A cold farewell in Tucson


TEP scoreboard reflects results of the Last Game

It was the end of an era, and it went out with no fanfare and hardly a whimper.   Yesterday marked the last spring training game at Tucson Electric Park for the Arizona Diamondbacks.  They move to a new facility next year near Scottsdale, 150 miles to the north.

There were no ceremonies.  No signs.  No PA announcments.  No special commemorative programs. No material for collectors at all.  As if it were an ordinary Cactus League contest.  If you came to the ballpark on Tuesday in ignorance of the Last Game significance, you left the same way.

Baseball spring training sites change regularly.  The last game usually is not news.  But the Tucson ballpark, known as TEP, was the first and only spring training home the Dbacks knew.  They first played here on a blustery, cold Friday night, February  27, in 1998.  They were a National League expansion team then with few players anyone knew.  Only one of those players, Matt Williams, was on the field Tuesday at the end.  He is now the team’s first base coach.

Ben Anderson, the last program seller at TEP: ``It's a sad day for Tucson.''

I was there for the festive First Game 12 years ago.  I drove down from Phoenix through a desert pooled with rainwater courtesy of El Nino.  Those beautiful mountains that border Tucson on the north and east, the Santa Catalinas and the Rincons, seemed to bend under heavy snow.  I stood in the middle of a long line at Gate A waiting to get in.  It was 5:30, an hour and a half before game time.

Another line awaited.  The program seller was having a field day.  Some were buying three and four programs at a shot.  I bought two. 

“Baseball is history, and this is history,” I told someone beside me.  “Tomorrow no one will stand in line to buy a program.”

I found my seat in Section 120, behind the Dbacks dugout near third base.  It was only two sections over from where I sat for yesterday’s Last Game. 

Crowd gathers shortly before 1 o'clock.

As I waited for the First Game to began at 7 o’clock, a man in the seat behind me asked his wife if he could read one of their four programs.  “No,” she said.  “They’re wrapped up and packed.  They’re collector’s items.”

It was getting cold.  A bitter west wind blew through the grandstand.  Almost everyone was buttoned-up.  A few wore ski-masks.

I hustled into the restroom to put on long johns.  I was so layered on top I could barely move.  Thermals under a T-shirt, vest zipped around the neck, a windbreaker pulled over everything.  A cap and gloves.  And I was still chilly.

Autograph seekers came out in droves.  They stood along the field like animals begging players to stop and sign whatever.  Players no doubt had a mandate from management to render signatures without question.  No doubt some official watched this very closely.  I didn’t note it, but I’d bet the Dbacks’ strange little manager, Buck Showalter, did not sign a single one.

Roy Drachman, 92, and a pioneer in bringing spring baseball to Tucson in 1948, threw the ceremonial first pitch. 

The first official pitch ever at TEP, a strike, was delivered by the Dbacks Willie Blair to Ray Durham, the second baseman for the Chicago White Sox.  Camera flashbulbs went off everywhere, like it was the start of the World Series.  Durham struck out on a 1-2 pitch.  The White Sox shared the facility then with the Dbacks. 

Chicago’s Frank Thomas got the first hit, a single in the first inning with two out.  Teammate Albert Belle slammed a 3-2 pitch into the left field bullpen in the fifth inning for the first home run at TEP.

Tony Batista, the second baseman who in mid-season would become the everyday shortstop, singled in the second inning, the Dbacks first hit in the new park.   No one seemed to care that the Dbacks won, 6-5.  They were doomed for a poor finish in regular season.

For that first game, the Dbacks batting order:  Devon White cf, Jay Bell 2b, Jorge Fabregas c, Matt Williams 3b, Brent Brede rf, Karim Garcia lf, Travis Lee 1b, Batista 2b, and the pitcher, Blair.  Much was expected from Garcia, and he did become somewhat famous in a round-about way.  His trade to the Detroit Tigers brought to Arizona one of its all-time greats, Luis Gonzalez.

During the seventh-inning stretch and the singing of “Take Me Out to The Ballgame,” a tribute was made to Harry Caray, the famed Chicago Cubs broadcaster who had recently died.

A crowd, announced at 11,298, set a Tucson spring training record.

Openings generally fare better than closings.  And the Dbacks last game at TEP on a roasting, sunny  Tuesday afternoon fit the bill.  The good-bye turnout pulled in less than half of the first game back in 1998.  At 5,184, it was lower by almost 600 than this year’s opener on March 4.

Scores mean nothing in the spring.  For the record, the Texas Rangers won, 4-2, behind a big right-handed pitcher, Colby Lewis, who played in Japan the last two seasons.  Oddly, he bested the ace of the Dbacks staff, Dan Haren who pitched nicely but got no run support.

Pitchers duel found Dbacks ace Dan Haren losing to . . .

The Dbacks are predicted to play more competitively this season.  They’ve signed their two young stars, Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds, to longterm, multi-million dollar contracts.  They’ve added a top-caliber first baseman in Adam LaRoche.  But the pitching again is in question.  In question because its former Cy Young winner, Brandon Webb, has not fully recovered from arm surgery.  And it is the first full-season for the manager, A. J. Hinch.

the Rangers' Colby Lewis, who had not pitched in the major leagues in two seasons.

The Last Game ended at 3:39 p.m. according to the scoreboard clock.  The Last Pitch thrown by a Dbacks pitcher came from the right arm of reliever Blaine Boyer at 3:27.  Honors for The Last Out for the Dbacks went to backup catcher John Hester, a grounder to third base. 

A sense of history escapes most Arizonans.  They care little about the past.  Only the future matters.  After all this isn’t New York, Boston or Chicago where the history of the Yankees, Red Sox or Cubs mean a great deal, where sentimentality oozes out at the ballpark.  The departure of the Dbacks from TEP was as cold as the weather for the opener all those years ago.

The thing that irked me most about the Last Game was this.  I wanted to shoot a final photo of the TEP  scoreboard in left field.  I wanted to shoot it with the final stats on the board.  Scores by inning, the summary of runs, hits and errors.  Maybe even the last batter, Hester, with his jersey number would be left up.  But no.

I took a quick photo, thinking there was a possibility the scoreboard would be turned off quickly, and began walking to get a closer shot with better quality, better angle.  

I had maybe 100 yards to go.  And, bang, as I got halfway there, the board went blank as if killed by a bullet to the heart, just like this was any other game at TEP.  You would’ve thought in most ballparks, given the same situation, this wouldn’t have happened.  The scoreboard would’ve stayed lit longer to let the moment sink in.    

I should’ve known better.  After all, I have lived in the arid lands for more than three decades.

Reliever Blaine Boyer delivers last Diamondbacks pitch in the 9th inning to the Rangers Matt Brown, who flied out to center field.


A Tea Party rally in Phoenix

Tea Party Express arriving at the capitol

I stood at the curb this afternoon as the Tea Party Express rolled by in two buses and stopped in front of the capitol in Phoenix.  It was about 2:30 and waiting for the rally to begin on a sunny, very warm Sunday was a small but edgy crowd of about 1,000 disenchanted Americans, almost every one of them white. 

The Express is on a meandering course to Washington, DC, with stops after this one in numerous cities across America.  Flagstaff, Arizona, is the next one.  The ultra-right Tea Party movement’s aim is to “take back America” from those attempting to turn it into a socialist nation.

Distrust of Obama runs deep

I was there to take the temperature of anger directed toward the new healthcare reform law, liberals who are “ruining this country” and President Obama.  Not necessarily in that order.

The headliner for the Tea Partiers was a strange choice, Joe the Plumber.  That’s Joe the Plumber made famous by Arizona’s Republican senator John McCain during  his 2008 presidential bid.  That’s the same John McCain many in this crowd seem to think is part of the problem in Washington.  Without their star, Sarah Palin, the Partiers apparently will have a hard time mustering meaningful turnouts.

Wanting their country back

There were flags galore.  The American flag and the standard yellow and blue flags, “Don’t Tread on Me.”  Most impressive were the homemade signs.  Anguished people bearing their souls.  One depicted Obama putting a flaming match to the U.S. Consititution and saying, “Shhh!  We’re fundamentally changing the country.”  Another took on a more violent slant:  “Veteran or Terrorist?  I Can Be Either,” with the last four words underlined. 

The rally itself was deflating, the entertainment mediocre, the speakers uninspiring.  Many in the crowd seemed more interested in shooting photographs, buying souvenirs and hobnobing with local politicians trying to latch on to the Tear Party base. 

Perhaps the best moment occurred off-stage and out of my view.  A woman friend told me she heard a male rallyer shout, “Let’s make the White House white,” and was promptly told by a female bystander to knock it off, that “we” don’t want to win that way.

I left long before Joe the Plumber spoke, if indeed he did.  It was another failed moment for me to hear the bitter hatred I’d seen on television last week.  No wild-eyed beasts, no rallyers brandishing guns. 

GOP office-seekers Dean Martin (governor), left, and J. D. Hayworth (U.S. Senate)

And I came away from this fizzled rally feeling somehow encouraged, hopeful that the civil war some predict will not occur.  Many at the rally do not yet see the sweeping changes that have occurred while they slept.  They are only beginning to see that whites will be in the minority in the not too distant future.  They do not understand how their healthcare has been dictated by a black president, a female Speaker of the House and, indirectly, by a Jewish homosexual, all Democrats and fairly elected. 

“We want our country back,” they say.  But it is too late and that is more than a bit frightening.

Cantor’s lie will last a long time

Eric Cantor’s lie that his Richmond, Virginia, office was targeted by a gunshot will not die anytime soon.  It will not die even though Cantor’s assertion was discredited by police.  The facts do not penetrate our brains.  We are hopeless puppets of our biases.  All of us.

Congressman Cantor, one of the Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, tried to deflect charges that his own party incited violence toward Democrats over healthcare reform.  He did it by pointing to his own experiences.  To unrevealed tapes of phone threats and to the bullet hole.  While Richmond police did find a bullet hole in a window of a Cantor campaign office, a spokesman said today, they saw it as unintentional.  

“It was a stray bullet from random gunfire,” a police spokesman said.

The story, like the window, had a hole in it from the start.  While the bullet did penetrate the window, it hit the blinds and fell innocently to the floor.  Obviously not a direct shot at the office but a bullet with no steam coming down from on high.  And Cantor’s office was located in a cluster of offices, not in his district and had no signs identifying it as connected to the Congressman.  Cantor knew his assertion was bogus when he announced it at a news conference.  But he put it out anyway for political gain.

But no matter.  To many Republicans, the office was definitely a target of some left-wing loonie.  One posted on the Huffington Post his opinion Richmond police failed to investigate the incident with vigor.  We will see if Cantor himself tries to clarify the matter for his supporters.  I suspect he will not.

The matter is bigger than Cantor’s lie.  It, like other myths, is a small piece of the American insanity that will go on for as long as we breathe.  As an op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times pointed out, “People tend to seek out information that is consistent with their own views.”  In other words, we are susceptible to propaganda that fits the bill of our biases. 

Brendan Nyhan, the author of `The Fight Is Over, the Myths Remain” and a political scientist at the University of Michigan,  told of an experiment he conducted with another political scientist at Georgia State.  Mock news articles were presented to readers.  Some contained misleading statements that were later corrected.

In one telling experiment, Nyhan wrote, “We found a proportion of conservatives who believed that President George W. Bush’s tax cuts actually increased federal revenue grew from 36 percent to 67 percent when they were provided with evidence against this claim.”  

Many of us are that way.  So hard-headed against corrected facts that, said Nyhan, “(we) end up strengthening the misconception in (our) own minds.”

I am guilty too.  I came home yesterday after listening via radio to a young Texas woman wail to Sean Hannity, the conservative propagandist,  her greatest fears, that the elections this fall will be barred by President Obama so his Democratic cohorts in the Senate and House will not have to face re-election.  I told Nebra how silly this woman was.  A school teacher, educated and thinking like that.  “Where do these people come from?”

Then Nebra rightfully reminded me of what I voiced two years ago with the 2008 elections looming.  I stewed that W and his dirty trickster, Karl Rove, would create a terrorist act and cancel the elections so he could stay in office indefinitely.  How smart was that?

In the end, we are left with the biases of the right and left forever.  Our only real salvation then as a nation are the few among us receptive to facts and a search for truth.  A very small group for certain. But one that will hopefully direct our course onto solid ground. 

In the meantime, you can bet the family jewels on one thing.  There will be those who believe the Eric Cantor lie forever.

A modest hero or a fearful one? But a hero

A few days ago I came across a woman who had collapsed at a healthcare thank-you rally for Congressman Harry Mitchell.  I thought looking at her that she had died.  The woman, “Clair,” in fact lived according to later reports, thanks perhaps to a bystander who administered CPR.

A story on azcentral.com said the man who may have saved Clair’s life soon disappeared.  No one apprently knew who he was.  I thought it strange he did not stick around.  I thought it strange anyway until I happened to talk to a nurse this morning at a clinic near where I live.

The nurse said healthcare professionals who are not on the job and perform CPR can be sued if the outcome for  the ill person is not good.  She said her employer’s insurance will cover her only if she is on the timeclock for the clinic, say, at the time.   So professionals have to purchase their own individual liability insurance, she said.   And even then, it doesn’t prevent a court appearance, a settlement, loss of time on the job.

It is a reason, the nurse said, that many professionals in the healthcare field, including doctors, are reluctant to come forward in emergencies on an airplane, on the street, whereever.  They can be sued.

Perhaps that is why the Good Samitan, the one who gave CPR to Clair, vanished.  He was a professional, he did not know if Clair would live or die and he didn’t want to be caught in the crosshairs of a trial lawyer’s eyes.  It is a shame your life might come down to a decision like this. 

I’d like to think if it were me and I had a chance to save a  life, I would do it, and I would do it without hesitation.    But you never know what you’ll do until it happens.  You may wait a moment too long, say, to begin CPR, trying to assess the situation with a life in the balance.

In that sense, I think, the man who performed CPR on Clair is a hero.  I watched him, whoever he was, professional or not, he did not hesitate. That moment of decision when he jumped down on his knees and began pressing the chest, that was what separated him in my eyes from the masses.  If a lawsuit was on his mind before, it wasn’t then.  He had forced it away.   He was technically prepared, he was focused, he acted, he gave Clair his best shot.

The `Thank you, Harry’ rally turns dark

Mitchell rally ready to start


I took the light rail out to Tempe yesterday afternoon in search of the faces of venom and hate I’d seen recently on TV.   I wanted to understand, I mean really understand, why the foes of  healthcare reform have taken the low road.   Spitting on politicians, calling them names, berating a man in a wheelchair with Parkinson’s. 

My target was a small rally of Congressman Harry Mitchell supporters.  They wanted to thank him for his yes-vote two days before.  Mitchell, a centrist Democrat representing Arizona’s 5th District, was one of 219 U.S. House members who voted for and passed the healthcare-reform legislation that will do much to change some of the inequalities that have existed in America far too long. 

The legislation predictably generated a despicable display of anger from those who favored the status quo.  Mostly from Republicans and Tea Partiers, the ones who live on the far side of the twilight zone.  I thought perhaps these wild-eyed foes of equality would show up at the rally too and create another nasty scene. 

So I arrived at 6th Street Park about 3 o’clock only hours after President Obama had signed the healthcare bill into law.  A young woman with a bullhorn was directing a very small assembly of about 30 men and women.  Many held the distributed blue signs, “Thank You Harry.”  The plan was to walk over a block to the downtown district and march up and down Mill Avenue. 

The Harry marchers, whose numbers would eventually rise to about 80, practiced some chants and were asked to make calls to Mitchell’s office in Scottsdale and thank him for his vote.   Then at 3:15 they set off toward Mill behind a banner that read, “Thank You, Harry/AZ Wants Health Reform.”    Police hovered in the background. 

I turned to a sedate, nicely coiffed woman on a bench near me and asked, “What do you think?” 

“I didn’t even know there were Democrats in Arizona,” she said with a thin, smug smile.  Another reminder how heavily starched this state is with Republicans. 

The rally soon fizzled after woman's collapse


I tailed the parade as it turned onto the main drag.  But suddenly the chanting stopped.  I heard a voice, “Someone fell.”  

I edged up to a place on the sidewalk in front of the Big Fat Greek Restaurant.  A marcher, a woman of maybe 50 years old, lay on her back.  A male bystander tried to resuscitate her.  He pushed hard on her chest numerous times, then felt her neck for a pulse.  He shook his head.  Then tried CPR again. 

I looked at her face and eyes.  I had seen death before.  I thought she was gone.  Someone said her name was “Clair.”  She apparently came to the rally alone.  (The Arizona Republic website, azcentral.com, reported later today the unidentified woman survived and the unknown bystander probably saved her life with his resuscitation efforts.) 

 The Thank You Harry marchers came to a standstill at the corner of 5th Street.  They tried to focus and chant but a darkness had set in on their spirits.  Perhaps they contemplated the one healthcare issue that will never be solved.  Dying.  

A few drivers on the busy street honked their car horns in support, and a female bus driver stuck her arm out the window and gave a thumbs-up. But that was about it. 

At 3rd Street the group began to drift apart.  It wasn’t even four o’clock.  The rally was supposed to last until 5. 

My mission was futile.  There were no protestors, no taunters, no angry faces to study.  There was only this.  

One of the marchers stopped to engage a small group of young street people.  She tried to explain the new healthcare.  They did not grasp it at all, obviously children left behind.  Later, one of them, an emboldened blond-haired man shouted to the wind from across the street.  “What about the homeless?  We ain’t got shit.” 

And so it ended.  I had set out to look into the faces of hatred and anger and perhaps witness violence.  Instead I had only stared down into the face of death.  Or near death as it fortunately turned out. 

(I published a similar post yesterday, March 23, but it was unintentionally erased by the digital gods.  I rewrote this post from memory and notes).

In a perfect world . . .

In a perfect world we would not need Big Government.   We would not need government at all.  We certainly would not need government to administer healthcare.  But it is not a perfect world.  It is not even close to a perfect world.

One of the founders of America, Benjamin Franklin, signed on to the U.S. Constitution with doubts that democracy would work.  He saw too many crooks.  The system could be gamed.  And that is what has happened.  That is why healthcare reform in America is needed.

Anyone who believes here in the 21st century we even live in a real democracy is a fool.  What we live in is something quite different.  It is called an oligarchy.  It is government by the few, for the selfish and greedy benefit of the few.  Most Americans live as slaves to the whims of corporations and their bought-for politicians, be it Republican or Democrat.  The few dictate to us from thrones on high.  They say take it or leave it.  And that’s what has happened to healthcare in this country. 

Health is something most people have no control over.  Disease and horrible injuries happen. And the  healthcare corporations have answered the bell with this.  They raise rates to the extreme in the name of profit.  They make insurance all but unaffordable.  They cut you off when you become too sick, your bills become too high.  The corporations do not care about you.  Many in the oligarchy do not even pay a fair share of taxes.  They do loophholes and off-shore banking through shady schemes and high-dollar lawyers.  They lie about their income with arcane bookkeeping.  They do not even care about America. 

That is one of the most amazing things about the healthcare debate.  The protestors are the same ones getting the screw.  Just like most of us.  They are so passionate it boggles the mind.  They bleed rancor and hate.  

The so-called debate was not about issues of substance.  It was about something else.  It was colored by racism and hate, fear, I suspect,  that minorities and the poor might gain a leg up on the club of rich white men that dictate our lives.

 I do not recognize these protestors of healthcare-reform who spit in the face of black politicians and yell, “Kill the bill, nigger.”   Or those who shout “homo” at the lawmaker Barney Frank.  Or taunt and scream at a man in a wheelchair with Parkinson’s.  Where do these protestors come from? Not America surely.   Are they paid by the conservatives and their handlers?  What has happened to this country in the last 30 years?   Whatever it is, it is not good.  Whatever it is, it is tearing America apart.

I for one am encouraged by the passage of healthcare reform.  It is not perfect, I know.  But it is a start, yes.  A change in direction for a country that so dearly needs a new wind, a movement in an upward direction.  I do not want to live in a country that looks more and more like a Third World nation everyday.  

And I have come to this realization.  Our oligarchy has lied to us, stolen from us, let the sick die too early and killed our children in needless wars, like in Iraq, pre-emptive wars generated for only corporate profits.  Think oil.  Iraq had “better targets,” Donald Rumsfeld told us.  Yes, while the perpetrators of 9/11 ran free in Tora Bora.  “I don’t think about him much anymore,” W said of Bin Laden.  More than that, the oligarchy will continue to inflict harm on this country unless it is checked, regulated.  Only government can do that.  The oligarchy will not police itself.

Our oligarchy’s strategy is simple.  Keep the pot stirred with their talk-show propagandists.  Limbaugh, Hannity, that crowd.  They intend to make sure that Americans do not unite.  Divide and conquer is the goal.  And they are very good at division. 

If I have a choice, a choice between the corporate oligarchy that has disgraced this country for decades and the many unknowns of socialism and healthcare, I will take my chances with socialism every time.  The oligarchy and capitalism had a chance, a wide open door, to make a better America, and failed.  Failed miserably.

Call me a Commie if you want.

Vernal equinox 2010

Looking south precisely at 10:32 a.m. from central Phoenix

The vernal equinox arrived at 10:32 a.m. (MST) here in Phoenix, Arizona.  The temperature was 66 F, with a light breeze from the east, not a cloud in sight. 

The photo above was taken at the precise time of the vernal equinox, at the moment the sun shines vertically above the equator.  I used the atomic clock shown online by the Time and Frequency Division of the NIST Physics Laboratory.  The Lab is responsible for providing the official time in the United States. 

The weather at the time of the equinox was not unusual.  Phoenix has enjoyed a sunny warming trend since the last winter storm passed through on March 9.  

The high temperture today was 76 F in midafternoon according to the sensor in my backyard.  By evening cirrus streaked the sky.  The low last night was 49. 

The Mountain Standard Time may seem confusing.  Phoenix and most of Arizona do not observe daylight savings time.