February 28, 2007

Sir Sidney, Overkill, and the Rotation

Joe Christensen took a break from blogging long enough to pen a nice feature-length article about Sidney Ponson for Sunday's Minneapolis Star Tribune. The piece includes plenty of quotes and details about Ponson's difficult upbringing, checkered past, and star status in Aruba, plus some reason for optimism regarding his chances of turning a once-promising career around. Christensen covered Ponson when they were both in Baltimore years ago, and their familiarity helps shape the article:
Since 2003, when Ponson won 17 games in a season split between Baltimore and San Francisco, he's been released by three teams. He's been through alcohol rehab and anger management. He's had his transgressions, such as punching a judge on an Aruban beach, played out all over the media.

[...]

Ponson's personality could best be described as friendly and unabashed. He is part-David Wells, part-Charles Barkley. Back in Aruba, people still tell him they wish he were a better role model.

In talking about the Twins' offseason I've tended to lump Ponson in with Ramon Ortiz as veteran free-agent signings coming off horrible seasons, but that's not entirely fair or accurate. I actually liked the decision to give Ponson a minor-league contract, because there's almost zero risk involved and he has the potential to be a passable back-of-the-rotation starter for about a million dollars. Ortiz has similar potential--at least to some extent--but he's guaranteed $3.1 million and a spot on the roster.

Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire clearly want to avoid turning over three-fifths of the starting rotation to rookies and second-year players, which is certainly understandable. Taking a low-cost flier on Ponson is a smart way to avoid doing that, but taking a low-cost flier on Ponson and giving Ortiz $3.1 million guaranteed just makes it look like the organization once again simply doesn't trust the outstanding young talent it has on hand.

I would have loved to see Ponson signed to a minor-league deal and thrown into a competition with Matt Garza, Scott Baker, Glen Perkins, and Kevin Slowey for the final two spots in the rotation behind Johan Santana, Boof Bonser, and Carlos Silva. Instead, Ortiz has already claimed one of those two spots and Ponson is competing with a handful of young pitchers for just one job, with the early reports suggesting that he already has a definite leg up on the rest of the field:

Even though the Twins signed Sidney Ponson to a minor league contract, they expect him to win a job in the starting rotation, manager Ron Gardenhire said Wednesday.

"I view [Ponson] being one of our starters," Gardenhire said. "I expect him to step up and take one of those jobs. Whether it happens or not is totally up to him."

True to his self-destructive form, Ponson is putting that to the test with visa problems, which apparently will keep him from pitching in an official exhibition game until mid-March. Both Ryan and Gardenhire have expressed disappointment and frustration over Ponson's inability to get his situation straightened away, which could certainly impact his chances of securing a job. However, he's still able to throw on the side and work out with the team, so barring further problems it shouldn't be a huge issue.

If Ponson ends up making the team, the Twins will have spent about $9 million and 13 percent of their payroll on three pitchers (Silva, Ortiz, Ponson) who failed to post a single sub-5.00 ERA between them last season and combined to go 26-36 with a 5.84 ERA in 456 innings. Meanwhile, it's possible that the rotation at Triple-A Rochester will include Garza, Baker, Perkins, and Slowey, which has a good chance of being a better foursome that the non-Santana starters the Twins leave spring training with.

I recognize that almost all major-league teams, and particularly the ultra-conservative Twins, are much less willing to simply hand jobs to young players than I would be. Because of that, I understand the motivation behind re-signing Silva for $4.3 million despite his coming off a brutal season or scooping Ponson up off the scrap heap on a low-risk move. What I don't understand--and what I ultimately have a problem with--is the decision to do both of those things, and hand Ortiz $3.1 million.

It's one thing to give the team some extra options and take a little pressure off some young players. It's an entirely different story to seemingly go out of your way to push those young players aside by collecting--and devoting a big chunk of the payroll to--mediocre veterans who, at best, might be able to avoid being complete disasters long enough to keep those young arms at Triple-A until they're too ripe to avoid picking any longer.

Last year the Twins began the season with the predictably execrable combination of Tony Batista and Juan Castro manning the left side of the infield, got off to an ugly 25-33 start as they combined to hit .234/.283/.350 with bad defense, and then ditched the veteran mediocrity in favor of younger talent on the way to a playoff run. Despite that experience, they seem content to do the same thing this year, with Ortiz and Ponson playing the roles of Batista and Castro.

The bottom three-fifths of the rotation may not be quite as disastrous as the left side of the infield was and perhaps the Twins can once again win despite the self-imposed handicap, but for once I'd like to see Ryan and Gardenhire simply put the best team on the field. Don't worry about how old everyone is. Don't get caught up in thinking that being a veteran who doesn't play particularly well means you provide leadership. And don't base decisions on how loudly Jason Bartlett calls for a pop up.

Trust the talent you have regardless of when it was born, spend what little money you have available to fill legitimate holes on the roster instead of buying expensive, mediocre insurance for spots you don't need it at, and go to war with the best possible group in place. If the AL Central is as tough as I expect it to be this year--with perhaps four of the 10 best teams in baseball--the Twins will need every win they can get from Opening Day to Game 162 in order to make it back to the playoffs.

Opening the season with Silva, Ortiz, and Ponson in Minnesota and Garza, Baker, Perkins, and Slowey in Rochester might be a lot of things--and might not prove to be a season-killing mistake--but putting the best team on the field isn't one of them.


February 27, 2007

Aaron Van Gogh (Part 2)

Note: For the second day in a row, I'm posting a completely pointless and self-absorbed entry. Sorry, but such is life when you read a site where the day-to-day content is essentially determined by whatever's running through my head at any given time. If pointless and self-absorbed isn't your thing, feel free to skip it and come back tomorrow, when I'll pump out a couple thousand words about the Twins. I promise.

Yesterday in this space I described (and showed a gross picture of) a problem I've been having with my right ear. Yesterday afternoon I visited an ear, nose, and throat specialist, who diagnosed me with something called an auricular pseudocyst. According to WebMD.com, "the condition is uncommon" and "may be misdiagnosed or underreported by clinicians," although the doctor I saw certainly seemed sure that he knew exactly what it was.

A few more tidbits from WebMD:

Mortality/Morbidity: Without treatment, permanent deformity of the auricle may occur.

History: Clinically, a pseudocyst manifests as a benign, noninflammatory, asymptomatic swelling on the lateral or anterior surface of the pinna, usually in the scaphoid or triangular fossa. Typically, the swelling develops over 4-12 weeks.

Causes: The etiology for pseudocysts of the auricle is unknown, but several pathogenic mechanisms have been proposed, including chronic low-grade trauma. Some have suggested that a minor defect in auricular embryogenesis contributes to pseudocyst formation. This defect may cause the formation of residual tissue planes within the auricular cartilage. When subjected to repeated minor trauma or mechanical stress, these tissue planes may open, forming a pseudocyst.

Exciting, huh? Basically, there's fluid built up in my ear between two layers of cartilage. This has caused swelling and some deformity, as the cartilage gets bent out of shape, which you can see in the picture from yesterday. What makes it different than a normal cyst--and why it's instead called a pseudocyst--is that simply draining the fluid serves no real purpose. If you do that, the fluid will apparently just re-fill the same space eventually, and the problem will start all over again.

WebMD informs me that "no medical treatment is uniformly effective" and offers a half-dozen types of "surgical care" options. My doctor plans to drain the fluid and then eliminate the "pocket" where the fluid forms by removing cartilage and rebuilding the ear around what's left. In other words, I need surgery. The doctor seemed relatively confident that things would go smoothly, but did scare me a bit when he said, "One risk is that, with less cartilage in place, the ear could collapse on itself." Seriously.

A few weeks ago I had a sore ear and now I'm looking at surgery, which is a shock to my system after not visiting a single doctor for anything in at least five years. Now I'll be visiting a doctor for one reason or another at least five times over a six-week span, culminating with someone slicing my ear open and rearranging things in there. The lesson, as always, is that if you stop ignoring a problem and decide to actually get it checked out, it's possible that they might find something wrong with you.

In happier news, bad ear or not I taped a pair of video segments for NBCSports.com that are running this week. One is a stand-alone piece on the Twins' starting rotation and the other is my call-in to the weekly "Fantasy Fix" show hosted by Tiffany Simons and Gregg Rosenthal. I'm a little sad that a chunk of my Twins report was edited out, because it takes some of the context away, but more importantly I'm pleased to say that I was featured alongside Shana Hiatt on the NBCSports.com "media center":

(From left to right: Gleeman, Hiatt, Simons, Rosenthal)

If you're interested in watching the aforementioned videos, click here for my solo segment about the Twins and click here for the "Fantasy Fix" show where I call in to chat with Rosenthal about how Adam Wainwright and Jonathan Papelbon figure to handle moving from the bullpen back to the rotation this season. Oh, and since I probably need to redeem myself after forcing that gross picture of my ear on everyone, click here to see why they call Hiatt "The Goddess of Poker."


February 26, 2007

Aaron Van Gogh

Important note: Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune devoted an entire 1,483-word column in Sunday's newspaper to essentially saying he doesn't like blogs. It's an odd column full of misguided logic, old-fogey stances, and straw-man arguments, but after reading the following completely pointless and self-absorbed entry you might start to think he has a point. You've been warned.

A few weeks ago I was watching Inside the UFC on Spike TV when I saw a segment on cauliflower ear, which a lot of wrestlers and mixed martial arts fighters get as a result of frequent ear trauma. A couple days after watching the show, the upper part of my right ear started getting sore, which I figured was some sort of weird psychosomatic effect of watching the segment. I thought nothing of it until, after a few more days, my ear started looking noticeably swollen in addition to still being sore.

The ear continued to hurt and throb, and it was getting so swollen and deformed that the outer rim started to actually turn inside out a little bit. I haven't been to a doctor about anything in several years and generally go with the "ignore it and it'll go away eventually" theory of health care, so I continued to pretend that nothing was wrong for another week or so. Then one day last week I looked in the mirror and saw this beauty staring back at me:

That's really blurry, because I'm even worse at photography than I am at keeping myself healthy, but suffice it to say that an ear is not supposed to look like that. In fact, it appears to look almost exactly like the cauliflower ears I saw on Inside the UFC. Of course, since I'm not a wrestler or an MMA fighter and I don't think you can get ear trauma just by watching something about it on television, I was pretty confused about what was going on.

Despite all of that, I still wasn't going to get it checked out until, after showing it to my mom for the first time Tuesday night, she said something like, "You have to go to a doctor immediately!" Since it wasn't really an emergency, I decided that going to an urgent care clinic Wednesday would be fine. After filling out a bunch of paperwork and waiting for about 20 minutes, a nurse called my name and brought me into an examination room.

She asked what the problem was, looked at my ear for about a second, jotted down a few notes, and then proceeded to take my temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. After scribbling a few more things on my chart, she informed me that "the doctor" would be in to examine me in a few minutes. Sure enough, he arrived a couple minutes later, sat down, glanced over the chart, looked at my ear, and began the following exchange with me:

DOCTOR: Are you a wrestler?

AARON: No.

DOCTOR: That looks like cauliflower ear. You haven't been wrestling or boxing or something like that?

AARON: No, definitely not. It looked like cauliflower ear to me too, but I have no idea why it would be.

DOCTOR: You haven't been hit in the ear recently.

AARON: No.

DOCTOR: OK, well I don't know what it is then. You have to go see an ear, nose, and throat guy.

With that, he half-heartedly asked if I had "any questions?" as he walked toward the door, and my examination was finished in less than two minutes. I had essentially gone to a doctor so that he could say "I dunno" and then tell me to go visit a different doctor. The urgent care clinic said they would make the otolaryngology appointment for me and call me back with the details the next morning. They didn't, of course. In fact, they didn't call me back until two days later.

The nice woman on the phone told me that an appointment had been made for the afternoon of March 5, to which I responded, "March 5, as in two weeks from now?" She said yes, that was correct, and then we hung up. About 45 seconds later, the phone rang again and the same nice woman said, "The doctor says you definitely can't wait that long. Can you go today instead?" I was working, so I said no, but that I could come in over the weekend. "Weekends are no good," she said. "How about Monday?"

Since I had just gone from a March 5 appointment to a doctor suggesting that I should be seen immediately within the span of a minute, I figured Monday would have to work. So, that's what I'll be doing this afternoon, perhaps while you're reading this very entry and being grossed out by that picture of my ear. My hope is that no additional damage was done by me not getting it checked out for two weeks and the urgent care clinic not bothering to call me back for two days.

Actually, the experience with the urgent care clinic got even more amusing yesterday afternoon, when they called "to check on how I was doing." Here's the exchange I had with some guy named John:

JOHN: I'm just calling to make sure you're happy with the service you received from us.

AARON: I didn't really receive any service. You guys just told me to go see an ear, nose, and throat doctor.

JOHN: Oh ... OK. Well, is the issue resolved, then?

AARON: No, the appointment isn't until tomorrow.

JOHN: Right. Well, good luck!

As you might expect, I have a few questions stemming from the call. First and foremost, are all urgent care clinics this clueless? The doctor there finished examining me in literally two minutes and had absolutely zero information to give me about my condition, they failed to book me an appointment with another doctor for 48 hours, initially booked me one two weeks away, called back 45 seconds later to change it, and called back to "check on how I was doing" before the actual appointment took place.

Beyond that, they seemed to have no clue what service they had provided (or failed to provide) while I was there. I'm genuinely curious what would have happened if the doctor hadn't been standing there when the initial phone call was made to me Friday. Would I have simply waited until March 5 to roll around? And if so, would I still have gotten that same call yesterday, wondering if the issue was "resolved" and I was "happy with the service"?

I'm hopeful that the ENT doctor isn't as disorganized and useless as the urgent care clinic. Actually, for him to be equally as clueless, he'd probably have to incorrectly decide that my ear needed to be amputated, schedule me for an appointment in August of 2012, re-schedule me for an appointment Wednesday, and then slice off the wrong ear. Luckily, blogging doesn't require the use of ears, so I'll have something to fall back on when the cauliflower-amputee look ruins my modeling career.


February 23, 2007

Link-O-Rama

  • Newspaper article about the Phillies or romance novel? You decide:
    There's something different about Abraham Nunez. His pleasant smile has evaporated. His twinkling eyes have hardened.

    I've seen prose like that about Derek Jeter, but Abraham Nunez?!

  • The NBA's trading deadline came and went with shockingly little action yesterday, but the week of unfulfilled rumors leading up to it did coax this interesting quote from Kevin Garnett, on the topic of why he hasn't asked for a trade:
    It sounds like people want better for me. And my perspective is, why do I have to be the component that's moved? Why can't organizations change? Why can't things change in the front office to bring in different people to better it?

    It's nice to know that Garnett views the situation almost exactly the same as I do, which is to say that he's not even close to the problem, whereas the people in charge of surrounding him with teammates are a disaster. Put in Garnett's shoes, I might look at the mediocre roster and inept decision-makers around me, and decide to get the hell out before it's too late. To his credit, Garnett sees things differently: "Man, I have hope. I'm not one of these people who just up and bail when things are tough."

  • Garnett is, however, "one of these people who" trash talks a random scrub on the opposing team. Ricky Davis apparently chooses slightly more interesting targets to converse with during games.
  • Friend of AG.com Seth Stohs has been pumping out an incredible number of good interviews lately, including Pat Neshek, Kevin Slowey, Danny Powers, and Chris Coste within the last two weeks alone.
  • This site has always been more about analysis and opinion rather than rumors and scoops, but I occasionally get some inside information or juicy gossip thrown my way. Usually it's off the record and in private--and some of the time it's ultimately off base--but every once in a while someone with accurate information doesn't mind sharing it here publicly. For instance, back on February 9 an anonymous reader posted the following note in the comments section:
    You might not have Jason Williams to kick around much longer. Rumor has it that Gordon Wittenmyer is going to Chicago to cover the Cubs and that Williams might be getting a new job too. St. Paul is already advertising for one of the jobs.

    That's obviously not exactly earth-shattering news--even on a blog some might say is obsessed with the newspaper industry--which is why I didn't think enough of the note to re-publish it outside of the comments section. However, sure enough the aforementioned job listing showed up and now I see that Gordon Wittenmyer has indeed left the St. Paul Pioneer Press to cover the Cubs for the Chicago Sun-Times.

    For now at least it looks like Jason Williams remains at the Pioneer Press, although like LaVelle E. Neal III and Joe Christensen at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, he's been forced to suffer the indignity of blogging. For LEN3 and Christensen it seems like a welcomed opportunity to interact with readers and share information that otherwise wouldn't have made it into the newspaper, but thanks to some of that off-the-record, in-private gossip I'm fairly certain Williams doesn't feel the same way.

    UPDATE: Entries like this are why, in addition to being the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LEN3 is going to be an excellent blogger:

    My buddy Jim Souhan has arrived and already has stirred up controversy. He was in the corner of the clubhouse, talking with Torii Hunter about MY basketball game. I've routinely admitted to being the worst basketball player--ever--from Chicago, but I haven't been on a court with Jim for about six years, and I don't know why he's bringing up my game at 8:45 a.m.

    All I could do was confirm his story. "It's true, Torii," I said. "I've created a new position--power guard."

    That story is amusing enough that I'm willing to let him off the hook for being buddies with Shecky Souhan.

  • The world's best NBA player-turned-blogger, Gilbert Arenas, explained how he ended up dunking off a trampoline alongside a bunch of Elvis look-alikes in the middle of the All-Star game.
  • Ron Gardenhire said Wednesday that he expects both Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson to make the Opening Day starting rotation. I liked the Ponson signing, which is merely a minor-league contract unless he makes the team, at which point he costs $1 million. However, Ortiz is a given in the rotation because of his $3.1 million salary and having both of them alongside Carlos Silva might be too much for even the Twins to overcome once they reluctantly decide to trust young talent in the second half.
  • Interestingly, Christensen used his new blog to publish Gardenhire's comments on Ponson about a dozen hours before they showed up in the actual newspaper, utilizing one of many advantages to blogging.
  • As perhaps the world's lone remaining Barry Bonds fan, I enjoyed this spring-training tidbit from the San Francisco Chronicle:
    Matt Cain was throwing cheese to Barry Bonds, maybe not 95 mph, but close enough. When Cain got Bonds to swing and miss at a chest-level fastball, he flashed a big smile from the mound and threw another heater, this one belt-high. Bonds fouled it off the ceiling of the cage.

    Bonds then looked at the kid barely half his age standing 60 feet away and said, "Throw it again." Cain said, "OK, here it comes."

    And there it went. At the Giants' first workout for position players, less than 24 hours after Bonds flew in from Las Vegas, he connected with a serious fastball from Cain and smashed it over the fence in right-center field at Scottsdale Stadium. With that, Bonds left the cage, flipped his bat and declared, "I'm ready."

    Bonds was interviewed by Jim Gray at the NBA All-Star game and gave such friendly, joking answers that my mom asked, "Is that the same Bonds who everyone hates?"

  • In an interview with The Big Picture, former ESPN.com writer Dan Shanoff said a whole bunch of stuff I agree with about blogs, mainstream media, online versus print, and various other topics I cover here regularly. It's worth reading, as is Shanoff's blog.

    UPDATE: The Big Picture also just published an interview with Dan Steinberg, who blogs for the Washington Post's website. As a "mainstream blogger" he provides an interesting perspective and, as you might expect from someone who writes a great blog, gives a lot of really good answers.

  • I'm on camera at NBCSports.com at least once per week these days and took part in a mainstream print media photo shoot a couple weeks ago, yet decided--completely at random and for absolutely zero reason--to experiment with my facial hair. I didn't shave for the first 20 days of February and find it oddly fascinating that my beard's progress can be tracked via my weekly video reports. It's like time-lapse photography, except with way more fantasy baseball involved.

    You can see what the beard looked like after three days and what it looked like after three weeks. If for some strange reason you're not into watching the hair on my face grow from week-to-week, updates on the situation were also available via my Rotoworld colleague Gregg Rosenthal's blog. Seriously. Back on February 2, when the experiment was in its infancy, Gregg wrote: "Aaron Gleeman's stubble shows up in the baseball show."

    Then, after returning from a lengthy trip to Japan, Gregg reported that "Tiffany [Simons] and Aaron Gleeman's burgeoning beard held down the fort on the baseball show" while he was gone. If nothing else, the last beard to get this much play on Rotoworld was Johnny Damon's Jesus look. I'd show you what it looks like now, except I chickened out and ended the experiment the other day so I could take a clean-shaven headshot for something.

    Truth be told, it was a sorry excuse for a beard. There was far too much coverage in the neck area and not nearly enough coverage in the goatee area, which made the whole operation look ridiculous. With that said, I'm proud to have at least gone from "stubble" to a "burgeoning beard" within the span of 17 days. It makes me think that, if given enough time--perhaps six months or 15 years--I could come up with a legitimate, Ron Silver-like beard that we could all be proud of.

  • Say what you want about Pacman Jones, but who wouldn't want to be buddies with a guy who carries a trash bag filled with $81,020 into a strip club to provide "visual effect." I have so many questions about this story that I don't know where to start. Isn't the point of going to a strip club that the women there provide all the "visual effect" needed? Why a trash bag? Was the money bundled neatly in large denominations or did he stuff a bunch of singles in? Why $81,020 and not, say, $80,000?

    There are about 1,000 other potential questions where those came from, even without getting into what actually took place once Jones got to the strip club (it sounds like he got Britney Spears-level crazy). When he's not reporting on my facial hair, Rosenthal's blog is a great place to find Pacman-related updates, especially given that the mainstream media seems remarkably hesitant to cover the story for whatever reason.

  • Howard Stern, Bubba the Love Sponge, and MLB radio together under one big roof? It doesn't get any better than that for me, but can we get the damn stock price up a little bit before I go broke?
  • Dave Campbell of the Associated Press penned a nice, quote-filled feature on Jason Kubel, who enters spring training with the designated-hitter job his to lose. Considering how quickly many fans have given up on him after two injury-wrecked seasons, I expect Kubel to shock a lot of people with how well he plays in 2007.
  • After making this discovery, I can't decide if it's a sign that I've truly "made it" or a sign that Wikipedia has jumped the shark, because it seems to me that it has to be one or the other. (For the record, I had nothing do with the creation of the page. Some other loser can be blamed, mocked, and ridiculed for that.)
  • As discussed here in the past, I have an irrational fear of talking on the phone. I have zero problem chatting in person or on camera, but something about phone conversations freak me out, which is why my mom has always jokingly told people that I was "scared by the phone at a young age." It's an amazingly inconvenient phobia for someone who often gets asked to do radio interviews, but thankfully a little prodding from my employers has caused me to take some baby steps to get over the fear.

    I'm signed on to do a weekly call-in segment for an NBCSports.com show, the first of which took place yesterday afternoon, and I'm booked to do Baseball Prospectus Radio early next week. I'd need a time machine to make good on the dozens of radio shows whose invitations I stupidly rejected over the past couple years, but hopefully as I get more comfortable doing the phone-in thing I can make up for passing on so many good opportunities. Either that or I'll finally be able to order pizzas for myself.

  • Please check out my new article on draft strategy over at Rotoworld.
  • Last but not least, I want to thank everyone who answered my call earlier this week for suggestions, advice, and ideas on a few topics. I've looked over the 80 comments and 30 e-mails I received, and jotted down quite a few notes from the various information offered. In particular, I found some good ideas for subtlely improving the look of the site, a couple new features to implement, and some names to fill out my Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com tournament bracket.

    As long-time reader Barry Hess pointed out to me last night, one of the great things about this site is that it allows me to be what Malcolm Gladwell describes as a "connector" in his book, The Tipping Point (which, incidentally, I'm in the middle of reading right now). Without this blog, how else could I get in touch with a dozen web designers and a handful of realtors who'd like to help me, not to mention hundreds of strangers willing to offer up their ideas? The internet is a hell of a drug.


  • February 21, 2007

    Suggestions, Advice, and Ideas

    I'm busy pumping out a new column for Rotoworld and also doing some NBCSports.com-related stuff, so unfortunately I don't have a whole lot of time for blogging today. However, I'd like to use this as an opportunity to solicit suggestions on a few random topics that have been bouncing around in my head lately. Consider the following as a cross between a survey and me simply asking a bunch of strangers for advice.

  • The physical appearance of this site has always been pretty plain, which is partly due to the fact that I purposely avoid cluttering things up and partly due to the fact that my limited web-design skills make it tough to do anything fancy. With that said, are there any changes that you think should be made to the site's look or design? I'm talking anything from changing the color scheme and adding a right-hand sidebar to coming up with an AG.com logo and switching away from Blogger.
  • In addition to the ongoing Top 40 Minnesota Twins series, I also have several other things planned for the next month or so, many of them centering around Opening Day. Keeping that in mind, are there any special features I've done in the past that you'd like to see in the mix again (for example, the reader-generated Q&A I did last month)? Along those same lines, do you have any ideas for new features that I should consider adding to the mix this season?
  • I've been putting this off for quite a while due to various reasons, but I think it's finally time for me to get serious about buying my own home. As of right now my plan is to remain in Minnesota (because I like my family too much to get away from the snow) and purchase a townhouse (because I don't want to personally deal with stuff like shoveling the snow), but beyond that I'm pretty open to advice and suggestions.

    I'm especially interested in hearing from those of you who bought your first home when you were young and single, because like me I assume you had almost no idea what you were getting into. Hopefully you can help me avoid any mistakes you made along the way. I also wouldn't mind hearing from people involved in the real-estate business, who can offer up some expertise beyond personal home-buying experiences. What should I expect? What should I look for? What should I avoid?

  • Last and least, it occurred to me that an NCAA basketball-style tournament might be the best way to crown a new Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com given the difficulty I've had finding a proper heir to the throne vacated by Jessica Alba and Elisha Cuthbert. I have some "teams" in mind for the tournament, but could use some suggestions for at-large bids to fill out the field. Incidentally, if "stop being such a sexist pig" was one of your suggestions for a new feature, I apologize in advance.

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