Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bold Predictions and Burning Questions: MLB 2011

Tomorrow is arguably the best day of the year. No, it’s not Christmas. Not the first day of Spring Break. And Dos Equis is certainly not shipping free barrels of Lager to my house. But sports fans, rejoice! Tomorrow is Opening Day for Major League Baseball! We are on the precipice of an uninterrupted seven month path to glory. Along the way we will witness surprise, devastation and history.

We will welcome Jim Thome into the 600 home run club. Derek Jeter will surpass 3,000 hits to solidify the most surefire Hall of Fame resume of any current player. The Atlanta Braves will become the second organization in the history of baseball to lose 10,000 games. And if all goes as planned, there will be no steroids, there will be no corked bats; just the blissful greatness that is classic baseball. Bunts, sacrifice flies, pitching and defense will reign supreme.

Anticipation for the 2011 version of Major League Baseball is very high. America’s pastime comes back in full force, and with it 30 teams with one common goal - to be champions of the world. There are the regular contenders: the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies and Braves. The talented young teams from the West: the A’s, Rockies, Giants and Rangers. Up-and-comers: the Reds, Astros, Marlins and Orioles. The wounded: the Cardinals, White Sox, Twins, Angels and Rays. The confused: the Brewers, Tigers, Cubs and Dodgers. And the ones that just won’t make the cut: the Blue Jays, Royals, Indians, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Padres, Nationals, Mets and Pirates.

But baseball is a crapshoot. Injuries and experience and money take a toll over the long season. San Diego came out of nowhere last year and almost won the N.L. West. San Francisco had no business winning the World Series with their offense. And Toronto’s Jose Bautista came out of sheer anonymity to lead the majors with 54 home runs in 2010. The point is, we never know what will happen.

But we do know every team has a burning question that needs to be addressed at some point during the year. Here is a team-by-team power ranking, complete with my own burning question and personal version of ESPN analyst Matthew Berry’s “Bold Predictions.” Ladies, and gentlemen, it’s time to play ball!

30. Cleveland Indians

Burning Question: Will the Tribe get any production out of Grady Sizemore? I guess a fairer question is, will he get healthy?

Bold Prediction:
Young catcher Carlos Santana is going to have a HUGE year. I’m talking an average north of .300, 20 home runs and 85 RBI’s.

29. Seattle Mariners

BQ: The Mariners won’t contend with their anemic offense, so can they resist trading Felix Hernandez to the Yankees?

BP: Rookie starter Michael Pineda and second baseman Dustin Ackley will each finish in the top 3 of the Rookie of the Year voting. Pineda is absolutely filthy, reminding many of King Felix himself, and Ackley has been much-hyped and won’t be in Triple-A for long. He got on base at a .441 clip this spring.

28. Washington Nationals

BQ: Who will hold down the closer’s spot? Will it be Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen or someone I completely overlooked?

BP: Jayson Werth will be Werth-less. Don’t get me wrong, he will be one of the more productive hitters for the Nats. But don’t expect 2010 numbers. I’m thinking something along the lines of .265, 18 home runs and 75 RBI’s.

27. Toronto Blue Jays

BQ: Can Jose Bautista get anywhere near his 2010 production? I doubt it, but if he does, will he have any help?

BP: The young battery combinations of Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, Ricky Romero, and Brett Cecil throwing to J.P. Arencibia are going to be unbelievable. I’m especially excited to see what Arencibia can do in a full season, and to finally witness the greatness that is supposed to be Kyle Drabek. I’m predicting sub 4.00 ERA’s for all the starters and 20 HR/80 RBI for the catcher.

26. Kansas City Royals

BQ: When will the loaded farm system be promoted? How long do we have to wait to watch a group led by infielders Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers and starter Michael Montgomery try their hands with the big club?

BP: Here comes Alex Gordon! Once one of the elite prospects in the game, Gordon has failed to live up to his lofty expectations. This year I’m looking for 25 home runs and 90 RBI’s.

25. Pittsburgh Pirates

BQ: When will the rotation catch up to the offense? When will the pitchers start holding a lead so Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez’s numbers actually mean something?

BP: James MacDonald will start answering that question. Here’s a guy the Dodgers will surely regret trading; I expect 12-14 wins and 200 K’s out of MacDonald’s electric right arm.

24. Arizona Diamondbacks

BQ: Will they regret trading the power of Mark Reynolds? Sure, they still have tons of offense and Reynolds was on both wrong sides of the number 200 (average under, strikeouts over)…but how appealing does a Geoff Blum/Melvin Mora platoon at the hot corner for a full season sound?

BP: Justin Upton and Stephen Drew will both be all-stars this year. Upton is already an offensive powerhouse, and Drew has been coming along slowly. I expect them both to represent the National League in backup roles come July.

23. New York Mets

BQ: Are they healthy enough to even contend through the summer? Johan Santana, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are all key players that have had injury issues…can they contribute like previous all-star seasons?

BP: David Wright will go 30/30, hit over .300, drive in over 100 runs, and win a Gold Glove. He won’t win the MVP, but he’ll certainly be in the conversation.

22. San Diego Padres

BQ: How important was Adrian Gonzalez to this offense in the long run? Can anyone step up and replace some of his production?

BP: Mat Latos’ numbers will inflate. He’s starting the season on the DL, but when he comes back I don’t expect numbers anywhere near last year’s. I’ll still expect to see 13-14 wins and a sub 4.00 ERA, but he won’t be the man-child many perceived him as last season.

21. Chicago Cubs

BQ: Can Mike Quade bring this team together? Carlos Silva was released, Matt Garza is struggling, their biggest off-season addition was Carlos Pena, who is notorious for flirting with a .200 average, and there’s already been another dugout fight. Can the rookie manager fix these problems in time?

BP: The Cubs will not win the World Series! Oh, it’s supposed to be bold? In that case, Aramis Ramirez is going to drop 25 home runs and knock in 100 runs again. He’s going to re-establish himself as a premier National League third baseman.

20. Baltimore Orioles

BQ: How will new additions like Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero play out under manager Buck Showalter?

BP: The Orioles will finish over .500 and stay in the A.L. Wild Card race until mid-August. I love the young rotation and the offense is suddenly horrifying for opposing pitchers. Complementing the names above, the O’s boast infielders J.J. Hardy, Brian Roberts, Matt Wieters, and Luke Scott, and outfield mashers Nick Markakis and Adam Jones. Yikes, where did that come from?

19. Houston Astros

BQ: How good can Hunter Pence be? Will he build on his .282/25/91 line from last season?

BP: The long-awaited return of El Caballo! Carlos Lee will finally earn his money in Houston with an average around .305, 30 home runs and 110 RBI’s. His defense still won’t be worth a damn, but he’ll be peppering lasers into the short left field porch at Minute Maid Park all season long.

18. Florida Marlins

BQ: Can young sluggers Gaby Sanchez, Logan Morrison and Chris Coghlan carry over last year’s success?

BP: Mike Stanton’s rookie season was no fluke. He and star shortstop Hanley Ramirez will both launch 30 or more home runs, drive in over 100 runs, and swipe at least 10 bases. This is just an unfair combination of youth and power the Marlins have. Watch out in 2012.

17. Chicago White Sox

BQ: Is this pitching staff really as good as advertised? Mark Buehrle is aging, Jake Peavy is always hurt, Gavin Floyd and Edwin Jackson are inconsistent and new closer Matt Thornton is making the transition from 8th inning to 9th. Can they be good enough to make a playoff run?

BP: Alexei Ramirez is going to really turn some heads. We know he can make spectacular plays in the field and we saw some power flashes on offense last year, but he will be a 20/20 player this year and border on 90 RBI’s. One of the lesser appreciated shortstops in the game right now.

16. Tampa Bay Rays

BQ: How will the decimated bullpen respond? The Rays lost nearly everyone from their stellar 2010 bullpen to trades and free agency. Can Kyle Farnsworth anchor the new, shaky relief corps?

BP: To continue the theme of aging stars having big years, Manny Ramirez will hit 25 home runs and drive in 85 runs this year. He can’t replace the loss off Carlos Pena, but with that DH spot nailed down, he will focus more on hitting and rebound. Big payoff on the risky signing by the Rays.

15. Los Angeles Angels

BQ: When will Kendrys Morales be back? The Angels have a solid offense, but the day they get Morales’ bat back, their chances in the A.L. West improve significantly. Can they even contend without him?

BP: Ervin Santana is going to be in the top 5 for the American League Cy Young voting. The guy seemed to get it all figured out last year after a rocky start, and I only expect an improvement.

14. St. Louis Cardinals

BQ: How far can the 1-2 punch of Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia take the Cards? Losing Adam Wainwright was a huge punch in the gut, but they still have two elite pitchers. Will it be enough to overcome the Brewers and Reds?

BP: Albert Pujols will not be wearing a St. Louis Cardinals uniform in 2012. There would be nothing that I would like to see more than Pujols be a Cardinal for life, if only for baseball’s sake, but I do expect to see him in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore or Texas after this season.

13. Minnesota Twins

BQ: Are they healthy? Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Joe Nathan are their three best players, and they will not repeat as division champs without them. Can they get healthy in time to contend again?

BP: Carl Pavano will get rocked. He’s a good pitcher, but he’s never been consistent enough for my liking. With the added bats in Chicago and the talent in Kansas City, I foresee him getting knocked around to the tune of 12-11 with a 4.50 ERA this year.

12. San Francisco Giants

BQ: Can Mark DeRosa and Pablo Sandoval make up for the loss of Juan Uribe? There really are no questions about their pitching, but they will need bounce back seasons from these two to have a chance at returning to the playoffs. Will DeRosa and Sandoval be productive middle-of-the-order guys?

BP: Matt Cain is going to be a top 3 Cy Young finisher. I’m looking at around 19 wins and a 2.90 ERA. He’s the definition of underrated, and this year he’ll put it all together in a consistent campaign. Mark my words: Matt Cain will be the Giants’ best starting pitcher in 2011.

11. Los Angeles Dodgers

BQ: Will Matt Kemp bounce back? Kemp’s terrible, awful, ugly year in 2010 led to a broken clubhouse, trade rumors and a fourth place finish in the N.L. West. Can he return to his 2009 form and be a top 5 outfielder again?

BP: The two lefties in the rotation will combine for 32 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA. Clayton Kershaw is a dark horse Cy Young candidate this year and veteran Ted Lilly’s career numbers in Dodger Stadium are staggering. The boys in blue will have to rely on these two and the rest of their rotation to pick up an average offense if they want to compete in the National League.

10. Detroit Tigers

BQ: Can Miguel Cabrera stay out of the liquor cabinet? Just kidding! My real question is do they have any starting pitching depth? Justin Verlander is arguably the best pitcher in the league, but after him it’s the very inconsistent, but still young Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello and journeyman Brad Penny. Can they put together enough quality starts to win the division?

BP: Miguel Cabrera will stay sober. Sober enough to finally win American League MVP honors. I believe Cabrera will lead Detroit to the Central title and hit over .330 with 45 home runs and 140 RBI’s. Staggering numbers I know, but he’s more than capable.

9. Cincinnati Reds

BQ: Is there enough pitching to get them back to the playoffs? Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo are all very hot and cold. Will the offense be able to hold off St. Louis and Milwaukee down the stretch?

BP: Jay Bruce is going to reward the Reds for their investment with a gargantuan year. In fact, he might be one of the most dangerous challengers to teammate Joey Votto’s campaign to repeat as N.L. MVP. I’m thinking .300, 34 home runs and 110 RBI’s from Jay will do the trick.

8. Milwaukee Brewers

BQ: Can the improved rotation get the Brewers over the hump to a division title? There are still questions about the health of Shawn Marcum and Zach Greinke, but they have a dominant front three if they are good to go. Will it be enough?

BP: Prince Fielder is going to go absolutely bonkers this year. The Brewers will be very competitive in the Central, the pitching should keep them in games, and Fielder is in a contract year. I predict a line of .285/40/115 for the royalty of the Brew Crew.

7. Texas Rangers

BQ: How the hell will they contend without Cliff Lee anchoring the rotation? Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson don’t necessarily make anyone shake in their boots, although they are good pitchers in their own right. But in an off-season in which they failed to retain Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, pissed off Michael Young and are relying on the unreliable Adrian Beltre, can they get back to the postseason?

BP: Young will outplay Beltre this season. They are both fantastic players. The only difference is you can count on Young to be productive every season, not just in a contract year. Try telling the Mariners that Beltre is worth a big contract. I see Young going with similar numbers as last year: right around .285/22/90. Which should outpace Beltre’s .265/18/75 line.

6. Oakland Athletics

BQ: Are the additions of Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus to the lineup going to improve their lineup enough to win the division? The A’s have been awful at driving in runs the last few years. Can these veterans get it done?

BP: Gio Gonzalez will win 20 games. Call me crazy, but I would not be surprised if the foursome of Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Dallas Braden combined for 60+ wins. Gonzalez will be a serious contender for Cy Young and finish around 20-7 with a 2.75 ERA.

5. Colorado Rockies

BQ: Are Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin ready to help Ubaldo Jiminez keep the Rockies in it for the stretch run? The offense is a juggernaut, but as always at Coors Field, they need pitching to keep them competitive. Will the number two and three guys in the rotation live up to expectations?

BP: Troy Tulowitzki will be the National League M.V.P. for 2011. The reason this is a “bold” prediction, is because Tulo is competing against the likes of Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, and teammate Carlos Gonzalez. Tulo, with a full healthy season, is going to win a Gold Glove and lead Colorado to the N.L. West title with a stat line resembling .325/37/135.

4. Atlanta Braves

BQ: Can they rely on Dan Uggla to supply the power? They will have a more experienced Jason Heyward, a healthy Chipper Jones, and the dependable Brian McCann, but they will probably still lack on the pop a bit. So will Uggla supply 30+ homers to get them into the playoffs?

BP: The injury bug has gotten to Jair Jurjjens recently, but the guy is absolutely dominant when he’s healthy. He had a pretty solid spring. That being said, I expect 12 wins and a 3.50 ERA in a good comeback year for J.J. That will complement Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson and Brandon Beachy in a really, really good rotation.

3. New York Yankees

BQ: Will they get any wins from starters not named C.C. Sabathia or Phil Hughes? Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett and Bartolo Colon aren’t exactly a scary 3-4-5. Can they pull it off, or will they go out and make a big trade in July?

BP: Curtis Granderson is poised to have a big season. He’s going to have an improved Mark Teixeira, an even better Alex Rodriguez, and the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium. I’m expecting something along the lines of .270/35/90 and 20 steals.

2. Philadelphia Phillies

BQ: My god, it has to be if they will stay healthy? Chase Utley, Brad Lidge and Domonic Brown all have injury questions right now and will start the season on the DL. The Phils have the pitching to cover the missing offense, but can they win it all without those guys?

BP: I don’t know how “bold” this necessarily is, but I predict the big 4 starters will average 17 wins, 180 K’s and a 3.00 ERA this season. That’s why they are the big 4 – the best rotation in a very, very long time.

1. Boston Red Sox

BQ: Is the pitching going to hold up in the playoffs? The lineup is just unfair, but if Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are the only two starters consistently pitching well, they could get upset in the playoffs. So, can Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett and John Lackey help out?

BP: The Red Sox are going to run away with the AL East, and cruise through the playoffs to a World Series title. Now, let’s say they match up with the Phillies, as I expect. They probably won’t have an easy time winning, per se. But with a lineup featuring Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury, they should have too much firepower even for the fearsome foursome in Philadelphia to handle.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Very Quick 2011 MLB Preview

This has been the longest, most painful off-season of my life as a baseball fan. I’ve had to sit back and wait and constantly acknowledge that yes, the Giants won the World Series. It took a lot of patience. Now Opening Day is finally around the corner and contrary to my past beliefs, as soon as that first pitch is thrown on Thursday, there is no World Series champion until October ends. In years past, I would have admitted whichever team won the previous year’s World Series was the champion until unseated. Screw. That.

Either way, it’s been an exciting off-season with blockbuster trades, big free agent signings, fantasy-killing injuries and no lockout! (Yeah, NFL – you suck!) And I couldn’t be more excited that the season is finally starting fresh. It’s the year of redemption for teams like Boston and St. Louis and both Los Angeles teams. And for perennial bottom-feeders like the Pirates, Nationals, Royals and Orioles, hope springs eternal.

Here are my predictions for the 2011 MLB season, with the wild card winner in each league denoted by an asterisk:

NL East:
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Atlanta Braves*
3. Florida Marlins
4. New York Mets
5. Washington Nationals

The Phillies pulled the surprise free agent coup of the winter, bringing back Cliff Lee to complete the most epic starting rotation in recent memory. Lee, with Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt legitimately give them a chance to win four out of every five games they play. And Joe Blanton is a pretty good fifth starter. The offense isn’t as good, especially with questions surrounding the health of Chase Utley, and Brad Lidge’s possible DL time could be a problem for the bullpen, but I expect both of them to return at some point. And the rotation is just too damn good to lose this division. The Mets, Marlins and Nats should all make some improvements, but I think the only team that gives Philly a run for its money is the Braves. With the signing of Dan Uggla, a potential bounce back season from Chipper Jones and a more seasoned Jason Heyward, I think Atlanta takes a tight N.L. Wild Card race.

NL Central:

1. Milwaukee Brewers
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. Houston Astros
5. Chicago Cubs
6. Pittsburgh Pirates

This is probably the boldest of my picks for this season. The Brew Crew always has a pretty solid offense, but I like what they did by adding Shawn Marcum to the pitching staff. And I don’t generally believe in the consistency of big contract years, but for some reason I do anticipate Prince Fielder to have a monster season on offense. That, coupled with a Cincy rotation that’s not all it’s cracked up to be and Adam Wainwright’s injury in St. Louis, has me believing Milwaukee will come out of the jumble and barely win the Central. Houston will absolutely be improved, but are still a year or two away from contending. Joey Votto and Albert Pujols in Cincinnati and St. Louis, respectively, will keep their teams in the race. The Cubs are still in shambles despite some savvy free agent signings. And the Pirates will still finish last, even with significant improvement from youngsters like Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and James MacDonald.

NL West:

1. Colorado Rockies
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. San Francisco Giants
4. San Diego Padres
5. Arizona Diamondbacks

People think I’m crazy for putting the defending champions in third place. The top three teams in this division will be very competitive, but I think the Rockies far out-class the Dodgers and Giants on the offensive end. If they have a full season out of Troy Tulowitzki, it’s not even close. The Giants have the second best rotation in the league, and the Dodgers signed Ted Lilly and John Garland to shore up a good rotation with some consistent veterans. I don’t think anyone can expect another year of such terrible all-around play by Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier doesn’t have any pinky injuries to worry about. On the flip side, there is no way anyone can expect the Giants’ offense to pull off the same thing as last year. Especially with one of their better hitters in Juan Uribe no longer on the roster. The Padres lost Adrian Gonzalez and ace Mat Latos starts the season on the DL, so I don’t see any way for them to contend this year. The Diamondbacks will make some strides, but not enough to contend for another year or two.

AL East:
1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees*
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Toronto Blue Jays

The Red Sox look like the complete package to me. After adding their two big off-season prizes, their offense boasts names like Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. Are you kidding me? Four legitimate MVP candidates on the same team. Their rotation is led by Jon Lester and Clay Buccholz and you can expect some better numbers out of John Lackey and Josh Beckett. The Yankees look good again, despite the lack of starting pitching depth. They are still led by perennial Cy Young contender C.C. Sabathia, and of course have the ridiculous offense to go with it. Mark Teixeira had a down year last year and should post some bigger numbers. The Rays lost Matt Garza, Carlos Pena and Jason Bartlett. It’s going to be hard to contend with Boston and New York without those three. The Orioles and Jays both look like they are improving. I like what the O’s did by adding Derrek Lee; I think that will end up being an underrated move when all is said and done. And the Blue Jays pitching staff looks to be it’s strong point, but they need a few more pieces to complement low-average, high-power third baseman Jose Bautista.

AL Central:
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Minnesota Twins
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Cleveland Indians

I have so much faith in the offensive monster that is Miguel Cabrera that I picked them to win the Central this year. The White Sox rotation is in trouble with an aging Mark Buehrle and oft-injured Jake Peavy, but I do like the offensive potential, especially with the Adam Dunn addition. I like Justin Verlander leading the Detroit rotation, and I’m worried about the health of the Twins’ star players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan. Plus, I don’t think Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano will duplicate their success from last year. I really like the Royals’ potential on offense this year, but their pitching is too suspect for me. And the Indians begin another rebuilding year, although I’m interested to see if Grady Sizemore can bounce back, and to see if Fausto Carmona and Shin-Soo Choo can repeat success from 2010.

AL West:

1. Oakland Athletics
2. Texas Rangers
3. Los Angeles Angels
4. Seattle Mariners

Ah yes, the boys in the green and gold are finally back on top. Don’t let the additions of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui go unnoticed; those were smart, cheap adds by Billy Beane that should vastly improve the A’s offense. The rotation is led by three young starters in Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, who will all contend for the Cy Young eventually. Gonzalez may be a dark horse candidate this year! The Rangers lost Vlad Guerrero and Cliff Lee, pissed off Michael Young, and signed the undependable Adrian Beltre. I am pretty disappointed by the caliber of their off-season. They might even let the Angels sneak past them for second place this season. Speaking of the Halos, they took on the contract of Vernon Wells and will get Kendrys Morales back from his injury. Their offense should be pretty damn good, and they still have solid pitching in the rotation, but I don’t think they will contend with the A’s or Rangers this year. The Mariners have Felix Hernandez and up-and-coming star Michael Pineda, but there is absolutely no offense to speak of.

Phillies def. Brewers
Braves def. Rockies

Red Sox def. Tigers
Yankees def. A’s

Phillies def. Braves

Red Sox def. Yankees

World Series:

Phillies def. Red Sox

Saturday, March 26, 2011

NOLA 2011: The Spring Break of a Lifetime – Day 7

For those of you who don’t know, I just spent my spring break in New Orleans, LA enjoying Bourbon Street and doing local service projects. I went with a group of 39 people from the WSU Center for Civic Engagement, most of whom I did not know entering the trip. We spent 5 days and 5 nights in the French Quarter and witnessed everything from the still-damaged Lower 9th Ward, to a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, to a beach in Mississippi, to the crazy nightlife on Bourbon Street.

If only this blog entry could do the trip justice…It was undoubtedly the best trip of my life, and I am already missing the people, parties, weather, food and general culture that we encountered down there. Honestly, if anyone has not gotten the chance to experience New Orleans yet, I highly recommend spending a few days down there. (Upcoming: New Orleans Jazz Fest – look it up!) Here is my recap of the trip:

Saturday, March 19, 2011:

And now we head back to Pullman. :( Personally, I’m tired and ragged and dirty at this point, and I spent the shuttle ride and our time at the gate sleeping off my week. Everyone is a little bit antsy to get home, but at the same time I don’t think anyone was necessarily ready to leave this amazing place we had experienced all week. Almost the entire flight to Seattle was spent dozing in and out of sleep, but when we were awake, the recaps began.

So many stories popped out of the woodwork that we had no knowledge of previously. Charlie’s Captain Morgan story, for one, was classic. (Yep, that’s all the information you get!) Remember when Bryan got arrested? When Katiejo danced on the bar? When Maggie tried to track down the girl who tried to start a fight? When we saw the Lower 9th? When Stephanie’s crawfish splooged on her? When we met the group of Cougar alums? The difference we made in a few people’s lives on our service projects?

After a bit of reminiscing and some much-needed rest, we were all finally somewhat awake at the Seattle airport. We spent a couple hours on our layover eating Ivar’s clam chowder and chatting about everything from the trip, to anthropology, to how WSU has changed since Charlie was an undergrad, to what we are all trying to do in the future.

When we boarded the short flight from Seattle to Spokane, I got in another quick nap and then an hour long sleep in the car on the way back to Pullman (sorry Charlie and Sarah…I was just so sociable…). And just like that, the trip was over! I slept for 14 hours on Saturday night and spent Sunday sullenly wishing I was still down South. But as I’ve said, going to New Orleans was one of the best experiences of my life. And rather than make a list of all my memories, I will just try to put together some of my personal favorite pictures from the trip and leave it at that (only a couple from the service projects - because we were actually working, whereas on Bourbon Street cameras were constantly going off!). NOLA for life. I can’t wait to go back.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the pics! I will never forget the fun times, the service projects, the food, culture and art we took in on this trip. And most importantly to me, the strong relationships I built with my fellow Cougs...Almost as exciting as the actual trip is all the new friends I've made through the experience, so thanks to everyone for making it such an amazing trip!

Friday, March 25, 2011

NOLA 2011: The Spring Break of a Lifetime – Day 6

For those of you who don’t know, I just spent my spring break in New Orleans, LA enjoying Bourbon Street and doing local service projects. I went with a group of 39 people from the WSU Center for Civic Engagement, most of whom I did not know entering the trip. We spent 5 days and 5 nights in the French Quarter and witnessed everything from the still-damaged Lower 9th Ward, to a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, to a beach in Mississippi, to the crazy nightlife on Bourbon Street.

If only this blog entry could do the trip justice…It was undoubtedly the best trip of my life, and I am already missing the people, parties, weather, food and general culture that we encountered down there. Honestly, if anyone has not gotten the chance to experience New Orleans yet, I highly recommend spending a few days down there. (Upcoming: New Orleans Jazz Fest – look it up!) Here is my recap of the trip:

Friday, March 18, 2011:

On Friday, we were supposed to have a “coast clean-up” project in Mississippi. Well, we still went to the coast, just didn’t do much cleaning. We drove about an hour to a beach in Waveland, Mississippi (just outside of Port St. Louis) and soaked in some rays and chilled in the water for a few hours. It was very relaxing after a long week of working and partying. We spent a long time in a big group chatting in the warm, ankle-deep water and took naps under the Southern sun. After a couple hours, we decided to go to lunch downtown.

Beach in Mississippi!

Marina, our trip leader and van driver, was craving some real Southern BBQ, so we headed in that direction. We found a little drive thru diner called BB’s BBQ. We got the rib plates that came with two sides. Mine had baked beans and cole slaw and of course, a biscuit! The meal was unbelievable. I’m almost willing to book a flight to NOLA right now and get some more…and the coolest part of the whole meal was the real down-home Southern hospitality we received.

We spent a good 30 minutes just talking to one of the cooks (Brett, I believe?) who was really digging Maggie! ;) Anyway, like I said, the food was amazingly delicious and we had really nice service from everyone there. The servers were great, and Brett spent a good chunk of time explaining how Hurricane Katrina affected him. He told us a story about how water was so high on his house that it busted through his second story window and carried his surfboard out to sea.

After a little more time at the beach, we drove back into New Orleans and did a driving tour of the Lower 9th Ward. For the time we had, it was a very emotional, effective tour. We saw tons of houses that looked like they were about to fall over or implode. A bunch of them were boarded up and “X’d out.” I wish we could have gotten out of the car and talked to the people around the neighborhoods but it was too dangerous. But, if I do get the chance, I’d love to go back and interview people and do some service projects in the Lower 9th. It was strange because the Garden District is literally across the street and it is full of mansions and fancy yards. Still, the short trek into the Lower 9th really gave us a good idea of what Hurricane Katrina did to the area, even 6 years later. It was pretty emotional, just seeing the damage that was done and the potential for destruction that can come out of nowhere and just ruin a person’s life.

Lower 9th Ward house.

After the Lower 9th tour, we just all started getting packed up because the Spokane group had to meet in the lobby at 6:30 in the morning. Most people hit the sack afterwards to make sure they would wake up on time. Bryan, Tim and I had different ideas. Our mindset was: This is our last night in New Orleans for who knows how long…let’s go crazy. So, we took on Bourbon Street again.

First of all, we realized this was our first real weekend night on Bourbon Street. And it was insane! We could hardly move down the street, and there were multitudes of attractive Southern women everywhere! We thought the night was going to be a bust at first because everyone else had gone to bed. But, we stayed out all night (yes, past the 3 a.m. curfew – sorry, Charlie!) hitting the bars and the balconies. One balcony in particular we spent a good two hours at and met a girl who was doing a bachelorette party. I got one of those cool plastic microphones from someone, that when you talk into it, the sound echoes out. So we were yelling at people down on the street with it and throwing beads and sipping fishbowls at will.

We also saw a fight in which, to be blunt, one drunk guy knocked another drunk guy to the ground (you could hear the nose crack from the balcony) and his face was covered in blood. When the knocked-out drunk stood back up, the knock-out drunk took his belt off and began swinging it like a club. When he got pulled apart from the guy he was fighting, he waved his penis in victory at him and stormed away. It was…interesting.

Then when we were leaving the bar around 4:30, we ran into a couple new friends: Sarah and Olivia. They were 41 and 38 years old, respectively, but to be honest they looked to be 30 at the most. Their husbands were at the bar, and they didn’t seem to care that their wives were being very friendly and flirty with three young men. Bryan, Tim and I each had one bead left for the entire trip. When Sarah suggested that we “see Olivia’s chest” to put it nicely, because she had “the best boobs ever,” we were surprised when she obliged. Thrice…one for each bead. (Really, I tried to censor this, but it was really impossible) Let’s just say it was a fitting way to end our trip.

Tim trying to chow down on the huge double cheeseburgers at Daisy Duke's

After that, we hit up Daisy Duke’s for the last time on our trip. We ordered double cheeseburgers, which were basically two steaks surrounded by cheese and buns. Somehow we managed to scarf them down still (it sucked for the rest of the day, trust me). Plus, we got to spend some quality time with our favorite server, Gabriel. After our meal, we went back to the hotel, hung out for about a half hour, and then limped down to the lobby at 6:30. We were all still in our clothes from the night, smelled like Bourbon Street, still a bit drunk and very tired and full of burger. To give a slight example of how bad the situation was, I put my arm around Amy and whispered, “I should’ve showered.” She was not digging that too much, but at least she smartly held her breath.

Wednesday through Friday night, our room alone. Go Cougs!

I’ve never been so uncomfortable, especially on such a busy day, but it was well worth it. We had a fantastic last day and night of our break, and can’t say we ever cut any corners or went easy on Bourbon Street. We represented the Cougs in every way possible. For tomorrow, the last entry, check in for the most ridiculous, uncomfortable, sleep-filled travel day of my life. And of course, general reflections on the trip!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

NOLA 2011: The Spring Break of a Lifetime – Day 5

For those of you who don’t know, I just spent my spring break in New Orleans, LA enjoying Bourbon Street and doing local service projects. I went with a group of 39 people from the WSU Center for Civic Engagement, most of whom I did not know entering the trip. We spent 5 days and 5 nights in the French Quarter and witnessed everything from the still-damaged Lower 9th Ward, to a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, to a beach in Mississippi, to the crazy nightlife on Bourbon Street.

If only this blog entry could do the trip justice…It was undoubtedly the best trip of my life, and I am already missing the people, parties, weather, food and general culture that we encountered down there. Honestly, if anyone has not gotten the chance to experience New Orleans yet, I highly recommend spending a few days down there. (Upcoming: New Orleans Jazz Fest – look it up!) Here is my recap of the trip:

Thursday, March 17, 2011:

Well, we narrowly missed Mardi Gras in New Orleans this year. Not that we could complain about the festivities we got to partake in for St. Patty’s Day! Thursday was completely free of service projects, meetings, and general responsibilities. So, naturally my roommates and I spent the first four hours after waking up, watching the NCAA Tournament games…lame, I know. A bunch of people from the group got up and went to either one of two block parties, and some other people went to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas! So yes, I was lazy. But it turned out in my favor, as I had tons of energy that proved to be very necessary that night.

Before the trip, most of the group had signed up to go to a fancy dinner at Brennan’s, in the “haunted” red room. It sounded really delicious and fun, but we also signed on for a minimum of about $50 each on the dinner bill. And at this point in the trip, a good chunk of us were not able to afford that any longer. Luckily, an hour before dinner was to start, Charlie texted a few people to let us know we were “off the hook” for dinner. So Bryan, Rafa, Maggie, Amy and I decided to check out the Acme Oyster House for dinner. We got seated faster than we expected and had some pretty good food, and fantastic service. Amy took an oyster shooter (I don’t know how, the thing looked gnarly), and Rafa and Maggie split a huge basket of crab, oysters, shrimp and fries, among other things.

ACME Oyster House!

Anyway, we had a good dinner at the restaurant and then took to Canal Street for the parade! When we got there, a line of little cars (I believe Bryan said they could hit 80 MPH?) was there starting off the parade. We got some more pictures with people holding the Cougar flag, and collected as many beads from the floats as possible! Amy and Maggie got tons of stickers and beads and…underwear? Seriously, they were giving out the strangest things, and each time they had to kiss the old man on the cheek who gave it to them. One of the things I thought was hilarious was that many of the floats had people drinking on them, and so of course they had port-o-potties built on to them!

After the parade, we went to the hotel room and did a little pre-funking before heading down to Bourbon Street when everyone got back from dinner. This was one of my favorite nights of the trip for many reasons. But one of those reasons is because we somehow ended up merging with almost the entire group of WSU students on the trip – something I felt had been missing the entire week. We had a huge group (at least 20 or 25) from WSU parading the streets together, hitting the bars and waving the flag. The fun reached an all-time high.

One of the floats on the Canal St. parade!

Of the crazy things we did that night, here is what I remember the most vividly:

- Amy, Rachel and Katiejo dancing on the bar with the flag. The bar had a sign saying “dance on the bar at your own risk.” To our group, that sounded like an invitation, but apparently the bartender wasn’t happening because he cut them off after about one minute of their dance!

- Kayley taking the flag up on stage with a cover band and dancing through a few songs with the lead singer. Some of the best pictures of the entire trip were taken here. When we got there, they were playing Ozzy, and we stuck around for some other classics, including Green Day.

- Something I failed to mention in yesterday’s blog: we discovered fishbowls! A huge fishbowl with a straw that hung on a lanyard around your neck. They filled it with ice and Hurricane for $10. Refills were only $5 so we hung on to our fishbowls for St. Patty’s Day. Just a couple of those bad boys and your night was rockin!

Fish bowls!

- More Cougar fight songs and Fuck the Huskies chants. We took pictures with the flag with a cop on a horse, firemen who threw up the shocker (if you don’t know…google at your own risk), and tons of random people on balconies!

- Katiejo’s first taste of a grenade! Okay, so it was Bryan’s and she nearly finished it…Katiejo ruled the night on St. Patty’s Day. She busted out the crazy jingly skirt and was not shy to use it. And let’s just say there is a certain girl on Bourbon Street who is very lucky that Bryan and I happened to be standing there when she got angry at Katiejo. Otherwise that chick might be in the hospital still…

- Tons of quality time ourselves on balconies throwing beads and dancing. Spontaneous karaoke occurred far too often as our large group ruled the streets.

- Stephanie bringing a local man to tears because she had a long talk with him in front of the hotel and from what I gathered, was encouraging him and basically making him feel better about whatever was bothering him. It was really amazing and touching, honestly to see her work that magic and have such a strong emotional effect on another human being. That’s why we love Steph. :)

- Another late night dinner at Daisy Duke’s, this time with a bigger and more diverse group of us than usual (can’t wait for the reunion!).

- I’m sure I’m leaving some things out. Some on purpose, some from pure lack of memory, but either way I hope you realize how epic St. Patty’s Day was for everyone in New Orleans! Oh, did I mention tonight was THE best night for pictures? Check it out:

Taylor, Caroline and Chelsea with some random visitors on Bourbon Street

Shayna, myself and Tim being goofy at a bar

Lena, Rafael and Maggie with the flag on Bourbon Street

Representing Wazzu on a balcony

Tim, Stephanie, Marina, Amy, Cailee, Katiejo, Antoinette and some randos with the Cougar flag

Kayley, Cailee, Shayna, Stephanie and Katiejo creating one of my favorite pictures from the week!

Kayley on stage with the cover band singer and Coug flag

It’s sad to think that this was just one week ago. I would absolutely love to go back right now and go through it all again. Forget the lack of sleep and loss of money and getting out of shape and whatever other small complaints I can take out of it; this was already the most legendary trip of my life. And it was sad to think that Thursday was our second-to-last night in NOLA. Tomorrow’s blog: a beach in Mississippi, the best BBQ lunch ever made, the Lower 9th Ward, and a hectic all-nighter!