Pumpkin Spice Season has Arrived Bringing with it the Taste of Fall to Summer

For as long as I can recall, my favorite season has been Fall. While, thanks to daily heat advisories, it can be hard in this part of Texas to know when Fall arrives, after consulting a calendar I can confirm that Fall is just around the corner.

Why do I love Fall? Let me count the ways. First, there are the changing leaves. Second, fall brings the crisp smell in the air as one curls up with a hot cup of apple cider. Third, pumpkin spiced everything.

While some folks like things that are artisanal like pickles, I like things that are Autumnal like pumpkins.

Fall, or Autumn, as the fancy people call it, really is a tale of all seasons. By starting on September 22, and running to December 21, fall encompasses the summer like heat at the start, as well as the chill of winter at its climax. Of course, in Texas fall usually only has a few non summer like days during the march to winter.

Why do I love Fall? Let me count the ways. First, there are the changing leaves. Second, fall brings the crisp smell in the air as one curls up with a hot cup of apple cider. Third, pumpkin spiced everything. While some folks like things that are artisanal like pickles, I like things that are Autumnal.
Photo R. Anderson

As much as I love fall, having lived in mostly fall free climates for the majority of my life, I have often been forced to only see the leaves change color either on television, or on the rare trip to a fall filled environment.

And while I can still enjoy a warm cup of cider, it is hard to get in that festive fall mood when one is wearing shorts and battling the heat while sipping that cider.

While I am limited in my ability to fully embrace all that fall has to offer in terms of leaves and cider, I am able to embrace the seasonal tradition of pumpkin spice season.

Each year, like Linus in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, I count down the days until I can enjoy pumpkin spice pancakes, pumpkin spice cupcakes, pumpkin pie Blizzards, and pumpkin spice lattes, or PSLs. In fact, the only time I drink lattes is during PSL season. That is how much I love the pumpkin spice season.

Either because seasons are currently all a blur, or because marketing knows no boundaries, most of the pumpkin spice items arrived on September 1 this year. For those keeping track that means the tastes of fall debuted in the summer. At this rate, the tastes of the winter holidays will arrive by October 1 and summer time flavors will roll into town in February.

Can you say 4th of February Barbecue?

Each year, like Linus in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, I count down the days until I can enjoy Pumpkin spiced pancakes, pumpkin spiced cupcakes, and pumpkin spiced lattes, or PSLs. In fact, the only time I drink lattes is during PSL season. That is how much I love the pumpkin spice season.
Photo R. Anderson

Sadly, pumpkin spice season only lasts a few months of the year. As a result of the shortened season, each year I try to extend the smells of the season by stocking up on pumpkin spice scented air fresheners.

Sadly, I have yet to find the sweet balance of buying enough air fresheners in October to last me until they go on sale again when pumpkin spice season returns the following year.

I suppose that were pumpkin spice season to last all year, I might not appreciate it as much. By having a specific season each year, pumpkin spice season manages to come and go without over staying its welcome.

This year, as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the arrival of pumpkin spice season provides a brief reminder of what normal life entails. It also should serve as a reminder that if everyone does their part it can be that way again.

Sports have tried to return this year to give people a sense of normalcy, however, there is nothing normal about the way they are being played.

The NHL and the NBA are playing playoff games in bubbles, and the NFL is set to kick off their version of a season in the midst of a pandemic next week. College Football will also try to fill some Saturdays with gridiron action.

When fall rolls around each year, I am usually one of the first people to declare when asked, that “yes, I am ready for some football.” However, this year I really would have preferred that football stay on the sidelines instead of trying to cobble together a season.

When done right, sports can provide a temporary escape from daily life. However, when down incorrectly, the escape can ring hollow.

Major League Baseball games look and sound like they have in the past, if one keeps their eyes closed. However, once you open your eyes and see that the fans are just cardboard cutouts, and the sounds are being piped in through the speakers, you become aware of the man behind the curtain. As a result, the great and powerful Oz seems just a little less magical.

In a pinch, I can always just sprinkle pumpkin spice flavoring on anything to get me through those pumpkin spice free dog days of summer and spring.
Photo R. Anderson

When baseball first returned this year, I caught a few games and tried to suspend reality and see the games for the pandemic distracting entertainment they were trying to provide.

But, after a few weeks of that, I realized that distraction was the last thing we need since it makes it too easy to buy into the myth that COVID-19 isn’t real, or that it is real and is totally under control.

Baseball is a sport full of statistics. Each year it seems like someone finds a new stat to track that no one had thought of before. Launch angles and exit velocity are now as much a part of the nomenclature of the game of baseball as balls and strikes.

With so many numbers to keep track of, it can be easy to lose track of the numbers that matter. The nearly 200,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 over the past nine months or so are a statistic that each and every one of us should be ashamed of. It should also motivate us to do our part to make sure that number does not continue to rise.

To put COVID-19 into baseball terms consider the following. A baseball manager would not leave a pitcher in the game who was giving up home run after home run and say, “well, it is what it is, and Bob’s really got control of his fastball today.” On the contrary, that manager would see that Bob’s control was not where it needed to be and would bring in a new pitcher to try to salvage a win.

America’s response to COVID-19 is a lot like Bob’s pitches. You know kind of all over the place, and hitting the Bull mascot, as well as anything else in the unfortunate path of one of his fast balls.

Instead of taking steps to correct the issue, our manager in chief is saying that a magical breakthrough will arrive just before the last out in the ninth inning and planning a World Series style parade, when there really is nothing to celebrate.

That would be like a baseball team sizing Championship rings for their players without ever taking the field. Sure, there is a chance that the other 29 teams could forfeit an entire season and allow the team that never took the field to be crowned champion.

I mean anything absurd that would never seem plausible in any other year can certainly happen in this wacky year called 2020. But, counting on winning a championship because the rest of the league forfeited is about as far-fetched as saying things like COVID-19 will just disappear.

Like the arrival of baseball before it, pumpkin spice season’s arrival is trying to allow us to act like we normally do in the fall. There is a temptation to just act like there is nothing to see and just sip that sweet pumpkin spice latte. But that would be the wrong approach to take.

Like the arrival of baseball before it, pumpkin spice season’s arrival is trying to allow us to act like we normally do in the fall. There is a temptation to just act like there is nothing to see and just sip that sweet pumpkin spiced latte like there is nothing to see here. But that would be the wrong approach to take.
Photo R. Anderson

I will still get my PSLs, and eat my pumpkin spice flavored foods just like I have in years past. But this year as I am partaking of the flavors of the season, I will be more aware of the essential workers behind the scenes who create all of those pumpkin flavored masterpieces.

Good Old Charlie Brown’s best friend Linus fell asleep in the pumpkin patch waiting for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. We can not afford to fall asleep in the battle against COVID-19; unless we want to continue to have empty ballparks and restrictions on our movements.

It really is that simple. A little inconvenience now, like wearing a mask, and social distancing, will allow life to return to normal sooner than just ignoring the science and hoping that COVID-19 gets bored and decides to go away on its own. That is something we can all raise a pumpkin spiced latte to.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some flavors of fall to eat in the middle of a late summer heat wave.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Universal DH Among the Changes Coming in Shortened MLB Season

Baseball fans are being asked to swallow a lot of changes this year as Major League Baseball (MLB) plows forward with their plans for a 2020 season like an out of control conductor-less freight train being chased by Denzel Washington and Chris Pine.

Changes being introduced as part of the guidelines to play ball in the middles of the global COVID-19 pandemic include, daily temperature checks for everyone entering the Ballpark, COVID-19 testing, no touching, no fighting, no spitting, no licking, and wearing masks and socially distancing when not on the field.

Of course, problems with timely delivery of the test results in order to clear players to participate may cause the entire operation to topple like a poorly constructed house of cards being built in a fan factory.

Changes being introduced as part of the guidelines to play ball in the middles of the global COVID-19 pandemic include, daily temperature checks for everyone entering the Ballpark, COVID-19 testing, no touching, no fighting, no spitting, no licking, and wearing masks and socially distancing when not on the field.
Photo R. Anderson

Assuming that the 60-games in 66-days MLB season does take place, aside from the player interaction protocols outlined above, one of the biggest changes in the game for 2020 is the introduction of the universal Designated Hitter (DH).

For nearly a half a century the DH was an American League only thing, but now thanks to a shortened season, each of the 30 MLB teams will have a DH in every game.

Make no mistake, MLB has been very transparent in calling their shots the last few years. From looking at ways to shorten the game by limiting the number of pitching changes a manger can make, to exploring limitations on the use of defensive shifts, the MLB powers that be have clearly said, the long ball is good, and 0-0 ties in the 14th inning are bad.

So, it stands to reason that MLB would want a universal DH to add one more “quick bat” in the lineup to replace the pitcher striking out in the “nine hole” in the batting order and killing offensive rallies.

While many pitchers were considered easy outs at the plate, Stephen Strasburg was one of the pitchers who could rake at the plate.
Photo R. Anderson

To be fair, there are some pitchers who, as the saying goes, “can rake.” Pitchers known for their ability to throw the ball, as well as hit the ball, include Stephen Strasburg, Zack Greinke, and Noah Syndergaard, to name a few.

Shohei Ohtani is another dual threat as a pitcher and a hitter who has been used as a DH by the Los Angeles Angels on days that he wasn’t pitching.

So, while there are pitchers who swing a mean bat from time to time, the majority of times a pitcher goes to the plate it involves them borrowing someone else’s bat and standing uncomfortably at the plate while either swinging wildly at three pitches, trying to lay down a wicked sacrifice bunt, or refusing to swing and hoping to strike out so they can go back to keeping their arm warm in the dugout.

Whether to leave a pitcher in, or take them out for a pinch hitter, is one of the managerial chess pieces that National League managers have had to juggle. Now, thanks to the universal DH, there will no longer be the need for managers to fret about a pitcher coming up to bat with two outs and the bases loaded.

Mention the designated hitter in polite dinner conversation and one will quickly find out how divisive the topic really is among fans.

The pro designated hitter camp will point to the fact that by eliminating the pitcher as a batter the rallies can continue without the fear of a nearly guaranteed out with a pitcher batting. The DH also allows players to lengthen their careers when their fielding suffers.

The foes of the DH rule will say that having pitchers batting, despite the almost guaranteed out they provide, is a truer form of the game and is more historically accurate while creating more cat and mouse strategy between the managers.

Or as Crash Davis in Bull Durham would say, “I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter.”

With respect to Crash Davis, having watched both types of games over the years, I have to side with the pro DH camp, but I am totally with him on the need to ban artificial surfaces in Ballparks.

Former Tampa Bay Rays first baseman, and current MLB Network analyst, Carlos Pena, was the first full time designated hitter in Houston Astros history. The Astros were in need of a DH after the team made the move from the National League to the American League.
Photo R. Anderson

When I wrote about the 40th Anniversary of the DH back in 2013, I mentioned the possibility of pitchers getting injured at the plate as a major benefit of rolling out the DH across the board.

And for all of you out there who say surely a pitcher can’t get hurt just trying to bunt or swinging wildly, I remind you of the story of Andy Pettitte, and his brief tenure with the then National League Houston Astros. Pettitte injured his pitching arm while trying to check a swing in his debut game with the Astros. He missed the next three weeks with a strained left elbow.

While a pitcher is more likely to get injured on the mound than at the plate, the story of Andy Pettitte shows that swinging a bat is better left to the professionals.

Of course, there is still a very real possibility that the 2020 MLB season will get scrapped and we will have to wait until 2021 to see the universal DH. You know, because of that whole raging coast to coast COVID-19 pandemic that is pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain.

Count me among the people who feel that in the name of player safety, umpire safety, manager safety, sanctity of the game, and whatever else you want to pile on there, that the risks of putting on a 2020 MLB season far outweigh any benefits of starting up a season that may not be able to be completed.

For comparison, Major League Soccer (MLS) resumed at the Walt Disney World Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, FL. this week. MLS is joining the National Basketball League (NBA) in a bubble of safety at Walt Disney World.

Despite all of the precautions being taken, the Dallas and Nashville MLS franchises have removed themselves from the rest of the season because too many of their players tested positive for COVID-19. NBA players are also testing positive for COVID-19 at a growing rate.

The NBA is set to resume their season July 30 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Disney World Resort. All eligible playoff teams will be kept in three hotels and will play all of their games inside the borders of Disney World.
Photo R. Anderson

MLB, which is using a regional, instead of a bubble approach, is going to have a taxi squad of players in reserve who can fill the holes in any rosters decimated by COVID-19 infection. Before the season has even started numerous teams have reported players testing positive for the virus.

So, while players are going to get sick with COVID-19, it is likely that the MLB will not see whole teams having to skip the season since they will just plug any roster holes with reserve players as they crisscross the country putting on a made for television season.

With the credibility of a 60-game season already being called into question, I can just imagine the raging dumpster fire that would result if say the New York Yankees ran out of reserve players and had to forfeit the rest of the season while leading their division.

Consider how much more widespread the number of MLB players testing positive could be in a non-bubble approach. As I have said for months, MLB needs to just shut it down and wait until next year. That is unless as the band the Butthole Surfers would say they are “sharing Sharon’s outlook on the topic of disease.”

There are times in American history when people have been asked to sacrifice for a common good with the knowledge that they were putting their health, or their lives at risk as part of something nobler than themselves.

Playing baseball, or any sport, right now, does not rise to that level of self-sacrifice and nobility. I do not need people risking their lives, or future health, to play baseball for my entertainment. Netflix is entertaining me just fine right now.

The nobler gesture is for MLB to set an example by not traveling from place to place and staying home, socially distancing and wearing a mask when one has to be out in public.

This isn’t rocket science. We are still in the early innings of a game against COVID-19 that we are currently losing by double digits. At the time of this writing over 133,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. That equates to 41 out of every 100,000 people in the U.S. population dying according to John Hopkins University.

In Houston, 1 in 4 people who are tested for COVID-19 come back with a positive result. And no, doing more testing does not mean more positive results. Other MLB cities are in similar, and even worse positions, than Houston when it comes to being ravaged by COVID-19.

It is time for each of us to step up to the plate and swing for the fences as we try to tame this 100-mph fastball throwing virus that doesn’t care who it strikes out. That is a noble goal for us to get behind in 2020, wanting to see live baseball is not.

Baseball will be around in 2021, if with don’t knock down this virus, many people will not be around in 2021. But you don’t have to take my word for it, just listen to the scientists.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some late 20th Century music to listen to.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Remembering our Heroes (Past and Present) on Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day. I say that with confidence after checking a calendar to confirm my suspicions. Normally, I would have no trouble at all remembering that the last Monday of May is set aside as a day of remembrance, and a time to honor the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

However, in this newfound time when one day can just roll into the next and be called MonTueWedday, it never hurts to check a calendar for guidance as society charts new territory. This potential side effect of not knowing what day it is comes as much of the world is sheltering in place and honoring the calls to social distance as we unite as one in the battle against the COVID-19 virus which has killed nearly 100,000 Americans.

Large flags and camouflage hats mark Memorial Day across Major League Baseball each year.
Photo R. Anderson

In the past, Memorial Day weekend acted as the unofficial start to summer and involved packed beaches and an overabundance of sports to watch. The weekend also lent itself to copious amounts of meat to cook over an open flame.

While I enjoy baseball, beaches and barbecue, for me, the highlight of the extended Memorial Day weekend has always been as the announcer used to say “Sunday, Sunday Sunday.” I would awake before the sun to catch the Monaco Grand Prix, and then switch over to the Indianapolis 500 before ending my day of nonstop auto racing with the Coca Cola 600.

The times that I was not watching racing, I could catch numerous baseball games from coast to coast.

As a sign of unity during troubling times, the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, and the Air Force’s Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, flew over several U.S. cities to honor front line workers.
Photo R. Anderson

That all changed this year. Thanks to COIVD-19, the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 were not run Memorial Day weekend.

The Coca Cola 600 did take place yesterday, but the stands were empty of the thousands of fans who usually soak in the action. Additionally, there is no joy in Mudville since baseball is still sidelined by the virus.

The NHL and the NBA suspended their seasons in March with no set timetable on when they will return to action. There will be increased drum beats in the coming weeks for sports to return. Leagues are hemorrhaging money and will want to try to recoup as much revenue as they can.

Owners will say that they are doing it for the fans, but many surveys have noted that a lot of sports fans will not feel comfortable heading to an event for a while. Athletes are also becoming more vocal in their opposition to returning to play until they can be assured that it is safe to do so.

So, it is on this Memorial Day that instead of rooting for one’s favorite team, the world has a common enemy to unite behind. The world is at its best when it works together, and there has perhaps been no greater battle than the one it currently finds itself in. Millions of Americans are working from home, alongside children who are learning from home.

Millions more Americans have lost their jobs and are questioning when things will return to the good old days known as before March 2020. It is entirely possible that the good old days as we knew them are years away from returning.

Veterans with underlying health conditions, and the Navajo Nation whose language was used as an unbreakable code in World War II are being hit especially hard by COVID-19, so it is fitting on this day of remembrance that we not only remember their sacrifice in time of war but that we pray for their safety in this battle against the virus.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was commissioned in 1921 as a memorial to veterans of World War I.
Photo R. Anderson

States are starting to ease restrictions on what people can do in an effort to spark the economy. There will no doubt be temptation to push the limits and go out and have as normal of a Memorial Day as possible, and just hope for the best in terms of avoiding infection from COVID-19.

Some politicians will call this the need for people to exercise pent up demand to get out and do normal things. Other politicians will call such actions reckless and an endangerment to others around them. Countries that have reopened early have seen their number of cases go up in some instances. There is no magic formula for deciding when to roll out a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

Throughout all of this, it is crucial to remember that the power resides with individuals to decide when they want to rejoin the economy. Just because something is open, it does not mean that people are forced to go there. COIVD-19 is a relentless scourge that takes no notice of a person’s sports affiliation, political leanings, or any other factors in its path of destruction.

Uncle Sam knew back in World War II that the world needed more moxie. While it may have been a soda slogan back then, today the need for moxie is stronger than ever as the world tries to fight a common public health enemy.
Photo R. Anderson

In past challenges that are remembered on Memorial Day, like World War II, citizens rallied to do all they could to defeat the common enemy.

My grandmother built battleships in Georgia, and my grandfather fought at Pearl Harbor, among other battle sites. My grandparents, and millions of other people’s grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters have done similar things when called to duty.

Memorial Day reminds us that Americans owe their freedom to the sacrifice made by countless individuals who came before us, and to the people who are currently serving in the armed forces. The sacrifice of those who came before us who we remember on Memorial Day made us who we are. Sacrifices people make now to contain the virus, is a gift we can leave for the generations that come after us.

The COVID-19 virus has shown us that a pair of scrubs, a retail vest, or an apron can be just as heroic as camo. Sports on Memorial Day will return, but this year on this day of remembrance instead of complaining about a lack of live sports, stop to think about the health care workers, the police officers, the fire fighters, the grocery store workers, the meat packers, the restaurant cooks, the warehouse fulfillment workers, the delivery drivers, and every other person across the globe who is doing their best to keep the world going.

Many of us are taught as kids that super heroes wear capes and masks. That is true, but the capes are invisible lest they get in the way of the work being done by the people on the front lines, and the masks are there to both protect the identify of the super hero, as well as to protect those around them. Lucky for us our modern day heroes are working on Memorial Day, and every other day keeping us safe from enemies seen and unseen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pick up some groceries curbside and thank some front line workers.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson