The Kingfisher

I love birds – all kinds. Growing up my only pets were parakeets, and I remember staring at them in their cage and wondering if they were happy in the little home we provided for them. In Florida I learned to birdwatch, even if I never have been more than a novice. Still, I watched birds constantly in Florida, because there was always something interesting nearby. Many times I would find my car drifting off the road as I stared into the sky trying to spot a bald eagle in flight. Last spring, while driving on a bridge that spans the Kansas River in Lawrence I saw a very out of place bald eagle just as it was about to land on a tree branch. I nearly plunged my vehicle into the river as I stared in awe of this powerful raptor.


My favorite bird by far is the owl. Part of that goes back to my 6th grade science class, where we dissected owl pellets. Mostly, I just think they are interesting, beautiful, and fascinating creatures. When we lived in Gainesville I was aware of at least two owls that would hunt around our neighborhood (I could tell because they had different calls). One of them liked to perch just outside my bedroom window and talk in the wee hours of the morning. It always woke me up, because I am a terribly light sleeper. One night, just after dinner, it made a rare appearance in our backyard, with just enough light to see it. We stared at it until it flew away – he was so majestic. When I think of what I miss about Gainesville, owls are one of the first things that come to mind. Another bird I thoroughly enjoyed in Florida was the kingfisher (the belted kingfisher to be exact). These birds conjure up memories of Lisa and I visiting the Everglades. They seemed to be everywhere, but never in one place for too long – they are a hyperactive little bird. They perch on tree branches or poles near bodies of water, because that is where their food supply comes from.


 This morning I was totally surprised to spot a kingfisher while driving Lisa to work. It was perched on a pole overlooking a retention pond. I slammed on the brakes to watch it (fortunately nobody was behind me), and soon enough it was flying laps around the pond before moving on to something that had a better chance of feeding it. I was in shock. I honestly had no clue kingfishers would travel this far north, and this far away from a major body of water. I hoped he wasn’t lost.


When I got home I decided to look up habitats for kingfishers, because I was worried. I noticed right away that they can be found as far north as Canada and Alaska. The little critter was flying south for the winter, because this has been a very cold fall, and it was time for him to warm up. I can imagine he reversed the route Lewis & Clark took, following the Missouri River down from North Dakota, and making a little stop in Overland Park, ensuring our community lived up to its name. Then I had to wonder if he would end up in the Florida Everglades. I wonder if he returned their every year around this time, just like the “snowbirds” we see driving to St. Petersburg and St. Augustine each year. Then my memories floated back to those places in Florida where I did see all of the wild, amazing birds who filled the sky with their flight and their calls. Who would have thought seeing a little bird perched on a post, looking for his breakfast in a retention pond could have such an affect on me?


Is The Baseball Commissioner Necessary?

This is the 90th year since the famous Black Sox Scandal that put a permanent stain on major league baseball. One of the things that came out of this scandal was the office of Baseball Commissioner. In 1920, the baseball owners elected Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to be their commissioner, and rid baseball of corruption. He is largely seen as a hero, but was he?


The idea of the commissioner actually started in 1903. Back then the American League and National League were trying to reach a truce. They did so by creating this commission, which consisted of the presidents of each of the leagues, and a 3rd party commission chairman. After the 1919 debacle, the owners decided that the commission needed to be independent, and it needed to be made of non-baseball people. When Landis was asked to be the chair of the commission, he said he would take the position only if he were the one and only person with power. He also wanted absolute power. The owners were desperate to get this embarrassment behind them, so they agreed to Landis’ terms.


The problem with this arrangement was that Landis now had the ability to operate as he saw fit, without much in the way of accountability. Prior to being commissioner, Landis got Jack Johnson banned from professional boxing for taking a white woman across state lines. This attitude continued, as Landis blocked all attempts to allow African-Americans to play baseball. Since he served until his death in 1944, he became the primary reason fans never saw Satchel Paige playing while at the peak of his career, and why fans were never able to find out if Josh Gibson could break Babe Ruth’s home-run records in the major leagues.


Still, Judge Landis’ job was to clean up baseball. He began by banning the 8 men who had knowledge of the 1919 World Series fix. What’s interesting about this is that players came to the defense of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson by stating he did not help throw the series (and his statistics from the series will corroborate that). Judge Landis banned him for having knowledge of the fix, and not telling anybody that a fix was on. In other words, Joe Jackson is banned from baseball for not being a rat.


It is also interesting to note that once this scandal had been dealt with, the owners fully expected Judge Landis to step down from the office, so baseball could resume as it had prior. The commissioners office was never intended to last longer than the emergency period that was in place. Somebody forgot to tell this to Judge Landis, who held on to the office for 24 years. The commissioner was smart to demand the powers he now had, because the owners could do nothing to him now that the scandal was over with.


The banning of the White Sox players did prevent this type of event from occurring again in the sport, as many of the players had no other means of income, and didn’t want to lose the ability to make money at the only they really knew how to do well. Still, it is interesting that Judge Landis did not ban Ty Cobb or Tris Speaker, who also in 1919 had bet on baseball. This ultimately is the flaw with the office of baseball commissioner – his whims become gospel.


Now let’s fast forward to today. Bud Selig, the current commissioner is a former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. How is it that an office which was created to be independent of baseball men now has a former baseball owner running it? That goes back to a 3-year period from 1985-1987 when owners colluded against players, but agreeing (behind closed doors) to keep salaries down for free agents. In 1990, a settlement for this activity was reached, and the owners had to pay $280 million to the players who were free agents in those 3 years. Fay Vincent, then commissioner of baseball was very much on the side of the players, and railed against the owners for stealing from the players and getting caught. Bud Selig was one of the owners named by Vincent.


Because the commissioner is voted into office only by the baseball owners, soon the owners voted Vincent out of office, because owners felt he favored the players over them. While they searched for a new commissioner, Bud Selig filled the role as “Chairman of the Baseball Commission.” In 1998, he was given the title of commissioner.


I write all of that to ask what is the role of the baseball commissioner? The number one rule for the commissioner is to see to the “best interests of baseball.” Is the office of commissioner in the best interests of baseball? I am curious why after 90 years we still think a dictatorship is in the best interest of baseball. The original intent of the office of commission was to have a 3 person panel make decisions which would shape baseball. I say we take it further, and make a larger panel of the commission office – similar to what we have in the U.S. Supreme Court. Let’s have a player representative (active or retired) from each league, an owner representative from each league, the presidents of each league, and a non-baseball chairman who meet, discuss issues, vote, and act for the best interests of baseball. Maybe then we could at least give Joe Jackson and Pete Rose their “day in court.” Maybe then we could get this performance enhancing drug issue dealt with properly. Maybe then we could get a little more equality between the teams in the league, so the Yankees don’t make the playoffs every year based off the amount of money they spend alone. Let’s start making sense of the office of commissioner with a team of people who can constructively come up with solutions together, instead of relying on the opinions of 1 out of touch dictator to decide what is and is not right for baseball.

Taking Life As It Comes

The last two Sundays Lisa and I have had taken some unplanned time. The first Sunday was so beautiful and warm that we went to lunch after church and sat in their outdoor seating. Then we went to the Overland Park Arboretum to do some walking and stopping to smell the flowers.


This last Sunday we had wanted to go to a local cider mill, but once we saw the crowds, we diverted our trip to a winery. After tasting several different wines, we walked out of their with 4 bottles, and were very relaxed. Neither of these Sundays ended up as planned.


My plan for the last two Sundays was studying for a work related exam. I am trying to finish up this series of tests by summer of next year so I can put all of this work study behind me (after 9 years of continuous studying). Once this is completed I want to focus on other things, like language study, music (in whatever form that takes), writing, and travel. The problem was that Kansas weather wasn’t going to cooperate with my study schedule. My dilemma became 1) do I take advantage of this unusually great weather and spend quality time with my wife, or 2) do I take advantage of the time I have left to study this stuff to be ready for my exam? I think I chose the better of the two.


When we lived in Florida it was easy for me to make plans and follow through on them. I could pretty well predict what the weather was going to look like, and I knew if I were able to get my work done, the weekend would be waiting for me to play. I also knew if I had a particularly busy few months where I needed to focus, it was OK, because next month would be a dream as well.


Since moving to Kansas City, I am learning to take life as it comes. Opportunities seem to spring out of nowhere, and if you hesitate or pass on them now, you may not get another chance. That is why on the last Sunday of September, when the temperature was 85 degrees, we went outside. We walked, we enjoyed nature, and we connected with each other. The studying and work I was passing on weren’t going to take care of themselves, but the stress was not going to affect me, because it was time to live and truly feel alive. This day was a gift, and it was my responsibility to honor the giver of it by truly enjoying it. It was worth it.


That is also why on the first Sunday of October, with the sun bathing the land in a wondrous fall, golden hue, and there was a slight chill in the air, we needed to just drive a little. The cider mill is about 30 minutes from our house, but it was packed with more people than I would ever want to count. I was happy that so many were of the opportunity, but we decided another opportunity awaited, and went to the winery.


It has been a long, hard road for me to get used to the taste of wine, but I had no difficulties on this day. The wine was fabulous, and better than that were the memories Lisa and I had of being in Portugal a little more than 1 year ago, and learning to fall in love with the fruit of the vine while there. The day also reminded us of being a child in Michigan, and loving fall for its color, sounds, and coolness. Seasons are so fun for kids, because they don’t have deadlines to meet, or yards to keep up. They just enjoy it for what it is. For one short afternoon, I felt like I could be that kid again. It’s amazing how life can be so enriching if you just take it as it comes.