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Friday, August 01, 2003

Craig Counsell represents what's great about Baseball

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for a larger image of Craig Counsell. I took this picture right before the first pitch of a game at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Giants.

Baseball is a game full of characters. I can't think of any other sport that not only allows, but encourages, such a variety of individual idiosyncracies. And its little personal eccentricities that give variety and fun to baseball, and life in general. One player whose eccentricities caught my attention years ago was Craig Counsell, the player whose photo is to the left. Look at him - could he hold that bat any higher?

I first noticed him during the 1997 World Series, when he played for the Florida Marlins. When he came up to bat, I immediately was puzzled by his unusual batter's box ritual. Before every pitch, he would be hold his bat over his head, which in itself didn't look to unusual, but then he would take three or four strokes directly downward, as if he were chopping wood with his bat. In all my years as a baseball fan, I'd never seen such an unusual batter's routine. It even beat Joe Morgan's little elbow thing, or Willie Stargell's perpetual windmill action. And perhaps its a little unusual of me, but I found Craig Counsell to be the highlight of that otherwise very boring World Series.

Fast forward to the 2001 World Series, the next time I had the opportunity to watch Craig Counsell in the batter's box. His stance, and his pre-pitch routine had become even more unusual over the last four years. Instead of chopping wood, this time Counsell would hold his bat relatively normally, until right at the moment the pitcher went into his wind-up. At this point, Counsell lifted his bat as high over his head as he possibly could. He made it look as though national security depended on how high he could hold that bat. His demeanor seemed more like one of the soldier's in the famous Iwo Jima photograph, despartely holding Old Glory aloft to keep Her from touching the ground. I'm reasonably sure that no one to ever play Major League baseball held the bat or stood at the plate quite like Craig Counsell. It almost looks painfull to be him.

According to this link, Counsell holds his bat this high so he can get around more quickly on fastballs. Many in the stands around me would have been incredulous of this, as they mumbled various things suggesting that Craig Counsell doesn't have enough chromosomes. The thing is, Craig Counsell is the lead-off hitter for one of baseball's best teams. He probably earns more than than all of his detractors at Pac-Bell Park combined.

The great thing about baseball is that players can do almost anything they please, just as long as they perform. Counsell ranks amongst one of baseball's greatest individualists. Any Little League coach would be agonized to see one of their players imitate Counsell at the plate. Yet somehow, unorthodoxy is what works the best him, and a lot of other players.. And for Ben Weber of the Anaheim Angels, whose wind-up looks like a strange variation of hari-kari. Then there was Joey Cora, who's now retired, but in his day of playing, had to do a pirouette on his way out to the field every inning. And who can forget Mark "The Bird" Fidrych", whose habit of talking to the baseball before pitches captivated fans during that one fatefull season in 1976.

Craig Counsell, I wish you a long and happy career in the Major Leagues. Keep on holdin' that bat high.

Photos from the world famous San Diego Zoo!

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It's been a little while since I've shared my photography with the infinitesimal proportion of the world's web surfers who grace my blog. Here are some pictures I took at the San Diego Zoo.

Going from left to right, the first picture is of a Giant Panda originally from China's Wolong Nature Reserve. Panda's are the rock stars of zoo inhabitants. Crowds of people stand in lines to get a glimpse of the pandas. Sometimes they're not even visible, as they escape the afternoon heat in the comfort of their dens. When they are visible, most of the time they're leisurely eating bamboo, their main delicacy. Personally I don't find them nearly as interesting as gorillas to watch, but they're very cute, cuddly, and rare in the United States, so it's worth the time to see them.

The next picture is of a hippopotamus. I wanted so much to get a picture of a hippo with it's mouth completely open, so you could see it's huge tusk like teeth. However, when I was at the zoo, the hippos conspired against me, and refused to emerge from the water. I got a picture of the next best thing anyway.

The next two pictures I find interesting for a few reasons. Here's a picture of a the aptly names Rhinoceros, which means "nose horn" in Greek. The thing I find interesting about this picture is that the great beast's hyde looks almost iridescent in this picture. Perhaps this is the world's first psychadelic rhino.

The last picture, but certainly not least, is what I call the "Dreaded Soak Zone" picture. I can just imagine the scenario that necessitated the existence of this sign. There was probably a very nice family from Des Moine, Iowa, casually admiring the rhino. Then the lumbering animal turns it's gargantuan hind quarters toward the poor unsuspecting family, something that makes them all titter with amusement. From there, the rhino proceeds to mark it's territory, thoroughly drenching the entire family in the process. Ohhh, the horror, the horror....

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