Glass Half Full
not quite there yet

I have a friend on Facebook who posts in the neighborhood of twenty inspirational quotes a day. I would block him but he lost his wife a few months ago and he is grieving and  trying to find his way and they’re not all treacly or horrible, so I’m just….scrolling through them. Naturally, I end up reading some of them, because you just can’t help it. This one, I found fault with.

The fact that you know longer feel the need to impress anyone can be good for your own mental health, but no longer seeking the approval of your fellow humans doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly become so awesome that the people you are no longer trying to impress are missing something by not being impressed with you. It’s healthy up to a point not to need the approval of others, but complete detachment from the give and take of relationships implies not maturity, but a decision to resist any future growth. This quote fails the Hitler test: put a picture of Hitler on the meme, imagine him saying it, and see if it still sounds like a good idea.

theonion:

The Onion Reviews ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ 

A masterpiece of fair and balanced reviewing.

Yeah, dude.

Yeah, dude.

..and the President of the University STILL won’t pick up my trash.

..and the President of the University STILL won’t pick up my trash.

Murder as Spectator Sport

When someone dies on Game of Thrones, my reaction falls into one of these three categories:

1. It’s about time.

2. Oh, no!

3. Who the hell was that again?

Better Than Yesterday

That’s Isabelle Harrison in the foreground, with Andraya Carter behind her, and over at the next table Bashaara Graves, all returning to next year’s Tennessee Lady Vol basketball team. This is an autograph session at the end of some camp they are at this summer, I’m not sure where exactly.

What I like about this pictures is the faces and body language of the girls getting the autographs. I remember a time when few women in athletics were admired, and when even fewer little girls would line up to admire them.

You can keep your Good Old Days.

Post Mortem

As I hoped and sort of predicted, the Lady Vols made a strong comeback in game 2 with Oklahoma, forcing a game 3 to determine who would move on to the final round of eight and a chance to be in the final two at the College World Series. Also, as predicted, game 3 could be anybody’s game. Unfortunately, it turned out to be Oklahoma’s and the Lady Vols are headed back to Knoxville and the careers of three memorable seniors, Ellen Renfroe, Madison Shipman, and Melissa Davin, are over. The underclassmen will begin preparing for next year and another run at the National Championship that still eludes Tennessee.

This series again underscored the importance of the pitcher’s role in softball; you will only go as far as your pitching takes you. Oklahoma’s Kelsey Stevens was in great form in games 1 and 3 and Oklahoma rolled; Ellen Renfroe was in command of all of her pitches in game 2 and the Oklahoma hitters were silenced. The biggest cause for concern for us Lady Vol fans looking ahead to next year is the pitching staff without Renfroe. The heir apparent is junior Erin Gabriel, but to date she has not been the dominant force she will need to be. Gabriel arrived with a lot of hype but injuries and lack of opportunity have delayed her progress. The coaches report that she is a hard worker and very competitive by nature and the promise is there, so we may see an improved Erin Gabriel once the program is in her hands. Also returning to pitch are Rainey Gaffin and Cheyanne Tarango, who have been inconsistent but dominant on occasion. The offense should be strong again, building around freshman stars Aldrete and Geer, and the defense adequate, but the pitching, the pitching….how far the Lady Vols go will depend mainly on if the pitchers progress.

I’d like to conclude this eulogy with a favorite memory or two of each of the Seniors, the image I will remember most often when thinking back about their time at Tennessee, which actually coincides with my time there. I’ve been attending Lady Vol games for four years now, as long as I have been living in Knoxville, so this group is the first whose entire career I have been privileged to watch in person. Consequently they will always be a little bit special, I guess. I confess to having a fan crush on all three.

left to right: Renfroe, Davin, Shipman

The Ellen Renfroe moment I will remember occurred often. Renfroe always had a game face, very stern and serious while on the mound, except when ringing up the final out of an inning via strikeout. The third strike was usually followed by a dazzling smile of relief and triumph, a fist pump, after which she would move quickly to congratulate and accept congratulations from her catcher and other teammates. It was a great moment to see. We had our picture taken with Ellen at a Lady Vol basketball game this year when the team was doing publicity work for the upcoming season, and she was gracious and warm, a talent not every college athlete possesses. If not for the legendary Monica Abbott, Ellen would hold practically every major Lady Vol pitching record: wins, innings, starts, strikeouts, etc., which means she will always be among the Lady Vol all-time greats. Not to have won the championship is a disappointment, but that was a goal that eluded Abbott as well, and should not define Ellen any more than it defined Monica. Ellen was a fighter all the way, working just as hard when her game was off as she did when it was on, and you can’t ask for more than that.

Madison Shipman was a complete player as a freshman who nonetheless got better every year. A true five tool player, she could hit, hit with power, run, field, and throw. Especially throw. Between innings, part of the warm up drill is for the first baseman to bounce grounders to the other infielders in rotation, which they field and fire back to the first baseman. Watching the drill, you would notice the speed of the Shipman throw compared to the second and third baseman’s, and the pop of authority when it hit the first baseman’s glove. During the game, time and time again there would be a ground ball hit deep in the hole to Maddie, and you would see the batter running toward first, and you would think, there’s no way the throw can be in time, and Maddie would throw, and it would be in time. Then you would watch other shortstops when the situation was reversed, and the Tennessee batter would reach first ahead of the throw and you would think, Maddie would have got her out. That’s what I’m going to remember most. Along with the territory she covered; every ball hit between second base and the third base stands, from the pitcher’s mound halfway out to the outfield, was within her range. She was such a presence on the field and at the plate, too, At 6’ 1”. She played the first three years of her career between two other all time Tennessee greats, fellow All-Americans Raven Chavanne and Lauren Gibson, and the biggest question mark coming into this season was who would replace those two in terms of providing stability and leadership, and the answer was Maddie. That the Lady Vols advanced as far as they did is due in no small measure to her presence on the field. Her improvement at the plate was epic; she went from dangerous hitter to dependable hitter, from, you know she is capable of getting it done to you know she is probably going to get it done, which is why she ended up the SEC Player of the Year.

What I will remember most about Melissa Davin is coach Ralph Weekly’s assessment. Last season, in response to a reporter’s question as to why he had batted Davin in a situation the details of which I no longer recall, replied quietly, “I have always believed in Melissa Davin.” After that, I started to pay more attention to her, and I believed in her as well. She didn’t have the gaudiest numbers, and her career was interrupted by injuries such as a broken hand at the end of the regular season during her Junior year, but she was always a dangerous hitter and a dependable fielder who always seemed to step up when the pressure was greatest. But the thing I will I remember first about Davin will be a video produced by Dani Klupenger that highlighted her personal bond with Averi Ramsey, the young girl adopted by the team last year. You can see the video here. I think it exemplifies what, in addition to trying to win championships, the Lady Vols are all about.

 

 

Long Night in Norman

After an easy run through the NCAA regionals, the Lady Vols landed in Oklahoma eager for a rematch with the Sooners, the team that defeated them in the finals of the World Series last year. Oklahoma was itching for the rematch too, as the pundits of college softball had curiously installed the Lady Vols as the preseason favorite over Oklahoma, in spite of the fact that Oklahoma’s losses to graduation were not as significant as Tennessee’s. Both teams have fallen short of those expectations, with Oklahoma coming in with the #7 seed and Tennessee at #10, but both teams have shown themselves capable of reaching the next level as well.

Last night’s first game of the best of three series was a disaster for the Lady Vols. Ellen Renfroe, by whose arm the Lady Vols live or die, was struggling, and the defense, usually a strong point in Tennessee’s favor, committed a number of miscues. In short, Oklahoma made the Lady Vols look like the Lady Vols usually make the other team look, and even came close to winning by run rule, which has never happened in the four years I have been following them.

A long delay for an area lightning storm stretched the debacle out to well past midnight Eastern time, with a seven o’clock start.

They meet again today at 5, with the third game to follow should a third game be necessary. Judging by last night’s result, you’d be inclined to think it won’t be.

But that’s the funny thing about softball; last night’s result may not be indicative of today’s result at all. Oklahoma pitcher Kelsey Stevens pitched a great game, but she was nowhere near as effective during the regionals against teams without Tennessee’s power last week.With very little rest, Tennessee adjustments at the plate, and an umpire with a different strike zone, the results could be very different today. Likewise, Ellen might pitch as well as Kelsey did last night. She (and Tennessee) have generally bounced back from losses with much better effort the next time out, and certainly no one on the team wants the season to end here. Tennessee has never lost a super regional, and though they are clearly in danger of losing this one, I don’t expect them to go down without a much better fight than they showed last night. And they might even pull this one out. IF they win the first game today, I think it’s even money they win the second too. But it’s a good-sized IF. Oklahoma has shown they are more than capable of slamming the door, and Tennessee has yet to prove they can beat the defending champions whose history and tradition is a cut above the Lady Vols, who have not yet won it all. 

Pictured, incidentally, is SEC player of the year Madison Shipman, senior shortstop and four year starter for the Lady Vols, about whom enough good things cannot be said, although I will probably make the attempt in a future post. 

World Views

I’m an American. Part of my birthright is being more or less ignorant of what goes on in the rest of the world most of the time. We just don’t care, Marge: world news does not sell guns, automobiles, or erectile disfunction pills around these parts, unless it’s Benghazi. A lot of us are pretty worked up about that, even if we couldn’t find it on a map.

Speaking of maps,you might never have noticed the standard view we use in this country doesn’t put the equator in the center; it gives more space to the northern hemisphere, the net effect being to make all of the northern continents (North America, Europe, and Asia) appear larger than they are, while Africa and South America end up looking smaller. So, our sense of the relative sizes of the continents is also wrong.

Here is a map from the Economist, though, that makes something we are only dimly aware of more real. It’s the states of India, labeled with the name of the country to which that state’s population is most nearly equivalent.

image

Look how small that state down at the bottom is, holding all of the people of Canada, and it isn’t even densely populated, compared to the other Indian states. 

The U. S. has 313 million people. India has four times as many.

The 48 contiguous states of the U. S, cover more area than India, but not as much as you might think. The U. S. has 2.33 times the land mass.

Oh, and Benghazi is the second largest city in Libya. Libya is one of those countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, on the northern edge of Africa. It’s snuggled right in there between Egypt and Algeria.

Benghazi’s population is about the same as Washington, our nation’s capitol.  It’s also close to the population of the Indian state of Sikkim, which is shown on the map above as having the same population as the nation of Macau. It’s that little bump right up there off the Philippines. The real Macau is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People’s Republic of China, the other being Hong Kong. Macau was a Portuguese territory until it was transferred to China in 1999. It’s across the bay from Hong Kong, about 37 miles away. It is also the most densely populated country in the world. Before you start to feel sorry for them about that, you should also know they also have the second highest life expectancy rate in the world, behind Monaco. The United States is 35th.

Yeah, I wikipedia’d all that.

Sports

Tennessee came through the Regional tournament held in Knoxville this past weekend with three wins against no loses to advance to the Super Regionals, where they will be hosted by defending National Champion and last year’s finals opponent, Oklahoma, so if they win there will be a measure of revenge in it. The Lady Vols have not lost a Super Regional since the format was introduced a decade or so ago, but they will not be favored as the #10 seed up against the #7. The team makeup is different from last year, with stronger hitting, not quite as much pitching and perhaps a slightly weaker defense. They also rely on three and sometimes four starting freshmen, who have, so far, played with the confidence and acumen of veterans.

In each of their first two games, the Lady Vols scored 12 runs, a team record for an NCAA tournament game, setting a team home run record in the second game with six. The finals was a pitcher’s dual between Senior stalwart Ellen Renfroe (29-5) and Lipscomb ace Ashley Anderson (20-8), with the outcome decided by Lexi Overstreet’s two run home run in the sixth. The hitting star for the series was freshman catcher Annie Aldrete, with three home runs, while teams chose to pitch so carefully to Senior shortstop Madison Shipman she ended up being walked five times, twice with the bases loaded for RBIs.

Evening games were chilly, but the weather was dry and pleasant for the most part and the crowds, at least when Tennessee was on the field, were at capacity. Lipscomb, Virginia Tech, and Charleston Southern all had enthusiastic fans in attendance, though. They congregated behind the dugouts of their respective clubs, and cheered lustily.

I’d like to acknowledge, though, the ladies from Virginia Tech who sat two rows in front of me throughout the tournament, behind home plate. They were older, a description I sometimes forget to apply to myself, and though decked out in Hokie gear and clearly rooting for Va Tech, joked with Tennessee fans, stadium personnel, and anybody else who came into their vicinity. Softball fans, and Women’s sports fans in general, seem to function without the testosterone-fueled, angry over-identification with “their” team which can mar big time sporting events and leave one discouraged about the prospects of the average joe embracing the concepts of civilization and sportsmanship. Well done, ladies. They came to the finals, still decked out in Chicago maroon and burnt orange though their team had been eliminated the day before in two games that were not close, and had, as near as I could tell, a great time.