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Category Archive: Science

Oct 19

A look back at my columns about the Kansas City Royals: Part 3 — Baseball—it’s a game; it’s not Quantum physics, or is it? First published May 13, 2010, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

Baseball–it’s a game; it’s not Quantum physics, or is it?

“Baseball? It’s just a game—as simple as a ball and a bat. Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. It’s a sport, a business, and sometimes even a religion.” –Ernie Harwell, The Game for All America, 1955.

There is something certain and steady about the game of baseball. It’s not Quantum physics, or is it?

Poet and author Sharon Olds wrote in “This Sporting Life” in 1987, “Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up”.

I know what she means. Baseball helps us forget our troubles, but why is that?

Maybe it is the reassurance of the stats that make us love it so much, and as we know, diehard fans love baseball stats, good or bad.

Stats are a sure thing. We can rely on them.

Baseball, according to baseball owner and mastermind Bill Veeck, is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world, and yes, indeed, it could be the stats.

Veeck explains, “If you get three strikes, think about it, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.”

Or when the numbers in your own life are not adding up so well, we would do well to remember the old adage, “Things could be worse. What if your errors were counted and published every day like those of a baseball player.”

Now, that puts life in perspective.

There is an opposite to bad baseball stats, however, as Ted Williams once quipped, “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”

I like those odds.

In 1970, Mickey Mantle said this about baseball stats: “During my 18 years I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out about 1,700 times and walked maybe 1,800 times. You figure a ballplayer will average about 500 at bats a season. That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball.”

And Norm Cash, legendary Detroit Tiger power hitter and first baseman after his 1,081st strikeout, noted the same thing happened to him: “Pro-rated at 500 at-bats a year, that means that for two years out of the fourteen I played, I never even touched the ball.”

Perhaps it is, in fact, the rhythm of baseball. The repetition, steadiness and the absolute sureness it provides during the summer months that make us love it so much.

After all, it is our national summer pastime, and we watch game after game after game, never tiring of it.

Baseball is always there, and so are its stats.

I am wondering. Is baseball indeed a mystery, something that we cannot comprehend, unlike the stat sheet in front of us?

Even though stats are the lifeblood of baseball, could baseball really be more likely about relativity, or molecular attraction, or theory or timing?

Whatever baseball is, it has a lot to do with the fundamental nature of the universe, the grand scheme of things; or if you will, the idea that things are much different than the world we see.

“More than any other American sport, baseball creates the magnetic, addictive illusion that it can almost be understood,” –Thomas Boswell, Inside Sports.

Quantum physics?

Apr 07

The Day of the Frogs is here, and it is all about love. Ribbit! (First published March 19, 2009, in The Examiner)

The Day of Spring Frogs

The Day of Spring Frogs

“What is all the racket down by the backyard pond? Are those crickets,” I asked one morning this week.

My husband replied, “No, those are your frogs. Remember the tadpoles you bought late last summer from some catalogue pond supply house? They turned into frogs and hibernated all winter. They’re back.”

“Frogs! The frogs are here,” I rejoiced. “How could I possibly forget my frogs?”

Then, I wondered, did those cute little green amphibians hide over winter in the pond muck, or did they spend the winter under brush and leaves?

Wherever they took cover for the winter, I was delighted they came back. After all the Day of the Frogs means that Spring is conclusively, absolutely, and we-are-not-kidding this time, finally here.

Besides, the spring crooning of frogs is delightful, at first.

My delight lasted for three sleepless nights.

Make no mistake about it, these frogs are singing about much more than the return of spring. It is all about love, and the guy frogs are singing their hearts out trying to find the gals.

When the winter air warms, usually in March in the Midwest, the male frog starts to sing and call for a prospective mate or two or three.

I guess that is the point. Perpetuate the species.

Since I was awake anyway due to these love-starved frogs, I did some midnight research about their springtime mating calls. I learned that the sound of the male can carry for long distances and can attract female frogs from miles away.

I sighed with resignation, “Just what we need—more frogs.”

As I continued my frog research I learned that the male Spring Peeper is noisier than the Cricket Frog and is said to have the same decibel level as found on airport runways.

Wonderful. I think we have both these critters in our pond plus some of their cousins.

Some frogs in our small backyard pond make a whistling sound; the Cricket Frog chirps like a cricket; and the Peeper says “Peep Peep” like a baby chick.

To make matters worse, the male frogs in our pond have formed a singing group (I call them Froggies ‘N Sync), and their combined voices sound like a loud chorus of crickets. The serenade goes on all evening; sometimes well into the morning hours.

The only way I have found to stop their racket is to walk toward the pond. They either jump into the water or become blessedly silent.

Yes, there can be too much of a good thing, even the singing of spring frogs.

On the fourth sleepless night, my husband commented that he sure hoped our new neighbors are not trying to sleep with a window open.

“If they ask about the noisy frogs, better tell them the frogs crawled up from the creek,” he said. “Don’t tell them you bought them on purpose.”

Apr 03

From my archived columns: “The trouble with the weather, indeed”

“Weather is a great metaphor for life – sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and there’s nothing much you can do about it but carry an umbrella.” ~Terri Guillemets, creator of the Quote Garden

The trouble with the weather right now in the Midwest is that we can’t make the rain stop.

Anyone know a reverse rain dance?

I found one blogger named Angela who said she caused a California water shortage by doing the Hokey Pokey, and I think she believes she did.

Somehow, I don’t think the Hokey Pokey will help in Missouri as we face record flooding this spring and a punch in the face from tornadoes, hail, wild thunder and lightening storms and rain, seemingly endless rain.

Regardless of whether you love or hate these storms, one has to agree that spring storms are hypnotic, frightening, captivating, spellbinding, powerful and magnetic.

They are both our friend and foe.

Lisa Fritscher, online health journalist, explains that storms are natural occurrences that tend to illicit strong emotions in both humans and animals, even though nature tends to make things right in the end. In fact, some people have such strong reactions to storms that they develop a condition known as astrapobia, the fear of thunder and lightening storms.

It is difficult to imagine how floods, tornadoes and lightening could be good for us, especially if one happens to be afraid of storms.

For most of us, I guess you could say that we love storms or hate them, but mostly we do not understand them. We do love to watch them, however.

Which type of weather watcher are you, incidentally?

One who is obsessed with the weather channel and tracking storms online and won’t go outside without checking these first?

One who does not take storms seriously at all and is not afraid of any old lightening in the distance. The type might stand on a metal ladder during a lightening storm because he or she needs to finish cleaning out the gutters and the job can’t wait.

A thrill seeker who delights in lightening crashes, the nearer the better.

An artist who wants to make videos or take photographs of violent but beautiful skies.

A fun lover who dances in the rain and jumps in puddles.

Those who simply enjoy the quiet solitude of watching storms, in awe of the spectacular power of nature.

With these thoughts in mind, here’s a little weather quiz for you.

See if you can find yourself in the list below of strong emotional reactions to storms and how you score?

–Do you hate the loud, booming burst of noise, that first clap of thunder so much that you cover your ears?
–Do you run for the basement?
–Hide under the covers?
–Call out for your mother?
–Are more afraid than your dog?
–Are you pessimistic enough about storms that you believe the number one reason tornado season is like Christmas is that sooner or later you are going to have a tree in your house?

If you answered “yes” to more than three of these, don’t worry. You may just need some old-fashioned homespun advice from my favorite coffee shop weather gurus.

Such as, “Sweetie, I’m sure the rain is scared of you, too?”

Or, “For crying out loud, why don’t you move to Arizona where it hasn’t rained in hundreds of years.”

“Come on, it’s not going to flood. You live on a hill.”

“Do you remember the movie Back to the Future? In the film, Doc explained that his invention, a ‘flux capacitator’, could harness a lightening bolt made up of 1.21 ‘jigowatts’ of power and propel a time machine back to 1955? Lightening is a powerful source of energy. Think about it.”

Think ‘flux capacitator’. Yup, that advice could be the best I’ve heard yet.

Next time lightening strips the bark from the locust tree in the backyard and the cow in the field across the creek moos so loudly it wakes the neighborhood, yessirree, I will think ‘flux capacitator’ and feel ever so much better.

Oh, the trouble with weather indeed.

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