Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Hint of Spring Training in the Air

This morning I ventured up to the corner of Tuttle Avenue and 12th Street to see the progress being made in the refurbishing of venerable Ed Smith Stadium, the "winter home" of the Baltimore Orioles. Refurbishment is moving along nicely as this picture suggests and all indications are that the stadium will be open for business on March 1 when the Baltimore Orioles take on the Tampa Bay Rays (or what's left of the Tampa Bay Rays) at 1:05 p.m. that day.

The newly renovated Ed Smith Stadium will be welcomed relief from the grizzled old facade of the stadium when the Cincinnati Reds and the now deceased Sarasota Reds used to play there. Probably the most obvious exterior change will be the Mediterranean "feel" of the architecture of the new facade.

Gone are the horrid old faded blue seats that used to make sitting for nine innings a real challenge. They have been replaced by seats brought down from Camden Yards in Baltimore. Another addition in the new Ed Smith stadium is the construction of a party deck in left field. There the seats you purchase are either along a bar rail or scattered around the bar itself. Unfortunately they don't sell season tickets in the party deck or I would have purchased one.

Actually it wasn't until today that I finally decided to purchase any tickets for the Orioles spring training. I had planned on boycotting the Orioles because of the ridiculous "birther" comments of Orioles designated hitter Luke Scott who made a big splash a month or so ago when he told the press that he believes Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States and therefore isn't legally the President. However when I was at Ed Smith today I decided to get a couple tickets to games so I could heckle Luke Scott. I can just hear it now "Hey Luke, you myopic prick, where's your birth certificate"?

The Orioles are hosting 17 home games during the spring training season. I had written the team back in December asking for a package of information on spring training, including dates when the team would show up for work outs, but the Orioles felt they didn't have to answer my request. I decided in exchange to become a Pittsburgh Pirates supporter instead. Unlike the Orioles, when you ask the Pirates for information people in their organization bend over backwards to help you out. I remembered that and my spring training allegiance changed accordingly.

Buying tickets for the Orioles spring training games was another reason I prefer the Pittsburgh Pirates. For the pirates you walk up to the box office and purchase tickets. Pretty simple. For the Orioles you pull up to their winter headquarters building and then stand in line while a rent-a-cop from some security company lets people in the room one person at a time to purchase the tickets. Maybe Luke Scott's paranoid pontifications have made the entire Orioles team a bit daft. A rent-a-cop at a spring training ticket venue? I'll buy tickets from the Pirates any day.

I stood outside for 25 minutes (there were four people ahead of me) talking with other baseball fans. Curiously none of the fans around me were Orioles fans! A 900 year old couple from Massachusetts was there to buy tickets for any of the Boston Red Sox games. They were shocked when I told them I have never been to Fenway Park. Standing next to them was a guy with an obvious New Yawk accent who was there to buy tickets for New York Yankees games. Next to him was an obnoxious couple wanting to score Philadelphia Phillies tickets (considering which team they follow it was appropriate they were obnoxious - their team is, why not the fans?), and next to the Phillies fans was a couple there to purchase tickets to watch that team from the state just west of Wisconsin whose name (the state and the team) I refuse to utter.

That's it. Not one Baltimore Orioles fan that I could see. Everyone was there for a team other than the Orioles.

I bought tickets for two games. One, on March 9, will be against that team from west of Wisconsin whose name I refuse to utter. The other ticket was for for the last Orioles spring training game of the year - against the Toronto Blue Jays, a team I like because they are from Canada, eh, and I love Canada. I went to a Blue Jays game last spring in Dunedin and developed a liking for the Jays - after all they are named after a bird! I also enjoyed the fact that Knology Stadium in Dunedin (which has now been re-named Florida Auto Exchange Stadium) where the Jays do spring training and where the Dunedin Blue Jays play in the Class A Advanced Florida State League, has Leffe beer on sale in one of the bars. Talk about a class act having Leffe for sale. You have to like the team for that reason alone.

I was in and out of the purchasing area in less than 5 minutes. It was still weird having a rent-a-cop (who has no law enforcement authority whatsoever) hovering over everyone sitting there purchasing tickets. Had I wanted to be a prick I would have just said "boo" to see if all the blood drained from his face.

As of today, I have tickets for the following spring training games:

February 25 - State College of Florida v Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton

March 1 - New York Yankees v Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton

March 2 - XXXXXXXXX XXXXs v Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton

March 9 - XXXXXXXXX XXXXs v Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota

March 10 - Baltimore Orioles v Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton

March 13 - St. Louis Cardinals v New York Mets in St. Lucie

March 17 - New York Mets v Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers

March 18 - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers

March 19 - Boston Red Sox v Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton

March 20 - Detroit Tigers v Washington Nationals in Brevard County

March 21 - XXXXXXXXX XXXXs v Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton

March 23 - Houston Astros v Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton

March 27 - Tampa Bay Rays v Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton

March 29 - Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota

Fourteen games should be enough to hold me until the Bradenton Marauders take the field for their home opener against the Charlotte Crab Cakes on April 8.

If I need to see more spring training games I'll buy the tickets from the Pittsburgh Pirates and go watch "my" team play. It will be a much more enjoyable experience than standing in line and being watched over by a rent-a-cop so I can buy a ticket to watch a "birther" who hates the President of the United States.

Wait a minute, I know what I'll do. I'll go buy tickets for the Orioles v Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton and go heckle that little anarchist bastard Luke Scott in Bradenton instead. Yup. That's what I'll do.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Uncle Buck

It was on this lake and in these woods that my Uncle Buck helped teach me how to be a biologist.

I learned this morning from a high school friend that my bombastic Uncle Buck (Neil) Beranek committed suicide at about 9:30 a.m., Central Time, in Rice Lake Wisconsin. He had been quite despondant for some time and this morning he reached the end of his ability to cope. He just turned 75 years old on December 15.

Buck was well known for his bombast and story telling and there was no end to the stories he could tell. There was a reason my cousin Boyd and I gave him the title of "The Supreme Bullshitter" many many years ago. He taught me how to trap muskrats and mink which is how I paid for my undergraduate degree in college. He taught me how to ice fish, and how to fillet a fish, and how to track animals in the forest. He even taught me how to tap maple trees and how to turn their sap into maple syrup. His one passion was deer hunting - he loved that almost as much as anything else.

This coming Monday, January 17, will be the 17th anniversary of my dad's death. After his funeral my cousins and I went out to find Buck and located him in the VFW in Rice Lake. As we talked with him, an unsuspecting woman walked in and sat down alone at a table.

Deciding to be neighborly, my Uncle Buck walked up to her and said, politely, "Can I smell your pussy"?

The woman indignantly snorted "NO!"

Buck simply shrugged his shoulders and said "Well, must be somebody else's then" and walked back to his seat.

People always tried to one-up Buck but nobody could succeed until the night of my mom's funeral in November 1996. Buck was always bragging about all the sex he was having (no doubt the latest Buck story).

As he told us of his imaginary conquests, a smile crossed my face and I said "Buck, when was the last time you had sex with a female that didn't have four hooves?"

For the first time in recorded history Buck sat in total silence and did not have a come back. My cousin broke the silence and said "I never thought i'd see it. Buck Beranek had absolutely nothing to say."

That was quintessential Buck Beranek. As my friend Mike DeCapita said when I told him some Buck stories, "Your Uncle Buck was a piece of work." That he was.

Buck had been divorced for more than 30 years and was never able to put aside the anger and hurt he felt from having that happen to him. Living in a beer bottle all these years didn't help matters much either. Hopefully now that his internal torment is over his soul will finally be at peace.

"Grieve not long because he is gone, but rejoice forever because he was."...Dave Hilsheimer (my friend)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Spring Is in The Air in Florida

According to the calendar, winter officially began 21 days ago today. However this morning in Bradenton Florida it was most definitely the first day of spring.

The Pittsburgh Pirates started their spring training "mini-camp" yesterday at their Pirate City facility on the east side of Bradenton. None of the players are required to be there for the week long mini camp. However by the number of players present I don't think many stayed away.

I arrived about 10:15 and saw several of my friends from the 2010 Bradenton Marauders season. Although the major league players were present, my interest was in the 60 or so minor league players who had shown up for the camp. It was refreshing to see Marauder catcher Eric Fryer with whom I had a nice chat before he took the field.

Calvin "The Bus" Anderson was there and I enjoyed watching him take batting practice that will hopefully lead to a few more David Ortiz-quality home runs in 2011. Once Calvin becomes proficient at destroying a curve ball like he can a fastball, we'll be watching Calvin move up in the organization.

My most favorite Marauder, shortstop Brock Holt was also at the mini camp. Brock told me that he was almost completely recovered from the torn meniscus that kept him out of about half of the 2010 season. With Brock healthy in 2011, I think we can expect to see some more spectacular plays at shortstop from him. And if Brock isn't at least with the AA level Altoona Curve or more preferably the AAA level Indianapolis Indians by the end of the 2011 season I'll be extremely surprised. If Pirates management uses its head they will be particularly careful not to lose Brock Holt to any other team. If he stays healthy, I think we'll be seeing Brock playing in the Major League All-Star game in about 4 years. He's that good.

Although there were no strenuous workouts or scrimmages it was refreshing to again hear a ball slap against the leather of a baseball glove and to hear the unmistakable "twack" that comes from a baseball hitting the meat of a bat and being sent on a trajectory toward the left field fence.

Nothing exciting happened on the field at Pirate City today but to me everything I saw was exciting. Official spring training for the Pittsburgh Pirates including, hopefully, many of the Bradenton Marauders, will begin about February 10, and the first game of the spring training season is on February 25. More importantly the first game of the Bradenton Marauders 2011 season is on April 8th, just 87 days from today.

But who's counting?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Class Action Lawsuit and Money Management International

I received in the mail today a notice from a law firm informing me about a class action law suit against Money Management International. I contracted with MMI in October 2005 to help get me out of $53,000 in credit card debt which they did in 39 months. My part of the agreement was that I paid MMI $40.00 per month to manage my account and disburse the funds to the credit card companies. My first payment was in October 2005 and I paid off my obligations in January 2009. In other words I paid them $40 per month for 39 months for a total outlay of $1,560.

Someone brought suit against MMI claiming that they violated the letter and the spirit of the Credit Repair Organizations Act by operating as a for-profit organization when the Act requires them to operate as a not-for-profit. Rather than fight it in court MMI agreed to an out of court settlement of $6.5 million. After attorney fees are taken out, $4.7 million remains to be divided up among those of us "harmed" by this action. There were 415,000 clients of MMI during the period covered by the law suit. According to the information in the letter I will be receiving a payment from this class action law suit some time in the spring of 2011.

Before booking a flight in first class to Tahiti, I pulled out the calculator to get an idea of what sort of settlement I will be receiving. The calculator told me (after running the numbers 3 times) that if everyone receives an equal proportion of the settlement I can expect a payment of $11.32. Yup, that's it. Eleven dollars and thirty two cents.

I'm certainly glad I didn't book that first class flight on Air Tahiti Nui before doing the calculations.

A Letter to the Internal Revenue Service

I found the letter below while cleaning out some files today. This letter accompanied a personal check for $87.00 that was in addition to more than $19,800 I had already paid in through payroll deductions to satisfy my tax obligation for the 2007 tax year. As you will note by the time you get to the end of the letter, none of the things I requested happened but it was still nice to try.

About a year later in I filled out an application for "membership" in Sam's Club. While filling it out the employee helping me asked how it was possible that I was retired and still so young. I told her that the retirement system in the Federal government I was under allowed me to leave with 30 years of service at 55 years of age, so I left. She snorted and said "ah, ha! my tax dollars at work." I replied "ma'am, I paid almost $20,000 in taxes just to the Federal government last year. How much did you pay?" She glared at me and walked away.

February 7, 2008

United States Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service Center
Atlanta, Georgia 39901-0114

Dear Internal Revenue Service

Attached to my Form 1040EZ is a check for $87.00 to cover the additional taxes I owe above and beyond the $19,833.02 in Federal taxes that were taken out of my check through payroll deductions throughout the year.

That means my total Federal tax paid in 2007 was $19920.02. I thought Bush’s tax cuts were supposed to help the middle class? Oh, wait. His tax cuts help only the top 1 percent of Americans. How silly of me to forget.

With this letter and my additional payment of $87.00 for a total of $19920.02 paid to the Treasury this year I have a simple request.

NONE of these funds are to be used by the Failure in Chief in the White House or any of his clones to facilitate the killing of one more American kid in Iraq. NONE of these funds are to be used by the Failure in Chief in the White House or any of his clones to kill one more innocent Iraqi’by American forces. NONE of these funds are to be used to transport another American kid from any military base to any post in the world where Bush claims we are fighting his war on “turism.” Furthermore, NONE of these funds are to be used by the Department of Homeland Surveillance to harass travelers at airports. NONE of these funds are to be used by the Department of Homeland Surveillance or the National Security Agency to listen in on private phone calls between law abiding citizens just because the Failure in Chief thinks they might be a turist. NONE of these funds are to be used by the CIA or any other agency to torture innocent Arabic people sequestered without habeas corpus at Guantanamo Bay Cuba. NONE of these funds are to be used by any cretin in the Justice Department who wants to jerk around sitting United States Attorney’s who are deemed to not be loyal Bushies.

In fact, NONE of these $19920.02 are to be used for any purpose other than to help the less fortunate in this country. That’s the purpose of government – to help people – not to turn the nation into a god damned police state.

Thanks for passing this message on to the Failure in Chief. Luckily for America one year from today that bastard will be out of office and hopefully in the Hague Netherlands sitting in his war crimes trial with Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, Rice, Wolfowitz and the rest of those deceitful creeps.

Come to think of it IRS, I want all of my taxes paid in 2007 to be applied to prosecuting Bush and the rest of the criminals in his administration. OK?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

No Cost Of Living Adjustment for Federal Retirees

I just sent the following memo to Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) regarding the lack of a cost of living adjustment for Federal retirees for the second year in a row. Nothing will happen because I don't contribute mega dollars to his re-election campaign. However given that he's a Democrat he might at least give it some lip service.

Dear Senator Nelson

I am a Federal retiree having spent my entire 31 year career with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I retired in Washington DC in late February 2008 and moved the next day to Florida. I have been living on my Federal annuity ever since.

Federal law dictates that Federal retirees are to receive cost of living adjustments that are commensurate with the current rate of inflation. During 2009 and 2010 the national inflation rate was flat and accordingly we received no cost of living adjustment.

That flat rate did not take into account increases in our health insurance premiums (mine has gone up each year), rising costs of rent and food, the sky-rocketing cost of gasoline (it was $2.50 a gallon in Sarasota in October and is $3.16 a gallon today), the rising cost of cable television and internet connectivity (Comcast) or even the rising cost of a bottle of beer.

All of that has occurred yet Federal retirees have received no increase in our annuity despite those obvious and documentable increases in costs.

At the same Federal retirees have not received a penny in annuity cost adjustments the Congress of the United States saw fit to pass legislation giving the top two percent of salary earners in the country more tax breaks. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and Congressman Vern Buchanan (R-FL) do not need more money in their bank accounts. I do and so do millions of other Federal retirees.

The President made a huge deal out of his agreement with the Republicans that gave Warren Buffett more millions of dollars this year. He failed to mention that the new tax law has ZERO benefit in it for Federal retirees living on an annuity.

I feel like I have been hosed while Warren Buffett dines on caviar from his new tax breaks.

What do you propose should be done to fix this horrific inequity toward Federal retirees? Retirement is a growth industry in this state so you more than most Senators should be keenly aware of the effects of actions on retirees. Its bad enough that active Federal employees have to deal with no salary increase this year. At least they can still get step increases if they are eligible. Federal retirees don't have that luxury.

Should you decide to write back on this issue I would appreciate a letter telling me how you feel and what you plan to do about this inequity. I do not want to receive a form letter prepared by one of your interns or a Legislative Aide.

Thank you.