought to have cost the Golden State $271,000.

Much of the hidden money was discovered in a controversial Off Road Vehicle fund. Since late last year, off-roading advocates have accused the governor and state agencies of stacking the Parks and Recreation department with personnel hostile towards off-roaders.

The disclosure comes at a particularly awkward time for Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been campaigning for statewide ballot measures supporting tax increases that will be voted on in November. Earlier, Brown had said that as many as 70 California State Parks could be shuttered due to the agency running out of funds.
Officials tapped the department’s new deputy director of administrative services, Aaron Robertson, to examine agency finances. He is credited with finding the hidden funds.

State investigators have determined that nearly $20.4 million, or 39 percent of the money in the State Parks and Recreation Fund, was not disclosed to state budget officials. Nearly $33.5 million, or 20 percent, of the money in the parks’ Off Highway Vehicle Fund, was also not reported. Both accounts subsist on revenue from park visitor fees.

The finance department and the attorney general are reviewing whether criminal activity was involved in hiding the assets. Officials said preliminary findings suggest the reporting errors date back at least 12 years.
A number of donors who contributed to the state parks system before the hidden money was disclosed are now asking for their money back, claiming they were under the impression that their fundraising was the only thing keeping the parks open as the agency sat on more than $50 million in funds.

Earlier this year, it was learned that funds raised by the state of California to go to a September 11th memorial fund through the sale of special license plates was raided by both the Brown and Schwarzenegger administrations to plug shortfalls in the state's budget.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Director Tony Scott Dead At 68

Film director Tony Scott, whose credits include Top Gun, Days of Thunder, True Romance, Man on Fire and most recently the runaway train movie Unstoppable has died in an apparent suicide in California.

Eyewitnesses in the Los Angeles area reported watching Scott get out of his car on the Vincent Thomas bridge in Long Beach, CA during the overnight hours of August 19-20 and scale the guard rail before jumping to his death. The Los Angeles Port Police recovered his body from the water the following day.

Early media reports attributed Scott's suicide to an inoperable brain tumor, but his family immediately denied those reports. Although the 68 year old British-born director had left behind a note, investigators say it contains no apparent motive for his suicide.

Tony Scott was also the younger brother of fellow director Ridley Scott of Alien and Blade Runner fame. While growing up in England, the two brothers would sometimes appear in each other's film school projects. While the two brothers had started out filming commercials, they both began gravitating towards motion pictures in the late 1970s and early 80s.

Although Scott's first feature-length Hollywood film, The Hunger, did poorly at the box office in 1983, it gained a cult following a few decades later and introduced Willem DaFoe in a minor role. At the time, the younger Scott brother thought he was unemployable due to the poor box office of The Hunger, but within two years he was approached by producer Jerry Bruckheimer to direct Top Gun. Scott's earlier directing of an ad for Swedish automaker Saab depicting a Saab 900 Turbo racing a Saab Viggen-37 single-seat jet fighter had reportedly factored into the decision to hire Top Gun director.

Patricia Arquette as ex-prostitute Alabama Worley on the lam in Tony Scott's 1993 film True Romance. A number of critics rate this noir road movie as the most memorable films of the 1990s. The film was also one of the first scripts successfully shopped by then-writer Quentin Tarantino. Image courtesey of Warner Brothers studios
On a personal note, my introduction to Tony Scott was actually 1993's True Romance. The noir, blood-spattered road movie about a mild-mannered Detroit comic book store clerk and his ex-prostitute wife Alabama on the lam after killing Alabama's pimp and stealing a suitcase full of uncut cocaine featured an ensemble cast of Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, Samuel L Jackson and James Gandolfini. The film was also the first script that writer-director Quentin Tarantino had successfully optioned.

Through the late 1990s and into the 2000s, Scott would go on to direct a number of films including Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State, Spy Game, Man on Fire and the 2009 remake of The Taking of Pelham 123.

Scott's most recent project to hit theaters was 2010's Unstoppable- starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pine and Rosario Dawson in a fictionalized version of a 2001 runaway train incident in Ohio where crews were able to catch up and board the train to stop in manually, but only after another set of locomotives had coupled onto the rear to slow it down considerably.

For this project, Tony Scott's timing was impeccable. The nation's economy was still staggering from the effects of the Great Recession, which meant that traffic levels were down on railroads throughout the nation. Locations and venues that would've interrupted revenue freight operations for a number of railroads suddenly became available for filming. Scott and his production crew spread the filming out between Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York. Among the real-life railroads that hosted the filming were the Nittany and Bald Eagle, Western New York & Pennsylvania, Buffalo & Pittsburgh and Wheeling & Lake Erie.

Since CSX had no desire to revisit the 2001 Ohio runaway train incident, Scott and his writers created the fictional Allegheny & West Virginia railroad and changed the setting to Western Pennsylvania. In a nod to the real-life runaway train, the film's main antagonist is AWVR #777- a six-axle 4400 HP Canadian Pacific General Electric locomotive that the production crew was able to borrow for the months-long shoot. A number of other locomotives- mostly 3000 HP EMD SD40-2s from Larry's Truck & Electric in nearby McDonald, OH were hastily adorned with markings for the fictitious Allegheny & West Virginia and pressed into service on the set, including the locomotive the protagonists use to try and bring the runaway to a halt.

'Allgheny & West Virginia' AC4400W's roll across the Ohio River at Bellaire, OH in November 2009 for filming of Unstoppable- what turned out to be director Tony Scott's final film. Tom Habak photo
For the early scenes of the movie, Scott closely consulted with Wheeling & Lake Erie foreman Steve Stertzbach of Tuscarawas Township, OH. Scott was reportedly so impressed with Stertzbach's work in the early filming of Unstoppable that he requested that the foreman stay on and consult with the lead actors on operating the actual locomotive as well as a mockup that was rigged to accommodate cameras.

For five months, Stertzbach got to live the dream while still receiving his Wheeling and Lake Erie salary as well as overtime, per-diem and expenses while Scott's production company provided the foreman with meals, lodging and a 2010 Chevy Equinox. Stertzbach also recalled that Scott welcomed his family to the set and even cast his eldest son in a small part. When the movie was released in November 2010, Scott sent the Ohio rail worker who had consulted with him an ornately decorated leather-bound edition of the script signed by him for Christmas a month later.

Just weeks before his death, Scott was reportedly scouting out locations for a rumored sequel to Top Gun and was also slated to direct a remake of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. According to colleagues, Scott seemed particularly enthusiastic about the Top Gun remake which only deepens the mystery behind a possible motive for Scott's suicide.

A private memorial for family and colleagues was held on Friday afternoon at the Hollywood Forever cemetary, which is also the final resting place of actors and directors such as Cecil DeMille, Doug Fairbanks and Jayne Mansfield.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Today's Train of Thought- Tiptoe Through Across the Tulips, August 18, 2012

Today's Train of Thought takes us to the Hoosier State and the Indiana Railroad, which had just turned 25 last year. The INRD started in 1986 when the Illinois Central Gulf was in the process of divesting themselves of several unwanted subdivisions- although some of them, such as the Chicago Central and Pacific were eventually brought back into the Illinois Central fold before the IC itself was acquired by Canadian National.

The Indiana Railroad started out with the original former Illinois Central line between Newton, IL and downtown Indianapolis before expanding considerably in the last decade- north via trackage rights to Chicago and south to Louisville, KY- at first by the former CSX line between New Bedford, IN and Lousville and then via haulage rights over the Louisville and Indiana. The INRD has also been working with Rail America's Indiana Southern to construct a 5-mile branchline from scratch to service Peabody Coal's Bear Run Mine in Sullivan County, IN.

Here, contributor Brian Wiggins catches a trio of freshly-painted GP38s trundling across the Richland Creek Viaduct, also known as the Tulip Viaduct in Tulip, IN on a sunny October 2007 day. With the corn in the foreground harvested, GP38-2 #3805 en route to Indianapolis after working the Indiana Southern interchange in Switz City.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sports Chowdah Update- King Felix's Perfect Day; Tainted Melk- Giants Slugger Tests Positive for Banned Substances; USA Wraps Up Olympics Golden

SEATTLE MARINERS- Starting pitcher Felix Hernandez threw the first perfect game in the Mariners history on Wednesday afternoon at SafeCo Field in Seattle's 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

The only run Seattle would get came in the bottom of the 3rd on an RBI single from DH Jesus Montero, but it was all the Mariners would need as 'King Felix' went all nine innings and struck out 12 batters on 113 total pitches.

Hernandez's brush with perfection is the first time in MLB history that there have been three perfect games thrown in a season- the White Sox Philip Humber had thrown a perfect game against the Mariners back in April while San Francisco's Matt Cain struck out 14 Houston Astros in mid-June while throwing a perfect game of his own. Hernandez's perfect game was the 23rd one in the history of the big leagues.

So far in the 2012 season, there have been six no-hitters with half of them taking place at Seattle's SafeCo Field. In addition to the perfect games thrown by the Humber and Hernandez, the Mariners pitching staff combined for a no-hitter using six pitchers against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 9th.

Currently Hernandez holds an 11-5 record with a 2.60 ERA.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS- San Francisco Giants outfielder and 2012 All Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera has recieved a 50 game suspension after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs on Wednesday.

Unlike the Ryan Braun announcement in which Braun immediately challenged the results and it was subsquently learned the sample was improperly handled before testing, Cabrera admitted to taking a banned substance and issued an apology to fans and teammates.

With the suspension, Cabrera's season if effectively over. Should the Giants make it to the playoffs, he will still be under suspension. If the Giants miss the playoffs, Cabrera will serve out the remainder of his suspension for whichever team he is playing for, since he's a free-agent at the end of this season.

Cabrera went 2 for 3 with a homer and 2 RBI at this year's All Star Game in Kansas City, garnering MVP honors at the Mid-summer classic. The National League handily beat the American League by an 8-0 final this year, but Cabrera's drug test results have led to calls from some to invalidate the results of the game. Since 2003, the winner of the All Star game determines who recieves home field advantage in the World series. The exact date of when Cabrera underwent the drug test hasn't been released by MLB.

This season, Cabrera has been batting .346 with 11 homers and 60 RBI for the Giants. After losing to the Washington Nationals at home on Wednesday, the Giants presently trail the LA Dodgers by a game in the NL West and will be harmed by Cabrera's abesence from the starting lineup. Cabrera has also harmed himself due to the fact he was slated to be a free agent at the end of the season. If he did manage to sign with another team next season, he would miss time with them should the Giants not make the postseason this year.

RED SOX- I guess it was too much to ask to have two no-hitters in one day on Wednesday.

Following a report from sports that a number of players had met with Red Sox management to demand that manager Bobby Valentine be fired immediately, the travelling soap opera took to the field at Camden Yards on Wednesday after dropping the series opener 7-1.

Red Sox starter Aaron Cook appeared to be cruising, getting a 2-0 lead in the top of the 5th thanks to an RBI ground-rule double from Jacoby Ellsbury and a sac fly from Carl Crawford. Cook threw five innings of no-hit baseball, but in the bottom of the 6th inning, the wheels came off as he led off the inning with a walk to Nick Markakis then gave up back-to-back singles to JJ Hardy and Nate McClouth to break up the no hitter and the put the O's on the board. Cook then air-mailed a comebacker to him from Adam Jones into center field. Cook would then give up a ground rule double to Matt Wieters before being pulled by Valentine. Mark Reynolds then belted a 2-RBI double off of Junichi Tazawa to make it a 5-2 Baltimore lead. Although a run would come home for Boston in the top of the 7th on a Carl Crawford groundout to make it a two run game, Baltimore's pitching staff was able to hold on to the lead and shut the Red Sox down by a 5-3 final.

The Red Sox will try and avoid the sweep on Thursday night when Clay Buchholz [10-3; 4.24 ERA] will take to the mound against Baltimore's Chris Tillman [5-2; 3.40 ERA]. The game gets underway at 7:05 ET and will be televised on NESN and MASN.

SUMMER OLYMPICS: BASKETBALL- Team USA held off a late challenge from Spain in the gold medal game. Once again, Kevin Durant led the scoring for Team USA with 30 points.

In the second half, Spain had whittled down the USA lead to just one point, but USA started to pull away late and win by a final of 107-100 in the gold medal game for their second consecutive gold medal.

SUMMER OLYMPICS: VOLLEYBALL- After Brazil's womens volleyball team gave away the first set in the gold medal game thanks to a series of unforced errors against Team USA, the Brazilians stormed back to win three straight sets to clinch the gold medal for the second straight summer Olympics.

SUMMER OLYMPICS: TRACK & FIELD- The American quartet of Bianca Knight, Allyson Felix, Tianna Madison and Carmelita Jeter broke a world record in the women's 4 X 100M relay with an official time of 40.82 seconds.

The Jamacian women's team finished at 41.41 secinds while the Ukranian team finished at 42.04 for the bronze. The previous world record was 41.37 seconds held by East Germany, which was set in 1985.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Vietnamese Airline Fined by Officials for Unorthodox In-Flight Entertainment

Vietnam's only privately-run airline was fined by aviation officials in that country after video surfaced of bikini-clad beauty pageant contestants dancing in the aisles as music blared and appreciative male passengers snapped photos as their flight was underway.

In a letter to Vietnamese aviation authorities, Hanoi-based VietJet said that the local beauty queens were part of the in flight ceremonies celebrating the low-cost carrier's innagural flight from Ho Chi Minh City [aka Saigon] to the southern coastal city of Nha Trang earlier this month. A VietJet employee who declined to be identified said that the performance in no way violated safety guidelines.
In a letter to Vietnamese authorities Tuesday, the company said the event inaugurated its first flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang on the southern coast. It said all safety regulations were followed. A company spokeswoman refused to comment on the fine Friday, but confirmed the local beauty queens were paid for their performance. She would not give her name because she was not authorized to speak to the media.
Photos and video also show the bikini-clad women handing out stuffed animals to passengers as prizes or souveniers.

Like the viral video of Australian hurdler Michelle Jenneke, I opted to go with the non-musical video since the music dubbed in after the fact is pretty loud and grating.

Established in 2007, VietJet didn't begin regularly scheduled passenger flights until December 2011. The airline operates exclusively with a small fleet of leased Airbus A320s.

Monday, August 13, 2012

JOHNNY PESKY: 1919-2012

Legendary former Red Sox infielder and manager Johnny Pesky passed away at a hospice in Danvers, MA on Monday. He was 92.

As both a player and a manager, Pesky wore many hats and many uniforms, but the popular infielder would always find his way back to the Hub, where even during Boston's 2004 and 2007 championship runs, he became a fixture around the Red Sox clubhouse.

Born as John Michael Paveskovich in Portland, OR to Croatian parents in 1919, Johnny Pesky was part of the Red Sox minor league system for two years before making his big league debut in 1942 with Boston. His first year, he set a club record for hits by a rookie with 205- a mark that stood until shortstop Nomar Garciaparra's arrival in 1997.
Pesky, like many of his contemporaries at the time, gave some of the prime years of his playing career to serving his country at the height of World War Two. According to Springfield Republican sportswriter Garry Brown, both he and teammate Ted Williams underwent flight training at Turners Falls, MA in rural Franklin County in 1942 as part of the US Navy's V-12 program.

His first full season back with the Red Sox was in 1946 where they captured the American League pennant only to lose to the St Louis Cardinals in seven games. Pesky was arbitrarily blamed for allowing the pivotal run- Enos Slaughter's 'mad dash'- to score in Game 7 by hesitating to throw home on Harry Walker's base hit, even though the grainy footage filmed at the time exonerated him.

Never a power-hitter, the right-field foul pole 302 feet away from home plate at Fenway Park bears his name because according to various sources, most of his 17 career home runs wrapped around the pole at short right field.

In 1952, the Red Sox did the unthinkable and traded Pesky to the Detroit Tigers, where he was batting .275 in three seasons with Detroit. Pesky's last full season in the bigs was spent with the Washington Senators in 1954 where he appeared in 49 games. He retired from the game with 17 homers, 404 RBI and a career .307 batting average between Boston, Detroit and Washington.

Even with his playing career over, Pesky still was actively involved with the Red Sox by 1961, managing their AAA club out of Seattle. By the end of the 1962 season, owner Tom Yawkey had offered Pesky a chance to return to Boston as manager. A number of second place finishes and some of his own players undermined Pesky and he departed with a few games remaining in the 1964 season. From 1965 to 1967, Pesky was first base coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates and managed their AAA affiliate in Columbus in 1968.

By the 1969 season, Pesky had once again returned to Boston, this time in the booth, but by 1975, he was in uniform once again as a coach. In fact, he can be seen prominently in the background of footage and still photos of Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk 'waving' the ball fair during Game 6 of the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.

When manager Don Zimmer was fired by Tom Yawkey in 1980 with nearly a week remaining in the season, Pesky was appointed interim manager. The following season, he came back as the clubs bench coach. In 1990, he was named the interim manager of the Pawtucket Red Sox when the minor league club's manager, Ed Nottle, was fired in June.

Pesky was present in St Louis for the clinching Game 4 of the 2004 World Series in which the Red Sox snapped an 86 year World series drought and figured prominently in the 2005 Opening day ceremonies in which he was given a championship ring along with members of the 2004 squad and raised the championship banner along with Carl Yastrzemski. Pesky was also invited to raise the 2007 World Series Champion banner on the opening day of the 2008 season. That same year, his #6 was retired by the Red Sox in a late-season ceremony at Fenway.

Off the field, Pesky's friendship with former teammates Dom DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr is the subject of David Halberstam's 2003 book The Teammates. In 2010, a statue depicting the quartet from the 1946 Red Sox was unveiled outside of Fenway Park. Williams had passed away in 2002 while Dom DiMaggio- the younger brother of Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio- died in 2009.

Doerr and Pesky- both born and raised on the West Coast- were on hand for ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of Fenway park earlier this season.

Within an hour of the announcement of Johny Pesky's passing, condolances for Pesky's family and the Red Sox organization poured in from all over the big leagues.

While Monday is a travel day for the Red Sox (who will continue their road trip in Baltimore on Tuesday night), in the Bronx, the New York Yankees observed a moment of silence in honor of Johnny Pesky with an image of him on the park's video scoreboard before their game against the Texas Rangers. Johnny is survived by his son David.

Presumptive GOP Nominee Mitt Romney Chooses Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as Running Mate

GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced his VP selection at a campaign event in Virginia over the weekend. An announcement from the Romney campaign that a VP decision would be made over the weekend led to a flurry of rumors on social networking sites like twitter and unsubustantiated media reports on Friday night. Romeny introduced Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan [R- WI 1] as his running mate in front of the battleship USS Wisconsin at Norfolk, VA on Saturday.

Some analysts theorized that the former Governor Mitt Romney would've been reluctant to nominate somebody who is more charismatic or could outshine him on the campaign trail. Pundits had speculated that other potential nominees included New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, former Minnestoa Governor Tim Pawlenty, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, Ohio Governor Rob Portman or Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell [notice the abundance of governors and complete lack of community organizers! NANESB!].

Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, had a number of high profile clashes with the Obama Administration over the federal budget, entitlement reform and the debt ceiling since 2010 when the GOP became the majority in the House after a number of Tea Party swept into office.

Romeny's Ryan pick has reportedly energized a conservative and Tea Party base who were wary of Romney's credentials as a moderate, with the selection garnering praise from a number of Tea Party affiliated PACs. The pick also puts the focus of the 2012 Presidential campaign squarely back on the economy.

The duo appeared before large and enthusiastic crowds in the swing states of Virginia, North Carolina and Ryan's native Wisconsin over the weekend. Like the Supreme Court ruling that upheld 0bamacare as a tax, the Romney campaign enjoyed a massive surge in donations shortly after the Ryan announcement was made- reportedly collecting as much as $3.5 million in the 24 hours after the two appeared in front of the USS Wisconsin.

Democrats, the media and Obama-alligned PACs reacted fairly predictably, claiming that the Ryan pick was a sign of 'desperation' from the Romney camp and struggled to portray the two as being out-of-touch Washington insiders who sought to take away entitlement programs from the elderly and women. However, the fundraising and large crowds turning out in battleground states to see both Romney and Ryan belied such claims from the Democrats. Also, the nominee could've been Pawlenty, Jindal, Chrisite or Portman and I imagine the left, the media and the Obama campaign would've been saying the exact same things about them, only altering the name for the script.

After appearing at a campaign event in Waukesha, WI, on Sunday the Romney camp announced that he and Ryan would be campaigning seperately until the Republican convention in Tampa at the end of the month. Ryan was slated to appear at the Iowa State Fair on Monday while Mitt Romney is supposed to head to Florida.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Today's Train of Thought- Chicken Scratch, August 12, 2012

Today's train of thought takes us down to south-central part of the Tarheel State. With mega-transactions like the Genesee & Wyoming's purchase of Rail America, the Aberdeen, Carolina & Western railroad is something of a vanishing breed in this country- an independent and locally operated shortline railroad. Started in 1987, the company operates on a former Norfolk Southern branch from Aberdeen to Star, NC. The AC&W also excercises trackage rights into downtown Charolotte, NC. Traffic for the Aberdeen, Carolina and Western includes bricks, chicken feed, lumber, ethanol, natural gas and woodchips

In recent years, traffic has grown significantly on the AC&W. The line started out operating with secondhand GP9s and ex CSX GP16s- many of them getting a new coat of paint in the Aberdeen Carolina & Western's spiffy green and cream colors. With the advent of unit ethanol trains in the last decade as well as trainloads of corn destined for the Purdue and Mountaire chicken farms along the system, the AC&W needed bigger and more reliable power. About 10 years ago, a half dozen former Canadian National widecab GP40-2LW's arrived on the property and were painted into AC&W colors. More recently, the AC&W opted for 6-axle power with the purchase of nine rebuilt former Canadian National SD40-3s in the last two years.

Here, contributor Patrick Treadaway caught AC&W SD40-3 #6910 and #6918 working the Purdue chicken farm at Candor, NC in August 2011. The lengthy cut of cars accentuates some of the roller-coaster hills in this part of the Tarheel state and a close look at the door leading to the cab of #6910 indicates the crew is attempting to cool down the old-school way.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sports Chowdah Update: Feat of Clay- Buchholz Throw Complete Game; Dutch Treat- Holland Takes Gold in Women's Field Hockey; Misty-May Calls it a Career; Manchester United Goes Public

RED SOX- The Red Sox came into Firday night's game at Cleveland's Jacobs Field losing losing seven out of their last nine games- including Thursday night's series opener.

However, Clay Buchholz stopped the bleeding with an outstanding performance, going the distance on Friday night. After allowing an early solo home run to Asdrubal Cabrera in the bottom of the first, Clay settled down, allowing just one other hit and striking out six in Boston's 3-2 win over Cleveland. Clay got run support from a Dustin Pedroia RBI single in the top of the 4th and a 2-run Cody Ross homer in the top of the 6th. The Tribe would pull to within one in the bottom of the 6th thanks to a Ezequiel Carrera sac fly, but that would be it as far as runs scored off of Buchholz went.

Saturday's game will feature Franklin Morales [3-2; 3.14 ERA] starting for Boston while Zach McAllister [4-4; 3.60 ERA] gets on the bump for Cleveland. The game gets underway from Jacobs/Progressive Field at 6:05 ET. Naturally, the game will be televised on NESN.

OTHER RED SOX NEWS- 3B Will Middlebrroks suffered what turned out to be a broken right wrist after getting hit by a 95 MPH fastball in the top of the 9th on Friday night's game.

Early reports indicate that Middlebrooks is likely to miss the remainder of the season. The Red Sox have recalled light hitting infielder Danny Valencia from AAA Pawtucket to take Middlebrooks' place on the roster.

OTHER MLB NEWS- Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Derek Lowe was formally released bt the team on Friday. Lowe had am 8-10 record with a 5.52 ERA this season. Boston and Baltimore had reportedly expressed interest in getting Lowe when the Indians placed him on waivers earlier this week, but neither team had followed through on their rumored interest.

Lowe is best known for being the Red Sox pitcher of record in the clinching games of the American League Division Series, the ALCS and the 4th and deciding game of the 2004 World series- thie first pitcher to do so. The Red Sox 2004 World Series championshi was also his last with Boston and he has since played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves before re-joining the AL with the Indians earlier this season.

OLYMPIC VOLLEYBALL- The women's beach volleyball gold medal game was an all-USA matchup pitting the duo of Misty-May Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings versus Jen Kessey and April Ross.

Treanor and Walsh swept Ross and Kessey two sets to none in the Gold medal game in what Treanor adamantly insisted were her final Olympics. The duo of Walsh and Treanor have won gold in Athens, Beijing and now London- this is in addition to three FIVB beach volleyball titles. If Walsh wants to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, she will need to look for a new partner.

The postgame celebrations were marred somewhat by the partial collapse of the floorboards backstage at the Horse Guards Palace- Treanor, reportedly still wearing her gold medal, slid halfway into the hole but was uninjured along with some of the The venue had to be built from scatch after the Queen's diamond jubilee celebration earlier this summer, but completed in time for the opening ceremonies.

The Chinese duo of Zhang Xi and Xue Chen won the bronze medal match, besting Brazil's Juliana Silva and Larissa Franca. After a dissapointing start to the 2012 campaign, Xi and Chen rebounded to take their second consecutive Olympic bronze medal.

For the indoor women's volleyball, the USA Women's team once again bested South Korea to advance to the gold medal game, which sets up a rematch of the 2008 Olympic gold medal game between the USA and Brazil. South Korea will face Japan in the Bronze medal game.

OLYMPIC SOCCER- It was a rematch of last year's women's World Cup, only with different results.

Japan was attempting to become the first team to win consecutive World Cup and Olympic championships while Team USA was hoping to repeat their success in Beijing from four years ago.

Before a crowd of more than 80,000 at Wembley Stadium, Team USA got out to a relatively early lead thans to midfielder Carli Lloyd who hit paydirt about 8 minutes in. After the opening goal, Japan then dominated as far as time of posession went, but their quality scoring chances were either blocked by USA goalie Hope Solo or went off the post.

Lloyd would then give the USA some insurance with a second goal to make it 2-0 team USA early in the second half, but Yuki Ogimi cut the lead in half and put Japan on the board in the 63rd minute. Japan would get some quality scoring chances late and threaten to knot the contest up at 2-2, but Team USA managed to fend off the late rally and outlast Japan.

USA wins the gold medal game thanks in large part to Carli Lloyd. Goalie Hope Solo officially faced 7 shots on goal, stopping six of them. The women's national team has already planned a barnstorming victory tour, facing Costa Rica in forward Abby Wambach's hometown of Rochester, NY and Australia in Carson, CA in September.

Over on the men's side of the pitch, Mexico's national team stunned the heavily favored Brazilian team, going on to win by a 2-1 final for Mexico's first ever gold medal in soccer. Curiously, depsite winning five World Cup titles, Brazil has yet to win Olympic gold in the event. Mexico got on the board early with a goal from Oribe Peralta in the opening minute of the match- the quickest Olympic goal since FIFA started tracking such statistics 36 years ago.

WOMEN'S FIELD HOCKEY- Even before the first game got underway, the Dutch women's Field Hockey team has gained attention from observers worldwide by exclusively rostering of stunning women clad in bright orange dresses.

This is not just a case of having attractive women out there as a sort of publicity stunt. The Dutch women, as it turned out, were quite good at Field Hockey.

'How good?' you might be asking? Try undefeated throughout the 2012 Olympics.

In the preliminary round, the Dutch women blazed a day-glo orange swath through Japan, Great Britain, South Korea, China and Belgium- shutting out the latter two.

The Dutch would need a shootout at the end of regulation to get past New Zealand in the semifinals. In a match that no doubt brought unwarranted comparisons to the Falkland Islands war, Argentina and Great Britain faced off in the semifinals for their respective pool. However, unlike the Falklands campaign, Argentina would come away victorious and face the Dutch in the gold medal game.

On Friday's gold medal game, Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel would put the Dutch on the board with a tally in the second half while Maartje Paumen would give Holland a 2-0 lead. Goalkeeper Joyce Sombroek kept Argentina off the board altogether and the Netherlands Women's team would go on to win their second straight Olympic gold medal after beating China 1-0 in the gold medal game at the 2008 games in Beijing.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters photo
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE- Shares of one of the most widely recognized professional sports clubs went public on Friday afternoon.

Manchester United Football Club [NYSE: MANU] traded flat for much of Friday, closing out at $14 per share, down slightly from the openeing price of $14.05.

The venerable British football club was purchased by American businessman Malcom Glazer in 2005, who also owns the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The purchase reportedly saddled Man U with close to a billion dollars in debt and high interest payments.

The Glazers will maintain control of the club by way of a tiered structure. The Class A shares available to the General Public providing one vote per share held while Class B shares would translate to 10 voted per share held. The Glazers would own both Class A and Class B shares, but retain the majority of their holdings in the more influential Class B shares. This makes it more difficult for an outside entitity to launch a hostile takeover over Manchester United through the publicly traded shares.

The Initial Public Offering makes Man U the most valuable sports franchise in the world, putting its estimated worth at around £1.5 billion- or US$ 2.3 billion, more than the Los Angeles Dodgers were sold for earlier this season.

NFL PRESEASON- The New England Patriots got their first win of the preseason with a low-scoring affair against the New Orleans Saints at Foxboro on Thursday night. Tom Brady saw limited starting time, going 4 for 7 with all of 30 yeards while backup QB Brian Hoyer went 8 for 15 with the game's ony TD in the 7-6 win over New Orleans.

The Patriots will next take on the Philadelphia Eagles at Foxboro on Monday night in a nationally televised game that gets underway on ESPN at 8:00 ET.

NBA- The Los Angeles Lakers have acquired Dwigt Howard fromt he Orlando Magin in a 4-team 11 player megadeal. The deal sends Andrew Bynum from Los Angeles to Philadelphia while Andre Iguodala goes from Philly to Denver.

Howard had earlier demanded a trade from Orlando and refused to start in some games, demanding that the magic fire head coach Stan Van Gundy