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So Close, But So Far In Finally Being On A Jury...

For all of my 61 years, I’ve wanted to be on a jury. And probably half a dozen times, I’ve gotten something in the mail while living in three different cities, called the number they ask you to check the night before, and been told my services were not needed.

Last night, I got another chance. This wasn’t necessarily the night you wanted to be a winner because the NCAA Championship game was going to be on until after midnight, meaning getting up early to go to a courthouse the next morning would not be ideal. But when I called the phone number printed on the jury duty summons, they said Groups 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 AND 8 would need to show up. Numbers 9 through infinity could stay home.

Mine was No. 8.

Let me first say if you’ve reached the stage of life where you’ve retired (like I did two months ago) and you get used to getting up when you want to and easing into the day, that alarm going off at 5:50 AM is a bit of a jolt. I left the house at about 7:20 AM for the trip to neighboring Leesburg, reasoning that it’s one thing to be late to a business meeting; it’s another thing entirely when where you’re going they have people at the entrance with guns and handcuffs. This one I needed to be on time or early too.

Very early in the process I noticed just how addicted I have gotten to my cell phone. You can’t bring one into the Courthouse, so I left mine in my car. I parked at the parking garage across the street from where I thought I needed to go, then walked to where I thought the entrance would be. It wasn’t there and the Loudoun County Courthouse is one huge block where if you walk the wrong way, you’re going to pick up a couple thousand steps on your Fitbit making a lap around the grounds.

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With Win Tonight, Nats Can Make History Starting Out 4-0

If you’re impressed that the Nationals have started the season 3-0, well, don’t be.

Don’t get me wrong; they’ve been very impressive, and they never even trailed the entire three-game series at Cincinnati. But if history is any indication, starting out 3-0 hasn't really meant anything.

This is the fourth time the team has done it since moving from Montreal to the most powerful city in the world. The Nats also accomplished this in 2008,  2013 and 2014. How did they do in 2008? Well, after winning those first three, the Nats lost 9 in a row and 15 of their next 17. They would lose 102 games, the franchise’s worst record since the 1976 Montreal Expos ended the season at 55-107. It was the worst ever in Washington, but only until 2009 when they lost 103 games.

In 2013, the Nats went from 3-0 start to buzz saw in Cincinnati and never found themselves in first place again. They lost 15-0 on a Friday night, would bounce back and win 7-6 the next day to keep them in first place (where they had been every game of the season), then lost the Sunday game 6-3.

The loss knocked them out of first, then they returned home to sweep a 3-game series against the White Sox (but gain no ground on the Atlanta Braves). The Braves then came to Nats Park, swept the Nats, and the rest of the season involved looking at Atlanta’s back bumper. Twice they got within a half game of the Braves, but never got back to first, finishing at 86-76. I will always remember that season due to how many times Nats fans on Twitter would say “it’s only April” when the team struggled, followed by “it’s only May”, “it’s only June”, etc. No one wanted to admit the team just didn’t have it that year, hoping instead that in time, they would turn the switch on. They didn’t.

2014 is the only year a 3-0 start ended with a playoff berth. Like the others, however, that team started with 3 wins, then struggled. 23 games into the season, the team was only 12-11 and in third place in the division. They were in second as late as July 18th before getting back on top and staying there, eventually winning the division by 17 games.

The other two years the Nats made the playoffs, the teams started 2-0, lost, then had a strong winning streak. In 2012, they went 2-0, lost two straight, then won 8 of 9 en route to a team-best 98 wins. Last year, they went 2-0, lost 1, then won 7 straight on the way to 95 wins.

So starting with 3 straight has not exactly been the charm for Washington. Four straight? No Washington team has ever done that to start the season. They can make history by doing so tonight against the Atlanta Braves.

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Might As Well Turn Those Easter Eggs Into Something...

It’s the day after Easter, which means you need to get two things done today: One is go buy up all the half-priced chocolate. The other is to turn those hard-boiled Easter eggs into something edible, assuming you refrigerated them after all that decorating.

I turned mine into deviled eggs, mainly because it’s very simple, and the people in my house scarf them down like eggs will no longer be available on earth at the end of the day.

Here’s how to make them: Peel them, chop them in half, and put all the yokes into a mixing bowl (a slight push on the bottom of the round part of the egg will pop it out like a lost contact lens. When  you’ve done that to all the eggs, take a fork and mash them until they look more like a powder than an egg.

I add a little minced onion to give the deviled egg some texture. Just take a small amount of onion, chop it until you think you’ve chopped it enough, then go back and chop it two more times. You want a hint of onion, not chunks like it’s chicken salad. Add an equal mixture of mustard and mayonnaise and mix it up thoroughly. I add about 3 or 4 drops of Sriracha into the mix to give it a slight hint of heat (i.e., the devil in deviled eggs) and a subtle smoky flavor. If you decide to do this, be careful. The difference between 3 drops and 5 drops can be the difference between subtle flavor and your mouth on fire. It’s in a squeeze bottle, and I have seen people in my own house give the bottle a firm squeeze and unintentionally put enough Sriracha into a recipe to burn the house down. So you’ve been warned.

Spoon the mixture back into the egg whites. If you want to get fancy, use a piping bag (which you can buy online for about $5) with a pastry tip (again, another $5 online) to get those fancy grooves. But whether pastry bag or spoon, it still tastes the same. As a final touch, I usually put a light dusting of paprika on top of the eggs to give it another layer of very mild heat, and the color looks nice.

With the eggs peeled, it takes about 10 minutes. But since they look fancy, you can lie to your family, say you slaved away for a couple of hours because you knew they liked them, and then get them to clean the kitchen and take out the garbage. A fair trade, if you ask me…..

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Just A Little Light Dessert After A Great Easter Meal

Usually at holidays, I post food pictures on Facebook. But I'm not on Facebook any more.

So I guess I'll just have to do it here. This is a chocolate dome cake, filled with chocolate mousse, topped by an Easter bunny face with M&Ms for eyes and a nose.

As a friend noted, the bunny seems to have fear in its eyes. And well it should :)

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Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter! Enjoy That Chocolate Bunny...

First of all, Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!

Today is perhaps my favorite holiday of the year. If you are a person of faith as I am, it is the day of the resurrection. The day HE IS RISEN has particular significance. One of the two days just about everybody goes to church (known as the Christmas and Easter crowd, thank you very much) and a day of food, faith and family. Even if these are not your beliefs, the message of redemption, peace and a new start are cool notions all of themselves.

I judge a holiday by the memories in creates. No offense to the days off commemorating Presidents Day or Memorial Day, but I doubt you can tell me what you did on those days as a kid. Christmas and Easter dominate those memories, and Easter is particularly rich in such. From the time you were a kid hunting for Easter eggs, to the time you stayed up late, dyed a bunch of eggs as if they were going to be on display one day at the Louvre, then hid them in the front yard before turning your own children loose. All while trying to capture video of the event while your spouse played the role of the director.

Those rich memories also include Easter sunrise services, because they provided some particularly peaceful moments. But they are for the young, as I have found them to be a survival of the fittest contest. As the name suggests, the services start at sunrise, and unless you are blessed with natural beauty, this involves getting up a few hours before sunrise to get dressed and be there. In my younger days, I worked in the newspaper business where you didn’t get home until 2 AM after putting together the last edition of the Sunday paper. Since you’d be getting up at 4 AM anyway, I’d just stay up, power through everything, then after a hearty Easter meal go search for an unoccupied sofa to “meditate.”

But the greatest non-religious aspect of the Easter tradition is the chocolate Easter bunny. Back when I was a kid, there was an arms race with these bunnies, as you had to show your kid how much you thought of them by buying the biggest one there was (now you just buy them a $1,000 Iphone). There wer of course the eggs, jelly beans and other assorted items in the Easter basket, but the centerpiece was the chocolate bunny, roughly akin to the turkey on the Thanksgiving table. It had to be good.

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The Window Is Open, So Let's Enjoy It While We Can

Yesterday after the Nationals’ Opening Day win, I went to Twitter to read everyone’s takes on the game, and saw one from a friend named Jen. She’s a huge Nats fans and has raised her kids to know a slider from a curve since they were old enough to walk. Her kids were celebrating the Opening Day win, and as we all did when we were little, they were projecting the future based on this one game. In their minds, the Nats looked so good, they were going to go 162-0.

Being the realist (my daughter would say “killjoy”) I am, I pointed out that the first year they will ever be able to remember things as they grow older will be around 2012. Starting with that year, winning in general and winning on Opening Day became the norm for the Nats. Only once during the span of then to now has the team lost a game to start the season (those pesky Mets won 3-1 in 2015) and the days of 100-loss seasons were long gone. Every year since, the Nats were supposed to win the division, and many years they did.

Part of me thought “these kids are really lucky” because they’ve known nothing but winners, seen no-hitters, and have only faced disappointment when the team went to the playoffs. The other more cynical side thought “they have no idea that sometime in the future, being a fan is probably going to be tough.”

That’s because in my 50-plus years of following sports, I’ve found your favorite teams have more years when they disappoint versus winning it all. All seasons have happy endings, but they are not necessarily your happy ending, as someone has to win and someone has to lose. Odds are, if you talk to most fans outside of New England these days, it’s their team that seems to have to lose.

It’s as if some higher authority doles out the winning so that everyone has a window of happiness. I grew up in Norfolk, where in the days before cable television (and cell phones, computers, the internet, etc.) the area received the games of either Baltimore or Washington. My Dad liked the Baltimore teams, so as nature designed in the not so complicated father-son dynamic, I rebelled and pulled for Washington. It wasn’t a wise choice, as the Colts and the Orioles seemed to win all the time, while the Redskins, Senators and Bullets got me comfortable at a young age with pulling for a team that would underperform.

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In Analyzing Yesterday's News, A Few McChicken Nuggets...

There is no love lost between Virginia Tech and Michigan when it comes to football, and yesterday’s decision by Michigan to opt out of games with the Hokies in 2020 and 2021 will only add to the rancor. After all, the folks in Blacksburg have long had a nickname for the Wolverines: “McChicken”.

This all started many years ago when Virginia Tech started climbing the mountain of gaining national respect in football. Back-to-back appearances in the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl in 1995-96 certainly helped, then a quarterback by the name of Vick pushed them over the top when the Hokies played in the National Championship game.

But during that time, Virginia Tech tried to schedule bigger names, as they have (and still do to a degree) been accused of playing weak non-conference opponents. One team they tried to schedule, and according to various reports repeatedly said they weren’t interested, was Michigan. They WOULD schedule Virginia, but not Virginia Tech. Thus the “McChicken” nickname.

The animosity got worse in 2012 when the teams played in the Sugar Bowl. A late pass to Hokie WR Danny Coale that would have won the game was ruled incomplete despite just about every replay angle showing he caught it (my seats in the Superdome were right in front of the play and I thought the game was over). “Danny Coale caugh the ball” is now a rallying cry for the Hokies; I had the misfortune of flying home after the game seated next to a Michigan fan who was far from gracious, regaling me with stories of just how superior Michigan was to the world.

So Michigan is not exactly on the Virginia Tech Christmas Card list. Mine, either.

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Doesn't Seem Like 13 Years Ago, Brad Wilkerson Was At Bat

April 4, 2005. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. 3:07 PM. A sunny day, 59 degrees, brisk wind.

And so it began.

I will admit I am not the baseball purist some of my other friends are. They will watch baseball if it’s between two teams on the other side of the country that they have no interest in, just because it’s baseball. I am, however, a shameless homer; I grew up in Norfolk, and no matter where I lived afterward, I pulled for any team that had WASHINGTON across its jersey, as the games of DC were the ones we got in Tidewater.

My closet over the years became overflowing with jerseys for the Redskins, Wizards and Caps. Baseball was a tough one; I tried to like the Orioles, and when I moved up here in 2000, made a point of going to Camden yards several times a year. It was a nice experience, Boog’s barbecue was tasty, but it wasn’t our team. It was someone else’s.

Then after decades of Major League Baseball using Washington as leverage for every other team in the universe to get a new stadium deal, the Expos moved here and we had a team. That first game, I took a vacation day to watch it at home on television, because if you’ve waited that long to have a team to call your own, you’re NOT going to miss the first one.

And so at 3:07 PM when the Phillies Jon Lieber threw the first pitch to Brad Wilkerson (and Wilkerson would get the team’s first hit on the game’s fifth pitch), my addiction to the Washington Nationals began. Over the last 13 years – thanks to modern technology that allows you to watch something on television anywhere – I doubt I’ve missed more than a handful of games no matter how terrible they were. That first season will always be among the most memorable of all of them because that team truly overachieved.

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It's Still The Most Iconic Washington Nationals Moment Ever

The season hasn’t even started, and the Washington Nationals have already made their first error.

Scrolling through Twitter, it appears the Nats have removed the mural of Jayson Werth jumping for joy and crossing home plate after hitting the game-winning home run of Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series played on October 11, 2012. I am going to assume since this is the first season Werth is no longer playing for the team, that’s the reason it is being replaced.

Well, Nats….um, no. E-marketing.

The play still represents the most iconic moment the team has ever had. Ask any Nationals fan to rank their most memorable moments since the franchise came to Washington, and No. 1 by a landslide is Jayson Werth hitting that home run. It isn’t close. It’s the high point of the decade-plus the team has been here. Werth doesn’t play here any more? Well, Stan Musial isn’t getting a lot of bats in St. Louis either and they have a statue out front. Iconic moments are iconic moments. Want to replace the mural? Come up with a better moment.

Even the radio call is historic. This is the transcript of Dave Jageler and Charlie Slowes calling that last at-bat:

DJ: This is an epic battle

CS: Remember the bat after the rain delay, Dave?

DJ: I do.

CS: Remember what happened, culminating that at bat?

DJ: I do.

CS: Wouldn't that be nice?

DJ: I hope you're the summoner.

CS: I hope I can steal a little summoning from you Dave.

CS: 3 balls, 2 strikes, the pitch...SWING AND A LONG DRIVE...DEEP LEFT FIELD...GOING..GOING..IT's GOOOOOOOOONE..GOODBYE...GAME OVER...IT'S A LONG, LONG GAME-WINNING, SEASON-SAVING HOME RUN FOR JAYSON WERTH..AND THE NATIONALS HAVE WON THE GAME 2-1...UNBELIEVEABLE!

I didn’t even have to post the audio, did I? You could hear Dave and Charlie screaming this in your head because you’ve heard it a dozen times and it STILL gives you goosebumps, doesn’t it?

Moments like that don’t come around often. For some teams they don’t come along at all. Forget whether the key player involved is still with the team. It’s a timeless, happy, miraculous memory that we will all still be talking about 20 years from now. 

Which is exactly the reason it should never come down.

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Ashburn

Clear Sky

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They Finally Did It...

They Did It

After a long and bumpy road, The Washington Nationals finally won the World Series. And made an old man in Ashburn cry...

Never Grow Old...

Never Grow Old

A trip to Spring Training reminded me we're all still kids at heart, and no matter how old, you keep playing until they get you out.

Gone But Never Forgotten...

Doodle

My faithful dogs probably rode shotgun on hundreds of stories I've written since 2003. This one is for you, Doodle & Schnoodle.

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