Monday, December 26, 2011

Sunday Recipe: Christmas Ravioli Filled with Mushrooms

Yesterday, as always on Christmas Day, I made traditional ravioli. Well, they're a tradition in my family and growing up, I always felt sorry for kids who ate turkey on Christmas Day. How boring! Our Christmas tradition was always ravioli, a tradition started by my great-grandmother who left her tiny village in Abruzzo to make her way in America. Gram's traditional ravioli are filled with cheese and served with a rich, savory tomato sauce, one that is often flavored with a beef shank or some pork ribs or both. [My recipe for that sauce -- which I call Aunt Fulmay's Sauce -- is coming henceforth in a later post.]

Meanwhile, I made my traditional cheese filled ravs as family obligation dictates, but my feeling is that getting the dough right and then doing the assembly of the ravs is the hardest part, so every holiday (Christmas and Easter), I try another filling. This year, I made a mushroom filling and I have to say, for a recipe I basically made up on the fly, they were amazing -- Top Chef worthy ravioli.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sometimes I Close My Eyes and Dream of Hip Checks

Last night, I dreamed that NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan suspended Penguins defenseman, Deryk Engelland. For a couple of games. As he should.

In the first period of the Pens thrilling 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks last night, Engelland left his feet and drilled Chicago's Marcus Kruger with a high hit along the boards. I'm not sure if Eggo was targeting Kruger's head, but it doesn't matter what his intentions were. He aimed high and leaped into his check. Somehow the officials missed it. Kruger left the game and I haven't seen a report on his status this morning. If, as predicted by people much smarter than I, Shanahan hands Engelland a two game suspension for the hit, Eggo should take it and say,  "Thank you, sir. May I have another?"

Because NHL players need to learn to stop aiming high. Period.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Top Ten Christmas Movies

It’s that time of year when AMC has “White Christmas” on a constant loop, which might account for the fact that I believe that movie has a running time of about 28 hours. But it made me think -- if I ran a movie channel, which Ten Christmas movies would I put into rotation this time of year? (Sadly, not on the list is The Hebrew Hammer -- mostly because I haven’t seen it, so I couldn’t consider it.) Without further ado, the Top Ten Christmas movies.

10. The Ref. 1994. Starring Dennis Leary, Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey.

This movie could have been better. It should have been better. And yet, it still contains enough despair, enmity, sarcasm, dysfunction and general shittiness to make the cut. This was back before Dennis Leary annoyed me with those ubiquitous Ford commercials, 'natch.
"From now on, the only person who gets to yell is me. Why? Because I have a gun. People with guns get to do whatever they want. Married people without guns - for instance - you - DO NOT get to yell. Why? NO GUNS! No guns, no yelling. See? Simple little equation."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Recipe: Sicilian Meatballs with a Basic Tomato Sauce

It started, simply enough, with a stale hunk of bread. Really.

I had purchased a loaf of rustic Italian bread from Breadworks and used about two-thirds of it. There it sat on my butcher's block in it's paper bag. It was too hard for sandwiches, yet I left it there. Finally, that stale hunk of bread taunted me. Silently, I could hear the bread whispering recriminations as I tried to catch up on my viewings of Top Chef and Parks & Rec. I tried to get on with some writing assignments, but the bread was almost shouting at me. This went on for a solid day. The next day I woke up and thought -- meatballs.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sunday Recipe: Caribbean Seasoned Roasted Chicken a'la Belize

Few things say Sunday dinner to me like a whole roasted chicken and I often do a really basic Italian roasted chicken with garlic, thyme, etc., but a couple of weeks ago, I was craving a something a bit different. I started thinking about a trip I took to Belize years ago and the amazing spices of the stewed chicken I had there. Everywhere, positively everywhere, there was just amazing, rich, flavorful stewed chicken, from the tiniest hole in the wall joint to the less tiny hole in the wall joints. (What can I say -- I was in a remote area. There weren't Michelin starred restaurants -- but the food was amazing. Caribbean soul food.)

For years, I've thought about that chicken and finally I resolved to replicate those seasonings and flavors. Instead of stewing chicken parts, I thought I'd roast the whole bird.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Steelers, Turnover Differential and Playoff Possibilities

If the playoffs started this weekend, the Steelers would be the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Those Steelers? My Steelers? Sure. But the Steelers, despite their 6-2 record, and despite their handling of the New England Patriots on Sunday at Heinz Field, feel like an incomplete team, a less than great team, don't they? And I think that feeling at the back of your mind which is causing your skepticism is turnover differential.

The Steelers are -10. Yes, that's minus ten. It's the worst turnover differential in the AFC and, in fact, it's the worst in the entire NFL. By way of comparison, teams with comparable records, the Detroit Lions (6-2) and the Buffalo Bills (5-2) are +13 and +9, respectively.

I started to wonder if any team had secured the overall 1 seed for the playoffs with a worse turnover differential than this version of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

NHL Realignment -- A Sane Solution

With the Atlanta Thrashers at long last becoming the Winnipeg Jets, there is sensible, necessary talk of re-aligning the NHL. Currently, Winnipeg occupies Atlanta's former spot in the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference. Look at a map. If the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings are Western teams, then so, by god, is Winnipeg. Re-alignment is clearly necessary, just for geographic sanity.

Per the Post-Gazette this morning, the below four division re-alignment has been proposed:

That is simply asinine. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Recipe: Beef Brisket Fit for Your Bubbe

I'm not a steak eater. I'm not that much of a meat eater, really. I like it, but it's hardly my favorite thing and when I crave beef, it's usually a good burger I'm after. But every year at Passover, Geargirl makes beef brisket or, as I think of it, Jewish pot roast. And I love it, even though I usually only eat it once, maybe twice a year. With the sudden dead of winter like conditions, brisket seemed like the perfect meal today.

Warning -- this recipe is very, very easy, but it is better if you can cook it one day, refrigerate it and then heat it and serve it the next day. Give yourself two days, is what I'm saying.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mighty Macs, a Rumination

[The real Cathy Rush and Carla Gugino as Cathy Rush in 'The Mighty Macs']

I've written a ton about women's sports over the years in this space, most predominantly football and basketball. As I reported on local women's basketball programs (Seton Hill, Pitt, Duquesne), I kept running across links and ties to Immaculata College, the little women's college that could. No matter where I went, there was another connection to Immaculata -- from my excoriating of Rene Portland, to Suzie McConnell-Serio lighting up at the memories of being coached by Theresa Grentz, to spending an entire day with the dynamo, Ferne Labati.

So I started educating myself about the real Mighty Macs, the players and the coaches. I started to read about the first women's championships. I learned about the old game that girls used to play.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jim Harbaugh, Manners and Free License to Be a Jerkwad

It’s pretty easy to get cynical about sports. It’s pretty natural to see somebody like NFL coach Jim Harbaugh act like an entitled jerk and then come to the conclusion that everybody is like that -- assume that he is simply doing what all professional athletes and coaches do. It’d be easy to think that behavior like Harbaugh’s is not merely tolerated, but actually celebrated.

I heard some of the talking head din after the handshake bruhaha, some of which framed football as war (stop me if you've heard this one before). The thrust being that it's okay for Harbaugh to be a jerk because (wait for it) -- the Lions and their coach Jim Schwartz are “the enemy.” Puh-leeze.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Curse of the Winter Classic Sweaters: A Call to Action!

Baseball's fall classic is nearly upon us and my thoughts can't help but run to the sport full of mysticism and metaphysics, faith and the occult. After all, seamheads love the romance of baseball. But what they love even more than all that treacly sentimentality are their curses -- the Curse of the Billy Goat, the Curse of the Bambino, the Curse of the Black Sox, the Curse of Rocky Colavito and the Curse of the Cowboy (how were those for obscure curses for yinz?)

Personally, I don't cotton to curses or karma. I don't subscribe to the belief that mystical forces are afoot in the real world, with fairies and trolls wreaking havoc in our daily lives. I don't believe in god and if I did believe in god, I'm pretty sure he or she would be far too busy with other things than to worry about torturing the fanbase of this or that particular sports franchise.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Is the NHL Really Serious About Head Injuries? Only Time Will Tell

On Saturday night in Calgary, notorious head-hunter Matt Cooke took a flagrant elbow to the head courtesy of Flames defenseman Cory Sarich. After the hit, Cooke was very shaky and missed the remainder of the 2nd period, though he did return in the 3rd period.

Who cares if Matt Cooke gets hurt? After all, he's hurt enough guys in his time, right?

I care if Cooke is victim of head-hunting and not just because I'm a Penguins fan. I care because I think this is exactly the sort of hit the NHL can use to send a message.

Sunday Recipe: Pasta with Butternut Squash Sauce

I love fall veggies, perhaps none more than all the varieties of squash available at this time of year. Last week, I posted a roasted cauliflower recipe (which I have made three times in the past two weeks and I intend to make again before this week is out.) Last fall, I posted a roasted butternut squash soup recipe that is one of my favorite soups of all time. Squash and pumpkin are used with pasta all over Italy, but particularly in the north, in places like Verona and Mantua, you find pumpkin or squash ravioli on every menu of every little trattoria you stumble into. I love pumpkin ravioli, but this is a much less labor-intensive way to pair pumpkin with pasta. It's a very simple recipe, but you need to start your prep about an hour before you want to eat, because you have to cook down the veg for a long time, so, be warned.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday Recipe: Perfect Roasted Cauliflower

I love fall and winter vegetables. I love the idea of roasting cauliflower, but it's often either overcooked mush, or too crunchy for any use other than crudite. The idea of a cauliflower gratin is appealing, but most takes are just too cheesy, more like melted cheese with just a hint of cauliflower.

Last week, I hit the farmer's market and returned home with several heads of cauliflower, determined to make the perfect roasted cauliflower.

I think I succeeded. This dish is the perfect fall or winter accompaniment to a roasted chicken, pork roast, pot roast and it would make a terrific Thanksgiving side.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Top 10 Highlights of the 2011 Pirates Season

The Pirates wrap up another losing season, finishing 72-90, their 19th straight losing season, an unbelievable milestone, albeit one with which you don't actually want to be associated.

At the beginning of the season, I wondered what was enough for fans? How much progress would be enough for your average black and gold bleeding Pittsburgher? Did they have to make the playoffs? Post a winning record? Or just make significant improvement over past season?

At the start of the season, I went on record with a prediction of 66 wins. I'm happy to say that they exceeded my expectations. What I really didn't see coming were the high highs and awful lows. Unlike previous seasons, this team was anything but boring. I could have lived without the entire month of August, when they dropped 22 games in a single month, but, as I said, at least this year, they kept my attention from wire to wire.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dear Notre Dame: Shut It

And the seasons, they go round and round and the ... gah, all the conference jumping, conference raiding, money grabbing and hypocritical posturing drove me to quote Joni Mitchell. Joni Mitchell, y'all.

As you may recall from our last installment, Pitt and Syracuse are bolting from the Big East to, em, more upscale accommodations the Atlantic Coast Conference. West Virginia wisely tried to piggy-back along with Pitt and 'Cuse, but they were flat-out rejected by both the SEC and ACC, per this report at CBS Sports.

Hey, it's a dog eat dog world out there in college sports.

Meanwhile, from his seat up on high, balancing upon his golden dome of judgment, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick weighed in on Pitt's move. Per the USA Today:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Anarchy Reigns in the NCAA -- Pitt, Syracuse to the All-Cash Conference

The Atlantic Coast Conference Council of Presidents has voted (unanimously) to accept the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University as new members, after Pitt and Syracuse petitioned for admission.

Oh, there's the talk of academic chops and prestige and all that; Pitt and Syracuse are fine universities, as are the schools in the ACC, but let's be honest all of these moves are motivated by one thing and one thing only:  football.

Or, I should say, football money.

A primer on the college football craziness and mendacity

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Down the Home Stretch, What to Make of the Pittsburgh Pirates?

It's been a while since I've checked in here at Bucco Central, too long actually, but I've been meaning to catch up with the Pirates for some time. What have I missed?

Well, oh, let's see, there was, oh yeah, there was a 10 game losing streak that put a stake right into the heart of an otherwise freakishly fun season. That put them in such a quagmire, they couldn't dig themselves out.

What did it? What was the beginning of the end for an otherwise magical summer? Well, most everybody keeps pointing to the crushing 19 inning loss at Atlanta, which, no doubt was one of the worst, most painful losses a team can suffer, but I don't think their problems started because they ended up on the wrong side of an atrociously heinous call.

Rather, I think that 19 inning marathon took a lot out of them, regardless of the outcome. Worse, it came just five games into a 20 game stretch without a day off. They played too many innings, with too much travel, against really good teams, with no time to rest regular players (which Clint Hurdle really makes a point of doing), and worse, no time to rest any of the pitchers, either the bullpen guys or the starters. Frankly, I was shocked that Hurdle didn't go to a six man pitching rotation to get them through that stretch, but he probably didn't want to lose a position player to bring Brad Lincoln into the starting rotation.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Recipe: Fregola Sarda with zucchini and cherry tomatoes

On one my many visits to Labriola's Italian Food Market, I noticed some artisanal pastas which I felt compelled to buy. Generally, pasta is pasta and while certain cuts go better with specific sauces, preferences are largely personal. I, for example, hate and will not eat rigatoni. Go figure.

Fregola Sarda are little round pastas (bigger than acini di pepe, but not quite as big as a dried currant), so I bought them and thought I would use them in a soup, maybe whip up some wedding soup (to be posted at a later date) But the fregola sarda were unlike anything I had ever seen -- coarse and golden brown. These are rugged little pastas, very appropriate for the rough island of Sardinia (turns out the 'sarda' is for 'Sardinia'.) It is made like acini di pepe (or really, almost any pasta), but after it dries, it is then toasted or baked, which gives it a rich flavor you don't normally find in pasta -- all toasty and warm and almost caramelized. Think about that -- caramelized pasta. (Band name?)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Some Undeniably Cool Women Athletes

Last week, I was checking out Dave Zirin's blog, The Edge of Sports and it prompted me to write a post for Open Salon about several cool women athletes.

As part of my book on the Pittsburgh Passion women's full-contact football team, I've been up to my eyeballs in researching the history of women and sports. The attitudes -- even those of medical professionals -- might shock you. From disparaging to downright hysterical, women and athletics is a combustible mix. But now is not a time for a didactic discussion of history and the sociological and psychological effects of some truly asinine ideas on women athletes. Now is the time to celebrate some really cool women. Go to:  Can Women Athletes Be Cool?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sidney Crosby Still Battling Concussion Aftershocks

If you didn't feel the earthquake, then perhaps didn't log on to any hockey news websites yesterday. Because I'm not talking about the quake that rocked the Nation's capital, but rather the aftershocks of internet reports that Sidney Crosby, once again, shut down his off-season workouts, something that Sid's agent angrily refuted, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story.

Even if, as his agent says, Crosby has merely 'adjusted his summer workout' (which I translate to 'scaled back' his notoriously demanding workouts) on his own, isn't that a bad sign, too? This is a guy for whom too much training is never enough. If he's scaling back, that is completely counter to everything he had ever done in his entire life prior to the Winter Classic.

It's Crosby's completeness that makes him the best player in the NHL -- he can score and he plays defense, he is always two or three steps ahead of everybody else on the ice. He scores gritty goals by parking near the net in heavy traffic and he can shoot from the outside. He has moves and grace and speed. He is surprisingly strong, given that he's not really a big guy.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Coach Pat Summitt Diagnosed with Dementia

Sports Illustrated reports today that the University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt has publicly announced that she has been diagnosed with dementia. I should say, the Great Pat Summitt has been diagnosed ...  because she should always be referred to as the Great Pat Summitt.

In typical coach Summitt fashion, here's what she told the Knoxville News Sentinel:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Recipe: Spicy Roasted Fra Diavolo Sauce served over Polenta

This time of year in Western Pennsylvania, if you are a gardener, you are probably inundated with hot banana peppers. If you are not a gardener, you probably know people who are over-run with banana peppers. Of, if you're like me, you can't resist buying a huge box of hot peppers from your local farmer's market. (Freedom Farms rules, by the way.)  Stuffed peppers are really popular, but beyond stuffing them, what to do with these fresh, spicy gems?

I've started roasting them by the bushel-full. They keep all their heat, but the roasting adds an amazing smokey flavor. Plus, the skin (which can be nasty) is removed in the process. The smell of the peppers on my grill brings out my neighbor who moved here from San Antonio, so every time I grill hot peppers, she tells me it smells like home to her. Instead of making something Mex or Tex-Mex with them, I use them primarily for a quick sauce. You can serve the sauce over any type of pasta, but I think it pairs best with polenta. (Whether the flavors end up being Italian or Mexican, the combo of hot peppers and corn meal is,  is a perfect marriage of flavors and textures.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Reactions to Steelers v. Eagles in the Preseason

The Dream Team came rolling into Heinz Field and, amazingly enough, the Steelers didn't just say, "oh, you signed Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin (and Vince Young and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie). You have Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson. We're scared. We forfeit."


And this is why I love media hype. Some idiot says, "it's like playing on the Dream Team" (Exhibit A:  Idiot -- Vince Young), the media runs with it like a starving dog with a Tuscan steak, prompting the rest of us jump on the Philadelphia Eagles Haters Bandwagon. All Aboard! (The NFL:  bringing you knee-jerk Pavlovian responses since 1958 ...)

It's times like this when I miss Lee Flowers. You just know he would have been calling the Eagles 'paper champions' in the locker room last night. Ah, good times.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Pittsburgh Pirates Say: Who You Callin' Cheap, Bub?

Back here in the Burgh at Bucco Central:

Late on Monday night, the Pirates signed their top two draft picks -- Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell, spending $17 million dollars in bonuses to do so. These bonuses put the Pirates in front of every other team in terms of spending on the draft and, in the Neal Huntington era, they have spent about $47 million on the draft, the most of any club in MLB.

Not to cheerlead for the Pirates, but can we stop saying that they're too cheap? Or not trying anymore? Just because they may fail, just because this particular team hit a losing streak of bibilical proportions (I was expecting a plague of locusts to descend upon the clubhouse any second), just because Pedro Alvarez is positively painful to watch at the plate, doesn't mean they aren't actually trying to win.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gone Fishing, New England Edition

Gone fishing. Or rather, to haul lobster pots. Or rather, to eat the lobsters that somebody else has hauled. Back in a flash. Good god, I hope the Pirates are out of this tailspin by the time I get back to the Burgh. See yinz.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Derrek Lee a Bucco and Other Random Trade Deadline Thoughts

Back here at Bucco Central ...

Late last night, your Pittsburgh Pirates completed a trade for Derrek Lee from the Baltimore Orioles. Per the Post-Gazette, the Pirates had to give up single A prospect Aaron Baker in the trade -- no big whup. Also, the Pirates will be responsible for $2.6 of the money owed to the power-hitting 1st baseman this year. Again, no big whup.

I think this is going to be a great deal for the Pirates.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Worst Call in MLB History? Top 5 Worst Calls in MLB History.

Back here at Buccos Central:

When I saw the video of Jerry Meals' safe call at home plate (yeah, yeah, so I fell asleep in the 14th inning -- wanna make something of it?), I channeled my inner-Gene Hackman and shouted, "Do you have pigeon shit in your eyes?" This call is bad. Horrendously, obviously bad. The throw is in, McKenry swipes him, but Meals makes the safe sign before Julio Lugo touches home plate. I'm not sure how a base-runner can be called safe before he touches the bag (or plate as the case may be) ... Still, as heinous as this call is, I don't rank Meals' call as the worst in baseball history (although it's so pathetic that I understand David Schoenfield's point.)

At any rate, here's how I rank 'em:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My Pittsburgh Pirates Wish List

Back here at Bucco Central ...

Our fearless leader, Clint Hurdle is telling his charges to just live in the moment. Talk about your ultimate existential man. I, too, try to live life that way, but I can't help but think of all the ways in which the stars need to align for our small-payroll, small-ball, national media darling, little engine that could Pittsburgh Pirates to make a serious run at the playoffs. So I've taken the liberty of making a wee wish list.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Maybe the Other Shoe Will Not Drop on the Pirates 2011 Season

Back at Bucco Central ...

The excitement is just so intoxicating, so, dazzlingly, temptingly intoxicating. The Pirates winning -- and sitting on top of (or close to the top of) the NL Central  -- it's like a blend of Proseco and crystal meth for 'Burgh fans. We've waited so long.

Now, the question you have to ask yourself as a fan is:  do the Pirates have to win a title this year to satisfy you? Because these Pirates? They're not built for that kind of battle. Not yet.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Will It Take for the Pirates to Win the NL Central?

Back in my lair at Bucco Central, with 95 games under our belts, I'm already starting to wonder just what it will take to win the NL Central.

I'm gonna say 90 games.

It's partly hunch. To be honest, this is not the best division in MLB. There is no one great team here, but there are three good teams -- the Brewers, the Cardinals and the Pirates -- teams which I believe over the next two months are going to beat the crap out of each other, keeping any one team from running away with the division.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pittsburgh Pirates Entering Make or Break Time

Back here at Bucco Central, your Pittsburgh Pirates are all alone in first place in the National League Central, one-half game in front of both the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Oh, it's all fun and games here, what with all the scoreboard watching, trade rumors and generally silly joy.

Which brings us to:  are you a glass half-full, or half-empty sort of person? Because the Pirates schedule for the rest of this month is a like a deadly version of Wipeout. You can either view this stretch as a waiting pitfall. I'd understand if you did. Or, you can view it as an opportunity to put a little distance between themselves and the Cards, Reds, and BrewCrew. And see how they stack up against the elite of the NL. I'm gonna go with the latter. I'm going to look at this as a great opportunity for these guys.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Is Third Base Cursed Land for the Pittsburgh Pirates? And Man-Games Lost.

Meanwhile, back at Bucco Central ...

Pirates 3rd baseman Pedro Alvarez continues to toil away in AAA ball, having come off the disabled list a few days before the All-Star break. It is important to remember who Alvarez is -- the guy who was supposed to be the power bopper the Pirates have long needed, the guy drafted to be the savior of the franchise. I screamed, you screamed, we all screamed for Pedro.

The numbers:  Before going on the DL, Pedro had been to the plate 125 times. He had two dingers and 42 strike outs. And yes, for all of you Douglas Adams fans, that's forty-two strikeouts. So yeah, he was whiffing about a third of the time at the plate. The strike-out rate is no better in his brief stint in Indianapolis where, in the course of 10 games, he's been to the plate 34 times and struck out 13 times, with zero home runs.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How Much Pressure Is on Team USA to Win the Cup?

How much pressure?

All the pressure in the world.

More pressure than can be measured by existing technology.

More pressure than Freddy Mercury and David Bowie memorialized in song, which they described, if memory serves as, 'under pressure - that burns a building down.'

This group of athletes, to their credit, created this intense pressure by winning through a set of unbelievable circumstances in the quarterfinals. Let me be clear - a women's athletics team got the attention of an entire nation, a nation which remains a male-centric sports culture even in the 21st century. But Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo got our attention.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Questions Answered and Grading the Pirates

Here at Bucco Central, about a month ago, I wrote a post asking if Pittsburgh could ever be a baseball town again? Now that we're sitting smack dab in the middle of the dreaded All-Star break, I can say this:

Question. Answered. In the affirmative. 

Just one quick example:

--  Attendance at the Pirates game against the Cubs, the Friday before the All-Star break:  37,140.

--  Attendance at a comparable game in 2010, also right before the all-star break, also against a division rival (the Milwaukee Brewers), also on a Friday night:  27,767.

Where'd those extra 10,000 fans come from?

Winning. It's such a simple formula. Nobody goes to a baseball game because they can hear .38 Special and all of their hits like, "Hold on Loosely," and "Hold on Loosely," and, er, um, "Hold on Loosely." (Okay, this is Pittsburgh, so probably some people go to a baseball game to see .38 Special, but not that many.) I've been to  four sellouts this season -- four -- which, I think may be more sellouts than they had all of last year.

Behold, the power of winning.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

USA! USA! U.S. Women Win Wild Game Over Brazil

It seemed impossible. Everything was against them.

They were down a goal, on an officiating gift, no less.

They were down a player, on another officiating gift from Referee Jacqui Melksham. (Does this look like a red card to you? Seriously?)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sunday Recipe: Trofie with Perfect Pesto

I distinctly remember the first time I had pesto -- sublime insouciance, a revelation on my tongue. Then the 1990's happened and everybody served pesto on everything. On bread, on fish, on pasta, on pizza, on your breakfast cereal. It was served year round with old, flavorless basil and too much garlic. It turned me off pesto for a good long time. In fact, I don't think I had eaten pesto in more than a decade.

This passed winter, while perusing my mother-in-law's bookshelves, I discovered Waverly Root's comprehensive guide to the regional foods of Italy, titled, simply enough, 'The Food of Italy.' (Published in 1972 by Vintage Books, a division of Random House. I think it is out of print now, but if you can lay your hands on it, give it a look.) At any rate, in Root's book, I discovered that pesto was invented in Liguria (as was ravioli, so I personally owe those crazy sea-faring Ligurians a big debt of gratitude.) Liguria is the province right around the knee-cap of the peninsula that extends out into the Mediterranean as you can see in this map, and the basil grows thick and lush on the hillsides there. From Root's book:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Jeff Karstens Leads the Way to 2nd Place for the Pittsburgh Pirates

More random thoughts from Bucco Central:

Last night, Wandy Rodriquez brought his 3.25 era and 7-2 record into PNC Park and the Pirates laid 5 runs on him, none bigger than Brandon Wood’s 2-run dinger in the 2nd inning. Your battling Buccos added on more runs, but really, Wood's homer would have done it because Jeff Karstens was,once again, masterful.

As we round the bases into the All-Star break, consider these facts about these Pirates:

Monday, July 4, 2011

Andrew McCutchen, Joel Hanrahan and the Great All-Star Snub of 2011

Random thoughts from Bucco Central.

Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan is headed to the All-Star game, a well deserved honor. Center-fielder Andrew McCutchen should be going with him, but the All-Star game is an honor conferred largely based on reputation and McCutchen is still building his. [Although a quick stroll through the stats would reveal these facts:  McCutchen is 3rd among all National League center-fielders in OPS (.892), 3rd in Slugging (498), 2nd in RBI (after today's win over the Astros he has 46), and 3rd in stolen bases (15.) It doesn't take a nuclear physicist to figure it out.] However, there's a bright side for Pittsburghers, which is, in the two games since his All-Star snub, he's gone 4-for-9 at the plate, with a two-bagger and three RBI's. Let's hope he stays motivated by The Great All-Star Snub of 2011. (tm)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ray Shero Does Not Play Footsie: Pens Offer to Jagr Withdrawn

Today at noon, Penguins GM Ray Shero withdrew his offer to Czech sniper and former Penguins great, Jaromir Jagr.

I am on record wanting Jagr to come back. I think he can still be a productive player and I stand by that. My mistake was thinking that he had matured some in last decade. I guess not.

Meet the new Jagr. Same as the old Jagr.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Stuff That Should Stay Where It Is -- the Pro Sports Edition

A couple of weeks ago, during their Stanley Cup run, the Boston Bruins media crew co-opted Wiz Khalifa's 'Black and Yellow.' Mmmmmmm, I'm gonna say that's just the kind of thing that's not done, or that you shouldn't do, or that you should be banished if you do it. I believe when it happened, I suggested that those guys be taken out and tazed, then shot in the face repeatedly. That's a bit harsh. This sort of filching is not quite a death penalty transgression, but it is the kind of thing that should make you a pariah.

It's like dating your friend's ex. Is it technically, letter of the law wrong? Probably not. But it's gross, it indicates a lack of feeling, a lack of ethics, perhaps even a lack of a soul.

It also bespeaks a revolting lack of originality.

But it got me to thinking, what traditions, songs and other sports ephemera are off limits, the province of one specific team or specific city?

1. The Detroit Red Wings pretty much own the entire Journey catalog. You know, if you want to play 'Faithfully' or 'Wheels in the Sky' or 'Any Way You Want It,' I suppose I won't take you to task too hard. But there is no budging on this: 'Don't Stop Believin'' is the Red Wings thing. It just is. (Yes, I'm looking at you Bruins staff. Again. Creativity. Look it up. Then get some.)

2. It's not all bad in Boston. 'Sweet Caroline' and 'Dirty Water' are the exclusive properties of the Boston Red Sox. Also, any and all Boston teams should feel free to use the Dropkick Murphy's, 'I'm Shipping Up to Boston,' at any time. For everybody else -- verboten.

3. The Rally Monkey? Always an Anaheim thing, even though they call themselves the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim these days. This is perhaps the most inspired, just plain goofy thing I can think of. The Angels are losing, and the stadium media crew just put this little guy on the jumbotron. A Rally Monkey is born. Genius.

4. If you catch a home run ball and you're not a Cubs fan at Wrigley Field? Hold on to it. You look like an all-world jackass throwing it back. Unlike this guy, who is clearly not a jackass. I don't know why it's kinda cool when Cubs fans do it, but it is. It's just pathetic everywhere else.

5. Let's do away with the annoying singing of God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch of all Sunday MLB games, and give that song back to the Philadelphia Flyers.

6. No player ever, from now until the end of the world (or a Newt Gingrich presidency, whichever comes first), is ever, ever permitted to use Metallica's 'Enter Sandman.' And if you do, Mariano Rivera is well within his rights to zip a cut-fastball right into your eye-socket.

7. As we're in Yankee Stadium, the chanting out the names of each of the starting position players until they tip the cap, stays right where it is. Even in that circumstance, it is annoying, but it's original at least. If you want your own thing? Get one. It can be annoying, too.

8. Note to NFL players -- if you're not a Packer and the game's not at Lambeau, don't leap into the stands. You just look stupid.

9. Wiz Khalifa's 'Black & Yellow' is a Pittsburgh song. It is, specifically, a Steelers song, but it's cool with me if the Penguins and Pirates and the Pittsburgh Passion use it. Point is, it's written by a Pittsburgher about Pittsburgh. It stays.

10. So does towel waving. Yeah, it's such a simple idea -- a towel in your team's colors. But Pittsburgh's guy thought of it first. If you don't like it, yinz can take it up with the ghost of the dear departed Myron.

[Photos: Joe Louis Arena from; Flyers/Stanley Cup from; Lambeau Leap from; Wiz Khalifa from]

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Recipe: Biscuits and Mushroom Gravy

I'm often tempted to get biscuits and gravy. I love biscuits, I love gravy, I love sausage; and yet, it always makes me queasy, I always pay for it in the end. I don't know if it's a grease factor or what, but it's always a mistake when I get it, so for the last decade or so, I've just avoided it altogether. And that makes me sad. Terribly, Terriblly sad.

Last week, I was kicking around in Oregon. At the Wandering Goat coffeehouse in Eugene, they have biscuits and mushroom gravy. A'ha! I thought. It hits all the notes that you want from biscuits and gravy -- the bite of the pepper, the creaminess of the gravy and, of course, the sublime fluffy, chewy goodness of the biscuits.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Return of the Jagr-Bomb?

Don't look now, but the Jaromir Jagr hockey sweepstakes are on.

Hey wait. What year is this? Did I wake up in 1990 again?

Damn. I hate when that happens.

Nope, it is 2011. I checked.

And it looks like, after three years playing for the Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, Jagr wants to come back to the NHL. Currently, the Pittsburgh Penguins are in pursuit, as are the Detroit Red Wings and the Philadelphia Flyers (although, with all the craziness in Philadelphia, I'm not sure they can get it together to properly woo the scoring Czech.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Adventures in Coffee, Pacific Northwest-style

Just back from a short visit in Oregon. I miss the coast and I miss the beer. I do not miss the seasonal allergies.

Above all, I miss the coffee.

Read the post from Open Salon, Adventures in Coffee.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Night Train, Cool Papa and Sweetness: My Favorite Sports Nicknames

This week, I was teasing my favorite center in the sport of women's full-contact football and have conferred upon Sarah Young of the Pittsburgh Passion the nickname "Egregious.” She will henceforth be known as Egregious Young. But it made me think of my favorite sports nicknames of all time. I only included guys (and yes, it's all men) who were big time athletes, not random guys who were mediocre players, but had cool nicknames, like Manny Legace ("Legs" or, even better, "The Ferret'"). These are the guys who simply are their nicknames, the ones that everybody knows, the kind that need no explanation.


These guys had nicknames that were so perfect that the nickname actually replaced their given names altogether.
Who even knows Cool Papa Bell's given name? Anybody? Anybody? Cool Papa is so descriptive and it says to me, 'I'm so fast that I make it look effortless to turn a double into a triple, I cruise the basepaths with such confidence and ease that I'm a cool papa.' (Oh, and it's James Thomas, by the way.)