's good for you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Our visit to the North Star State

Back in May, we took advantage of a special deal Frontier Airlines was offering when they started new service out of nearby Dulles Airport.  My family of four could travel to many cities in the U.S. for $120 - for the four of us.  We purchased tickets from Dulles to Minneapolis based on the Twin Cities being a very family-friendly city, and also having an opportunity to visit Julie's birth city of Duluth, MN (about 2.5 hours north).  

We left VA for MN last Wed. and returned on Sunday afternoon, and I'd recommend the state and cities we visited to all.  In Duluth, we visited the hospital where Julie was born and the street where she lived when her dad was stationed there for the U.S. Army in the early 70s.  We enjoyed the Canal Park area of the city and seeing massive Lake Superior.  In terms of eats, the Duluth Grill was excellent.  Looking back, we would have liked more time there.

Minneapolis/St. Paul has tons to offer families.  We spent one whole day at the Mall of America, which was a ton of fun.  Where else can you visit an amusement park in the middle of a gigantic and excellently-stocked mall?  The Science Museum of Minnesota was very impressive, as was the breathtaking Cathedral of St. Paul.  In terms of eats, I'd recommend Brit's Pub in downtown Minneapolis (very close to Target HQ).  We were lucky to eat outside on a beautiful mid-70s day.  I'd love to be there during lawn bowling season (which runs May - Sept.). 

I would go back to both areas; there's tons of outside activities up north on Lake Superior that we could do in the spring and summer.  We definitely needed more than a day (or less) in Duluth.  In the Twin Cities, I'd love to see a Wild game (there were traveling west while we were there) and see the Twins at Target Field in the summer.  There are also a lot more museums and restaurants that we didn't get to try this time.

Thanks for the hospitality, North Star State.  We'll be back, one day.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cowboys improve to 6-1 with division win over the Giants

It was another good Sunday for Cowboys fans.  Dallas defeated the New York Giants 31-21 behind the record-breaking running of DeMarco Murray, precise passing of Tony Romo to a stable of talented wide-outs and tight ends, and a defense that's wreaking havoc.  Murray gained 128 yards on 28 carries (and 1 touchdown), passing Jim Brown and becoming the first RB in NFL history to gain over 100 yards in seven games to start a season.  Romo had another strong afternoon, finishing with three TDs to Gavin Escobar and Terrence Williams, and big plays all day to Jason Witten and Dez Bryant.  Lastly, how about that D?  What was supposed to be one of the league's worst has turned into the opposite.  They created turnovers in key moments on Sunday when the Giants were driving.  They're only getting better each week.

With the win, the Cowboys improve to 6-1 and they've now won 6 games in a row.  Next up:  Hated rival Washington on Monday, October 27.  Washington won its 2nd game of the season on Sunday, and is now starting a 3rd-string QB in Colt McCoy.  Dallas can't overlook anyone, but they really need to destroy the Skins and make a statement.  

Keep rollin', Boys.  I like what I'm seeing.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Mason picked 13th of 14 in A-10 preseason coaches poll

Well, Mason hoops fans:  We have motivation.  It's a no respect year for George Mason basketball, and after last year's 11-win season, can you blame the A-10 coaches?  Mason was picked today to finish 13th of 14th with only Fordham (who beat us last year) behind us.  It's going to be a very, very long season in Fairfax if projections are correct...let's pray that they're wrong.

As expected, VC-phew was picked to finish no. 1 in the A-10 and they're expected to do good things nationally as well. The teams, 1-14, from the A-10 release:

The Rams, the 2013-14 Atlantic 10 Championship runners-up, garnered all 28 first-place votes to total 392 points in the poll. VCU, which finished 26-9 overall last year and 12-4 in the A-10, has two players on the Preseason All-Conference First Team and three total preseason honorees.

George Washington was picked to finish second with 343 points. Last year, the Colonials made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007, finishing 11-5 in conference play and 24-9 overall. Dayton, which finished last season with a magical run to the NCAA Elite Eight, was picked to finish third with 339 points.

Massachusetts was selected fourth with 294 points, followed by Richmond in fifth with 261 points. Rhode Island was picked to finish sixth with 253 points, followed by La Salle with 221 points. Defending Atlantic 10 Championship Saint Joseph’s was chosen eighth with 201 points, and last year’s regular season champion, Saint Louis, garnered 181 points for ninth place.

St. Bonaventure (130 points), Duquesne (94 points) and league newcomer Davidson (84 points) were chosen 10th through 12th. George Mason and Fordham rounded out the 14-team poll, respectively.

Rounding out the 14-team afterthought.  That's what Mason has become eight years since a historic Final Four afterthought.  

Well, Mason:  It's time to prove the doubters wrong.  Guys like Holloway, Jenkins, Copes, Gujanicic, and others should be itching to redeem themselves for last year's horrific season.  Newcomers like Jackson, Lockett, Porter, Royal, and others should be itching to show what they can do in the A-10.  There is talent on this team.  But, there's also a ton of youth.  This team may still be a year away from competing, but at that point, it may be too late to save Paul Hewitt's job at Mason.  If he goes, it's likely some talent will leave as well via transfer to other schools.  It's now or never.

Mason opens up with Cornell at home on November 14.  One month.  Let's shock the A-10, Patriots.  


Monday, October 13, 2014

Could the Cowboys be for real?

Going into Sunday's match-up with the defending champion Seahawks, I didn't have high expectations.  I simply didn't want the Cowboys to be blown out.  Boy, was I wrong.

Dallas upset Seattle 30-23 in a game that wouldn't have been as close if not for a couple Dallas mistakes.  The Cowboys dominated in nearly every aspect on Sunday in Seattle's home stadium.  Leading the way again was the record-breaker above, Dallas RB DeMarco Murray, who tied a NFL record with the legendary Jim Brown by gaining over 100 yards in six straight games to start a season.  Murray gained 115 yards on 29 carries and scored the game's final TD.

The Dallas D is turning on to be much better than expected, too.  From the Cowboys website:

The Cowboys defense hassled Seattle at every turn, as the front seven limited the potent duo of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch to just 80 rushing yards. Wilson tried on plenty of occasions to break containment on Dallas pass rushers, and he was repeatedly denied.
“It started with locking in and making sure that he didn’t control the game,” Garrett said. “I thought our guys did a good job of that for the most part”

When Wilson took to the air, the Dallas defense answered the call. 

Brandon Carr and Barry Church came up with goal line breakups, and Orlando Scandrick broke up Wilson’s fourth-down heave near the two-minute warning. The third-year quarterback managed just 126 passing yards, and his final attempt was fittingly intercepted by Rolando McClain.
“I’m so proud of them – all of our corners, man. We all made plays on the ball, we all fought to the end,”

Scandrick said. “We didn’t back down. I’m so proud of my group of guys.”

Seattle had time at the end of the game after Dallas went ahead by 3 to drive down the field and tie it up.  The Dallas D made sure this game ended.  With the win, Dallas improves to 5-1 (tied for 1st with Philly) and they've won five games in a row.  

Next up:  A NFC battle with the New York Giants, who just got their butts whipped by the Eagles last night and lost their top WR Victor Cruz to a season-ending injury.  Dallas can't get too confident or overlook anyone, though.  There's been too many seasons of collapses.  This one, for now, feels different.  We'll see.


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Nats choke in October once again

On the national stage for the 2nd time in 3 years as the team with the best record in the NL (or the entire league: 2012), the Nationals once again fell short of advancing past the NLDS.  The Nats lost 3-2 to the San Francisco Giants last night in S.F. ending the series 3-1 and their 2014 season.  They lost every game in this series by one run.  For Washington, a slew of free agents could depart after the 2015 season, so the window is closing on DC being a title town in baseball.  No pressure, DC.

Last night's game came down to the crucial 7th inning.  The Nats and Giants were tied, after playoff sensation and 21-year old talent Bryce Harper hit a HR in the top of the 7th to tie up the score at 2-2.  

From the Post:

But Game 4, the finale, will be remembered for the way Williams tried to coax the Nationals through the seventh inning. After Harper’s blast pulled the Nats evenin a do-or-die game, Williams stuck to the same plan he would have used in a July affair against the New York Mets. He called on veteran Matt Thornton and Barrett, the rookie. 

“Because those are our seventh-inning guys,” Williams said. “That’s how we set this up. We had two lefties at the top of the inning, and if we got to the righties, we were going to Barrett. That’s what he’s done for us all year long. We’re certainly not going to use our closer in the seventh inning.” 

Against Thornton, Joe Panik smacked a one-out single to left. Thornton stayed in to face right-hander Buster Posey, who followed with a rocket to center. Suddenly, the go-ahead run stood on second, Hunter Pence walked to the plate and the Nationals’ season hung in the balance. 

Williams walked to the mound, turned to the bullpen and called not for Clippard, an all-star, or Drew Storen, who led the majors in relief ERA. He didn’t consider using Strasburg, whom he said was available before the game but afterward said would be used in “emergency only.” 

“Anything’s possible in a game like that,” Clippard said. “Stras had his spikes on. Who knows?”

Williams did not veer from his season-long plan. He summoned Barrett. 

“We have to have our guys there if we get a lead there,” Storen said. “We’ve had great late-inning success. Our hitters are still fighting. With the bullpen we have, I feel comfortable putting anybody in any situation.”

Barrett had been murder on right-handed hitters all season and had shown an ability to handle big moments — on opening day, in his major league debut, he pitched the ninth inning of a scoreless game. Barrett had not faced circumstances like this.

“It was a little more magnified than the other games, for sure,” Barrett said. “Since my debut, I came in that same situation, tie ballgame. All those outings that I’ve been through in those spots definitely prepared me for tonight.”

Barrett nibbled around the plate with his fastball and walked Pence to load the bases. The bullpen remained dormant, and so Barrett faced Pablo Sandoval — a hitter who flails against lefties but crushes right-handed pitchers. 

With a 2-1 count, Barrett dumped a fastball in the dirt that scooted past Ramos. Panik charged home with the go-ahead run.

“I didn’t make my pitches,” Barrett said. “The spiked fastball is the one that hurt the most. I got lucky with the wild pitch over the backstop. The bottom line is, I didn’t make pitches when I had to, and it cost us the game.”

Manager Matt Williams' managerial decisions when it comes to relief pitching during this series will be questioned for years. However, he did what he usually does last night and in the 18 inning affair this past weekend.  Both decisions didn't work in his favor.

The Nationals have the talent to win it all in 2015.  But, do they have the mental fortitude to come back from their latest playoff setback?  We'll find out starting in April. 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Don't look now...but, the Cowboys are a solid 4-1 to start 2014

I'm no fool.  I know the Cowboys are the Cowboys...a good start to the season means little when the season's on the line in December.  BUT, I'll give credit to my football team for starting off 2014 with a strong 4-1 record,which includes a 20-17 nail-biting victory in OT today over the Houston Texans.  The keys so far are timely passing by Romo to Bryant and Williams; an incredible RB in DeMarco Murray, who is so far staying healthy (knock on wood) and running at a NFL record pace; and a a much-maligned defense in the preseason who's turning into something much better than the league's worst D.  

Next week's big match-up vs. the defending champion Seahawks will tell us a lot, but it may not since we're going to their place:  No one, not even the best teams, are expected to win there.  Let's pay more attention to the Giants game that follows, since that game is at home vs. a key division rival (who's also playing better football lately).  Dallas is currently tied with Philly at 4-1 for the NFC East division lead.

Keep it up, Cowboys.  It's a LONG season.


It's that time of the year again: Apple-picking

It's been a beautiful fall day in Northern Virginia, so we decided to take advantage of it by heading west for our annual pilgrimage to a nearby (an hour or less) apple orchard.  Today, we tried a new one to us:  Marker Miller Orchards in Warrenton.  It was definitely worth the visit.  It's only about an hour from Bristow/Gainesville, and has plenty of apples and family-friendly activities.  There's a very nice farm store on site as well.  

Here we go again in the DC area

Despite posting the best record in the NL, the Washington Nationals find themselves down 0-2 in their best-of-five NLDS series vs. the San Francisco Giants.  Once again, talks of DC as a title town appear way premature.  After losing 3-2 on Friday afternoon/eve at home, the Nats choked even better on Saturday afternoon/eve falling in 18 (!) innings vs. the Giants.  The Nats simply needed to get one more out in the top of the 9th to seal the victory.  Instead of staying with his dominant starter, Jordan Zimmermann, Nats manager Matt Williams pulled him and brought in choking closer Drew Storen.  Storen gave up the tying run.  Six hours later, the game ended when the Giants' Brandon Belt hit a solo HR in the top of the 18th.  

From the Post:

“We’ve got an uphill climb,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “But I believe in this team and these guys. If anybody can do it, we can. We’ve just got to stay positive and play our game. I really do. I believe we can do it.”

The Nationals could have won before the 6-hour, 23-minute game reached middle age. Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann, six days removed from throwing a no-hitter, came within one out of a shutout before Manager Matt Williams pulled him, leading 1-0, after he had walked Joe Panik to break a string of 20 consecutive batters retired.

“I knew I was on a short leash,” Zimmermann said. “I would have liked to stay out there, yes. But I’m not going to disagree with anything Skip does.” 

“If he got in trouble in the ninth or got a base runner, we were going to bring our closer in,” Williams said. “That’s what we’ve done all year.”

The decision will be debated for, oh, only a generation or two. In his return to the postseason, closer Drew Storen blew the save by allowing hits to both hitters he faced. The Nationals bailed him out from taking a loss when Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond teamed for a relay to cut down the go-ahead run at the plate.

The Nationals face a very difficult challenge, winning two in San Francisco and then hopefully winning the series' closing game in DC next week.  But, there's no guarantee they get past the Giants in the next game.  

If anyone else wasted 10 hours of your weekend watching the local baseball team lose twice, raise your hand as well.  I think I'm sticking away from baseball today.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Branns' busy weekend

It was a very busy weekend for my family...a few of the tidbits are above.  Julie & Sophia had their first-ever troop camping outing down in Stafford.  They had a good time, but they were tired when they returned home on Sunday.  Tyler & I had his 4th soccer match on Saturday.  My folks came up for the game, and the Nationals game in DC later that afternoon.  It was Scouts Day and Tyler Clippard bobblehead day at the park.  We got to see the World Series frontrunner win 5-1. 

In addition, today's a big anniversary in our household.  One year ago today, we added a new member to our family when we rescued a beagle/hound mix.  He was named "Happy the Hound" when we got him, then later "Yankee," before we finally settled on his final name - "Copper."  Copper (based on the "Fox and the Hound" character) seems to fit the best.  The year had its ups-and-downs, but mostly ups.  I know I'm glad he's a part of our family.  I wasn't convinced getting a dog was the best move for me, but there's something about a dog who's always happy to see you and simply wants you to pet him and cuddle that charms you in the end.  Please stick around a long time, Copper.

Have a good week.  I'm exhausted just thinking about what awaits for us in another busy week.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Jeter's Fitting Farewell

There are moments that clearly define the career of retiring Yankees SS and Captain Derek Jeter, and last night he added another one.  With the Yanks ahead by three in the top of the 9th, we all knew what was coming:  Manager Joe Girardi would walk on the field to remove Jeter before the final out.  Instead, the O's had other ideas.  They smacked two HRs off Yankees closer David Robertson to tie the score at 5.  Jeter would have the 3rd at-bat in the bottom of the 9th.  

With pinch runner Antoan Richardson on 2nd, Jeter stroked the winning hit to right field on the first pitch from O's reliever Evan Meek.  Richardson dashed home at full speed sliding in before the tag.  Jeter raised his hands in celebration as he rounded first, as he's done many times in pinstripes.  

The Yankees aren't playoff-bound for the 2nd year in a row, and their 82 wins doesn't make me happy as a Yankees fan.  But, last night's moment (and what followed:  The adulation was appropriate and emotional, just like the Captain) was why so many of us Yankees fans gravitated towards Jeter as our favorite Yankee.  He steps up when it matters.  He defines pride, leadership, and passion.  He's professional, and does his job.  He's a class act defined.

From the Times:

“An out-of-body experience is the best way to put it,” said Jeter, who was uncharacteristically expressive after the game.

It was a night when everything seemed to happen specifically to allow Jeter to be Jeter in front of his home fans for the last time. The rain stopped, the Orioles pushed the game to the bottom of the ninth by hitting two home runs, a Yankees runner got to second base, and Jeter came to the plate again with his name ringing in his ears. He then did exactly the kind of thing that had made him so adored by his fans.

Jeter was so overcome with emotion both during and after the game that he shed his usual cautious approach with reporters.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “Write what you want and put my name at the bottom of it.”
For the record, Jeter went 2 for 5 with a double, three runs batted in and a run scored.

What may have been the best blown save in Yankees history provided him the platform to be a hero once again.

The Yankees were leading, 5-2, heading into the ninth inning, but Adam Jones hit a two-run homer off Robertson, and Steve Pearce hit a bases-empty shot to tie the score. Jeter was at shortstop at the time, and he slumped his head momentarily. But on the bench, his teammates looked at the scoreboard and saw who was batting third in the bottom of the inning.

Soon, they were jumping all over Jeter on the infield as if they had won a big playoff game.

“I went from all-time low to all-time high,” Robertson said.

After the game, Jeter was greeted on the field by his former teammates Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams, as well as his longtime manager Joe Torre, and he hugged them all.

When the congratulations were over, and with the Orioles standing in their dugout watching, Jeter walked out to shortstop for a solitary moment of reflection.

“I wanted to take one last view from short,” he said.

I'll miss you, Captain.   See you in Cooperstown.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Cowboys pull one out of their butts

Oh, Cowboys.  You can't make it easy.  Nonetheless, I'll take a 34-31 road victory on Sunday to improve our season mark to 2-1 (good enough for 2nd behind 3-0 Philly).  Dallas was down 21-0 in this game before coming back to take the lead and eventually the game.  The deficit was the largest comeback in Cowboys' history in a regulation game.  Dez Bryant, above, had a 68-year old TD reception on the day, but he wasn't alone - kudos to a bunch of guys for leading the charge in this effort (including a potentially underrated defense).

It's a long season.  But, 2-1 a good way to start.  Next week...New Orleans.  The outcome could be a lot different.


Busy weekend for our little guy

Tyler had a busy weekend in our household.  His third soccer match of the fall was Saturday, and he helped his team by scoring two goals in the 4th quarter in the 11-3 win.  On Sunday, Tyler was part of the children's choir at our church and sang the classic "If You're Happy and You Know It" (foot-stomping above).  Next up:  With his mom and sister out of town this weekend for a Girl Scouts camping trip, Tyler & I are journeying into DC with my folks for the Scouts Day at Nationals Park on Saturday.  I just need to get through five busy days at work first...

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