Been A While…

Free Mobil (AKA Free Tom's)

I tried to share an anecdote yesterday, and somehow lost the last 90 percent of the post.  Maybe it was a sign.  It might not have been a good story, I don’t know.  I amused myself telling it, but that’s isn’t very hard to do.  Thinking about recreating it right away, I was afraid I wouldn’t do it justice.  It might have turned out like Major League 2.  So, I’ve decided to go a different route.  This is part anecdote, part tribute to the fundamental role that a convenience store can play in your college experience.

Nestled in god’s country, aka Lancaster County, F&M is really in a great location for convenience stores.  Wawa, Sheetz, Turkey Hill…you name it, and you can find it in central PA.  I like to think it’s the state’s dedication to processed foods that allows this nirvana to exist.  The closet store to campus, the one within walking distance was T-Hill.  Now, I’ve already shared some great T-Hill stories.  There was the ice container/urinal confusion, the chimmichanga night, T-Hill was a very important place, no doubt.  It was also right next to the beer distributor.  One stop shopping.

Now, originally, a little bit farther down the street, a distance at that time I would have considered not-walkable was a Mobil station.  It started as just a run of the mill gas station, I’m sure they sold jerky and dip, but not whole lot else.  It wasn’t a true convenient market.  Of course, this didn’t hurt its significance.  I went to college with a kid namedThe Swan, and he used his Mobil credit card as currency.  Could he buy beer at the Mobil?  No, but he could trade copious amounts of free gas for cash or goods.  And, since he didn’t ultimately pay for any of this gas, the term “Free Mobil” was born.   I don’t want to make The Swan seem like too much of a brat here, he was far from the only kid walking around with a Mobil card, but no one used it with his panache.

There’s something special about getting something for free when you are in college.  It feels better, I think.  Even if you are one of a bunch of bratty kids at a stuffy liberal arts school, its still a good time.  A friend of mine’s father was actually referred to as “Free Rick”, because he always took us to dinner when he was in town.  It was a nickname that carried the proper amount of revelry, and eventually the term spread to other generous parents.  What a glorious time it was.

I don’t think the concept of “free” really peaked, however, until Mobil complemented their gas station down the street from campus with a Tom’s convenience store.  It remains the only Tom’s I’ve ever seen before or since, but it was something like a 7-11.  It was a little more upscale than the T-Hill, and not only that, but you could use your Mobil card there.  T-Hill doesn’t have credit cards.  At least not to my knowledge, otherwise I’d be piling up half-gallons of ice cream on credit.  The evolution of “free Mobil” to “Free Tom’s” was really something else.

It increased the scope of the bartering system.  You could essentially low-budget grocery shop in Tom’s, and also they always stocked a wide variety of cheap and useless items that looked good to college students, especially those that may have had a beverage or two.  I remember a lot of bad sunglasses being bought at Tom’s.  That might have been their signature item, and I don’t think they would have caught on so swimmingly if the whole “Free Tom’s” culture didn’t exist.  I like to think that Tom’s was specifically marketing to us, stocking their shelves with the kind of crap that idiots like us would find attractive.  It was like they had the light-up yo-yos, and we were the mesmerized people walking by on the sidewalk.  This was only a suspicion of course, until they started selling bb guns.

I can’t think of a more enticing, or more irresponsible thing to stock on the shelves of Free Tom’s.  Really, what were they thinking?  Like a hardware store putting the shovels and sleds out front before a storm, they knew what they were doing.  It wasn’t long before a couple of my friends has secured one.  I think we briefly touched on the story here, but essentially what happened was, they fired the gun across the sidewalk at the building that was right next to ours.  We knew the girls that lived in the apartment that was targeted, and I believe the shot may have been because of a cat in the window.  I don’t remember exactly, but I do know the window unexpectedly cracked under the force of the bb, and the authorities were called.

This of course, led to the police at our front door, and the following legendary exchange:

Cop:  Give me the Gun.

Anonymous:  What gun?

Cop: Give me the Gun.

Anonymous:  Ok.

The bb gun is then retrieved from underneath a sofa.  I’m happy to report that no charges were filed, but unfortunately the bb gun was confiscated.  The real beauty of the situation, though?  A replacement bb gun was simply a quick trip Free Tom’s away.  Thus we arrive at the moral.  The best things in life?  Free.  And, there it is.

Big Day for USA Hockey.

What'd You Expect?

The Canadian women’s hockey team is getting a little heat for their gold medal celebration.  Apparently, long after all the fans had left the barn the Canadian women were still on the ice, taking in the win and downing a couple of beers.  As you can see the odd cigar might have made an appearance as well.  Nothing too alarming, except there are underage players on the Canadian team, and the IOC has gotten themselves in little bit of a twist over the whole incident.  I’m not sure how I condone the celebration without condoning underage drinking, but that’s what I would like to do if I could.  I appreciate the celebration, it shows what it means to the athletes, this is the biggest stage they have.  If the Canadian men win, the party will probably be bigger, but I don’t know if it will mean as much to the NHL stars who make up the team.  But, to even get a chance to celebrate inappropriately, the men’s teams will have to win today.  Canada faces Slovakia, and the Americans take on Finland.  That’s LIVE on NBC at 3 pm.

At first glance, it looks like we are headed toward a US/Canada rematch.  I fully expect the Canadians to hold up their end of the bargain.  I think they got a little spark by steamrolling Russia, and I have a feeling Slovakia will just be more fodder.  Probably important to reiterate that this is the best team in the tournament, despite losing to the Americans earlier in the week.  With Russia out of the way, and Sweden gone, it will either be the Americans or Finns standing in the way of a Canadian gold medal.

What are the Finns brining to the table?  Other than a propensity to double letters?  Well, they have their share of NHL players.  The most notable names, Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, are a little past their prime, but a NHL fan will recognize several other names on the roster including goalie Mikka Kipprusoff.  The Finns always seem to come together well in international competition, and they are the defending silver medalists.  The United States gained a lot of notoriety by beating Canada, and they are undefeated in the tournament, but I don’t think there’s a huge advantage for the US on paper.  The United States is a (-190) favorite, but you have to take into account 1) who’s going to bet Finland in the US?  And, 2) The U.S. has all the momentum.  I wouldn’t touch that number…

It would be nice for the Americans win the game, and guarantee a medal.  Even a loss will allow them to play for bronze, but that would be a slight letdown after the way things started.  I think the world is ready for a Canada/US final, and it’d be a great stage for this group of young American players.  Either way, they’ve done fairly well for themselves.  I think most importantly you’re seeing a team effort, and in Ryan Miller they have an advantage in goal for the foreseeable future.  Miller will be needed this afternoon, but if they do end up in the gold medal game, he may have to take his game to yet another level.

So, the chances to watch this intense international hockey are dwindling.  In fact, the Olympics as a whole are winding down, and we’re left with only a couple major events left to be decided.  I guess if you are a bobsled fan, then the best is yet to come, but other than that, the focus is going to be on Men’s Hockey.  The U.S. tries to take one more step this afternoon at three.  Check it out.

Braves Are the Team To Worry About in the NL East.

Braves Farm System Starting to Pay Dividends.

The Big News out of Phillies camp today was the Dominic Brown fouled off a couple of Roy Halladay’s pitches in a live BP session.  So, assuming that doesn’t take long to digest, I thought I take a look at something else.

I get the feeling that some people think the Phillies are a lock to win the NL East again.  Just show up opening day, trip on the top step of the dugout, and wait for October.  It’s hard to be pessimistic.  Three straight division titles, and the competition, especially last year, wasn’t much to be worried about.  Two teams in the division, Washington and New York, are saddled with terrible pitching staffs.  By the end of the season we could be saying Florida has the best player and pitcher in the division with Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez, but they don’t have much help down in Miami.  The team that I think can give the Phillies a run, that could see a vast improvement over 2009 if a couple things go right, is the Braves.

There are a couple of reasons for this.   The first being the depth of the starting rotation.  This is a team that traded away Javier Vazquez, but the Braves were sitting on a surplus of starters.  Moving Vazquez saved them some money, and they still have five competent guys to send out there every day.  Now, it’s not a Carpenter/Wainwright type 1-2 for Atlanta, at least not on paper, but Jurrgens/Hanson/Hudson/Lowe/Kawakami is the best rotation in the division in my mind.  With Jurrgens they have a guy that keeps you in every game (he gives the Phillies fits), Hanson has incredible potential, Hudson and Lowe are solid veterans and Kawakami is more than serviceable as a fifth starter, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t improve on his 2009.

Another thing the Braves have working in their favor is a collection of solid everyday players.  You aren’t going to hear the names in the MVP discussions, but players like Melky Cabrera, Brian McCann, Nate McClouth, Yunel Escobar, Matt Diaz, Martin Prado…these are good pieces for a team to have.  It gives them a very versatile line-up, one that will test opposition pitching from top to bottom.  It’s nice to have a guy like Ryan Howard hitting forth, but it’s not necessarily required to produce a lot of runs.

You’re probably thinking I’ve forgotten about Chipper Jones, but we’re getting to that.  I think the final key to the Braves success this season will the performance of a handful of veterans.  The Braves have really reaped the benefits of their farm system and players like Prado, Escobar, McCann and Hanson are the products of that.  The latest guy on the horizon is Jayson Heyward, the consensus top prospect in all of baseball.  A 6-5, 250 pound outfielder, Heyward has risen quickly through the Braves system.  After a couple days he’s been the talk of their camp, with veterans raving about his BP and raw potential.  Adding Heyward’s skill set into the Braves outfield would make them even more dangerous, but it will also make them a young team, one in need of leadership.

That’s where guys like Chipper Jones come in.  Jones is coming off one of his worst seasons, but he still produced a decent OPS, and if he can bounce back slightly from 2009 it should nicely stabilize the Braves’ line-up.  The Braves will be counting on some other veterans as well, most notably Billy Wagner at the back-end of the bullpen.  Wagner gives me some sense of pause, but I think he has one more productive year left in him.  Atlanta will also need a solid season out of one of their veteran starters.  Lowe and Hudson don’t have to be great, but rotations are a fragile thing.  Last June everyone was raving about the Dodgers’ staff and by the playoffs they couldn’t find a guy to start a game.  So, Hudson has to stay healthy and Lowe needs to offer similar production to 2009.

It probably seems like a lot of “ifs” to be touting a team as a division contender, but every team has holes, including the Phillies.  The Phillies are probably the most ill-equipped team in the division to deal with a serious injury.  Yes, the bench still stinks, and we can’t assume injuries, so I think a healthy Braves team could provide a little drama in 2010 thanks to a blossoming core of young players and some veterans trying for a last hurrah.