vern's verbal vibe


Thoughts from Toronto singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Vern Nicholson. I pontificate mostly on music (of course), with a smattering of sports, language and other fun miscellany.

Introducing ... Stupid Good Lookings 



So, I find myself in a new band, with some old friends (and relations), and our first show is coming up in a week's time. You've seen a few of us before, in Sour Landslide and The Benvereens, and now we've added the exquisite Duncan MacKinnon on pedal steel for a cool twist to our sound. This is now the third band I've been in with my brother and sister-in-law, and each time, the name had been picked before I came on board. But this time, I really do like the name, and so do most people we've shared it with. It's from a Flintstones episode.

The pedal steel adds a lovely dimension, and although a few songs have a country lilt, this is not an alt-country band. It's too early to say what it is, really; we've had three rehearsals to this point, with a fourth coming up next week, then the show. We're opening for Lazarettes at the Emmet Ray on June 17, and here's the funny thing: Vince, Dee and Duncan (but not me) are in Lazarettes. So, three-quarters of us are opening for ourselves. It's all rather confusing and inbred, but it should add up to a fun evening of fine music. If you're in the Toronto area, come and join us for our debut.

Ladies and gentleman, introducing Stupid Good Lookings!

My Team, My Champions 


Rather improbably, my Toronto Argonauts are the 2022 Grey Cup champions, squeaking out a 24-23 win over the two-time defending champs, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. For some reason, Grey Cup games are often nail-biters with dramatic and at times jaw-dropping twists and turns, and this was no exception. I expect it'll go down as one of the all-time classics. I thought the Argos could keep it close, but I didn’t think they’d win. Winnipeg, with their CFL-best 15-3 record, were the clear favourites.

Oddly, in a nine-team league, this was the first Grey Cup matchup between Winnipeg and Toronto in 72 years. Their last meeting was a 13-0 Argonaut win in the infamous Mud Bowl. The 2022 edition was a seesaw affair for three quarters, but when the Bombers opened the fourth with a 102-yard punt-return touchdown to go up 23-14, I thought it was pretty much curtains for Toronto. But kicker Marc Liegghio missed the extra point, which would’ve made it 24-14, and as fate would have it, that one point was the Argos’ margin of victory. (More irony: Toronto lost 23-22 to Winnipeg early in the season on—you guessed it—a missed convert.)

So much happened in the game's last few minutes that it's still hard to digest. Starting QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson injured his thumb and couldn't continue. Rookie Chad Kelly replaced him and went 4-for-6, scampered for 20 yards on a critical 2nd-and-15, and ultimately engineered the winning drive. Linebacker Henoc Muamba snagged a key interception late, setting up what should have been the field goal that sealed the deal. Instead, Boris Bede's attempt was blocked by Winnipeg's Nick Hallett, and all the Bombers had to do was gain enough field position to kick the game-winning field goal themselves.

On that series, Argo defensive lineman Robbie Smith went from hero to goat to hero in a matter of seconds. He sacked Bomber QB Zach Collaros on second down and appeared to sack him again on third down. But his hand caught Collaros' face mask, and the ensuing penalty gave Winnipeg a fresh set of downs. With under a minute to go and the ball on the Toronto 40, Liegghio was set to kick the 47-yard field goal that would clinch the Blue Bomber victory, but someone's fingertips found the ball on its upward trajectory. That someone was Robbie Smith. Brandon Banks fell on the bouncing pigskin at the Argonaut 13, and with 45 seconds left, the Double Blue were able to run out the clock and escape with the win. How ridiculous, how completely implausible are the two blocked field goals in the last two minutes? Prior to that, there had only been two blocked field goals in the entire 2022 season.

Though the Argonauts weren't favoured to win this game, they had some serious mojo on their side. First, Winnipeg has never beaten Toronto in a Grey Cup, the history between the teams going back to the 1930s. Second, when the Argos get to the Grey Cup, even when they're underdogs, they win. That’s now seven straight: 1991, 1996, 1997, 2004, 2012, 2017 and 2022. And Winnipeg is now 0-7 all-time in Grey Cups versus Toronto.

On a personal level, this Argonaut team has helped me get through what's been a tough year. Their victories have been mine. Each big win, be it the two against Hamilton, the first-place clincher in Montreal, the East Final and of course the Grey Cup, cheered me up immensely and in some cases lifted me out of weeks-long depressions. On one level, sure, football is just a game. But through it, my team, my champions, brought joy to people like me for whom joy has been so elusive.

Real Chords #9: George Harrison, "Dark Horse" 

I've always loved this underrated gem in George's catalogue, and today, guitar in hand, I finally figured it out. Ironically, because of the tempo, cramped hand position and ongoing issues with my ring finger, I can't play it fluently; but hopefully, using the chord sequence listed below, you can.

To start, this is yet another song where you really must use a capo to make it work. There's a riff on the "A7" chord which is otherwise unplayable in this key. So, without further ado, here are the real chords to George Harrison's "Dark Horse":

Capo 7

  • Intro riff: (A7sus2 A7 A7sus2 A7 E7 E7addD E7) x2
  • Verse: A7 E7 A7 E7 B E7 B E7
  • Chorus: (Bb F C C G D) x3 Bb F C
E7 is, low to high, 020100, and the "addD" is just what it says: 020130. It's still an E7 chord, but you're adding the high D for some colour. A7sus2 is simply an A7 with an open B string instead of the usual C#, so it's x02000. It's really a leading chord up to the A7, creating that sweet opening riff.
There are a couple of other little licks in the tune as well. At the end of the chorus, after you've strummed on the C for a bar, alternate the high open E with a G, fretted with your pinky finger. And the last time the intro riff is played, you'll notice a lovely ascending E-F#-G# on the top string. The E of course is open, and you can fret the F# with your ring finger and the G# with your pinky. All assuming you can play fluently, which I unfortunately can't. But that's what I would do if I were able.

Real Chords #7 and 8: Bob Dylan, "Jokerman" and "Changing of the Guards" 

It's been a while since I've done a real chords post, so I'm due. And given the lengthy delay, I'm offering up a double dose with two of my favourite Bob Dylan songs, "Jokerman" and "Changing of the Guards."

I'll start with "Changing of the Guards," as it's quite easy once you figure out that a capo is in order. The song is in G#, not exactly a friendly key for the guitar. Simply slap your capo on the first fret and bingo: you're now in G, and the easy-strum chords fall neatly into place. Here, then, are the real chords for "Changing of the Guards":

Capo 1

  • Vocal part (verses): G Em G D Em C D Em G D Em C D G
  • Instrumental chorus: (G D C) x3, D G
I should note that my preferred fingering for G is really a G5: from low to high, 3x0033. I find that for the type of music I play, folk-rock, this chord rings out more nicely than a standard G, which would be 320033.
As for "Jokerman," this tune is in Bbagain, not a guitar-friendly key. Capoing at the third fret will put you in G and make the song much more playable. Here are your real chords for "Jokerman," one of Dylan's best '80s cuts:
Capo 3
  • Verse: G Gmaj7* Am7 D G
  • Pre-chorus: Am7 D G Gsus4 Am7 D G C
  • Chorus: D C G G/F#** Em7*** C Bm7 C D G
Notes on suggested fingerings: * = 3x0032, so it's a Gmaj7 with the third (B) missing. ** = 2x0033. This is really a quick, passing chord on your way from the G to the Em7. *** = 022033. Not the only way to play Em7, but in my opinion this fingering suits the chorus of "Jokerman" best.
If you're a beginner who might be wondering how to play some of the other chords, a good resource is the Chord Calculator at Enjoy strumming along with His Bobness!

Unreal Estate 

So, I heard a bizarre item on the CBC newscast last night. The owner of a Montreal diner just paid $15,000 to purchase a plot of "land" in a "place" called Decentraland, located in a "world" called the Metaverse. The plan is to "open" a virtual version of his restaurant, Cosmos.

As you might guess from the flurry of quotation marks above, I think the Metaverse, whatever the hell it is, must be the biggest scam going. Of course, it could take off among millennials, leaving denizens of yesterday's world like me in the dust. Maybe. For the record, Grandpa here also believes that "non-fungible token" is a synonym for "boy, did you just get swindled."

As baffled as I am, I can grasp the sociology behind it, I guess: the real world is such a disaster that starting all over and creating a virtual world is the way to go. Fair enough. But $15,000 for a virtual restaurant in a virtual world? Really?

"It's a great location, right by the university," the guy crowed on my nightly newcast. Right. That would be the University of Nowhere, which grants all manner of virtual degrees that aren't worth the virtual paper they aren't printed on. Great score, dude! Now, the $15,000 was apparently paid "using mana, the currency of Decentraland." Uh-huh. But it's still $15,000 real, Canadian dollars, and to me, for all you're getting you may as well have put that $15K through a shredder and tossed the remnants down the sewer. If he'd paid $15,000 in Monopoly money or something, I could kind of see it. Almost.

More from our friendly restaurateur: "You'd just be able to come in, see our store, see what we have going on there, see the workers that are working in Decentraland Cosmos. The customers that we'll have at the counter there, you're going to be able to talk to them. So you get that whole experience. But if you want the food component, you're going to have to be in a city where we have a ghost kitchen set up."

Leaving aside the absurdity of visiting a restaurant with no intention of wanting "the food component" ... a ghost kitchen? What the what? Our man explains: "Let's say for people in Toronto—and we have a ghost kitchen there—you can come into Decentraland, place your order with the waitresses. It will link to our ghost kitchens and you'll have the food delivered to you in that city." Oh, swell. So, there is (or could be) actual food involved. Neato. Presumably whatever space bubble you'd need affixed to your head so you can visit Decentraland isn't yet able to manifest real burgers.

I heard another news item last week about a Toronto woman who paid about the same amount for a Decentraland law "office," and it makes me wonder: who's the modern-day P.T. Barnum selling all this "land"? He/she is raking in the dough by duping a boatload of zany millennials.

Anyway, a final thought from the proud new owner of Decentraland Cosmos: "You know, time will tell. It's either going to be a great idea or it's going to be like owning a pet rock and I'll look pretty stupid down the line. But it's something you have to do as an entrepreneur."

No, it's not, my poor fellow, and my money is on the pet rock.

What Time Is It? 




Well, in this house at least, it's VST (Vern Standard Time), all year round.

Let me explain. I don't change my clocks, ever, and haven't done so for several years now. I live in the Eastern time zone, so I'm on permanent daylight time (EDT, which is UTC -4 for you time zone geeks out there). The time change I ignore just took place on the first Sunday in November, when everyone around me moved their clocks back an hour. As for the time change in March, I'm already there, happy to have the rest of society rejoin me.

How do I accomplish this? I'm a closed-caption editor who's not paid by the hour, and even though my shifts are fairly consistent time-wise, I have a lot of leeway. It doesn't matter which specific hours I work, as long as I complete whatever is assigned to me that day. How many hours that takes and which hours I work are irrelevant. So, the major obstacle for most people—your employer adjusts their clocks and you've no choice but to fall in line—doesn't apply to me.

Another useful strategy involves tricking my computers. Their clocks automatically go back an hour on the first Sunday in November, so what do I do? Why, I manually move them forward an hour and change the time zone to AST (Atlantic Standard Time) until March. It's like moving to Halifax for the winter. My computer doesn't know the difference and recognizes both the time and time zone I've chosen as entirely valid.

With respect to appointments and day-to-day affairs, I've trained myself to add an hour. As an aid, I put the time in quotes when I enter it into my daybook (yes, I still use pen and paper, which I'm sure makes the process easier). So, if I see an appointment with Dr. Smith listed on Monday at "2:00," I know it's really at 3:00.

Why do I go to all this trouble? Simply put, I'm getting older and have several niggling health problems, sleep disorders included. Changing the time (and by extension, fiddling with your body clock) twice a year causes problems even for young, healthy people. For someone like me, it wreaks havoc. When I was a boy, the time change made a little more sense, as we were on EST for six months and EDT for the remaining six. But in recent years, the ratio has become approximately 35/65 EST to EDT, leaving some of us wondering why we should bother with EST at all.

And here in Ontario, at least, I'm not alone. In 2020, Ottawa West-Nepean MPP Jeremy Roberts tabled a private member's bill called The Time Amendment Act, and it passed with unanimous support. Once in force, it will do exactly what I'm doing: life will be lived in permanent VST. Er, I mean permanent EDT. The catch lies in that "once in force" bit, as the bill is contingent on both Québec and New York following suit. Understandable, of course, as Ontario alone adopting VST would cause economic chaos for us and our nearest neighbours. But momentum is shifting: in Québec, Premier François Legault has expressed openness to the idea, and numerous pundits advocate for a switch to permanent daylight time.

Now, some chronobiology experts insist that switching to permanent standard time is "the wiser and healthier choice." As a night owl, I disagree. I don't care how dark it is at 8:00 a.m. in the winter because I'm asleep then. I value my light in the evening, and in my cozy VST bubble it never gets dark earlier than 5:30 p.m. Regardless, it matters not whether we switch to permanent EST or permanent EDT; the bigger issue I think we all can agree on is that it's high time, if you'll pardon the pun, for a switch to permanent something.

I hope to one day retire VST because it'll just be called EDT, every day of the year, by the good people of Ontario, Québec and New York.

The New and the Old, Times Two 


I've announced this elsewhere, so here's the news for you faithful blog readers: my new covers EP, Favourites, Popular and Otherwise, has now been released in mp3 format. Nine songs in all, guaranteed to warm your heart and soothe your soul, recorded right here at The Grinning Zone from December 2019 to July 2021. And the best news? It's free to stream and download. Be sure to check out the cover art and booklet, too. Just click on the cover above to access the whole package. And here's the old within the new: some of these songs go back a long way. In fact, the earliest dates from 1957! And for you oldies fans, no track is more recent than 1988. Fans of (mostly obscure) classic folk and rock will find plenty to dig into here.

I'm also pleased to announce three new shows from my old band, Sour Landslide. We've been asked to open for our friends Lowest of the Low at their three Lee's Palace shows on December 14, 15 and 16. A reunion? Why, yes, even though the three of us were together in a later band, The Benvereens. But Sour Landslide as such will be playing its first shows since June of 1998. That's a lengthy spell away, is it not?

Back in the day, we described our music as "speedy pop mayhem." At our advanced ages I'm not so sure about the speedy or the mayhem, but I can guarantee the pop. Rehearsals are just beginning, as we narrow down the list of songs and figure out whether we can still play that fast (and indeed, if we want to). As befits punks in their 20s, some of the tempos suggest we were playing as if our hair was on fire. A couple of tunes are so fast they make Husker Du's Land Speed Record sound like Perry Como.

For a band that stayed resolutely obscure despite our best efforts, we were quite a productive lot, releasing four LPs and one EP in a nine-year span. Our repertoire consists of songs that maybe four people in the December audiences will know, and songs off the early albums that absolutely no one will know. Including, in some instances, us. As I've been getting reacquainted with the material, I found several songs where I have recorded proof that I played and sang those parts all those years ago, but zero memory of the song. It was like I was hearing them for the first time.

Anyway, to celebrate the occasion—and because I needed it or something like it to play bass live, which I've not done in years—I purchased a new pedal: the Zoom MS-60B, a multi-effects stomp-box for bass. It comes with 142 effects and its own learning curve, but I'm getting the hang of it. Last night I created several custom presets specifically for the Sour Landslide shows, and I think they'll work well. I'm miffed that the graphic EQ is missing what I consider critical frequencies for a gritty bass sound, between 800 Hz and 4.5 K. Oh, well; I'll sculpt my tone using the controls on the amp and my bass. Minor complaints aside, it's a rip-roaring little unit filled with high-quality effects. Great value for the price, too: the MS-60B sells for $160 Cdn., $175 if you throw in the AC adapter. And it's coming soon to a Palace near you.

Blue Jay Beginnings: the Jerry Garvin Jersey 

As the 2021 Toronto Blue Jays continue their quest for a playoff spot, I've been revisiting my roots with my hometown team. I've been a fan from the very beginning, and attended that first game in the snow on April 7, 1977. I was in Grade 10 at the time, and my friend Dan and I both got notes from our mothers allowing us to miss an afternoon of school.

I sat in Section 5, Row 5, Seat 27, and the ticket price was $3. To give you an idea of how lousy our seats were, I present the Exhibition Stadium seating chart:

This chart must be from the early '80s sometime, as you can see the price has gone up. Regardless, these are wretched seats. We're just behind the right-field fence; not terrible in and of itself, but because of the stadium's oddball configuration, we're facing the left-field bleachers, not the diamond. And yes, those aluminum benches weren't exactly comfortable on a zero-degree day in early April.

As befits an expansion team, the 1977 Blue Jays were abysmal and would stay that way for the rest of the '70s. Our heroes were zeroes, but hey, they were ours. A star-crossed Texan named Doug Ault was the franchise's first poster boy, belting two homers in the Jays' 9-5 win over the Chicago White Sox on Opening Day. (He retired in 1980 with a career .236 average and 17 home runs.) Ault was joined by luminaries like Otto "The Swatto" Velez, Sam Ewing and Jeff Byrd, who went 2-13 in his only season in the majors. That '77 team finished 54-107, 45 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Yankees.

Now, for years, I've wanted a powder blue (road) jersey from 1977, with the name and number of a favourite also-ran. I settled on lefty pitcher Jerry Garvin, a career Blue Jay (1977-82) who pitched fairly well in 1977, finishing 10-18 with a 4.19 ERA. Garvin won his first four starts in his rookie season and had a terrific pick-off move. I wanted to commemorate someone who wasn't famous—that part was easy; none of them were—but not completely obscure, either. Somebody who had modest success but wasn't a star, and spent his entire career with the Jays. I also wanted an original Blue Jay, selected in the 1976 expansion draft. Garvin fits the bill on all counts.

The best the Jays Shop (the official team store) could do was a home jersey, early '90s vintage, with player name and number. That wouldn't do. Alas, as I did my research I came to realize that the jersey I'm after never existed historically. Player names didn't appear on the jerseys until 1980. I didn't care. One of my zero-heroes was destined to live on in infamy, and Theodore Jared Garvin was my choice.

But where would I find such an obscure jersey? Obviously it'd have to be custom-made. I thought I had a lead with The Dream Shop, a one-man operation in Pennsylvania who clearly does meticulous and exquisite work. Unfortunately he needed me to provide a blank jersey of the right vintage in my size, which wasn't feasible. I didn't want to hold out for the slim chance that such a rare bird would pop up on eBay. Even if it did, it would've involved more effort and expense than I was willing to put in.

Enter the fine folks at Custom Throwback Jerseys, who were able to deliver a jersey that's very close to the real thing. Here it is (the blurring is an artifact of me not knowing how to use my new phone's camera):


I think you'll agree it's a great-looking uniform. The material is high-quality fabric (100% polyester, double-knit, says the website) and all the details are sewn on, not printed. Even though CTJ is located in Canada, they charge in US dollars, and if you're in Canada HST is charged, also in US dollars. Bit of a bummer, that, but for just over $250 Cdn., I own a very special relic from a bygone era of Blue Jays baseball. I'll wear it to a game for the first time next week, and the first Blue Jay nerd who spots it and knows who Jerry Garvin is gets a free bag of popcorn on me.

Gear Spotlight: Rickenbacker 360/12 MG 

On a blustery day in March, I finally did it—I trekked out to Burlington on GO Transit and procured my dream guitar. I present to you the Rickenbacker 360 electric 12-string guitar in a Mapleglo finish:

Rickenbacker makes its guitars to order, one at a time, at their factory in Santa Ana, California. If you're in Canada and you order through Rickenbacker's Canadian dealer, Long & McQuade, it takes up to a year for the instrument to arrive, and you can't try before you buy. The guitar comes in three colours: Jetglo (basic black), Fireglo (a sunburst red), and Mapleglo (the gorgeous woody beige you see here).

Sometimes, I suppose, people order a Rickenbacker and, for whatever reason, bail when it comes to making the purchase. These rare birds end up hanging on the racks at various Long & McQuade locations throughout Canada till someone snaps them up. For months, I'd been checking stock as I madly saved every dollar I could. I had my eye on the Mapleglo all along, as it's the variety played by two of my folk-rock heroes: Paul Kantner and Roger McGuinn.

By the time March rolled around, I'd saved up enough to justify financing the rest, and L&M had two 360/12s in stock in the whole country: a used Jetglo at their North York location and a brand-new Mapleglo in Burlington, a bedroom community about 60 kilometres from Toronto. I called Burlington long-distance to place a hold on the MG and hustled over there the same day.

Now, I'd also been looking at this (cheaper) Gretsch 12-string, which the Burlington store happened to have in stock as well. My heart was set on the Rick, of course, but I'd heard that its narrow neck could cause problems for those with big hands; in other words, the Gretsch might be easier for someone like me to play. So, it was fortuitous that I could try both out during the same trip, then decide.

I tried the Gretsch first. It was okay, though it felt a little clunky to play and I had to keep re-tuning. It had its own chime, but not that chime—the one you hear on those '60s classics that were all played on, you guessed it, Rickenbacker 360/12s. The bass pickup sounded a touch muddy as well, but all told, the G5422G-12 is certainly a decent guitar. If I were on a budget, I'd have considered it. However: then I plugged in the Rickenbacker, played the opening lick to The Byrds' version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and promptly acquired a first-class ticket to jingle-jangle nirvana. Wow! The Rickenbacker felt great to play and was a lot easier to tune than the Gretsch, but most importantly, it had that chime.

I'm not a technical guitar person, so I can tell you very little about the 360/12's specs or even what kind of wood it's made of. Okay, I looked it up: maple body, maple neck, rosewood fingerboard. Perhaps all that means something to you. It has two pickups and a three-way toggle switch for bass, treble, or a combination of the two in the middle position. Each pickup has its own dedicated volume and tone controls. Then there's the mysterious fifth knob, which really isn't so mysterious once you experiment with it. It's a blend knob, used when your toggle switch is in the middle, that adjusts the ratio of treble pickup and bass pickup in the signal.

Rickenbacker's guitars come in two varieties: 330 and 360. Cosmetic differences aside—and there are a few—what differentiates the deluxe (360) from the standard (330) model is the addition of a separate stereo pickup. This allows you to route the signal through separate effects chains or amplifiers. Rickenbacker calls this Rick-O-Sound, and I have successfully used it on a recording. I had the toggle switch in the middle position and routed the treble pickup through my Vox amp on the AC-30 setting. The bass pickup went through the "Black Panel + Trem" preset on my Pocket Pod, and voila: one guitar, one take, two different sounds. Fabulous!

To me, the 360/12 is the crown jewel of guitars. I've wanted one for years, and as I've gotten to know it over the spring and summer, I'm loving it even more. I don't know how Rickenbacker does it, but there's something about the way they build their guitars that gives them ... that chime. One thing I know they do differently with their 12-string guitars is reverse the usual course of the strings, with the lower octave of each pair on top. Also, their clever design makes the headstock a lot more compact than that of other 12-strings, the Gretsch included. And yes, the neck is thinner and my stubby fingers occasionally block strings I don't intend to block, but I've not found it to be such a problem as to render the guitar unplayable. I need to be mindful of it, that's all.

Amazingly, the guitar has that same magical chime and ring even when I play it unplugged. I've been copping some of Paul Kantner's licks from Jefferson Airplane's Woodstock set, and when I play the opening bars of "Eskimo Blue Day," my guitar sounds exactly like Paul's. And in true Kantnerian tradition, the Rickenbacker 360/12 MG will be my go-to rhythm guitar on most of my recordings from this point on. As Roger McGuinn will attest, though, it's not merely a rhythm instrument; in the Byrds, McGuinn used it as more of a lead guitar, with David Crosby holding down the rhythm on a Gretsch six-string.

I suppose I'll finish up by talking price. Rickenbackers in general don't come cheap, and the 360/12 is the most expensive of all, coming in at a cool $3,225 Cdn. before taxes. By comparison, the Gretsch G5422G-12 retails for $1,280. To my mind, the Rickenbacker blows its competitors away in build quality and sound, and there truly is no substitute. If you want to check it out, here's its Long & McQuade page ... but know that at the moment, there are no Rickenbacker 360/12s in stock anywhere in Canada. And here it is on Rickenbacker's website, sans pricing info for the United States or the rest of the world. I guess you'd have to find a dealer in your country, then go from there.

"In the jingle-jangle morning, I'll come following you" - Bob Dylan, "Mr. Tambourine Man"

Virtual Ballpark Experience 

As COVID restrictions, which I'm in full support of, continue in Ontario, one thing that I really miss is going to baseball games. To compensate, I've devised what I call the virtual ballpark experience. Here's what you need:

  • an interest in baseball (obviously)
  • subscription to MLB TV or MLB Audio (the latter is dirt cheap: US $19.99 for one year)
  • a device with which to watch a game
  • ballpark-esque food of your choice
  • (optional) a scorecard. This is the one I use; you might prefer something more or less elaborate
  • three to four distraction-free hours

If you have MLB TV, you can watch any game, live or archived, subject to blackout restrictions. Those of us on the cheaper plan can access home and away radio broadcasts of any game, including postseason, with no blackouts. Now, you'll note that earlier, I used the word "watch." How do you watch a game if you're limited to radio feeds? Simple. Every day in the regular season, the fine folks at MLB offer a free game of the day that radio listeners can access. And if you find the TV commentary too minimalist, which I often do when I'm scoring, you can overlay the radio feed. Of course, it helps if the free game of the day involves at least one team you care about, enough to cheer for or against them.

I've had some fun with the food aspect. I try to limit myself to food I can buy at my local ballpark, Rogers Centre. So, my dinner of choice is two mustard-drenched Yves veggie dogs, Smartfood Movie Night Butter popcorn (expertly mimics the dry stadium variety), a can of Coke and a bowl of Breyers chocolate ice cream. To really make it authentic, the Coke is served in the commemorative plastic cup ("White Sox, 2005 World Series champions") I got at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, where I saw Mark Buehrle's no-hitter in 2007. Over the years I've collected a fair number of those batting-helmet souvenir ice cream cups, and to honour my beloved cat (surely a Tiger fan), I serve the ice cream in a Detroit Tigers mini-helmet. I must admit, I do cheat a bit with the veggie dog toppings—grated old cheddar and diced tomatoes, neither of which are available at the ol' ball yard.

Once the food is ready, it's a matter of munching away, watching the game and filling out your scorecard. I can't think of a better way to spend a few hours. You're as "at" the ballpark as you can be, arguably more comfortable than the fans in the actual seats on a frigid April night at Fenway Park (a game I watched from home a few weeks ago). The only bummer is having to prep the food and do the dishes afterwards. Still, you can pause the game to cook, clean up, use the facilities, whatever, and not miss a single pitch. The MLB TV interface helpfully includes an in-progress box score and play summary, which makes scoring a breeze.

And you know, that old adage remains true: go to a baseball game and you never know what you'll see. The Seattle/Boston tilt I watched had the Mariners winning in extras, scoring 7 runs on 3 hits. The Seattle radio crew informed me that it's only the eighth time since 1901 that a team has scored seven or more runs on three or fewer hits (last time it happened was 1994). Also, I recently had the pleasure of scoring Joe Musgrove's historic no-hitter, the Padres' first (they went 52 years, 1 week or 8,205 games without one).

So, take yourself out to the ballgame! No need to leave your living room. You won't catch a foul ball or home run, but you can do the seventh-inning stretch if you'd like—a nice little wrinkle I'll try to remember for next time.