The Battle for Oxford Suites Supremacy (non-fiction)

20140722-230143-82903156.jpgIt was an eerily cool and breezy summer night in the far northern reaches of California on Tuesday evening. Interstate 5 has been a well worn path of anxious families and fans to the teams playing in this talent rich youth baseball tournament, although most of the teams young ballplayers are lodging in Redding for the week. Tonight marked the culmination of a long weekend of baseball for the sturdiest teams playing through the winners bracket – Pleasanton and Rocklin.

After five days of sharing the beautiful confines of the Redding Oxford Suites (a fine stop for those traveling through Northern California to the annual Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon) these two titans of Northern California youth baseball were able to square off in the baseball equivalent of a UFC cage-match at Foothill High School outside of Redding.

The Pleasanton team started quickly with Jimmy Kaufman dominating the first inning, shutting down the Rocklin hitters with his poison filled darts of pitches, while whipping a fierce double to score Mitch Benson to take a 1-0 lead after the first inning.

The starting pitching for both teams cruised through the second, but it was the Rocklin pitcher that blinked in the third inning, giving up a sharp hit to center to Justin Lavell, and walked two to load the bases. A confident Nate Lau stepped into the batters box next, and after getting down in the count 1-2, found some open greenery for the baseball in right field. The right fielder made a valiant diving effort for the sinking liner, but after the dust settled, Lau was standing on third base and the boys from Ptown had a 4-0 lead. Insurance came shortly after, as another walk, a failed pick-off attempt, and two errors, led to two more runs and a 6-0 lead after three innings complete.

That would be all the boys from Pleasanton would need, as Jimmy Kaufman pitched a complete game, and the Ptown Blue crew held on for a stirring 6-4 win over the game team from Rocklin.

Their next game will be Thursday, with the winners of Wednesday night’s consolation game needing to beat Pleasanton twice on Thursday to claim the Northern California crown. A tall order for any team against the gritty Pleasanton boys. The stands should be packed for Thursday’s finals, so get there early to secure good seats. There’s free hot dogs and Coach Lander bobble head to the first 5 fans who mention this article at the snack shack.

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Pleasanton Advance to Winner’s Bracket Final of Nor Cal Juniors Tournament

The 14-year old boys from Pleasanton kept on their winning ways at the Northern California Division tournament this weekend in Redding, California.

The winner of the Division tournament represents Northern California in the Western Regional in Vancouver, WA.  Teams from the seven sections in Northern California were represented in Redding: Pleasanton, Oakland, Porterville, Gridley, San Jose, Manteca, and Rocklin.

The Ptown Blue team jumped out quick in the sweltering Redding heat to beat Manteca (Spreckles Park) 6-1 in the opening game. Behind a strong pitching performance by fireballer Jimmy Kaufman, and big hitting from Kaufman and Quinn Brinnon, the team took the early lead and never looked back. The big hit came in the third inning, with the bases load when Trevor Bergman laced a sharp single to left that scored two, and gave the team a comforting 5-0 cushion. The team from Manteca wouldn’t go down without a fight though, as it took some spectacular defensive plays by John Harrington at second base in the fifth inning with the bases loaded, a diving catch on a low liner by Colin Dixon in left field, and a laser throw by catcher Quinn Brinnon to pick off a runner in the final inning to secure the win.

Sunday’s game against the team from San Jose, Branham Hills, was a nail biter.  The Branham Hills pitcher had many of the boys off-balance, but Pleasanton was again able to score first, taking the lead in the third inning on strong hitting from Justin Lavell and Mitch Benson.  Defense really ruled the day for Pleasanton on Sunday, as their pitchers (Trevor Wallace and Benson) were helped by four double plays in the game, including the game ender as Branham Hills was rallying in the 7th.

The team advances to the winners bracket final on Tuesday, where they’ll face a tough Rocklin team (Tri City).  Game time is set for 5pm on Tuesday, with the winner advancing the championship game on Thursday, while the loser moves down the finals of the loser’s bracket.

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Pleasanton 14YO Boys Baseball Qualify for Northern California Little League Tournament

After representing the Tri-Valley in the inaugural Intermediate Little league World Series (LLWS) last year for 13-year olds, the boys from Pleasanton are back at it, as they look to qualify for the Junior level LLWS for 14-year olds in Troy, Michigan this year.

Getting through their District, the team from Pleasanton relied on great pitching from Mitch Benson, Anthony Steller-Harter, and Trevor Wallace to shut down their opponents in their three District level games. In the finals, they were able to hold off a tough San Ramon team on the strength of five home runs from five different players (Justin Lavell, Anthony Steller-Harter, Jack Sanderson, Nate Lau, and Mitch Benson) and qualify for the Sectional tournament.

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Getting through the tournament is no easy feat, as District 57 is widely considered one of the toughest Little League Districts in the country, comprised of teams from San Ramon, Danville, Pleasanton, Dublin, and Livermore. Winning this level sent them the the four-team Sectional tournament, comprised of District winners from Half Moon Bay, Fremont, and Hayward.

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Once agin, the Ptown Blue team was able to rely on strong pitching, as well as timely hitting from Trevor Wallace, Jimmy Kaufman, Nate Lau, and Mitch Benson to take home another banner for Pleasanton. Winning Sectionals puts them in the Northern California Divisional finals tournament in Redding, California July 19-24. Being crowned Northern California champs would advance the team into the Western Regionals in Vancouver, Washington, where they would face-off in a field of 8 teams from the Western US that includes perennial powers Hawaii and Southern California.

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You can follow the team here on GameChanger.

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2014 Phoenix Open in pictures

The Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament is unlike any other spot on the PGA tour. Played Super Bowl week each year, the tournament drew a PGA tour record 563,008 patrons this year (compared to 82,529 for the Super Bowl on Sunday), and is the craziest tournament on the tour. The focal point of the tournament is the par-3 16th, where they erect a stadium around the hole, and patrons actively boo the golfers that miss the green with their tee shots. For the avid golfer, this tournament can be a little shocking, but if golf wants to attract more people to the sport, they may look to loosen up and have more tournaments like this to change people’s perception of golf as a stuffy sport for old men.

1. Walking In

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2. Our Seats At The Famous 16th

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3. Our View All Week

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4. Thursday Night Birds Nest – Jake Owen Concert

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5. Crowds Walking Up To 16th Stadium

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6. Everyone Standing For Phil Mickelson On The Tee

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7. Friendly Wagering Among Friends

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8. Stay Hydrated

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9. You’ve Got To Own The Outfit

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10. The scene on 18

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11. The Aftermath – trouble finding cabs/Uber

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1/5/2014: Cusco, Peru The Last Few Days, In Pictures

While we’re about halfway through our trip and my posts have been mainly narrative, I’ll try to focus this post more on pictures from the last couple days of our trip. I hope you enjoy.

I feel like these first pictures capture the central essence of why a home stay on a trip like this is so great. It’s like we have a family here in Cusco, with the “family time” centered around meals usually lasting at least two hours. The discussions are varied and random, and can be heated, but always with a lot of laughing. The mostly Spanish discussions have included topics like Peru politics, 80’s music, drug trafficking, rotten mangoes, and mineral baths. There’s a great article by Megan Garber of The Atlantic about the fading art of conversation that seemed appropriate to include here as we had these daily meal rituals. It’s a great read if you have the time.

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These pictures are from our 45 minute hike up the mountains behind Plaza de Armas to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman (pronounced “sexy-woman”), where there’s some incredible natural rock slides (at least I think they’re natural) and incredible caves. It’s been overcast and rainy, so a lot of the pictures are darker than I’d like. The last picture is on our way back down at Plaza San Cristobal, where it’s raining pretty good on us, but I thought was a cool picture of Nate with Cusco in the background.

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As we were going to dinner the other night, there was a wedding just letting out of the church at Plaza de Armas (Templo de la Compañia de Jesús) and I got this great shot of the bride and grooms first public kiss. Wish I had found out their names.

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Here’s a great picture of us at the Yanapay restaurant with Laura (the volunteer coordinator from Germany) and Miguel (a volunteer from northern Peru, that Yuri hopes will be the restaurant manager soon). As I’m sure you can tell, Miguel is an incredibly entertaining guy.

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Finally, here’s a picture of the Haydee’s house, where we’re staying. It’s been painted and remodeled a bit since Cade and I stayed here two years ago, but still has the same great warmth and charm. I wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else in Cusco.

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1/3/2014: The Project of Aldea Yanapay

Friday was an active day for us, as we had the first volunteer meeting at the restaurant, so we’d be able to meet more people that we’d be working with. It turns out that we’d be working with a large group of 18-year old Canadians, who happen to be from the same school that brought a group here two years go when Cade and I volunteered.

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The meeting was a chance for Nate to start hearing more about the project of Aldea Yanapay, and feel the passion of Yuri and he explained in Spanish the foundations of the project. The name itself of the project is a deliberate combination of Spanish and Cetchuan words – “Aldea” in Spanish meaning small community, and “Yanapay” In Cetchuan meaning help. He outlined three primary issues facing the community of Cusco: 1) Machismo – where men have a feeling of superiority over women, which often leads to violence, 2) Alcoholism – which accelerates itself through the machismo, and 3) Education – the poor public school system, which ranks last in all Latin American countries. The program Yuri has created doesn’t rely on large government grants for support, instead relying on the cash flow from the restaurant and hostel to support the programs. He also enforces a strict policies against handing out gifts, money, or food to the kids, so that it doesn’t support the rampant begging you see on the streets (he cites that a 6-8 year old child can make $20-$40 per day working the Plaza). He’s created a safe place for the kids to come to escape the demons that lurk all around them in Cusco, and looks to reinforce respect for themselves and others in their community.

The two hour meeting ending with a feeling that the Canadians didn’t speak much Spanish, so Nate was likely to be elevated as one of the better Spanish speaking volunteers. We all (Nate and I, Yuri, and Victoria and Irasella from Spain) retired back to the house for lunch with Haydee, where we planned a big dinner party that night and talked about politics and troubles facing Peru. These discussions were likely equally eye-opening to Nate, as we discussed the increasing drug trafficking in Peru, and the difficulty of the government to make any significant impact on the most pressing social issues in Peru.

The night ended with a fun dinner party, where we all as the house guests helped to prepare a big meal for Yuri’s extended family and some of the long term volunteers. Nate and I were assigned nachos and guacamole, and the trip to the market to buy avocados and other fixings with the ladies from Spain was fun, and excited Nate and I. Victoria and Irasella made Spanish omlets, and Yuri and Jane brought a blueberry cheesecake. All was wonderful, and it was great to meet some really interesting people (although few spoke English). I particularly enjoyed meeting a young graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School who’s from Cusco, and also one of Yuri’s relatives who’s a sales rep for EMC in Lima.

A fun night, and good to meet some people. More to come.

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1/1 – 1/2: Moving Day and Laying Low

The 1st and 2nd of January were essentially down days for Nate and I, which was much needed after the initial couple days of our trip.

After seeing Yuri on NYE and talking we him about the problems with the reservation at his mom’s house, he assured me that there was a room for us at the house, and that they’d been waiting for our arrival. I knew that moving to the house (which included all meals, and living with other volunteers) would be much better for Nate. After a long New Years Day lunch at the house with Haydee (Yuri’s mom), Yuri, and the other volunteers living there, i decided that we had to move. So we packed up New Year’s Day, and told Señor Carlos that we were moving to Yuri’s. While I had to eat the full AirBnB payment I made for Carlos’ house, I didn’t care given what I knew would be a better experience for Nate.

The rest of the first two days of the year were spent lounging around the house, as I finished my book, “Wave” by Sonali Deraniyagala, and Nate finished both of the “Haddix” series books by Margaret Peterson books he brought. “Wave” is an account by a lady who lost her husband, two sons, and parents in the 2004 tsunami that struck Sri Lanka. Largely therapeutic for her, as she goes through the tsunami itself, but more of the aftermath of dealing with the unimaginable loss. One that made me think hard about family and what’s important, and helped to affirm the time I’m spending with Nate here in Peru.

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