Grasping for straws that stir the drink.

Day 2: The 2012 MLB Road Trip

New York — Wednesday I commented on the uncomfortable nature of sleeping in the back of a Chevrolet Cruze.

Turns out falling asleep on a New York subway at 1:30 a.m. and missing your stop is on par with — and probably tops — sleeping in the back of a compact car.

The public transit experience, however, still falls short of another awkward moment: visiting Yankee Stadium.


I know, I know, it’s not the Yankee Stadium, but a near replica, but still, the atmosphere and ballpark ambience disappointed during a Wednesday afternoon interleague matchup with the Atlanta Braves.

Yes, Yankee Stadium is a standout piece of architecture. But it paled in comparison to Fenway Park a night prior, and, dare I say it, even Comerica Park and its homey feel.

In fact, I was more impressed with Citi Field Wednesday evening, despite a disappointing crowd.


There’s more ballpark impressions to come, but for now, here are Day 2’s top moments:

New York: Here’s New York in a nutshell. Taking the subway, it took about an hour to get from Yankee Stadium to Citi Field. That’s 10 miles in one hour (and for those math deficient, a 10-miles-per-hour average). The $2.50-cent-per-slice greasy New York pizza, however, made up for the three combined hours (mostly standing) on the subway.

The heat: It was 100-plus degrees at Yankee Stadium and 94 degrees at first pitch for the nightcap at Citi Field, marking two of the hottest games in New York history.

The homers: There were 10 of them Wednesday, including nine in the Yankees/Braves contest. It was also the first time in modern Yankees history that two pitchers (Phil Hughes and Tommy Hanson) each gave up four or more home runs in one game.

The subway: Did I mention the heat? And the late-night ride from Times Square in a car without air conditioning? Followed by a 10-minute-too-long nap that ended a few miles from the George Washington Bridge? Followed by not one, but two separate $40 cab rides back to New Jersey? If there was a college course on public transportation, I would have definitely failed.

The Detroit Lions: A Queens, New York-born Seattle Seahawks fan (yes, I know, he could have picked the Giants or Jets, but instead chose the Seahawks) made conversation on the subway trip to Citi Field and raved about Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ chances of making the postseason this year. Turns out the rest of the nation may be higher on the Lions’ chances than actual Detroit football fans. (In addition, a shout out goes to fellow Detroit News reporter Eric Lacy, who had his one-on-one with Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham referenced on the same subway ride.)

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Day 1: The 2012 MLB Road Trip

Note: Blog posts created using WordPress app. Photos shown may not be top quality.

Boston — As bad as a nearly uninterrupted 14 1/2 hour car ride sounds, it’s only as long as you stay awake.

And despite the terrific gas mileage and spacious interior, the Chevrolet Cruze is not the comfortable vehicle in which to sleep.

Today’s video: Alfredo Acevas strikes out Hanley Ramirez to cap Boston’s Tuesday night victory over Miami.

If you are reading this, it is because your browser does not support the ‘video’ element. Try using the ‘object’ element listed further down the page.

Highlights of Day 1:

Sam Adams Brewery: Simple rundown of how America’s No. 1 craft brew is created. Had the opportunity to sample Boston Red Brick, an Irish Red Ale.

Downtown Boston: Where the locals walk fast and as if they are constantly blindfolded. Active afternoon crowd, epically at Boston Commons, the nation’s oldest public park.


The Atlantic Ocean: Slept for a good 45 minutes without a towel and woke up with a mouthful of sand. Not bad for weather that didn’t top 80 degrees.

Fenway Park: Accessibility was phenomenal (unlike the strict security at Comerica Park). Was able to see from almost every angle of the ballpark. Not a whole lot of extras to view inside the stadium, but the weekend atmosphere on a Tuesday night more than made up for it.


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The 2012 MLB Road Trip

Detroit — It’s one thing to visit Fenway Park. It’s another to visit Yankee Stadium.

A seven-stadium, six-day baseball trip begins at Fenway Park June 19.

It’s a whole different ball game to visit both — and five other stadiums in a six-day stretch.

But if you think watching seven baseball games at seven unique venues couldn’t get better, you may want to reconsider. Split among four baseball fans:

The tickets cost $112 a person.

The hotels, just about the same.

Gas will run somewhere around $50.

In the perfect mix of sports and business, it won’t just be a memorable trip — it’ll also be frugal.

And oh yeah, there will be seven above-average ball games:

June 19: Miami Marlins at Boston Red Sox

June 20: Atlanta Braves at New York Yankees

June 20: Baltimore Orioles at New York Mets

June 21: Tampa Bay Rays at Washington Nationals

June 22: Tampa Bay Rays at Philadelphia Phillies

June 23: Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles

June 24: Detroit Tigers at Pittsburgh Pirates

Follow the nearly 2,000-mile trip — which will undoubtedly include tourist traps, incredible food and the best brews — right here. Pictures, video, commentary will be posted daily. The fun starts June 19.

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American or foreign? New auto question is “Gas or CNG?”

Fort Worth, Texas — I used to drive a Honda Civic.

And I used to take a beating.

In the era of American nationalism versus foreign affordability, I took the latter.

Ken Morgan shows off his CNG-powered Honda Civic.

The verbal lashings got so bad that I was even asked not to visit the General Motors Lordstown plant.

Yes, that is the same plant which will soon begin production on a diesel-powered Chevrolet Cruze.

But after a recent trip to North Central Texas, it occurred to me that “American vs. foreign” shouldn’t be the determining factor in buying a car.

That question, thanks to my quick lesson and test drive with Ken Morgan, should be “gas or CNG?”

Morgan’s vehicle is interesting, to say the least, and that’s after you get past the giant purple Horned Frog draped across the side.

Morgan, director of the Energy Institute at Texas Christian University, drives a Honda Civic, but it doesn’t run on regular-grade, $4-per-gall0n gas.

It runs on compressed natural gas.

Yes, the same natural gas that energy companies have extracted from under our feet for years.

Morgan gets the same 400-miles-a-tank I used to get on my 2002 Honda Civic, but he pays half the cost.

The emissions from his car? Halved.

Compressed natural gas, or CNG, is the next best alternative to America’s oil crisis, at least according to those in Texas.

The abundance of natural gas is so great, America has too much supply and not enough demand, one reason CNG sells for the equivalent of about $2 per gallon.

Oil, for those paying attention, is in the exact opposite scenario.

I’ll spare the intimate details of how CNG vehicles are different from the gas guzzlers most of us drive.

Just know this: fleets are converting to CNG as quickly as possible. They see the cost and environmental savings of CNG.

The average price for a per-gallon equivalent of compressed natural gas is roughly half the cost of regular-grade gasoline.

As for us normal folk?

We’re waiting for one of two things: enough CNG stations to warrant the purchase of a CNG vehicle, or enough choices of CNG vehicles to warrant more CNG stations.

Honda has manufactured Morgan’s CNG Civic for more than a decade. Chrysler and General Motors recently announced the addition of CNG trucks to their lineups.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. is doing something about that; it recently said it will add 10 to 20 stations in the Northeast Ohio-Western Pennsylvania region.

The vehicles themselves, for now, will cost a few thousand more initially, but again, half the cost once you hit the road.

So the next time you’re ready to buy a new car, don’t ask yourself the typical “American or foreign” question.

As yourself this.

Do you want to pay $4 per gallon or $2 per gallon?

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Read the complete NewsOutlet/Vindy Fort Worth series beginning April 1.

ODNR wins PR battle, but won’t avoid local media’s critical eye

Detroit — The thing most don’t understand about journalism is that the media’s job is not just to weave facts and anecdotes together to create stories chocked full of information.

That’s what we’d like to do, but more often than not, it’s a lot tougher than that.

We’re faced with politicking.

And in the instance of the much-anticipated Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ report on injection-well induced earthquakes in Youngstown, ODNR out-politicked this writer and managed to feed its public relations feast to a much higher power.

The Associated Press.

And the AP had itself a sloppy, slow-cooked slab of the finest public relations meat that ODNR could serve up.

You see those in the local media, especially when dealing with a hot-button local story, tend to be critical of announcements or reports, and vet them as much as possible.

But ODNR has taken a beating since October when The Vindicator first reported on an earthquake-injection well correlation.

So what better way to get out their positive but blind message of “tough regulations?”

The answer is the national media.

The Associated Press, which had the story well in advance of the release and certainly well before anyone locally laid eyes on it, did what it does best: turned a release into a story in near-record time.

The AP in turn distributed it for use among nearly 7,000 newspapers and television and radio stations.

Here’s the first sentence of the AP story:

A dozen earthquakes in northeastern Ohio were almost certainly induced by injection of gas-drilling wastewater into the earth, Ohio oil and gas regulators said Friday as they announced a series of tough new regulations for drillers.

Tough regulations, eh? We’ll get to that in a moment.

The fact the AP had a story before the 11 a.m. announcement means one of two things: 1) ODNR provided them with an advance copy, contradictory to its statements to the local media or 2) the AP did not fully read the report and therefore took the “tough regulations” aspect for granted.

(The ODNR preliminary report was 24 digital pages.)

For those curious about the difference between the local and national media, I’ll provide you this analogy.

The national media is like a sugar-buzzed, impressionable adolescent. It will generally believe whatever you tell it, asking few relevant questions and trying to draw as much attention to itself as humanly possible.

Most of the time, it works, especially when it comes to the other candied-out cool kids on the playground, the national television media. (For instance, Rachel Maddow linked back to a copy of the AP story.)

Now we see how ODNR won this public relations battle with the media.

By electing not to advance the report to the local media as anticipated, ODNR knew the Associated Press would run with whatever excerpt they put at the top of the ODNR report’s executive summary.

By electing to release the report on a Friday, they minimized publicity, because, quite frankly, by the time Monday rolls around, the story’s prominence will wear off.

As for the actual regulations, the ODNR report failed to touch on many important aspects, including its highly criticized definition of brine — in simple terms, ODNR does not distinguish between lightweight and heavy brine — which could have impacted the D&L Energy Inc. Youngstown well, which operated at a higher pressure than any other injection well in the state.

Those tough regulations, some could argue, were regulatory oversights.

(I could go on, but I will need something to write about Monday when I return from vacation.)

It’s facts like these that will get vetted by the local media but will generally be ignored by the national media.

ODNR spoonfed its message to the national media in one heaping mound.

But that dish now heads in the direction of the local media, which will narrow the focus on the real details of the report.

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Bad Business Decisions: Part III

Youngstown, Ohio — The City of Youngstown has gotten a lot right recently.

Greater police presence downtown and new business attraction are just two examples.

But this week Youngstown got something, so, so wrong.

It decided it wants to charge for parking.

The reason is respectable; it wants to deter downtown workers from hoarding parking spaces intended for restaurant-goers and, on rare occasions, tourists.

But installing parking meters in a city that can’t decide on a way to fully market itself is like a movie theatre charging $8.50 for a week-old flick at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday.

There may be a parking problem in downtown Youngstown, but parking meters are no way to solve the issue. (Photo by William D. Lewis | The Vindicator)

You’re charging a premium for a good or service that otherwise has little value.

Some employers, such as Richard Thomashow, owner of Jerry Lee’s Jewelry, says the parking issue is “killing the revitilazation of downtown.”

“I’m 100 percent in favor of meters,” he said.

You know what else will kill the revitilzation of downtown?

Parking meters.

The reason goods and services cost money is because that particular good or service has value.

Parking spaces in Youngstown don’t have value, and likely won’t for quite some time.

Parking spaces are abundant.

I work downtown at least five days a week and don’t pay one cent for the privilege to park. (No, I do not have employer-sponsored parking.)

Parking meters in most cases don’t work and are not favored by most business owners.

Don’t believe me?

Check out Sarasota, Fla., Delray Beach, Fla., Gainesville, Fla., San Francisco, Berkeley, Calif., Columbia, Mo., and Grand Junction, Colo.

I’m sure I can find more examples of parking meters negatively impacting business, but I limited myself to a five minutes of Google searches.

Don’t mistake my disdain of parking meters in Youngstown (from a business, not a personal standpoint) to overshadow the target idea for parking meters.

Parking meters are a way to regulate traffic in booming cities or city districts while providing a revenue stream.

This overregulation, however, could be deadly to up-and-coming businesses. Enforcing parking laws already in place, or — gasp — employers offering parking stipends or other parking arrangements for their employees, would not only free up parking spaces for business purposes, but could actually attract suburbanites to the city.

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Money in the bank? Stephen Colbert wins South Carolina primary

Youngstown, Ohio — Newt Gingrich may have won the GOP South Carolina primary Saturday night, but when it came to money spent and votes earned, Stephen Colbert topped the entire Republican field.

Stephen Colbert, er, Herman Cain, finished fifth in South Carolina, but spent the fewest dollars per vote.

Colbert and his Super PAC, The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC, spent about $17,600 on ad time in the Palmetto State, according to published media reports.

Even if that total is a conservative estimate, Colbert, whose name did not appear on the South Carolina ballot — he urged supporters to vote for former GOP candidate Herman Cain, whose name remained on the ballot — spent far less per vote than any other GOP candidate.

Colbert and a pro-Colbert Super PAC spent about $2.80 per vote for the 6,000-plus votes Cain received, according to unofficial vote counts.

Cain, the first major candidate to drop out of presidential contention in December, did not participate in voting in Iowa or New Hampshire. He still received more votes in South Carolina than former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann — combined.

Perry, who dropped out days before the primary, and a pro-Perry Super PAC spent about $2.5 million, or about $1,000 per vote.

Mitt Romney, who along with pro-Romney Super PACs spent about $4.6 million in South Carolina and finished second in votes, finished dead last in votes-per-dollar among candidates still in the race.

Romney spent about $28 per vote for about 165,000 votes.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul and pro-Paul Super PACs spent about $22 per vote. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and a pro-Santorum Super PAC spent about $17 per vote.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the winner of the primary, and a pro-Gingrich Super PAC spent about $9.75 per vote.

Total ad spending in South Carolina topped $13 million.

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You can’t drink money — or well water, apparently

Youngstown, Ohio — Columbus resident and fracking protester Jenny Morgan last week serenaded the Ohio Statehouse with her song, “You Can’t Drink Money.”

It was a reference to the possible water contamination from fracking for natural gas and oil, a billion-dollar industry.

But new data shows that many Pennsylvania water wells aren’t contaminated as a result of fracking.

They’re just poorly constructed.

According to data from Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences, 40 percent of all water wells in Pennsylvania “fail to meet at least one safe-drinking water standard.”

“While proper well construction does not completely eliminate water-quality problems, it clearly plays a role in preventing surface contaminants from getting into wells,” said Bryan Swistock, senior water resources extension associate at PSU with more than two decades of water-well experience. “Our research has shown that inadequate water-well construction is a contributing factor to the failure of some private wells to meet safe-drinking-water standards.”

Coliform bacteria was found in nearly one-third of water wells; E. coli bacteria, which originate from either animal or human wastes and thus represent a more serious health risk, were found in 14 percent of water wells.

This poses a health issue, especially in a time when many residents are fearful that chemicals from fracking will find their way into water wells.

Fracking is a process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil.

The drilling industry has come under fire for its reluctance to publicly disclose the chemicals used in the process, which, if spilled on the surface, can possibly contaminate water wells, even more so if the wells are poorly constructed like in Swistock’s study.

Swistock’s analysis also screams for the need for residents to get their water wells tested, not just prior to fracking to set a water quality baseline, but also to protect their health regardless of any drilling activities.

As it pertains to fracking, the Environmental Protection Agency is doing just that. It had previously selected seven locations gearing up for fracking activities for an environmental study.

But landowners shouldn’t rely on the EPA.

Christopher Baronzzi, an attorney with the Youngstown law firm Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell, said all landowners — including those with water-protection clauses in leases — should conduct baseline-water tests before any drilling activity.

But as the stats in Pennsylvania show, the real threat could be poorly constructed and maintained wells, and it’s in a landowner’s best interest to get his or her well water tested on a regular basis.

Sure, it will cost a little money — around $100 for a basic test here in Mahoning County.

But as Morgan implies in her anti-fracking song, wait too long and you won’t be able to drink that water, or your money.

There’s much more on this subject at

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Frack Attack: How Plunderbund failed to tell the whole story

Detroit — Detractors of fracking claim the controversial process will destroy land, contaminate drinking water and ruin life as we know it.

Fracking, of course, is the process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil.

They hark on the drilling industry’s secrecy — which, to an extent, is a problem — and demand full transparency.

Transparency is a trait that everyone can accept.

But at last check, transparency is not a one-way street.

When the blog Plunderbund published a story about violations at well sites in Ohio, I prematurely applauded the article.

Then I read the story.

“… we found that 693 gas and oil wells in Ohio failed inspections performed by ODNR inspectors last year, resulting in 1,625 distinct violations.

Violations for Failure to legibly identify well (347 violations) were most frequent, followed by Nonproduction wells that need to be plugged or placed in temporary inactive status (251 violations).

It’s all accurate information, and the investigation appears to be thorough, even breaking down the violations by type and county.

But the article fails to put those violations into context. In 2011, 693 gas and oil wells failed inspection.

Ohio has nearly 68,000 wells.

That means that 1 percent of all Ohio wells failed an inspection last year.

To compare the irresponsibility of the natural gas and oil industry, which in Ohio was 1 percent, to everyday life, read this.

That’s right, 14 percent of licensed Ohio drivers have an OVI conviction.

What’s the more deadly scenario here?

For those of you still reading who don’t know my background and think I’m an industry schill, I urge you to read this, this, this, this and this.

Does natural gas and oil drilling cause contamination?


I can’t recall a single industry individual who hasn’t acknowledged that contamination can, and does occur, when a driller makes a mistake.

But put it in context.

The evidence, from last year at least, indicates the problems were few and far between.

Whether the Ohio Department of Natural Resources can fulfill its obligations moving forward — it currently has about 30 well inspectors — is still up in the air.

Plunderbund will be watching. I will be watching.

But as we demand transparency from the industry and state regulators, we must adhere to the same principles.

There’s much more on this subject at

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Media mistakes injection wells for fracking

Detroit — Ohio’s decision to ban a handful of brine-injection wells — and Saturday’s 4.0 magnitude earthquake — has caused some confusion regarding the oil and natural gas drilling frenzy.

Many Mahoning Valley residents have taken to Twitter, Facebook and have even called local politicians calling for a statewide ban on fracking, mistakenly believing that the process has caused 11 Valley earthquakes this year.

Who is to blame for this misinformation? The national media.

NPR, CBC, and Bloomberg have recently implicated fracking as the cause of the Valley quakes.

Fracking is a process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet — in the case of the Utica Shale, about 6,000 feet — below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil. Fracking is an extraction process.

Vertical fracking has been around for more than a half-century. Horizontal fracking is a relatively new technology that allows drillers access to untapped natural gas and oil reserves.

Injection wells are the opposite; the fluid used in the fracking process is injected deep into the ground, sometimes as deep as 9,300 feet in Ohio.

In the case of the 11 Valley earthquakes this year, fracking is not the cause.

The nearest horizontal fracking operation is in Milton Township, about 20 miles west of Youngstown.

There is no horizontal fracking going on in the immediate Youngstown area.

There was, however, one fully-functional injection well, on Ohio Works Drive in Youngstown.

That well was shut down by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on Friday. There are between 176 operating injection wells and 194 permitted injection wells in Ohio. There are about 68,000 gas wells in Ohio.

There’s much more on this subject at

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