Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for May 2012

Just Reviewed Celine Kiernan’s “The Poison Throne” at SBR . . .

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. . . and folks, I couldn’t be more disappointed if I tried.

Look.  Celine Kiernan can obviously write.  Parts of THE POISON THRONE were diverting, absorbing, interesting, etc., despite the fact that I saw all the weaknesses in sharp relief — the lack of plot organization.  The overabundance of deus ex machina plot devices (if you don’t know what a deus ex machina is, it basically means that the author felt it needed to happen, so she forced it to happen rather than let it flow out of the plot naturally).  The lack of sense being shown by most of the participants . . . and the fact that the King, Jonathan, of a kingdom that’s never named, is now the biggest bully the world has apparently ever seen, even though when Wynter was young (she’s now the ripe, old age of fifteen), King Jon was a good and gracious ruler.

None of that makes any sense, nor does the tame romance between carpenter’s apprentice Wynter and the Heir’s best friend, Christopher, considering that Wynter is young and virginal while Christopher is older, lusty, and has had his two middle fingers torn out for no reason.  (There’s a whole lot of things that happen in THE POISON THRONE for no reason other than that the author wants it that way, which is why I mentioned deus ex machina plot devices.)

This is the first book I’ve ever given a D-plus at Shiny Book Review, and in some ways I hated to do so as it’s obvious that Ms. Kiernan can write.  But my goodness!  This book is an epic failure when it comes to young adult reads, because it shows that Wynter, herself, is unable to positively affect the outcome no matter what she does, even though she is a young woman of gifts, intelligence, and talents above the average.

Here’s the link to the review:

Hope you find it useful.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 31, 2012 at 10:56 pm

WI Recall News: Bill Clinton Will Visit Wisconsin Tomorrow

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Earlier today, the Washington Post reported that former President Bill Clinton will visit Wisconsin on behalf of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett in the Wisconsin Gubernatorial Recall race.   Here’s a few words from Bill Clinton’s statement as quoted by the Post:

“Folks in Wisconsin have been on the front lines of fighting for working, middle-class families across America for more than 16 months,” the former president said in a statement. “I’m coming to Wisconsin to help Tom and the extraordinary grassroots volunteers on the ground.”

Now, why is this happening at this late date?  It’s because voter turnout must be high from Democrats and Independents if Wisconsin truly does wish to recall Governor Scott Walker (R).  The Republicans know it; the Democrats know it.  And what everyone knows, but very few polls have pointed out, is this: Independents, in general, do not like Scott Walker very much.  And what living Democratic President fired up Independents along with Ds?  You guessed it — Bill Clinton.

Note that Bill Clinton, in the past, was not in favor of recalls; he went to California to prevent the recall of then-Governor Gray Davis in 2003, as did several other prominent Ds with national standing (such as John Edwards, then a Presidential candidate).  So for him to come here on behalf of Barrett most likely means that Clinton believes the recall of Walker is the right thing to do (in addition to the realpolitik of it all, which is that Clinton, a former D Governor from Arkansas, certainly wants more D Governors).

This visit by the former President should help boost turnout, but more importantly, it will boost optimism that the recall of Walker can and will succeed because Clinton has an excellent record when it comes to helping embattled Ds.  As The Hill reports tonight:

Clinton’s entrance into the race could disrupt what had seemed like a likely victory for Walker, however. The former president has posted an impressive record in 2012 endorsements to date, helping Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.) and Pennsylvania attorney general candidate Kathleen Kane both win their Democratic primaries after trailing early on. Clinton also helped Maryland businessman John Delaney to a unlikely primary win in April.

So, will Clinton be able to help Barrett also?  My best guess is that yes, Clinton’s visit will make a positive difference on behalf of Barrett, Lieutenant Governor candidate Mahlon Mitchell, and the four D candidates for state Senator, including my own candidate in District 21, former Sen. John Lehman.

But with all the will in the world — and Clinton does have a tremendous will — this race still comes down to turnout, which is what I expect Clinton to say tomorrow during his visit as he’s no fool.  Clinton’s visit will be a boost to Barrett, Mitchell, Lehman and all of the other D candidates for state Senate, but Wisconsin’s voters must go out and vote.

As I’ve said before, my intentions are clear and have been so from the beginning.  Scott Walker deserves to be recalled.  So does his Lt. Governor, Rebecca Kleefisch.  So does my sitting state Senator, Van Wanggaard (R-Racine).  Which is why I will be voting to recall all of them on June 5, 2012 — and while I would do so without a visit from Clinton, it’s nice to know that Clinton hasn’t forgotten Wisconsin or how hard we’ve been fighting here for the past year and a half ever since Walker “dropped the bomb” and started his “divide and conquer” tactics.

Brewers Fans: Leave Lucroy’s Wife Alone

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I never thought I’d have to write this blog, folks.  I never thought that anyone — much less a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers — would criticize any of the players’ wives for anything, as any given wife has little influence (if any) on her husband’s performance on the field.

But it appears some ill-bred Brewers fans are criticizing Mrs. Jonathan Lucroy due to the odd, off-the-field accident he suffered, resulting in a broken hand.  Lucroy was reaching for a sock that had fallen under his hotel bed when his wife dropped a piece of luggage; this luggage landed on his hand, resulting in a very unusual “boxer’s fracture.”  Mrs. Lucroy, by all accounts, feels terrible about this, because of course she never wanted to injure her husband.

Yet because Lucroy was hitting a ton, doing well as a Brewers catcher, and was garnering some national support for the National League All-Star team, these same ill-bred Brewers fans appear to believe that Mrs. Lucroy hurt her husband on purpose.  And because they apparently believe this mistaken view should be shouted from the rooftops — or at least listed at Facebook, where Mrs. Lucroy apparently has a page (I haven’t been able to find it) — Mrs. Lucroy has actually received hate mail over this.

Here’s a link to the story from Fox Sports Wisconsin:

And here’s a relevant quote:

“It’s tough for me because it’s already a freak thing as it is,” Lucroy told WSSP. “My wife has been getting hate mail on her Facebook, messages and stuff. It’s really sad that these kind of things happen from a freak thing. She didn’t do it on purpose, man. It was an accident. Stranger things have happened.
“It’s been a battle for me, personally, because there’s no one to blame, and my wife is getting killed by this. It’s not like she’s not hurting enough already, feeling guilty enough already. I really wish people would leave her alone, leave us alone, just let us try to move forward and get this behind us.”

Now, this shouldn’t even need to be said, but since this has happened, apparently it does.  Brewers fans, no matter what you think about Jonathan Lucroy’s accident, please leave Mrs. Lucroy alone.  She feels bad enough as it is.

Now, let’s get back to watching the Brewers play rather than criticizing a player’s wife, shall we?  Because as Brewers fans, we should have the class to leave players’ wives out of it.

Brewers Win, 3-2, over Dodgers; Lucroy to DL

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These days, even when the Milwaukee Brewers win a tough baseball game, they still manage to lose out.  Take today’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, for example; the Brewers played a good game in all aspects (especially defensively) and won, 3-2.  Shaun Marcum pitched well; so far this year, he’s been the Brewers’ most consistent pitcher.  John Axford picked up his 8th save, while catcher George Kottaras, never known for his defense, played exceptionally well behind the plate despite being hobbled by a hamstring injury.  Shortstop Cody Ransom, a recent addition to the Brewers (claimed off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks), third baseman Aramis Ramirez, and first baseman Corey Hart all had good defensive games as well.

But despite tonight’s win, yet another player must go to the disabled list (DL).  This time, it’s starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who broke a bone in his right hand by a freak off-the-field injury (his wife dropped a suitcase on his hand); the Brewers will officially place Lucroy on the DL tomorrow.  Lucroy is expected to be out four to six weeks.  This is particularly damaging to the Brewers because Lucroy has been hitting a ton thus far (.345 batting average with 30 RBI), and has also been steady behind the plate.

According to Fox Sports Wisconsin’s “Brewers Live” program, the Brewers will call up catcher Martin Maldonado from AAA Nashville along with pitcher Mike Fiers.  Both Maldonado and Fiers will start on Tuesday despite the fact that if the Brewers were not so badly injured, neither one of them would’ve seen a whiff of the majors.  (Fiers, while not terrible, has a 1-3 record with a 4.41 ERA; here’s the rest of his minor league stats.)

Here’s Maldonado’s current minor league offensive stats; as you can see, Maldonado isn’t hitting very well at only .198.  But the Brewers don’t have any other options; had Lucroy not injured himself, Kottaras was probably headed to the DL.  Now, Kottaras is going to have to be like several other Brewers who are playing through injuries — Ramirez (hit on the elbow last Friday by the D-backs), Ryan Braun  (injured his Achilles a few weeks ago, hasn’t been able to rest it long enough for it to heal), Carlos Gomez (isn’t running well since he’s come off the DL due to a hamstring strain), and Kameron Loe (elbow tightness) — because the Brewers just can’t put any of these guys on the DL even if they normally would go there because the team is just too banged up.

This is why Hart is playing first base despite preferring right field.  This is why Ransom is even on the team (the two shortstops the Brewers had on the roster to start the year were Alex Gonzalez, out for the year with a torn ACL, and Izturis, who’s on the DL with a hamstring strain).  And this is one of the main reasons why Rickie Weeks, who’s hitting in the .150s (you read that right), hasn’t been sat down, either — he seems healthy, so he’s still playing even though he’s not been hitting well all season long.  And that doesn’t even get into first baseman-outfielder Travis Ishikawa’s problem, who was put on the DL yesterday with an oblique strain!

Right now, the Brewers have seven guys on the DL (once Lucroy is added), and have three more who probably should be there (Kottaras, Braun, and Gomez) or should’ve been left on the DL longer (in the case of Gomez).  The Brewers have fewer than six position players who aren’t playing with some sort of issue, and of those six, one isn’t hitting (Weeks) and one is playing out of position (Hart). 

Despite that, the Brewers won a tough game today over the Dodgers.  But as a Brewers fan, I can’t help but wonder which domino (that is, which player) is going to fall next?

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 28, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Just reviewed Enoch’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes” at SBR

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Folks, A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RAKES by Suzanne Enoch is one of those books that just makes you want to scream if you have any knowledge of history at all.  This book is set during the Regency Era, just after the British defeated Napoleon; it was not a time when women could operate legal gambling dens inside their residences. 

That said, the romance here between Diane Benchley and Oliver Warren — both titled members of the English aristocracy — was actually good.  The dialogue, while somewhat anachronistic, was crisp and sharp.  I believed these two loved each other but really would’ve preferred not to do so, and enjoyed watching the sparks fly.

Basically, this novel didn’t pass the “smell test” — that is, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief long enough in this plotline to get past all the anachronistic elements.  But if it had been alternate history, where a strong-minded woman could’ve indeed opened up a legal casino inside her own residence, I’d have enjoyed it thoroughly.

The only way around such a problem is to discuss it head-on, which I did in my review, which is here:


Written by Barb Caffrey

May 26, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Vinny Rottino hits 1st HR in Majors, NY Mets win, 9-0

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The old saying is, “You never forget your first” anything.  And in this case, after all the time, energy, and “sweat equity” Vinny Rottino’s put into making the major leagues — his persistence — I’m certain that Rottino will never forget May 26, 2012.

Why?  Because this was the day that Rottino hit his first-ever major league home run as a member of the New York Mets.  Rottino’s homer was part of a four-run first inning that helped stoke Mets starter Johann Santana to a lead he would never relinquish.  Ultimately, the Mets won, 9-0, over the Padres; Rottino went 2 for 3 with a HR, two runs scored, a walk, and a strikeout.

Despite Santana’s nine-inning four-hit shutout, the day belonged to Rottino.  This is because he’s a 32-year-old rookie who’s played parts of six major league seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, Florida Marlins, and, of course, the Mets.  Trying so hard for so long — playing ten seasons of professional baseball in the minor leagues — is noteworthy, as I’ve said many times. 

Finally, others are noticing Rottino’s persistence and talent, too.  As Ethan Asofsky of put it:

Vinny Rottino got a lesson in supply and demand after the Mets’ 9-0 win over the Padres on Saturday.

After hitting his first Major League home run, having spent 10 seasons in the Minor Leagues, the Mets outfielder had to bargain with the fan that caught the ball to get it back. The fan received a signed bat and ball from Rottino in exchange for the most valuable commodity a 32-year-old rookie can have — his first home run ball.

You might be wondering what Rottino had to give the Mets’ fan in return; from Asofsky’s above-mentioned story, here’s what happened next:

“I was running out of bats, so I actually gave him a bat that I haven’t used in a while,” Rottino said. “It turns out it was a Florida Marlins bat. That’s what it said on it. I realized that after the fact.”

Rottino’s home run came on a 2-1 fastball, capping a four-run first inning that allowed Mets starter Johan Santana — who tossed a four-hit shutout — to pitch with the lead for the rest of the game. Rottino said he didn’t feel the contact when the ball met his bat on the home run. He was numb.

“I was just happy to help the team and contribute to the win,” Rottino said. “But I was floating around the bases a little bit. I had a little bit of goose bumps running around the bases. It was a cool feeling.”

Asofsky then points out this is the first time Rottino’s had a chance to play meaningful baseball — in May, no less.  And then, of course, Asofsky points out how long Rottino’s been trying to make it in the big leagues (as I have done, blog after blog), and then ended his article this way:

Rottino said he never stopped believing he’d have the opportunity to round the bases after his first home run in the Major Leagues. Mets manager Terry Collins said Rottino’s work ethic is a result of how much he loves the game.

“I talk about it all the time with my teammates down in Triple-A, you just have to keep grinding and believing,” Rottino said. “You just never know what can happen. I’ll continue to do so.”

And lest you think Ethan Asofsky was the only one to figure out this was a really big deal, Justin Tasch and Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News also wrote an article that discussed Rottino’s HR.  Here’s what they had to say:

Vinny Rottino, the Mets’ 32-year-old utility man, smashed his first major league homer to cap a four-run first inning Saturday, helping the Mets topple to Padres, 9-0.Rottino, who made his debut in the minors in 2003, has played in 32 games in the majors his (sic) spanning six years. His daydreams of trotting around the bases finally became a reality when he connected on a 2-1 pitch from lefty Clayton Richard.

(Quoted verbatim from May 26, 2012, NY Daily News article; sic was added by Barb Caffrey due to the unnecessary word that somehow escaped the Daily News‘ copyeditors.)

Notice the pitch count, which was described in both articles.  Rottino’s batting eye must have been sharp, as he’d taken two balls and a strike from Padres pitcher Clayton Richard.  This meant he was on a “hitter’s count.”  He then got a favorable pitch to hit (a fast ball), and drove it out of the ballpark in deep left-center field according to the box score.

What a great day for Vinny Rottino!

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 26, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Just Reviewed Lars Walker’s “Troll Valley” at SBR

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Folks, if you enjoy something that’s different — out of the ordinary — interesting, often moving, and literally something I’ve not seen anyone do before, you should go read Lars Walker’s TROLL VALLEY.  A mixture of Norwegian folklore, 1900s Minnesota, and Christian apologetica, Walker’s hero (literally named “Christian,” though he often goes by Chris) is a young man with a deformed left arm and hand who believes no one will ever love him due to his differences.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, which is Norwegian “fairy Godmother” Margit (one of the huldre folk) keeps telling him.  But his unusual family, full of a crusading mother who hates alcohol, tobacco, and meat, his weak-willed father (a good man, but without enough backbone to stand up to his wife), his unrepentant sinner of a twin brother, Fred (born with two good arms), and his “sister” Sophie (raised with him, but not formally adopted by the family), just hasn’t been able to show Chris that he’s a good person who deserves the best life has to offer.  Or as Walker would no doubt put it, Chris is a Christian like any other and he deserves to believe in God’s love rather than dwelling so much on how all men are sinners.

TROLL VALLEY is strongest as Christian apologetica, but it’s still a good Christian-inspired fantasy (please forgive the pun).  Its historicity is excellent, its sense of place is very strong, and the detailing of this novel is superb.

But if you’ve already read my review (link is right here), you know I “only” gave it a B-plus.  The main reason for this is because I felt the balance was off in a few places and that Chris needed more internal monologue, especially when he started to spiral downward.  Reviews like this one are tough to write, not because the book isn’t good — it’s extremely good or I’d not give it a B-plus — but because I saw that with just a bit different of a focus, it would’ve been an easy A-plus.

Nevertheless, TROLL VALLEY succeeds at showing a window into the early 20th century and is based on Norwegian folklore, something that I have to admit I’d like to see a whole lot more of as very few novelists have delved into the Norwegian culture (nor have many dealt with any of the Scandinavian countries/folklore).  This focus makes TROLL VALLEY intriguing, different, interesting, and quite humane, which is why I enjoyed it so very much.

Now, go read my review already!

2012 District 21 Recall Race Will Be Tight

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A few days ago (May 20, 2012, to be exact), Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel political columnist Craig Gilbert wrote an excellent blog about District 21 — my district, which currently encompasses the city and county of Racine — and about how divided Racine County has been over the past twenty-five to thirty years.  It’s called, “Recall politics is old hat in Racine, where no incumbent is safe.”

Here’s a few words from Gilbert about how unusual District 21 is, even when it comes to the nature of currently fractured Wisconsin politics:

If there’s a battleground within the battleground in Wisconsin’s recall wars, this is it – a political no man’s land where the two parties have spent a quarter-century trading control of the same tenuous turf.

This is the only state Senate district in America whose voters have forced two recall elections.

It’s a district unique in Wisconsin for its volatility and thirst for change. It has changed partisan hands five times in 22 years. It has re-elected its state senators only twice since 1990, and booted them four times, a tally that could rise to five on June 5.

And here’s a few words from former state Senator John Lehman (D-Racine), who’s running against current Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) in the recall race, as quoted by Gilbert:

“It’s a wonderful thing for democracy. It’s very difficult for politicians. You get swept in and out, because it’s such a tight district,” says Democrat John Lehman, who got knocked off by Republican Van Wanggaard in 2010 and is trying to return the favor next month.

And as Gilbert points out in this article, this particular recall comes sixteen years (and one day) after George Petak (R-Racine) was removed via recall over his vote for the Milwaukee Brewers stadium after saying he’d vote “no.”  Voters didn’t like it that Petak went back on his word and recalled him; Petak was the first state Senator removed via recall.  (I wrote about the Petak-Plache recall here last August; Kim Plache, D-Racine, defeated Petak in the June 1996 recall election.)

See, in Racine, we don’t like it when politicians lie.  In fact, we get rather incensed over it.  And we will remove a legislator if we feel he hasn’t done what he said he’d do, which is why Wanggaard has legitimate reasons to worry about his own pending recall race.

Gilbert points out that in Racine, we haven’t been too kindly toward any incumbent of any party for the past twenty years or so.  This may be because incumbents, in general, become less responsive to voters over time, or it may be that Racine residents pay more attention to their state Senators than they do to their Assemblymen (and women) as none of the Racine contingent in the Assembly has ever been recalled.  Whatever the case, Racine voters have recalled a Republican Senator before, which is why this particular state Senate recall race is adjudged the “hottest” race by Gilbert and most political watchers statewide.  (The fact that the polls have been extremely close for months between Wanggaard and Lehman may also have something to do with it, though no current polls have been released in the past three weeks.)

Current Assemblyman Cory Mason (D-Racine) is quoted by Gilbert as saying this about recalls in the Racine area:

State Rep. Cory Mason, a Racine Democrat, says the current recall and the previous one share “a similar sort of visceral anger” among voters.

I definitely agree with Mason.

Gilbert pointed out a voter who really dislikes it that Wanggaard and Governor Scott Walker (R) are being recalled, and a voter who highly dislikes it that Walker and Wanggaard are in there, which shows the amount of division in this area.  (Read the blog to see these two viewpoints.)  Then he quoted this gentleman:

“Everybody is up in arms. Everybody is fighting against each other. Why? Because of one idiot?” said John Amaya. “It’s hot. It could get hotter on the 5th. It’s going to get real hot. I promise to God once (Walker) is out, I’ll go to church for the rest of my life.”  (Emphasis added by Barb Caffrey)

The reason I have reproduced (and emphasized) this particular quote is that I’ve heard variants of it for the past several months.  Many people — and I do mean many, of all political parties and persuasions — have said that if Walker is voted out, they will go to church on a regular basis.  I’ve never before seen this particular response, even though I have lived in other states and have gone through at least one other recall race (the recall of Gov. Gray Davis, D-California, in the early 2000s), but it’s an incredibly popular one these days in Southeastern Wisconsin.

One more important thought from Rep. Mason (as quoted by Gilbert):

Democratic Rep. Mason thinks the Petak race neutralizes the Republican argument that recalls should be reserved for official misconduct, not policy disputes.

“I don’t think that (notion) plays as well in this county. We have people around here who are familiar with and willing to invoke their right to recall if they feel misled,” he said.

Mason is exactly right.  I feel misled by the Republicans in general and Wanggaard in particular, which is why I signed the various recall petitions.   But signing the petitions is not enough; it’s now time to vote the incumbents (Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Wanggaard) back out.  This is why I’m looking forward to voting against Wanggaard, et. al., on June 5, 2012.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 23, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Donald Driver Wins DWTS

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Earlier this year, I blogged about Donald Driver being a contestant on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”  I’ve watched Driver, a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers, play for the last twelve years; he is as fierce and tough a competitor as they come, yet he’s never been big on showboating or making a name for himself.  Driver is the type of guy who exalts his teammates, coaching staff, and family, which is why I’ve always enjoyed rooting for him.

Earlier tonight, Driver won this season of DWTS with his professional dance partner, Peta Murgatroyd.  Driver was the odds-on favorite in Las Vegas and was also one of the fan favorites throughout this past season, but it was never clear that he would indeed be the final person standing.  This had nothing to do with Driver’s dancing, which was excellent, but was instead about how well everyone else danced this season, too.

Over and over again during the past ten-week season, the judges exalted the level of competition, seemingly the highest it’s ever been, which is why it wasn’t easy to pick Driver (even as good as he was all season) as the winner.  And because the level of competition was so very high, it was nearly impossible to determine what the crowd would do from week to week.  The contestants who went out in fourth, fifth, and sixth places were all very good to excellent dancers who would’ve been Top Three material any other season — perhaps even winning material.  

But all any competitor can do is this: control what you can control, and don’t worry about anything else.  Driver did that: he controlled what he could control by making sure to improve as a dancer every single week.  He listened to his pro, Murgatroyd, and he also listened carefully to the judges.   Then he went out the next week and danced even better, because he took their criticism to heart.

Driver had another thing in his favor: he improved every single week.  It may seem strange, but as a long-time watcher of DWTS, I’m aware that DWTS is often decided by who improves the most as much as who is the best dancer/who does the crowd enjoy watching dance the most.  Fortunately for Driver, all of these factors — all of them — were in his favor.

Driver is a classy guy, and his behavior tonight on the final DWTS results show proved it.  Unlike some past winners, he immediately congratulated the runners-up and their partners (singer Katherine Jenkins and her partner, Mark Ballas, finished second; actor William Levy and his partner, Cheryl Burke, finished third).  Driver also made it clear that he couldn’t have done any of this without Murgatroyd, his partner, and thanked ABC for the opportunity of being on the show. 

All of this — class, professionalism, strong work-ethic, and graciousness — is why I’ve enjoyed watching Driver on the football field, and now off it on DWTS.  And it’s also why I’m glad to say, “Congratulations, Donald, on your well-deserved DWTS win!”

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 22, 2012 at 11:44 pm

Vinny Rottino Promoted to Mets (Again)

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For the second time this year, Vinny Rottino has been promoted to the New York Mets from the AAA Buffalo Bisons after the Mets sent down pitcher Chris Schwinden.  Here’s a link to the most recent story from a NY affiliate:

Rottino has had a twenty-game hitting streak at Buffalo this year, and has done everything the Mets have asked of him.  Let’s hope this time Rottino will stay awhile.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 21, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Posted in baseball, Vinny Rottino