Thursday, April 26, 2007

Peak: LaRoche 3:16

For Littlefield so loved the Pirates that he acquired his only begotten left-handed first baseman, and whosoever shall believe in him (and stick around for 16 innings) shall not perish, but shall bear witness to a dribbling grounder that represents the end of a slump.

The Lord works in mysterious ways, and sometimes the mystery circles around the exploits of a career .274 hitter with 65 home runs in three seasons who, through 17 games and 61 at-bats with the Pirates this season, had produced just 6 base hits for a crushing .098 average. But last night, when his team, his new city, and he himself needed it the most, Personal Lord and Savior (PLS) Adam LaRoche came through with a dribbling grounder that slid past the Houston shortstop, scoring Jack Wilson and ending a 16-inning, five-hour affair that saw two teams combine for 26 hits, 3 errors, and 7 runs.

Now that he has won a game for the Buccos, perhaps PLS LaRoche has turned the corner. This is the Year of LaRoche, it just took 17 games for it to start.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Peak: A new rock-throwing suspect

Due to certain professional and social obligations, I’ve been off the clock a bit on all the latest news on local rock-throwing. But I’m back at it now, and not a moment too soon.

Let’s review:

Thursday, March 22 - State police arrest Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, the alleged Parkway West Rock Thrower. Ramous admitted to two years of throwing bricks and large stones. State police say that they know Ramous’ motives, but they are not disclosing that information. Intrigue grows.

Friday, March 23 - The state police promote Lt. Sheldon Epstein to the rank of captain. Epstein was a member of the crack team of investigators that took down Ramous.

Saturday, March 24 – A copycat emerges, as more rocks are thrown on the Parkway West. Details are sketchy but terrifying.

Sunday, March 25 - More details emerge about the copycat.

Monday, March 26 - State police announce plans to increase their surveillance of the Parkway West.

Wednesday, March 28 - Panic and paranoia spread, as a wayward wrench socket drops off an overpass on the Parkway East. Undue connections are drawn. Facts later catch up to hype.

Thursday, March 29 - A preliminary hearing is held for Ramous, where state police testify that he told them that he threw rocks after drinking and smoking weed.

Thursday, April 5 - New rock-throwing occurs when two vehicles were hit within moments of each other. Despite the chronological proximity, the two attacks are geographically separated, with one happening on the Parkway West near Campbell’s Run Road and the other taking place in Robinson. I missed this one due to the aforementioned (but not specified) professional and social obligations.

Okay then. We’re up to date. Let’s move forward.

This case originally intrigued me because of its rather bizarre nature (which has been outlined in my previous blog posts on the subject), and the latest developments have followed suit. As reported in a number of news outlets, including the Trib and the Post-Gazette, state police collared another suspected rock-thrower yesterday.

This new rock-thrower has not been identified by the police, although word has gotten out that he is a 19-year-old white male from Westmoreland County. Where things get interesting is in the details of his detainment.

Apparently, this 19-year-old was driving outbound on the Parkway West late Monday night when he lost control of his car and crashed between the Green Tree and Carnegie exits. Sounds normal enough: even I have been in a car crash between the Green Tree and Carnegie exits going outbound on the Parkway West. But when police were called to the scene, they made a rather startling discovery. From the Trib:

Rocks found in his car "are consistent with rocks found along the Parkway West," Trooper Robin Mungo, a state police spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The Trib article goes on to state that police “took [the 19-year-old] into custody after they became suspicious of things he said and the rocks in his car.”

All the news outlets claim that the 19-year-old admitted to police that he had thrown rocks at cars. While the state police did not arrest the 19-year-old, his statements were bizarre enough that they did take further action. Again, from the Trib:

Authorities involuntarily committed the man yesterday morning to an undisclosed hospital for evaluation…

The Trib also tells us that the 19-year-old’s evaluation is psychiatric in nature. What interests me about this course of action is that Ramous also admitted to throwing rocks when he was initially arrested (although he now claims innocence), but the state police did not see a need to have him committed. Perhaps they are building a case against the 19-year-old and they fear that he is a flight risk, so they have concocted this psychiatric evaluation as a means to detain him without due cause. I would assume that the rocks found in his car are being tested for ballistics or some marking that would tie them to the point of rock-throwing attack.

It’s interesting that while “Police have been using thermo-imaging cameras to catch the people who they think are responsible” (WTAE), in the end all it took was finding some rocks in some guy’s car.

I’m not sure what just yet, but something seems very odd about this latest development in the rock-throwing case.

Gutter: 5 Things I Never Want to Hear on ESPN Again

5. The term "Vinsanity"

4. Anyone associated with Outside the Lines

3. Any mention of Don Imus

2. The obligatory but unnatural urban influence of Stuart Scott and Steven A. Smith

1. Any reference to Entourage

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Peak: Party like it's 1903

I know it was just one game out of 162, but the Pirates opened the season last night with a 10-inning win over the Astros in Houston, and by God if they can do it there, where they didn’t win a single game last season, they can do it anywhere. Don’t forget, these are the Pirates who opened the 2006 season with an 0-6 record, so by starting 1-0 they’re already ahead of the game.

But last night’s game was great for a number of reasons: Zach Duke pitched very well, giving up just 2 earned runs on 8 hits in 7 innings. And he got a lot of help from some excellent defense, including three double plays (two of which featured Jose Bautista) and some great throws from Chris Duffy in center field.

The Pirates got offense, too, although for much of the game they were under the spell of Astros’ hurler Roy Oswalt. With the Bucs down 2-0 in the eighth, Nate McLouth came off the bench and took Oswalt deep to cut the lead to 1 run. In the ninth, Xavier Nady hit a shot off Brad Lidge to tie it. And with one man on in the 10th, Jason Bay delivered with a long ball of his own, putting the Pirates ahead 4-2 and securing the win.

As is always the case with the Buccos, there’s a downside. On Monday night, that downside was Personal Lord and Savior (PLS) Adam LaRoche, who came to bat five times and struck out in four of those plate appearances, including when he led off the ninth with a three-pitch K against Lidge. I still have hope that PLS LaRoche will be a huge positive for this team, but in his regular season debut he was a bit disappointing.

Still, I can’t help but feel good after this win. I would like to see the Pirates do a little better in the early innings, but a win is a win. As Ryan Doumit said after the game:

“Dude, that was fun!”

Monday, April 2, 2007

Gutter: The love song of J. Angelo Ramous

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’
Let us go and make our visit.

- T.S. Eliot

Last Thursday, the ongoing saga of Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, aka The Parkway West Rock Thrower, hit a culmination of sorts when Ramous stood before District Judge Gary Zyra in a preliminary hearing. And while the preliminary hearing, in which Zyra ordered Ramous to stand trial on 10 counts each of aggravated assault, propulsion of a missile, risking a catastrophe, and recklessly endangering another person, isn’t an end to the intrigue of The Parkway West Rock Thrower, it represents perhaps the biggest development in the case since Ramous’ arrest on March 22nd.

(A note of attribution: clearly this blog is a few days behind, so in case you missed it, the Post-Gazette and the Trib both had detailed articles on the preliminary hearing, and I drew my information from those two newspapers.)

Much of what was learned at the preliminary hearing corroborates the information that was made public at the time of Ramous’ arrest: in the last two years, Ramous, 49, threw more than 100 bricks and large stones at cars from the Norfolk Southern Railroad trestle onto cars on the Parkway West, reportedly hitting 12 vehicles over that span.

We also get some new information regarding the case, such as this interesting bit from the P-G:

Mr. Ramous said he used police scanners to monitor the activities of law enforcement in the area and rail traffic. Three scanners were recovered from Mr. Ramous' residence in an apartment complex behind Rocky's Lounge, where he worked, in Scott.

But while it is notable to mention Ramous’ timing of his attacks (reminiscent of the way racers monitored police scanners in that great 21st century cinematic epic The Fast and the Furious), that info is but a minor technical detail, a mere sidebar to what we really want to know about the case of The Parkway West Rock Thrower, that is to say, the primary question at the heart of this mysterious saga, succinctly summed up as one simple word:


It is an inevitable question, and anyone who heard of Ramous’ attacks over the past two years inevitably considered it: why would someone stand over the Parkway West and rain down terror on travelers?

Of course, the first impulse was to dismiss the attacks as pranks on the part of small-minded juveniles, adolescents who couldn’t see the potentially horrific results of their actions. And with that notion, much of Allegheny County was able to move past the attacks, secure in the belief that the only thing separating the rock-throwing from other pranks such as egging or pumpkin-smashing was the possible severity of the acts.

But when Ramous was arrested, things became a bit more mysterious, if not altogether sinister. Here was a 49-year old man from Scott Township, a dishwasher/cook at Rocky’s Lounge, a bar near his apartment. He was a generally non-descript man whose neighbors spoke well of. But those neighbors didn’t know what happened at night, when Ramous would go out to the old train trestle and terrorize travelers on the Parkway.

And to add to the intrigue, KDKA’s Ralph Iannotti gave us this ominous statement in his original report on the arrest, which I discussed at the time:

State police tell us they know the motive for Ramous’ actions, but they are not disclosing it at this time.

Now, I don’t know about you, but that quote blew my doors off. On top of all the mystery surrounding Ramous and his arrest, we had reason to believe that there was some greater motive, some beyond-imagination cause behind his actions. I didn’t know what that motive was, and I speculated on a number of different possibilities. But whatever the motive turned out to be, there was a feeling that maybe, just maybe, this all meant something. With a statement like that from the state police, I saw the possibility that we may have found a real activist in our midst, someone who felt so strongly and so passionately about his beliefs that he took to action. I disagreed with his actions, as throwing rocks at traffic on the Parkway West is dangerous and potentially life-threatening, but I admired his dedication to his cause, whatever that cause may have been. In this day and age when it seems that so few people are really capable of greatness through action, I thought that we may have really found a man of belief.

But in reality, we learned from the preliminary hearing that Ramous was not a man of belief; rather, he just liked to get drunk and stoned and throw rocks at cars.

[Ramous] told police he got a "sense of euphoria" from throwing rocks and bricks at vehicles traveling on the Parkway West and often did so after drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, a state police trooper testified Thursday. (From the Trib)

Are you kidding me? A sense of euphoria? You 49-year-old-alcoholic-burnout. What the hell is wrong with you? You threw rocks at cars driving over 65 mph on a major highway, and for what? People could have died, and for what? I’m not saying that it would have been okay if Ramous had a reason, but if you’re going to do it, do it for a cause, make it worth something.

State Trooper Francis Murphy, who investigated the rock throwings, testified that Mr. Ramous, 49, told police he threw projectiles…intending to cause accidents.

Trooper Murphy said Mr. Ramous told them he would stand on the catwalk of the railway trestle between the Green Tree and Carnegie exits facing away from Downtown Pittsburgh and throw rocks or bricks found in a nearby refuse pile until he either saw an impact or heard "screeches and screams." (From the P-G)

You are a sick S.O.B., Ramous. You have 40 charges against you, and I hope they get you on every single one. This is my ninth blog post on Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, aka The Parkway West Rock Thrower, and I hope that number 10 is in reference to the severe sentencing of the aforementioned rock thrower.

Gutter: The tell-tale bird

I’ve been a bit busy the last few days and haven’t had the time to sit down and really dissect the preliminary hearing of Jeffrey Angelo Ramous (aka The Parkway West Rock Thrower) that was held on Thursday. I’ve got a lot to say about it, but mitigating circumstances have prevented me from devoting the necessary time.

That’s not entirely accurate, though. See, I had time yesterday to put together a blog about the preliminary hearing, and I have time today as well, but at this point in time I am suffering from a very serious distraction:

I first noticed it when I woke up yesterday morning to an odd repetitive noise, a thumping that occurred from time to time. It happened intermittently throughout the day, and I searched the house for its source, with no success. I could hear that the noise was coming from a certain area of the house, that area being the window that is in the hallway that runs the length of my ground-floor apartment. So I stood at the window, trying to figure out where the noise was coming from. But I couldn’t see anything, so I left the area and resumed the day’s activities.

But just as I would get back into the book I was reading or turn the TV back on or log onto the internet, the thumping would start again. It wasn’t a constant “thump thump thump;” rather every few minutes or so there would be a new thump. And with each passing thump, I became more perplexed and, as time went on, more frustrated. I grew maddened with the thumping and, on at least one occasion, I wondered if the thumps were just in my imagination.

I harkened back to the Edgar Allen Poe story of the tell-tale heart, and considered the possibility that the thumping was really a product of some deep-seeded guilt that I had buried in my subconscious mind. Now, I can readily admit that I have plenty of moments in my past that could have resulted in buried guilt, but as I searched for the source of the thumping, I couldn’t imagine why the guilt would appear now.

So the cycle continued: after each search, having found nothing I would return to my previous activity, and shortly thereafter the thumping would resume. Madness crept ever closer.

Then, by some fortune, I happened to catch a glimpse of the culprit. After several thumps, I rose from the couch and walked into the hallway toward the window where the thumping originated. Just as I got to the window, I saw a blur of feathers fly away from the sill, and at that moment I understood: a bird, through some madness of his own, had been flying into the window. Finding no success, he had perched himself upon the windowsill and continued to attempt entry. This had been repeating over and over again all day.

The thing is, my windows aren’t exactly the type that are so clean a bird could mistake it for an open passageway; on the contrary, my windows are so dirty that I wonder how the bird could not have seen them. But he continued to do it, over and over and over and over again. At one point the bird perched himself upon the fence next to the window and remained there long enough for me to get a good view of him. Clearly he was in the throes of madness, with ruffled feathers and a deranged look in his beady little bird-eyes.

But solving the mystery of the thumping has done little to eradicate the problem, as the thumping has resumed today. This appears to be the same insane bird, and today I positioned myself so that I could watch the whole process. There I sat in the hallway, watching as this lunatic thumped himself against the window once, twice, three times, four times, before flying away, only to return several minutes later and repeat the process.

Then, later this morning, I heard the thumping again but it appeared to have a different origin. To my dismay, I followed the source of the sound to the back of the apartment, where the same insane bird was now attempting to enter via the kitchen window. This time he was brazen, repeatedly flying into the window as I stood in plain view. He flew against the kitchen window with a force far greater than that which he used on the hallway window, and I can only hope that the glass stays strong until this idiot bird either gets bored or knocks himself out.

As I type this, there is a momentary lull in the thumping, but I have no doubt that it will resume soon. If and when the infernal thumping restarts, I plan to go outside and take some pictures of this avian lunatic.

Then, perhaps I will be able to accomplish my real goal, which is to return to my examination of The Parkway West Rock Thrower.