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Heading to the Dominican Republic for my first time ever in a few days! Why?

The David Ortiz Children’s Fund Celebrity Golf Classic. No, I’m not kidding. Let me explain…

Now yes, I’ve rooted vehemently (understatement) against Big Papi on the field. Away from it – different story. I never told anyone this but about six years ago, he and his team sent me a signed photo, personalized to a big fan who at the time was battling cancer. It meant a lot to the boy’s family and I appreciated that they accommodated the request so easily.

It makes sense Ortiz was quick to oblige; his foundation helps children in both New England and the Dominican Republic who do not have access to the critical pediatric services they need.
So when I was offered the chance to cover this event in the DR, I didn’t have to think twice about it. I met Ortiz last fall at Mohegan Sun and I’m looking forward to seeing him again this weekend.

The fact that some other current and former Yankees will be there (Johnny Damon, Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Robinson Cano and Gary Sheffield) doesn’t hurt either.

Oh, and if you’d like to help the Foundation now (and maybe cross some people off your gift list), check out the Fund’s auction which just went live.

Catch ya from the DR in a few days where in the words of the great philosopher Drake, “I’ll be in the Dominican… Big Papi Ortiz!”

Have you ever walked in to a place, surveyed the area and concluded that someone may have literally picked it up, turned it upside down and then placed it back on its right side?

#TBT from my first trip to Wrigley Field last year.

#TBT from my first trip to Wrigley Field last year.

This is how I felt at 3 am on Thursday morning as I walked in to Kelly’s, one of my favorite East Village haunts. I’m inherently a fan of Kelly’s because it serves as a home for fans of both my Buffalo Bills and Sabres. The wings (and for that matter, anything in the deep fryer) are delicious and the Blue Light is usually a plentiful.

Kelly’s is an interesting spot for a couple of reasons, one being that in addition to housing Bills and Sabres faithful, it also backs the Chicago Cubs and Bulls. So when the Cubs made the World Series, I knew exactly where to go and watch the game. Matter-of-fact, that is what I did for Sunday’s Game 5, a Cubs win in Wrigley.

Of course I was working during Game 7 but after the game finished, around 3 am, I jetted down to the Lower East Side to see if there were any revelers still celebrating. What I walked in to was a semi-madhouse. Keep in mind; it’s the middle of the week.

Forget stools, people were actually still just sitting right on the bar drinking. Or standing on a bench. You couldn’t find a part of the floor your shoes didn’t stick to. And the Blue Light is usually a plentiful, but the watering hole was actually sold out of bottled beer.

I love Kelly’s. Seriously the only thing that made me upset about any of this was that I wasn’t there when the final out was recorded. In lieu of that, here’s some video via Instagram of the celebration that ensued.

A video posted by yasmina (@yazzyfresh3) on


And what you didn’t see was the crowd OUTSIDE the bar, the width of the building and packed back in to the street.

It must have been memorable, because even at 3 am on a weeknight the place was still buzzing. I stayed for a couple of draft brews and then headed up Avenue A to another establishment that I feel a certain kinship towards: the venerable dive bar Niagara. I mean, I am from Niagara Falls after all.

The night finally ended at Sophie’s, which apparently has been an East Village staple for quite some time, although this was my first visit. There are $4 bottled beers, a pool table and a lot of regulars that like to hang out there, even at 4 am last call on a Thursday morning.

An Uber ride and Seamless bodega order later, my night came to an end. It definitely wasn’t how I had planned to spend my Wednesday night. I guess you could say it got turned upside down.

Adam LaRoche abruptly retired from baseball this week, allegedly because the Chicago White Sox told him he could no longer bring his teenage son to the ballpark every day. LaRoche, looking to bounce back from a disappointing season, will pass up his guaranteed salary of $13 million.

“Thank u Lord for the game of baseball and for giving me way more than I ever deserved! #FamilyFirst,” LaRoche tweeted, prior to the news of his ballclub’s request becoming public. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal broke the story; White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams spoke with LaRoche about his son last week and again on Sunday according to the Chicago Tribune.

“Even 50 percent (of the time) is probably too much, but there’s a wide range between 0-50 percent, so I was a little surprised by the stance he took, which is unfortunate,” Williams told the Tribune. “He talks about being there for his family, and he put it front and center. I respect and admire that.”
laroche
The response on Twitter has been actually quite tempered. How do you knock a man for putting his son ahead of $13 million? Why would any employer, especially a ball club looking to return to the postseason, allow employees to bring their kids to work every single day?

As evidenced on this blog and confirmed by those who listen to my radio show, I am far from Switzerland. But this is one of those rare times when no one is wrong. LaRoche perhaps felt he set a precedent last season by signing with the Sox and bringing 14 year-old Drake to the park every day. The White Sox might believe that the clubhouse isn’t a place for kids all of the time, and may have been trying to send a message to LaRoche. The Designated Hitter batted .207 with 12 homers and 44 RBIs, all below his career averages.

And yes, there might be added pressure on the South Side this year following the Cubs’ run to the National League Championship Series last season. Heading in to Opening Day next month, the North Siders are the odds-on favorite in Las Vegas to win the World Series.

That shouldn’t matter to a father whose primary focus is taking care of a child. And that should matter to a business which not only has to look out for its employees but essentially has a large group of shareholders (fans) to look out for.

Each side made the correct decision for their best interest. Hopefully for all parties involved, in true Switzerland policy, the conclusion is a peaceful one.

The buzz continues to build, the schedule continues to fill up and the guys that comprise Walk The Moon continue to find themselves in an album cycle that admittedly they want to see stretch out for as long as possible. When you look at what has happened in 2015 to the group, you really can’t blame them.

“Shut Up and Dance” is in serious contention for “Song of the Summer.” The band’s next single from its sophomore album Talking Is Hard will be “Different Colors,” an anthem of different gravitas but near-equal jubilation. And the Cincinnati-quartet is playing all types of stages: as headliners, as supporters for The Rolling Stones and as performers on “Good Morning America” and at MLB’s Home Run Derby in their home city. At this point (or at least the day after their date in Detroit with Mick, Keith and the boys), lead singer Nick Petricca credited “caffeine and adrenaline” with fueling the band, but downplayed any changes of seismic proportions in the group.

“We’ve always kept ourselves working around the clock, so in a way not much has changed,” he told me on “Ralphie Tonight.” “I think we’re going to see the results (of the single’s success) the next time we tour.”

Walk The Moon has already noticed a change in the crowd at shows, especially when those opening notes of “Shut Up” hit the speakers. But their last headlining tour sold out before the song became inescapable.

That’s not to say the single’s success hasn’t brought about other change.
WTM
“I get a whole lot more texts now saying, ‘Hey, I heard “Shut Up and Dance” in X-Y-Z bizarre situation,” noted guitarist Eli Maiman. “So like – ‘I heard it at Cardinals Stadium in St. Louis, or I heard it in Victoria’s Secret this morning.’

“And I’m like, ‘Mom, why are you telling me this?’”

When the laughter subsided, WTM told me that they also want to collaborate with other artists they enjoy; Petricca said the band hasn’t “sold a song” to anyone yet but they have written with other musicians, and Maiman teased a possible Walk The Moon-feature for another singer could be released soon.

The lead singer also mentioned that there’s a chance fans could hear some new material from the group later this year. At the moment the focus is on “Different Colors,” a song that started as a rallying cry but with recent news events such as the Supreme Court’s lifting of same-sex marriage bans, has turned in to more of a “victory march.” The single celebrates diversity and aims to unite.

“It feels really relevant to be playing it right now, and really cool,” said Maiman.

“It’s incredible,” Petricca added. “We’re just all on the same team out here and it’s cool to feel a part of a movement.”

That idea of community is something that the band can easily be reminded of every night, as they perform in front of thousands of face-painted fans whose sole objective is to have fun. No wonder they don’t want this to end.

In an interview taped prior to the release of Train’s seventh studio album “Bulletproof Picasso,” Pat Monahan and Jimmy Stafford sat down in the MLB Fan Cave for MLB.com to chat with me about the band’s new music and love for San Francisco and its Giants.


The audio portion of this interview aired on “Ralphie Tonight” following the Giants’ series win over the Nationals to advance to the NLCS. To watch the interview and Train’s MLB Fan Cave Concert, click here.

You would think by now, after five albums, four top twenty hits, and a three year hiatus, not much would surprise Train lead singer Pat Monahan. You’d think incorrectly.

“The biggest shock of my life, so far, was that about two months ago, we were nominated for three Teen Choice Awards,” admitted Monahan on “The Ralphie Radio Show.” “That was like, ‘c’mon!’ That was really great.”

Personally, I was a little shocked to see Train performing before this year’s MLB Home Run Derby in Anaheim. I didn’t even know they booked live music before such events.

“I was psyched to be there,” the lead singer said. “Major League Baseball has been super great to us, for many, many years,” Monahan continued, before revealing that his allegiance lies with a number of teams, including the Mariners (he lives in Seattle), the Athletics and Giants (the band is rooted in the Bay area), and the Pirates (Pat is from Erie, PA – near Pittsburgh).

Due to that last fact – Monahan also counts himself as a Steelers fan. The singer says he feels a little guilty rooting for Pittsburgh because of how often they win (likening them to the New York Yankees in the process), but doesn’t know what this new season will entail with the off-field troubles of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

“I don’t know what that dude’s doing,” he said. “He should go to like speed dating school or something, I dunno.”

Download the interview


Save Me, San Francisco is in stores now.


Hey – although Monahan downplays the media’s storyline of Train’s “comeback”, noting that other bands have taken much longer hiatuses to write, travel, and spend time with family – the man knows a thing or two about returning to prominence. Perhaps someone should link “Big Ben” up with him?

Anyways, Monahan and his band are currently linked up with John Mayer on an outdoor amphitheater trek, veering off the path periodically for some headlining dates as well. The front man is having fun on the road with Mayer.

“I think we’re going to write a little bit, and I love to write with dudes like that,” said Monahan, praising Mayer’s writing and guitarist skills. “Maybe there’ll be something on the next Train record or maybe we’ll write something for somebody cool – whatever. Just to get in a room with someone as talented as John is going to be cool for me.”

A pretty big compliment, especially considering Mayer was 21 when Train dropped their debut, self-titled LP in 1998. But the band is quite welcoming to the new breed of artists – Monahan once again complimented the work of Taio Cruz before our interview, and enlisted the help of Pete Wentz to direct the band’s video for “If It’s Love”, the next single from Save Me, San Francisco.

“I think the band has a really good sense of humor, and we’ve never really been able to show that,” said Monahan. “There’s nobody better at that than Pete… he was great at that.”

In addition to the band’s touring commitments, Train will make a second appearance in less than a year on NBC’s “The Today Show” August 6.