The Week What Caught Our Eye

March 27, 2021

Spring.jpgVibrant, determined signs of spring sprout through the vestiges of an Adirondack winter. (Nancie Battaglia)

Good morning, Colleagues and Friends:

Right about now could you use a hot dog, a cold beer, and an afternoon of sunshine in the stands?

Major League Baseball opens its regular season Thursday. Who knows what’s ahead, but the Dodgers look like they might be the first repeat World Series champs since the Jeter, Rivera, Torre-led Yankees of 1998-2000. The Dodgers added even more strength to their already-loaded arsenal with the off-season signing of pitcher Trevor Bauer, one of the best in the game. The New York Mets have to be considered contenders after their off-season ownership change and subsequent on-field personnel moves. The Yankees remain a team with all of the right pieces for a pennant run. And the Red Sox open their season with the least proven roster of the 21st century, as they try to demonstrate that playing money ball on a big budget can work.

All of this has us reminiscing about perhaps the worst team in professional baseball history – the Yonkers Hoot Owls of sainted memory. By every conventional baseball measure, the Owls were awful. Dead last. The field was dark and overgrown. When the grass got too long, it was the players who mowed it. When it came time for a road game, this collection of former major leaguers and up-and-coming stars rode in a rickety, old, unairconditioned school bus. Still, there was magic because, well, baseball isn’t all numbers.

LINKS TO THE PASTIME: While we’re on the subject of the national pastime: There are baseball fans, and then there’s Will Levith. The editorial director of Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living has compiled an amazingly comprehensive list of baseball players with ties to the Capital Region. And as if that weren’t enough, he tracked down information about the value of baseball cards and other memorabilia associated with each. Standing ovation for his work! And with the season openers this week, The Wall Street Journal caught up with Eddie Robinson, who at 100 is the oldest living ex-major leaguer and the host of a podcast. (Subscription Required)

A FOOTBALL FIRST: Maia Chaka, a native of Rochester who officiated college football games on the weekends while working full-time as a health and physical education teacher, made history as the first Black woman to be named an on-field official for the NFL. "I thought I was being punked," she told her hometown paper, the Democrat & Chronicle.

SPORTING BLUES: Like many dads, Keith Gessen grew up playing sports, still loves sports, and looked forward to playing with his son when he was old enough, watching him learn the lessons sports impart, and be part of a team. His son is old enough now, or getting close. He just has no interest. An essay about parenting and paradigm shifts.

THEY’RE HOOKED: Abu Garcia, one of the world’s leading sportfishing brands, has named the St. Lawrence River the No. 1 fishery in the United States. Lake Erie was No. 3. The Town of Massena, NY, said it will host six sportfishing tournaments this year, hoping to make up for the loss of big events in 2020.

BOUQUET OF SOUND: In a greenhouse where flowers, vegetables and herbs grow, great performances will take root this summer as some of the world’s most beautiful music is performed by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center on a community farm in Saratoga Springs.

HE KNOWS HIM NOW: Ilya Hoffman, who spent two at years at UAlbany before finishing his degree at Baruch College and later founding a marketing technology company, was on the fence about joining friends to watch a replay of Villanova University’s 2016 victory in the men’s basketball national final. He’s not much of a sports fan, but he went, a decision that changed his life and that of Christiana Barkley, daughter of Charles, who Hoffman knew only as the guy from Space Jam.

OF FUNGI AND NON-FUNGIBLES

SHROOM FOR GROWTH: Might a medicinal mushroom make all the difference? The pandemic has cultivated a growing interest in functional fungi for their purported immune-boosting and stress-relieving properties. Medicinal mushroom supplements in powder, pills, tinctures, teas and skin creams have become an over-the-counter hit. And New York is a mega-producer, with mushrooms growing in abundance in the fertile forests of the Catskills and Adirondacks.

BUY THIS COLUMN: Scissors used to be all that was needed to clip and save a story from the paper. Last week, to explore the new world of digital collectibles, The New York Times turned one of its columns into a non-fungible token – a graphic of the column that cannot be counterfeited or duplicated. It sold for 350 ether, a digital currency, roughly $560,000. So, what are these non-fungible tokens all about? Time has a pretty good overview.

THE TORCH HAS BEEN PASSED: Readers of a certain age may remember the phrase “busing to achieve racial integration.’’ It tripped off newscasters’ lips in the 1970s. Boston was ground zero in the fraught daily effort to move thousands of minority children across the city to schools in white neighborhoods. An 11-year-old Black girl riding a Boston bus one September morning in 1976 remembers that, as her bus headed into the heart of the Irish-American enclave of Charlestown, police officers took up protective positions. Then she spotted the mob: White teenagers and adults, shouting and throwing rocks, telling them to go back to Africa. That girl, Kim Janey, just became acting mayor of Boston, the first Black and first female mayor in the city’s history.

TILTED PLAYING FIELD: A team of academic researchers examined disparities between collegiate sports that generate revenue (primarily football and men’s basketball) and the sports they subsidize (think tennis, track and field, rowing) and concluded that “the prevailing model rests on taking the money generated by athletes who are more likely to be Black and come from low-income neighborhoods and transferring it to sports played by athletes who are more likely to be white and from higher-income neighborhoods.” The implications from these findings are huge, the researchers say.

PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

HAPPY TALK: 2020 delivered a steady stream of tension and hardship, and while there’s no minimizing the sharp increase in Americans reporting anxiety and depressive symptoms, there is promising data to suggest that people on balance kept a fairly positive outlook on life, especially when it comes to expectations for the future. (Subscription Required)

FUNDAMENTALS OF HAPPINESS: A course on happiness that became one of the most popular in the history of Yale revealed some age-old lessons: the keys to happiness are sleep, gratitude and helping others.

GET MOVING: With restrictions on youth sports and other activities being lifted, parents are dealing with yet another challenge — helping their children shed some of the bad habits acquired over the past year, habits that in many cases resulted in unhealthy weight gain. The best advice: Set a good example with your own eating and level of activity and be careful about words that can have consequences for physical and mental health.

OUTDOOR BLISS: Big weddings were among the many cultural casualties of the pandemic, but of the couples who were determined to say I do despite the circumstances, an increasing number are finding their happy places at the top of an Adirondack peak.

ALMOST THERE: Troubling news this week about COVID-19 flareups is a reminder that, though we may be able to see the finish line, we’re not there yet. It’s helpful to remember that fully vaccinated does not mean protected, because it takes the body time to develop the necessary immunity. In other words, don’t rush it. Some are expecting a reaction akin to the Roaring ‘20s, when a world freed from the fear of the Spanish Flu and World War I basically went on a 10-year bender, but pandemic historian John Barry doesn’t think so. For starters, he told Politico, a lot fewer people now than then will ask themselves the very simple questions, “Why am I alive? How come I made it? Psychologically, that was all part of the Roaring ’20s.”

SEEING IS BELIEVING: A onetime railroad baron’s getaway in the heart of the Catskills, built in 1898 using local timber, field stone and river rock, in on the market. The home, which retains its rustic feel and look, and nearly 50 acres lists for $540,000.

A CLOSER LOOK: Ben Kirby is an evangelical Christian who noticed while watching YouTube videos of worship songs that some of the church leaders on his screen were wearing some pretty swaggy and expensive clothing. So he started looking a bit closer, and noticing that a lot of spiritual leaders also were conspicuous consumers of high-end fashion, including one who preached in a different designer suit each week. He chronicles their tastes — including Seattle pastor Judah Smith’s $3,600 Gucci jacket, Dallas pastor T.D. Jakes’s $1,250 Louboutin fanny pack and Miami pastor Guillermo Maldonado’s $2,541 Ricci crocodile belt — on his Instagram page. (Subscription Required)

Bulmer.jpgThe skies above the Adirondacks are among the darkest on Earth. On the nine-level Bortle scale, which classifies the brightness of a night sky, Class 1 represents the darkest skies. Skies over much of the Adirondacks are classified as a 2. The Milky Way becomes visible at 3 or 4 on the Bortle scale. Our friend and colleague John Bulmer created this graphic on the basis of a light pollution map. For more information, visit John’s Adirondack Mountain News. 

THIS IS REAL LIFE

UNDERCOVER BOSS: At a community center in downtown Detroit, a fit man in his 50s hustles about, serving meals to people experiencing homelessness and filling boxes with clothing and other essentials. He gets there as often as he can, which isn’t as much as it used to be, considering that the unassuming volunteer also happens to run Ford Motor Co. (Subscription Required)

LIFE LESSONS: Jose Villarruel scratched out a living for eight years as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles, choosing to live in his car so he could send most of his earnings home to his family in Mexico. A former student who was getting ready for work saw him, and eventually remembered the man as a teacher who had meant so much to him. He went back, learned more about his circumstances — bleak during the pandemic — and started a fundraising drive that raised $27,000 for Mr. V.

HOME SWEET HOME: Tom Garvey had an important assignment that he couldn’t afford to screw up. Pope John Paul II was greeting thousands of faithful at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, and Garvey’s job was to recruit a temporary team to help all of those people park. Concerned that some in his crew might not be morning people — he recruited them from a bar, after all — he arranged an adult slumber party in a storage area behind one of the Vet’s concession stands. And that gave him an idea that is sure to become an instant Philadelphia legend – he would live at the stadium.

SPECIAL DELIVERY: The broccoli tempura Steve Chu whips up at his restaurant in Baltimore left such an impression on one customer that she said that’s the meal she wanted when she was on her deathbed. That customer, who lives in Vermont, is in the end stages of lung cancer, and her son-in-law contacted Chu, wondering if it would be possible to get the recipe. Chu and his partner did much more than that. (Subscription Required)

TIMELESS COMMITMENT: Dorothy Zehnder is one of Frankenmuth, Mich.’s, most famous citizens, a six-days-a-week fixture at the Bavarian Inn, a restaurant she founded with her late husband. It’s a busy place, serving about 900,000 meals a year, making it one of the largest family-run restaurants in the country. She created many of its recipes, and unless it’s Monday, her day off, there’s a good chance you’ll find her in the kitchen, cooking and helping to train staff, just as she has for 71 years. (Subscription Required)

OZ BLAHS: Fans of Jeopardy! made it known that they were not on board with the selection of Dr. Oz for a two-week stint guest-hosting the program (week one wrapped up Friday). They haven’t forgotten that the TV doctor has come under criticism for peddling controversial medical advice.

INSIDE BASEBALL: Neil Clark was an insider’s insider, a well-connected lobbyist in Columbus, Ohio, who was swept up in a massive bribery scandal involving the passage of a controversial nuclear subsidies law in that state. A reporter in Cleveland took a shot and called him in early January, beginning a confidential rapport that ended when the lobbyist apparently took his own life last week in a park in Florida. A rare look behind the scenes at how a reporter develops and protects relationships with the sources who show them how the sausage is made.

CONSERVATION CONUNDRUM: A proposed $300-million project to generate hydropower during times of high demand entirely underground is encountering resistance from people concerned about the project’s impact on the endangered bat species that hibernate nearby. The proposed Mineville Energy Storage Project would make innovative reuse of a pair of mines in Moriah, NY, near Lake Champlain, that closed in the 1970s, but potentially imperil tens of thousands of bats that find safe haven in nearby Barton Hill.

LUNCH AND LEARN: The Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve & Environmental Education Center in Depew, NY, near Buffalo, is hosting a series of lunchtime discussions about how people can build sustainability into their daily lives. The discussions are free and online, so anyone can participate. The 30-minute sessions take place Thursdays at 12 noon from April 8-29 and are designed to help people remove fossil fuels from four areas of life — electricity, food, transportation and money.

LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH: A video shot three years ago but recently posted to TikTok shows a tourist in Indonesia — considering a career in animal research at the time — blithely allowing a small, blue-dotted crustacean to crawl through her cupped hands. Turns out it was a blue-ringed octopus, one of the most lethal creatures on the planet.

VACCINE CARDS, TMI: Because this is 2021 and nothing happened unless you took a photo of it and put it on social media, lots of people are posting images of their vaccine cards online. It’s really not a good idea. Scammers are watching.

GREEN AND GRAY: Doctors and researchers are seeing evidence of significantly increased marijuana use among older adults, aided by the growing number of states that have legalized recreational use. Those who bother to check with a doctor before indulging are being warned — if you haven’t smoked since you were a kid, this isn’t the stuff that came in rolled up sandwich bags.

ABOUT TIME: A volcano in southwest Iceland sputtered to life for the first time in nearly 800 years, spilling lava down the sides and making for some cool photography.

TOUR GUIDE: Looking for something to do in the Adirondacks, or for places to send guests? You’ll find an impressive range of options, along with websites and other helpful information, right here.

LIVES

FATHER MIKE FARANO helped establish an Albany home for orphans with AIDS, then, after a day in the office, stopped by to rock the kids to sleep at night. He led the board that brought to life the modern Albany International Airport. Had he chosen another path, he might well have been a successful CEO, such were his masterful administrative skills. But 53 years ago, he left Glens Falls to enter the priesthood, a decision that led to many kinds of service – Diocesan leader, community builder, mediator, advocate for the poor, supporter of foreign missionaries, beloved colleague and friend, and the title he cherished most: parish priest. He was 78.

DAVID STARBUCK was the Indiana Jones of the Adirondacks, an archeologist, historian and storyteller who could have uncovered ancient civilizations around the world but turned his focus to an area rich in history close to home, inspiring renewed interest in the French and Indian War by unearthing artifacts in Lake George and Fort Edward and enlisting students and the public in his quest to understand the past. He was 71.

ELGIN BAYLOR was one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived, a high-flying and dynamic forward who is one of four players in NBA history to average at least 25 points and 10 rebounds for his career and generally regarded as the greatest athlete ever to come from Washington, DC. His above-the-rim style of play changed the game, and his influence endures. He helped establish the NBA on the West Coast when his Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles, and he later spent years as a front office executive. He was 86.

KATHERINE DIAZ was a 22-year-old surfer hoping to represent her native El Salvador in the Tokyo Olympics, the debut Olympics for the sport. She had just completed a training session at a beach south of the capital when a flash of lightning killed her instantly.

KENT TAYLOR was turned down more than 80 times as he sought investors for the “affordable, Texas-style” restaurant he envisioned, and even when he got buy-in, three of the first five Texas Roadhouse restaurants failed. Today, Texas Roadhouse can be found in 49 states and 10 other countries. A bout with COVID-19 left him with a severe case of tinnitus, among other after-effects, and he took his own life at 65.

ALMOST FINAL WORDS

"The way to make coaches think you're in shape in the spring is to get a tan."
Whitey Ford

THE SIGNOFF

BEAR NECESSITIES: In search of a little breakfast, a family of bears in Orange County, NY, destroyed a homeowner’s bird feeder and knocked over a bunch of trash cans, a reminder that bears are out of hibernation and looking to stock up after their long winter naps. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is reporting a rise in reported bear sightings in urban and suburban areas, too, meaning it’s not just people in the mountains who should be careful about what they’re putting outside.

THANK YOU TO OUR CONTRIBUTORS: Bill Callen, Bill Richmond, Troy Burns, Matt Behan, John Behan, Lisa Fenwick, Tara Hutchins, Claire P. Tuttle, Kelly Donahue and John Brodt.

FACING OUT is what we do. We help companies, organizations and individuals work effectively with their most important external audiences – their customers, their shareholders, their communities, the government and the news media.  www.behancommunications.com

Facing Out features news and other nuggets that caught our eye, and that we thought might be of value to you, our friends and business associates. Some items are good news about our clients and friends, others are stories that we hope will leave you a bit more informed or entertained than you were five minutes ago. As always, we welcome your ideas and feedback. 

Let’s make it a conversationmark.behan@behancom.com

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