At some point in the near future, mankind will land on Pluto – but what if we aren’t the first sentient visitors?
A mysterious spacecraft is discovered partially buried on the surface of Pluto in “An Eon-old, Icy Tomb” – my most recent science fiction piece to be published. Inspiration for this particular story came from photographs taken by the New Horizons probe. Pluto offers some absolutely breathtaking landscapes, shaped by both slowly unfolding geological events and violent outburst that can occur quiet suddenly.
The real backbone of the story concerns the primary characters attempting to flee from an erupting cryovolcano – no easy task. Most of the action occurs near the Wright Mons, which is the geological feature that drives the action. The origin of the ancient spacecraft owes to an eon-old curiosity of my own.
Pluto is five billion kilometers from Earth. Is that halfway to heaven? The Jurrjens family would like to think so.
I recently had a science fiction piece appear on Backhand Stories. I wrote “Five Billion Kilometers Closer to Heaven” in early September of 2016. Just before I started to write this particular story, I had read several pieces of news regarding the New Horizons space probe. New Horizons had recently passed by Pluto and Charon, revealing a great amount about each that had previously been unknown. The landscapes on Pluto are absolutely amazing. Cryovolcanoes. Chaos terrain. Frozen lakes of liquid nitrogen. Pluto is a science fiction gold mine.
Click the picture below to be taken to Backhand Stories and “Five Billion Kilometers Closer to Heaven” – or at least part of the way.
I don’t doubt Yellowknife (Northwest Territories, Canada) is a great town – but why does Wikipedia like it so much more than Uniontown?
About a year ago, I decided to create an entry on Wikipedia entitled “List of the Tallest Buildings in Uniontown, Pennsylvania”. Now, I know that Uniontown is no metropolis. In fact, a 2015 census estimate puts Uniontown’s population at 9,990. If that number holds true for the 2020 census, Uniontown will have an official census population below 10,000 citizens for the first time since 1900. Uniontown’s highest official census population was in 1940, when the city was home to 21,819 people.
The declining population figures do not take away from Uniontown’s impressive skyline. Wikipedia certainly has “Tallest Building” entries for cities with buildings and structures of heights similar to the tallest buildings in Uniontown. Emporis, a worldwide database of building information, remarks that Uniontown “has a remarkable skyline for a city of its size, suggesting a past of great energy and optimism”.
I figured that creating an entry on Wikipedia couldn’t hurt. I thought there was only a small chance Wikipedia wouldn’t accept the entry, especially if I made sure the article introduced some new knowledge to the online encyclopedia. So, I carefully went through the process of creating the article. I reviewed similar entries for other nearby cities. I went downtown and took some pictures of the tallest buildings in town. My entry had a short and sweet summary that offered some background on Uniontown’s industrial past. I also pointed out that Uniontown witnessed a population boom between 1880 and 1930. Uniontown’s most iconic downtown structures were built within that fifty year window.
Six buildings made the list. Each building on the list was over 100 feet tall, which I used as the baseline for qualification. I had created articles for Wikipedia before, but I felt this particular entry was my most unique and personal one. I had always been proud of my hometown’s architecture and history. “List of the Tallest Buildings in Uniontown, Pennsylvania” met Wikipedia’s standards for creation and soon appeared online.
I was really satisfied with my article. Wikipedia was too. At least, Wikipedia was satisfied initially.
School started not long after my article was officially created. A handful of my colleagues found my article to be somewhat whimsical but worth reading. Most were generally impressed with the list. Here was Uniontown, right alongside Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Cleveland, with its own “Tallest Buildings” article on Wikipedia.
One of the Computer Science teachers even used the article as part of an online scavenger hunt for his students during the first week of classes. After a few days, some students commented that “List of the Tallest Buildings in Uniontown, Pennsylvania” could no longer be found online.
That’s when I got the news.
“List of the Tallest Buildings in Uniontown, Pennsylvania” had been recommended for deletion. Within a few days, the powers that be on Wikipedia had voted to delete the article. I did argue for keeping the page to no avail. For every point I raised, those behind the wrecking ball had a cataloged response. “List of the Tallest Buildings in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories” exists, and I have no problem with that whatsoever – but we can’t spare a page for Uniontown? I guess there just isn’t room for the Fayette Building on Wikipedia (outside of a small picture on the main Uniontown article). J.V. Thompson and D.H. Burnham would be very disappointed.
Information that was new to Wikipedia presented within my entry was not even merged into the Uniontown, Pennsylvania article. Wikipedia had dismantled “List of the Tallest Buildings in Uniontown, Pennsylvania” brick by brick before the mortar had even fully hardened.
After a year of sorting through the rubble, I have rebuilt my list – bigger and better. Most of the statistical data on my list is taken from Emporis, which is an amazing database.
Uniontown, Pennsylvania has an impressive skyline for a small city.
The gallery below shows the buildings in Uniontown, Pennsylvania that stand at least 85 feet (25.9 meters) tall. The buildings are ranked by row, starting with the upper left-hand corner and moving left to right. Click an image to make it appear larger. The eight tallest buildings in Uniontown, Pennsylvania are:
Fayette County Courthouse
Trinity Presbyterian Church
Mt. Vernon Towers
National City Bank Building
White Swan Apartments
1. Fayette County Courthouse (188 feet – completed 1892)
2.Trinity United Presbyterian Church (150 feet – completed 1896)
There is one candy bar that is distinctly Western Pennsylvanian – when was the last time you had a Clark Bar?
Although much of my work is fiction, I have invested some considerable time into a few nonfiction projects over the years. One nonfiction topic that is of special interest to me is the history of the D.L. Clark Company, former producer of the Clark Bar and Zagnut. The D.L. Clark Company has an incredibly interesting history that would immediately appeal to anyone fascinated by 20th century Pittsburgh lore.
I grew up with the Clark Bar, although I hardly knew that particular candy bar as anything unique among the world of confections. Oddly enough, the Clark Bar was actually the one candy item at my grandparents’ house that was distinctly “off limits” to any visiting grandchildren. As a child, candy hunting at my grandparents’ house was a tradition. My grandmother stockpiled chocolate candy and proceeded to stash the treats all over the place – often in very humorous and creative ways.
Despite her efforts, we were often successful in finding the “goodies”. There was always a variety.
But we were told that last one was decidedly not for us.
“Those are for your grandfather,” my grandmother would say.
That made good sense to me. My grandfather’s name is Clark. The five-year-old me was fully satisfied thinking that my grandmother had diligently sought out candy for my grandfather that just happened to have his name in blue lettering on the wrapper.
Of course, that was wonderfully convenient. I didn’t know anyone named “Goodbar” or “Twix”, so for a long time I satisfied myself with avoiding the Clark Bar and thoroughly enjoying whatever else I might find hidden away in the recesses of my grandparents’ dining room.
I rediscovered the Clark Bar two decades later while on a field trip with a group of students in downtown Uniontown. My mind was immediately perplexed with how I had been able to forget such a clear memory from my childhood – let alone an absolute local history bonanza. That rediscovery touched off many years of research.
I was immediately engrossed by the details of the company’s history. David L. Clark was an Irish American, who had started his own confectionery in the back of his house. Those early efforts would expand into a brand that would become synonymous with Pittsburgh and introduce products that would continue to be made long after the company ceased to exist.
Initially, I turned my research into a lecture (Blue Collar Candy: The History of the D.L. Clark Company). I have been fortunate enough to share this lecture with several historical organizations throughout the Pittsburgh region over the last four years.
I shared this summary of the lecture with any hosting historical society, library, or museum for the purpose of publishing announcements:
Pittsburgh in the 19th and 20th centuries could, at times, be rough around the edges: the crackle of blast furnaces; the roar of locomotives; and the blast of steamboat whistles. Those features made up the Steel City we know and love – but that city had a sweeter side. Amidst the coal barons, railroad tycoons, and industrialists, existed one of our nation’s most successive chocolatiers and confectioners –David L. Clark. Clark, an Irish – born immigrant, established the D.L. Clark Company and helped pioneer various types of candy throughout the early 20th century. From the Clark Bar to the Zagnut and every treat in between, D.L. Clark Company products have brought smiles to the faces of Pittsburghers for over 125 years.
The Monongahela Area Historical Society was the first organization to host the lecture in 2012.
A few days after the presentation, I received a letter from Renee Exler of Monongahela, Pennsylvania, who is a member of the Monongahela Area Historical Society and Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation. What I received turned out to be a copy of a letter Renee had sent to Andy Masich, the President and CEO of the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Renee was kind enough to pass a copy along to me. The letter spoke well of the presentation, pointed out my research to Mr. Masich, and stated that, “People around the world have heard of the Clark Bar, perhaps eaten one, but this great Pittsburgh history would be lost…if it wasn’t for someone like Joshua Scully.”
My goal remains to eventually write the story of the D.L. Clark Company and seek publication. This is an ongoing passion and project.
After all that I’ve accomplished with this, I can’t help but wonder – what if I didn’t have a grandfather named Clark? What if my grandmother had said, “the Oh Henry! bars aren’t for you!”?
And then there’s the Zagnut, which has really created a niche all to itself.
A previous post describes the great source of inspiration that Fayette County, Pennsylvania has been to me. I’ve lived in Fayette County my entire life and can’t seriously imagine living any other place. I found some more photographs that I wanted to share. The images in my previous post and those included below really show how this area can readily lend plenty of “settings” to the mind of an author.
Fayette Building from South Street Parking Garage
Former Pennsylvania Railroad Track between Uniontown and Dunbar
Anyone seriously attempting to write fiction is going to realize that setting is very important. Needless to say, the easiest places to describe are the ones with which you are most familiar. Without a doubt, I’m most familiar with the place I grew up and still call home – Fayette County, Pennsylvania.
I’ve never had to look far to find an appropriate setting. Southwestern Pennsylvania has such a variety of places that I feel I’ve only cracked the service with the inspiration given by this region. Fayette County is at the heart of that inspiration. From the streets of downtown Uniontown to the winding footpaths of the countryside, this place has constantly walked me through new ideas – and I love my home for that.
Aaron’s Building – Connellsville
Monongahela River – Brownsville
Fayette County Courthouse – Uniontown
Fayette Building – Uniontown
Cucumber Falls – Ohiopyle
Water Street – Connellsville
Connellsville Train Station
High Bridge on the Great Allegheny Passage overlooking Youghiogheny River – Ohiopyle
The fictional Alaska Railroaders, comprised only of MLB free agents, have selected four outfielders.
Previous posts (here and here) have outlined the idea behind the Alaska Railroaders – a fictional Major League Baseball team consisting of free agents (as of the start of the 2016 season). The team will carry four outfielders. Keep in mind that Garrett Jones and Ryan Doumit can also play in right field, which gives the roster some flexibility.
Starting in left field for the Railroaders would be Grady Sizemore. Sizemore has struggled with a litany of injuries during his career, but in 2015 he served as a capable reserve outfielder for Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, hitting .257/.318/.429 between the clubs with six home runs. Due to the possibilities of creating platoons in the outfield, Sizemore would not be called upon to play more than 100 games and would see most of those starts come against right-handed pitching (against which he has a career slash of .281/.366/.492). If Sizemore can stay healthy in this reduced role, he could slash .260/.313/.393 with 9 home runs. If aggressive enough, he could also make a case for ten steals.
David DeJesus would be the primary center fielder. DeJesus is getting long in the tooth, but his last several seasons are all statistically similar (with an OPS generally in the low .700s). However, I suspect that the Railroaders would see his numbers dip from that mark. Seeing the field about as often as Sizemore, DeJesus is capable of .247/.303/.362, while hitting seven home runs and stealing a handful of bases.
Right field would belong to Alex Rios, who could move to left periodically to give Jones or Doumit a start in right field. Since 2013, Rios has not had an especially strong season. However, he does hit left-handed pitching well and is serviceable enough against right-handed pitchers to be used most games. Rios doesn’t walk much and his power numbers have been down the last few seasons. However, playing as a regular for the Railroaders would probably do him some good – if he stays healthy. Pencil him in for a .265/.305/.403 slash with ten home runs and at least ten steals.
The wildcard in the outfield is Ah-seop Son. Son, just as Jae-gyun Hwang , was posted at the end of 2015 and did not receive a bid. Technically, Hwang and Son, both coming from the same KBO team, could not simultaneously make the jump to the Major Leagues during the same year (both play for the Lotte Giants and, although both can be posted, the Lotte Giants can only accept a bid for one or the other within the same posting period). We will make an exception and say that, for whatever reason, the KBO changed the rule and have allowed both Hwang and Son to play for the Alaska Railroaders. Son hit .317/.406/.472 with the Lotte Giants in 2015, adding 13 home runs. At the very least, Son (who is currently hitting .304/.397/.433 with seven home runs for the Lotte Giants) is a left-handed bat off the bench. He should also help spell Sizemore and DeJesus, whereas Jones and Doumit could help Rios fill right field. Son is a legitimate threat on the bases and has a lifetime .321 batting average in the KBO. Son also walks a great deal and has flashed some power as well – he hit 18 home runs in 2014. By the end of the Alaska Railroaders’ hypothetical first season, Son may very well have more at bats than DeJesus or Sizemore, if only because Son is several years younger than either (offering greater endurance and durability). Logging 358 at bats, Son hits .279/.376/.397 with five home runs and fifteen steals. Son may very well have taken over in left field by June.
Batting Order vs Left-handed Pitcher: Sizmore, DeJesus, Rios, Hwang, Morse*, Uggla, Cabrera, Quintero, [Pitcher].
*Jones would see some starts at first against left-handed pitchers.
Batting Order vs. Right-handed Pitcher: Sizmore, DeJesus, Hwang, Jones, Rios, Doumit^, Uggla, Cabrera, [Pitcher].
^Quintero would invariably have to play against right-handed pitching as well. On those occasions, he would bat eighth in the order, with Uggla and Cabrera sliding up one spot each.
The Alaska Railroaders, a fictional baseball team of 2016 free agents, has selected nine infielders.
In a previous post I explained some background of the Alaska Railroaders – a fictional Major League Baseball club with a roster consisting of free agents at the start of the 2016 season. I also shared that the team’s first signing would be Garrett Jones (who is currently playing in Japan) and that he would be the primary first baseman.
The starting second baseman would be Dan Uggla. Uggla’s last truly productive season was 2012, but “the last frontier” would give Uggla one last chance to start. The second base market was thin by the time the regular season started, but Uggla could prove himself worthy by supplying power to the lineup. Uggla had a difficult 2015, finishing with a slash of .183/.298/.300, but the 235 career home runs and name recognition (if this team existed, that would be important) offer some appeal. However, Uggla would probably have sit a few games here or there to break up cold streaks, meaning that someone else would also see considerable time at second base for the Railroaders. With some pressure taken off of him, Uggla may be able to move north of the “Mendoza Line” (on a team of all free agents, there isn’t necessarily someone waiting in the wings to take your job). Uggla also knows how to take a walk, but the real hope here is that he will be able to run into a few. I see Uggla definitely playing more than half of the games (if he can stay healthy) for the Railroaders, unless his numbers were truly unbearable. Put him down for 13 home runs home runs along with a .202/.298/.360 slash across 381 at bats. The resulting OPS is not good (.658) but survivable if Uggla delivers some pop.
Everth Cabrera would be the starting shortstop. Cabrera’s career slash of .246/.315/.328 makes clear that he is a light hitter, but his defense is solid. Playing the majority of the time, Cabrera could reasonably repeat his 2014 campaign (.232/.272/.300, 3 home runs, 18 steals). The ability to steal a few bases comes as a welcome addition to this roster. The Railroaders could count on Cabrera for .234/.307/.324, with three home runs and maybe upwards of 15 steals.
The position of third base allows this entire speculation to get creative: Jae-gyun Hwang was posted in December by the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball Organization for bidding and did not receive a bid. For the purposes of this project, the Alaska Railroaders did submit a bid and were able to agree to terms with Hwang. Last season, Hwang posted a .290/.350/.521 in the hitter-friendly KBO, while racking up 26 home runs, 97 RBI, and 11 stolen bases. Generally, the recent wave of Korean players has demonstrated that most can prove capable in Major League Baseball. Jung Ho Kang, Dae-Ho Lee, and Hyun Soo Kim have all played well thus far in their MLB careers. Slugger Byung Ho Park has struggled, but will certainly get another chance this season with the Minnesota Twins. Hwang was especially good in Korea during 2014 and 2015 (and presently for the 2016 season is hitting .327/.375/.569 with 17 home runs) and should be at least serviceable for the Railroaders. Hwang, 27-years-old to start the season, will man the hot corner full-time. Strikeouts will be a concern for Hwang, and he will not walk much. That said, the Railroaders will need to march him onto the field each day (and the team would hope that he holds up over a longer MLB season). Hwang could be counted on for .277/.309/.410 while belting 14 home runs, stealing a dozen bases, and providing a spark for the Railroaders offense.
The market is very thin at catcher (as per the eligibility limitations for this team). The Railroaders will start the season with Humberto Quintero serving as the primary catcher, with Ryan Doumit as a backup option. Doumit could also help in right field and at first base if there is a need. Neither of these players could be expected to stay healthy the entire season, especially considering the demands of the position (and the age of each). I am hard-pressed to count on Quintero to start more than 65 games behind home plate. Doumit may be able to contribute 60 games as the backstop, but that leaves 37 games remaining. Of course, most teams use multiple catchers throughout the season as injuries dictate. Quintero and Doumit would simply start the season by sharing the position. Quintero fares somewhat better against left-handed pitching, while Doumit fares better against the more common right-landed hurlers. However, Quintero plays the position better. Quintero should be able to muster .230/.258/.315 across 248 at bats, while hitting three home runs. Doumit is a bit more dangerous at the plate than his counterpart. Doumit will also see extra at bats through his occasional appearance in right field or first base, as well as his ability to pinch hit. Regardless of how the Railroaders use him, Doumit logs just over 250 at bats, hits .261/.339/.412, and slugs eight home runs.
Rounding out the infield would be the reserves: Michael Morse, Kevin Frandsen, and Joaquin Arias. Arias and Frandsen are utility players. Either can spell Uggla, Cabrera, or Hwang as needed. Frandsen would most likely see considerable time at second if Uggla should really struggle. Frandsen could receive around 200 at bats, hitting .256/.300/.360 with four home runs. Morse would serve as the right-handed half of the platoon at first base with Jones. If Morse were to play really well (anything close to how he played in 2010-2012 or 2014), he could force Jones to move to right field more often so that the Railroaders could have both of their bats in the lineup. Arguably, Morse could see upwards of 200 at bats, especially if he sees time as a pinch hitter and designated hitter during interleague play, and hit .265/.342/.404 with five home runs.
How would a baseball team of all free agents look?
I have loved baseball for a long time. When I was a young kid though, I was a somewhat fair weather fan. My favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, had a good run in the early 90s, but otherwise I tended to favor football and basketball over baseball. That changed dramatically in December of 1998, when the Pirates signed Ed Sprague to play third base.
Sprague had long been my favorite player, having spent most of his career at that point with my second favorite team – the Toronto Blue Jays. Sprague had a great season for the Pirates, earning a place on the National League All-Star team, and hitting .267/.352/.465 with 22 home runs. His OPS of .817 was the second highest of his career (for seasons in which he played full-time). While Sprague was with the Pirates, I couldn’t miss a game. I even had a chance to see him hit a home run in person. The Pirates had a fairly decent team in 1999 (finishing 78-83) and, if not for injuries, may have broken up that streak of consecutive losing seasons from 1993 to 2012. I had equally enjoyed the Pirates’ 2003 team.
Sprague signing with the Pirates had demonstrated to me that free agency could help a team (whereas in the early 90s the Pirates had been hurt frequently by free agency). Each season after Sprague’s tenure with the Buccos, I started closely watching the Pirates’ moves in free agency. Of course, as with many other fans, as a teenager I began to wonder how I might perform as a general manager – especially during free agency.
That curiosity started a tradition of mine. Each season, I tried to find a list of the players unsigned to a Major League Baseball team on opening day and construct a team from those players. My goal was to make the team as competitive as possible and use players with some MLB experience (with a few exceptions, as the KBO is going to lend me a hand this time). I also got into the habit of imagining this team as an expansion team without the benefit of an expansion draft. Obviously, there is a need to suspend reality to make this work and to just enjoy the entertainment value of imaging how this team would look. Before I go on, let me say Mark McGwire hates this idea.
Several years ago, I would post the rosters I created onto Facebook. I eventually got out of the habit of posting my “free agent team” online. However, yesterday I had nothing better to think about while landscaping for most of the day. I sat down last evening and starting doing some research. After a few hours, I pieced together a roster along with some statistical projections. I have always enjoyed the numbers associated with baseball. I decided that this blog would work well enough as an outlet for the finished product.
I’m calling the team the Alaska Railroaders. The team would play in Anchorage, which has a longrailroading history. I am fully aware that Anchorage, with a metropolitan area of less than 500,000 people, could not support a MLB team. However, when I was a kid I was obsessed with Alaska, so that part of this entire scenario was nonnegotiable. The Railroaders would play at the fictional ConocoPhillips Field, which would be built in Bootleggers Cove. Visible through an opening in the grandstand behind center field would be the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet and downtown. A locomotive’s whistle would announce the hitting of a home run by the Railroaders. I imagine the team playing in the National League West division (for the purposes of constructing a roster, I am electing to have the team placed in the NL) and wearing white and gold uniforms with blue and black trim. This would allow the team to generally share the livery of the Alaska Railroad. I also assembled my roster as if the team would start play with the current 2016 season. Before I go on, I should share that I have three short stories involving baseball: The Shepherds and Game 7, Any Pitch is its Hit, and Devil on the Diamond. Each of these stories intertwine baseball and the supernatural. I have also used the “Alaska Railroaders” as a fictional independent league team in a few of my works.
Three subsequent posts will break the Alaska Railroaders’ roster into pieces: infielders, outfielders, and pitchers. I’m not claiming this team would win the pennant. That said, I would hope to field a team that could best the 2003 Detroit Tigers in a series.
I will share the Alaska Railroaders first signing in this post, as he is a player that will see time in the infield and outfield. The Railroaders’ first official player would be Garrett Jones. Jones was most recently with the New York Yankees in 2015, but is probably best remembered for his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2009 to 2013.
Jones is not technically a free agent, as he signed a contract with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball in December of 2015. However, for the sake of constructing this roster, we will deem Jones available since he would have most likely preferred to sign with a Major League Baseball club. Jones would serve as the Railroaders’ primary first baseman, although he would likely sit occasionally against left-handed pitching. Against right-handed pitching, Jones has a career slash of .265/.330/.473. Although Jones struggled in 2015 while seeing limited at bats with the New York Yankees, the 34-year-old (at the start of the season) could easily see over 600 plate appearances with the larger role of a first base platoon and the occasional start in right field. Jones also brings some home run power to the roster. He averaged over 19 home runs per season between 2009 and 2014. As far as a projection is concerned, I see Jones embracing this opportunity to the tune of .256/.324/.442 with 22 home runs and an OPS of .766 in 543 at bats. For the record, Jones is presently hitting .247/.331/.463 with 13 home runs across 231 at bats in Japan (as of July 21).