Friday Q&A: Baseball stuff

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One of the only free stock photos of baseball in WordPress is this ballpark that now hosts XFL games. (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m limiting this to two questions today because I’m at my monthly drug infusion and typing with an IV in my hand is kind of uncomfortable. Both questions come via email from Paul M., but I’m going to take the liberty of switching their order.

If you’ve got questions you’d like considered for upcoming Friday Q&As, you can get at me on Twitter or email AskTedBerg-at-gmail.com.

Here’s Paul:

(This) is an idea I’ve been kicking around in my head for a while.  It will require that baseball returns to normal.  Teams are constantly trying to come up with better ways to use pitchers.  My idea would have a team moving from 5 starting pitchers to 9, sort of.  Pitchers would be asked to pitch 3 innings per “start” and pitch every 3 games.  The team would still have a 3-4 man bullpen.  One starter would start the game, then the next “starter” would come in for the 4th inning.  The next would start the 7th.  Over a full season, each starter would be expected to pitch 162 innings if he doesn’t miss a turn. 

This would most likely be best suited for teams that don’t have a true ace who can pitch 200-220 innings.  If you can get 200+ innings of Jacob deGrom, why would you give 40 of them to someone else?  If you factor in off days, an ace might still be able to pitch every 3rd day rather than every 3rd game and get closer to 180 or 190 innings.  I see pros and cons to this idea and could imagine a team like Tampa Bay trying it out.  It could cause problems for a manager putting together a lineup to maximize a matchup when he knows that by the 4th inning, there will be a different pitcher on the mound.  Will managers use up the bench earlier in the game or miss the opportunity and leave the biggest bat on the bench?  Egos and big salaries could get in the way.  Also, pitchers may be asked to train completely differently than they do now.  Pitchers would likely not get a chance to have a side day.  Finding 9 pitchers who are capable of pitching 162 innings for a season would be difficult for some teams.  Extra-inning games could be especially challenging since the bullpen arms would most likely be 1 inning guys.  In all, I think some team could make it work.  I’d love to hear your take.

I like this question for a couple reasons: First, Paul went a long way toward answering it already in his own email. All the potential concerns he lists — fragile egos, different training schedules, scarcity of durable arms, extra-inning games, etc. — are real ones preventing teams from trying something like this.

Second, I like this question because I think about it all the time. All the time. Sometimes I lay in bed awake at night thinking about better ways to construct a big-league pitching staff. Other times I’ll be spreading peanut butter onto bread to make a sandwich and think, “wait a minute, OK, a four-man rotation, with each starter limited to five innings on their start day but expected to provide one inning later in the week, four relievers that double as openers when the matchups make sense, three guys reserved for late innings, and one position player who doubles as a mop-up guy to eat up innings when his team is leading or trailing by a wide margin.” Stuff like that.

I do believe we are on the cusp of a paradigm shift in pitcher usage, as evidenced by the sudden proliferation of the opener strategy. As recently as five years ago, it felt like front offices were conservative to a fault out of fear that any shakeup gone awry would be grounds for dismissal. Now it seems like everyone better recognizes the potential value of innovation and is more willing to give MLB GMs and managers a chance to go bold. There are still limits, obviously, but just not like there used to be.

But I think the major issue with Paul’s idea is one he mentioned: If you’ve got a guy like Jacob deGrom on your staff, you want him throwing as many innings as he possibly can. If that’s more than 200 then it’s hard to figure how you could use him only as much as you use eight lesser pitchers without angering your clubhouse and fanbase both. And Major League athletes tend to be ridiculously competitive people who’ve dominated every level of the sport they’ve ever endeavored, so every guy is going to want the chance to prove he can be Jacob deGrom.

I suspect teams will ultimately move toward systems more flexible than the one Paul outlined, and — though there are inherent ethical concerns to this — I would not be surprised at all if wearable technologies monitoring arm health and fatigue eventually play bigger roles in pitcher usage.

My main thing is, I think it seems kind of nuts to have some of these guys wasting bullets in bullpens. “Throw days” obviously don’t bring the same intensity as actual outings, but adjusting the expectations for between-start sessions seems like a natural step forward to me.

Not every guy’s going to be so eager to change his routine, and at some point they’ll all need side sessions for tweaking and honing. But I feel like I’d ideally want to move to a system wherein every starter is piggybacked with another starter on his throw day, decreasing the general expectation for length of a traditional start — asking guys to go five or six at most in ideal conditions, basically — but allowing flexibility for when someone’s keeping his pitch count low and cruising through the middle innings.

woman in red cap while wearing baseball glove

Here is another one of the stock photos that comes up when I search for “baseball.” I have no idea. (Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com)

Here’s Paul again:

How do we handle the 2020 season?  I believe that we will not see real baseball until next year.  If by some chance they are able to play, I’d love to see this.  A 5 round tournament with all 30 teams.  Every round is best of seven.  If off days are limited until the LCS and World Series, it can be done in less than 2 months.  First step is seeding.  I would propose that Hall of Fame voters could each submit a power ranking of the teams separated by league.  The number 1 seed in each league would get a bye in the first round. 

This is obviously the question facing Major League Baseball right now, and it is completely unanswerable. A few weeks ago, when the league first announced the postponement of opening day, we heard about the steps it might take to still get in a full, 162-game season. Yesterday at Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci laid out plans for a 43-game season.

Perhaps the most reasonable idea I’ve seen bandied about in recent days comes via my old colleague Bob Nightengale, who relayed a proposed plan to realign the league into Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues for a shortened 2020 season.

That makes a lot more sense to me than confining all 30 teams to Arizona, as teams are already set up to house players near their spring-training complexes and many players make their offseason homes near their teams’ spring-training complexes. It rains a lot in Florida and a lot of spring-training facilities lack the amenities of their big-league counterparts, but making every team’s spring home its full-time home for this one year seems like much less of a logistical nightmare that concentrating all the baseball in one place.

But then, we don’t know. Since no one can say right now with any confidence when it will be safe to play baseball again, it’s impossible to say how many games they’ll be able to get in, or if it’s worth planning for any baseball in 2020 at all.

Would I want to see a 30-team tournament? Oh, hell yeah. I usually argue that the outrageous length of the MLB season is part of what makes baseball so great, since the sheer number of games goes a long way toward mitigating the impact of randomness on the standings, and a tournament like the one Paul described would be patently absurd as an effort to actually reward the best baseball team with the championship trophy. But it would be extremely fun, and I’d watch the hell out of it.

I wouldn’t let Hall of Fame voters seed teams, though, because Hall of Fame voters get stuff wrong all the time, and the media outlets for which they work would have vested interests in teams from their regions advancing deep into the tournament. Also, reducing the entire season to a tournament would mean asking a bunch of Major League pitchers to get themselves ready to pitch in Major League games for the sake of a single start (and, perhaps, a single paycheck), though I imagine a bunch of these dudes would sign up for it in a heartbeat. Who wouldn’t, right now?

I had a larger point I was hoping to get to about feeling adrift in uncertainty, and how we’re now enduring an era in which the cheesy James Earl Jones speech from Field Of Dreams no longer applies — baseball is not now offering a constant to mark the time and remind us of all that once was good and that could be again — and how very much that sucks, and how desperate we all are for normalcy, and how I am increasingly skeptical that anything close to our old version of normalcy will return when it’s safe to start living our lives again. But the drug drip just finished and it doesn’t feel like a good idea to hang around a medical facility any longer than I absolutely have to.

Here’s a song that means a lot to me:

 

Sad sandwich of the Week

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It’s pathetic, I know. But it’s Thursday already, I hadn’t eaten any notable sandwiches yet this week, and I figured a bunch of people are going to have a bunch of hard-boiled eggs they need to get rid of once Easter’s over. Making egg salad from Easter eggs is fun because you get little colorful highlights in there from where the dye seeps through the eggshell.

A much better version of spicy egg salad can be made with the incredible green sauce from Pio Pio, the world’s greatest condiment. Sadly, I did not have any handy this morning when I decided I should come up with a sandwich to share here.

Egg-salad traditionalists might balk at both the notion of adding some hot sauce and also serving egg salad with bacon, but luckily I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’d call themselves an “egg-salad traditionalist.” Egg salad and bacon is a go-to order for me at bagel places, and since hot sauce clearly belongs on a fried or scrambled egg sandwich, I don’t see why it should be out of place in egg salad.

The sandwich: Sriracha egg salad and bacon on whole-wheat toast.

The construction: I started by boiling eggs, obviously. I do it fairly frequently and I’ve gotten pretty good at it, and I know it’s a source of frustration for some people, so I’ll share my method here. It goes:

  1. Put eggs in a pot of warm water, cover.
  2. Bring water to a boil over high heat.
  3. As soon as the water starts boiling, turn off the stove and set a timer for 11 minutes.
  4. After 11 minutes, pour out hot water and run eggs under cold water.

I’ve never successfully soft-boiled an egg. But usually the above method leads to appropriately hard-boiled eggs that do not crack during the boiling process. If you’ve got a technique you prefer, by all means, go to town.

“Sriracha egg salad” is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. I shelled a couple of hard-boiled eggs, smashed ’em up in a bowl with some mayo, then mixed in a healthy squirt of sriracha. This is something I make with some frequency. In this particular instance, I tried to further gussy up my egg salad by including some relish, but that was a mistake. I wanted some sweetness to balance the saltiness of the bacon and the spiciness of the sriracha, but I failed to consider that sriracha is also low-key sweet.

Bacon is bacon, and toast is toast.

Important background information: Hey! If you’re going to have a bunch of hard-boiled eggs around because of Easter, why not adopt a Berg family Easter tradition this year? Growing up, we often expressed our love by viciously trying to dominate each other in any form of competition, and the annual dying of Easter eggs was exciting for everyone because it meant the start of egg-fight season.

To have an egg fight, start with both competitors choosing an egg from the basket of Easter eggs. There’s a strategy to selecting the best egg for an egg fight, but I’m not going to share it with you because my family reads this and I can’t have them knowing my methods. It is generally considered poor form to choose one of the beautiful eggs my artsy-ass dad spent lots of time on, but eventually it’s going to come to that.

From there, it’s pretty simple: Keeping their elbows on the table, both competitors hold their eggs between their thumbs and index fingers, with the pointiest part of the egg facing outward. Whoever first cracks the other person’s egg without their own egg cracking is the winner. Then you eat the eggs.

Apparently this practice dates back to medieval times, so I’m sure mine isn’t the only family that does this. It’s fun!

What it looks like: 

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How it tastes: Fine.

I don’t know what to tell you. Have you been to a New York City supermarket lately? Weird scene right now, and it really doesn’t feel like the time to be idling around the aisles looking for fun ingredients for interesting sandwiches. I’m trying to make the best of what I’ve got.

I’m certain I can make more of it than this, though. I do believe it’s an upgrade over a traditional egg-salad sandwich, if only because the bacon adds textural diversity and amazing bacon flavor. And I do think the incorporation of sriracha improves the egg salad, though — again — I should not have tried using relish, because it added a sugary sweetness that felt out of place, especially at breakfast time.

Also — and you can’t really tell this from the photos above — my kid needed my attention while the bread was in the toaster oven and I let it get past the optimal, golden-brown toastiness, which sort of negated the crunch of the bacon.

Hall of fame? C’mon. Look at that thing. No.

By the time I get to Arizona

two green cactus plants at daytime

Photo by Yigithan Bal on Pexels.com

There is no real sports news to be found. When that’s the case, members of the sports media understandably latch on to any fodder they can find for takes and perspectives because they’re paid to make sports content and there are only so many stories you can write about what some bored ballplayer Instagrammed. (I’m not even a member of the sports media and I’m doing it now, but I’m acknowledging it up front so I seem cooler than I am.)

At ESPN.com yesterday, Jeff Passan published a report detailing an MLB proposal to restart spring training as soon as next month, with real games starting in June in empty stadiums in Arizona. Passan’s an excellent reporter, and I have no doubt that such a plan has been discussed among MLB officials and MLBPA brass.

But if you’re wondering why nearly every baseball writer in the world has come out and dismissed the plan as wrongheaded and absurd, it’s because a) again, no one has anything else to do and b) it’s totally wrongheaded and absurd.

First and foremost, it assumes it’s going to be safe to put all the players up in Arizona starting in one month. Here in New York, we’ve already been sheltering-in-place for three and a half weeks, and yesterday set a new high mark for COVID deaths. Even if the rate of infection and death drops off starkly starting today, I assume we’re still going to want to keep people separated for at least another month to make sure the virus doesn’t come surging back. Right? We keep waiting on apexes and plateaus, but it’s not like once we hit peak disease it’ll immediately be safe to throw parties.

Also, the plan calls for quarantining players in Arizona hotels and motels for the entirety of their season, outside of the times they’re playing baseball. No family contact. Basically minimum-security prison, except instead of golf you play baseball.

Furthermore, have you ever set foot outside in Arizona in the daytime in May or June? You can’t do it, because it’s way too hot. Phoenix’s entire existence is a scam orchestrated by Friedrich.

Now I’m doing the same thing everyone else just did and telling you why the plan is dumb and unlikely to happen, but the point is only that the plan is dumb and unlikely to happen, and you probably already knew that by now.

The parts that seem especially nefarious, I think, are that includes the adoption of automated strike zones — purportedly to protect umpires — that it eliminates mound visits, and that it calls for “regular use of on-field microphones by players” to make the televised product more compelling.

I actually think all three of those changes would be good for baseball in the long run. My issue is that I suspect Major League Baseball thinks so, too, and that it seems kind of slimy to use the cover of a global pandemic to sneak them into the game at a time when the umpires union and players union would look petty for objecting. Also, it’s at least a little alarming that the details of the so-called Arizona plan should so closely follow Donald Trump’s conference call with sports commissioners over the weekend.

In any case, it’s almost certainly not happening, and every statement MLB has put out since the story broke and uproar followed has made clear that it’s unlikely. I wish it could happen, and I imagine you do too. A lot of us are saying things like, “I’d kill to watch baseball right now,” but we mean it metaphorically, and until we have more information about the virus and how it spreads and how to treat it and how to stop it, carrying out such a plan might mean literally killing people so we could watch baseball.

I’m going to hit you with a Venn diagram for the second day in a row:

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“It’ll be safe to have Major League Baseball next month” falls exclusively in the green circle on the left. “We need to prioritize shit besides Major League Baseball” goes in the red circle on the right.

This song remains a banger:

What happened to the Doublelupa?

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Heck yeah, I had a Triplelupa yesterday.

Though in this post I will detail some of the ways in which the Triplelupa is wholly unlike anything I’ve ever encountered on the Taco Bell menu, it is, at its heart — and like all the best Taco Bell things — a newly configured collection of straightforward Taco Bell ingredients: Seasoned beef, nacho cheese, lettuce, tomato, chalupa dough. As such, TedQuarters.net is prepared to call the Triplelupa: F@#$ing fabulous. 

Here’s what it looked like in the wild. I got mine with no tomatoes:

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Look at all those lupas!

If somehow something distracted you from the Triplelupa’s launch, and if you haven’t found a lot of time in recent weeks to think critically about the new options at your local Taco Bell, understand that the Triplelupa is built of three smaller sub-lupas, and Taco Bell intends for you to tear the individual lupas off the larger Triplelupa and eat them separately.

As far as I know, Taco Bell has never offered anything like that before. It feels like a page out of the Pizza Hut playbook, but thankfully, it’s a million times better than anything that has ever been served at Pizza Hut (except possibly the breadsticks, which are decent). And it begs the question: What the heck happened to the Doublelupa?

Once Taco Bell developed multi-lupa technology, wouldn’t it make sense — and be very much in keeping with how Taco Bell does things — to start by rolling out the Doublelupa with all the requisite pomp and circumstance, then, roughly six months to a year after it quietly left menus, unveiling the Triplelupa and blowing minds?

Call it a hunch, but I believe that the imprecise nature of Taco Bell ingredient distribution made the Doublelupa impossible. On the Triplelupa, the lupa on one side has nacho cheese, the lupa on the opposite side has chipotle sauce, and the middle lupa has both nacho cheese and chipotle sauce. It is basically a Venn diagram in chalupa form. One circle is the part of the chalupa that has nacho cheese, the other circle represents chipotle sauce, and the middle part is the center lupa.

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This, to me, implies a couple of things: 1) It proved impossible to sauce two adjacent lupas without overlap, meaning the Doublelupa remains ony theoretical for now. 2) Taco Bell now asks for intentionally uneven sauce distribution from the heroes constructing our tacos, a paradigm shift. It’s hardly unheard of to get a Taco Bell thing with sour cream glopped on to only one half, but previously this was assumed to be the output of an inept hand with the sour cream gun.

Now that we know Taco Bell artisans have the capacity to sauce only half a taco, what wonders might come to the menu? The Quintuplelupa seems like a no brainer, but what about, like, a Heptadita, or a Partly Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes?

In an era in which we are tortured by uncertainty, in this one venue, the uncertainty is welcome. With one new thing, Taco Bell quietly changed everything. And without knowing what Taco Bell has in store for us, we can only strap in, hold on, and delight in the infinite possibilities for what could come next. It will probably have beef and cheese, and most likely some lettuce.

I’ve got nothing

My kid likes the music of Raffi, as many kids do, but if I put any Raffi song on Spotify, the auto-generated playlist that follows inevitably includes a bunch of songs off an album called Bible Beats (For Little Feets) — songs like “The Ten Commandment Boogie,” “Fruit of the Spirit,” and, of course, “The B-I-B-L-E.”

I will happily listen to Raffi play religious and spiritual songs — his “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore” is quite lovely — but the songs on Bible Beats (For Little Feets) are so, so bad, and there is nothing I can do to convince Spotify that I never want to hear them ever again. I’m convinced the lead singer is the son of Spotify founder Ron Spotify.

The easiest workaround I know of to play Raffi tunes and avoid atrocious children’s Christian rock is to just play Raffi’s entire catalog on shuffle. And so it was that on this lovely spring day, as I happened to be staring out the window, I learned Raffi has a cover of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” and that, in the context of right now, it’s fairly heartbreaking:

I intended this post to transition here into something about the Astros’ scandal, and how big a deal it seemed to so many people a couple months ago, and how very not-big-a-deal it seems now.

Then I decided that would be a stupid post, and that I should write about how I used to always say here that I’d quit my job if I ever started taking my access to free baseball games for granted, and how, in a roundabout way, that exact thing happened. But there’d be no way to do that without further whining about my old job, and I just did that on Friday.

Next, I decided I should write about the coolest baseball events I’ve been able to attend, and those still on my bucket list. That’s a much better post, I think, and I will make it here in due time. But by the time I came to the idea, I was already an hour deep into a two-hour naptime, and I’ve got other stuff I need to take care of before the kid wakes up.

All of which is to say: I’ve got nothing. It was bound to happen at some point. Thanks for checking in, and I’ll try to do better tomorrow. I’ve got my eye on scoring a Triplelupa this afternoon, which ideally will provide some fairly easy #content.

In the interim, I will go back to a well into which I’ve dipped plenty of times before, and one that never fails to cheer me up. Here are some waterskiing wipeouts:

 

Friday Q&A

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Photo by Redrecords ©️ on Pexels.com

Let’s do this.

OK, so first of all, keep in mind that you’re asking this question of an unemployed man who spent his entire morning trying and failing to convince a toddler to put on pants. I never went to journalism school, I’m not sure I’ve ever called myself a “journalist” unironically, and I always tried my best to avoid big-picture strategy sessions because corporate buzzwords make me giggle inappropriately.

The short answer is: I have no idea, and you should look with great suspicion upon anyone who speaks with confidence on this topic and comes to a conclusion much firmer than, “I have no idea.”

There’s irony inherent in me talking out of my ass here: One of the aspects of contemporary media that I find most frustrating is the total obliteration of the notion of expertise. And though I can appreciate the value of scrutinizing and sometimes undercutting the entrenched institutions establishing expertise, there are outlets out there right now that essentially operate as though a Harvard-trained epidemiologist’s perspective on COVID-19 is no more valid than Kid Rock’s.

An innocuous example I frequently cite to describe some of my frustrations at USA Today is this article, headlined “Baseball players are getting fat like us,” and based on truly preposterous analysis that used BMI — a metric by which Mike Trout is considered obese — to reach a conclusion that would be dismissed out of hand by anyone who has seen a baseball game in the last 15 years.

I had received, rejected, and publicly mocked the same pitch less than a week before the paper amplified it in the opinion section, and I found it both troubling and unsurprising that whoever made the decision to run with it did so without consulting any of the six full-time staffers the company paid to know about baseball. “Baseball players are getting fat like us” is a great headline that people are going to mindlessly click and share on Facebook, and while I never met anyone who worked on the opinion page, I have no doubt those people were operating under a mandate to drive up traffic numbers. And, hey: Everyone has the right to an opinion! Let’s check in with Kid Rock for his take on Major League Baseball’s obesity problem.

Pageview-driven journalism, I believe, does more harm than most people realize, and I genuinely do not think Donald Trump would be the president today if the media industry had figured out and settled on a better way to make money.

None of that really even approaches an answer to Mike’s question, which — again — I am just not in any way qualified to answer. I can say (with hesitation, because I’d like to someday be employed again), that I think access can be overrated, especially in the case of something like Trump’s daily coronavirus misinform-athon. It just doesn’t really matter if you secure the ability to ask the guy a question when his answers show no correlation to the truth. Obviously there are huge benefits to access. But it often requires concessions.

And I can say that I hope paid subscription models prove successful in the long run, but that’s not at all insightful. Right now, it’s just as easy to imagine an accelerated Idiocracy, with press conferences by the end of Trump’s next term covered exclusively by the Ow My Balls! radio network.

The only other perspective I can offer is this: The internet is still a very new thing, historically speaking. Online media as we know it isn’t old enough to drink, and it’s probably unreasonable to expect an advancement of this magnitude to sort itself out so quickly. Right? The printing press generally gets a lot of credit for the onset of the Renaissance, but it was still some 70 years between Gutenberg’s invention and the Mona Lisa.

The excellent book The Sun and the Moon details an incredible hoax perpetrated by the New York Sun in the 1830s, but I found it just as interesting for its depiction of the early days of daily newspapers and their myriad parallels to the early days of online media. Early newspapers operated pretty similarly to early blogs — there were a ton of them, they were typically the work of one editor, they were unabashedly partisan, there was little accountability and constant jockeying for attention — and over time, some succeeded and some failed and some combined and some moved to the fringes.

Point is, I think, we’re still figuring this out. I don’t think the ball ever stops rolling, really, but I hope when it slows down, it does so in a place where there’s some appreciation for what’s actually true and not just what people will accept as true on Facebook.

OK, now to the food questions:

I’m sorry to say this, Ben, but it can’t be done. Taco Bell comes from magic, and the magic only happens inside Taco Bell kitchens. There are a bunch of recipes online that attempt to approximate it, but I’ve tried precisely none of them, because I don’t believe Taco Bell is something mere humans can replicate with any accuracy.

We talking just grilling, or full-blown smoking? If you mean the latter, I’m best, most practiced, and most consistent with baby back ribs, primarily because they’re so widely available and they’re my wife’s favorite of the meats one might smoke. But my personal favorite, if I can get it right, are beef ribs (a.k.a. “dinosaur ribs”). They’re hard to find and tricky to cook, but when you nail it, they’re so good. Better than brisket even, I think because the fat is better distributed throughout the meat.

For just straight grilling, it’s either skirt steak or chicken thighs. I cook a heck a lot of the latter, and I’ve gotten pretty good at making it so the skin gets nice and crispy without drying out the interior meat. Dark meat chicken is so far superior to white meat chicken that it’s absurd they charge you more for white meat at fried chicken places.

The bar for “replacement level” plummeted so much in the last two weeks that, if we’re drawing an analogy to baseball, it’s like the league just added 25 expansion teams.

A well-made PB&J, I think, has always been sturdily above-replacement, though a bad one — especially if someone fails to put peanut butter on both sides, so one side of the bread gets sogged up with jelly — can definitely perform at replacement level.

Three weeks ago, I would’ve told you a replacement level sandwich is some pre-packaged lunchmeat (think Oscar Mayer ham) on white bread with American cheese. The type of sandwich you might find pre-made and pre-cut in the refrigerator area at a gas station convenience store: Readily and perpetually available, inexpensive, bad, but not going to kill you.

Today, I made a sandwich from two pieces of American cheese on a toasted English muffin from a box that had been sitting in my freezer for about a year. That’s the replacement-level sandwich now.

Losing it

woman holding ice cream tub

This is a stock photo that came up in a search for “Crazy.” (Photo by Edu Carvalho on Pexels.com)

Five or six years ago, New York City endured a brutal winter. I forget the specifics, but I recall that basically every time one storm’s snow melted, another snowstorm came, and it got extremely cold for a while. What I remember best was people losing their cool after being holed up for months: A guy on line at the coffee shop snapping at the barista over something stupid, a woman having a full-blown shit-fit about getting a parking ticket, etc.

For anyone who’s not insanely wealthy, there’s a trade-off inherent in living in New York City: You give up interior space in exchange for extra things to do. People say things like, “well, the bar downstairs is my living room,” or, “we like to think of Tompkins Square Park as our backyard,” and most of the time, they’re not wrong. But when life, for whatever reason, forces everyone inside for a while, we start feeling crushed by the walls around us. And I recognize that this is true to some extent everywhere, but the effect is amplified here, where it’s rare for anyone to have more than 500 square feet to themselves.

I’ve whined before about how difficult it is to find ways to keep a 2 1/2-year-old physically active at this particular juncture in history, but this morning I found a pretty good one. I took the kid and his little yellow basketball to an open field in the park and basically played fetch with him, and, to my surprise, he loved it. I got some much-needed exercise out of it myself, as I’d basically throw the ball as far as I could, wait until he got about halfway to reaching it, then sprint to catch up with him while he giggled with delight.

Then something horrible happened: Some other kid showed up and wanted to play with us. He was extremely sweet, and at first he seemed content to just kick the ball if he got to it first. I was fine with that. Then he started picking the ball up and moving ever closer to me and my son, and when I looked to his caregiver for assistance, she was on the phone.

My normal inclination, even if the other kid was riddled with visible chicken pox or something, would be to just sort of shrug and let him play with us for a while. But this is obviously different. I am myself chock full of autoimmune disease, and I certainly don’t want to be responsible for giving my wife the ‘rona and risk having her bring it into a hospital to distribute to kids with serious underlying conditions.

Also, and not for nothing, I don’t know the kid’s deal or if he lives with any vulnerable people, and since my wife works at a hospital and my son can’t keep his hands off door handles, I can’t say for sure that I’m not an asymptomatic carrier of the disease.

But I’m never, ever going to scold someone else’s kid, so instead I just kind of kept looking at the lady, seeing if she might intervene, growing increasingly frustrated. Pretty soon I just gave up and went home. I said nothing, but I wanted to say, “lady, are you f@#!ing kidding me?”

Then, like two minutes into our walk home, I heard a jogging bro ask exactly that of a masked older woman who had her dog off-leash. I didn’t see what happened, but I assume the dog ran into his path. And I thought to myself that this guy was giving in to the urge to be uncool at a time when it’s way too easy to be uncool, and that he was clearly the villain in the scenario.

Then the dog, a little yippy thing, started running behind the guy, and the old woman — no joke — started yelling out, “Bite him! Bite him! Bite him!”

This isn’t exactly next-level insight, but to those of us lucky enough to be healthy and active and out and about to the extent that we can be right now: We must chill. No one has ever dealt with anything like this before, but we need to keep in mind that no one else has ever dealt with anything like this before. It’s been, what, three weeks? This could stretch on for months.

From the Wikipedia: Pangolins

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Nap time came early for my kid today. This isn’t a typical Wednesday, but nap time typically comes early on Wednesdays, because on typical Wednesdays he has school on the Upper West Side in the afternoons. So on typical Wednesdays, we go to the Museum of Natural History in the morning, where he tires himself out sprinting big circles around the diorama rooms full of gorgeous and exotic animals that Teddy Roosevelt and his friends shot in the name of science. I’m desperately awaiting a typical Wednesday.

From the Wikipedia: Pangolins.

Pangolin_borneoI’ve written before about the internet’s weird, dumb tendency to shame people for knowledge they want but don’t yet have, but I will admit without hesitation that I never in my life heard of a pangolin before they became newsworthy as a potential disease vector for COVID-19. From all the time at the museum, I know about gemsboks and gaurs and kudus and sables, but as far as I know there is no pangolin there. This creature’s existence entirely dodged my awareness until roughly two weeks ago.

As it turns out, the study that initially connected pangolins to the coronavirus was a bit of a stretch — I don’t really understand the science detailed on the Wikipedia page, but you’re welcome to check it out and report back. Either way, it’s clearly not the pangolins’ fault, and it turns out pangolins are fascinating.

Did you know that pangolins are the most trafficked animal in the world? I would’ve guessed it was monkeys or something. There are eight extant species of pangolin, and together they comprise some 20% of the world’s illegal wildlife trade. Types of pangolin live in Sub-Saharan Africa, on the Indian subcontinent, and in China and Southeast Asia.

They’re hunted for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in some areas, and especially for their most unusual characteristic: Protective scales made of keratin that cover their entire body. The Wikipedia says they’re the only known mammal with this feature, and that the scales are coveted in part for their value in Chinese traditional medicine.

The scales are also undeniably dope. The name pangolin derives from a Malay word that means “one who rolls up,” because pangolins can basically turn themselves into spiky rocks by going fetal when threatened. Check out this pangolin in its defensive position:

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Here’s a different type of pangolin, confusing the heck out of some hungry lions:

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“Oh, where’d I go, sucker lion?” – That pangolin there.

Pangolins eat ants and termites with a sticky tongue that can extend up to 16 inches. Three of the eight species of pangolin are critically endangered and three more are considered vulnerable, but they tend to struggle in captivity, flummoxing conservation efforts.

The pangolin’s champions include David Attenborough, who rescued one from hunters in Bali in 1951, and Jackie Chan, who put out a PSA in 2017 to support a ban on international pangolin trade. In 2017, a YouTube channel called Animalogic declared it “The cutest animal you’ve never heard of.” They don’t really seem cute in photos, but once you see them walk, it makes sense:

In conclusion, don’t blame this cool animal for the ‘rona. Pangolins aren’t trying to get people sick, they just want to eat ants and roll themselves up into balls and have sex once a year.

Sandwich of the Week

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Here we go:

The sandwich: Smoked brisket with Alabama-style white BBQ sauce and Brussels sprouts on whole-wheat toast.

The construction: All those things I just said. The aforementioned Crowd Cow — where you can sign up with my referral code and get $25 worth of meat for both of us — sells full briskets, brisket flats, and brisket points. Flats are the lean type available at many supermarkets. They can be delicious, but if you’re smoking them, they sometimes end up pretty dry. The point — a.k.a. the deckle — is the fattier part sold as “moist brisket” at a lot of barbecue joints, and it’s both tastier and more forgiving. I buy the points.

Brisket has so much flavor and takes on enough smoke that it doesn’t require more than salt and pepper as a rub, but I gave it a light coating of yellow mustard and used a mix of the Trader Joe’s coffee-garlic rub and a the remains of a container of Chicago-style steak seasoning that I bought years ago in Arizona when my spring-training hotel had a barbecue. Here’s the brisket is on the grill:

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This happened to be an exceptionally fatty brisket even after I trimmed it, so I wound up cutting some fat out of the center and melting it in a skillet. I shredded the Brussels sprouts and fried them in the beef fat, in the hopes that they’d crisp up and provide some texture to the sandwich.

I chose Alabama barbecue sauce because I knew I had the necessary ingredients and because I wanted something with a strongly acidic, vinegary flavor to give the sandwich bite and to balance out the bitterness of the Brussels sprouts. There are a bunch of recipes for Alabama-style sauce online. I used mayo, apple cider vinegar, the juice of half a lime, horseradish, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, garlic powder and cayenne pepper.

If you’ve got a smoker at home, you probably don’t need this advice, and if you don’t it doesn’t apply, but I cooked the brisket over indirect heat at around 250-degrees. I used oak, which I believe to be the best and most versatile wood for beef and pork smoking. To me, hickory and mesquite have way too much smoke flavor, and I don’t often like the sweetness of fruit woods.

Important background information: I need to address an elephant in this digital room, because it’s one that has me awash in guilt right now: I live in a Manhattan apartment with outdoor space. It’s a phenomenal thing, and one for which my landlords could certainly get away with charging (someone, not us) way more in rent. The interior of our place is cramped, but the patio is big enough for a small dining table, a couch and a fancy grill.

And because it’s New York City, there are roughly 50 other apartments that can see right into our backyard, and these days, I can sense the eyes of all my neighbors firing death rays at me every time I’m out there. I feel like a goldfish nonchalantly barbecuing inside its fishbowl while everyone outside the fishbowl is dying of thirst.

What can you do? I’m not about to stay indoors out of solidarity, and if any of my neighbors want to devise some contact-free meat-moving system, I’ll happily throw their steaks on the grill next to mine. In the interim, I feel like I should move into more performative grilling, like I’m manning the hibachi at Benihana. I need to practice my knifeplay, for the people.

What it looks like: 

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How it tastes: Honestly? Meh.

It was delicious, no doubt, because the brisket was delicious — salty, fatty, beefy and smoky. But I believe a sandwich should be better than the sum of its parts, and I can’t say with any confidence that I upgraded this brisket by slapping it between bread with sauce and Brussels sprouts.

My hopes for crispy Brussels sprouts were foolhardy: Though they had some light crunch coming out of the pan, that crunch was no match whatsoever for the greasiness of the moist brisket, so the Brussels sprouts served only to provide some not-unpleasant but also not-at-all necessary vegetal flavor.

Maybe if I had a kaiser roll or something, I could’ve found some extra ingredient to throw on this sandwich and give it some extra oomph. But my neighborhood, like many, lacks for bread selection right now, and this wheat bread was (and remains) all I had available. It held together surprisingly well under the onslaught of dripping fat, but it added nothing more than something to hold on to while I enjoyed the brisket inside.

Hardcore Sandwich of the Week heads might recognize it as a rarity for me to write up a less-than-spectacular sandwich, but since there is no small-business owner behind the creation of this one, I can be honest: It was just OK. As referenced, I think I would have preferred the brisket on a plate with Brussels sprouts and toast.

Hall of Fame? Nah.

Special shout-out: A handful heroes used my Crowd Cow referral code to buy meat, meaning my next big order of meat to prepare and review is going to be more or less free. Thanks so much to all of them. It’s like getting paid to write again, except this time around I am paid directly in meat, which would be my preference.

Also, seriously: The selection is limited right now, but Crowd Cow can probably deliver food to you faster than FreshDirect or anybody else at this point, so I’m going to keep plugging it and my referral code for as long as that’s the case.

Make it up as we go along

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Stock-photo tablet and overalls man, for no reason whatsoever. (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com)

This morning, while I pedaled up the 1st Ave. bike lane, I felt on the cusp of making some brilliant connection between one of the things I love about baseball and one of things I find most frustrating about the coronavirus shutdown. Then, with no inciting incident whatsoever, I went flying over my handlebars.

Don’t freak out, Mom: I’m fine. I was wearing a helmet, and playing football for my entire youth taught me how to tuck in all my body parts when I fall. I have some scrapes and bruises and it kind of looks like I got punched in the nose, but mostly I’m just stunned that it happened.

I’ve been on a bike at least 3,000 times in my life, easily. I’ve been doored. I’ve been clipped by cars. I’ve fallen off to the side while avoiding hazards, and I’ve tumbled over when my wheel got caught in a trolley rut. But the first time I’ve ever flipped over my handlebars was this morning, on a day when seeking medical attention for anything but the gravest of illnesses makes you an a-hole, while the roads were close to empty, in a spot where I’ve biked hundreds of times before.

And I wasn’t biking recklessly! Best I can figure, if anything besides total randomness caused it to happen today, it was that I was riding my wife’s bike because my own has a flat (the ‘rona has prevented me from getting it fixed), and it’s balanced a bit differently than mine. Also, maybe, I got lulled into a false sense of security by how few cars and pedestrians and other cyclists are around. I felt like a damn fool, either way. Still do. I’m going to be more careful next time.

That’s an excuse for my inability to better connect the following two facts, which I know to be related somehow:

1) There are obviously different levels at which the coronavirus sucks, and I still don’t want to complain too much while me and my loved ones are all (knocking wood) healthy. But one of the things I find most frustrating about the shutdown is the lack of a clear end date.

I recognize that the nature of such things is that we will not and should not get a clear end date until it’s nearly upon us, so I’m not asserting that someone should give us some official quarantine release day before science can offer one. I’m just saying, I think this would be a lot easier to bear if I could know exactly when I can do stuff again.

Think about it this way: For some reason, you are put in charge of the coronavirus — possibly because A-Rod turned down the job. And Ron Science, unimpeachable King of Science, tells you that you have two options:  A) You could let this all play out — keep everything closed, maintain social distancing, etc — to see what happens and maintain hope, without certainty, that the virus runs its course or has some sort of cure by early June. Or B) You can agree to keep everything shut down until exactly July 16, at which point you can safely go outside.

I’d definitely choose B. If I knew precisely how long this was going to last, I could better map out how to spend this time, and I’d have something to look forward to when it’s over. Part of what makes having to stay inside all the time and avoid human interaction so harrowing is not having any idea how long it has to last.

0_ZfzG-e5kmxLPR_lT2) I have very little interest in watching sporting events when I know the outcome. I DVR every Georgetown basketball game so I can start watching a little late and fast-forward through commercials, but if I see a phone notification with a score update, I always wind up advancing until the score is the one I just saw.

Same thing with baseball. I think a big part of sports’ appeal to me is that they’re unscripted; no one knows what’s going to happen, and then you watch it unfold at the arena or in the stadium or on your television. Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it’s thrilling and sometimes it’s anti-climactic, but it’s always spontaneous and urgent.

I don’t begrudge people their right to enjoy baseball however they want to enjoy baseball, and I certainly understand why MLB Network and SNY and other outlets in the business of broadcasting baseball games might re-air “classic” games for as long as there are no new ones.

But I’m sure that if someone gave me the choice between rewatching Game 5 of the 2017 World Series — maybe the best and wildest game I’ve ever seen — or checking out some random, hard-fought Twins-Tigers tilt from June, 2009, I’d choose the latter unless the person spoiled the final score or told me why it was worth watching. It might take some mental gymnastics to convince myself it was happening live, especially once I saw Nick Punto, but at the very least it’d be new to me.

The connection between points 1 and 2, I think, goes back to the thing I once wrote about baseball serving as an orderly plane to help us sort out our real-life trials. Not knowing what’s going to happen makes baseball incredible. Not knowing what’s going to happen next makes real life agonizing.

Here’s a poll: