“Smokey Joe” pitches purrfect game at Cat Baloo Stadium

TAMPA – Lutz Lions’ aging pitcher, “Smokey” Joe Algood treated a sold-out crowd to a perfect game in Sunday’s season opener by defeating the Cincinnati Strays 1-0 at Cat Baloo Stadium. It was the first no-hitter for the British short-hair mix that joined the Lions this year after a long layoff due to injury.

Smokey Joe looks over the Strays defense at Cat Baloo Stadium
Smokey Joe looks over the defense at Cat Baloo Stadium

The Strays roared into Tampa Bay as last year’s undefeated champions with hopes of a repeat this season, but the Lion’s left-handed pitcher squashed that dream by delivering a dazzling no-hitter for the first time in Lion’s history. Then, in the bottom of the 9th, the Stray’s Siamese right fielder, Chiang Mai, committed the game’s only error. While chasing a routine pop-fly, Mai was a distracted by what appeared to be a real fly and chased it instead of the baseball. That mishap allowed Lion’s catcher, “Tip Toe” Gerow, to score easily from third base bringing the game to a stunning end.

The Lions’ coach, Lady Neapolitan, credited the win to Algood’s deceptive pitching style and a disciplined team that has blossomed since implementing the “No Spay, No Play” rule. In 2014, the Lutz Lions became the league’s first professional team to require that its players be spayed or neutered.

Smokey Joe celebrates getting neutered with a new tag
Smokey celebrates getting neutered with a new tag
“We did it because we want our players to set a good example on and off the field,” Neapolitan said. “We’ve always known that spayed or neutered pets live longer and happier lives, but now we know they can play and pitch better as well.

Algood was neutered in 2008 at The Humane Society of Tampa Bay. Afterwards, he joined the Barn League (the farm league) for the pros. He became the first British Short-hair mix to possess an astonishing .99 ERA, in part due to his dazzling fastball and left-handed knuckle ball. His dreams of turning pro were delayed, however, when his father insisted he first get an education. In 2012 he finally earned his degree in public relations and graduated The University of South Florida.

That same year Algood tried out and made the Lion’s farm team. He signed a 3 yr. contract, and played the first year exemplary. He was touted to be the Lions starting pitcher for the 2013 season. However, during spring training he tore a rotator cuff in his left shoulder that put him out for the entire season. When he recovered the following year, his fast ball was no more.

“When he returned, his fastball was more like a hairball, said Lion’s cranky catcher Crescent Moon. “So I told him he should take his time and develop his knuckle ball. It was a gutsy call, but that’s what he did.”

Algood took the entire 2014 season off to work on his knuckle ball presentation. He looked to his idol for inspiration, per-parent and Tampa Bay Rays’ pitcher Alex Cobb, who missed two months of the 2013 season due to an injury, only to return a stronger player. He trained vigorously. When he wasn’t pitching, he was climbing kitty condos and chasing mice. Simply put, he learned how to be a cat again.

But when he tried to return to play baseball, according to a league spokesman, the terms of his contract had been breached. He couldn’t play. Smokey Joe would have to earn his way back onto the field as a walk-on. But who would give an aging British Short-hair mix without a fastball a chance”?

Smokey Joe takes time for some TV after Sunday's big game
Smokey Joe takes time for some TV after Sunday’s big game
“In an unprecedented move, I called a meeting with the team, and we took a vote,” Lions’ General Manager, Jade Algood-Gerow, said. “It was unanimous. Every cat, even the cranky catcher Miss Moon wanted to give Smokey Joe another chance. Other teams were laughing like we were crazy. But after Sunday’s game, no one’s laughing. Instead, it’s time to celebrate!”

by Sir Nor Doogla Satire


1st Dance, Wedding or Ballroom?

By Ron Algood

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a future bride say, “My fiancée has two left feet.” In my 26 years of teaching dance in Tampa Bay, I’ve never encountered two left feet. On the contrary, I’ve found that most grooms are very capable dance partners. Often the problem is that wedding couples seeking a memorable first dance have had their nerves shattered by the notion that their wedding dance needs to be a complicated ballroom routine, like on Dancing with the Stars. Unfortunately, those that are lured into one of many franchised dance studios by a free introductory dance lesson become frustrated by high prices and a ballroom dance routine that doesn’t match their song. And more often than not, they are forced into choosing another song that they didn’t want in the first place. I’ve witnessed that scenario played out numerous times. The fact is, a good wedding dance doesn’t have to be a competition ballroom or Latin dance routine. And that’s one of the many reasons I left the high-priced franchises more than a decade ago and became an independent.

I don’t want to berate ballroom dancing in any way. I love it. As a former competitor with trophies ranging from 1989 to 2006, I worked hard to achieve my professional status, and I have the State Championships (along with many national 2nd places) to back up my record. But even while I was competing, I always enjoyed exhibition dancing more than competitions. Exhibition dancing allows for more freedom of expression; whereas, competition dancing is often riddled to death with relentless dance moves packed into a 90 second routine. In the same way, I find that a good wedding dance tends to the simpler version as compared its ballroom predecessor. And as a teacher for over 26years, I find it more rewarding to give couples what they need instead of a trophy they can hang on a wall—a memorable wedding dance.

The first problem most couples encounter is the song. The fact is, even if it’s the bride’s favorite song, a ballroom studio will often try to change it. Why? Because it doesn’t fall into their familiar category of Waltz, Foxtrot, or Rumba. Unfortunately (even though they’re broken hearted on the inside), brides and grooms alike fall into the trap of discarding their favorite song. They do this in order to appease the franchised ballroom teacher, who has convinced them they must do so in order to save their wedding dance. Hogwash, it doesn’t have to be this way.

I was first introduced to The Nightclub Two-Step (not to be confused with the country western two-step) about 20 years ago. Buddy Schwimmer, who is the father of Benji Schwimmer, the 2006 season winner of So You Think You Can Dance invented the dance in the 1960s, so couples could dance to songs with slow to mid-range 4/4 timing. That timing happens to be one of the most popular timings for songs chosen by wedding couples. Hence, the Nightclub Two-Step (NC2S) has become one of the most popular dances taught by instructors who are willing to venture into uncharted territory, in other words independent teachers.

One of the benefits of being an independent instructor is the freedom to think and execute outside the box. I discovered this long before I started specializing in wedding dances. Ask any successful ballroom competition dancer, and they’ll most likely tell you their coach is an independent teacher. My wife and I are no exception. While competing we found that independent coaches often had years of experience that outweighed their franchised counterparts ten to one. Moreover, they often went outside the box and were more current on dance styles. And that’s where wedding dances come in. The Nightclub Two-step and wedding couples make the perfect marriage.

I have also found that the Introduction (also called the intro) of the dance is the most important. Most songs are phrased out, and many wedding dance intros have a 32 count phrase, regardless of the type of dance. It’s those first 32 beats of music that captures the audience. For that reason, if I had to choose any part of the dance to be perfected, it would be the intro. I can guarantee by the end of that first phrase, the bride’s mother will be displaying tears of joy, as well as the groom’s. If a boo-boo happens afterwards (and it always does), no one will even notice! And the good news is that most dance intros can be learned in just a few lessons. Unless the couple wants unique choreography, three hours of instruction is usually enough. I know many of my former ballroom competitors will disagree. But I recently developed a 32 count intro that proves my point. Additionally, one can use it for any type of dance. I demonstrate it with a Viennese Waltz, but you can substitute it with any style, like an NC2S, by just changing the last 8 count to a basic step or an under arm turn that’s relevant to that particular dance style.

Ron Algood is a certified Gold-Level independent dance instructor. He resides in Tampa, Fla. where  for more than 25 years he has taught numerous couples the gift of dance. He teaches all types of partner-dancing, including ballroom, Latin, Swing, Nightclub Two-Step and social dancing. Over the last ten years he has specialized in wedding dances and unique choreography including theater arts.  His website is www.foreverweddingdances.com He can be reached at info@foreverweddingdances.com or  813 417-DANC.

Hot and Spicy PR

I have been known to make unusual comparisons. So I will not be surprised to raise a few eyebrows when I compare public relations to chicken wings.  To clear the air, I’m thinking of marketing PR (not corporate PR), when my mind ventures outside of the box and into the nearest Hooters for a fix.    

Believe it or not, there was a time when the chicken wing was just a chicken wing, hanging out amidst the other parts and content to be the least desirable part of the chicken. Then along came mild, hot, spicy, and inferno flavors. Throw in some celery sticks with blue cheese dressing, and  the Buffalo wing never looked so good. It was hot; it’s still hot.

I see similarities in marketing PR. Like the chicken wing, it used to have its limitations.  Rarely was it thought of as anything more than a press release. It was overlooked for some time, patiently waiting amongst the other parts of the marketing campaign. It has been there waiting in the wings (yes, pun intended), for just the right moment, the right breeze, the right aerodynamic conditions to take off. And now is that time. It should be quite a flight, one that even the late Charles Lindbergh would be proud of.

Unlike the ingredients for corporate PR, I’m most excited about marketing PR because I believe it has been buried beneath a mountain of advertising, and now it’s like a volcano about to erupt.  The more I learn about it, the more I want to see that hot lava flow! Now, the conditions are perfect for such an eruption. It’s going to get hot, and stay hot!

With media vehicles like social media, web 2.0, and now web 3.0 to support PR campaigns, the sky is the limit. Whether it’s a news release, an event, or a promotion, new technology is creating new opportunities for PR to reach a more targeted audience than ever before. As technology advances, it’s only going to get better. Moreover, I think it will be PR’s catalyst for disseminating messages in a way that will cross generational barriers.  All generations, from Generation Y on down to Baby Boomers are going to reap the harvest. The reason: it’s not just Generation X that has become consumer savvy, everyone has.

When it comes to conventional advertising, even baby boomers (the old cash-cows) are no longer a sure bet. The old-fashion commercials that used to garnish their attention have become a victim of TiVo and its fast-forward capabilities. Everyone should have seen that coming once TiVo became a verb! Throw in the effects of The Great Recession, and PR now has a valid reason to enhance (or in some circumstances, replace) conventional advertising. Perhaps that’s why the latest text book Think Public Relations, by Wilcox, Cameron, Reber and Shin, predicts that PR will grow by 24 percent over the next ten years.

That’s why I have decided to jump on the PR bandwagon. It’s not just a trend. It’s just a lot like my old friend, the chicken wing. Only now, it’s time to fly. By the way, contrary to most beliefs, chickens can fly. They just tend to do it when no one is looking. In the meantime, I’ll take mine the same way I take my PR: inferno, with extra blue cheese dressing!

The Three Faces of Alaska

Go  North !

     If anyone would like to take the perfect family vacation this summer, here is a tip: Stay home! Of course, I don’t mean stay home, literally; on the contrary, I mean stay here, in the United States. And if I were pressed to recommend the ultimate destination, the answer would be simple: Go north and visit Alaska, and do it now while it’s still truly the last frontier. Several reasons exist today for choosing a vacation in America versus taking one abroad. However, besides the obvious like a weak dollar which equates to a terrible currency exchange rate for the American tourist, there are also the passport and security issues. Passports can take as long as three months to be issued, and even once they are, a visa may be necessary if visiting an Eastern European or Asia country. And then, there are the security issues that have to be dealt with. Long lines, angry tourist, and the constant fear of a security breach have become the norm, instead of the exception when traveling abroad. Although these derogatory circumstances can be avoided if one were to choose a vacation here in America, the question still remains as to which summer destination offers the most for the money, and that is why I recommend Alaska. Not only is Alaska easily accessible, but it offers great scenery, history, and adventure, plus three different ways to see it: by cruise, land tour, or by motor home. Alaska truly is the ultimate summer destination.

The easiest way to see Alaska is by cruise, for there are now more ships touring the inside passage, Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier, than ever before. Most of these cruises are seven days in duration, and they depart from Vancouver, Canada or Seattle, Washington. After departing, a typical itinerary (for a round-trip voyage) includes a stop in Juneau (the capital of Alaska), Glacier Bay National Park, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria Island. Most round trip voyages follow this itinerary, so if one wanted to save the time and money required in attaining a passport (that is required for Canada departures), I would highly recommend a departure from Seattle. One of the best cruise lines for this would be Holland America , for they now have two ships departing from Seattle, the Amsterdam and the Westerdam, as compared to most cruise lines that only have one ship. Regardless of which method one chooses, expect to encounter seals or whales in Juneau Bay, witness live-calving glaciers in Glacier Bay, photograph beautiful Russian architecture in Sitka, or perhaps experience salmon fishing in Ketchikan. Another option for cruising would be one of the one-way departures from Vancouver. Because these voyages are one-way, they have the added luxury of visiting Hubbard Glacier (the largest glacier in Alaska) or Prince William Sound (the largest concentration of glaciers in Alaska). Some one-way cruises begin in Seward, Alaska and end in Vancouver, Canada; these are called southbound voyages. Northbound voyages do just the opposite; they begin in Vancouver, and seven days later, passengers disembark in Seward. Also, the northbound itineraries are perfect for anyone that wants to add on a land-tour and experience the interior of Alaska.

As wonderful as an Alaskan cruise is, the fact is that they only cover less than ten percent of Alaska. In order to see the rest, including the abundant wildlife, one really needs to get into the interior of the state. The best way to do this, especially for newcomers to Alaska, is a pre-packaged escorted land tour. There are a several companies that offer such tours, averaging ten to fourteen days in length; however, for my money, the one that offers the most unique experiences in Alaska is the “Glorious Alaskan Adventure”, a ten day tour (with an optional 7 day cruise extension) offered by Insight Vacations . The tour starts in Fairbanks and travels south towards Anchorage, with stops in Denali, Talkeetna, Girdwood, and Homer. In Denali, where the tundra wildlife tour is included, clients are fortunate enough to receive a two-night stay (as compared to a one night stay offered by most tour operators). Then guests board the Alaskan railroad and head south towards Talkeetna; for many, this will be the highlight of their trip, for some of Alaska’s best scenery is viewed and photographed from one of the appointed domed rail cars. The Alaska railroad has been in service since 1923 when President Warren G. Harding drove the golden spike into the tracks and officially opened what is now known as one of the main tourist attractions in Alaska. Although most tour operators do similar stops, they usually do not offer a scenic glacier day-cruise of Prince William Sound, and this tour does while staying in Girdwood for two nights. Prior to offering this glacier day-cruise, if passengers wanted to see glaciers in Alaska, they were often forced into taking a seven-day cruise. Another great inclusion in Girdwood is a visit to the Happy Trails Kennel, where clients can cuddle an Alaskan puppy while learning about sled dogs from Iditarod Champion, Martin Buser. This is also one of the few tours that travels to, Homer, a sleepy little fishing village at the end of the Alaskan highway. There, guests can enjoy world-class halibut fishing or photograph some unique architecture at the Russian Orthodox Church. The tour ends on day ten in Anchorage; however, touring Alaska often does not. From here, some people continue onto seven day cruises; whereas, some of the more adventurous people often rent motor homes to tour the rest of Alaska.

For those that want to add a little more adventure to their vacation, a motor home is really the way to go. The best motor home rental for this type of adventure is with ABC motor homes. Unlike their competitors, ABC offers motor homes with generators, heaters, and fully equipped kitchens. That can be a big plus if someone wakes up in Denali to six inches of snow (like I did)) in early September! Campsites are available throughout Alaska interior, and there really is not a better way to get close up to wildlife than camping, especially in Denali National Park. There, one can rent a campsite deep inside the park and take hiking trips along one of many hiking trails. In case of a bear encounter, there are even ranger-led hikes for the person that wants to feel a little bit safer in such circumstances. Cars are not allowed inside Denali Parks, so the only way to get around is by using their shuttle buses; the exceptions to that rule are motor homes, for they are allowed a one-time round trip venture to their campsite and back. During their stay, campers utilize the shuttle system to go to and from their daily destinations, such as wonder lake or the ranger station at Eielson. Because there is less traffic in Denali than most other parks, the animals there make frequent appearances. And because there is an average of eighteen hours of daylight per-day, the animals usually do not disappoint photographers, amateur sand professionals alike.

As one can see, Alaska is a remarkable place, and has something to offer everyone. From the towering glaciers to the abundant wildlife, the land is truly amazing. Personally, I believe it is a destination that cannot be beat, and having been in the travel business for over twenty-five years, I can professionally attest to that theory. Too often, however, I encounter destination tourists that never really give Alaska a fair chance; instead, they become engulfed in the idea of a foreign vacation, including forty-seven countries in six days. Often these people return exhausted, and unfortunately, disappointed. For them and everyone else, including the young or young at heart, I have one message: Go north!