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Mets Guy in Michigan

Adventures in baseball and life

Updated: 2018-01-15T11:32:32.588-05:00


Every signature tells a story: President Gerald R. Ford and a Christmas miracle


An amazing discovery at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum today, and a wonderful Christmas gift from Julie.We checked out the museum gift shop after touring the “Louder Than Words” exhibit because, without fail, there is something cool in the Ford Museum store.There are often presidential history books signed by authors who recently spoke at the museum, and I’ve obtained several them on sale over the years.This time we saw a small sign indicating there were Christmas cards signed by President Ford – and for a very reasonable price. Now, it’s important to remember that we’ve been without President Ford for 11 years now. While he was alive, there were often signed photos and books in the gift store, and I’ve lamented never purchasing a photo.A museum staffer told me once that the President would visit the museum several times a year, and he’d be sure to sign a stack of 8x10s for the store. There are still some copies of his book, but those are well out of my price range.I held up one of the cards to the friendly clerk behind the register.“Were these signed by an Autopen?” I asked, having worked in politics now and knowing how some things are signed with a machine -- a really cool machine -- when many signatures are needed.“No, the President signed them by hand,” she said. “Someone working in the archives found a box of them. They kept some for the museum, but said we could sell the rest in the store.”This was a Christmas miracle. In the often sketchy world of autographs, a scenario like this would be cause for some concern. Will and I used to see tables at baseball card shows with stacks of photos signed by Mickey Mantle and wonder if the ink was dry. But I trust the Ford Museum.I looked at a couple of the cards, and noted that the signatures were all slightly different, clearly not the identical markings that would come from the machine.At Julie’s urging, we looked through several of the cards to select one that had the clearest signature, which was easy, as President Ford had nice handwriting.Later, after discussing how to display this new treasure, we went back and purchased an unsigned version of a card, so we could frame them and display both the signature and the painting of the White House on the cover.We stopped to buy a frame on the way home, and the cards are now proudly displayed on the mantle. This marks the third presidential signature in the collection. I was in attendance when President George W. Bush visited the museum for a discussion about his book “Decision Points” and signed copies for the store to sell. And Julie was able to obtain a copy of President Jimmy Carter’s book “A Call to Action” a few years back when he visited Grand Rapids Community College as part of the school’s centennial. The signature is on a sticker with the college’s logo, making it extra special!President Ford is, of course, remembered very fondly here in Grand Rapids. I never had a chance to meet him, but I did get to see him up close several times, including a community celebration for his 90thbirthday. Andrew is in a group photo with the President.And later, I had the honor of being on the team of reporters covering the President’s funeral. I was the only reporter inside the museum for a solemn arrival ceremony before he would lie in state, the first event in a very moving local tribute for a national hero.[...]

Every signature tells a story: Adam West and patient second-grade teachers


When I heard about the passing of Adam West today, my thoughts raced back to second grade and poor Mrs. Kellogg.West, of course, was the Batman by which all other Batmans -- Batmen? -- are measured. You have to understand that at age 8, I was all about "Batman," Reruns ran everyday after school and, remember, this was before VCRs and DVRs. I had the toys and the Halloween costumes. My Cub Scout Pinewood Derby car was carved into the shape of the Batmobile. And every day at 5 p.m. I was glued to Channel 11 to watch the Dymanic Duo battle the Riddler, Catwoman and, on a good day, the Joker.One day, Mrs. Kellogg announced she had an assignment for us. There was a new show called "The Electric Company" that was like "Sesame Street," but for bigger kids, like us. It was on early in the afternoon while we were still in school, but again at 5 p.m. And our assignment was to watch it every day.I remember calmly raising my hand and stating that I would only be able to watch this show when I am home sick because 5 o'clock is the same time "Batman" is on.It's not like I was the only one thinking it. I fully expected Mrs. Kellogg to apologize for this obvious oversight. And I would have forgiven her, too.Instead, I clearly remember moments of stunned silence, followed by, "This show will help with reading and all kinds of things. What will 'Batman' teach you?""Crime fighting," I replied.It was now painfully obvious that if some colorful arch-criminal would suddenly appear in the door of Room 12, only one of us was going to have a clue what to do, and it wasn't my teacher. She was lucky to have me there.This was followed by a look that could only have said, "I don't get paid enough to deal with this nonsense." Truthfully, it was a look I would come to know well over the years.I learned several things that day. Among them, that sometimes it best to remain silent and keep the truth to ourselves.Naturally, Bat-fandom has carried on through the years, even as the parade of lesser, darker, growling actors wore the Bat-suit and drove greatly inferior Batmobiles.I had a chance to meet Mr. West once. He was appearing at a video store around the time of the first Michael Keaton movie. He was very gracious and friendly with star-struck fans, and signed a copy of my Bat book. I did ask one important question:Why was your favorite villain? "Catwoman!" he replied, quickly and with a smile.Of course![...]

Jim Abbott talks about believing in yourself, being determined -- and a little creative


One of the best parts of my job is that I get to meet really special Michiganders -- like Jim Abbott.The pitcher, and Flint native, was in Lansing today, joining the Lieutenant Governor and a Supreme Court Justice on the Mi Hidden Talent tour. The events are aimed at employers to help them realize that there are people with special skills who might not get considered because they might have a disability.Abbott, of course, is the former pitcher who didn't let being born without a right hand stop him from being successful in college, in the Olympics and in the Major Leagues. His inspirational message was the people with disabilities can succeed if they believe in themselves, are determined to do their best -- and can be creative in finding ways to do things to get around their disability.As an example, Abbott demonstrated how he learned to catch a ball in his glove and quickly be ready to throw it again. Watching him demonstrate this brought back memories of the first time I saw him do this -- on the mound at Yankee Stadium.I had some time with Jim today, and we talked about that day in 1989. I remembered the ovation he received -- and he remembered that he got the win.He was gracious with his time, and a very nice person -- with an amazing story. Here's a tale from the archives about one of my favorite baseball memories.:Only twice have I witnessed visiting players get a standing ovation at Yankee Stadium.And one of those times shouldn’t count. It was August 4, 1985, the day Tom Seaver won his 300th game, and we Mets fans pretty much took over the Yankees’ home that day.But the other time was May 24, 1989, coming when a rookie pitcher was doing something as ordinary as making warm-up tosses.Jim Abbott was already pretty famous. He was on the mound when the United States won the Olympic gold medal in 1988, was drafted in the first round by the California Angels and went straight to the Major Leagues.What amazed a lot of people was that Abbott was born without a right hand.The disability didn’t seem to hold him back at all. He pitched and was the quarterback at Flint Central High and played for the University of Michigan’s baseball team. There were stories about how an opposing college team tried to take advantage of him, sending the first four batters to the plate bunting. The team changed its strategy after Abbott fielded each attempt cleanly.What amazed me was how gracefully Abbott would catch the ball and get ready to pitch.He would wear a left-hander’s glove, catch the ball, tuck the glove under his arm, take the ball out and place the palm of his glove over the stump at the end of his right wrist. After throwing the ball he’d quickly slip his left hand back into the glove to be ready to catch the return throw. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Abbott could complete the cycle so smoothly and quickly that it looked like he wasn’t even thinking about it. It was completely natural to him.So I was excited when the Angels rolled into town in 1989 – a month and a half into Abbott’s rookie season – and that he would pitch in the series.I scammed seats in the lower level of the first base side so I could get a good view. There was polite applause for Abbott when the line-ups were introduced. But I was surprised by what happened when the Angels took the field in the bottom of the first.There was quiet as he walked to the mound, at least as quiet as ballparks get. Then Abbott started taking warm-up pitches, making the complicated maneuvers with the glove.It started with more polite applause, and it started to swell with each throw, building and building. Finally, everyone in the stadium was on their feet cheering. It was really emotional. And all he was doing was throwing warm-up pitches.I thin[...]

Spring training adventures, part three: Astros vs. Tim Tebow and the rest of the Mets at First Data Field


After seeing the Mets on the road twice, we were very excited to get up to St. Lucie and our Mets on home turf. Or, at least, the Florida version of home.It's hard to describe how rare a treat it is to be surrounded by fellow Mets fans. Usually I get to see the team on the road. But to be surrounded by people in Mets caps and jerseys cheering for the team is to be part of a community, as opposed to being an interloper.Plus, this time I got to be with my Dad, my sister Jenny and niece Diana.Ballpark: The name is new this year, but First Data Field has been the Mets’ spring home since 1988. It’s also been known as Thomas J. White Stadium, Digital Domain Park and Tradition Field.It’s more of an old-school ballpark, but I like it. There have been improvements over the years, and there have been improvements over the years to make it seem less like a poured concrete mountain among the scrub pines.It’s a fun park with a lot of energy. Lots of photos of Mets heroes have been added over the years, along with Tiki bars and other party spots. Stamping: In the team store, and, again, the folks knew exactly what we were doing. I have to say, this was a pleasant surprise at all three ballparks. I’ve been to minor and major league parks where folks have no clue what I’m talking about.Cap Quest: We actually came to Data First Field on Tuesday, an off day, to buy tickets for the Friday game.I was happy to see the team store was open and pretty empty, and it was nice to have all the time in the world to check out all the Mets stuff.Naturally, I went right for the wall of caps. I wasn’t optimistic after the experience at Roger Dean. But there, on the top shelf, shining like a beacon of spring time glory, was the cap with the Mets logo and the Florida outline. There was much rejoicing! I looked for the price tag, and it was $20 – among the lowest-priced caps in the wall. There was even more rejoicing!When we came back to the team store on Friday to get the stamp, I noticed that there were no more of the caps of glory. I did see that there were two left on the “Cool Stuff” trailer outside the stadium. But I was pretty happy to get the cap on Tuesday.Naturally I wore the cap to the Wednesday game in West Palm Beach, and one of the nice gentlemen working at the park commented on the cap.The Mets play under the watchful eye of Gil Hodges.“That’s a nice one,” he said. “I see all the caps passing by, and I’ve never seen one like that. What did that set you back, $40?”I happily told the story of the Cap Quest and the low price.Program: Or, in this case, programs. The Mets were selling two versions of the program, one with cool portraits of pitchers, and the other with fielders.Some curious choices. The pitchers had four portraits – Thor, Harvey, deGrom and Matz. Guess no one wanted to speculate on who was going to win the fifth spot in the rotation. But we could note that the closer just led the league in saves and set a team record in the process. Would have been worthy.But the blue cover had five players. The Captain, Cabrera, Cespedes, Neil Walker and Jose Reyes. Reyes surprised me, as he was slated to be a part-time player. Where’s Curtis Granderson – winner of a nice humanitarian award during the off-season?But that’s a minor quibble. These are the best programs of the spring, even though the scorecard was a little tight and didn’t include a spot for pitching stats. That’s actually a thing, because my niece Diana was attending her first Mets spring training game and I was teaching her to keep score. Ballpark food: I was looking for some wonderful, New York food. The Mets were selling authentic Italian ices, and you had a choice of a regular blue helmet cup or a pink one. I snagged a chocolate Italian ice and the pink helmet cup, neither of which are available in Michigan. Cup: Outstanding spring training souvenir. Colorful, with the spring training schedule.Autographs: None. This was a slight disap[...]

Spring training adventures, part 2: Mets vs Astros at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches


A fastball hisses in the nanosecond before it reaches the plate and lands with a loud pop in catcher’s mitt. It hurts your palm just listening to it.You learn this when you are sitting four rows behind home plate. Dad snagged the best seats I’ve ever had for a Major League game for our second Mets game of the spring.Game two: Mets vs Astros, Ballpark of the Palm BeachesBallpark: The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is the brand-new facility and home to the Astros and Nationals. It’s a sprawling complex in a park-like setting. There are some neat design elements, and some quirks. For example, the parking is on the fringes so you have to walk through the practice field area to get to the main stadium, which is in the heart of the complex.The stadium itself isn’t very distinguishable from the outside, but there are giant cap logo structures for both the Astros and Nationals on the approaches. It’s a neat touch that I’ve never seen before. I’ve also never seen signs warning fans not to get too close to the retention ponds because of alligators. Good to know.Inside the park seemed a little sterile. Now, to be fair, the park had been open just a week at this point and as we learned from Citi field, it will takes a little time to build character and add color. There was a scramble to get the park completed by the spring opener and I’m sure we’ll see things added in the years to come.Stamping: In the team store. The clerk knew exactly what we were doing and let me do the stamping.Cap quest: There were many, many kinds of caps in the store for the Nationals and Astros – even one with the iconic rainbow stripes on the brim. But as with the Jupiter store, the sweet caps with the Florida outline were nowhere to be found.Program: They were available for $5 on the concourse and in the store, with versions for both the Astros and the Nationals. I snagged one of each. Both came with a page-sized Jeff Bagwell card on heavy stock commemorating his recent Hall of Fame election. It has a very nice scorecard with special spaces for the pitchers.Cup: This is a bit of a letdown. This is a souvenir cup in name only. It’s translucent plastic with the ballpark logo. Not the inaugural season logo, mind you. The vendor said he was filling it up to the very top because there are no reduced-price refills. Everyone has reduced-price refills when you buy the stadium cup. I suspect this policy will change soon.Autographs: None, and this is one of the park’s flaws. I get a sense that it’s not designed for fans, but rather to attract group outings. Usually the best place to get autographs in the spring – at games, anyway – is the first row from the dugout to bullpen.But at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, that whole area is dedicated to party boxes, and the netting extends practically all the way down the line, because goodness knows people sitting in those seats aren’t paying attention to the game.Party boxes dominate the space between the dugout and the left field foul pole.There was one spot far down the line in the corner without netting. I went there, and an usher told me I couldn’t stay. It was different along the third base side, with the more traditional setup.Cool stuff: I hung out in the grassy berms watching batting practice and had some nice, brief conversations with players. Me: Hi, Sean. How you doing?Sean Gilmartin: Great!And:Me: Hi Frank. How is Zach Wheeler doing?Frank Viola: Zach’s doing well. He’s starting on Friday.So armed with inside knowledge of the Mets’ most pressing pitching question of the spring, I was content to sit back and watch batting practice.At one point I head Mets infielder Peter Alonso shout “Heads up!” to the handful of us standing on the berm, and in fell a baseball from the bat of either Peter Biondi or John Mora.To say I “caught” the ball isn’t exactly accurate. It hit the berm and I triumphantly picked it up, showing all my first-ever batting practice homer.Ballp[...]

Spring training adventures, part 1: Mets vs. Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium


Steven Matz on the hill against the Marlins in Jupiter.Here’s how to spend a pretty cool spring break: Three Mets games in one week, each at a different ballpark!I spent last week with my family in Florida and my Dad snagged seats for the Monday game against the Marlins in Jupiter, the Wednesday game against the Astros in the new West Palm Beach park and the Friday game against the Astros in Port St. Lucie.Naturally, we have rules and a routine for attending games. And this year we had a special quest. I saw online a really cool Mets spring training cap, with a blue bill and white crown. The traditional Mets cap logo was atop an embroidered outline of Florida. It’s just a really cool cap, and apparently there was one for each team – with the Cactus League teams instead getting an outline of Arizona.I set out to purchase the cap online once we confirmed the trip – and all traces of it seemed to vanish. I couldn’t find the cap – any version of the cap – on any website. This is very odd, and I placed all hopes in finding one in one of the stadium team shops.There is essential equipment for all spring games. First, is the brand new MLB Spring Training Pass-Port. Getting stadium stamps has become an essential activity, and it is fun to be a part of the greater “Stampeder” community. I have the MLB and minor league versions off the books, and ordered the spring training edition in anticipation of this trip.Next, we make sure the blue backpack has my book, “The New York Mets, the first Quarter Century.” Whenever I meet someone who played for the Mets, I ask them to sign the book. There are several hundred autographs in there, and the relaxed spring training atmosphere is a great place to ask players and coaches to sign.And, of course, the battle-scarred Gnome of Victory and Celebration made the trip for those special photo opportunities.Here are our adventures.Game One: Mets vs Marlins, Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.Ballpark: Roger Dean is a nice park, built in 1998 and originally hosting the Cardinals and Expos. The Expos departed and Marlins arrived in 2002. It seats nearly 7,000 and Dad knew where there was free parking. We’ve been there many times for spring and minor league games.Stamping: In the team store. The clerk knew exactly what we were doing and let me do the stamping.Cap Quest: Since we were in the team store, I headed to the large display of caps. The stadium stocks Cardinals and Marlins gear, of course, but usually has some Mets items, too, given the proximity to St. Lucie and the vast number of New Yorkers now living in South Florida. I figured that if I saw the Cardinals and Expos versions of the caps, I’d eventually find the Mets version. The store had many caps, but none resembling the one we were searching for. This was not a good sign.Program: We always get a program because keeping score is an essential part of the game experience. It cost $6, which is a little high. But everything at Roger Dean is a little high. But it is a pretty good program, and the scorecard is large – perfect for substitution-filled spring games – and a spot to record the pitchers.Ballpark food: I went searching for a basic hot dog, but the concession stands had only specialty items. My “St. Louis Dog” was wrapped in bacon and buried in pulled pork and cold slaw. It was made fresh and was very filling.Cup: I like to buy the souvenir cup, and Roger Dean has a very nice, full-color cup with Marlins and Cardinals – including future hall-of-famer Ichiro. And it was good for discounted refills.Autographs: Roger Dean is pretty accessible and we arrived early. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud and Manager Terry Collins came by and became the latest signatures to the book. I had not been able to add an active player since Scott Hairston in 2012, so they were welcome additions.That's Terry Collins on the left and Travis on the rightOne thing I did notice. Peop[...]

Something Special About December: Nativity scene gift reminds us of the focus of the day


Merry Christmas, everyone!

Today's Something Special About December is our family nativity scene, a gift from my parents years ago. 

My Dad built the stable, complete with the light. 

We always display it front and center in the living room.

Today we are surrounded by family, celebrating this joyous day together. And you know the kids are older when the adults must wait for them to wake up!

I hope you all have a wonderful day!

Something Special About December: The traditional reading of the glorious 'Santa Cows'


Seems like every Christmas movie we see includes a scene where the family gathers around for a reading of "The Night Before Christmas."
It's an OK story, I guess. But our tradition -- and today's Something Special About December -- is the reading of "Santa Cows."
Keep in mind that we love baseball and cows. Our Rotisserie baseball team years ago was named Bovines.
So in this epic story, the family on Christmas Eve is visited not by Santa, but by the Santa Cows. And their sacks are filled with baseball stuff. And we're not talking about generic baseball stuff. They're unwrapping authentic MLB jerseys, caps and jackets.
And on Christmas morning, they go out and play baseball in the snow.
This is pretty amazing! A perfect Christmas story!
There are two sequels. They're nice, but without the baseball.

Something Special About December: Rocking and rolling all night with the Kissmas Tree


If there is room in the Christmas songbook for both Mahalia Jackson singing a majestic version of “Ave Maria” and the Singing Dogs barking a silly “Jingle Bells,” then there is space among the holiday treasures for what we call the Kissmas Tree.I’m not sure why, but I’m drawn to the goofy battery operated, music-playing Christmas electronics. And today’s Something Special About December is about the best one I’ve ever found.Once the Christmas items hit the shelves, I start hitting buttons. Most of these dancing Santas, reindeer or whatever seem to play “Jingle Bell Rock” and they’re fun for a moment or two. Then one year at the local Meijer I came across this pudgy Christmas tree with sunglasses and a guitar. I hit the button and what to my wondering ears did I hear, but not “Jingle Bell Rock” but the opening chords to Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite.”And sure enough, there’s a voice that sounds somewhat like Gene Simmons – and kind of looks like him, too -- bursting into Christmas lyrics to the tune of the Kiss classic, leading to a chorus of, “I wanna rocking Christmastime and rocking, rolling New Year!”This is awesome!Mind you, I’m not looking for anything too deep here. There’s plenty of time to reflect on the big stuff. This is a blinking, dancing, guitar-strumming evergreen busting out a Kiss song, ending with “Merry Christmas, and rock and roll! YEAH!”I love it. As Bono says, three chords and the truth!The cat doesn’t. That’s Tug yowling in the background in the video. Or maybe he’s singing along. There’s a Cat Man in Kiss, after all. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />[...]

Something Special About December: A simple nativity scene is a holiday reminder


Christmas treasures don’t have to be expensive to be special. 

Today’s Something Special About December is about something I picked up as a University of Missouri student to have in my dorm room, and it’s been on my desk at work each Christmas season ever since.

I remember finding this simple nativity scene in a downtown Columbia store, and think it was about a dollar. It was something nice to have on my desk as a reminder of the season.

It doesn’t stand more than a couple inches tall, and doesn’t have angels, cows, sheep and many of the other things we expect. It’s pretty subtle, and appropriate for a newsroom.

After graduating, I’d keep it on my desk in the newsroom along with a plastic tree that stands maybe a foot and a half tall that I’ve had since childhood. 

The tree started appearing a little rough, losing branches and getting a replacement strand of lights every couple of years. As if that mattered, because I am loyal, even to plastic trees.

But together they moved with me from Connecticut to Flint and Grand Rapids. As for Lansing, the tree stays home now that we have the much-larger tree from Nana and its Michigan ornaments – and now a Michigan tree skirt that Julie made for me.

But the nativity sits on my desk next to the computer monitor, a gentle reminder to focus on what’s import both for the holidays and life in general.

Something Special About December: Cookies and pretzels, covered in chocolate


Today’s Something Special About December is a tasty treat and a daddy-daughter tradition.Years ago I was looking for something fun to make to slip into Christmas packages heading out of state, and to share with co-workers.We started by dipping Oreos in melted chocolate chips, using a double boiler, carefully carrying the dripping cookies over to the counter, where Caroline could smother them in sprinkles. This created a pretty big mess, with a trail of chocolate from the stove to the counter. Then there was the burned fingertips from trying to keep a double boiler going. When there wasn’t enough chocolate left in the bowl to cover a cookie, we started dipping mini pretzel sticks, just because we didn’t want to waste chocolate.We learned several things.First, Double-Stuff Oreos don’t work because the center melts while the chocolate coating cools, sending the top cookie sliding off.Then, we found that while people liked the covered cookies, they loved the pretzels. There’s a neat sweet and salty thing going on, and they’re easier to eat.We’ve improved our technique over the years, discovering melting chocolate in the craft stores and switching to an electric fondue pot, which makes a world of difference – and keeps the floor a lot cleaner.And we’ve switched from making a lot of dipped cookies and some pretzels to some cookies and a whole bunch of pretzels of varying shapes.This year was a little different, with my sprinkle applier off at college, so I was pressed into double duty. They might not look as pretty, but should still taste good![...]

Special Things About December: The Great Tree Hunt


Some Special Things About December are things, and others are beloved rituals.Today we enjoyed the annual Christmas Tree Hunt Adventure. We’re still devoted to real trees – Michigan is the nation’s No. 3 producer of Christmas trees – and for years we’ve headed to the same For years, we’ve been heading to the same family owned tree farm outside of Rockford. They have nice trees and other things going on that make the afternoon fun.We grab a saw then head off into the rolling white fields, dotted with evergreens of varying size. Some families opt for the tractor ride, but we head out on foot.The length of the search varies depending on the participants. Andrew, if he had his way, would grab the first tree he’d see. Caroline would like to explore every square inch of the farm, make a mental list of contenders, carefully consider the merits of each, review them a second time, then make a selection. And we have done this regardless of temperature and snow depth. With the kids away, Julie ventured out with me today, and we decided upon a beautiful balsam fir in about 20 minutes. There seemed to be an abnormally large number of families bringing dogs today, and Julie made the astute observation that we should beware of any tree circled by dog paw prints.Once we’ve knelt in the snow and saw through the trunk, we drag the tree through the through the snow back to the buildings where crew stands it into a machine that shakes the heck out of the tree to remove loose needles and potential squirrels before sending it through a different machine that ties the branches close for easier transport.Then we stop by the animal area to visit the sheep and the bad ass goats. I’ve never felt secure about stringing the tree to the roof of the Civic, so we fold down the back seats and manage to get most of it in the trunk. No matter how I try to wrap the tree in blankets, needles still get embedded. The lining of my trunk is like a visit with the Ghost of Trees of Christmas Past.“Hey, is this needle from the balsam fir of 2013?” “Nope, looks more like the blue spruce of ’15.”This is OK; a reminder of Christmas, and our fun family rituals, throughout the year.[...]

Something Special About December: Frank's magical Christmas tie


I love classy Christmas ties. They’re a fun way to celebrate the Christmas season at work. I have some nice ones. I wore one with Charlie Brown on it this week to a special work party. But that’s only because I needed to change the batteries in my favorite Christmas tie.Yes, today’s Something Special About December is about the best Christmas tie ever.I thought I was pretty festive at one of the Flint Journal’s annual Christmas parties. That is, until I saw Frank Ruggirello’s neckwear glowing from across the room at the Davison VFW Hall. You see, Frank, married to colleague Linda Ruggirello, had a tie depicting a string of Christmas lights -- that actually light up. Different lights illuminate at different times. It is mesmerizing.It’s a beacon of glad tidings, glimmering like a Christmas star attracting Wise Men. It brings joy to the world with a simple press of a button. It is, unquestionably, the best Christmas tie ever. If you think that you have the best Christmas tie, let me assure you, you do not.And I know there are no others like this, because I spent the next several years searching. I could not pass a holiday tie rack without looking for one with bulb designs. I’d find one occasionally, but none of them ever lit up. They were inferior Christmas ties.There are actually plenty of ties that play music and they are cool, until you are at a serious work meeting, lean forward on the conference table and suddenly hear and “Jingle Bells.” And once it starts, the song does not stop until is it is done. And everyone in the room looks at you as you clutch your tie hoping to muffle the sound. They do not break out in song. They just look at you.Or so I’ve heard. It’s best not to dwell on such things.Anyway, I’ve never found another light-up tie like Frank’s.Then, one Christmas season, a package arrived from the Ruggirellos. Frank had decided it was pass on the tie and he knew only one person would appreciate its glory. Needless to say, that was a very merry Christmas.So now, any time we have an important Christmas gathering, I know that my outfit is not complete until I add Frank’s tie, press the button and stride confidently into the party, joyfully – but silently – blinking Christmas cheer.Thank you, Frank![...]

Something Special About December: The sacrificial snowman and the worst Christmas song ever!


There are good things about the Christmas season. There are bad things about the Christmas season. And sometimes there are things that are so bad that they are good.Today’s Something Special About December takes us to what I consider the worst Christmas song ever. This is a tale from the blog archives.We’re not talking about the intentionally bad stuff, like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."I mean the kind of stuff where someone sat down intending to create some holiday warm-and-fuzzy, completed the task and said, "Whoa, this is . . . awesome. I now know the true meaning of Christmas."Years ago I stumbled across an album called "T.V. Family Christmas." It’s filled with, you guessed it, songs that were either included in very special Christmas episodes of sitcoms, or holiday albums that were rushed out to cash in on a show’s popularity.And you’ve got some sad stuff, like Gene Autry’s "Nine Little Reindeer," an obvious sequel to his Rudolph hit that is as good as "Caddyshack 2" and about as welcome.But included in the schlock is "A Crosby Christmas," which is the "Billy Don’t be a Hero" of Christmas songs.It’s a medley of mostly some bland stuff like "I’d Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus."Things go completely off the rails when some of the Crosby kids break out with something I think is called "The Snowman." Here are the lyrics:"On a Christmas EveA happy snowmanStood and dreamed besideA cottage doorHow the children lovedTheir friend the snowmanAnd the funny fedoraThat he woreWhen they said "Good night,"They told the snowmanThat a gift for himWas on the treeSo he called himselfA lucky snowmanJust like one of the familyWas he"OK, this is pretty lame so far, but nothing too freaky. We’ve all made snowmen and added hats. Once I made a cool one with a Wiffle ball bat and Mets batting helmet. And for the sake of holiday cheer I’ll buy into the premise that this snowman can think and dream. The snowman might be somewhat delusional if he thinks he’s really part of the family, but they did promise a gift. width="320" height="266" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>But things are about to go horribly wrong. Back to the lyrics."The cottage porchLooked beautiful and brightThe holly wreathWas hung up for the nightWhen all at once,It caught on fire and fellHe couldn’t knockHe couldn’t ring the bellHe couldn’t run for helpHe couldn’t callBut then he hadTo save the children after allHe knew he’d melt awayBut then the snowmanThrew himself acrossThe burning floor"What the heck was that?First we have a Christmas wreath that is hung on the door "for the night" as if it hasn’t been hanging there since the week after Thanksgiving.Then, this wreath spontaneously ignites? How? Why?We established earlier that this snowman can somehow think and reason. But he can’t speak?And how come he can’t run for help or ring the bell, yet can somehow drag his icy butt up the stairs and hurl himself on the flaming wreath, regretting that he had but one life to give for his family?It’s just not consistent. Either he’s a magical snowperson or he’s not.And how are we supposed to feel happy about all of this? "The Gift of the Magi" story is all about sacrifice — and really isn’t one of my favorites — but this downer ditty takes it to a new level. It’s one thing to give up your hair or watch, but another to accept a fiery death.Back to the story:"How the children missedTheir friend the snowmanBut they’ll always remember him forA heart that was braveAnd the joy that he gaveAnd the funny fedora he[...]

Something Special About December: Lansing's Capitol Christmas tree


Today’s Something Special About December has us thinking about Christmas trees, but this time they’re much bigger.One of the best parts about working in Lansing is seeing the gigantic Christmas tree placed on the east side of the state Capitol. Starting in 1987, the tree lighting ceremony became part of Lansing’s Silver Bells in the City celebration, which has grown into an event that includes an electric parade and fireworks.Now, normally with civic trees, there is a lot of oohing and aahing when the switch in flicked, but the tree pretty much looks the same year in and year out.Not so in Lansing. I’m not sure who gets the credit for this, but the lighting theme is different each year. Sometimes the bulbs are all white, sometimes they are multi-colored, and sometimes there are limited colors. One year the tree had different sections of colors, and that wasn’t especially popular. But I give them points for trying something new.This year, there is a brilliant white star atop the tree – the first time I’ve seen that.I like to pause on my way home and walk under the tree and look up at the lights and over to the Capitol dome, bathed in light and gleaming, a year after its restoration. It’s a sight I try not to take for granted. I don’t know what the future holds or how long I’ll work in Lansing. It’s a special place.[...]

Something Special About December: Nana's Tree


 Today’s Special Thing About December comes from my awesome mother-in-law and is becoming an office tradition.In 2012 Mom Nelson – otherwise known as Nana to the kids -- wanted to downsize her tree a little and we wondered what to do with the suddenly available six-foot tree that had been set up in her living room for years.I was in my new role as community engagement specialist at the Grand Rapids Press, and was looking for a way to bring our team together for the holidays. Nana’s Tree became the newest addition to the newsroom, and everyone was asked to bring in an ornament that represented them in some way. And, we had cookies.The next year I was working in the Governor’s Communications Office, and we definitely needed some holiday spirit. Nana’s Tree reappeared, and we decided to use some Michigan-themed ornaments to decorate. We didn’t have too many, and the tree looked a little bare. But we had some cookies.People on the team liked the tree and the Michigan ornaments. One of the coolest parts about my job is that we get to travel around the state seeing things and meeting people. Everywhere we go, I try to slip into a store and see if there are ornaments that we can add to the collection.From the Upper Peninsula to Detroit and all points in between, I’ve been able to find ornaments. You’d be surprised how many are out there once you start looking for them. Some are mass-produced decorations, usually depicting the Detroit sports teams. Some are craft-show creations. Some commemorate special places or events, and some are just the shape of our state. All of them are Pure Michigan fun!We had a Communications Office open house last year. The team brought in treats – including cookies – and we had the ornaments on a table. People from throughout the building were invited to come on down, have a treat, spread some holiday cheer and hang an ornament on Nana’s Tree. I’m in a new role in a new building this year, and I wasn’t quite sure what the new crew would think about the tree and the ornaments. The new guy is a little quirky. But they’re a pretty festive bunch.So late Friday afternoon we set up Nana’s Tree in our third-floor waiting area. By this morning, colleagues brought in some of their own – two beautiful Pewabic tiles and a perfect Petoskey stone snowman – and promises of more to come.And, the folks who are in charge of our Angel Tree decided that the gifts would be collected and placed under Nana’s Tree until it was time to distribute them.And, we’ll have cookies.[...]

Something Special about December: Learning to shine through advent devotionals


I attend an amazing church. Even though it’s pretty large, it finds ways to include everybody and provides opportunities to get to know congregation members who you might not get to encounter too often.So today’s Special Thing About December comes from my church – and I got to help! Each year Trinity publishes an advent devotional booklet. Every day there is a Bible verse, and a different member of our congregation writes a few paragraphs about what the verse means to them. People share things about their lives – their challenges, their reasons to cheer and how they look to their faith to give thanks for their blessings or look to it for strength in the tough times.It’s inspiring and a nice way to share with our church family.We’re supposed to read one a day until Christmas. I’m not that patient. My entry isn’t until Dec. 22, but if you want a sneak peek, read on:Psalm 96: 1-3: Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless the name of the Lord, and proclaim God’s salvation from day to day. Declare God’s glory among the nations and God’s wonders among all men.I enjoy Christian rock music and love hearing it played live, be it in a big arena or during our Rejoice services – especially when Faceless performs! I’m inspired by the energy and fellowship. Matthew West is one of my favorite artists, and I have the lyrics to his song “More” taped to my monitor at work. I think about these words often, and I like to think they change the way I approach people and life. allowfullscreen="" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="" frameborder="0" height="266" src="" width="320">“I love you more than the sunAnd the stars that I taught how to shineYou are mine, and you shine for me, too”I’m a flawed person, and despite these flaws, the Lord loves me and I can shine for him. I’m not great at evangelizing, but people seem to think I’m an upbeat person – which is easy when you know that God loves you despite your flaws. My hope is that folks who might not have embraced a faith see that positivity and realize the source, and be inspired to learn more. We all can be an example.I also remember that if God loves me despite my flaws, then he loves other people despite their flaws. And if he loves them, well, I can be a little more accepting and try to be more understanding.Heavenly Father, may we always bask in your warm embrace and shine like beacons in the night on your behalf. May our eyes be opened to the challenges faced by others and give us the strength to reach out and assist in this time of celebration – and throughout the year.[...]

Something Special about December: 'Do You Hear What I Hear'


allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="270" src="" width="480">There is one big reason record companies like Christmas albums: Free music! We learned this on Tuesday when we attended a glorious concert Tuesday, with MercyMe teaming up with the Grand Rapids Symphony and the Resurrection Life choir.The show was a wonderful way to kick off the Christmas season, and each day we’ll post something cool about the holiday season.MercyMe has two great Christmas albums, and lead singer Bart Millard explained that record companies really, really like it when artists pick songs from the public domain because they are, well, free to use. When it became time to record “It’s Christmas,” Millard said the record company presented the band with a list of songs in the public domain.The band picked “Do You Hear What I Hear,” and came up with a new arrangement of the classic.Then, when the band was getting ready to distribute the CD, someone discovered that “Do You Hear What I Hear” is actually not in the public domain. And when you record someone’s song and dramatically rearrange it, you have to seek permission from the people who hold the rights in addition to sending a check.Millard said the band send a recording of the song to the New York family who owns the rights and nervously waited to hear back to see if permission was granted. Luckily, the family loved the MercyMe’s rendition, he said. It’s pretty cool, evoking a “Kasmir”-like Middle Eastern sound. And it sounded spectacular with the symphony joining in.There’s a cool story behind the song.It’s actually fairly new, at least compared to a lot of Christmas standards. “Do You Hear What I Hear” was written in October 1962 by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker. That was around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the world was a scary place. The couple added the line, “Said the night wind to the little lamb, do you see what I see? Pray for peace, people everywhere.” The line, “A star, a star dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite” is intended to evoke a nuclear missile. So it’s sort of an apocalyptic Christmas song.  The song was quickly recorded by the Harry Simeone Chorale – which also has the classic version of “Little Drummer Boy” -- and was a big hit. But check out the MercyMe version because it’s awesome.[...]

What do we save to remember a campaign season that many would like to forget?


So, what do we save to remember an campaign season that many of us would just as soon forget?Our final spin through campaign collectibles of the past will focus on this year's contest.Honestly, it was a bit of a struggle. It might be saying something when the best campaign collectibles were found at Chow Hound, Meijer and Hallmark.It was especially difficult to find the traditionally fun things.Campaign pins have been largely phased out in favor of stickers, but I struggled to even find those in Michigan for Secretary Clinton.But the things I did find were pretty cool, and I'm sure will appear cooler once some time has passed. A lot of time.First, the giant masks were in the Halloween section at Meijer, along with giant baby faces, cats and chimps. Note: The stores had the traditional rubber masks. I've never bought those. I think they're kind of creepy.The cat toys are pretty fun. At least Tug thinks so. He's found them twice. He seems to have chewed on each of them equally.The pen is a hoot. Tap on President-elect Trump's head and the pen plays eight examples of the candidate's hyperbole. I've heard there is a Clinton version, but I've not been able to find one.Finally, I have a small collection of stickers and pins. I always like to find pins with the official logo and with photos of both candidates, so I was mostly successful. But I had to resort to eBay, which isn't as much fun as finding them at rallies or campaign offices.It's been a lot of fun looking through the collection, researching campaigns and recalling some experiences. I have great respect for the presidency, and each of our chief executives is a fascinating story.If you get some time, the Washington Post this year offered a podcast -- "Presidential" -- that looked at each of our leaders.Reporter Lilian Cunningham did a good job, talking to historians and experts. I saw some presidents in a new light, and there are many triumphs and heartbreak along the way. It's made my Monday morning commutes more enjoyable and I encourage you to binge listen now that they're all available.And, if you are passing through Mount Pleasant before January, check out the Clarke Historical Library's exhibit in the Central Michigan University library dedicated to campaigns, focusing on the folks who fell just short. Trust me, it's awesome.[...]

Campaign collectibles from a calmer time: Gerald R. Ford's sacrifice for the greater good


In these turbulent times of electoral tension, I offer Gerald Ford.Today's campaign collectibles from a calmer time takes a look back at 1976, when the nation's first unelected incumbent ran against Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter.Ford was the right person for the right time because he put what was best for the country ahead of what was best for himself.His re-election was probably doomed a month into his tenure when he pardoned President Nixon.It took years, but even the president's harshest critics came around to see that was the right decision.We're blessed to have the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum here in Grand Rapids, and for a time the gift shop sold original campaign pins.My favorite is the lenticular pin that shows the president's portrait and the his name when you turn it slightly.I think we're going to need a calm, assuring and confident leader like Jerry Ford again.[...]

Campaign collectibles from calmer time: Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the best corn ever


Today's campaign collectibles from a calmer time includes the best recipe for corn on the cob, ever!Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney fell short in his primary bid in 2008, though his foam baseball glove campaign sign is an all-time classic.But Romney won the nomination in 2012, and one of his events was a rally at a Michigan farm with running mate Paul Ryan.My daughter came with me, slipped away from the media pen and got very close to the action, snapping one of my favorite campaign photos.All during the event, the folks hosting it had a large barbecue fired up, handing out ears of freshly grilled corn.Once the candidates and crowd departed and I wrapped up my story -- with my daughter's sweet photo -- I wandered over to the grill area and was handed an ear of corn, with the husk still attached, but pulled down to reveal the bright kernels.This was, without question, the best, tastiest, juiciest corn on the cob ever.I passed my compliments to the grillers, and they shared their secret.1) Throw the ears of corn, husk and all, in a bucket of water for several hours prior to grilling.2) Throw the ears, again, husk and all, from the bucket right on to the grill.3) Let them stay there for a while. It's OK of some of the husk is blackened. You're not going to eat that.4) When ready, peel back the husk -- you'll need oven mitts -- and enjoy the best corn ever.We've made corn this way, renaming it "Romney corn," ever since the rally.You just never know what you are going to learn at a campaign event.[...]

Campaign collectibles from a calmer time: Barack Obama, John McCain and the most-accurate poll


I don't place a lot of faith in polls these days, unless they are conducted by a hockey team with bobble heads.Today's campaign collectibles from a calmer time brings us to my favorite hockey team -- the Grand Rapids Griffins -- and the 2008 election.The Saturday before the election, the team conducted a "Bobble the Vote" promotion, allowing fans to pick a bobble of the candidate of their choice.These bobbles are cool, depicting Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain in Griffins sweaters. The team promised to announce which of the bobble heads was the most popular by the end of the game.All 1,000 of the Obama bobble heads were claimed, and there were 102 McCain bobbles left over.That gave the Illinois senator 52.7 percent of the vote, with the Arizona senator 47.3 percent.On Election Day that year, Obama earned 52.4 percent of the popular vote, and McCain earned 46.3 percent.That's pretty close, giving the Griffins one of the most accurate polls of the campaign season.There's a chance I skewed the results slightly. Naturally I wanted one of each of these awesome collectibles, so I brought my son to the game. I picked up a McCain and Andrew was instructed to snag an Obama.Kudos to the Griffins for both the cool campaign items and a pretty accurate poll. Alas, the team didn't repeat the promotion this year, so you'll have to wait until Tuesday night to learn the winner.[...]

Campaign collectibles from a calmer time: Richard Nixon, John Kennedy and one of the closest elections ever


Today's campaign collectibles from a calmer time takes us back to 1960, one of the closest elections ever, hotly debated to this day.Sen. John F, Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon were separated by 112,827 votes, a 0.17 percent difference.Kennedy's electoral vote margin was larger, 303 to 219. But consider that six states -- Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, California, New Mexico and New Jersey -- were won by less than 1 percent, and five of the six went to Kennedy. Switch a couple of those states around and the electoral vote gets closer or changes hands.There continues to be some talk about voting in Chicago, and Texas where there were some counties in Texas where there were more votes counted than there were registered voters. Both states went to Kennedy.But Kennedy also lost 14 electoral votes in the South, where "unpledged Democratic electors" were on the ballot. Southern Democrats were opposed to the civil rights and voting rights platforms in the national party's platform, and electors instead cast their votes for Virginia Sen. Harry F. Byrd, a segregationist who wasn't even running.A couple cool fast facts: The 1960 election was the first in which 50 states participated, as Alaska and Hawaii joined the union the year before. Both had three electoral votes. Alaska went to Nixon and Hawaii to Kennedy.The election also was the first to feature presidential debates, where a tanned and relaxed Kennedy is said to have gained an advantage over Nixon, who had just spent two weeks in the hospital because of an injured knee, sweated and declined makeup.As for collectibles, there are lots of Kennedy items to be found. He's a popular president and there are many reproductions of his famous pins out there.You don't see too many affordable pins with photos of Kennedy with running mate Lyndon Johnson and Nixon with Henry Cabot Lodge.[...]

Campaign collectibles from a calmer time: Thomas Eagleton, vice presidential candidate for 18 days in 1972


Today's campaign collectible from a calmer time focuses not on George McGovern, but on his running mate for 18 days.

The Democrats were in serious disarray in 1972. Incumbent Richard Nixon was cruising to re-election, and the Dems endured a rough and tumble run-up to the convention.

McGovern in the primaries was stung by a Robert Novak column quoting an unnamed senator who said McGovern favored amnesty for war deserters, abortion and legalizing marijuana. But he prevailed.

Facing likely defeat against Nixon, McGovern struggled to find a running mate. Eventually he settled on Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton. At the rowdy convention, Eagleton wasn't declared the winner until 1:51 a.m. He and McGovern weren't able to give their acceptance speeches until 2 a.m. So much for prime time.

Things got worse from there. After about two weeks, Eagleton confirmed whispers that he once suffered from depression and had undergone electric shock therapy -- a fact he kept from McGovern.

McGovern said he backed his running mate "1,000 percent," which lasted about a week. Eagleton withdrew from the ticket following the national uproar, replaced by Robert Sargent Shriver.

Eagleton had a distinguished career in the Senate until 1987, and continued as an attorney, commentator and professor in St. Louis.

After Eagleton's 2007 death, Novak revealed the source of the anonymous quote that hurt McGovern in the primaries: Thomas Eagleton.

Given the narrow window of his time on the ticket, finding campaign pins featuring both McGovern and Eagleton can be a challenge. That makes the single one I've found to be a favorite.

Campaign collectibles from a calmer time: McKinley and Bryan, a study in contrasts


Today's campaign collectible from a calmer time takes us all the way back to 1896 -- my oldest collectible! -- and a study in contrasts.Ohio Gov. William McKinley squared off against Democrat William Jennings Bryan.McKinley raised $3.5 million, which at the time was a staggering amount of money, spending five times more than his challenger.McKinley also didn't leave his home much, conducting a "front porch" campaign, with more than 500,000 people heading to Canton.Bryan went completely in the opposite direction. He criss-crossed the nation by train appearing before millions of people. He was a famously gifted speaker and it was a novelty for people to see a presidential candidate in person.He gave more than 500 speeches, including 36 in one day.McKinley won in a fairly close election, with 51 percent of the vote, though it was pretty decisive in the Electoral College.McKinley's running mate was Garret Hobart of New Jersey, who, in 1899, became the sixth vice president to die in office. That paved the way for Theodore Roosevelt to be added to the ticket the following year.Bryan lost to the McKinley-Roosevelt team in 1900, and lost again to William Howard Taft in 1908.I know the McKinley pin is from 1896 because it includes Hobart, and is actually a stud, designed to fit in a button hole. It's the oldest campaign treasure in my collection.I can't tell which election the Bryan pin is from, though the color makes me suspect it's one of the later contests.[...]