Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Ballad of Wayne Kirby or My Very Own Joe Shlabotnik

My Grandpa and I were not very close. This isn't as much of emotional statement as it was a pre-internet geographical reality. We lived in Ohio, he, in my lifetime, mostly lived in Georgia. I knew him as my father's dad, retired, a smoker, originally from Michigan, had lived in Ohio for a time, (that's how my dad ended up there), and residing in Georgia. I knew that I got flowers from him on my birthday, got presents from him, (via my parents) at Christmas, and would say hi to him on the phone on father's day. I rarely saw him. We visited him in Georgia when I was 10 and he came up to Ohio or Michigan a handful of times.

I knew him as someone who moved a lot (or at least it seemed so to a young child). Like I said, I knew that my dad was born in Michigan, but he and two of his five siblings lived in Ohio, having moved down when my Grandpa's job relocated him. One of my first recollections of my Grandpa is hearing that he and my Grandma were moving to Georgia after having lived in Virginia for a few years.

Something that I remember about my Grandma is that she had a lot of nicknacks. Stuff she had picked up in the different locations she lived. Matchbooks in particular, all with the name of some restaurant or hotel in some town in the midwest or Atlantic coast. While my Grandpa was far from a minimalist (he'd stop and pick up items along the highway that had fallen off someone's car, and was hesitant to get rid of anything because it would probably come in handy some day) he didn't collect matchbooks in his travels, he collected people. My Grandpa would start a conversation with anyone who gave him a chance and quite a few folks who didn't. He was a fan of high school football and was a Friday night regular whether in Ohio, Virginia, or Georgia.

His youngest child was still in high school when Grandpa moved to Virginia and he took up supporting the Tabb High School Tigers. It was there, along his travels in York County Virginia, that my Grandpa added Wayne Kirby to his collection of people. After graduating from Tabb High, Wayne Kirby was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 13th Round of the Major League Baseball's 1983 Amateur Draft. A total of 288 players were taken in that draft before Wayne's name was finally called. When a team chooses a player in the 13th round, they aren't expecting much, and for a long time, Wayne met that expectation. He bounced around the Dodgers' minor system playing in cities like Bakersfield, Vero Beach, San Antonio, and Albuquerque . Finally, in 1990, Kirby was granted free agency, and signed with the Cleveland Indians. Just because he changed teams though, did not mean that his minor league days were behind him. He made is major league debut with the Indians in 1991, but only played 21 games in the big leagues, and again in 1992 he only played 21 out of 162 games with the Indians. In 1992 though, he had his best minor league year, and earned himself a shot a playing almost full time for the Indians in 1993. He played in 139 games that year, led the American League in Outfield Assists with 19, and finished 4th for Rookie of the Year.

1993 was also the year that I started to become aware of professional baseball, and specifically the closest team to where I lived, the Cleveland Indians. My dad took me to see the Indians for the first time on May 6, 1993 was the Indians last season at their long time home, Municipal Stadium (also known as the Mistake by the Lake). 1993 was supposed to be a promising year for the Indians as they got ready to move into a new baseball only ballpark in downtown Cleveland in 1994. The year got off to a rough start in spring training when two of their starting pitchers were killed and one seriously injured in a boating accident. To honor them, the Indians replaced a patch they were going to wear on their jerseys to commemorate their final season at Municipal Stadium with one honoring the two deceased pitchers, Tim Crews (#52) and Steve Olin (#31) The Indians never really recovered from the tragedy and finished the season with a record of 76 wins and 86 losses.

My grandpa had been watching the baseball transactions to try and keep tabs on Kirby, and knew that he was playing regularly with the Indians. I don't know when I became aware of the connection between this player that my Grandpa mentioned and my favorite team, but I imagine it was 1995. After his break through 1993 season, Wayne had turned into the 4th outfielder for the Indians in 1994 with the emergence of Manny Ramirez. He played in 101 games in 1995 due to injuries and played in the World Series with the Indians that year. It was Cleveland's first appearance in the World Series in 51 years, and I was hooked as a 10 year old baseball fan.

In 1996, Kirby's production took a step back and he was released from the Indians. He was picked up by his former team the Dodgers, but never again played more than 65 games in a season with the Dodgers, Cardinals, or Mets. In 1998 the Mets released him effectively ending his career. At the age of 34 his skills had diminished and while he tried to make it for one more season in 1999 with the Blue Jays, he didn't make the team.

Wayne Kirby stayed a conversation topic between my Grandpa and I after he left the Indians. We watched him finish out his career, I sent Wayne two baseball cards in the mail and he signed both of them. I kept one and sent one to Georgia. After Wayne retired he became a minor league coach in the Indians' minor league system, and the team that he coached for honored him with a bobblehead one of which I found on eBay and sent down to Grandpa as a Christmas present.

My Grandpa died in March of 2013. Our second son Rory was born in May of 2013. We gave him the middle name of Donald. My Grandpa's first name.

For a while I had an idea that I wanted to try to execute. I wanted to get a Wayne Kirby jersey. Now, you can get replica jerseys of some of the more famous Indians of the time, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome, Manny Rameriz, but finding one of an obscure fourth outfielder who spent just a few years with the tribe? I quickly realized that this one would be a DIY project. I'm horrible at DIY. My handiness is limited to changing a dead lightbulb, and creative activities that I undertake often result in a miniature panic attack.

Even so, I kept a look out on eBay though for a blank jersey. This was somewhat difficult. I wanted to get a jersey template from Wayne's rookie season in 1993, often referred to as the 'Major League' era uniforms. The Indians didn't start mass producing jerseys until 1995 when they went to the World Series. They changed their uniforms in 1994 though as a nod to them moving into their new stadium.

After checking eBay every once in a while over the course of a few months, I finally found a nameless/numberless 1993 home jersey. The woman selling it wanted $200 for it. I offered her $25, just to see what would happen and got it for Christmas for $35 plus shipping. Then came the harder part, trying to find lettering for it.

I found a place here in Napa that does custom heat press lettering. It turns out that the font that the Indians used back in the early 90s was a pretty common font. They lettering guy found it in his software and quickly went to work. 15 minutes (and $25 later) I had a red 35 on the front of the jersey and a two-colored 35 and KIRBY on the back. Like I mentioned earlier, the Indians were originally going to wear a patch commemorating their last year at Municipal Stadium, but then swapped it out for the memorial patch for the two pitchers that were killed. I visited eBay and was able to find the sleeve patches, and decided that I'd put both on, replacing the Chief Wahoo on the left sleeve with the original stadium patch. They guy at the Coliseum was able to heat press the stadium patch on for me and as it turns out, the memorial patch is just a sticker, so I put it on myself and might have to sew it on to make sure it sticks.

Clive, Jay, and I went to the Indians/Giants game in San Francisco last month. I'm happy with how the jersey turned out, and wore it to the game. I think Grandpa would get a kick out of it as well, if for no other reason than it would give us something else to talk about.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Marley was Dead and Jesus was Hungry

There is no doubt that Marley was dead.  This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. 

The big themes or the beauty of literature is usually lost on me. That being said though; the above two lines from the first chapter of Dickens' A Christmas Carol are some of my favorite in literature. Dickens spends his first few paragraphs detailing the fact that Jacob Marley (played memorably by this goof) is dead; dead as a door-nail, gone for quite a while. He goes to such lengths because if you doubt that Marley was dead, then the rest of the story loses its wonder; its oomph.

This Lenten season I've been struck by two lines in the gospel of Matthew.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. (ESV)

After not eating for 40 days, Jesus was hungry. When you read it in isolation it seems like such an understatement. My stomach is growling now, barely three hours after my last meal. He's not just hungry, he is famished, literally, he is craving food.

We, especially those of us who call ourselves Evangelicals, tend to pass right by this simple statement . We are in such a hurry to show that Jesus is divine, that he is the Son of God who came to die for our sins that we often forget that Jesus was hungry, just as we would be after 40 days with no food. Maybe this is why Lent is often downplayed in Evangelical churches.

We need to stop, we need this to sink in, we need to make sure this idea is stuck into our skulls, that it jumps out at us from the text, because if we don't grasp that Jesus was hungry, then the rest of this story doesn't make any sense. This story, like Dickens' with a living Marley would lose its wonder and its oomph.

If Jesus was hungry, then he could really be tempted by the Devil's offer of fresh loaves of bread; then his desires could be bent into taking up the Devil's dare to leap off a tall building, or into taking the bait of  bowing his knee for wealth and power. We all know that we can do uncharacteristic things when we're hungry. In short, if Jesus was hungry, he was human.

That's the beauty of observing Lent. It reminds us that Jesus was human, and no time is it more obvious then the 40 days he spends fasting in the wilderness. I was speaking to someone recently who is a non-practicing Roman Catholic. He mentioned that he likes the idea of saints (and has a few necklaces with medals of saints that are related to his way of life). I asked him what he likes about 'his' saints, and he said he likes their accessibility, that they are 'real' people. There's a longer discussion about saints that is best left for another time, but you see, this is what we are left with if you breeze by Matthew's statement that Jesus was hungry.

It was also in Jesus' humanity that he overcame the Devil's temptations. He didn't scare off the Devil with some extravagant divine fireworks coming from his fingers. No, he countered the Devil's scripture laced lies with a more wholistic picture of what the scripture teaches. Perhaps that is what we should be about this Lent, imitating Jesus' time in the wilderness, by taking up a thoughtful reading of scripture. Not sure where to start? How about reading an entire book of the bible in one sitting. It can be done. Bounce your understanding of them off of others in the Church. Let the scriptures build up inside of you. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Wing and I: AT-ATs

If you're a Star Wars' fan, you don't have to hang around the Bay Area long before you start to see and hear about some oddly StarWarsesque things. For one, there's the Miwok people who lived in the forests of Northern California (sound familiar?) and if you keep a sharp enough eye out it's like living a real life George Lucas in Love.

Well one of the first things that stuck out to me when I first visited Erica back in 2006 were these guys -->

Recognize them?

Do they kind of look like these guys?

I did, and now that I see them up close on the boat, I really do.

Well what are they?

They're shipping cranes, and they're huge!

They sit beside the Oakland/Alameda estuary and load containers onto massive ships that go back and forth from Asia and Europe. When you see them from a distance, altogether, they really do look like an army of AT-ATs bearing down on the rebels.

Now George Lucas has never publicly admitted that these cranes were an influence on him, but then he has been slow to admit other influences in the past.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Wing and I: Moving Forward

My latest posts on this blog (nearly a year ago) were lighthearted thoughts about the weather, the Super Bowl, and languages (beside English) that are spoken in the UK. I made a one sentence mention of our concern about my ordination situation in the Church of England, but left it at that.

After March 13, things started to fall apart in that regard. My CoE discernment process (whether they wanted to ordain me or not) unravelled pretty quickly. It was discovered that there were going to be some issues in getting us a visa that would allow me to start my training. We initially thought it was going to be something that just need some extra creativity on our part to reach a solution. With the help of some folks at Cranmer Hall in Durham we were able to be extra creative in designing a course of study that would satisfy the UK Border Agency's requirements, and in theory the study requirements of my sponsoring diocese.

We prayed and brain stormed and came up with an even more creative solution. We were schedule to meet and discuss it with our vicar and the diocese on May 9th at 2pm, Erica's due date being May 12th. When Erica woke up early May 9th in labour, it looked like we'd have to cancel the meeting, but Rory came quick and after seeing Erica stitched up and in a recovery room, I went straight off to Canterbury.
There, we were told that they would not agree to our solution, and thus we would be moving back to the US in approximately 8 weeks time.

Rory's birth took a lot of the sting out of the meeting, but it was still an overwhelming day.

Our church family sent us off with a wonderful farewell party (and a new iPad) at the end of June and on the 4th of July we returned to the U.S.


We visited my family in Ohio in July and had a wonderful visit where Rory got to meet his Ohio grandparents and we just relaxed. We went west in August and have settled down in Erica's hometown of Napa.

Our initial goal was to earn some money, pay some bills, get our feet back under us and have a long term plan by the end of the year. Our long term plan didn't develop in our original time frame, but we achieved the rest of the goal. Rory smoothly transitioned into our daily life, Erica continued doing her design work, Clive got settled into two-morning-a-week pre-school, and I went to work for Erica's dad.


Erica's parents had started two businesses and co-owned a third. Their primary businesses are PJ's Canvas, where they make custom made awnings and Adventure Cat Sailing Charters, which takes folks out on the San Francisco Bay, and under the Golden Gate Bridge on a 55' and a 65' Catamaran Sail Boats. They've been doing awnings for over 35 years and the Catamarans for nearly 25 years.

I helped out in the businesses' shared office updating some of their procedures and trying to stream line and modernize at lot of their practices. Then Jay recruited me for his newest venture. The Wing.


Wind+Wing Technologies is the attempt to offer a solution to two big problems, rising fuel costs and the rise in pollution. What we hope to eventually create is a wind-assisted commuter ferry in the San Francisco Bay. Currently large diesel powered ferries criss-cross the bay delivering commuters and tourists to their various destinations all while burning almost 70 gallons of diesel per hour. Our goal is the same reliable product in terms of transportation while cutting fuel consumption in half.

How are we going to do that? By putting a wing on it.

That is a trimaran with a wing on it. It's a demonstration vessel which we hope will show the effectiveness of the wing and lead to grants and investments to build a full size ferry.The wing has it's own brain with which it senses the wind and puts itself in the best position to harness the wing for maximum thrust. The vessel is wind-assisted, so we can use the engine in low wind situations and back off the engine when the wind picks up.

My current role is to monitor and troubleshoot nearly 40 sensors that are on the boat and help the captain get us on and off the dock. We're out on the bay nearly forty hours a week gathering data ranging from fuel consumption, to wind speed/direction and anything else that will be helpful.

I've learned to tie and few knots and know that on a boat you use the head and not the toilet, but I still have a ways to go, but whatever happens, it is certainly interesting.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Weather

I'd give you an update on how my ordination process is going, but to be honest, I'm not really sure how to begin going about explaining our current situation. With that being said, we'd appreciate your prayers as we seek to move forward, hopefully continuing to stay in England and ministering within the Church of England.

And now for something completely different.

I picked up a little gem of a book by Richard Mabey entitled 'Turned Out Nice Again: Living with the Weather'. Brits are pre-occupied by the weather and it is normally the first or second topic to come up in a conversation.

This passage from the book sums up British weather pretty well;

We don't have to live with active volcanoes or sudden tsunamis. The temperature has only exceeded 100 degrees three times in the last hundred years. The heaviest rainfall in a single day was eleven inches in Martinstown Dorset on 18 July, 1955. When you compare that with the several feet that can fall in a couple of hours in a tropical monsoon you can get our weather in some sort of perspective. What we really suffer from is a whimsical climate, and that can be tougher to cope with than knowing for sure you're going to be under three feet of snow every December.

Whimsical is a good term for it, but it's hard to feel very whimsical about the weather when you wake up for church on Palm Sunday and have to scrape your windshield and expect similar for the rest of Holy Week.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The NFL on PBS!

Well not quite, but I'll ask you this;

If the Super Bowl was on PBS (with no commericals, but instead of commercials every break would be the announcers yapping) and your announcers were Don Cherry, a guy who played division three college football turned announcer, and Willie McGinst would you watch it?

I'll Also throw in that the game doesn't start until 11.00pm.

Life in the UK.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Saesneg y frenhines

An example of a Cornish language sign.
Many of our American friends probably realise that not all Brits sound like the queen. What you may not realise though is that the UK has seven non-English indigenous spoken living languages, the BBC supports television channels devoted to two of those languages and that one of these seven even is an official language in part of the UK.

Apart from English, Welsh is the most widely spoken of these indigenous languages and shares official language status with English in Wales. Many over here treat Wales almost as a fictitious place that you might somehow wander into, like you would Narnia, but it's a real place with a real language, with real people speaking it. (It's probably the second most spoken language in the UK, but we'll have to see what the newest census figures show when they're released this week, Punjabi, could pass it up.) Welsh has a type of sing-song quality to it, and just looks ridiculous on signs. The BBC produces Welsh language content for S4C, an independent publicly broadcast station in the country.

The BBC also produces content for the Scottish Gaelic television channel BBC Alba. This puzzles me a bit since Scottish Gaelic, out of the seven indigenous languages is spoken by the second least amount of people. To me, Scottish Gaelic sounds exactly like a language you'd imagine Scots to speak, if they didn't speak English. (Although to hear some of them, you might think that they don't speak English.)

Out of the seven indigenous languages in the UK, four (Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Cornish) stem from the Celtic language. Two are mixed languages spoken mostly by gypsies (yes that's a politically correct term over here) and one is very closely related to English and is considered by some to not be a language, but rather a dialect of English.