Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Field Test: McAlister Waterproof Fleece-Lined Jac-Shirt

On a trip to hunt Arkansas' flooded timber this past January, I took the obligatory trip to Mack's Prairie Wings in Stuttgart, duck hunting capital of the world. Or as a friend and colleague (and Arkansas native) puts it, duck hunter capital of the world, a critical if slight alteration. The hunting at the Dixie Duck Club had been fantastic, but the problem with great hunting is that you have to find something to fill the rest of your day, because the Maker's Mark just won't hold out. What better way to kill time than to empty the contents of your wallet on things you didn't know you needed?

I saunter in to Mack's thinking I'll just have a look around. $200 later, I leave feeling like I have just ate too much bourbon chicken from the seedy Chinese buffet squeezed between the nail salon and the dry cleaners in some nondescript strip mall on the outskirts of Cleveland. Spending fairly large sums of money, unexpectedly and without a clear plan of what I intend to do with the newly acquired product always sends me into an upward trajectory of confused regret. Why did I buy this? Will I still be able to afford my car payment? Might we lose the house? And so on, and so forth. It's like buyer's remorse that has metastasized into buyer's epilepsy.

On my inaugural visit to Mack's Prairie Wings, I purchased two things that I figured would serve me well as an Eastern Shore outdoorsman, the first being McAlister's Waterproof Fleece-Lined Jac-Shirt. The first thing I noticed as I lifted the jacket off the rack is how heavy the thing was; it's weight is surprising given that it looks like a shirt. After trying it on, the fit of the XXL seemed best suited for under-layering, so I made the purchase, delighted to find that the Jac-Shirt was 20% off. 

I am not a fan of bulky camo hunting coats. I don't like the singleness of their purpose (as I am not the fellow to wear camouflage to the local watering hole), and I just don't like how they fit. I am not interested in wearing anything that anyone might be able to confuse with a parka. It helps that I tend towards being warm, which alleviates some of the need for goofy looking clothing (as I don't need any help from garments in that regard).

The McAlister Jac-Shirt that I purchased is a dark olive color, perfect for days afield. The outer shell of the Jac-Shirt seems to be a cross between moleskin and fleece, and is quite soft, but also sufficiently tough. A winter of hunting, stacking wood, and household outdoor chores has seen the shirt hold up quite well, with no rips, pulls or tears in the fabric. True to its name, the garment boasts the warmth of a jacket, but wears like a shirt, something I really enjoy and appreciate.

Another feature of the shirt that I appreciate is a huge left chest pocket, that has a vertical opening, complete with a strong magnetic snap for keeping things in the pocket, and off the muddy floor of a goose pit. The pockets are designed to easily tuck away duck and goose calls on lanyards, to keep them from swinging around when not in use. I find the pocket also works remarkably well for iPhones, flashlights, and my wallet. The magnetic enclosure is stronger than you might expect, and closes with a confident thunk.

The Jac-Shirt is almost too good at keeping me warm, and while it may appear to be a three season addition to the closet, for me, it will remain only a winter option. It is not very breathable, and can be sweat-inducing on days that climb into the upper 40s, or even in colder temperatures when activity will keep you moving. But for a chilly day spent peering at the sky from a goose pit, the Jac-Shirt will henceforth be in heavy rotation.

The Jac-Shirt is also waterproof, in that it keeps you from getting wet; but as the Jac-Shirt itself gets wet, it gets still heavier and once wet, it takes quite some time by the wood stove to dry out completely.  The only real complaint that I have about the McAlister Jac-Shirt is the cuffs. Weird place to lodge a complaint, I know, but the cuffs on the Jac-Shirt are cut ridiculously tight. I do not have large wrists (or at least, I have never been accused of having large wrists), and the cuffs are so tight that I have to punch my hands through the ends of the sleeves. It gets even tougher with layers on, and trying to wear gloves with the Jac-Shirt can be difficult, because you cannot tuck the gloves neatly into the cuff. Perhaps this is intended to make the fit of the garment more 'shirt-like,' but these cuffs are much tighter than any shirt I have. Normally I would have my better half move the button over a hair, but the button on the Jac-Shirt doesn't leave much room for this modification. So the designers at Drake should definitely take a look at the cuffs in any future re-designs of the Jac-Shirt.

The McAlister Jac-Shirt is a versatile outer layer that doesn't have to be kept in a silo with the hunting gear. It's a great casual winter coat, that serves equally well in the duck blind as it does paired with khakis while watching the annual Centreville Christmas Parade. For those who especially don't like and don't need the bulk of heavy winter jackets, the McAlister Jac-Shirt is a nice addition to the winter wardrobe.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fixing Major League Baseball

Major League Baseball is currently considering proposals for changing the MLB schedule to make the game more appealing. You haven't seen much about sports here at Kline Online, but I thought that as a baseball fan, MLB's reworking of the schedule presented the perfect opportunity for a blogger to offer up some ideas for making Major League Baseball more enjoyable, more competitive, and return the sport to its rightful position as the national pastime.

1. Stop giving home field advantage in the World Series to the team whose league wins the All Star Game. In an attempt to make the All Star Game 'relevant,'  MLB has implemented one of the dumbest rules imaginable. The vast majority of the players in the All Star Game won't make the World Series, and have no stake in home field advantage for the Fall Classic. What's more, in one three hour game, Major League Baseball has marginalized an entire seasons worth of work. For instance, in 2004, the St. Louis Cardinals (with an astonishing 105-57 record during the regular season) started the World Series on the road in Fenway Park, giving home field advantage to a Boston Red Sox team with a 98-64 record. St. Louis lost the series. In 2012, the Cardinals backed into the playoffs with a 90-72 record, but boasted home field advantage against the 96-66 Texas Rangers. The Cardinals won that series. In one fell-swoop, a 7 game advantage in 2004 and a 6 game advantage in 2012 were negated by a single game played in early July.

2. Eliminate interleague play. The rivalries are fabricated out of whole cloth for marketing purposes. The Cardinals natural (and long-standing) rival is the Cubs, not the Royals, and no amount of geographic proximity can supplant the fact that the Cubs and Cardinals have been playing one another for the better part of a century. Same in Baltimore, where the so-called 'Beltway series' between the Orioles and the Nationals is just a gimmick between a team that hasn't been above .500 since 1997, and the Nationals, who were still called the Expos, and still played in Montreal in 1997. There is also something fundamentally satisfying about keeping the two Leagues separate and identifiable from one another until the World Series.

3. Since interleague play won't be eliminated, eliminate the Designated Hitter. The DH is one of the goofiest rules in baseball, applying as it does to only the American League. It is an attempt to increase offensive production, a mindset that has also led to other beneficial developments, like steroids. The DH helps managers cram as many meat-headed homerun hitters into a lineup as possible, many of which wouldn't know how to put a baseball glove on if their lives depended on it, let alone use it. In other words, the DH rule serves to dumb down the game, and takes emphasis away from the chess-match strategy that, in my opinion, makes National League baseball so much more satisfying for the serious fan. If the powers that be are going to pretend that the Leagues are interchangeable, then its time to get rid of the Designated Hitter.  

4. Re-train umpires on the width and height of the strike zone.  Whatever happened to the letter-high strike? It apparently got buried with Jimmy Hoffa in Giants Stadium. A called letter-high strike is now apt to get angry glares and words of derision from players aimed at umps. And now that hitters crowd the plate, the inside strike that catches the corner is called a ball as well; I can't tell you how many times I have shouted at the television that just because a hitter crowds the plate (adorned with Roman warrior-style protective armor) doesn't mean the width of the strike zone changes. By re-establishing the strike zone, you will force hitters to swing the bat, move the game along quicker, and likely save a starting pitcher a couple hundred pitches over the course of a season (the equivalent of a start or two).

5. Establish a real salary cap. This one is by far the most important. Communities invest a ton in their baseball teams; building stadiums, roads, and public transit to accommodate teams that in turn will serve to support local and regional economies. So that while teams certainly have owners, the communities that spend significant sums on these teams' well-being have a significant (and legitimate) stake in their team being competitive. Unfortunately, many teams spend years, decades even, as sub-.500 cellar dwellers. The Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, have been down on their luck for so long that high expectations can be interpreted as a .500 season; the playoffs, or a World Series, seem like so much fantasy. There is also a subset of teams just above this one, like the Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Toronto Blue Jays, and a bunch of others who perhaps find fleeting success for a season or two, but then settle down into a much more comfortable performance of middling character.

The gap in Major League team salaries is astounding. The highest team salary for the 2012 season belongs to the New York Yankees at $195 million. The lowest salary goes to the Oakland Athletics at $49 million. The difference between the highest and the lowest salary is more than the team salaries of 26 MLB clubs. The disparity is ridiculous. Some teams, like the Yankees, choose to invest big dollars in their teams, and they have the means to do so. Other teams, like Oakland or Pittsburgh, likely have the means to spend more, but choose not to, for a variety of reasons, some legitimate, some questionable. 

One of the reasons why professional football has surpassed professional baseball in the American popular psyche is because teams can reverse their fortunes so quickly. Teams like the Detroit Lions can go from 0-16 to the playoffs in the matter of just a few seasons, and completely revamp the lineup in the process. Parity is the word of the day, and for the most part, every game is competitive, and every team has at least a glimmer of hope when the season begins. This is manifestly not true of baseball. There are very few 'surprise' World Series winners, the Orioles for instance are currently astounding fans and prognosticators, but Baltimore fans are waiting with baited breath for the other shoe to drop; somehow it just can't be real.

Major League Baseball should, beginning in 2015, establish a $100 million salary cap, and a $75 million salary minimum. If you don't spend $75 million on your team, penalties apply. Likewise, contracts that violate your team's salary cap would not be approved by MLB. Existing long-term contracts, (like that given to Albert Pujols this off-season) would have to be grandfathered in, but there is a way to make it work without voiding existing contracts. 

A salary cap would restore sanity to Major League contracts (which is why it will likely be opposed by the MLB Player's Association), and improve the overall health of the game and the financial health of the teams. Renewed competitiveness would also help the cities that support Major League teams, and while I wouldn't necessarily argue for federal legislation to force a salary cap on Major League Baseball, the league does enjoy antitrust protection from Congress, so there is precedent for federal involvement in the way professional baseball operates.

6. Cut twenty games from the MLB schedule. If a salary cap becomes reality, individual player salaries will abort their skyward trend; many players will not see their salaries change at all, but big-time stars likely will, as teams can no longer afford to spend wantonly on a single player. So if we are asking players to make less, we should ask less of them, in terms of the length of the MLB schedule. To go from 162 games to 142 games (cutting ten home games, and ten away games) makes every other game more important. A shorter schedule would also help reduce injuries.

But again, taking another cue from the NFL, fewer games creates more drama around the games that do get played. At the end of a football season, serious fans feel like they have lost an important part of their lives, both college and professional football serve a critical social element. At the end of a baseball season, the fans that are still paying attention feel relived that they survived. The baseball schedule hasn't always been this long ("Spring" Training in February and a World Series that can stretch into November) and the sheer length of the season can tax the average fan's attention span. A shorter season will also permit last place teams to put a headstone on a brutal season without laboring through the month of September in an empty stadium. Put simply, the 162 game schedule serves to prove that more isn't always better.

So there it is; a few ideas from a more-than-just casual fan for improving Major League Baseball. It is a great league, full of great players, teams and fans. But good as it is, it could be better. Look forward to your thoughts in the comment section.