Archive for May, 2011

May 31, 2011

The Daily J.P. Arencibia to Cooperstown Watch, Game 54: Cy Jo-Jo?

Jo-Jo Reyes fans

Jo-Jo Reyes had plenty of fan and run support on Monday.

And pitch 121 was a strike. And it was good.

Jo-Jo Reyes provided the 12,902 of us at the ‘Dome one of the biggest thrills of the season on Monday night when he gave infamy the middle finger and the Cleveland Indians the best of his left arm. The previously snake-bitten and winless lefthander threw a (dare we say) Roy Halladay-esque complete game, allowing one run on eight hits in an 11-1 victory over the American League-leading Cleveland Indians.

Reyes snapped a winless streak that dated 28 outings and nearly three years. It was his first victory since June 13, 2008, and helped him avoid becoming the biggest consecutive loser in baseball history. Reyes had tied the MLB record for longest winless streak with Oakland’s Matt Keough in 1978-79 and Cliff Curtis of the Boston Braves (1910-11).

On Monday, Reyes (1-4) and the Jays didn’t leave the result in doubt. A two-run homer from Jayson Nix in the third preceded a seven-run fourth inning highlighted by a two-run double from Rajai Davis and a bizarre fielding error from Indians second baseman Orlando Cabrera that allowed two runners to score.

Jo-Jo Reyes wins his first game of 2011

Jo-Jo Reyes threw a complete game for his first win of 2011.

By the ninth inning, with Reyes still on the mound, all of us stood and chanted his name, urging him to put a nail in the coffin of his atrocious streak. He fanned Jack Hannahan for his eighth strikeout of the game amid chants of “Jo-Jo, Jo-Jo!”

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May 27, 2011

The Daily J.P. Arencibia to Cooperstown Watch, Game 50: Throwing it all away

Blue Jays fan

Can I hear you say "D'oh!"?

The worst part: Alex Rios scored the winning run.

A-Not got on base in a 1-1 game when John McDonald picked a horrible time to commit his first error of the season, sailing a ball over the head of first baseman Juan Rivera to lead off the ninth. It should’ve been a routine out and the Blue Jays shouldn’t have had any trouble with the bottom of the White Sox batting order. Instead, Rios took second on the play and moved to third on a Marc Rzepczynski wild pitch and then scored when Juan Rivera and Rzepczynski couldn’t connect on a grounder to first base from speedy Juan Pierre. No. 9 hitter Gordon Beckham, who was hit by a pitch, scored from second on the play, giving the White Sox an insurance run in their 3-1 victory over the Jays at the ‘Dome on Thursday.

Rivera backed up to field the ball, which was hit just inside the first base foul line. When he turned to head toward the bag, Rivera’s eyes ballooned with the sight of Pierre racing closer. Rzepczynski (2-1), meanwhile, wasn’t close to where he should’ve been. Rivera’s errant toss plopped off the pitcher, who laid on the ground holding his head as Beckham ran around third and headed home.

It was another ugly loss – the Jays’ third straight – and dropped them down to 24-26 as they began a seven-game homestand.

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May 27, 2011

Hôtel Maison Athénée a great place to stay in Paris

Hotel Athenee bedroom in Paris

The comfortable beds are a big reason why Hotel Maison Athenee gets strong reviews.

[Published in the Toronto Star.]

When you go to Paris and say you’re staying at the Athénée, expect eyes to balloon and voices to “ooooooh” with excitement and, perhaps, a tinge of jealousy. The Plaza Athénée is the super-luxury residence of choice for celebrities when they’re in Paris, a hotel made even more famous when it had a starring role in the final season of “Sex and the City.” The Hôtel Maison Athénée, on the other hand, is a recently refurbished and renamed boutique hotel with only 20 rooms on a narrow street in the 9th Arrondisement. It doesn’t have an Alain Ducasse restaurant or 250-euro airport shuttle service or an outrageous spa experience like the Dior Institut. What it does have, though, is beautifully appointed rooms with comfortable beds, room-darkening curtains, large bathrooms and a cheerful, welcoming staff.

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May 25, 2011

The Daily J.P. Arencibia to Cooperstown Watch, Game 48: Well, that sucked

Frank Francisco took the blown save and loss for Tuesday’s brutal meltdown in the Bronx, but manager John Farrell should also get an “L” for this one. There’s no way Marc Rzepczynski should have been allowed to face Russell Martin in the eighth inning with a runner on second. Martin, a right-handed hitter, drilled a single to centerfield for his second RBI of the game, bringing the Evil Empire to within 4-3 heading into the ninth. Francisco couldn’t hold the lead and the Jays lost 5-4 to the Yankees despite another outstanding game from Ricky Romero, whose ERA dropped to 2.91.

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May 24, 2011

Scream

[Short story was published in “The Southampton Review” in July, 2007, and was named a “Glimmer Train” award finalist in April, 2007 and a Pushcart Prize nominee]

Hot. Steam rises from their heads. This one in my hands squirms when I douse him with water. He sits in a steel basin the size of a large soup bowl and shrieks like the rest. The tent morphs into a cavern of yelps as we pour cupfuls over their burnt skulls then squeeze the dirty excess from washcloths. I wipe Chidi down, he cries louder. Every touch — the lifting of an arm to get underneath, the pulling back of an ear to wipe behind — is a pinch or the cause of an ache. Each movement demands energy his cells don’t have. Energy requires food, after all, and here there isn’t enough. The heat saps the body like a mosquito drinks blood.

A crooked rivulet of sweat itches my cheek, sinks and drizzles off my chin. I swipe at the trail with a shrug then finish bathing the boy. The children are washed inside the tent in the mornings, if their mothers let them be taken. Salaam comes to me next. I call him Sam and Chidi is his brother. They are the same height, roughly the same weight. Chidi is two years older, but was born premature: a cruel thing, to come into this life early. Then to suffer kwashiorkor: the further starvation an elder child endures when a new born arrives, demanding care.

Chidi’s disposition is rightly cantankerous. He wails when I dry his body and set him back down beside Jumilla. With the wet washcloth removed, he again sits bare beneath the glare of the sub-Saharan sun. Sam merely cringes when I gather him into my arms to carry him from his mother and their hut, a mound of straw draped in blue-and-white plastic sheeting to look sturdier than it is.

The Oxfam tent is green and full of tears. To bathe Sam in it, I must step over and through twigs called limbs. A crunch on an arm will break it, an inadvertent kick to a leg can cause a spasm, a seizure. I cradle Sam close so I can see my feet as I walk. His warm cheek braces against my shoulder, his eyes squint at the sun, which smolders us slow. Spittle forms about the corners of his mouth. Three years old and his stomach looks like it should belong to a boy of twelve, a menace from Louisiana with a passion for French fries.

Sam has suckled his mother, but hasn’t eaten since I last bathed him, three days. I place him on the edge of the wobbly table. His legs thin like stork limbs dangle off. He sits, quiet and hungry, while I dump out the water dirtied by Chidi’s grime into a basin. To bathe them, I have a jerry can of well water, washcloths, and a small ceramic cup decorated with roses. Sam is a good spirit. We’re not to get attached to them, of course. They don’t stand much chance of living past five. I lift him into the tub and give him a bit of soft rice, folding it into his mouth. His lips part quick, grazing over my callused hands like innocent kisses. Chewing is a chore for Sam, swallowing an exercise. I shake a rattle in front of his face. Gold tint covers the toy and Sam, as any child would do, follows its motion with his eyes. His ears, I hope, delight in the sound, making it easier for the rice to slide past his esophagus into his bloated, malnourished belly I smooth with a sponge.

The bellies: I’ve seen them all my life, clicking by on the TV. Bellies like this, fat, hard, ripe for sickness. Sam’s kidney fails him when he digests. A rock would serve as a better sieve than his liver. The boy has diarrhea. His body’s organs are so whittled they can’t absorb the nutrients of the bits of food he gets, such is the devilishness of famine.

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May 24, 2011

The Daily J.P. Arencibia to Cooperstown Watch, Game 47: Kings of New York

JP Arencibia Blue Jays

JP Arencibia had 4 RBIs on Monday.

Beat the Yankees and you’ll earn a smile from every Blue Jays fan. Beat them up like they’re rich-brat Little Leaguers and you’ll start to get some serious attention from the rest of the league.

J.P. Arencibia delivered the big blow — a bases-loaded double — in a five-run sixth inning as the Jays smacked around the Bronx Bombers in a 7-3 win on Monday that’s sure to raise eyebrows in the States from fans wondering if this team might be more than The Jose Bautista Fireworks Show.

Arencibia finished 2-for-4, adding an RBI single in the eighth that gave him a fourth RBI on the night, and J-Bop belted his MLB-leading 19th dinger as the Jays improved to 9-3 in their past 12.

Emergency starter Carlos Villanueva (2-0, 1.53 ERA!) went five impressive innings, surrendering one run on two hits at the Death Star, aka Yankee Stadium. Villanueva came out of the bullpen in place of injured Jesse Litsch. Chances are he’ll get another look or three with a performance like this one. (Can you say, Now warming up in the bullpen, Jo-Jo Reyes?)

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May 24, 2011

Sir Rocco Forte talks hotels and Toronto

Sir Rocco Forte

Sir Rocco Forte at the Hazelton Hotel in May. (Julia Pelish Photo)

[Sir Rocco Forte was recently in Toronto and I caught up with him for a chat at the Hazelton Hotel. Rocco was the one-time owner of the King Edward Hotel in Toronto and it was his first visit back to the city in nearly two decades. He’s a luxury hotel entrepreneur and his Rocco Forte Hotels operates 13 of the most outstanding properties in Europe. Among the things he mentioned were Internet bookings make up only 10 per cent of his company’s revenue and he’s looking to expand to New York City, preferably in midtown Manhattan. He was in Toronto to meet with travel agents, who he relies on heavily for business. You’d think a guy with a net worth in the billion-dollar range might come across a little Donald Trump-ish, but Rocco was nothing but friendly and gentlemanly, with a lot of thoughtful answers.

Below is my article that appeared in the Toronto Star recently.]

HOTEL MAGNATE SEES BIG REBOUND IN BUSINESS

If you think luxury travel died with the financial crisis, Sir Rocco Forte says you would be wrong.

Forte, whose eponymously named hotel chain caters to clients with the biggest of budgets, was in Toronto last week to meet with travel agents and reported strong performances from his European-based hotels in 2010.

“I’ve never seen such a quick rebound,” Forte says of the recession’s end. “The top end has come back quicker than anything else. Our sales growth last year was 12.5 per cent. Our U.S. business increased by 28 per cent and our Canadian business increased by 32 per cent. Out of North America, we get 25 per cent of our business.”

Those are much more robust numbers than the frightening early days of the crisis in September 2008.

“After the collapse of Lehman Brothers, we dropped about 40 per cent in sales in the first two months and then settled down at about 20 per cent decline from the previous year,” says Forte during an interview at the Hazelton Hotel. “I think a lot of people stopped travelling because no one was sure what was going to happen in the world, not necessarily because they didn’t have money. As soon as they saw the world wasn’t going to disappear, they started travelling again. Also with corporate travel, there was a stigma with using luxury hotels during the recession, and that’s changed.”

The friendly 66-year-old British billionaire once owned the King Edward on King St. with a previous company, Trust House Forte. He began Rocco Forte Hotels 14 years ago, starting with the Balmoral in Edinburgh and Brown’s Hotel in London. The chain operates 13 of the most outstanding hotels in Europe and now is expanding outside that market with a hotel in Abu Dhabi set to open in coming months.

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May 23, 2011

The Daily J.P. Arencibia to Cooperstown Watch, Game 46: A bomb, a bummer and the Bombers

When J.P. Arencibia launched a rocket for his eighth home run of the season on Sunday he did it with no one on base. It was a big hit, but not the big hit the Jays were searching for all afternoon.

They stranded 11 men on base and went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, and that “1” — a single by Edwin Encarnacion that should have scored Rajai Davis from second — didn’t result in an RBI.

So they lost 3-2 to the lowly Houston Astros at the ’Dome and are now 7-10 in one-run games as they head into a three-game series in the Bronx against the Evil Empire.

Arencibia’s homer in the sixth was the game’s final run, even though the Jays had runners on in each of the final three innings and loaded the bases in the ninth. But Aaron Hill grounded out to third base and the Blue Jays fell back to .500 (23-23). Houston (17-3) left town with a series win.

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