Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

March 15, 2007

Winter returns

Went to Fed Ex in Grand Forks this morning to pick up some more plants, and boy, did it get nasty. I couldn't see more than an 1/8 of a mile.

I was pulling for the storm to hit at home so that more snow could melt off into my swamp, but I returned to find there were only four inches or so here. Pretty feeble.

March lurches onward.

Tomorrow, I go to Bemidji for a meeting and then head down to St. Cloud where I talk to gardeners on Saturday on the campus of St. John's University. I look forward to that. St. Cloud is a little far for me to go to recruit business for the nursery, I am aware. I really didn't want to take the speech. Instead of turning them down outright, I named a ridiculously high price--which they promptly accepted, so I was stuck. But also I get paid well! Plus mileage and hotel! Yee haw.

I am looking forward to the drive from Bemidji down to St. Cloud. Not sure what the number of that highway is, but it is supposed to be very scenic. I will have the camera on hand. I will be in no hurry and will want to stop often to buy coffee and so on.

TWINS: Former Gopher Glen Perkins, a left-hander, was impressive again today, as was Ramon Ortiz. One almost wants to get excited about the state of the Twins starting pitching. It all starts with starting pitching. It is tough to win without it. That's why the Twins struggled so mightily last April and May. Silva and Radke stunk. So did Kyle Lohse. What a mess. Then Liriano came in, Radke came around, Lohse was exiled to the Reds, Silva went to the bullpen, and the Twins went on an unbelievable, improbable four month tear.


March 14, 2007

A pause in the melt

A little water ran today, but not much. The wind is from the north, and it cooled down. Frozen ridges of mud on the road, ice covered runoff in the ditches, a little too chilly to be outside with a t-shirt on.

The mystery of the lost few thousand geraniums was finally solved. They were delivered to UPS in Grand Forks instead of Fed Ex. UPS took them over to Fed Ex, who refused the boxes, which were then sent back to Georgia. By the time they got there the geraniums were in such tough shape that they could not be shipped out again and had to be discarded. So, we'll see if they can get another shipment to us.

When you buy in starter plants, you go through a broker. They find the plants on the market somewhere in the country. Most growers won't even deal with you directly anymore. The order is placed months before the ship date. When the ship date arrives, the grower sends them out, sometimes to the right address, sometimes not. To confuse matters more, we usually don't even know where the plants are coming in from.

If something doesn't show up, this causes a problem. You have the broker, who is supposed to be responsible, and the grower, who you really aren't supposed to call directly--even if you are lucky enough to know who they are--who does the actual shipping. When something goes wrong, there is ample opportunity for buck passing. It took about five days for this one to get pinned down. This time of year, Mom spends a lot of time on the phone just trying to find somebody who can do something about shipping problems.

WEBLOG reader Leslie Anne alerts me that Carlos Silva stunk again against the Yankees tonight, while Kevin Slowey, who would be in line to replace Silva, pitched a couple of scoreless innings.

The main issue early in this Twins season, I suspect, will be Silva. How long do the Twins stick with him hoping that he regains his form of two and three years ago? They committed $4.5 million to him this year on the off chance that he would pop out of his doldrums, but there is simply no sign of that yet. I think he's finished.

Meanwhile, Ramon Ortiz, who was Silva's counterpart as the worst pitcher in the league when he pitched for the Washington Nationals in the National League last year, is doing well. He is an emotional sort, and he likes the mood with the Twins. He said he has never played with such a fun bunch of guys. Ortiz lost his father three years ago. His decline as a pitcher started at that time, and he said early this spring that he wasn't over his father's death yet. Perhaps the Twins' friendly atmosphere and small-town feel will be an antidote to the jitters he has shown on the mound the past three years.

The media is crawling all over Johan Santana, calling him one of the all-time greatest left-handers. He's had all of three great seasons. It's too early for that sort of talk. Pitchers can implode at any time. They can blow out an arm. They can lose their mental edge. Giving long-term contracts to pitchers almost never works out. Santana is committed to the Twins for two more years. Terry Ryan is smart not to try to extend Santana's contract beyond that time, no matter how much ESPN carries on about Santana's possible free agency in three years, when they figure he will command $25 million annually.

Santana was the best pitcher in the league last year. By his own standards, however, I think he declined a litte from the previous two years. Many times he had to be pulled from the game due to pitch count problems which resulted from a lot of full counts. He also didn't get it in gear until late May, once again. If he could get it going a little earlier, he could put up numbers that would pop everybody's eyes out.

The greatest lefthander of all-time, Steve Carlton, won 314 games and struck out thousands. His most stellar season was in 1972 when he won 27 games with a Philadelphia Philly team that finished deep in last place. The next season, Carlton became mediocre. In fact, he would usually follow a good season with a bad one, and did so until he finally retired in a Twins uniform in 1988. If Santana puts together yet another great season, it will truly amaze me. Even the great ones don't pitch at a high level year after year.


March 13, 2007

Visit to the Hilton

It was time for a visit to the Hilton again today. It was good to see that some of the residents who had looked in such tough shape last time I was in had perked up.

Aunt Olla has a new roomate, Bernice. They get along famously.

The sidewalks were melted off enough for us to go uptown for coffee and pie, then over the Encore for some used clothes and down to the grocery store for some cheese. Bernice brought in an icebox which she will share with Olla. Olla used to store her cheese down in the kitchen, but now she will have it right in the room.

Things are going well, except for Olla's memory for names. I brought her some pills from China. We had asked at some store for some pills for the brain, and they gave us some in a green bottle with Chinese writing all over it, and I gave it to Olla as "brain pills" thinking that since it was herbal, it couldn't do any harm no matter what it was actually for.

Well, Olla contends that they were IQ pills, not memory pills. Her IQ has been going up--she's doing better than ever on the Reader's Digest quizzes--but her memory is still bad.

Next trip to China, I will have to ask specifically for memory pills. Or, Olla can just order them from here.

Otherwise, we had a good visit. Olla hoards cookies for me somewhere in her dresser drawer, and she presents them to me when I visit, although she likes to hide them from the staff so they don't know that she's collecting them and giving them to me. So, when I arrive, there is usually a sweater lumped up on the end of her bed and I know that underneath the sweater is a zip-lock full of cookies.

While at the grocery store, Olla also picked up another jar of minced garlic. The nurses won't be happy about that. If Olla feels sick, she takes so much garlic that her breath would knock over an elephant, or so the nurses claim.

Everybody was in better spirits at the home today. There was a sing-along going on in the lounge, and there was a good turnout.

TWINS: I was going to write about the Twins yesterday, but the phone rang and I had to cut the paragraph short. I am sure some of you didn't mind.

In any case, things are going very well for the Twins, I think. Santana looks good. New pitcher Ramon Ortiz is responding well to the coaching of pitching coach Rick Anderson. Boof Bonser is coming along. And there is a whole crop of young pitchers with great promise: Matt Garza has the best stuff of all of them. Kevin Slowey has great control. Glen Perkins is left-handed and is a real gritty performer. He's cranky, too, and I like that in a pitcher.

The two who the Twins should dump as soon as they can are Carlos Silva, whose best days are behind him, and Sidney Ponson, who will just be trouble. Thankfully, Ponson is doing poorly enough that it is likely that he won't be coming north with the big team. However, Silva keeps doing just well enough for Gardenhire to say that he deserves a chance to start the season in the starting rotation.

After a year like he had last year, Silva doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt. He wasn't even that good when he was good. In his best years, hitters hit over .300 against him. He has great control, and he gets the ground ball, but unless he can be consistent, he should step aside in favor of one of the many young guys who are ready to go.

Of course, the Twins organization is so conservative about bringing along their young pitchers. It was three years before they finally gave Santana a chance to start. That worked out fine, I guess, but I was chomping at the bit for them to give him a chance two years before.

The opposite extreme would be the Billy Martin approach. Martin was known for taking young pitchers, getting them to perform for one season, winning a pennant with them by making them pitch until their arms nearly fell off, and then getting fired or quitting before it became evident that he had ruined five young arms. He did that in Oakland in 1981 with Matt Keough, Steve McCatty, Mike Norris and Rick Langford. They did well that year, but were ruined.

So, I am happy that the Twins are taking it slow with these great pitching prospects that they have. Gardenhire and Anderson know what they are doing.


Swans return

This morning, I heard the familiar honking and soon saw three stately swans circling the swamp. Alas, there is not enough water there for them to land in their old home. Right now, I think they are looking for blue ice. They poke their heads through and dig around the bottoms for plant roots. They can't do that if there's no water and the swamp bottom is frozen solid. Sad! I do hope the swans remember their old swamp when it fills up again.


March 12, 2007

Days of slop

Ah, March in Minnesota. Excruciating, tantalizing, demoralizing--and dangerous! I nearly fell twice today on patches of ice, and this has been a daily occurance. I can't wait until I get brittle hips.

I decided to quit burning wood today after wading through ankle deep slop to load the stove. That's enough.

Heard the first geese overhead today. Not flocks, but just a few stragglers looking around for open water.

They won't find any on my swamp. Despite the melting, not a single pool of water has shown up out there yet. There won't be any wildlife out there to speak of until that swamp gets some water in it, and that might be a couple of years! I am faced with letting nature take its course, something at which I do not excel.

A 4-H club came to have their meeting at the nursery tonight. I gave them a tour. Good, attentive kids.

All day was busy with phone calls and visitors on various missions.

The most annoying was the ag statistics woman, who is a plenty nice woman, I don't fault her, but her task is to make me fill out an extensive bunch of questions that often don't make a lot of sense. How many acres do you have of this, how many acres of that, how much money did you make on this, how much on that, how much did you spend on electricity, how much on wages, how much on new machinery. And it went on and on. How much savings do you have? How much did you spend on living expenses last year? How much did your buildings depreciate? If you sold it all today, what do you think you could get?

This snoopy stuff goes to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which is only slightly better to me than if it went to the Department of Homeland Security.

I do not like government snooping, I don't care how much they say they need statistics on us all.

I also don't like the snoops going through my bags at the airport, while I am on this high horse. Last time I checked into the Grand Forks airport, some smart aleck kid sorted through my underwear and socks as if I was a criminal and then said, in a decidely unpleasant tone of voice, "you are free to go," as if I had just gotten out of prison. I wanted to smack him.

The lady ahead of me suffered greater humiliation. I couldn't even tell what some of those garments in her suitcase were for exactly. I didn't see any whips, but if one or two had turned up it would have been consistent with the rest of her apparel.

So, after spending about 45 minutes answering stupid ag survey questions, I fielded a couple of telemarketing calls from people who couldn't pronounce my name and displayed an east coast accent when they tried. I was unfriendly towards them, and one hung up on me before I could hang up on him, which is sort of an indignity.

The trouble with being in management is that you just do stupid things all day and you rarely get to actually feel a sense of accomplishment from moving something somewhat heavy from point A to point B. Fortunately, I now am starting to recognize that my job as manager is to take care of the petty, stupid things so that other people can get some actual work done. But still, at the end of the day, one doesn't feel tired in a good physical way, just wound up in a sort of irritated way.

SOMEWHERE in the United States are three thousand geraniums with the name "Bergeson Nursery" on them which left their destination last Thursday and have so far not resurfaced at any Fed Ex or UPS depot in the continental United States. A few boxes came last week to the UPS office, even though they were mailed to the Fed Ex depot--and there is a distinct possibility that the 3000 geraniums were shipped with the same confusing instructions. Can you imagine how thrilled UPS would be to get a few dozen boxes with instructions to deliver them to Fed Ex? Maybe they just put them in the dumpster.

Oh, and the woman in Colorado who knows everything about it all had the day off. Perhaps she was planting the 3000 geraniums in her back yard. At least then they'd be alive.

TWINS: The battle over the starting rotation is heating up. Who will pitch on the days Santana doesn't? The Twins have loads of good prospects, and they are showing good stuff down in spring training, where hope springs eternal.


March 11, 2007

Underwood

Yesterday morning, I was due at nine in the morning at the Underwood school to speak to a master gardener program for Otter Tail County. I always manage to leave late enough so that getting there on time becomes a little dicey. It was a solid, two-hour drive, and the occasional fog made me go slow at times.

What a beautiful drive! Rollag, Pelican Rapids--beautiful area. The trees were covered with frost. The sun was breaking in and out of the fog. If I had brought my camera along, I wouldn't have made it in time to the speech as many of the scenes were dramatic.

The Otter Tail master gardeners do a good job on their spring Garden Day. They had over five hundred people registered. In addition, they had a few dozen vendors displaying their wares and about forty people giving presentations throughout the day.

I got to start off the day by talking to the whole bunch. My tonsils were the size of grapes, so I didn't know how it would go. I only choked on them once. It went fine, but I got out of there as soon as I finished to avoid talking any more than I had to.

TWINS: They are losing most of their exhibition games, but that doesn't concern me. They'll come around. Gardenhire is using this time to test out new people. Some of them fail. Some aren't ready yet. Spring training bores me, if only because what happens there is usually a poor indicator of what is going to happen during the season.

MEANWHILE, I bought a new book on the history of Minnesota basketball. Interesting facts:

--Fosston won the first Minnesota basketball title in 1913 using an offense which featured their team running in tight circles. The strategy was developed out of necessity because the team practiced in a small classroom.

--Until 1937, there was a tip-off after every basket. If you had a tall center, the other team might never get the ball. The games were very slow as coaches were convinced that running fast would hurt the bones of growing boys.

--Girls basketball was banned mid-century on the premise that all that running and jiggling around would impede child-bearing. It didn't come back until the mid-1970s.

--At one point in the 1920s, dribbling the ball was banned. It was seen as "crude."

I ALSO GOT MY HANDS on a tape of a broadcast of the 1952 state boys basketball tournament third and fourth place game between Halstad and Austin. The game was played in Williams Arena during a huge blizzard--yet there were about 14,000 people in the stands, and all but a few hundred were pulling for Halstad. What a roar! And when a call went against Halstad, the boos were almost frightening. Those were the glory days of Minnesota basketball. Tickets for the tournament were sold out months in advance.