Monday, October 5, 2020

My Uncle Chuck

To most, you were Charles Mitchem. 

To some, you were Charlie.

To me, you were my Uncle Chuck.

As my Mom's brother, you married my Dad's sister which meant that it always felt like we had a special bond even tighter than just regular family.  I am sure it was the way you treated all the nieces and nephews but you made me feel like I was your favorite.  

Some of my first memories in this world were with you.  I remember that you always had a bag of M&Ms in your pocket for me.  And apparently I had a proclivity of chewing your "coddar."  You see, flannel shirts used to have a plastic piece in the "collar" and apparently when people would pick me up, I would start to chew on the collar of their shirt.  Of course they didn't realize until they put me down that they had a wet collar!  I am sure that I chewed my fair share of your "coddars."

Growing up, the Mitchem's lived on the corner of Emmet and Roseland Street, and the Charette's were just two blocks away on Emmet and Hooper.  As was in the 70's and 80's, family would just drop by and end up staying for a beer or sometimes dinner and the closer they lived the more often you saw them.  Of all my relatives, I probably saw you and Auntie Sandie the most.  

This extended to most major holidays as well.  I could count on seeing you every 4th of July as we hosted the annual backyard - grill out - pool party - badminton match at our house.  Then in late November, Thanksgiving was another mainstay with our close knit family as the Charette-Mitchem's made our way to the north side of Iron Mountain to enjoy turkey with Rocheleau's.  Just a few weeks later, we would be together again as a family for Christmas Eve at our house (well at your house when I was very small) followed by Rocheleau's on Christmas Day.  On Phil's first Christmas at our house we introduced ourselves collectively as the loud family.  

Back when you had to develop a roll of film, pictures were really only taken at major holidays or birthdays, so most of the photos that I have of my childhood, which paint the background of my memories, have you in them.  When I look at the picture of you wearing that hunter orange knit chook folded up with the black whitetail deer circular logo and your blue flannel shirt, along with your epic mustache, it puts me back into that moment of my 10th birthday like it was yesterday.  

While it is not a major holiday for the rest of the world, November 15th is a holiday in Michigan.  That is because it is the opening day of deer (rifle hunting) season.  Your camp was a stone's throw from ours and long before I was old enough to hunt, my Dad would bring me to camp during deer season.  I have so many fond memories of sitting at the table in your camp listening to your stories.  As I got older, I found that the more PBR's that we had, the taller the stories became and the more cards that were dealt off the bottom of the deck.  From the 15th to Thanksgiving, we were either at our camp or yours and while the memories are about as clear as the cigarette smoke that blanketed the ceiling, you were a key part of them. 

Your move to Kentucky while I was in high school meant that we saw less of each other.   It feels like a lot of years, maybe too many, passed in the 1990's when I don't have many memories of you.  Then as you moved to Florida in retirement, followed by my move to Alabama meant that we were no longer two blocks apart like we were once upon a time.  But that didn't mean that you still weren't my favorite uncle. 

We were together for the Christmas in July celebration on the Menominee River in 2004 and apparently had graduated from PBR up to Miller Lite according to this picture.  Your mustache was a thing of the past but your knack for the occasional inappropriate joke or comment was just as strong as ever!  That was what made you, you -- that carefree attitude of saying what was on your mind that could both make people laugh and cringe at the same time but always good natured. 

And I can only the BS that must have been flying here as two brothers shot the shit. 

The last time that we got a chance to see each other in person was in August, 2016.  It was another family gathering at my parents Tiki Bar on the Menominee River.  You never know when it will be the last time you see someone.  This would be ours.  

Eventually your heart, your mind and your spirit were let down by your body, which just could not fight the cancer any longer.  We tried valiantly to get to Florida to say goodbye in person, but it just wasn't meant to be.  From what I've heard, you were full of  stories right up until the very end.  I wouldn't have expected any less.  

If I had been there, I would have simply told you that you will always be my uncle Chuck, whether it is in this world or the next.  Then I would have pulled these out of my pocket and show you that life had come full circle.  

We will do our best to care care for and watch over Auntie Sandie and Missy for you.  Come this deer season I will be wearing my hunter orange chook in your memory and as we throw down the PBRs, we will be telling stories of the many deer seasons of the past.  As the playing cards get thicker with the progression of the night, I will see if I can master dealing from the bottom of the deck in your honor.  

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Impossible Has Happened

"In the year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened." - Vin Scully calling Kirk Gibson's pinch-hit walk-off home run for national TV of game 1 of the 1988 World Series.


Not long after qualifying for Boston at the 2016 California International Marathon in December, I decided that I was going to focus on my health.  I needed to step away from running, not knowing the effects of the interferon treatment protocol I was about to take to address my recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.  In other words, I retired from competition not knowing if I would ever be able to return, or for that matter, ever run again.  

Then 2017 came and went.  Running got shorter and shorter, slower and slower and less frequent.  

Then 2018 arrived.  I was part of a drug trial at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Washington, DC which was prematurely cancelled.  My condition did not improve.  2018 went.  Running turned into jogging.  

In April 2019 I made it official.  I could no longer run, at any level, and was no longer going to try.  This was a very emotional revelation, when I knew that it was over and there was nothing I could do about it.  Jogging turned into walking.  The months that would follow in 2019 would only solidify the notion that running was something of the past for me.  In December I would require knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in my right knee.  

Just about when COVID-19 was starting to be a household term in the spring of 2020, I started noticing that I was feeling fatigued more and more.  I was going to bed early, and having to take several naps during the day.  I had zero energy even for normal daily activities, which I attributed to the interferon injections.  Though I had been taking it for three full years at that point, I wondered if it was causing anemia based on my symptoms.  

In parallel, I was having some irregular heart rate issues.  Upon any activity such as going up more than a few stairs or other minor exertion, my heart would begin to beat rapidly and if I did not immediately sit down to recover, would spiral out of control at an insane rate.  In early June, I could run about 10 steps and I would be so out of breath that I would gasp for air.  

I didn't know if I had developed a new arrhythmia or worse, but I knew that I needed to seek medical attention.  When I met with the cardiologist, I knew immediately that something was seriously wrong.  The scale reading showed I was 157 pounds, a weight I had not seen since I was at the height of ultra running in 2014.  Post retirement and as recently as Christmas I had been stable around 172 pounds, so without an increase of exercise or change in diet, there was no GOOD reason why I should drop nearly 10% of my body weight.  My mind raced immediately to some form of aggressive cancer.  Deep sigh. 

After a months worth of tests, I was finally diagnosed with Graves' disease.  The fast and irregular heartbeat, heat intolerance, fatigue, weight loss, light sensitivity and double vision could all be attributed to an autoimmune disorder stemming from the interferon which resulted in my thyroid being hyperactive and accelerating my body's metabolism at an alarming rate.  My TSH was <0.01 mU/L with the normal range being 0.40 - 4.00 mU/L while my T4 was 3.25 ng/dL with a normal range of 0.76 - 1.46 ng/dL.  

But, I had never been so happy to get such bad news.  Though mildly common (about 1 in every 200 people have it) it would be treatable with a single radioiodine therapy that would shock my thyroid into stop producing so much hormone.  It likely would swing too far the other way, and eventually I will have to take daily medication to regulate it back up to normal.  So on July 30, I took the radioactive iodine pill and for 5 days following, was mostly isolated from Rachel and Fiina to limit their radiation exposure.  And I felt REALLY BAD.  The symptoms typically magnify for a few days before they get better and I had a hard time getting out of bed until through the weekend.  I was skeptical if this was actually working for me. 

Then on Sunday August 16, I took Fiina Beagle for our typical weekend long walk -- Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles.  But something felt, different.  The normal 17-18 minute walking pace was replaced by small sections of running.  It was not very far or very fast, but Fiina and I were jogging toward the end and we averaged under 15 minute miles for the 8 mile three lake loop.

"I don't believe what I just saw!" - Jack Buck calling Kirk Gibson's pinch-hit walk-off home run on national radio for game 1 of the 1988 World Series 


And if you saw me, I was running.  
  • Aug 17: The very next day I thought I would try to just run.  And I did, sort of.  4 miles in 43 minutes but stopped to walk 22 times.  At 10:44 pace I still declared it a victory as the last mile was under 10 minutes per mile.  
  • Aug 19 (+2 days): At 6:44am I stepped out the front door and ran 5 kilometers, steady state, no walking.  The benchmark had been set at 31:40 (10:05 pace).  
  • Aug 25 (+8 days) : After a failed steady state run over the weekend that turned into repeats and fartleks, I had my longest stated state run with NO STOPS.  Back to the 4-mile loop fro the previous week, I was a touch slower at 10:50 pace, but was able to hold pace and not walk until the run was over.  This was encouraging as it was 75 degrees and 84% humidity for the 6am start.
  • Aug 27 (+10 days): Back to the 5km time trial, this time breaking the 30-minute mark, running 29:16 on another muggy and warm morning run.  No warm up, just 9's out the door.  
  • Aug 29 (+12 days): With ideal temperatures, I was ready to run in public and headed to Lake Harriet.  I hadn't intended to time trial again so quickly, but in the first mile I was out waaaay to fast and realized that it was on.  I would have splits of 8:13, 8:32, 8:38 and a slow kick for a new TT benchmark of 26:21.  
  • Aug 30 (+13 days): Having gone back and read some of my old books I training, I was ready to try the track again to see what it felt like to run a perceived hard effort, one lap at a time.  So on a Sunday morning, I was out the door by 7am and warmed up over to Minnehaha Academy.  Only recently had I learned how the public gained access to the rubberized track and was excited to try some 400s.  The goal pace based on my 5km time from the day before was around 1:55 per lap (or just over 7:40 pace).  It was harder than I thought it would be for an 8x400m session, but managed splits of 1:55, 1:53, 1:52, 1:51, 1:50, 1:51, 1:49, 1:47 for an average pace of 7:25.  It was a slow cool down back home, but I was beaming with excitement from moderate success on the track, a place I loved to train from back when I used to train.  
  • Sept 3 (+17 days): After a two-day trip back to Huntsville for work which featured some lackluster jogging in soupy 90% humidity, I was back home in Minnesota and ready to stretch out my legs.  Just a short run, but looking for steady state at a pace that felt comfortable.  This turned out to be just over 9 minute miles for 3.5 miles but with only a stop to stretch at the turn, I was left not feeling as gassed as I had been on similar runs.  My legs felt a little heavy but breathing and heart rate were under control.  
  • Sept 4 (+18 days): I went back to the track at Minnehaha Academy with a plan to run the same pace as the week prior, but for slightly longer repeats, 6x600m to be exact.  The temperature was to my liking as I had to put on arm sleeves and gloves in the warm up for the 6:30am start.  I found that right from the start, my 400m splits were faster than last time and I was able to finish up at 2:48, 2:46, 2:44, 2:43, 2:42, 2:40 for a 7:19 average pace.  So in just a week, I was running faster, for longer repeat distances.  I could tell that I had a little bit of acid build up when trying to kick, but overall my legs felt like the turnover was there.  Still in comparison, I once ran a trail 50km race just a tad slower pace, so I am still keeping all of this in perspective.  
  • Sept 5 (+19 days): The next test would be to stretch out the distance a little and slow the pace.  The running paths around Medicine Lake in the northwestern suburbs of the Twin Cities are very quiet, and apparently featured far more rolling hills than I remembered!  Regardless, after a slow warm up mile, I was able to sustain 9:15 pace for the next 7 miles.  I definitely started to feel leg fatigue in the second half and had a few more stops to rest than hoped.  I realize that I bit off more than I could chew as if I was looking for a steady state run I should have targeted a route more in the 5-6 mile range based on my fitness.  
  • Sept 7 (+21 days): On another cool morning, I was out early to run a loop around Bush Lake in the southwestern suburbs.  I had a pace of something in the low 9's in my mind but with an 8:47 first mile I knew that it was ON again!  Mile two was flat, and I cranked out an 8:33 without laboring.  The rollers started next which slowed the pace to 8:40/8:36 for miles 3 and 4 before a steady drop back down to the beach in the 5th mile which I clocked an 8:25.  Total time 43:02 for 8:36 average pace.  

So in the year that was so improbable, the impossible has happened.  I started running again!

I don't know where this goes from here.  All I know is that I am going to enjoy running again and take it day by day.   I am just happy to be able to explore my city or in my travels, afoot at a decent clip.

Maybe there is a race or an ultra run in my distant future.  Maybe.  But not right now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Donruss Rated Rookies 1984-1989

Being 9 years old in 1984, I was playing Little League and living and breathing baseball.  My Chicago Cubs were enroute to the NLCS and Donruss had introduced a new subset, the Rated Rookie.  I started baseball cards heavily in 1986 and the Jose Canseco was card every kid chased.  As a member of the bash brothers, Canseco and McGwire were at the core of my colelctions.

Recently I was thinking about the Donruss Rated Rookies from the 80's.   I am sure that there is a future blog of Rated Rookies that should have been like Will Clark, Barry Bonds, Barry Larkin and even Don Mattingky.  But for this blog, I focised on the 118 players who were Rated Rookies from 1984-1989.

Here are some stats of these cards/players.
  • 118 Rated Rookies (not counting Danny Tartabull twice)
  • Career WAR 1633.8 (13.84 average per player)
  • 43 players with a career WAR 10 or higher
  • 43 players with a career WAR of less than 1 (26 are negative WAR)
  • Greg Maddux had the highest WAR with 106.6 (27th all time)
  • Gary Thurman had the worst WAR with a -2.4
  • Only 4 Hall of Famers

What was the best crop of Rated Rookies?  1987 which has the highest total WAR, highest individual player WAR and most players with WAR of 10 or higher.  1985 was the worst.

YearPlayerWARTotal War# over 10 WAR
1987Greg Maddux106.6459.311
1989Randy Johnson101.1427.19
1988Roberto Alomar67250.96
1986Fred McGriff52.6226.37
1984Tony Fernandez45.8215.87
1985Danny Tartabull23.354.42

Considering only those players with a career WAR of 10 or higher

The Cubs lead  with the most players finishing with a career WAR of 10+ as well as the highest combined WAR.

# Of PlayersTeamCombined WAR
3Blue Jays108

The Tigers, Pirates, Phillies, Giants, Astros and the Braves did not have any Rated Rookies from 1984-1989 with a career WAR of 10 or higher.

Looking by position of the players with a career WAR of 10 or more, most of them were infielders and they had the highest combined and average WAR.  But considering that 44% of players on the field are infielders, there were a higher percentage of pitchers, given there is only 1 on the field at t time.

#PositionCombined WARAverage

Was there a certain card number that had more success than others?  Given there were roughly 6 Rated Rookies for card numbers 28-47 (3 for 47 and 2 for 27) there were 8 card numbers that had a total WAR of 100+.  Card #34 ranked the highest with a 134.4.

Card #WARPlayer 1Player 2Player 3
34134.4Roberto AlomarKevin McReynoldsTerry Steinbach
43129.4Rafael PalmeiroAl LeiterTodd Worrell
33120.8Ken Griffey Jr.Andres GalarragaDaryl Boston
39120.3Jose CansecoCris CarpenterGreg Gagne
31119.9Gary SheffieldBenito SantiagoLance Johnson
36112.7Greg MadduxBrad KomminskLarry Sheets
42112.1Randy JohnsonJohn FarrellChris James
28105.2Fred McGriffB.J. SurhoffSandy Alomar Jr.

Who were the biggest surprises on the list?  Clearly I had not been paying attention to Angels or Cardinals baseball because I had no idea these 5 guys had such productive careers.

9 - Devon White 47.3
17 - Cris Carpenter 34.2
25 - Lance Johnson 26.4
33 - Dick Schofield 18.8
34 - Mark McLemore 17.4

Note that stats for Cris Carpenter are actually for Chris Carpenter.  This changes rankings throughout the blog. 

Who were the guys that I knew were sneaky good that most people would forget about because they did not have flashy careers? Lead by Sid Fernandez, this list of low key guys amassed solid careers after starting off as Rated Rookies.

18 - Sid Fernandez 32.8
20 - Greg Swindell 30.5
21 - Kevin McReynolds 30.1
23 - Jack McDowell 27.8
26 - Greg Gagne 26.3

Here is the full list of every Rated Rookie from 1984-1989 ranked by career WAR.

RankYearCard #PlayerWAR
1198736Greg Maddux106.6
2198942Randy Johnson101.1
3198933Ken Griffey Jr.83.8
4198743Rafael Palmeiro71.9
5198834Roberto Alomar67
6198746Mark McGwire62.2
7198931Gary Sheffield60.5
8198628Fred McGriff52.6
9198738Devon White47.3
10198840Mark Grace46.4
11198432Tony Fernandez45.3
12198639Jose Canseco42.4
13198843Al Leiter40
14198637Paul O'Neill38.8
15198945Tom Gordon35
16198728B.J. Surhoff34.4
17198939Cris Carpenter34.2
18198444Sid Fernandez32.8
19198633Andres Galarraga31.7
20198732Greg Swindell30.5
21198434Kevin McReynolds30.1
22198734Terry Steinbach28
23198847Jack McDowell27.8
24198731Benito Santiago27.4
25198831Lance Johnson26.4
26198439Greg Gagne26.3
27198527Danny Tartabull23.3
28198932Erik Hanson22.1
29198944Pete Harnisch20.6
30198430Ron Darling19.6
31198441Joe Carter19.6
32198935Gregg Jefferies19.6
33198435Dick Schofield18.8
34198635Mark McLemore17.4
35198630Jose Guzman16.6
36198437Tim Teufel15.3
37198729Randy Myers15.3
38198841Jody Reed15
39198928Sandy Alomar Jr.13.7
40198539Shawon Dunston11.5
41198643Todd Worrell10.9
42198741Jerry Browne10.3
43198745Duane Ward10.1
44198946Gregg Olson9.8
45198934Greg Harris9
46198735Bo Jackson8.3
47198938Felix Jose7.1
48198842John Farrell6.3
49198431Dion James6.2
50198837Kevin Elster6.2
51198645John Habyan6.1
52198829Jeff Treadway6.1
53198528Mike Bielecki5.9
54198640Juan Nieves5.4
55198839Kirt Manwaring5.2
56198943Mike Harkey4.8
57198530Jeff Reed4.4
58198533Daryl Boston4.3
59198541Billy Hatcher3.9
60198838Jose Lind3.9
61198742Chris James3.8
62198538Calvin Schiraldi3.5
63198641Lance McCullers3
64198733Mike Birkbeck3
65198443Mike Jeffcoat2.8
66198937Carlos Quintana2.8
67198436Brad Komminsk2.2
68198941David West2.1
69198529Steve Lyons1.9
70198536Larry Sheets1.9
71198636Marty Clary1.8
72198835Shawn Hillegas1.7
73198940Ron Jones1.5
74198832Nelson Liriano1.4
75198845Vicente Palacios1.1
76198442Mike C. Brown0.9
77198629Cory Snyder0.7
78198739Eric Bell0.7
79198445Brian Dayett0.6
80198546Doug Loman0.4
81198634Dave Shipanoff0.4
82198737Jim Lindeman0.4
83198740Willie Fraser0.4
84198828Mackey Sasser0.2
85198836Joey Meyer0.2
86198440Mike Fuentes0.1
87198446Chris Smith0.1
88198632Johnny Abrego0.1
89198427Joel Skinner0
90198542Russ Stephans0
91198642Rick Surhoff0
92198930Cameron Drew0
93198936Luis Medina0
94198534Alfonso Pulido-0.1
95198540Charlie Mitchell-0.1
96198631Ty Gainey-0.1
97198830Mike Campbell-0.1
98198747Bruce Fields-0.2
99198947Alex Sanchez-0.2
100198544Steve Jeltz-0.3
101198846Eddie Williams-0.3
102198929Steve Searcy-0.4
103198531Tony Brewer-0.5
104198744Pat Dodson-0.5
105198532John Morris-0.6
106198646Mike Woodard-0.6
107198730Ken Gerhart-0.6
108198433Angel Salazar-0.8
109198545Jim Traber-0.9
110198644Bob Kipper-0.9
111198543Alejandro Sanchez-1
112198438Doug Frobel-1.1
113198833Shawn Abner-1.2
114198429Mike Stenhouse-1.4
115198537Scott Bradley-1.5
116198428Tommy Dunbar-1.6
117198535Steve Kiefer-1.6
118198844Gary Thurman-2.4

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Ranking Tom Cruise Movie Love Interests

A few years ago I listed out my 42 favorite male actors of the last 42 years, coinciding with the 42 years I had been alive.  Sitting at #2 on that list was Tom Cruise.  He has had his share of movie flops, but considering Top Gun, Mission Impossible, Minority Report, A Few Good Men, The Firm and Risky Business, he has had his share of blockbusters.

Based on 50 career movies, I thought that the next logical list would be to rank his love interests.  These would be females in which he is married to, was married to, or has a physical encounter, such as a kiss.  Note that he has acted with some amazing females such as Demi Moore and Julianne Hough, but they were simply leading ladies and not his specific love interest.

As always, the best part about my list, is that it is my list. That is because each person has their own movie watching history, and while you may appreciate what I have assembled, you will likely disagree somewhere along the way.  The uniqueness of each person in this world is one of the many things that fascinates me. It's what makes lists of this nature, so much fun.

19. Mia Sara, 1985 - Legend

18. Cameron Diaz, 2010 - Knight and Day

17. Penelope Cruz, 2001 - Vanilla Sky

16. Olga Kurylenko, 2013 - Oblivion

15. Thandie Newton, 2000 - Mission: Impossible II

14. Malin Akerman, 2012 - Rock of Ages

13. Lea Thompson, 1983 - All the Right Moves

12. Elizabeth Shue, 1988 - Cocktail

11. Emily Blunt, 2014 - Edge of Tomorrow

10. Michelle Monaghan, 2018 - Mission: Impossible Fallout

9. Rebecca Demornay, 1983 - Risky Business

8. Rosamund Pike, 2012 - Jack Reacher

7. Nicole Kidman, 1990 - Days of Thunder

6. Kathryn Morris, 2002 - Minority Report

5. Sarah Wright, 2017 - American Made

4. Jeanne Tripplehorn, 1993 - The Firm

3. Renee Zellweger, 1996 - Jerry Maguire

2. Rebecca Ferguson, 2015 - Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

1. Kelly McGillis, 1986 - Top Gun