Friday, April 27, 2007

I Have Seen Heaven

Did you know that there is a wonderful, happy, magical city? Did you know that it's right here in the U.S. of A.? Did you know that you can go there if you want to? You didn't? Well let me tell you about it:

Last weekend Laura and I rented a car and drove up to Cooperstown to visit my good friend Kajsa. We let Stephanie tag along, since she knew Kajsa in high school too, and if we hadn't we'd probably have to hear about it for ages. Actually, she pretty much invited herself along, though it was nice to have someone pitch in for gas. Of course, she pretty much whined the entire time, I'd say at least a tank and a half's worth, and since that's about how much gas she paid for, I'll call it a wash.

We didn't actually get to Cooperstown until about 2:00 a.m. Friday night. The drive was long and perilous (deer), it was dark, we were tired, and when we arrived we went straight to bed. As we slept that night we were completely unaware that somewhere along our drive the highway had ceased to be simply a road, and instead became a metaphysical conduit out of time and space, transporting us from our hum-drum lives to a world of pure bliss, where only perfection was a possibility.

As the brilliant sun rose the next morning, I too awoke, stepped out of the bedroom where I was staying, and looked out the window, across centerfield of Doubleday Field, the green grass shining with majesty, the bleachers eagerly anticipating the lines of fans who would fill their perfect butt-holding capacity, the cleanly raked dirt, the vivid white lines of fresh chalk, the smell wafting up to my nose. It was immediately obvious that we had stepped out of the mundane, and into the, well, the dane?

After we took our turns in the shower, we set out on foot for the main street in Cooperstown, just a stone's throw - or a baseball's throw (non Vladimir Guerrero division) - from Kajsa's house. We grabbed breakfast at a small little diner, and then headed through the town to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The city itself was ideal. Every other shop was filled to the brim with baseball memorabilia and collectibles. The others were restaurants, all offering brats and beer, with a side of peanuts and crackerjacks. Pennants hung from the light poles. Vendors walked the sidewalk calling loudly that they were offering cotton candy or ice cold beer. The streets were paved with T206 Honus Wagner cards. The stoplight had a third-base coach alternatively waving his arm in a large circle (go), holding his hands flat out forward (stop), or blowing the call and getting the runner thrown out at the plate (yellow). There was no crime, no poverty, no hunger, no war, no disease. There was a plethora of good deeds, riches, the finest foods, peace and understanding, and everyone lives exactly as long as they desire.

As if that wasn't enough to cement Cooperstown as heaven-on-Earth, there was a certain magical feel to the city. Let's see, how can I say this without overstating it? It was as if every worry or care you have ever had was immediately lifted from you, and replaced by everything good in the world, multiplied by a factor of 10.

And that was before I got to the Hall of Fame and Museum. Walking through the museum was amazing, looking at all the history of the greatest game on Earth, reading about players from the early days to the current season, looking at treasures from the entire baseball world. Truly a wonderful experience. But the Museum didn't even compare to the Hall of Fame. It was an almost religious experience; I was a pilgrim at this baseball mecca, surrounded by other pilgrims, all of us dressed in the robes of our various orders (an especially appropriate analogy for the Padres fans there). I got chills when I walked in. I got tears looking at the plaques of my heroes. The only time I've ever come closer to communing with the Divine is when I'm actually praying or otherwise communing with the Divine.

Cooperstown was the most wonderful place, a heaven, outside the laws of time or space, perfection, locked in eternity. As one would expect with the eternal, the day in Cooperstown passed much too quickly. Soon it was Sunday and we had to head home.

On the drive back we went through Scranton, Pennsylvania. Did you know that the sign that says "Welcome to Scranton" at the start of The Office has been replaced? Apparently the city recently decided to change that sign seasonally, and so instead of the old wood sign that's displayed at the beginning of the funniest show on television, they've now got some fancy metal thing that they can swap out whenever they find it appropriate. We were sad. But we did stop and get lunch in Scranton, though we couldn't find a Chilli's, Hooters', or Benihana's (Asian Hooters).

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. I can't wait to go back.

As I walk, let me walk close to Thee

Sunday, April 22, 2007

This Has Nothing To Do With Engines

Had a great weekend in Cooperstown, more on that to follow in a day or two. For now I just want to touch on Carhart II, the Supreme Court case about Partial Birth Abortion (or Dilation and Extraction) that came down last week.

I haven't read the opinion yet, and unless I get really motivated I probably won't. I'm not sure how Kennedy presented the arguments, or which he chose, or what exactly he said, but I trust him to write pretty mainstream, well-elucidated opinions. As far as the Justices go I've found him to be pretty capable and routine. He's certainly keeps his personal passions out of the opinion better than a Justice Scalia or Ginsburg, and he's not as, um... (what's a nice way to say slow? Oh nevermind, I don't want to slander - well, I guess this would be libel - a Supreme Court Justice. Especially as a practicing attorney. I'll leave you to guess who I was going to mention.)

Anyways, what's interesting to me isn't so much the decision or the reasoning of the decision, but rather it is the reaction to the decision.

I haven't seen much of a reaction from the pro-life community. They've said that they approve of the decision, and that it might be cause for hope in future efforts to restrict abortion. But it certainly isn't going to change their legislative or political agenda; they've been working hard for a long time, and they're going to continue doing so, regardless of how this case turned out. Maybe even more important is that they don't see this as a huge victory. Carhart II didn't restrict access to abortion, and it won't decrease the numbers of abortion. It only restricted a method of abortion. So it wasn't a huge victory for pro-life people.

Despite this fact, it seems the pro-choice advocates are up in arms about this decision. The reason is that they perceive this as a big, big loss.

Why? Because until this case came down last week, the Supreme Court jurisprudence was pretty much "all pro-choice, all the time". I can't think of a single other case, other than ones permitting parental notification laws, where the pro-choice advocates lost. So the simple fact that they lost a case is in itself a huge blow to the pro-choice movement.

Even more startling is that the Court didn't exactly follow the bright-line tests (i.e. "there must be a health exception for the bill to be legal") that they had used in every single other decision.

The fact that the Court moved away from these bright lines can be seen as cause for worry for pro-choice advocates, and cause for hope for pro-lifers. Looking at it more neutrally (and despite my pro-life positions, I'm trying to analyze this in a more detached light), it seems maybe the Court has finally decided to work for a balance.

Like I said, until recently it had been all pro-choice, all the time. There had been bright line rules instead of balancing tests (which are common in just about all other areas of Constitutional jurisprudence, even free speech!), and those bright-line rules universally favored only the pro-choice interests. It wasn't difficult to see that the scales were tipped entirely in one direction.

Now, the Court seems to have signaled (though I won't be confident saying that is true until we get another similar decision) that they're willing to try a new approach to the abortion question. This doesn't guarantee any future results down the line, and maybe the balance will be struck exactly where it is now, all in favor of the pro-choice position. But the possibility exists.

For pro-life advocates, it's a small sign that they should continue with the hope they already had. For pro-choice advocates it's a sobering realization. The Court has now indicated that losing a case is a possibility for the pro-choice position. That's something they've never had to deal with before.

The motion to defeat it is repeated

Friday, April 20, 2007

Phickle Thoughts: Sports Edition

I was able to watch only a little bit of the Wild's playoff series, and what I did see left me feeling a bit disappointed. The Ducks were simply too good to keep up with. It was a great reminder of how exciting playoff hockey can be though, and I look forward to more playoff series in the Wild's future.
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Speaking of the NHL Wild/Ducks series, Brad May is a goon and a thug.
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On to basketball, where it was nice to see someone step up and challenge the ultimate authority that referees can have. I've always liked Tim Duncan. Referees can often have too big an effect in sports - especially basketball - and when they don't actively try to fade into the background it can be the biggest frustration. Usually a team can overcome bad officiating, and it's rarely an excuse for a loss, or at least it's rarely the single excuse for a loss, but that doesn't change the extreme frustration. I think what really gets fans so irritated is the fact that they usually wish they could affect the outcome of the game; that they could call the play, or choose the match-up, or put on the sacrifice bunt. Of course, they can't, and that's obviously a good thing; no third party should be able to affect the game between the two teams. But that's exactly what an official gets to do, and when they don't do a good job of officiating the neutral playing field instead gets tilted. The frustration for a fan isn't just that their team is disadvantaged, but is centered more on the fact that the integrity of the game itself is compromised. The obviously good neutrality is exposed as a fraud. And nobody likes being defrauded.

Oh, but of course I think David Stern may have overreacted in his punishment of the ref, but that's par for the course with Stern.
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On to baseball, where the Twins currently have the best record in the AL! (Knock on wood).
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A great recap of the Twins' second win against the Mariners can be found at Batgirl. It's hilarious, and well worth the read, for anyone who likes the Twins, baseball, or Monty Python.
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And in very happy news, this weekend I'll be heading up to Cooperstown (along with my wife and a friend of ours) to visit one of my closest friends and, of course, tour the Baseball Hall of Fame. I'll have to remember to bring some tissues, since the depth, beauty, and meaning of baseball are one of the only things that can make me basebawl. I fully expect tears at the Kirby Puckett plaque, among others. I can hardly wait.

Everything you own in the box to the left

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Phickle Thoughts

Thoughts and prayers go out to all touched by the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

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My Grandparents came to visit Laura and me this past weekend. We had a wonderful time. There were many games of cards, some excellent meals, and a whole lot of wisdom-and-perspective-gleaning. Touring the FDR Memorial was a completely different experience than it has been in the past. My Grandparents lived through those times, and we heard first-hand stories of the WPA, the Merchant Marines in WWII, and fireside chats. Throughout the weekend we got to hear about all sorts of things, from great grandparents I never knew, to the first days of my grandparent's marriage. They even talked about their perceptions of myself as I was growing up (quiet! They actually described me as quiet! That's probably the first time I've ever been described as quiet, but coming from them it seemed eerily accurate). This all really seemed to add to my sense of who I am. By more closely knowing my grandparents, I came to understand myself better.

Oh, plus they got a chance to see some of the non-touristy sites in D.C., and we got to have some family around for a while; a real win-win. Being away from family is easily the most difficult part of living in D.C., so we really appreciate it when anyone comes to visit us.

Who's next?

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A big fat appreciative round of applause goes out to Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the head of the worldwide Anglican church. The issue of homosexuality has been causing some enormous divisions within the Anglican church, and there is a very real threat of schism. Those opposed to homosexual marriages and/or the ordination of homosexuals often quote Paul's Letter to the Romans, wherein he places a line that clearly implicates the sinful nature of homosexual unions. But what is so frequently missed is the context of the line, and this is what the Archbishop has done a wonderful job of highlighting.

The context of Paul's line about homosexuality is a larger exhortation that Christians should not judge others! Williams says, a "strictly theological reading of Scripture" would not allow a Christian to denounce others and not ask whether he or she were also somehow at fault. Calling attention to this larger context helps clarify not just the Anglican position, but the entire Christian view, that we are all sinners, and none of us can judge others because we are just as culpable in our sin. And that message is so much more important than identifying any individual sin.

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The Current is the greatest radio station ever. Since it's public radio they get to stream online for free. I've taken to listening to them every Friday at work, and sometimes during the week, depending on my stress levels. It's a Minnesota station, so naturally I'm inclined to favor it, but we really don't have an equivalent anywhere here in D.C. If we had a station even half as good here, I'd probably listen to that. But we don't. And for all I've seen, not too many places have anything nearly so great. For those who haven't heard about it and like independent/interesting/new/good music it's well worth checking out. I'm looking at you Ben and Jeff, who occasionally post about music and probably haven't heard about it, since you don't live in Minnesota.

I'm no longer who I was
No longer who I thought I was

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Go Read More of Me

A substantial post about the latest stem cell research bills, over at my other blog. http://acentristvoice.blogspot.com/2007/04/straight-talk-about-stem-cells.html

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Box Office Fluctations

Matt, looking at the weekend box office reports, "Wow, Meet the Robinsons was all the way up at number 2!"

Laura, "That's because your family went to see it."

"Joltin' Joe has left and gone away"

Happy Easter

Today there was an interview in my local paper - the Star Tribune - with the Reverend Billy Graham. Reverend Graham is a wonderful embodiment of the Christian spirit, a passionate servant of Christ who actually walks the walk. We hear all too often about those" Christian" leaders who seem to be painful hypocrites, who prize money and power above all else. Billy Graham provides a beautiful contrast. The man is an exemplar of the Christian lifestyle, and on this Easter Sunday I think it's only appropriate to share his interview here, as a reminder of what the Grace of God can accomplish in a person's life.

Billy Graham: A spirit unbowed
Pam Miller, Star Tribune

He is 88 now, bent by age and ailments, spending his days sitting with his beloved bedridden wife, Ruth, at their home in the mountains of North Carolina. Yet the stature of Billy Graham, whose global ministry got its start in Minnesota, continues to grow. In December, the Gallup Poll named him among the 10 most admired men in the world -- a 50th time for him on that list.

Few living Christians have been stronger unifying forces, commanded such respect or influenced more people. Among high-profile evangelists, he stands out for personal integrity, openness to cultural change and a lack of interest in wealth. Graham, who has made only a few personal appearances in the past years, rarely grants interviews. He spoke to the Star Tribune -- by e-mail, due to his poor health -- because he has a deep appreciation for Minnesota, where he was a Bible college president and created the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

In the interview, he reflects on his desire to see heaven soon, his concerns about the war in Iraq and the changes taking place in American evangelism.

Q: What does Minnesota mean to you?
A: Minnesota and its people will always be special to me, because we got our start in Minneapolis, and without them our ministry simply could not have gone forward. Of course, the Mayo Clinic has been very important to me personally over the years, and I doubt if I'd still be alive if it hadn't been for its unparalleled medical care. Just recently doctors there discovered my macular degeneration, and immediately began treating it with a new breakthrough procedure they pioneered.

Q: How are you and your wife, Ruth, doing?
A: One of the joys of growing older is the opportunity for us to spend more time together. Sometimes we'll just sit for hours, holding hands and talking or watching a video, or even just enjoying each other's company in silence. After a lifetime of travel and being apart so much, we treasure this stage of our lives.At the same time, old age has its burdens, and we aren't immune. Whoever said, "Old age isn't for sissies" had it right. For years Ruth has struggled with serious pain because of the degeneration of the bone structure in her back, and she is now bedridden. I have several continuing health issues. Ruth and I know that each day is a gift from God, and we are thankful for them.

Q: What gives you comfort and hope? What is your daily faith practice?
A: My greatest comfort comes from knowing that I belong to Christ, and that no matter what happens, he will never leave me or forsake me. He will be with me as long as I'm on this Earth, and some day I will go to be with him in heaven forever. I look forward to that day! The Bible and prayer have always been the foundation for my daily walk with God, and they still are. For many years I've made it a practice to start the day by reading the Bible and praying, and I still do this as much as possible. Ruth and I also try to end the day by praying together and reading a brief passage of scripture.Now that reading has become more difficult, I probably read the Bible less but pray more. Of course over the years I've memorized many passages from the Bible, and I'm especially thankful now that I did this. I wish we gave more attention to Bible memorization in our churches today.

Q: America's evangelical subculture has recently undergone some interesting changes, including the rise of new, more liberal voices whose views on cultural issues stand in sharp contrast to those of the religious right. What do you make of such changes?
A: As an evangelist, my calling has always been to proclaim the central message of the gospel: What Christ did for us by his death and resurrection, and our need to respond to him in repentance and faith. I've always tried to avoid being associated with groups that focus on political issues, either on the right or the left. That isn't my calling. Sometimes trying to be neutral isn't easy -- kind of like the man I heard about in the Civil War who decided to wear a blue coat and gray trousers and got shot at by both sides! However, I'm very concerned about the growing polarization we see today, both in our society generally and even among some evangelicals. Somehow we've got to find a way to get past this and find a common ground.

Q: Have your views on such issues as foreign policy and homosexuality grown more liberal through the decades?
A: Well, I hope they've grown more balanced over the years, although I try to avoid labels like "liberal" or "conservative." When I was young, I thought I knew the answer to almost everything, and I cringe when I look back at some of those ill-considered remarks. The world is complex, and as I've grown older I've learned that foreign- policy issues, for example, usually aren't as easy as they may seem on the surface. Homosexuality is not a lifestyle that is endorsed by the Bible, although I don't believe Christians should single out homosexuals for condemnation or contempt. God loves the homosexual just as much as the heterosexual, and so should we. We have all sinned, and we all need God's grace and forgiveness. We also all need God's strength to fight temptation and to change our lives.

Q: Do you follow news from the Middle East and Iraq? If so, is there anything you'd like to say about the conflicts in those places?
A: I try to follow the news from there, and Ruth and I pray every day for our president. I don't think any of us can appreciate the pressures he faces. We pray also for our military personnel who are serving over there, and for their families.One of our grandsons -- Franklin's son Edward -- is serving over there as an Army Ranger, and a few weeks ago he was wounded by shrapnel while on duty. Thankfully, he is recovering, but this has brought home to us what the families of our military personnel are! going through. Some of the tensions in the Middle East go back thousands of years to Abraham in the Bible, with the births of Ishmael and Isaac. I also think we aren't as knowledgeable about Islam as we should be, or the centuries-old conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiites. These conflicts took centuries to develop, and they won't be solved overnight.At the same time, we ought to pray for peace in that part of the world, and encourage our leaders to do everything they can to promote peace.

Q: What has age shown you most vividly?
A: To depend on the Lord for everything, and to be thankful for everything he gives us, including hope for the future. I've also learned that even if we can't do everything we once did, God isn't finished with us, and we can still serve him. Sometimes the greatest service we can do for someone is to pray for them, and I find myself doing that more and more. I admit I don't like the burdens of old age, but it can be a special time ! of life, and God has lessons to teach us through it, if we'll only listen. Unfortunately, we can become so preoccupied with whatever is happening to us at the moment -- or so worried about what might happen to us in the future -- that we forget to ask God what he is trying to teach us. Sometimes, of course, God isn't teaching us something new, but simply reminding us of things we've known all our lives, and making them more real to us. For example, more than ever I've realized just how short life is, and how important it is to live for eternity and not just the present. This world is not our final home, and if we are Christians, we know we are only pilgrims passing through this world on our way to heaven. We ought to live each day as if it were our last. Someday it will be.

Q: A family difference of opinion about your burial site recently surfaced in the news. Can you comment on it?
A: Ruth and I both know that the moment we take our last breath on Earth we will be together in Heaven. And at our age, we know it won't be long before we are in God's presence for all eternity -- and that's what really matters.As for our final resting place, we are prayerfully pursuing this very personal decision together, just as we have tried to do throughout our 63 years of marriage. The determination will not be made by our family, our organization, or outsiders, but will be ours alone. We are agreed that we will be buried together, side by side, and that's more important to us than where we will be buried.

Q: What is your vision of heaven?
A: The Bible tells us that heaven is far more glorious than anything we can ever imagine. It tells us that all the things that burden us now -- the pain, the sorrows, the heartaches, the disappointments, the injustices, the wars, everything -- will vanish. Nor will we be subject any longer to death, because Christ's victory over death and hell and Satan will be complete. Most of all, we will be in the presence of God forever. Every good thing we experience on Earth is just a hint of what we will experience in heaven. Why would anyone not want to go there? The Bible says something else about heaven that I've always found intriguing: It says we will serve God there. In other words, God will have work for us to do in heaven -- and yet we won't grow tired, like we do here. Some people think heaven must be boring, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Hopping down the bunny trail

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Good Day

I kept a woman and her four-month old baby from being thrown into the street. What did you do today?

Gina, you get a break. This time.

Everyday, the same routine

I...AM...THAT...UNCLE!

Welcome to the world Mr. Coen Bryan Andersland!

I'm an uncle for the first time, yay Gina!

Purple and yellow! He's one super fellow!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Phickle Thoughts

It's only Wednesday but it's already been a crazy long week. On Monday we hosted an "Opening Day" party, with a pretty awesome themed spread; we had hot dogs, brats, 'kraut, beans, chips, peanuts, cracker jacks, ice cream treats, and, of course, beer. There were only 4 of us (Twins loyalists, through and through), but we managed to down a ton of food and watched an awesome victory to start the season.

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Speaking of Opening Day, I wrote a more extended argument in favor of making it a national holiday over at my other blog: http://acentristvoice.blogspot.com/2007/04/new-holiday.html
You are hereby obligated to go read it. You should also feel free to contact your representatives in D.C. to support the idea.

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Tuesday we went out for dinner to celebrate a friend's birthday. The restaurant she picked was a rather trendy place in Dupont Circle - Lauriol Plaza. We had a party of 10 and since they don't take reservations we waited for at least an hour. It was pretty ridiculous, and they kept telling us we'd be seated soon, but then they kept making us wait. At one point, just to appease us apparently, they buzzed our little reservation buzzer thing, but still made us wait almost 15 minutes. The service wasn't spectacular - the wait staff always seemed to be around, but never when you really needed them. And then, to top it all off, after we paid our bill - some on card, some in cash - the waiter came back and complained about his tip. Of course, we'd totalled it all up and there was a pretty generous tip for the guy, but when he came back somehow $20 in cash had "disappeared". That really ticked me off.

On the other hand, the food was amazing so I'll call it a wash.

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Tuesday I did intake and actually had a potential client stand up and start shouting at me. Basically she got really angry when my advice to her was "I'm sorry ma'am, you'll have to pay your bills."

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Wednesday my boss took me on a "motivational" field trip. We went to see the movie Into Great Silence. (We called it a motivational field trip because, since we don't exactly get paid like most attorneys, we need to find our motivation in other areas, and we both derive a part of our motivation from the Christian exhortation to serve). The movie was about Carthusian monks who pretty much live in silence. It was a three hour film and there were probably only about 200 words spoken in the entire documentary. In a way it was like participating in a sample of the life behind the monastery walls. After the movie finished no one in the theater spoke for probably a good two or three minutes, and we all shuffled out in silence. It was probably a little longer than it needed to be, but that may have really cemented the effect. I've been thinking about it all day, and I'd actually recommend seeing it, but I'd also recommend that you do your research before hand (my boss warned me about that, and I read up on the Carthusians before we went). Anyways, it was very very very very very very very^4 very interesting.

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The rest of the week should be pretty busy too. Big court date tomorrow, on an emergency motion. Either going to be a good day or a heart breaking one. Feel free to say a prayer or two for me. Even if you're reading this after 10:00 a.m. Thursday. After all, God knows no time, right?

I was born in a cross-fire hurricane

Sunday, April 01, 2007

2007 Baseball Preview

I love baseball. There is simply no better sport. It's simultaneously more scientific and more poetic than any other athletic endeavor. More math and art. More thinking and emotion. It is difficult to put into words, but the experience is so immediate. I pity those who haven't learned to love the game.

As I do every year, I'm renewing my call for Opening Day to be established as a new national holiday. Baseball just matters that much.

I'm looking forward to a wonderful season, especially in the American League Central. Laura and I have gone ahead and ordered the online radio package from MLB.com, and we'll be able to listen to any game we want. We had the package last year, and it was probably the best purchase I've ever made. Man, I love baseball.

Ok, without further delay, here are my picks for the upcoming season:

National League

East: Baseball has entered a wonderful age of parity, where most teams have a very real chance of making the playoffs when the season starts. Be that as it may, it is pretty easy to eliminate two of the teams in this division without much consideration. Both the Nationals and the Marlins are quite a ways back in this division, and I don't think they'll make much noise at all. I think the Braves might be a bit underrated, but I still see this as a two team race: the Mets and the Phillies. Because the Mets had the best NL record last year, I'm going to give them the edge here. They've got a little more experience, they felt the pain of losing in the playoffs, and with that chip on their shoulder it'll be the Mets taking the NL East.

Central: Just like last year, I think St. Louis is too talented to beat. I think the upgrades that the Cubs made were key, but their pitching staff is still a question, and their defense won't be good enough for them to be a real threat. The Astros lost Pettite, but I expect them to fight hard throughout the season. The team that'll give the Cardinals the biggest threat will actually come as a bit of a surprise to some: it'll be the Brewers. They're a solid group, and with Ben Sheets healthy all year they've got themselves a true ace. But the Brewers are green, and the Cardinals experience in closing out a division will come into play in September, allowing them to lock up the Central.

West: This might be the weakest division in baseball, and everyone has a shot at winning it. Even the Rockies! I don't like the Giants, and I don't think the Rockies will be able to put it together. Arizona added some key pieces, but I think it'll take them longer than a year to gel, and so it comes down to the Padres and Dodgers. I'm seriously flipping a coin between the two. Heads is Dodgers, tails is Padres. Tails. I guess I'm going Padres. Hmm... I'm not comfortable with that. Ok, Dodgers. Dodgers win the West.

Wild Card: And this is why I can be comfortable taking the Mets over the Phillies in the East; because I can still pick the Phillies to make the playoffs.

MVP: Pujols. I'm not going to pick against the best player in baseball. He got punished last year for having won it in the past, and this year people will feel compelled to go back to giving the hardware to the best.

Cy Young: I'm going to go with a kind of surprise candidate here: Aaron Harang of the Reds. He was amazing last year, but he's so unassuming that he got completely overlooked. Even though he plays in Cincy, for a ball club that's usually forgotten about, I think his numbers will be too good to ignore.

Rookie: I'll be honest, I don't know much about NL rookies this year. But I know the name Chris Young, since he's the one everyone is talking about, and I'm gonna join the crowd with this pick.

American League

East: I hate the Red Sox. I'm not a big Yankees fan (though I'm really glad they decreased their payroll!). But I can't in good conscience pick the O's, 'Jays or 'Rays. So I'm stuck picking between the biggest scourges to the sport. I like the pitching staff of the Sox, but I like the lineup of the Yankees. If the Yankees are able to add Clemens in May, then I'd be more comfortable picking them. And since I think there's a decent chance that'll happen, or at least a better chance of Clemens in NY than of Clemens in Boston, I'm going to give the Yankees the edge. They've proved over and over they can win the division, and, again, I hate the Red Sox. So Yankees take the East.

Central: Um, crap. I've got my loyalties, and that always makes this tough to pick. The Indians way underperformed last year, and so they're kind of darlings in the sports writing community this year. The Tigers might be the best team in baseball, at least on paper, and the White Sox have a bunch of power arms and power bats, all with a chip on their shoulder from last year. And yet, I'm going to take the Twins. But it's not because I'm a homer: it's because I honestly think it's the right pick. They've won 4 of the last 5 division titles, and have conclusively proved they know what it takes to win. They have some question marks in the rotation, but they had a lot of those last year too, and I think they'll be able to overcome them again. And the biggest reason: the Twins are returning the Cy Young winner, the MVP winner, and the batting champion. They had 3 different players win those 3 awards - only the second time that has ever happened - and all 3 are coming back, another year into their primes (none are on the decline yet). I cannot imagine that a team returning those 3 players wouldn't be the favorite, and I think people are seriously underestimating the Twins.

West: Here's my surprise pick of the year: the Rangers. The A's are always good, but have some injuries and holes that will pose some problems. The Angles are probably the favorites, but for some reason I'm just not sold. It's a pretty even division, and I think this year will be the year the Rangers' offense pushes them into the playoffs. I'm out on a limb here, but I'm okay with that in the AL West.

Wild Card: Like I wrote before, the Tigers might be the best team on paper. And that'll translate to a wild card berth, just like it did last year, if their pitchers hold up again. I think they will, and so I'm picking them for the wild card.
MVP: Joe Mauer. His power numbers will rise (look for around 18 HR and 95 RBI), and his batting average won't fall more than 30 points (that'd put him at .317 still). A lot of people thought he deserved it last year, and this time around he'll get the love; especially since he'll be getting the most out of a rotation that people consider suspect.

Cy Young: Well duh. Santana. It isn't even fathomable that anyone else would even think about picking someone else for this award.

Rookie: Again, this is a relative no-brainer. Daisuke Matsuzaka might not be a rookie in the hearts and minds of fans, but he is in the rule book. And his age and experience will be too much of an edge for folks like Alex Gordon or Delmon Young to overcome.

Playoffs:

NLS: Mets over Cardinals, Phillies over Dodgers
NLCS: Mets over Phillies
ALS: Twins over Yankees, Tigers over Rangers
ALCS: Twins over Tigers

World Series: Mets over Twins in 6.

Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks