Monthly Archives: June 2010

Fantasy Baseball 2010 – Week 12

Twice this season has a team finished a week without losing a single category. The first time was the first week of the season, when I beat Brandon’s Bombers 11-0. The second instance was this week, as I swept every stat and won 12-0. Neither my hitters or my pitchers had particularly strong weeks, but I lucked out and matched up against a bad team that performed very badly.

Boesch had 7RBI in Week 12

For the third week in a row, Brennan Boesch was my featured offensive star. He hit .348/.423 for the week with two home runs, seven RBI and four runs scored. Scott Rolen hit a pair of home runs and Gaby Sanchez hit .414 with four runs batted in. Ben Zobrist hit a whopping .067, but also posted a .391 on-base percentage which put him on the bases enough to swipe three bases, helping me win that category 4-3. For the week I hit six homers, scored twenty-three runs and drove in thirty. I got by with those good-not-great numbers because my opponent struggled offensively, hitting three home runs while scoring twelve run and driving in seventeen. My offense was rolling along, batting .313 after Thursday’s games, but had a horrific weekend and ended the week at .274, nearly a forty-point drop in three days. My on-base percentage dropped as well due to the falloff in average, though not as drastically going from .391 to .365.

Felix tossed 9 innings for a ND

My pitchers had an off week by their lofty standards. They posted a 4.50 ERA, which technically is a quality start, but is also double their usual number. Felix Hernandez and Josh Johnson were brilliant in their only starts this week, but both failed to get wins due to a lack of run support. King Felix tossed nine innings of two-run ball in a game the Mariners would eventually lose in extra innings. Johnson struck out nine in eight innings of two-run ball, but the Florida offense managed only one run and lost 2-1. Matt Garza bounced back from his one-inning, seven run debacle last week with a quality start and a win, but Tim Hudson, Adam Wainwright and Jamie Garcia were pounded throughout the week. Tyler Clippard ran into another bad outing, but my closers saved four games without allowing a run. I recorded only two wins, but I got lucky and my opponent managed only one. My 39 strikeouts almost doubled his 22 and it’s easy to win with four quality starts when your opponent doesn’t get any. My team’s 4.50 ERA and 1.19 WHIP weren’t in line with their usual standards, but were plenty good enough to top 7.36 and 1.68.

The only move I made this week was activating Edgar Renteria from the disabled list. Since dropping Reid Brignac, I had three players for second base, shortstop and third base. I like having flexibility across the board, and getting Renteria back from the DL helped increase my flexibility. I cut loose Ivan Rodriguez to make room for Renteria, as I felt comfortable with Posada’s return to semi-regular playing time. Renteria is no longer the everyday shortstop for the Giants, but with Ben Zobrist and Jeff Keppinger eligible at both 2B and SS, I can fill both spots and work Renteria in with favorable matchups.

My team is very solid and I don’t anticipate making any more major moves. I would like to add another starting pitcher, but am content to wait until Scott Olsen comes back from the DL. Olsen has started throwing again, but has no timetable for a return. Hopefully I’ll get him back in action in a month or so.

My 12-0 sweep improved my record to 98-38-8 and obviously kept me in first place overall. Up next for me is Monty’s Millionaire’s who I have some history with. They picked up Reid Brignac when I dropped him and when I offered Ivan Rodriguez to get him back, Monty countered with Brignac-for-Tim Hudson. Or, a part-time middle infielder for a top-of-the rotation starter. Monty’s Millionaire’s is coming off a 2-9-0 showing in Week 12, putting their overall record at 63-74-6, good for 13th place overall.

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2010 AL All-Stars

C—Joe Mauer, MIN
Mauer isn’t having quite the year he had last year, but has still turned in a .307/.383/.489 season thus far, and has been an asset defensively as well. In a league without too many elite catching options, Mauer is head and shoulders above his peers. His power numbers have dropped off from last year, but he’s still hitting for a high average and getting on-base.

1B—Justin Morneau, MIN
Joe Mauer’s teammate is once again having a quiet MVP-type of season. His .346 batting average is third in the American League and his 1.057 OPS is the league’s best number. Morneau has been worth 4.5 wins above replacement so far this year, also tops in the American League. Miguel Cabrera gets an honorable mention here, but Morneau has been better and deserves the nod.

2B—Robinson Cano, NYY
The Yankees second baseman has been the second most valuable player in the American League this year, racking up a 4.3 WAR in just 74 games. He leads the American League with a .359 batting average and has thrived in his new role as a run producer for New York with 14 homers and 50 RBI. Smooth defensively, Cano’s all around game has improved beyond all expectations as he’s grown into one of the league’s best all around hitters.

SS—Derek Jeter, NYY
In a league that once boasted Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter as elite shortstops, a 36-year old Jeter now leads a less inspiring group of players. Jeter hasn’t been near as good as he was in 2009, but the rather lackluster collection of league-average shortstops gets him an all-star nod. Texas youngster Elvis Andrus has exceeded expectations in the early going

3B—Evan Longoria, TB
The golden boy of Tampa Bay has enjoyed yet another impressive season, despite being surrounded by underperforming and streaky hitters. He leads AL third basemen in multiple offensive categories and plays smothering defense at the hot corner.

OF—Josh Hamilton, TEX
Hamilton started off the season slowly and injured, but ended June smoldering hot. He hit over .400 for the month, and is in the midst of a 22-game hitting streak. His 3.6 WAR is second only to Carl Crawford among AL outfielders, although he’s been worth 7.8 more runs with the bat than the Tampa speedster.

OF—Carl Crawford, TB
Crawford leads all AL outfielders in worth so far in 2010, checking in at 3.8 wins above replacement. While Crawford is no slouch at the plate, much of his value comes from his exception work in the field. Whereas over 95% of Josh Hamilton’s value comes from his bat, Crawford’s worth is move even, as he’s been worth 14.6 runs above replacement with the bat and 15.4 runs above replacement with the glove.

OF—Ichiro Suzuki, SEA
Another year passes and Ichiro continues to be of immense value to his team by slapping singles all over the field and playing excellent defense. Ichiro has maintained his high batting average and on-base percentage this year and is running more than he has in the past few years. He has 21 stolen bases already in 2010 after have 26 in all of 2009.

DH—Vladimir Guerrero, TEX
Boston’s David Ortiz has had a nice turnaround after a horrific start to the season, but Vlad has been one of the league’s best hitters all year. He has significant home and road splits, but has been worth 2.0 wins above replacement without playing the field.

C—Victor Martinez, BOS
Martinez started slowly, but like the Red Sox, he’s picked up steam as the summer rolled around. He is actually outperforming Mauer at the plate (.825 to .821 OPS) but his defensive ineptitude relegates him to the bench.

1B—Miguel Cabrera, DET
Cabrera has responded to a dark end of 2009 with an MVP caliber start to 2010. Most years he would have done enough to be awarded the starting gig, but Morneau’s insane season beats him out.

2B—Orlando Hundson, MIN
Dustin Pedroia’s broken foot will probably keep him out of the game, so Minnesota’s small-time offseason pickup gets the nod.

SS—Elvis Andrus, TEX
The young shortstop has taken some big steps forward in his second year, and deserves the all-star nod

3B—Adrian Beltre, BOS
Beltre is combining the comfy confines of Fenway Park and the fact that he’s in a contract year into one very good season. Offensively, he’s been more than anyone could have expected, and his defense has been as advertised.

OF—Alex Rios, CWS
Dumped by Toronto late last season, Chicago surprisingly took on the enormous salary of a player who seemed to be on the downside of his career. But Rios has turned in a very solid start to 2010, making the high salary more bearable for the White Sox

OF—Shin Shoo Choo, CLE
Cleveland’s lone representative makes the team based on performance, not league-mandated policy. Choo has been the sixth most valuable outfielder in the AL, despite being the only league average hitter in his lineup.

OF—Ben Zobrist, TB
The super-utility man can play well almost anywhere on the diamond, and he is having another solid year following his breakout year of 2009. His power has been sapped a bit, but has still been worth 9.2 runs above replacement with the bat.

OF—Magglio Ordonez, DET
While the Tigers dreaded Ordonez’s option kicking in last season, they’re probably glad about it now. He’s the league’s seventh most valuable player, with most of his value tied to his resurgent bat.

OF—Nick Markakis, BAL
Baltimore is the one team in baseball that doesn’t field a player worthy of an all-star berth. Markakis is the least disappointing of the bunch, and even then, he’s only been the 18th most valuable AL outfielder.

SP—Cliff Lee, SEA
Despite starting the season on the disabled list and missing a month, Lee has been the most valuable starting pitcher this season (3.7 WAR). He leads the league in both ERA and WHIP—that’s how impressive he’s been since coming back. If his next few starts are as impressive as his first two months have been, Lee is an easy choice to start the game for the junior circuit.

SP—Jon Lester, BOS
The first handful of starts Lester made were duds, but as he did in 2009, he quickly put them behind him and has become one of the top starters in the league. His ERA is down below 3.00 again and he was worth 2.7 wins above replacement before his complete game victory in San Francisco on Sunday afternoon.

SP—Ricky Romero, TOR
Romero was best known before this season as the guy that Toronto passed on Troy Tulowitzki for in the draft. But Romero has become equally impressive, if not more so than his fellow draftee. Romero is fourth in the league in strikeouts and has become a reliable ace for the team that traded its longtime ace, Roy Halladay.

SP—Francisco Liriano, MIN
Finally all the way back from Tommy John surgery, Liriano is having himself a fine season. He’s been the second most valuable starter, only 0.1 WAR behind Cliff Lee. He’s gotten his strikeout pitch working again and is fifth in the league with 100.

SP—Jered Weaver, LAA
The third and final AL pitcher that has been worth at least 3.0 WAR this season, Weaver has seen a dramatic rise in his K/9 and K/BB rates this season and has used those increases to fashion himself into a Cy Young contender.

SP—Felix Hernandez, SEAHernandez has been an innings-eater for the M’s this season and forms the game’s best 1-2 punch in baseball with Cliff Lee. Often times, the term innings-eater is applied to pitchers who can pitch a lot of innings, but aren’t necessarily good pitchers. Hernandez’s league-leading 112 innings have been excellent. Of his 16 starts, 13 of them have been quality starts, which leads the league.

SP—Justin Verlander, DET
His 4.02 ERA may seem high, but Verlander’s FIP is much lower (3.40) indicating he’s run into some bad luck and had bad defense played behind him. Even with the bad luck and bad defense, he’s the fifth most valuable starter in the AL at 2.3 WAR.

RP—Neftali Feliz, TEX
Texas moved Feliz into the vacant closer’s spot to get his arm to the majors as quick as possible, and he’s been outstanding in the role this season. He leads the AL in saves and is striking out more than a batter per inning. All that adds up to being worth 1.0 WAR halfway through the season as a reliever. Impressive.

RP—Mariano Rivera, NYY
Age doesn’t seem to slow Rivera the way is does mortal players. Rivera has blown only one save this year and leads all relievers in with a 0.62 WHIP.

RP—Jose Valverde, DET
Valverde’s 0.57 has been propped up by a lot of luck, as his 3.01 FIP is considerably higher. A very low BABIP (.120) and a very high LOB% (92.6%) have led to the low ERA.

RP—Matt Thornton, CWS
Thornton is Chicago’s best reliever, by far, and yet he doesn’t close for them. The White Sox in fact, have two relievers better than the one that gets saves for them. Ozzie Guillen really is clueless. Thornton, despite toiling away as a setup man, has been the most valuable reliever in the AL and is one of the few lefties that is death on lefties and righties.

RP—Joel Zumaya, DET
If Thornton is the best left-handed set-up man, Zumaya is the best right-handed one. Arm problems have limited him the past few seasons, but he’s returned full strength this season, pumping 100mph gas past just about everyone (Chipper Jones not included)

RP—Daniel Bard, BOS
Bard has thrived setting up for Boston this season, but has had problems when asked to close. Which makes Boston fan’s cries for him to replace the sporadic Papelbon seem unfounded. But he’s been tremendous as the 8th-inning guy and deserves an all-star nod.

RP—Joakim Soria, KC
He hasn’t been as lights out as he has in past seasons, but each team still needs to send a representative. Both Billy Butler and Zack Greinke will probably be crowded out of the game because of the depth of their position. So Soria has to be it.

RP—Andrew Bailey, OAK
Oakland’s representative for the second consecutive season.

Making The World Cup More Interesting

Watching the United States exceed expectations in the World Cup has been fun, and each game has had its fair share of exciting moments. But for the casual soccer fan, each match basically offers five minutes of excitement packed into approximately 93 minutes. As evidenced by the Hispanic contingent at the laundromat I went to during the Germany-Ghana game this afternoon, many people can be thoroughly entertained by soccer in its’ current state. But that doesn’t mean making a few beneficial changes would hurt the game’s image. Here are a few ways I think the World Cup can change it’s rules to make the game more interesting.

Eliminate Draws

There have been eleven draws in the tournament’s first eleven days. For the amount of effort the teams put into competing and the amount of time fans invest in watching, someone’s team should win and the other should lose. I’m not advocating overtime or sudden-death, as that type of rule might end up leading to a weeklong match at some point. I noticed that there is a long list of tiebreakers for determining who moves out of group play should two teams tie in points. Why not come up with some sort of tie-breakers to determine who wins a game.

1) Least flops
2) Least pouts
3) Most goals disallowed for no reason
4) Most coaches from the country of the team they coach
5) Vuvuzela duel

These individual game tie-breakers serve two purposes—to determine a clear winner at the end of each match and it cuts down the amount of ridiculous complaining. Middle school girls create less drama than international soccer matches.

Increase Scoring

Many people would tell you the thing that bores them most about soccer is the low-scoring games. Only three times in the 2010 World Cup has a team scored more than three goals in a game. Twenty-eight of the forty total games have featured two or less combined goals. So adding a dynamic to the game that increases the chances of a goal might not be the worst idea. So I recommend that once per half, for ten minutes, two extra balls are inserted into play. If a team can control all three balls at the same time, and coordinate their attacks just right, we should see a spike in goals. It’s a win for everybody.

More Man-Advantages
When a team draws a red card, they play down a man for the rest of the game. This ultimately gives them an advantage, and I think soccer would do well to expand this part of the game. Except a referee sprinting up to the offending player and waving what amounts to a colored library card in his face is pretty dull. The referee might not think so, but the typical fan would.

Like the Coliseum in Rome, I think that each soccer field should contain covered pits. Hide them throughout the field and make a dozen of them. But only activate random ones for each match so the players don’t know where they are. If a player (or multiple players) fall into a pit, they’re out of commission for the rest of the half. This will serve to not only fluctuate the amount of players on the field at any given time, but also to change the strategy of the gameplay, as three 15′ by 15′ pits on the field might alter how a team attacks or defends.

Fantasy Baseball 2010 – Week 11

As I was checking out my opponent’s team for week 11, the thing that stood out the most to me was the fact that his starting pitchers were scheduled to make fourteen starts while mine were only on track to make eight. That meant that I was starting with a disadvantage in all the counting stats – wins, strikeouts and quality starts. The quality of my pitchers was undoubtedly better, but the overwhelming quantity he had was looking to doom my week.

I did end up losing wins and strikeouts, but I managed to best my opponent by one in quality starts and dominated him in WHIP, ERA and saves to end up winning four of the six pitching categories despite facing a numbers crunch.

Johnson struck out 16 batters in Week 11

Both Josh Johnson and Adam Wainwright were outstanding this week, recording three wins, four quality starts and 26 strikeouts in their four starts. They posted an ERA of 1.50 and a WHIP of 0.70 which helped keep my weekly WHIP under 1.00 despite Matt Garza’s disastrous one-inning, seven run disaster against the Marlins. Tim Hudson, Felix Hernandez and Jamie Garcia posted strong starts this week, all recording quality starts – King Felix tossing a complete game win. My relievers were excellent this week, racking up a whopping eight saves, the most I’ve had in one week this season. Neftali Feliz picked up four saves on his own, striking out seven in four perfect innings.

Boesch homers against Washington

My hitting led all six categories going into Sunday, but each by very slim margins. A big day on Sunday for my opponent helped him salvage a respectable week, as he won three hitting categories and I won the other three. My offense had a rather poor showing this week, hitting only at a .269 clip with little power. But I benefitted from my opponent’s hitters struggling as well. Ben Zobrist drove in six runs and scored four times and Nyjer Morgan swiped three bases. He’s still not hitting a lick, but he’s helping me tread water in the stolen base department. Brennan Boesch hit two of my four homers and drove in six runs. Boesch has easily been my best hitter since I plucked him off waivers during Week 5. My strategy for this league was to draft elite pitchers and fill in my hitters later on, trusting to the fact that there are more decent hitters than there are decent pitchers. So far, that strategy has paid off very well. I lead the league in WHIP, ERA and quality starts – all by a good margin and am second in both wins and strikeouts and fifth in saves. Top 5 in every pitching category is fantastic.

Of the nine pitchers that I drafted, seven are still on my roster. The two that I no longer have are my 18th round pick (Barry Zito, traded) and my 22nd round pick (Robinson Tejada, released). They’ve been replaced by Jamie Garcia (free agent pickup) and Neftali Feliz (acquired via trade).

My hitting situation has been much more fluid. Of the thirteen hitters I selected in the draft, only five are still on my roster. Jorge Posada (5th round), Nyjer Morgan (7th), Nick Swisher (8th), Scott Rolen (16th) and Gaby Sanchez (21st) have all made solid contributions for my team at the level I expected them to or above. I’ve brought Denard Span and Ben Zobrist via trade and players like Boesch, Ronny Paulino and Jose Guillen have given me exceptional production as undrafted free agent pickups. Playing matchups has enabled me to tinker my lineup to get optimal production from each position.

My 7-5-0 week bumped my record to 86-38-8, and expanded my lead to 18.5 games in Division 4 and to 11.5 in the league. This upcoming week matches me up with The Concord CRRAABs. The CRRAABs are coming of a 3-7-2 week which dropped them to 47-72-13, placing them in fourth place in Division 1 and 18th place overall.

Fantasy Baseball 2010 – Week 10

We’re through nine weeks, and although it looked grim most way through the week, I avoided my first losing week with a strong pitching performance from Felix Hernandez on Sunday.

Boesch hit 3 HR in Week 9

My week 9 results were pretty much the exact opposite from what I’ve become accustomed to this season. My hitting dominated the week while my pitchers suffered through an off week. Scott Rolen, Nick Swisher and Brennan Boesch all had big weeks for me, helping my team win four of the six categories. And if Milton Bradley doesn’t get hit by a pitch in the last game of the week, I would have won five of six offensive categories. Boesch homered three times and drove in 5 runs, while Nick Swisher used a big game on Tuesday and finished the week with nine RBI. Scott Rolen hit .500 with four runs and five RBI. Denard Span rebounded from an awful week 8 by hitting .389 with four runs.

My pitchers didn’t have a horrible week, posting a 3.95 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP, but it was a down week from them and my opponent got some impressive starts from his pitchers. I ended up winning two and losing four pitching categories. I won saves and took back strikeouts on Sunday when Felix Hernandez struck out nine batters in a win over the Padres. Josh Johnson continued his dominant run, winning his start without allowing a run, while Tim Hudson went the distance in his start, but lost 2-1. I got a nice surprise when Tyler Clippard picked up a save in place of a resting Matt Capps.

I activated Ivan Rodriguez from the DL this week, and cut Reid Brignac to do so, which I immediately regretted. I’m now carrying three catchers on my roster, and have no flexibility in my infield, something I prize more than extra catchers. I’ve found no takers for any of my catchers and my Ivan Rodriguez-for-Reid Brignac offers was countered by a Reid Brignac-for-Tim Hudson.

I’ve made it through a very tough run in my schedule and up next for me is Get The Poison Out, who owns a record of 45-66-9 putting him in 17th place overall. My 6-6-0 week dropped my record to 79-33-8, but kept me atop the league in first place.

Australia & New Zealand Trip – Cairns

One of the greatest things about Australia is that by traveling a few hours in any direction you can find yourself in a completely different type of countryside. So after enjoying a few days experiencing the city life of Sydney and a few more out in the wild Australian outback in Uluru, our next stop brought us to the rainforest and beaches of Cairns.

Saturday, June 6

After a busy last day in Uluru, we were able to sleep in to start the weekend before catching a mid-afternoon flight out of the desert to Cairns. We made it into the city by six o’clock and wandered around the streets before grabbing a bite to eat. We finished off the day relaxing in the room before turning in. Not much excitement for the day, but the travel days do help us recharge before hitting the ground running again.

Headed out to sea

Sunday, June 7

Our first full day in Cairns was spent at sea. We were bussed from our hotel to Port Douglas, where we boarded a day-cruise ship and sailed out to the famed Great Barrier Reef. The Barrier Reef is just another one of those “Wow, we’re really here” moments in a country full of them. The boat took us out to, for lack of a better description, a floating, man made island. It included a dock for semi-submarines, a helicopter pad, places to snorkel and dive and a full complimentary buffet. We spent the day out on open waters, enjoying the masterpiece that is the Great Barrier Reef.

We left to head back to the mainland late in the afternoon and made it back nearly ninety minutes later. We enjoyed the drive along the coastline back to our accommodations and turned in early after a long day under the sun.

Oma and her grandsons on the Great Barrier Reef

Monday, June 8

No break for the weary traveller the day after the Barrier Reef as we were off and at it again with an all-day tour taking us to, through and over the Kuranda rainforest. We started the morning on the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway, which was constructed in the late 1800s for tin mining but currently operates as a tourist railway.

Construction of the Cairns-Kuranda Railway was, and still is, an engineering feat of tremendous magnitude. The railway snakes its way up the Macalister Range for over 75 kilometers and was constructed nearly completely by hand. The steep and rocky mountain terrain required that numerous bridges be built and even more tunnels be cut out of solid rock. These necessary measures were extremely dangerous not only because of the terrain on which they were performed but also because workers also dealt with vicious aboriginal tribes and raiders.

The train makes just one brief stop on its way from Cairns to the village of Kuranda, but there is glorious scenery to be witnessed all the way up the mountain. Once we reached the end of the line, we were free to explore the quaint village of Kuranda. We spent a few hours walking around, enjoying the small shops and an ice cream cone from a local homemade ice cream stand. We walked through a bird sanctuary and watched a wood-carving demonstration before meeting up again for our next tour.

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Amphibious Army duck

We toured the depths of the rainforest in a refurnished Army Duck – an amphibious military vehicle that is capable of traveling comfortably on land and on water. We spent an hour or so in the very loud and very bumpy vehicle learning about the various flora and fauna of the rainforest. We learned which plants can kill you and which ones can heal you. We spotted several small crocodiles and a kookaburra nest.

After returning to the village, we found a place that let you hold koalas and crocodiles and remarkably there was no line and we were able to spend a good amount of time with both animals.

Oma cuddles with a koala bear

Nathaniel clutches a crocodile

After our encounters with crocodiles, we moved into the Koala and Wildlife Park where we were introduced to other Australian wildlife that weren’t quite as well-known as the koala. Included in the tour were kangaroo, wallabies, wombats and dingos. The Wildlife Park had most of their animals well secured in cages, like the crocodiles, dingos and cassowaries, but the kangaroos and wallabies simply lounged around the park, free to interact with the visitors.

Nathaniel and a kangaroo

Zachary and a wallaby

After spending time getting to know the Australian wildlife on a more intimate level, we heaed off for the next part of our all-day adventure, the Dreamtime Walk. This part of the tour introduced us to the aboriginal and Islander culture and history more thoroughly. We began with a demonstration of cultural dances and rituals. Some of us were even volunteered to try our hand at aboriginal dancing!

Nathaniel attempts aboriginal dances

After the dance demonstration we moved on to boomerangs, spears and didgeridoos. All of which are much harder than the natives make them look. Zachary and I impressed our aboriginal guide with our prodigious boomerang skills, but fared far worse with the spears. We probably would have gone without much meat had we been forced to hunt.

After spending a fantastic day within the confines of the rainforest, we had to find our way out and what better way out than up and over? We boarded one of the worlds longest skyrails and were whisked over the canopy of trees and down the mountain. Comprised of thirty-two steel towers, the Skyrail is 7.5 kilometers long and moves you along at 11mph. It is commonly paired with the Kuranda Scenic Railway as a way up and down the mountain.

View from the Skyrail

View from the Skyrail 2

Walking around Cairns

Tuesday, June 9

Tuesday would be only our third day in Cairns, but we had packed so much in our first two days, that today would completely free. We took advantage of our lack of scheduling to sleep in a little and have a leisurely breakfast before wandering out into Cairns to do some exploring. As much as I enjoy the structured tours for their informative purposes, sometimes aimlessly wandering around a city is just as enjoyable, if not more so. Traveling this way allows you to wander off the beaten path if you choose, and what you lose in facts and history you make up for in intimacy and experience.

We found a community pool just off the beach and relaxed in the sun for most of the morning and afternoon. While Zachary sunned himself in the Australian sunshine, I wandered around the town and explored the mudflats, which are simultaneously beautiful and disgusting. We found a small cafe for lunch and took our time with our meal outside on the patio, just a stones throw away from the beach.

Cairns Mudflats

We made our way back to the hotel for one last dinner in Cairns and enjoyed a random fireworks display from outside the hotel as we ate. The next day would be our last in the great country of Australia, as we would board a plane bound for Kiwi Nation, otherwise known as New Zealand. Slightly disappointed about leaving Australia behind, but definitely excited to start exploring New Zealand, we turned in for our last sleep in Aussie Land, having had an immeasurable amount of fun the past two weeks.

A Cairns Esplande sunset

Australia & New Zealand Trip – Uluru

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Wednesday, June 3

Having spent several days in the sprawling metropolis that is Sydney, climbing off the plane in Uluru introduced us to the true Australian Outback. Vast expanses of mostly nothing, sporadically dotted with huge sandstone rock formations and lavish tourist accommodations. Uluru, more commonly known as Ayers Rock and recognized by it’s reddish hue is a sacred spot of the Anangu, the local aboriginal people. Along with Kata Tjuta, Uluru is located within the boundaries of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Uluru is open for climbing, should you choose to try, but there are a few conditions to do so. First, it is only open during certain times of the year, and even when it is accessible, it is a hard climb and has taken the lives of several unprepared tourists. Secondly, the aboriginal people do not prohibit climbing the rock, but do ask you not to out of respect for their culture and traditions.

We arrived in the Northern Territory by the early afternoon and after getting situated, our first tour included a tour around the base of the mountain and through the Cultural Center. We were accompanied by a pair of aboriginal guides and an interpreter. We learned much about the myths and stories that accompany the great rock and a little bit about the culture of the people that are so endeared to it. We learned how Uluru has woven itself into the lives and stories of the Anangu people and how it has helped shaped their history.

Rainwater collects at the base of Uluru

Zachary towers in front of Ayers Rock

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Thursday, June 4

On Thursday we started the day before sunrise where Uluru is home to an interesting phenomenon. When the sun rises or sets and hits the rock just right, it appears to change color. It goes from the sand-colored rock you see during the day to a vivid red while the sun moves across the sky.

After the sunrise, we headed out on another early-morning tour throughout the bush surrounding Ayers Rock. We were able to enjoy a nice tribal meal with a panoramic view of the rock from the Cultural Center’s breakfast room before heading out with more aboriginal guides who demonstrated skills like making glue and traditional weapons. We also were able to use a Anangu spear-thrower to hunt kangaroo. Not real kangaroos, but a small tree we pretended was one. Hunting as an Anangu is a tough affair.

First off, they hunt kangaroo, which aren’t the easiest animals to catch up with in the first place. Secondly, the method of hunting has a few steps. They first use their spear to wound the animal and they track it as it gets weaker and weaker. When they eventually catch up to the kangaroo, which could take a few miles, they kill it with a swift blow to the back of the head with a club.

Oma with our aboriginal guides

There are also certain places of the rock and surrounding area that do not allow photography. These places are often places of gender-linked rituals that certain sexes are not allowed to see. The photography ban is so that the Anangu people don’t inadvertently see images of the locations in the outside world.

Kata Tjuta from a few miles out

Friday, June 5

Our last day at Uluru had only a Sounds of Silence dinner planned for that evening. So in the morning we hitched a ride over to the other famous rock formation about twenty miles away, Kata Tjuta. Uluru is the more famous and is the sacred ground for aboriginal women. Kata Tjuta is the sacred site for the men, and is comprised of not just one giant sandstone formation, but a cluster of about thirty, 36 to be exact. The tours for Kata Tjuta are less structured, so Zachary and I explored what is known as the Passage of the Winds, a passage between two of the mounds that acts as a natural wind tunnel. Hold onto your hats!

Kata Tjuta is still used to this day for spiritual ceremonies, one of which being for public punishment. While the ritual used to occasionally result in death, it no longer does. Australia has employed a dual-naming system for many of their natural landmarks to preserve the sanctity of the aboriginal origins. Much like Uluru has a secondary, English name (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta is also known as The Olgas, named for Queen Olga of Württemberg.

Road to Kata Tjuta

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The two of us and Jack, our camel

After our journey out to Kata Tjuta, Zachary and I headed out for a guided camel tour. The two of us loaded ourselves onto a camel and set off with a convoy of about fifteen other camels for a trek around the Australian Outback. On our camel expedition, we learned the history of Australian camels. Originally brought to the country rather than horses because of their superior tolerance for the harsh terrain found in Central Australia, the camels were ordered to be killed after exploration, but the handlers couldn’t bring themselves to kill their friends and simply set them free in the bush. Which is why Australia has the world’s largest wild camel population in the world. Despite that fact, Zachary and I managed to find only one wild camel in our time there.

Wild camel in the national park

Following our camel ride, we returned to our resort and showered up for the Sounds of Silence dinner. We were dropped off in the middle of the bush country and made our way along a path towards a clearing where we enjoyed traditional Australian appetizers while a didgeridoo serenaded us. This was one of the larger events we participated in, with probably close to 100 people taking part in the experience.

Sounds of Silence dinner

After the appetizers we were seated ten to a table. Zachary, Oma and I were to eat dinner with a little old lady originally from England who had recently moved to Australia. Also in our dining party were two Australian couples, probably around their mid-to-late forties. I’ve found that tour guides and travel books can only teach you facts and numbers about a place. If you really want to get to know a region, a country or a people, the best way to do that is to talk with individuals from the place you are visiting. It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite experience from a trip like this, but the Sounds of Silence dinner was definitely up there on my list. Sure, we were able to sample the finest Australian outback cuisine featuring crocodile and kangaroo meat, and we learned a whole lot about the stars and constellations of the Southern Hemisphere. For example, the North Star isn’t visible in the night sky south of the equator. We already knew this, but the German Tourist Conglomerate did not.

We spent over four hours exchanging stories about our experiences and customs with our Australian counterparts. The two Australian couples had children around my and Zachary’s age so we spent awhile comparing the structure of American schooling versus the Australian setup. We compared politics and the impressions we each had of the other’s country, as they had vacationed in California the previous year. We had a laugh at stereotypes that one country has of the other. I learned that Australians assume all Americans smoke marijuana and insisted I teach them every slang term for marijuana I knew.

Oma made a friend too as she and the lady from England compared their German. I also contributed to the conversation, but not much more than schnurrbart. It was well past midnight by the time we made our way back to our resort but I think we all slept well that night, pleased with how our last day at Uluru had ended. The next morning would see us say goodbye to camels, Anangu and the bush and make our way to Cairns, which would be the gateway to some of the best scenery in Australia and the focal point for the Great Barrier Reef!

The majestic Kata Tjuta

Uluru at dusk

Australia & New Zealand Trip – Sydney

This past summer, my brother and I had the incredible privilege to track through the beautiful countryside of both Australia and New Zealand. As he was graduating from high school and I from college, our grandparents put together nearly a month long trip to the Great Down Under. Accompanied by our ever-loving Oma, Zachary and I trekked through Australia and New Zealand, meeting interesting people, seeing fantastic sights and experiencing things that created memories to last a lifetime.

It’s been nearly a year since we went on this trip of a lifetime, and I’m only just now getting around to putting this project together. The trip was simply too full of wonderful experiences and places to cover in one post, so I’m going to break this up into a six-post series, one for each stop along the way. We started in Atlanta and nearly a month later we had covered most of Australia and New Zealand and ready to head back to the states. The following is a retracing of our steps and a retelling of our story. With lots of pictures along the way. I hope you enjoy it!

Our trip began with a five-hour flight from Atlanta to LAX, after which we endured a long layover before embarking on a fourteen-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean to Sydney. I used to be unable to sleep a lick on flights when I was younger, so traveling by plane always seemed interminably long to me. A few years ago, around the time of our trip to Ireland, I learned to sleep on an airplane. So I spent a majority of our flight to Australia fast asleep, wedged in a Qantas coach seat. It was not the most comfortable experience of the trip, but it wasn’t the most uncomfortable one either. Stay tuned.

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Saturday, May 30

Seeing as our flight left Los Angeles late Thursday night and arrived early in the morning about a week later in Australia time. Not quite, but it seemed like it. We actually got into Sydney early Saturday morning and hit the ground running, checking into the hotel by noon and setting out by ourselves on foot around the city. We had no plans for our first day in Australia so we meandered through the streets and eventually ended up at the Sydney Wildlife Conservation that was situated right on the bay.

We spent a casual afternoon making our way through the conservation, introducing ourselves to some of Australia’s most famous inhabitants. The three most well known animals to the island nation are definitely the koala bear, the kangaroo and the kookaburra, all of which, I’m just noticing now strangely enough begin with the letter “K”. Interesting.

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Sunday, May 31

Our first full day in Sydney had us on two different tours—a walking tour of the city by morning and a bus tour of the city and surrounding area in the afternoon/evening.

The Rocks

The morning tour took us through the area of town known as The Rocks, which was home to the early convict settlement of native Australia. The precinct has done a fabulous job of integrating the new with the historic, and the old cobbled streets, sandstone steps and small churches are intertwined with new high-rise buildings and modern day luxuries. The tour itself was a most enjoyable way to spend a morning as we went out with in a group no bigger than six or eight people. The guide was superb and the small ratio of tourists made the tour more intimate and informative.

We spent over two hours wandering up and down narrow streets and through the remains of what used to be Sydney’s earliest buildings and homes. We saw the trimorial for Australia’s first prison guards, farmers and convicts. We walked the length of Australia’s first street, George Street and went up and then back down the Argyle Steps. We skirted the Circular Quay, which was much more square than it was round

Mixing the old with the new

Remains of Australia's first housing project

After the walking tour, we boarded a charter bus and off we went, navigating Sydney’s narrow streets in a bus that was over 50 feet long and had the approximate turning radius of the plane we flew into Australia on. For the most part, we stayed on the bus and saw sights like Kings Cross and Double Bay. We stopped for a while to take a walk along the famous Bondi Beach and then again at Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair. Which isn’t really a chair, but more of a bench carved into the rock overlooking the bay. Mrs. Macquarie was the wife of an early New South Wales governor, and her bench was carved out of sandstone for her so she could have a view of the harbor.

Me and Oma in Mrs. Macquarie's Chair

The lookout point from Mrs. Macquarie's Chair

The tour bus returned us to our hotel by nightfall and we spent the next hour or so learning that restaurants in Australia are not open into the wee hours of the night like they are in America. We ended up having to grab cold sandwiches from a 24-hour mart across the street from our hotel. But we didn’t mind so much as they made for fast eating, after which we were able to go to bed, after what had seemed like a week’s worth of vacation, when in reality, we’d only been at it for two days.

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Monday, June 1

Even though we had explored the Wildlife Conservation our first morning here, the premiere collection of Australian wildlife is located at the famed Taronga Zoo. The most convenient way to access the Taronga Zoo from downtown Sydney is to take the water ferry across the harbor. So that’s what we did. We loaded ourselves onto the ferry and made our way across the harbor and up to the Taronga Zoo.

Zachary and me with our koala friend

I’ve been to several zoos – the Bronx Zoo, Zoo Atlanta the St. Louis zoo and a church petting zoo, but Taronga has by far, the most exotic collection of animals of any zoo I’ve been to. You can have your picture taken with a koala, although most any place with koala bears will charge tourists to have their picture taken with the sleepy marsupials. You can walk through the kangaroo habitat and go right up and touch them.

We took in an incredible bird show sometime in the afternoon and watched a few feedings. The zoo is situated overlooking the Sydney Harbor, and the bird show was backdropped by both the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House. After catching the ferry back, we made our way down to the famed Opera House, aptly named for the city in which it resides and the bay it overlooks.

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Tuesday, June 2

Our last full day is Sydney saw Zachary and I tackle the world-renowned Sydney Bridge Climb, which entails strapping yourself onto the bridge via industrial strength cables and climbing from the base of the bridge all the way to the apex. And then turning around and going back down.

Let me preface our climb to the top of the bridge (134 meters above the bay) by saying I’m not a fan of heights. It’s not so much the actual height, but the assumption that I will fall from that height. So I was tentative going into the climb preparation, but passing up such an incredible opportunity wasn’t an option for me. I was going to do it.

Zachary and I atop the Sydney Harbor Bridge

First they strip you down to your t-shirt and boxers and stuff you into a jumpsuit tailored specifically for this type of climb. It’s fitted with the harness to lock onto the cables to keep the climber secured to the bridge. This helped somewhat in assuaging my fear of falling. Then they outfit you with a hat, sunglasses and an earpiece with a headset, to communicate with the guide and other climbers on the way up. In what was to be the start of perfect travel luck, we had an absolutely gorgeous day for our ascent to the top of the Harbor Bridge. It was warm and sunny with just enough of a breeze to keep us cool.

Our group of climbers consisted of myself, Zachary, our guide and eleven other people. At the front of the group were six American girls, studying abroad for a semester. They were very noisy, chattering away about nothing in particular and swooning over our stereotypical ruggedly handsome Australian tour guide. Behind them was a family of three from France, who also chatted away in rapid French the entire way up and down. Next in line was an American businessman, then me and Zachary and a man from Western Australia brought up the rear.

The first portion of the climb was the most difficult, as we wound our way through metalworks, from beam to beam and over scaffolding. We went up some steep ladders and crisscrossed our way until we reached the base of the structural arches. Once we reached those, it was a straight and easy climb up the hill. We made it to the top in about an hour and a half, as the process was slow when done with fourteen people all attached to each other and the bridge.

The view from the top of the bridge was amazing, and something that I will see again someday. The way that the harbor and the city unfolded in front of your eyes was breathtaking. After spending about twenty minutes identifying different landmarks around the area, we started our descent and arrived back in the lounge three and a half hours after embarking. The lobby contained signed pictures of celebrities that had made their way to the top of the bridge just like we did. The thought that I might have been wearing the same jumpsuit that NCIS’ Tony DiNozzo wore makes the trip a little more exciting.

Michael Weatherly, star of NCIS

Cast of FOX's hit show, Glee

After the bridge climb, we had a relaxing dinner in a small Chinese restaurant, making Australia the closest I’ve been to China while eating Chinese food. We retired back to our hotel and packed our bags. We had an early morning flight out of Sydney the next day. And by midday, we’d be further west, ready to explore the aboriginal grounds of Uluru.

Fantasy Baseball 2010 – Week 9

After fighting my way to a well-earned tie last week, my team weathered a mid-week slump and beat division rival Whipple23 by a score of 9-3-0.

Scott Rolen rounds the bases after his pinch-hit HR

We split the offensive categories, with me winning home runs, RBI and average and Whipple23 taking runs, stolen bases and on-base percentage. Undoubtedly my offensive star this week was Scott Rolen. He went deep three times and drove in seven runs with a .375 average and a .400 on-base percentage. Ronnie Paulino drove in eight runs and Brennan Boesch hit a three-run homer on Saturday that put me in the lead for good in both home runs and RBI. Denard Span had a brutal week, posting a .067 average and a .097 on-base percentage while managing one solitary Sunday run.

My pitching picked up the slack and swept all six categories, finishing the week with six wins, two saves, 55 strikeouts, a 2.31 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP with eight quality starts. A dominant week all around was marred a bit by two brutal outings from closer David Aardsma who pitched in a 10.12 ERA in three appearances this week. Jamie Garcia and Tim Hudson recorded quality starts in all four of their outings, winning two of them. Adam Wainwright gave me my best start of the year, tossing a two-hit, complete game shutout of the Brewers.

Made two moves this week, one minor and one quite major. First, I activated Jorge Posada from the DL and cut ties with John Jaso. I’ll have a hard decision next week when Ivan Rodriguez comes off the DL. Do I cut him or get rid of Ronny Paulino who has been fantastic ever since I picked him up. I’ll probably try and move one of the two of them in a small trade. The major trade of the week saw me trade away both Adrian Gonzalez and Alberto Callaspo, two of my most productive hitters.

Sensing David Aardsma may not be long for Seattle’s closing job, I brought in Neftali Feliz, the high-strikeout closer from Texas and also acquired Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist. I pride myself on being able to find production outside of big name guys so hopefully this will work out for me. A general rule of thumb for me is don’t make a trade if you have to think too hard about it. If you do, then it’s probably not a great value trade for you. I thought about this one a lot, but made the move because ultimately I thought Zobrist would outproduce Callaspo for the remainder of the season, while counting on my depth to replace the production of Gonzalez.

Up next for my squad is Knockers, who is coming off a 7-5 win over the fifth place team this past week, and has a 47-57-4 record overall, putting them in 12th place overall. My 9-3 week runs my record to 73-27-8 overall and keeps me in first place overall.

Replacing Megan Fox

I’m a fan of Transformers. I enjoyed the cartoons as a kid and I’ve so far enjoyed Michael Bay’s adaptation to the big screen. Bay has used a formula for the movies that has resulted in huge successes for his first two installments. 75% explosions, battle scenes and CGI special effects and 25% dressing Megan Fox up in tight little outfits and parading her around with Shia LeBeouf.

Megan Fox

For the most part, this equation has worked perfectly for the typical Transformer fan. But, as Michael Bay prepared for the third Transformer movie, he inexplicably fired Megan Fox. But then he explained it, so I guess that makes is explicably. There’s no red line under explicably so I assume that’s what his explanation makes it.

Michael Bay had Megan Fox gain weight for each of the first tow movies. Not a huge amount of weight mind you as she still couldn’t have tipped the scales at more than 110 pounds soaking wet in either movie, but she weighed more while filming both movies than she does in her own time.

The official story is that Bay and Fox had “differences in opinions” and that Fox was out as Mikaela Banes. However, the differences in opinion seem to be about Fox’s weight. Michael Bay wants more and Megan Fox wants less. I’m a red-blooded American male. There aren’t many of us that find Megan Fox unattractive, but I do prefer the Megan Fox with a little more weight on her as opposed to the sickly-thin version she seems to prefer.

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

But here’s what I don’t get. If you’re going to replace Megan Fox in the series for being too thin, why do it with a Victoria’s Secret model who looks just as in need of a nice meal as Megan Fox was? The list of potential replacements were mostly either swimsuit or lingerie models. Maybe Rosie Huntington-Whiteley has agreed to tack on fifteen to twenty pounds to come up to Michael Bay’s preference.

I’m with Michael Bay on this one. Sometimes his substantial use of practical effects is overdone, and he oversexes the women in his films a lot, but at least he understands that there is such a thing as “too thin” and that there’s nothing wrong with a curvy woman.

Perhaps you noticed that neither woman looks too happy in each picture here. Maybe that’s because no one told them that it’s fine to weigh more than a pencil—even in Los Angeles.