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Jason Crane Posts

Ed McBain, R.I.P.

Jen and I are both big fans of the 87th Precinct novels of Ed McBain, a.k.a. Evan Hunter, a.k.a. Salvatore Lombino. I read today that he passed away on July 6. Here’s Adam B. Very’s remembrance from Entertainment Weekly:

Without Evan Hunter, a.k.a. Ed McBain, there would probably be no Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, or Law & Order. The prolific novelist, who died of cancer July 6 at 78, essentially invented the American police procedural with a single pulp paperback.

The book was 1956’s Cop Hater, and it marked a decisive turn in a varied career. Hunter, born Salvatore Lombino in New York City (he changed his name to avoid discrimination), had staked his first literary claim two years earlier with his semiautobiographical The Blackboard Jungle, a look at the life of an inner-city high school teacher. It was made into a popular 1955 film starring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier.

When he penned Cop Hater, Hunter invented the McBain pseudonym to protect his reputation as a serious novelist. But it turned out to be the book that established his legacy in pop storytelling. Set in a fictitious big city, the crime story eschewed the lone PI hero that had long defined the genre and instead meticulously chronicled an entire precinct’s pursuit of a murder case. The book was a big enough success to yield 54 follow-ups over the next 50 years, the best of which were crafted with unpretentious, unflinching authority. (The final installment, Fiddlers, is due in September.) And the author amusingly nodded to his alter ego’s fame by having the two ”coauthor” the 2001 novel Candyland.

For all his influence on other crime novelists and his movie legacy (which included the screenplay for The Birds), Hunter may have made his most lasting impact on TV. ”He established so many conventions that came to be gospel,” says NYPD Blue cocreator David Milch. ”If someone came to me and asked how to write a police procedural and they hadn’t already read Ed McBain, I’d tell them to take a hike.”

© 2005 Entertainment Weekly

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Vintage Base Ball Report: Silver Base Ball Park Best Nine vs. Sackets Harbor Ontarios

The rain held off, the fans held out, and the players held up for a great game of vintage base ball at Sackets Harbor. Every year during the Can-Am Festival, a team made up of players from the four teams in the Silver Base Ball Park League travels to Sackets Harbor to play a local team. The rain that was forecast never materialized, and we were all treated to a beautiful display of sportsmanship and good humor.

First Inning: The Silver Base Ball Park Best Nine got off to a running start. The very first striker, Scott “Handyman” Hand, tallied an ace. He was followed by team captain Tony “Tiger” Brancato, who also tallied an ace. The best nine went back to the bench with a two-ace lead over the Ontarios. The Ontarios weren’t so lucky, ending the first inning with a duck egg.

Second Inning: Once again the Best Nine showed their mettle, putting three aces on the board via first-year player Ken “Rolling” Stone and veterans “Jockey” Jim Sears and Kevin “Longarm” Owens. So it was back to the bench again, now with 5-0 lead. The Ontarios answered, with Brian “Doomis” Loomis finding his way back to home plate to put the Ontarios on the board. (Speaking of which, there was a board this year, just one of the many great steps forward by this Sackets Harbor team.)

Third Inning: For the third straight inning, the Best Nine tallied an ace, as Scott Hand rounded the bases again and put the Best Nine up 6-1. With the Ontarios suffering their second scoreless inning, the first-time fan might have been forgiven for expecting an easy outing for the Best Nine. As is so often the case at Sackets Harbor, though, the home team took a few innings to get the feel for the rules and the style, and then they came out swinging.

Fourth Inning: No one knew it at the time, but the third inning was the last in which the Best Nine would tally an ace. As it turned out, though, their defensive play was a good as their early striking had been, particularly the acrobatic team captain, Mr. Brancato. But the Ontarios were ready to start hitting, with Ryan “Dutch” West and the Derwin brothers — Ryan “Red” and Randy “Ranger” — all tallying aces, reducing the Best Nine’s lead to two runs. Score: 6-4.

Fifth Inning: The Best Nine put two men on base in the fifth, but neither reached home. The Ontarios saw their first three batters retired, and the inning was over.

Sixth Inning: It was three up, three down for the Best Nine, and eight up, three aces for the Ontarios. John “Mad Dog” Robinson tallied his first ace of the day, Randy Derwin his second, and Scott “Rabbit” Robinson his first to put the Ontarios ahead 7-6.

Final Score: Ontarios, 7 – Best Nine, 6. And that was how it ended up. Despite putting nine men on base between them, neither team tallied another ace, and the Ontarios won a spirited game. Kudos to “team owner” Marty Maxson and coach Errol Flynn, who were sporting natty new Ontarios uniforms at the game. Also a big round of applause to tallykeeper and Silver Base Ball Park League goodwill ambassador Dick Terboss (and his wife, Dorothy) who helped set up the game from the Mumford end. At the Sackets end, a hearty “huzzah!” to Don Payne, who’s really helping to take the Sackets organization into the future. The word on the street is that the Ontarios hope to fully outfit a team for the 2006 National Silver Ball Tournament at Genesee Country Village. I hope we’ll see them there, and I can’t wait to travel back to Sackets Harbor next year!

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The Cranes on the Cape

When I was a kid, I spent some fun vacations on the Atlantic coast of Massachusetts (my home state), including in Plymouth and on Cape Cod. This summer, for the first time in years, I went back there. And this time, I brought my own family along.

We stayed in Brewster, in a house my parents rented. It was close to Sheep’s Pond, where we went on the first sunny day. Massachusetts is filled with small lakes — called “ponds” by the locals — and some actual ponds, also called “ponds” by the locals. (The most famous of which is probably Walden Pond, favored site of Henry David Thoreau.)

Early in the vacation, Jen and I left Bernie with my folks and made our annual pilgrimage to my hometown of Lenox, Mass., to see James Taylor play his July 4 show at Tanglewood. Wonderful, as always. His band this year included Rochester’s own Steve Gadd on drums; Larry Goldings on piano and organ; Lou Marini of the Blues Brothers on sax; and the great Arnold McCuller on backing vocals. I also got to see my first fireworks over Stockbridge Bowl, an old Berkshires tradition.

One thing that really surprised me about the Cape was the food. It wasn’t very good. Particularly the seafood. From what I’ve read, the Cape has been so overfished that most of the seafood you get there is flash-frozen far away and shipped to the Cape, making it about as much a seafood paradise as, say, Pittsburgh. Plus, it’s incredibly overpriced. I went to the Kream -N- Kone for a fried clam platter with onion rings and fries. The price: $19.99. You’re welcome.

If you’re going, there’s at least one other thing to avoid — the ZooQuarium in Yarmouth. The name alone should have been a warning. And when we pulled up and discovered that it was housed in a huge concrete bunker, we should have turned tail and fled. But for some reason we plunked down $30 to get in to what was essentially a petting zoo with a sea lion. It was like paying $30 to go to Petco for the afternoon. And Bernie’s not a big fan of loud noises, so the main attraction — a sea lion show in a big concrete auditorium — sent him running back outside in about 10 seconds. Traveling tip: Avoid the ZooQuarium.

On the plus side, the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History was wonderful. The museum itself was closed when we went, but we walked the trails, which were beautiful. If the trails are any indication of the quality of the museum, it would be worth a visit. The John Wing trail (named after an early white settler of the area), wound across a marsh and a cranberry bog before crossing a small island and ending at a secluded beach. Absolutely gorgeous.

We also had fun in Plymouth, one of my old summer haunts. (And the town where I famously spent a week at the age of about 7 eating Ding Dongs and candy at my grandparents’ house, and returned from vacation as round as a basketball, much to my parents’ chagrin. They made me jog every night for a week or so, but natural growth eventually took care of the weight.) Bernie and Jen and I went to Plimoth Plantation, a living museum which houses a 17th-century settler village and a Native American village. My one comment about the Plantation is that I’d like more third-person interpretation in the settler village. It’s interesting to talk with actors playing the part of 17th-century pioneers, but when you ask them how they did a job without a drill and they respond “I know not of this tool,” it doesn’t really answer your question. Overall, though, a really interesting trip, even in the rain with a two-year-old.

We also went to the Mayflower II, a replica of the original that was built in the late 50s as a postwar sign of friendship between the UK and US. The boat sailed from the UK to the US when it was built, and it has sailed several times since. I remember going there as a kid and learning this deathless humor: April showers bring May flowers, but what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims. (I’ll be here all week. Try the Indian corn.)

When I used to go to Plimoth Plantation as a kid, I always fantasized about my family having arrived on the Mayflower, which of course they didn’t. In the intervening years, though, I discovered that my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather (that’s nine “greats”) Stephen Flanders came to Massachusetts in 1638. The Flanders line goes through my maternal grandfather Bernard (after whom my son is named) and my mom to me. At Plimoth Plantation, when I looked through many of the books on early settlers of Massachusetts, my family was in there. So that was pretty hip.

If you go to the Cape, make sure you go see some games in the Cape Cod Baseball League. One out of every six former college players in Major League Baseball played in the Cape League, which is the premier college summer league in the country. Jen and I read The Last, Best League by Jim Collins, which tells the story of the 2002 Chatham A’s. We went to a couple A’s games, and they were everything we’d imagined. Future stars, before all the hooplah. Don’t miss it. (To get a little taste, you can listen to Cape League games online.)

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Vintage base ball begins at Silver Baseball Park

The 2005 season of the Silver Base Ball Park League opened with a record-setting 26-run performance by “Dirty” Jim Feuerstein’s Knickerbockers, who emerged victorious in a spirited match against Steve “The Colonel” Michener’s Rochesters.

According to Knick catcher (and unofficial historian) Blaise “Freight Train” Lamphier, that 26-run mark eclipses the previous record of 25 runs scored by the Live Oak. In a lovely moment of base ball symmetry, the Live Oak scored those 25 runs against the Knickerbockers back on September 1, 2001 in the league’s inaugural season.

Several players started the season yesterday by tallying aces (runs). The following Knickerbockers players rang the bell:

  • Scott “Handyman” Hand: 2
  • Harvey “Kid Brooklyn” Shapiro: 3
  • Nathan “Stitches” Shapiro: 3
  • Casey “At Bat” Beeley: 3
  • Blaise “Freight Train” Lamphier: 1
  • Jim “T-Bone” Cook: 4
  • Billy “Bear” Donofrio: 2 (in his first-ever game, after playing just 5 innings)
  • Tim “Kid” Zimmer: 4 (in 5 innings)
  • Bryan “Tiny” Little: 1
  • Matt “Pins” Zimmer: 2 (in 5 innings)

For the Rochesters:

  • Jeremy “Junior” Sadjak: 3
  • Steve “Stubby” Devito: 1
  • Dave “Wild Oats” Nesbitt: 1

Sunday featured a double-header, with a women’s match preceding the men’s match. The day kicked off with a parade into the ball park, with members of five of the six teams joined by the “mayor” of the village, soldiers in Union Army garb, and local luminary Curt Smith, who delivered the opening remarks.

The day also saw a reenactment of the classic base ball poem Casey At The Bat by Ernest L. Thayer. This was the first such reenactment at Silver Base Ball Park (though Mark Ballard has given stirring solo recitations in past years) and I imagine it won’t be the last.

Speaking of Casey, the last time Mark recited it was during the championship game of the National Silver Ball Tournament last year. This year’s tournament runs from August 12-14 at Silver Base Ball Park, and it will feature teams from across the country, including the Rochester Grangers from Michigan (runners-up in the 2003 tournament) and the Melrose Pondfeilders from Massachusetts (runners-up in 2004). (And no, “pondfeilders” is not a type-o.) If you’ve ever wanted to experience vintage base ball, you’ll find no better chance than the National Silver Ball Tournament.

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Kids are pretty people

You might think it would be hard to top all the amazing music that’s been happening here over the past 10 days, but you’d be wrong. Tonight I saw something that was every bit as inspiring, and gave me a lot more hope for the future.

My friend Spero Michailidis teaches fourth grade at Genesee Community Charter School (GCCS). Tonight his class presented the results of their most recent “expedition” — a multi-month project that involved hands-on learning and field studies (not, as the kids are quick to point out, field trips), and resulted in a 35-minute film made by the students.

The film was truly magical. The expedition centered around the topic of personal power and community involvement. What was particularly fascinating was how every element of their education revolved around these concepts, from physical education to music to field studies.

In one of the most striking storylines of the movie, the students mobilized around a real issue — lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in New York State. They met with city and state officials, mayoral candidates, and bureaucrats, even traveling to Albany to lobby state legislators. (The meetings with politicians led to one of the funniest — and most skillfully edited — moments in the film: a droning Bob Duffy campaigning for the fourth-grade vote.) Mind you, this wasn’t simplistic, dumbed-down stuff. These kids are smart, articulate and aware, and they brought all those qualities to bear as they pressured lawmakers, wrote and delivered speeches, and analyzed complex issues. (If you want to get involved, check out the Legislative Action Center at the New York State Charter Schools Association.)

Music also provided a platform for the idea of an individual voice and its application to collective goals. A talented teacher (Carrie Haymond-Hesketh) taught the kids about jazz and improvisation. The final result — a contrefact (zing!) based on “Three Blind Mice” — featured hip solos on the vibes, new lyrics and a real understanding of the music. So much cooler than the generic junk that passes for jazz education in most settings.

“Studies in state-sponsored terrorism — also known as gym class.” That’s how Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes) described physical education. Not at GCCS. Their phys ed teacher, Sarah Morell, is also a dancer and a fan of the Brazilian martial art Capoeira. What? You say your gym experience focused more on getting the snot knocked out of you with a dodgeball? Mine, too. But not these kids. They performed a Capoeira routine set to music, and related the movements to the themes of personal power, community and conversation that were at the heart of the expedition.

All I can say is that I wish I’d gone to a school like GCCS when I was a kid. There are so many different (read: better) ways to learn than the memorize-and-regurgitate style mandated by No Child Left Behind and other standardized-test-based education systems. Genesee Community Charter School is engaging its students in the world around them, and that always results in a deeper understanding of the subject matter, and a greater likelihood that these kids will break free of the Couch Generation and get involved in the world.

If you’ve got a child in the K-6 age range, check out Genesee Community Charter School (GCCS), and be inspired. I was.

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Jason at the 2005 Rochester International Jazz Festival (Part 6)

It’s over.

The 2005 Rochester International Jazz Festival has come to an end. And what an end it was.

This year the festival featured two outdoor stages (up from one in previous years), and tonight the streets were jammed with folks checking out the lineup of free music on both stages.

I went with my sister to see the Derek Trucks Band. They tore it up. Had the joint had a roof, they would have blown it off. I knew we were gonna be OK when the band opened up with Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Volunteered Slavery,” featuring Derek Trucks and his wailing slide guitar. They tackled some other jazz classics, too, including Dr. Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” (one of my faves) and John Coltrane’s arrangement of “My Favorite Things.”

What a joy to see people of all ages and races crammed onto East Avenue, dancing and laughing and singing along. I’ve said it before (see my earlier posts on the jazz fest) and I’ll say it again: the city of Rochester needs to grab this festival with both hands.

And there you have it. There’s still great jazz happening in Rochester the rest of the year, but nothing can top the vibe of the festival. I’m already making my plans for ’06. See you there!

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