Sunday, December 26, 2010

Braves' roster for 2011 season taking shape

I know it's winter, but I can't resist writing about a little baseball. The Atlanta Braves finished second last year in the National League Eastern Division, and the team needs to do a lot of work if it hopes to overtake the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011.

Of course, the biggest difference in the team will be Fredi Gonzalez taking over for the retired Bobby Cox as manager. Following a legend is never easy, and it will be interesting to see how patient the fans are with him.

As for the players, the biggest acquisition so far has been getting Dan Uggla from the Florida Marlins. The power-hitting second baseman hit 33 home runs and drove in 105 runs in 2010. As part of the trade, the Braves gave up Omar Infante who did a little bit of everything for Atlanta. Infante hit above .300 for most of last year and filled in admirably for Nate McLouth in center field.

Though the Braves desperately need Uggla's power, I have concerns about McLouth taking Infante's place. Apparently, he will get the first shot at winning his old position back, and he must step it up. Unexpectedly, McLouth's offensive skills went down the toilet in 2010, and he hit only .190. If he does not rebound, the line-up will have a gaping hole in it.

However, a trio of Uggla, catcher Brian McCann, and right fielder Jason Heyward should give the team some pop. Uggla's arrival means NL All-Star Martin Prado will move to left field. Sometimes moving to another position can impact a player's offense so let's hope that does not happen to Prado.

Pitching wise, the Braves have depth in the bullpen, but who the closer will be is anybody's guess at this point. Billy Wagner retired after last season, and there appears to be no clear-cut candidate at this point.

Left-hander George Sherrill and right-hander Scott Linebrink have been added, but they both smell like set-up men. My gut instinct tells me the team may take the dreaded closer-by-committee approach that always makes my stomach queasy. I get woozy just thinking about it.

The strength of the team remains the starting pitching. Anchored by Tim Hudson, the rotation should keep the Braves in most games. Mike Minor likely will get the first shot to earn the fifth starter slot. Other than that, the starters look good to go.

Philadelphia is clearly the best team in the division, but if the bullpen and offense come together, the Braves should have a good chance to compete for another trip to the playoffs.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to all

The Christmas season is remarkable. For Christians, the holiday is meant as a commemoration of the time Jesus entered into the world as a baby. Despite His importance, His entrance was in a very unlikely way.

Christians believe Jesus is the Messiah who came into the world to act as a sacrifice for our sins, and then be gloriously resurrected.

Whether a person is a believer or not, there can be no argument that Jesus is the most important figure in our world's history. For believers, His importance is obvious. For non-believers, His teachings have impacted them in ways they likely do not even realize.

In spite of His significance, His entrance into the world was in just about the most humble way possible. With no lodging available, He was born in an animal stable.

While His birth was re-created in Christmas pageants all across Coffee County in recent weeks, none of them did the event justice.

This is not meant as an insult to any of the organizations that did this. I am sure they were all tastefully done and appropriately emphasized the importance of the event. It is just that this is one of those times where it is impossible to recapture the power of the original event.

The circumstances of His birth must have been difficult at best and should be a lesson for us all. In our world, the emphasis is often on wealth and events that are cosmetically beautiful.

Frankly, a homeless child being born in a stable is an event that most of us would go out of our way to avoid. In our current day, it is like seeing a homeless person approaching then stepping to the other side of the street to prevent interacting with him.

Again, that is not meant as an insult. It is just part of our human nature. Simply put, there are times we do not want to deal with situations like that.

It is horrible that we sometimes do things like that, but it would be worse if we ignored that we do it. When we do this, it is the opposite of what the Christmas spirit is supposed to be.

If we all believe that everything happens for a reason, then there has to be a significant reason why Jesus entered into the world the way He did. I am sure there are lots of reasons, but I keep going back to the humility of it all.

If there is one characteristic lacking from America’s celebration of Christmas, it is humility. We live in a culture where bigger is better, and our approach to Christmas is an example of this.

The overemphasis on commercialism during the Christmas season is a primary culprit in all this. In most stores, decorations go up well before Thanksgiving in an attempt to get us in the spending mood.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, there are far more news reports on the spending habits of people than the actual reason the holiday is being commemorated. I agree that spending is important from an economic point of view, but what does it really have to do with the essence of Christmas? Nothing.

The words I just wrote are nothing new, and I could point to countless examples that back that up. For example, all of us have watched 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' and one of its themes is searching for the meaning of Christmas in a sea of commercialism.

And that show was made in 1965.

If nothing else, I want all of you to be in a more reflective mood about this holiday.

Do not let the accumulation of 'stuff' stand in the way of a true appreciation of the holiday.

Take off the rose-colored glasses and see it for what it really is.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Always think before typing

We all face the struggle of controlling our emotions. Adversity enters our life, and before we realize it, we say something in the heat of the moment that does a lot of damage.

Of course, after we make this statement, the adversity we find ourselves in becomes worse. Instead of having to deal with the original problem, we must now deal with the impulsive statements we have made.

No one is immune from this. We have all experienced a moment where we were making a point, and as soon as we said it, we realize it was the wrong thing to say. If possible, we want to catch the words as they are leaving our mouths and stuff them back down our throats.

However, once those words have been spoken, it is too late. The damage has been done, and the clean-up must begin.

With the many different ways we communicate these days, the spoken word is not the only way we can get in trouble. Communication tools like Twitter and Facebook can get us all in trouble if we start sending out messages when we are mad.

Though spoken words can cause a lot of damage, the written word often carries more credibility and impact.

Though there are likely many reasons why this is the case, the primary reason is that people generally pause and give thought before writing a message to somebody.

Because people are supposed to have given that extra thought, it makes a deeper impression with people.

The big problem is when people do not think through what they are about to type and quickly send it out to the public.

Consider the recent plight of Steve Johnson who is a wide receiver with the Buffalo Bills in the National Football League.

In late November, he dropped what would have been a game-winning touchdown pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bills have had a terrible season and defeating the Steelers would have been a huge upset. His dropped pass played a big role in his team's loss.

Here is what he wrote on Twitter in the aftermath in an outburst against God: "I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS (IS) HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW??? I’LL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!! THX THO..."

This made national news, and the focus of the national media was quite intense on Johnson. He became the man who blamed God for his mistake.

While not condoning his comments, we have to be careful not to be too harsh toward him. As stated earlier in this column, we have all said something in the heat of the moment that we wish we could take back.

When we send out written messages for large groups to read, it is difficult to take them back when we have put a foot in our mouth. It always seems that more people read about the original mistake than the apology that comes after it.

We also see this occur on much smaller stages. On my Facebook account, more than once I have read comments made by friends when they were obviously frustrated or angry who then came back later to apologize for what they wrote.

Our thoughts are tough to control. We are all human, and we will occasionally make mistakes. We just need to be more careful about how we express ourselves when we are experiencing the bitter whirlwind of life.

As convenient as technological breakthroughs like Twitter and Facebook are, we have to be very careful how we use them.

As for Johnson, let us hope he learned from his mistake.

If nothing else, he taught us all a lesson that could save us problems somewhere down the road.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Think it's been cold lately? Look at Barrow, Alaska

The temperatures thawed a bit today, and it ended a week or so of highs in the 20s and 30s. Temperatures that low are rough stuff for us in Tennessee, but if you really want to talk cold weather, look toward Barrow, AK.

Barrow is the northernmost permanent settlement in the United States. I occasionally post information about the town when it is really hot here in the summer, and I need a dose of cool weather.

Right now, it is brutally cold there. The high there on Friday is forecasted to be minus three degrees. Saturday it will warm up to a balmy zero degrees. The high Sunday is expected to be minus three degrees again.

I do not know how the folks up there do it. However, the cold they deal with on a day-to-day basis puts our cold snap in perspective.


Monday, December 13, 2010

The first measurable snowfall of December

Well, it isn't officially winter yet, but it sure appears like it after the last couple of days. My trusty ruler showed that I got four inches of snow in my yard. There wasn't as much on the streets, but that can't be a bad thing. Does this mean a snowy winter is on the way?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Remembering a legend: The music of Otis Redding

(Note: A few months ago, I posted an article about Otis Redding that is very similar to this one. Friday was the 43rd anniversary of his death so I thought I would present it again.)

We all have hobbies and activities we enjoy. For me, I have had a lifelong appreciation of music and the people that create this special type of art.

I have listened to a lot of music in my life. When a person listens to that much music, it is easy for it to blend together into one big jumble. Because of this, it takes something or somebody really special to stand out above everything else.

When it comes to singing, soul singer Otis Redding is the best I have ever heard. Yesterday was the 43rd anniversary of his death, so his talent has been on my heart in recent days.

He conveyed emotion better than any other singer. It does not matter whether it was joy or pain; Otis brought it forward in purity. And not many other singers have done that.

Beginning in 1963, when he released the single 'These Arms of Mine,' it became clear that he was somebody special.

Of course, his career would not last long. The plane crash that took his life happened only four years later. Fortunately he left us with a lifetime's worth of music.

For anybody looking for an introduction to his music, I recommend The Best of Otis Redding that was originally released in 1972. It is fairly comprehensive, and it includes his most well-known songs as well as other essential tunes.

Redding's songs found success on the rhythm and blues chart almost from the beginning, but it took a while for him to dent the mainstream pop chart. However, by 1965, he started seeing some success.

'I've Been Loving You Too Long (to Stop Now)' and 'Respect' both made the top 40 on the pop chart that year. Of course, Aretha Franklin would have much more success with 'Respect' two years later. However, at this point, Redding seemed on his way.

In 1966, 'Try a Little Tenderness,' 'Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song),' and his version of The Rolling Stones 'Satisfaction' all made the top 40. Not huge hits, but good enough to keep the momentum going.

I am a lifelong Tennessean, and it is especially satisfying that most of his record making took place in Memphis. Backed many times by Booker T. and the MG's and the Mar-Keys on horns, his music represented the voice of soul music in the South.

Though music made by African-Americans at that time was being dominated by Motown in Detroit, soul music from the South was making strong in-roads on the charts.

Redding's most well-known appearance happened about six months before his death at the Monterey International Pop Festival in California. When comparing his performance there with other live performances, there was an urgency that seemingly was never there previously.

Of course, Redding was a masterful performer his entire career, but there was something about the Monterey performance that was mesmerizing. He and the band performed in a frenzy. He seemed determined to wring out every last drop of his talent.

Redding was playing in front of a huge audience that demographically was different from his usual audience.

He had to have known that this performance could propel his career to places it had never been. Whatever the case, he delivered a remarkable performance.

By January of the following year, he would have his only number one hit on the pop chart with '(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay.' Redding was dead by then, but at least his music made it to the large audience that his talent deserved.

When reviewing Redding's musical catalogue, he produced a remarkable amount of music. After all, he was only 26 when he died.

With Christmas approaching, a good gift for any music lovers in your life would be a CD by Redding.

A person cannot go wrong listening to his music.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lane Kiffin completes mediocre first year at USC

When former Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin dumped the Volunteers in favor of the University of Southern California, it was believed that prosperity awaited him. Unfortunately for him, the NCAA dropped the hammer and put the program on probation earlier this year. So, entering the season, it was known the Trojans could not go to a bowl. However, I do not believe many expected the lackluster season they just experienced.

USC closed the season last Saturday with a win against UCLA. The Trojans finished with an 8-5 record, and there were some puzzling losses. A close loss to Washington was inexcusable as well as a loss at home to Notre Dame. Of course, the Trojans did not have starting quarterback Matt Barkley for that game, but the Irish was playing with its back-up quarterback as well.

Also, USC got stomped by Oregon State and gave up more than 50 points to Oregon.

Despite the probation, the program is still deep in resources, so Kiffin should have delivered more this year. Years two and three are when the impact of the NCAA penalties should really hit home. Because of this, can we expect losing seasons out of USC in the near future?

As upset as Tennessee fans were when he left, it may not have been such a bad thing.

This year, Kiffin delivered a mediocre performance in a league that is vastly inferior to the Southeastern Conference. If he could not compete in the PAC-10, how could we have expected him to do so here?

I have no hard feelings toward Kiffin for jilting Tennessee. USC was his dream job, and he took it.

However, based on what I have observed this year, I am happier to have Derek Dooley as our head coach than Lane Kiffin.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ten great Beatles' songs you never hear on the radio

The Beatles recorded more than 200 songs from 1962-70, and because of the huge volume of hits they had, some great songs have fallen between the cracks. Here is list of 10 songs that I really like, but I rarely hear them on the radio.

'And Your Bird Can Sing' – From the Revolver album, this one is an example of Bob Dylan's writing influence on John Lennon during this period. Taken at face value, the lyrics are nonsense, but the purpose of the words is to provoke an image instead of presenting a narrative. In this respect, the song foreshadows 'Strawberry Fields Forever.'

'Got To Get You Into My Life' – Also from the Revolver album, the song presents the urgency of love, but with a clever arrangement. A prominent horn section propels the song to the point it almost overwhelms the performance of the band. Additionally, Paul McCartney's vocals are excellent. A hidden gem for 10 years, it was released in 1976 as a single as part of a Beatles' compilation album, and it reached number seven on the Billboard pop chart.

'Across the Universe' – Though a lot of Phil Spector's work on the Let It Be album has received sharp criticism over the years, he deserves credit for his work on this great song. The choral and orchestral arrangements he added elevated the song to match John Lennon's memorable lyrics. Seek this song out.

'Hey Bulldog' – Released on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, the song rocks in a no frills way. Some sources state that this is the last song Lennon and McCartney jointly wrote. If so, it was a nice way to go out.

'Dear Prudence' – As the second song on The Beatles (known commonly as 'The White Album'), the song acts as a lovely and gentle counterpoint to the rocking 'Back in the U.S.S.R.' that opened the album. Allegedly written about actress Mia Farrow's sister while the band was in India visiting the Maharishi, it is a genuinely sweet song about coaxing a shy woman out of her shell.

'I'm So Tired' – Also on 'The White Album.' this song is an insomniacs worst nightmare. Written by Lennon, it is a sequel of sorts to his 'I'm Only Sleeping.' That song was about the joys of sleeping and appeared on Revolver. In this song, the lyrics delve into the terror of simply not being able to sleep. Clocking in at just over two minutes, the song is raw down to the bone.

'If I Needed Someone' – From Rubber Soul, this song is easily the best of George Harrison's early songs. The words are pretty standard and revolve around the gentle rejection of a woman's advances. However, the harmonies are great and the guitar work is reminiscent of the Byrds around this time. If nothing else, the song is a milestone in the growth of George's songwriting.

'You Never Give Me Your Money' – Appearing on Abbey Road, the song kicks off the pop symphony that dominated the second half of that album. Using hindsight, the song appears to bemoan the financial problems the band was having with their company, Apple. The problems played a big role in splitting the band, but at least McCartney got a good song out of it.

'It's All Too Much' – Another song from the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, it clocks in at longer than six minutes and is a crisp jam. Most notable for some searing Velvet Underground-style feedback, it gave the band a chance to stretch its legs. Written by Harrison, the lyrics are fine, but the band is what shines on this one.

'I Will' – Also from 'The White Album' it is a sweet love song written by McCartney. Driven by acoustic guitars, it fits the tone of some of his other songs on that album like 'Blackbird' and 'Mother Nature's Son.'

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Why not shop local?

The race to buy Christmas gifts is well under way. We can't read newspapers or turn on the television without seeing advertisements that entice us to visit businesses who promise great deals.

The same goes when we open our mailboxes each day. I pity our postal employees this time of year because the volume of mail is so large.

A big chunk of that mail is from many of the same businesses that try to entice us with television and newspaper advertisements. They want us in their stores. Plus, they will also use radio, the Internet, phone calls, and other forms of media to get us to walk through their doors.

In other words, the competition for the dollars we will spend this month is intense.

December makes or breaks many businesses each year. This is true during normal years, but it is especially true now because of our nation's economic problems.

The national and state unemployment rate remains above nine percent, but the under-employment rate is probably closer to 16 or 17 percent.

Money is tight for a lot of people, and they have to be very particular about where they spend it.

With this in mind, why not spend this money here locally? This seems like a no-brainer, but the allure of big cities often draws us away from Coffee County when it comes to spending our holiday money.

In the last decade or so, Murfreesboro has become a boomtown of sorts. Many of the services people formerly traveled to Nashville to get can now be gotten in Rutherford County.

Basically, a 60-mile trip has been cut in half. Though this is great in some respects, why not take the next logical step? Make that trip even shorter by spending money right here in Coffee County.

After all, we stand to save a nice amount of money by spending our money locally. We save money on gas and meals when we shop here.

Gas prices will likely remain around the $2.60 or $2.70 a gallon level through the rest of the year. Even if a person makes only two or three trips to Murfreesboro to shop, the cost of just getting there adds up quickly.

And do not forget about extra costs like meals. How often do we travel to Murfreesboro or Nashville and not stop somewhere to eat? Even if we stop at a fast food restaurant, the cost adds up quickly if we do that on multiple occasions.

Additionally, sales tax is a primary form of revenue generation for our local and state governments. While a provocative debate can be had regarding whether the sales tax is a fair tax on the poor, it remains a powerful force.

As the cliché goes, money spent here will stay here (for the most part). In a time of economic distress like we are experiencing, doesn’t it make sense to protect ourselves before branching out to other places?

Again, that seems like a no-brainer, but common sense can vary from person to person.

Please keep in mind that it is understood that we cannot purchase all we want or need here locally. For example, if a person wants to buy a special coin for a loved one, the primary way that can be done is through the federal government’s mint.

Of course, there is the possibility the coin could be purchased through a local bank so even obvious examples like this one could have some local options.

The bottom line is that it is more important than ever to spend our money here locally.

Money is a primary way our community remains strong. There are many elements regarding what makes a strong community, but finances play a critical role.

So, shop locally.

In the long run, the winner is 'us.'

Thursday, December 2, 2010

'The Nightly Daily' nailed it: Tennessee finished 6-6 and will go bowling

Back on August 5, The Nightly Daily presented its annual preview of how the Tennessee Volunteers football team would do in the upcoming season (click here to read that). Though my predictions are often woefully off base, my thoughts regarding the team were pretty much on the mark this year.

In August, I picked the Vols to finish 6-6 and go to a bowl. With last Saturday's win against Kentucky, the Volunteers completed the regular season 6-6 and appear headed to the Music City Bowl. At this point, the Music City Bowl berth is not official, but that is where all the speculation is pointing.

All things considered, I think this is an outstanding achievement. On Halloween, the Vols were 2-6 and were headed nowhere fast. However, the team went 4-0 in November to become bowl eligible. I concede the Vols November schedule was weak (the four teams that were played completed the season with a combined 13-35 record). Still, a bowl is a bowl.

When breaking down the schedule before the season, I correctly picked five of the six teams Tennessee would beat. My only mistakes were saying we would beat Oregon and lose to Kentucky. Looking back, picking a win against Oregon appears ridiculous considering the Ducks have been near the top of the polls all year. However, Tennessee was tied with them in the third quarter before Oregon took advantage of several big plays to pull away.

As for Kentucky, I guess I should have known better. I went to the Tennessee/Kentucky game on Saturday, and I still can't figure out how we won. The Wildcats had a ton of talent on offense and better depth. Then again, Tennessee has not lost to them since 1984. I guess this is why Kentucky is considered a basketball school.

First year coach Derek Dooley got about all he could get out of this team. If I had known in August just how soft the offensive and defensive lines would be, I probably would not have picked them to win six. For all the gnashing of teeth that took place when Lane Kiffin bolted for USC after last season, I do not believe Tennessee would have won as many games this year if he had stayed.

Coach Dooley is a good coach. I look forward to watching him rebuild the program.