Saturday, June 30, 2007

Second coming

After work Friday night, I joined Madame X at a grand opening event for River Lights Second Edition book store, on the southeast corner of 11th and Main.

It's a beautiful shop, under the experienced ownership of Sue Davis, one of the partners in River Lights bookstore, which ended its 17-year run on Dubuque's west side earlier this year.

In a hundred-year-old building restored by John Gronen's firm (read: quality and beauty), the shop features refurbished hardwood floors, newly constructed wood bookshelves and counters (Sue's husband, a professional, did the honors) and an atmosphere that screams "independent bookstore."

An independent bookstore downtown -- in a revitalized section of downtown -- is another feather in Dubuque's cap. Congratulations and good luck, Sue!

Improved Faber exhibit taking shape

Volunteers are scrambling to finish the building renovation and displays for the new Red Faber exhibit at the Tri-County Historical Society's museum in Cascade, Iowa.

The exhibit will open to the public on Independence Day.

Lee Simon is heading the project, which moves the Faber exhibit to the ground floor of the museum, 608 Second Ave. SW. It will feature more photographs, more Faber memorabilia and even a simulated radio play-by-play of the final half-inning of the 1917 World Series, where Faber shut down the New York Giants to secure the championship for the Chicago White Sox. The play-by-play is provided by sportscaster Gary Dolphin, a Cascade native and Voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

The historical society has invited me, as Faber's biographer, to take part in the re-opening the morning of July 4 by autographing copies of the book. With pleasure!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Symposium for students of baseball

Folks interested in Iowa history and in baseball might want to check out a two-day symposium at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Aug. 17-18 in West Branch, Iowa.

"Farm Team: Iowa's Contributions to Baseball," will open at 1 p.m. Friday, August 17 with a panel discussion entitled, "Hard Ball: Memories of Life in the Major Leagues," featuring former catchers Bruce Kimm and Bob Oldis, umpire Don Denkinger and former Negro Leagues player Art Pennington.

I'm honored to be part of the lineup. I've been asked to discuss the Hall of Fame career of Dubuque County native Red Faber. at 10 a.m. Saturday, August 18.

Other programs include the Rise of the Midwest League and fall of the Three-I League (of which Dubuque was once a member), African-Americans' influence on baseball, Rudy Laskowski and the Keokuk Kernels of 1952-53, Ozzie Smith and the Clarinda Cardinals, development of the baseball cartoon, Ray Doan (the P.T. Barnum of Baseball), Iowa's historic ballfields, 19th century lithographs and photos, barnstorming teams, the Iowa state baseball championship of 1870, an all-time, all-Iowa team, Cal McVey, Iowa's first pro baseball player, and a look at the recent making of the movie, "The Final Season."

For more information about the seminar, contact the Herbert Hoover Museum 319-643-5301. Registration is required and the cost is $25.

Tri-state tourist

To celebrate our wedding anniversary (not a milestone year), Madame X and I enjoyed a tri-state getaway weekend. It was yet another reminder that one need drive a long distance from Dubuque (or even leave the city, for that matter) to get some R and R.

Speaking of R and R we stayed at R 'N' R Retreat in the Clayton County (Iowa) community of Elkader. The two-unit B&B shares space with owner Mary Klink's insurance office. It is in a former mill and Selective Service Office overlooking the Turkey River dam and keystone arch bridge. Very nice. (Note: The first two photos are from the B&B's site; there was NO snow in Elkader this weekend.)

The county maintains a four-mile-long bicycle trail (similar to but slightly rougher than Dubuque County's 26-mile Heritage Trail), and we "went the distance."

Dinner was on the riverview deck at Schera's, which a couple of guys from Boston opened a few months ago. One of the partners, Frederique Boudouani, is of Algerian descent --noteworthy because Elkader is named for an Algerian chieftain, Emir Abdel Kader, who in the 1830s was credited with saving the lives of 12,000 Christians in Damascus. Elkader is the only U.S. community with a sister city in Algeria. It is because of that connection that Boudouani visited Elkader a time or two, liked it, and decided to leave Boston (population 559,000) for Elkader (pop. 1,465). Anyway, Madame X enjoyed the Algerian dish featuring vegetables, couscous and beef on skewers.

Today, after a bicycle ride in sections of Elkader we had yet to see, we took a leisurely drive home, passing through Littleport (the town, devastated by floods a few years ago, has relocated on higher ground) and Luxemburg before stopping in Balltown for lunch at Breitbach's, Iowa's oldest restaurant and bar. Afternoon adventures included a stop at the Grotto at North Buena Vista, taking the Cassville Ferry across the Mississippi River and returning to Dubuque down the Wisconsin side.

When one of those milestone anniversary years rolls around, we might do something elaborate to celebrate. However, the past couple of days showed us that one need not leave the tri-state area for a enjoyable, relaxing time.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

TH promotion takes root

As editor of a daily newspaper, I sometimes receive blame for things I didn't do (or supervise). It can happen the other way, where I receive credit for things I didn't do.

For example, Telegraph Herald reader Jesse Atkins sent a letter to the editor but included another note:

Several years ago on Earth Day The TH gave out a small Blue Spruce seedling to their subscribers. Below is a current picture of the one I received. Just wanted you to know that I appreciated your gift.

Our folks in Circulation handled the seedling promotion and deserve the credit, but I am glad to learn that their creative promotion took root with at least one customer.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

E-mail-less morning productive

This morning, my office laptop computer needed a tune-up. While our tech experts did their thing, I found myself computer-less. Now, that might be cause for panic among some computer-dependent individuals (and I feel that I am one of them).

However, a marvelous thing happened. I got things done!

Paperwork tasks that I had set aside until I "had time" suddenly were wrapped up. People I had been meaning to telephone for a week or so received a call. The experience drove home the message that e-mail -- reading, deleting, forwarding, replying, etc. -- consumes an inordinate part of my day and commands too high a priority. It's easy to get dragged into e-mail exchanges, even when the matter is not a high priority.

I've heard of companies establishing No E-Mail Fridays, affecting internal e-mail, as a way to promote better communication in the workplace.

My recent experience might inspire me to schedule myself "no e-mail" segments of the day. Nothing dramatic, but just enough to take a break from the "in" box.

Less technology, more productivity? Could be.

Baseball reading list

At "All that Jazz" Friday night in downtown Dubuque, an acquaintance who had read my Faber biography asked what other baseball books I might recommend. I'm no literary expert, but I was able to share with him some of the baseball books I've read recently (and enjoyed), plus a couple of "classics."

“Red Legs and Black Sox,” the Edd Roush biography, by Susan Dellinger. Did the Reds also "throw" some games in the 1919 World Series?

“Burying the Black Sox,” by Gene Carney. Examines the cover-up following the 1919 World Series.

“Wicked Curve,” the biography of Grover Cleveland Alexander, by John Skipper.

Deadball Stars of the American League,” edited by David Jones. Short biographies of the early stars, including Faber, Schalk and many of the Black Sox. (Conflict of interest disclaimer: I wrote the Faber chapter.) There is an earlier, National League volume as well.

Then, one can't go wrong with these classics:

“The Glory of their Times,” by Lawrence S. Ritter.

“Eight Men Out,” the story of the Black Sox scandal, by Eliot Asinof.

“October 1964,” by David Halberstam.

Monday, June 18, 2007

This Moe no Stooge

Red Faber (left), Moe Berg and Chuck Comiskey

I was in Carnegie-Stout Library over my lunch hour today, working on some baseball research (for the Tri-County Historical Museum) when another patron, a man in his mid-20s to early 30s, spied baseball photos spread on the desk in front of me.

He mentioned that he had just finished reading a book about Moe Berg. He asked if I had heard of Moe Berg.

Indeed I had. Berg is one of the most interesting, intelligent and complex men to have ever worn the uniform. Just a backup catcher for the Chicago White Sox and some other major league teams over 15 seasons, Berg was a genius and a spy for the U.S. Government. He is the subject of at least two biographies.

Berg and Red Faber, the subject of my biography, were teammates on the White Sox from 1927 through 1930.

A player of modest abilities, it was said of Moe Berg, "He could speak seven languages -- but couldn't hit in any of 'em." That wasn't exactly true. He knew 12 languages.

(Photo courtesy of the Tri-County Historical Society, Cascade, Iowa)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A grand Gallop

The Grandview Gallop is gaining steam!

Contested along Dubuque's Grandview Avenue, between Murphy Park and co-sponsor The Finley Hospital, the four-mile road race on Saturday attracted 552 runners and walkers on a bright and warm morning.

That is about 130 more entrants than a year ago -- a 30 percent increase.

I was among the contestants both years. After missing a few months of running in late 2006 and early 2007 due to knee problems, my expectations this year were low. On Saturday, I ran 1:36 slower than last year and failed to defend my 50-and-over title. However, I was pleased that I placed second in my age group and resisted the strong urge in Mile 4 to start walking.

Anyway, I was playing with the entry numbers. If this event keeps growing at its 30 percent rate, when the 25th annual Grandview Gallop is staged in 2030, there will be more than 265,000 entrants. I wonder if parking will be a problem.

In any case, I just hope that, by then, organizers have added a 75-and-over age group.

I'm proud that the Telegraph Herald was again among the event co-sponsors, providing promotion and vital staff support.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The show will go on

Tonight, I am scheduled to present my Red Faber slide show to the Dubuque County-Key City Genealogy society.

Specifics: 7 Tonight (June 13), Masonic Temple lower level, 12th and Locust Streets. Everyone welcome.

This is an appearance rescheduled from April, when it was postponed due to a late-season snowstorm.

No snow in the forecast tonight. The show will go on!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fascinating Friedl

I have conducted nearly 60 interviews for the Telegraph Herald's monthly Newsmakers series, and one of my longest conversations was with Msgr. Francis Friedl.

That might be because he is the oldest interview subject I've had in the series; Friedl turns 90 in the fall. However, I think the better reason behind the length of our conversation was that he has had so many fascinating experiences in his long and full life.

The son of bakers-restaurateurs, he hitchhiked from Waverly to Dubuque to start college. From there, he became a priest, college president (of his alma mater, Loras College), pilot, author, homily expert, pastor and world traveler.

I look forward to sharing my interview with Msgr. Friedl in Sunday's Telegraph Herald, with a longer version appearing on

Photo (c) 2007, Telegraph Herald.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Doobies III

For my third time ever, I attended a Doobie Brothers concert Saturday night.

The occasion was the America's River Festival in the Port of Dubuque. It was a great night (weather-wise), the crowd was into the show (and so too seemed the Doobies). Also, no sign of the Whistler.

I saw this band a year ago, at Wolf Trap National Park near Washington, D.C., and in my opinion last night's show was better. It might have been a little shorter, and perhaps the band cut out some of their more recent/lesser known songs, which was just all right with me.

My first Doobies concert? That was 30 years ago now -- spring 1977 on the campus of Western Illinois University. It was one of my first dates with the woman who now is known as Madame X. And that, too, is just all right with me.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Randy (and the Whistler)

Photo by Nicole Cross (c) Telegraph Herald 2007

Madame X and I on Friday evening ventured to the America's River Festival main stage show, where we saw a drunk guy whistle loudly at random moments and annoy and even harass other festival-goers.

Oh, yes, we also saw country star Randy Travis. (That picture is of Travis, not the drunk.) Though I am not a country music aficionado and I was familiar with only a couple of his hit songs, I have liked what I have heard.

Favorite lyric of the night:

Is it Is it sill over,
are we still through?

Since my phone still ain't ringing
I assume it still ain't you

I enjoyed Travis' performance, and the knowledgeable fans in attendance seemed to even more so.

Tonight, we are going back to the festival to see the Doobie Brothers.

I hope the drunk guy doesn't like rock/pop music.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A familiar face

Today's schedule had me at Luther Manor nursing home, where I presented my slide show on the life of Red Faber.

For me, the highlight of the appearance was seeing Walter Peterson in the front row. The former University of Dubuque president and civic leader is a Luther Manor resident now, and I do miss seeing him at various community events (including those he organized).

While I'm certain the program was not terribly interesting for most of the residents assembled, the opportunity to renew acquaintances with this treasure of Dubuque made it all worthwhile.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Grandparent Duty

Madame X
and I are spending part of our weekend on Grandparent Duty, watching Claire while her parents attend a wedding here in Dubuque.

As the video shows, Maddie has also helped by being an intriguing presence for Claire.

(If Grandpa had a video editing software, he would have "cut" the last 30-35 seconds. Sorry!)

Friday, June 01, 2007

He played with Red

Thursday was a long day -- too many miles, too many meetings, too little sleep.

However, the trip was made worthwhile when I paid a call on Mr. Don Crawford, now of Des Moines and formerly of Cascade.

Mr. Crawford might be the only man still living to have played a baseball game involving Hall of Famer Red Faber, the subject of my recent biography. He contacted me recently, after learning that I had written the book. I was able to provide him with newspaper accounts of the game, including the box score.

The game was played in Dubuque in October 1933. It was an exhibition game featuring Faber, the veteran White Sox pitcher from Cascade, after what turned out to be his 20th and final Major League Season. Faber was 45 years old.

Crawford, meanwhile was just 18 years old when he played third base and batted first on the Cascade team for which Faber pitched.

Now 92 years old, Crawford doesn't remember much about the game itself. He does recall that the contest was in danger of being rained out. However, they got the phone call that the weather had cleared enough for them to come to dubuque. On the drive between Cascade and Dubuque, the fabric roof of their automobile tore, and a couple of players stood on the running boards, holding down the flapping roof as they traveled down the road.

Crawford's parents moved to Des Moines a few years later, and Don continued to play club ball. Never professional material, he went on to a long career with the Internal Revenue Service.

One of the great pleasures of writing the Faber biography is getting the opportunity to become acquainted with people I otherwise would never had occasion to meet. Don Crawford, a real gentleman, certainly is at the top of the list.