Because “Guayule farmer” isn’t an official job description at Bridgestone Americas Inc., Bill Niaura says his title is Director of New Business Development for an experiment the world’s largest tire and rubber company is conducting at two sites in Arizona.
New business, indeed. Currently, the world’s entire supply of natural rubber -- the material used in everything from automobile tires to rubber gloves -- comes from outside the United States. But Bridgestone is investing millions of dollars to determine if a plant native to the deserts of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States might become a viable alternative source for such rubber.
The plant is Guayule, which is pronounced “why-YOU-lee.” (see photo)
America’s dependence on imported oil is a widely known subject of political debate and economic concern. However, largely overlooked is the fact that none of the world’s supply of natural rubber is produced within the country, or even on the North American continent.
That rubber -- nearly 11 million tons of it a year -- comes from the white sap of a species of Hevea trees, which grow only in equatorial areas. The trees are native to Brazil’s Amazon region, but have been exported. Some 93 percent of the world’s natural rubber supply comes from southeast Asia, with 4 percent from Africa and 3 percent from South America, Niaura told members of the Phoenix Automotive Press Association during his presentation on Bridgestone’s new Arizona-based Guayule research project.
Guayule, a woody shrub, produces natural rubber in its bark and roots. Some believe it was from Guayule that the Aztec extracted the rubber they used in their ball games.
Research by Bridgestone and others has shown the natural rubber Guayule produces can be directly substituted for that from the Hevea tree, Niaura said. He added that Bridgestone believes the potential yield per acre might be even greater for Guayule once the wild plant is domesticated for agricultural production. Niaura’s task is to lead the research teams that will determine if that can be done, if a viable business case can be made for Guayule as a significant source for viable natural rubber production.
Last year, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations purchased 281 acres of farmland near Eloy. The company will use that land as an agricultural research facility. Among challenges the research team faces, Niaura said, will be obtaining enough seeds to plant rows of Guayule. Each flower that blooms on a Guayule plant produces five seeds, he said, but only one of those seeds contains a viable embryo to start a new plant.
But cultivating Guayule is only part of the challenge. Soon, the company will break ground at a corner of the former General Motors desert proving grounds in Mesa for a facility to do research on extracting the rubber and other resources from Guayule plants.
While Hevea rubber is collected by bleeding the tree’s sap, the entire Guayule plant must be harvested and processed, said Niaura, who has a graduate degree from the University of Akron in polymer sciences and has worked for Bridgestone for 20 years.
Niaura said only about 7 percent of the plant’s mass is natural rubber and a business case must be made for using the rest of the plant as well. Some of that mass, he said, is a pine tar-like resin that can be used by the adhesives industry. The remaining biomass could be burned to produce energy -- Niaura said the biomass has the same energy density as coal, but with the benefit of being carbon neutral.
Bridgestone also wants to explore another possible use for this byproduct of natural rubber production: It seems that termites will not eat the woody part of the Guayule plant -- in fact, they’ll starve themselves first, Niaura said. It may be that the biomass left after extracting rubber and resin could be used in a termite-proof product for the building materials industry.
Bridgestone hopes to have a pilot crop growing at Eloy by 2015 but has not set a target date for potential commercialization of Guayule natural rubber.
Asked how many people the two facilities employ, Niaura started to count on his fingers.
“Now?” he said. “About 10.”
But, he added, eventually some 45 people will work at the two experimental stations.
However, should the experiments prove viable, well, that’s when Niaura’s full job description comes into play.
-- Larry Edsall
Like so many other boys of my generation, I saved my pennies and I saved my dimes (”giddy up, giddy up 409”) and when I had enough of them I’d spend them on an AMT or Revell model car kit.
Except for the tires, the pieces in the kits were made of plastic. Those parts included the body shell, dashboard, seats, steering wheel, the various components that formed the engine and transmission, and dozens and dozens more.
Most everything was white in color, though windows and headlights were clear plastic, tail lamps were tinted red, and bumpers had a chrome-like finish.
Also included was a fold-out sheet of instructions, and a sheet of decals so you could customize your car with flames or pinstripes or race car sponsor badges.
The kits were sold in hardware stores or at the local “5-and-Dime” store, where you also could buy small spray cans of paint to make your car and its components look even more realistic.
Provided, of course, you had both patience and skill. I had neither.
It was hard enough just to separate the various plastic pieces from the frames in which they were molded, let along go back with an Exacto knife and try to smooth off the little bumps that remained from the connection points.
Then there was the matter of trying not to drip or smear or spill any of the Testors glue onto your car’s finish during assembly -- a challenge made more difficult because all the while you were inhaling the intoxicating fumes the glue emitted as soon as you removed the cap from the tube.
Painting presented more frustrations -- in part because you were supposed to paint components before they were glued together but always were in such a hurry to assemble your model that there was no way to avoid horrible overspray.
And I don’t think I ever applied a set of decals without bumps and lumps.
Memories of my inability to assembly supposedly easy-to-use model car kits rushed back into mind while I was looking with awe at model cars boys of my generation had created not from a kit but completely on their own, from doing the original design to the construction from wood, plaster, metal and paint. Their cars were designed so creatively and built so skillfully that these boys won college scholarships and many went on to careers creating not just model cars but the vehicle we’ve been driving on the roads and highways for several decades.
Those boys and a few girls built their cars as part of the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild scholarship competition, which General Motors sponsored from 1930-1968. Several dozen guild alumni and their model cars were in Phoenix recently for a reunion they held in conjunction with the annual Arizona classic car auctions.
For two days, the model makers shared their stories and showed their cars in the lobby of the Arizona Biltmore, the resort where the RM Auctions company was selling full-size classic vehicles at prices ranging well into seven figures.
Several of the guild alumni told of spending considerable amounts -- not in dollars but in time, typically 700-800 hours building each model. But their efforts paid off in scholarships that enabled them to attend college and then enter and enjoy careers as car designers or in other fields, from teaching to engineering.
Many of those stories have been captured two books -- The Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild: An Illustrated History and Inside the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild: Contestants Recall the Great General Motors Talent Search -- both written by John Jacobus, a guild alumni and long-time U.S. Dept. of Transportation auto safety engineer. For many of the guildsmen, the contest was a life-changing event, especially for those who won scholarships that allowed them to go to college.
Anthony Joslin said his parents had saved enough money for him to attend college, but that when he won a GM scholarship, his parents used the money they’d saved to buy the only house they ever owned.
-- Larry Edsall
Talk about being an impressionable age, I was 13 years old when Route 66 made its debut on the CBS television network. I was 17 when the series concluded 116 episodes later, though as I recall many of us thought the series really ended the previous season, the last with George Maharis as Buz Murdock, riding shotgun across the country next to Martin Milner (Tod Stiles) in the Corvette convertible.
At age 13, all my best buddy and I wanted to do was to become old enough to get a car of our own and duplicate what we were seeing in the black-and-white images -- no high-def in those days -- on television screens that were curved, not flat, and were smaller than those on a modern notebook computer.
But while the images were small, the landscapes were large. Until we could hit the road on our own, we rode along eagerly with Tod and Buz on their weekly adventures.
Fast forward a few -- O.K., quite a few -- decades and its Christmas 2012 and under the tree is a small box, about the size of a brick, and beneath the colorful wrapping paper are four plastic cases, each containing six DVDs and on them one of the four full seasons of Route 66, remastered by something called Shout! Factory LLC of Los Angeles.
According to the box, the last set of discs include three bonus features -- a 1990 panel discussion about the series, classic commercials, and an “in-depth look” at the legendary Chevrolet Corvette that was so much a part of the series.
Since opening that box, I’ve been watching the episodes. Too impatient to wait a week between them, I am limiting myself (so far) to one episode a day. I know part of the lure is reliving a portion of my adolescence. Another is seeing through much mature eyes what I found so fascinating way back when.
So far I’ve seen the first dozen episodes from Season One and there have been several surprises.
For one thing, while the episodes are shot on location -- a big and expensive undertaking even back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s -- so far those location has included precious little of the actual Route 66.
Tod and Buz and their ‘Vette have been to Mississippi, New Orleans, an off-shore oil rig (the boys went by helicopter while the car remained parked on shore), a town called Sparrow Falls (for some reason it felt like Oklahoma to me), Utah’s Kanab Plateau, have harvested hops and lumber in Oregon, helped build the Glen Canyon dam and done some prospecting in northern Arizona, gone into Carlsbad Caverns, and visited yet another ranch, this one with cattle and near El Paso.
Some back story: Tod’s father owned barges that worked the harbor in New York City. Buz worked on those boats. Tod’s dad gave him the Corvette, but then died and the barge company sank out of business. Tod and Buz each packed a suitcase and a sleeping bag and headed out across the country in the Corvette, stopping along the way to find jobs for gas money and lodging, and each week became embroiled in some local controversy.
I don’t recall noticing as a youngster how much Route 66 was a modern cowboy Western, with Tod and Buz in the roles -- though much more subtly -- of heroes, riding in to a new town each week, just not on horses but on modern horsepower.
Nor did I remember how often they got into fist fights. Tod, rich kid turned vagabond, could hold his own, but was fortunate to have a companion along who had grown up making his way on the street.
Yet another revelation: The boys spend an amazing amount of time driving the Corvette on roads that are dusty, muddy, or are not even roads at all but rocky trails out in the desert -- places no contemporary Corvette owner would ever fear to tread.
Another thing I hadn’t noticed as a kid was all the television stars who were cast into roles in the various episodes. Lee Marvin and Leslie Nielsen are among those getting guest star billing so far, but I’ve also seen Donna Douglas, Inger Stevens and a very young Suzanne Pleshette, and with Bruce Dern and Ed Asner in barely “bit” roles as a couple of thugs getting only a few seconds of screen time.
Yet another revelation are all the religious overtones in the scripts, and in once case they’re more than overtones as Pleshette’s character drops to her knees while an evangelist prays a long prayer seeking for her God’s forgiveness and salvation “in Jesus name.”
Each episode ends with someone being saved in one way or another. In one case, we see an entire town finding salvation as the Corvette drives away, carrying Tod and Buz -- and those of us riding along -- to the next adventure.
-- Larry Edsall
It’s time for the annual ranking of the press vehicles I’ve tested in the last year.
Each week when I’m not traveling, I do my driving -- at least most of it -- in cars provided by the automakers for media evaluations. We publish those evaluations in the “Autos” section on the iZoom.com home page. The evaluations are based on my driving impressions and what I understand to be the mission the automaker has established for that vehicle.
For the most part, I stay away from comparisons and rankings -- until the end of the year when I go back to a chart I keep throughout the year, a chart on which I rank vehicles based primarily on how much I’ve enjoyed driving them during the week they were available to me.
These annual rankings are not objective. They are subjective, not only based on my personal preferences, but, I admit, on the roads on which I was doing my driving.
For example, we’re I buying or recommending a vehicle for as a daily driver, I’d pick the Fiat 500C (C stands for convertible) with a manual transmission over the Jeep Wrangler Sahara. But on the list below the Jeep is No. 7 and the Fiat No. 8. Why? Because I drove the Jeep on beautiful unpaved mountain trails and the Fiat on city streets and urban freeways.
Perhaps interesting to note as well that while I rated the 500C with a manual No. 8 for the year -- and ahead of several Lexi and a couple of Acuras -- another 500C I drove, but with an automatic transmission, only made it to No. 22 on my list of the 42 vehicles I’ve tested in the last year.
Yes, being able to shift for yourself and extract all the power you can from the Fiat’s 1.4-liter engine makes that much difference in driving pleasure.
So, what was the most pleasing vehicle I drove in the last year? It was the Centennial Edition of the 2012 Chevrolet Corvette. Convertible. Six-speed manual. And since I had the car during the centennial of both the car and the state in which I live, I celebrated by driving old Route 66 east-to-west across northern Arizona.
Corvette. Top down. The Mother Road. Even in February with some snow on the ground, that’s a tough trio to top.
But so were the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 cars on my annual ratings: a Mitsubishi Evo, an Audi TTS roadster and, most surprising, a Volvo -- the 2013 S60 T6 AWD R version of a sedan otherwise known for its safety, not for being a hoot for the enthusiast driver.
And rounding out my Top 5 -- the 2013 Cadillac XTS4, the new big and luxurious Caddy with a surprisingly spunky 3.6-liter V6 engine.
And special mention needs to be made of the No. 6 car, the VW Beetle Turbo, the only other vehicle to achieve an 8.0 or better score on my chart.
To provide some perspective, the worst score I gave in 2012 was a 4.5, and it went to three different vehicles -- the Suzuki Grand Vitara Ultimate Adventure Edition, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the Kia Rio EX 5-door.
Also noteworthy is that if you read through the entire list, you’ll see there are no Ford products included. That’s because Ford Motor Co. doesn’t think this website or its readers are worthy of its products.
- Chevrolet Corvette Centennial Edition
- Mitsubishi Evolution MR
- Audi TTS roadster
- Volvo S60 T6 AWD R*
- Cadillac XTS4*
- Volkswagen Beetle Turbo
- Jeep Wrangler Sahara
- Fiat 500C (manual transmission)
- Lexus GS350 AWD*
- Kia Optima SX*
- Nissan Juke SL*
- Chevrolet Malibu 2LZ*
- Nissan Murano SL
- Infiniti JX35*
- Lexus ES350*
- Acura RDX AWD Tech *
- Scion iQ
- Hyundai Santa Fe Sport*
- Acura ILX Tech*
- Chevrolet Malibu Eco*
- Infiniti EX35 Journey
- Fiat 500C Lounge
- Volvo C70 Inscription
- Infiniti IPL G coupe
- Kia Optima SX
- Toyota Prius v Five
- Toyota Tacoma 4x4 (2011 model)
- Kia Soul!
- Honda CR-V
- Toyota Camry XLE
- Toyota Camry XLE hybrid
- Toyota Prius cFour
- Hyundai Veloster
- Kia Sorento
- Buick Verano
- Nissan Titan CC 4x4 SV
- Toyota Prius Plug-in
- Lexus GX460*
- Suzuki Grand Vitara Ulitmate Adventure Edition
- Mitsubishi i-MiEV
- Kia Rio EX 5-door
* indicates 2013 model
Not included in the ratings are five other vehicles I drove last year -- a 1915 Ford Model T, a 1959 Bocar, a 1973 Jensen-Healey, a 2012 Morgan 3 Wheeler, and a 2013 Ram 1500. They are not included because of the brevity -- from a half-hour to a half-day -- of my drive, but that doesn't mean each wasn't a lot of fun and a unique experience.
-- Larry Edsall
I’ve noticed that the more I’m writing, the less I’m reading.
Research on two book projects -- and traveling to do that research, as well as a trip to move my Mom, at age 94, from her home into an independent living apartment building -- consumed considerable time in 2012, so when I look at the list below, I see I read only 23 books in the last 12 months.
Only 23 books? Well, I’m half-way through what would be No. 24 if I finish it before the pine cone falls in Flagstaff (New York has its big ball atop Times Square but here in Arizona, the New Year is marked by the big pine cone drop at the Weatherford Hotel in Flagstaff).
The Northern Lights
Inside the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild
The Last Will and Testament of Lemuel Higgins
The American Highway
The Detroit Electric Scheme
100 Things NASCAR Fans Should Know or Do Before They Die
Tales from the Indianapolis 500
Conspiracy of Silence
The Art of Fielding
10 Commandments of Baseball
The Last Newspaper Man
Parking Cars in America, 1910-1945: A History
Island of Bones
I’ll Play These
The Lexington Automobile
Vitesse-Elegance: French Expression of Flight and Motion
A Temple of Texts
and perhaps Lunches with Mr. Q
But still, only 23 1/2 or perhaps 24 books? Perhaps more than the typical person, but we writers also are readers, and I prefer a reading pace of a book a week.
Most of what I prefer to read is non-fiction, and thus there are only a few works of fiction on my list for 2012: Lemuel Higgins, Detroit Electric, Fielding, Last Newspaperman and Heat. (A note about Heat: I have a weakness for two television series -- Bones and Castle -- and Heat is a Castle-based audio book I listened to on my most recent drive from Arizona to Michigan.)
Fisher, Allison, American Highway, Rapid Response, Detroit Electric, 100 NASCAR Things, Indy Tales, Parking Cars, Lexington and Vitese-Elegance were work-related books, read either for reviews posted on iZoom.com or as background for articles I was writing.
Higgins, Conspiracy of Silence, Fielding, 10 Commandments, Last Newspaper Man, I’ll Play These and Late Edition were chosen because they relate to baseball, sportswriting, newspapers or all three, and all three of which were very much my focus until Leon Mandel called one day and invited me first to lunch and then to become an editor at AutoWeek magazine.
The other five -- Northern Lights, Midnight Rising, Remembering Che, Island of Bones and Temple of Texts -- simply reflect eclectic, even serendipitous interests, from the phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis to the uncivil wars in our country and Cuba, and from a woman’s tale of her life to an essayist’s words about writing.
Speaking of writing, as the publisher already has reminded me, I have another book I need to be writing, and others to be reading. Among the titles on my to-be-read shelf are The Magnificent Medills, The Jericho River, and a book subtitled, “The Remarkable Story of the McPherson Refiners, the First Team to Dunk, Zone Press, and Win the Olympic Gold Metal.”
It's already looking like a happy new year for this reader.
-- Larry Edsall
Several times in the last few months, O.K., last few years, I have chided car owners who take their vehicles to show off in car shows, even big national ones, and do a poor job of displaying them.
Sometimes it’s the show organizer’s fault, but even if the host doesn’t mandate such things, I encourage every car owner to make up even a small display board to put in one of the windows to share the year, make and model of the vehicle, at least the highlights of any modifications that have been made, or even to tell the vehicle’s individual story.
For example, “this car was purchased new by my grandfather and has been in the family ever since,” or “when I was in high school, the cool kids had a car like this one.”
Oh, and you also need to include at least your name and hopefully some contact information -- email or phone number -- so the photographer for the local newspaper or website or perhaps even a correspondent for a national magazine might get in touch with you for all the details.
But, alas, too often a very interesting car just sits there anonymously, as though it were just part of the clutter of a big-box parking lot.
Having said all of the above, I’d like to show you the 1964 Pontiac Catalina that Allen and Donna Coloman drove to the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association’s 15th annual Southwest Nationals at the WestWorld show grounds in Scottsdale, Arizona.
What caught my eye wasn’t the beige-colored car, but the way it was displayed, with a parking meter used as a stand for a nice, large poster detailing the various modifications and even the names of the shops that did them.
For example, what I see as beige is actually an original-equipment color -- Singapore Gold -- though now with clear coat, and with pin striping by “Buddy of Northern California.”
And while the Catalina may look fairly stock, there’s been a lot of aftermarket components that have beefed up its 400-cubic-inch V8 engine, and it rides on 17-inch Torq Thrust II wheels and has an interior patterned after Pontiac’s ’64 Grand Prix model, though with a 6-CD changer and aftermarket air conditioning system.
Speaking of the aftermarket, I saw an amazing example of good product display at the recent Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show.
The SEMA Show is open to all automotive aftermarket product producers and there are so many of them showing so much stuff that they fill the three huge buildings of the Las Vegas Convention Center and overflow into the parking lots outside. Among those companies are a dozen or more that produce the film used for window tinting. Typically, those companies will showcase their products by parking a customized car in their booth. Often, however, the car gets the notice, not their film.
Michael Martin is president of Erikson International, which includes the American Standard Window Film (ASWF) division. He wondered how his company might stand out from its competitors at the show, and brainstormed with his son, Tim, and the company’s design consultant, Arthur Rumaya of Element 18, a graphic arts studio in Pasadena, Calif.
They came up with an interesting twist, if you’ll pardon the pun. By bending steel tubing they created a full-scale automotive sculpture that not only showcased ASWF’s product but drew people to the booth simply to see an amazing work of automotive art.
Here’s how it happened: Rumaya created a template based on a Hyundai Genesis coupe and the Martins reproduced it by cutting and bending steel tubing that Tim Martin welded together -- he even filled in the joints to smooth them out -- and then painted and powder coated.
Even before the show was over, Michael Martin had turned down several offers from people who wanted to buy the tube-frame display.
-- Larry Edsall
Google “Orphan car show” and the first five links that pop up on your computer screen are for the big event staged annually for the last 16 years in conjunction with the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum just west of Detroit in Michigan.
Scroll a little further down the page and you’ll find other shows for classic cars whose manufacturers no longer are in business being held in places such as Golden, Colorado; Yellow Springs, Ohio; Forest Park and Branson, Missouri, and in Bothell, Washington.
But we scanned half-a-dozen pages of Google report and didn’t find what may be the oldest of those orphan car shows, the one staged for the last 22 years by the Valley Roadrunners chapter of the Veteran Motor Car Club of America.
Not only is the show held in late October in Los Olivios Park in Phoenix the oldest of the orphan car shows, its focus not only is cars but it raises money for the Sunshine Acres Children’s Home, the so-called Miracle in the Desert which since 1954 has provided a home to some 1,600 children in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa.
The idea for the Phoenix orphan car show came from Valley Roadrunners member Dave Albani, said club president Andre Lange.
“Dave had a Hudson. I had Nashes, and other club members had different kinds,” Lange said.
“We looked around for a place to have the show and got a permit from the city. It’s been the same day and the same location every year ever since.”
At first, the Orphan Car Show was the Orphan Car Picnic, held on the grass under the park’s olive trees. Later, however, the city parks department restricted the cars to the park’s paved parking lot.
Sunshine Acres always has been the financial beneficiary of the show -- money coming from entry fees paid by the participating car owners -- and for several years the show would end with a parade with the cars driven from Phoenix to Mesa to present the money and to show the cars to the children. However, that ended when privacy laws were enacted to protect orphans’ identities, Lange said.
As many as 125 cars have participated in the Phoenix show. This year there were 99 on display, though not all of them were true orphans.
Exceptions are made, Lange said. Corvairs, for example, because while Chevrolet remains in business, it’s sporty rear-engine car -- supposedly unsafe at any speed -- has a cult-like following.
And, because the money goes to a good cause, some club members are so eager to participate and they want to bring a classic car even if its maker still is in business.
However, such cars are few and far between in a lot filled with the likes of Hudsons, Frazers, Kaisers, Plymouths, Pontiacs, Studebakers, AMCs, Oldsmobiles and Edsels (see photo above).
Another thing that makes the Phoenix Orphan car show special is its homemade trophies (see photo at right), whimsical works of art made by club members, often from components recycled from trophies they’ve won in previous years.
“We want people to pre-register their cars so we can make a trophy that fits,” Lange said. “Everybody,” he added, “likes to get trophies.”
-- Larry Edsall
With the World Series being played out between the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants, this seems as logical time as any to write about the stack of books that has been growing on my desk.
The books, which I’ve read in the last few months, are Conspiracy of Silence, The Art of Fielding, The 10 Commandments of Baseball and Teammates: How Two Men Changed the Face of Baseball.
But where to start? I suppose with the first and the last of them, especially considering that Teammates, written by my friend Peter Golenbock and illustrated by Paul Bacon, is a children’s book about the brotherhood between Jackie Robinson, the player who broke major league baseball’s “color” barrier, and his Brooklyn Dodgers’ teammate Harold Henry “Pee Wee” Reese, and Conspiracy is about why it took so long for someone like Robinson to reach the major leagues in the first place.
“More than anything else, Pee Wee Reese believed in doing what was right,” Golenbock writes. “When he heard the fans yelling at Jackie, Pee Wee decided to take a stand.”
That stand, which defied not only fans but some of Reese’s own teammates, certainly was different from the role professor Chris Lamb of the College of Charleston says was played by all but a few sportswriters in the era when the national pastime remained segregated.
The full title of Lamb’s book is Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball. Lamb’s research unveils some heroes among those who covered the sports beat for American newspapers, but it finds many more people, both in the press box and in baseball’s front offices, who were opposed to integration in the clubhouse, dugout and playing field.
But then how much of America really was truly integrated at that time?
Even after Jackie Robinson was signed to play for the Dodgers, Lamb recounts the trip Robinson and his wife had to make from their home in Los Angeles so he could report to spring training in Daytona Beach, Florida:
“The Robinson’s trip... turned into a grueling thirty-six-hour odyssey,” the professor writes. “They would twice be bumped from planes and replaced with whites. They would be denied entrance at a whites-only restaurant in the New Orleans airport.”
And even once they landed, “As the Robinsons rode on a bus from the Florida Panhandle, they were ordered to the back by the driver, who called Jackie ‘boy.’ “
And now a different bus and a different time:
“Every guy on that bus, from Schwartz down to little Loondorf, had grown-up dreaming of becoming a professional athlete. Even when you realized you’d never make it, you didn’t relinquish the dream, not deep down. And here was Henry, living it out. He alone was headed where they each, in the privacy of their backyard imaginations, had spent the better part of their boyhoods: a major-league diamond.”
That from author Chad Harbach’s amazing first novel, The Art of Fielding.
Novels based on sports and, even more so, movies based on sports rarely work well, I believe, because the unscripted, real-life drama on the playing field surpasses the written-down, make-believe drama on the page or screen. But Harbach succeeds, with the depth of his characters, the unfolding of his plot, and with his remarkable insight into the game itself.
For example, he notes one aspect of the game of baseball that sets it apart from all other athletic endeavors: “What other sport not only kept a stat as cruel as the error but posted it on the scoreboard for everyone to see?”
Runs. Hits. And errors. Lessons in life learned on the fields of play.
Which brings us to The 10 Commandments of Baseball, by J.D. Thorne, who notes that not only did he and his brother both play baseball at the major college level, but that his father was an excellent player and coach, and “at my parents’ wedding reception in 1939, my grandfathers discovered over a few glasses of beer that 30 years before they had pitched against each other in a game!”
Thorne is a lawyer and motivational speaker. After his father died, he found among his father’s keepsakes a card that on one side had an advertisement for a restaurant in Iowa -- Bill Zuber’s Dugout Restaurant -- and on the other The Ten Commandments of Baseball, as set forth by Joe McCarthy, longtime major league manager and skipper of the New York Yankees when future restaurant owner Zuber was pitching for that team.
“What could be so compelling about these simple rules that my father would keep them close at hand for so many years?” Thorne wondered.
But Thorne didn’t just wonder. He explored those rules and shares them and their lessons -- on and off the playing field -- in his book.
For example, McCarthy’s first commandment -- “Nobody ever became a ballplayer by walking after a ball.”
Hustle, Thorne writes, becomes a habit, and not only on the playing field.
Here’s another one to consider, McCarthy’s ninth commandment -- “Do not find too much fault with the umpires. You cannot expect them to be as perfect as you are.”
-- Larry Edsall
A few years ago, a major automaker refused to call its sports utility vehicle by that name. Instead, it insisted its SUV was actually an SAV, a sports activity vehicle.
That its SAV was really no different from everyone else’s SUV was beside the point. So was the fact that most SUVs had nothing to do with sports or activity. They simply were big, gas-guzzling trucks with back seats instead of pickup beds and were disguised to look like something ideal for pulling a popup trailer to a campground or for trekking to a hiking trailhead or for hauling a bunch of bicycles to some shady lane well away from the horrors of city traffic and air pollution.
Because of their truck-based architecture, SUVs also generated a lot of profits for their producers.
But shouldn’t they also live up to the promise of their mission?
A trio of athletes who also worked for newspapers, magazines and websites thought they should and nine years ago they launched the Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Their idea was to encourage automakers to produce vehicles which befit the truly active lifestyles of people who regularly ran, biked, paddled and pursued other such active hobbies.
Sure, there were various car-of-the-year awards programs, but theirs would be different because they would involve bonafide athletes in the selection process.
One of those three founders is Arizona resident Nina Russin, who not only runs marathons but was a licensed auto mechanic and is a leading automotive journalist, formerly for the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper and now for the carspondent.com website.
Because of her involvement, for the last two years the finals of the ALV awards have been staged in Phoenix, at the Local Motors assembly center and the parking lot next to the building just across I-10 from Firebird International Raceway.
Early each year, automakers are invited to enter their newest vehicles for ALV consideration in one of seven categories. A panel of automotive journalist evaluate those vehicles and their votes determine the vehicles eligible for the ALV finals.
At the finals, held in October, active Phoenix area athletes are invited to spend a Saturday learning about the cars, driving the cars, and voting to determine which cars best meet their lifestyles.
Since no one vehicle can fit everyone’s specific needs, awards are given in seven categories:
- Urban, small vehicles priced at $20,000 or less;
- Best value on road, vehicles priced at $34,999 or less and designed primarily for driving on pavement;
- Best value off road, vehicles priced at $34,999 or less but designed for use on or off pavement;
- Luxury on road, vehicles priced at $35,000 or more and designed primarily for driving o pavement;
- Luxury off road, vehicles priced at $35,000 or more and designed for use on or off pavement;
- Green, vehicles with electric, hybrid, clean diesel or other alternative powertrains;
- Family, vehicles that offer three rows of seating
A team of athletes was assigned to each category. Manufacturers representatives or product specialists -- not sales personnel -- are invited to share details on their vehicles, then the cars, trucks, SUVs and crossovers are available for the athletes to drive on paved roads and, for those in the off-road categories, on the Local Motors off-road course.
For the auto manufacturers, they are exposed to what amounts to a focus group of athletes, who provide feedback not only on an automaker’s product but on those of its top competitors in each category.
At the end of the day, votes are tabulated and trophies awarded.
“This is different from running,” said Susan Lichtsinn, who said that what she and others on the Native Beast Running Club would have been doing this Saturday morning would be running. Instead, they were driving and riding and evaluating.
“We get to drive a lot of different cars that we wouldn’t drive otherwise,” she added as she rode in the back seat of a Chevrolet Sonic, one of the vehicles being considered in the Urban category.
“And,” she continued, “there’s no one trying to make you buy the car.”
By the way, Susan owns a Toyota Prius. As she rode, another Native Beast runner, Wenjing He, drove the Sonic and their club’s coach, Dave Allison, sat in the front passenger’s seat (see photo).
Their conversation was focused on the various features of the Sonic, its dynamic capabilities, and how it compared to the other vehicles in the category.
Over the course of the day, a dozen or more athletes would evaluate each vehicle. Each person could award a vehicle as many as four points in a variety of categories. The athletes’ points were totaled, averaged and compared to the points from the journalist jury to determine the overall winners, the vehicles that best fit with an active lifestyle.
The 2013 Active Lifestyle Vehicles of the Year are:
-- Larry Edsall
- Urban: Kia Soul
- Best value on road: Hyundai Santa Fe
- Best value off road: Jeep Wrangler
- Luxury on road: Audi Allroad
- Luxury off road: Ram 1500
- Green: Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI
- Family: Mercedes-Benz GL BlueTec
I think there are at least three ways you can read Bob Markus’ 585-page I’ll Play These: A Sports Writer’s Life.
Way One is to read every word, just as you’d read any other book.
Way Two is to skip the bits set in italic type and just read the columns and features and game stories that are reprinted from Markus’ nearly 40-year career covering sports for the Chicago Tribune, which in its heyday was the paper of record not just in Chicago but for all of us growing up throughout the Midwest.
Way Three is the way I read the book, focusing on those italicized words, those bits of what might be considered “inside baseball” in which Markus tells the stories behind his stories by taking us into the newsroom and the press boxes and the locker rooms.
Having grown up in the Midwest and having been in many of those same press boxes and locker rooms when I was writing about sports for other Midwestern daily newspapers, I’d already read many of Bob Markus’ columns, features and game stories, and I encourage you not to skip over them. They are well reported and carefully and skillfully written and will take you back to your favorite sports events and athletes in the last four decades of the 20th Century.
As I said, my plan, since I’d already read many of them, was to skim or even skip most of them and to focus on the stories behind the stories. And yet I couldn’t help myself because Markus’ reporting and writing are so good.
You’ll have your personal favorites; Markus covered everything from Ali vs. Frazier and Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs to Big Ten football, Chicago’s pro teams and the Indy 500.
My favorites in this collection include his articles about baseball player Nellie Fox, auto racer Janet Guthrie, author John O’Hara, and Jack Griffin, a columnist for the Tribune’s rival newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times.
Although he is more than a dozen years my senior, I got to know Bob not only colleague along press row, but as an excellent reporter and writer and as a friend, so I was eager to accept when I was offered a copy of his book to review.
Having spent oh-so-many hours in newsrooms and press boxes, I enjoyed reading Bob’s stories about dealing with editors and athletes, about newspaper politics, about what he was thinking as he approached his subjects and wrote his stories.
And maybe you have to have been a working journalist to appreciate this passage, but the two or three pages he devoted to the transition from typewriters and Western Union operators through the various “portable” word processors and rubber telephone couplers to the laptop computers on which we eventually wrote our stories was a nostalgic if sometimes painful trip back in time.
I also enjoyed getting reacquainted with some old friends, people such as Tribune staffers John Husar and Owen Youngman and David Israel, the young bound-for-Hollywood-screenwriting-success journalist to whom the newspaper gave Bob’s column even though Bob wasn’t ready to give it up.
Such newsroom churn no doubt was the reason Markus’ full subtitle for the book is From Ecstasy to Angst: A Sports Writer’s Journey.
Just as Markus wasn’t ready to give up his column, he wasn’t ready to stop writing when the time came to retire, and the last section of the book is called “Extra Innings” and reprints some of the blogs he wrote until he turned his attention to putting his book together.
“Now,” Markus writes on the last page of his book, “my writing days are through I think. I’m seventy-seven. Red Grange’s number, which reminds me of a story, but... I think I’ll save it, just in case, somewhere down the road, say ten or twelve years from now, I get the urge to write again. Until then, I’ll play these.”
Personally, I hope he doesn’t wait that long.
-- Larry Edsall