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I Got a Rock

Ghosts, goblins, werewolves, vampires, and monsters are synonymous with Halloween, but so is the Great Pumpkin, at least for Peanuts fans anyway. Much like the tradition of A Charlie Brown Christmas airing yearly on television around Christmas time, the television special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown airs before Halloween. Similarly to the annual Christmas special, the Halloween favorite is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, based on the comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, first aired in 1966 on CBS, where it continued to air annually through 2000. In 2001, ABC picked up the rights. It has aired on ABC ever since. It was the second Peanuts themed holiday special to air on television and stars all of the Peanuts favorites, Charlie Brown, Sally, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, Woodstock, and the rest of the crew.

The legend of the Great Pumpkin is extremely similar to the story of Santa Claus and Linus is a true believer. According to him, every year on Halloween night the Great Pumpkin rises out of his pumpkin patch and flies through the air with his bag of toys for all the children. This special tells the story of Halloween with the Peanuts characters as well as Linus’s dedication to his belief in the Great Pumpkin by spending the night waiting for him in the “most sincere” pumpkin patch.

To me, this yearly story of the Great Pumpkin is even better than the Christmas special. I think it’s funnier and more unique, especially because of the concept of the Great Pumpkin. I always laugh to myself when I watch Charlie Brown trick-or-treat with his friends or when he completely misses kicking the football because Lucy pulls it out from under him. It’s those little moments that make the Halloween special a yearly treat for those that grew up watching it.

This year the 50th anniversary special airs on Wednesday night on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET. I’m stoked to see Linus convince Sally to spend Halloween with him waiting for the Great Pumpkin, watch Charlie Brown get rocks, and re-learn that you should never discuss religion, politics, or the Great Pumpkin with anyone. I’m sure it will be as good as always for the 50th time.

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Three Strikes, You’re Out

Baseball, or America’s pastime, has been part of United States culture for a long time. Its origin dates back to the mid-18th century. By the late 1800’s and 1900’s baseball was widely recognized as the national sport of America and has grown to be a summer time favorite of sports fans throughout the nation.

If you played baseball growing up, chances are you might have played Little League, an organization that was founded in 1939 by Carl E. Stotz. Little League is one of the most popular and most recognized youth baseball leagues in the world. Every year since 1947 Little League honors the best Little League teams in the world by hosting a tournament called the Little League World Series in the town where it was founded, Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

It’s not an easy road to Williamsport. First, All-Star teams are selected from each Little League to compete in district, sectional (in some states/countries), divisional, and regional tournaments. Currently, the Little League World Series features 16 teams (8 American and 8 International) of players ages 11-13 from various regions across the globe. The U.S. regions are comprised of New England (made up of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts), Mid-Atlantic (made up of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, DC), Great Lakes (made up of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, and Wisconsin), Southeast (made up of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee), Midwest (made up of North/South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, and Missouri), Southwest (made up of Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas East and West), Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Alaska), and West (made up of Northern and Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Hawaii). Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Europe and Africa, Asia-Pacific and Middle East, and Latin America are the international regions. With the long road to the Little League World Series making it to South Williamsport is an accomplishment for any team.

Once in Williamsport, the teams stay in dorms on the Little League complex. The players and coaches compound known as “The Grove” has been described as a little leaguer’s dream. It has a game room, pool, and all the food any kid would want. No one other than the players and coaches can go there either. The Little League complex in South Williamsport features more than just player dorms. There are two Little League stadiums, Volunteer Stadium, which opened in 2001 when the World Series expanded to include 16 teams instead of just 8, and the legendary Howard J. Lamade Stadium, which opened in 1959. Through the years Lamade has expanded and grown along with Little League Baseball. It went under an expansion in 1971, added lights in 1992 so night games could be played, and in 2006 the fences were moved back 20 ft to allow for more doubles and triples. The complex also features numerous practice fields and a museum dedicated to the past and present of Little League Baseball and Softball. During the week and half long tournament at the end of August, the players are treated like star athletes. They sign autographs and take photos with fans and receive media coverage from ESPN.

Since 1963 the ABC network (which is now in association with ESPN) has covered the Little League World Series. Until the late 80’s only the championship game was televised. Then slowly more games received coverage by ABC and ESPN. By 2007, all but one game was to air live on the networks. Now even the regional tournaments are getting major coverage. As of 2014, all regional tournament games can be streamed live online via ESPN3 with the exception of the Southeast and New England regional which are aired in full on regional networks affiliated with ESPN. The semifinals and final regional games are shown on the well-known sports network.

For those attending the Little League World Series, it never comes at a price. Parking and admission are free. The only time tickets are issued are for bigger games, like the championships or games where large crowds are expected (i.e. if a team within close driving distance like one from Pennsylvania makes it to Williamsport), but even then, the tickets are still free. They’re either distributed on a first come, first serve basis or in a random drawing.

I’ve attended the Little League World Series many times. Since it’s only an hour and a half drive from my home town, I attended annually from 2005-2012 and then once more in 2014. Typically my seat of choice came from bringing a soccer chair and setting it up on the first of the two hills that overlook Lamade Stadium. It’s standard practice for Little League fans to watch the game from either the hill or in the Stadium. The second hill only fills up for major games because it’s usually reserved for sliding down on cardboard, which is kind of a right of passage at the Little League World Series. During my first few trips to the Little League World Series I spent some serious time sliding on that hill. Before my first trip to South Williamsport, I watched the Little League World Series on TV so I knew what to expect when I saw that hill. Needless to say I was pumped to take my first slide on the short but steep slope. In addition to the hill, there’s a ton of other fun activities for guests like pin trading, merch shopping, sponsorship tents, and plenty of delicious and reasonably priced food. With all the activities as well as the games, the Little League World Series was something I looked forward to every summer after I attended for the first time.

This year’s Little League World Series will come to a close this Sunday, when two teams, one from the United States and one from an international region, meet for the championship. The championship game will air at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC. First a United States Champion and International Champion need to be crowned. Those games take place tomorrow and will both be aired on ABC as well. The International Championship will feature the East Seoul Little League from Seoul, South Korea and the Aguadulce Cabezera Little League from Aguadulce, Panama, which represent the Asia-Pacific and Latin America regions, respectively. The game takes place at 12:30 p.m. ET at Howard J. Lamade Stadium. The United States Championship will go to either the Maine-Endwell Little League from Endwell, NY or the Goodlettsville Baseball Little League from Goodlettsville, Tennessee. The U.S. Championship starts at 3:30 p.m. ET and also takes place in Lamade Stadium.

For the players, parents, coaches, volunteers and spectators at the Little League World Series, it’s more than just baseball. Memories are made and stories unfold. For the players, the memories last a lifetime, as well as some of the relationships made between teammates or with other kids from all over the world. It’s an experience like no other. The rest who attend make their memories in other ways like sliding down the hill on a piece of cardboard, catching a foul ball, creating an environment for the players to have the best week ever, spending the day with their kid(s) or even watching their own kid hit a home run. It’s easy to see why the Little League World Series is a special place and a place that anyone who’s ever worn the Little League patch should visit.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Every year for the last 50 years A Charlie Brown Christmas has aired on television during the holiday season. A few weeks ago, a special celebrating the annual Christmas show aired on ABC. I guess I should have written about A Charlie Brown Christmas that week, but I figured since Christmas in is in a few days it might be nice to get in the spirit this week.

A Charlie Brown Christmas is based on the Peanuts comic strip created by Charles M. Schulz. It first debuted on December 9, 1965 on CBS. It was produced by Lee Mendelson and directed by Bill Melendez. In the show, the main character, Charlie Brown, is very depressed during the Christmas season. When fellow Peanut and friend Lucy suggests that he should direct the annual school Christmas play, Charlie Brown decides to go for it since it might be a good way to help him combat his holiday blues. Upon taking the directing role, Charlie Brown finds himself disrespected and ignored by his peers. It takes a little reminder from his friend Linus to get into the spirit of Christmas and remember the true meaning of the season.

The special was created in only six months on a very small budget and was commissioned and sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company. They also cast child actors to voice the characters in a move that was seemingly unconventional at the time. Another unconventional move by the creators was having a jazz score performed by Vince Guaraldi and an absence of a laugh track (the standard for animated programs at the time). Although it was unsure how the special would be received by the public, A Charlie Brown Christmas had much success. Along with the annual airing of the show, it also received both an Emmy and a Peabody Award. The soundtrack has gone triple platinum in the U.S. as well.

I can’t really remember when I was introduced to the Peanuts and A Charlie Brown Christmas in particular because I always watched it growing up. In fact, I’m pretty sure I had the special on a VHS tape to watch whenever I wanted to. My mother was and still is a big Peanuts fan, so much so, that she owns plenty of Peanuts merchandise and watches the Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Halloween specials every year. This is why it seems that all of the Peanuts holiday specials have been a staple in my life for a very long time.

I tuned in a few weeks ago to watch the 50th Anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas on ABC and I learned a lot about the show. Most, if not all, of what I wrote in the blog today was info I learned from the special. I’m sure many others learned a lot about A Charlie Brown Christmas that day as well. For a lot people, watching the show is a holiday tradition. Families gather around the TV every year to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas and subsequently, pass it on future generations. I actually just watched it with my four year old cousin over the weekend. The jazz score more commonly know as “Linus & Lucy” plays on radio stations and playlists throughout the Christmas season as well. There’s no doubt in my mind that most people can hum the famous tune if asked. Though Charlie Brown complains of the commercialization of Christmas in the famed Christmas show, it is much more commercialized today. A Charlie Brown Christmas reminds us every year through all the hustle and bustle that Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ and promotes peace on earth and goodwill towards men (and women!). And that’s what Christmas is about Charlie Brown! *cue “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”*

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

When The Walt Disney Company purchased Marvel in 2009, it began creating a bunch of projects incorporating the famed comic book company. Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and a sequel to Iron Man were some of the first movie releases post-Disney purchase. All the movies had one thing in common though. Each plot line included elements that foreshadowed a disaster that would take a union of earth’s mightiest heroes to fix. This also meant an epic blockbuster picture known as The Avengers. The Avengers, or the team made up of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow, are a group of superheroes put together to save the world by an organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), an FBI style agency that deals with super humans and any issues that may arise because of them. In the 2012 movie, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), united the Avengers to stop Thor’s adopted brother, Loki, from taking over earth, which they succeeded at. Of course in the meantime, there were some casualties. One in particular was S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who played an instrumental role in several of the Marvel films leading up to The Avengers. However, the “death” of Phil Coulson helped to set up Marvel’s prime time live action television series premiering on ABC a little over a year after the release of the epic super hero movie.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. first aired in September 2013. It followed up on what happened to Agent Coulson (Gregg) after he supposedly died in the feature film. If you haven’t already guessed, he was brought back to life and the mystery of how eventually gets answered along the way. The series follows Coulson and his team, May (Ming-Na Wen), Ward (Brett Dalton), Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), and Skye (Chloe Bennet) as they face issues with people who have powers and with the terrorist organization, Hydra. At the end of the first season last May, Hydra had come full force at S.H.I.E.L.D. after being in a dormant state for so long with members of the deceptive terrorist group pretending to be S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. The second season which premiered this past September saw the addition of some new agents to Coulson’s team (Hunter (Nick Blood), Mack (Henry Simmons), and Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki)) as the story continued with S.H.I.E.L.D. trying to rebuild itself and put an end to Hydra. The final episode of the show’s second season just aired Tuesday night with a possible foreshadowing of the rebuilding of Hydra under a new leader and a new mystery involving the Kree Stone that was introduced in Season 2. A third season will begin in September with a continuation of the where the second season left off as well as new trials and tribulations for S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Coulson and the members of his team.

I first started watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on the date it initially aired in September 2013 (the night before I left for my first trip to California). I was a fan of The Avengers as well as Thor (Loki’s actually my favorite character…haters gonna hate), but I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy the Marvel TV series as much. There was no reason to be hesitant though because I was roped in from the start. After the first episode, I knew the series would be filled with action, excitement, and twists as the series progressed. I’ve followed the show ever since. It’s lived up to my expectations.

My favorite thing about the show is how it’s intertwined with the rest of the Marvel Universe. When a new Marvel film comes out (sequels to Thor and Captain America were released post-Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debut, as well as an Avengers sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, which came out 2 weeks ago), a small part of the show the week before the movie release and a small part the week after coincide with the film. It makes viewers want to go out to see the movie on opening weekend in case there’s anything important in the movie that relates to the show the following week or vice versa. Is it absolutely necessary to see all the movies? Probably not, but it helps. For instance, I’ve never seen any of the Captain America movies, nor do I plan on seeing them. When the latest one came out last April, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I should see it for the sake of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fortunately I have friends who are Marvel fans too who went to see it. I asked one of them if there was anything I needed to know and she provided me with the info. Then again, I’m sure there were some things that happened in the movie that were a precursor to the newest Avengers that I missed out on. The whole system is a great money-making tactic. It’s also the only time I’ve ever watched a TV show that does something of this nature.

Not only does the show relate to the Marvel films, but it also includes guest appearances by characters from some of those films. Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Sif (Asgardian warrior), and Peggy Carter (now the lead character in another Marvel spin-off TV series entitled “Agent Carter”) are just some of the characters that have appeared on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and in the films. I’m sure with a third season beginning in a few months there will be more characters to add to that list. Who knows, maybe there will be a point when an Avenger makes a guest appearance. With the Marvel overlap, I wouldn’t put it past the show’s creators to make it happen.

With the number of successful Marvel films released in recent years, it’s no surprise that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done well. The Marvel fan base has grown and with new films to be released in the not so distant future I’m sure the television show will keep thriving. If you’ve seen any of the Marvel films that I mentioned over the last 7 years, I’m sure you’d appreciate Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. if you don’t already. The story lines are constantly developing. There’s action. There’s a hint of mystery. There’s twists, turns, and curve balls thrown along the way. Not to mention, there’s the references and reminders that the show is part of the Marvel Universe. It really is flat-out, so cool. There’s no better way to understand it than to check it out and become a part of the world of Marvel. So what are you waiting for?

Last Man Standing

While growing up, Friday and Saturday night television used to be legendary. ABC had a solid Friday night lineup with Boy Meets World and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Saturday always consisted of Nickelodeon with All That, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Kenan and Kel, The Secret World of Alex Mack, Kablam, and The Adventures of Pete & Pete. That was of course before I had plans on Friday and Saturday nights. Then middle school, high school, and college came around and I never watched any TV on the weekend nights (except maybe Sunday). In fact only until recently did I start paying attention to the Friday night programming thanks to one show: Last Man Standing.

Last Man Standing starring former 90’s TV icon, Tim Allen (Home Improvement) began it’s television run in 2011. I caught it a few times in the last few years because when my mom had no Friday night plans and I was home, she would watch it. In the last few months I really started watching it though. I have to say it’s probably one of the most underrated shows on TV. In my opinion it’s one of the best Friday night shows since Boy Meets World.

The show is about a family from Denver, CO and Tim Allen plays the dad/senior executive and director of marketing for an outdoor sports merchandise franchise, Mike Baxter. Instead of having three sons this time around, Allen has three older daughters (and a wife) with their own entertaining storylines…hence the whole “last man standing” concept. Between Mike, the personalities of his daughters and wife, his job, his boss and one of his hair-brained employees, the show cracks jokes at just about anything, including politics (Baxter is highly conservative). It’s the kind of comedy that’s fun for the whole family in a similar way that Home Improvement was (meaning no constant dirty/crude humor).

As a fan of Home Improvement growing up, last week’s episode of the show was particularly entertaining as Patricia Richardson (Jill Taylor…Tim’s wife from Home Improvement) guest starred. Not to mention there was a brief cameo for Jonathan Taylor Thomas (Randy…Tim’s son). In the first scene where Richardson appeared both her Allen bantered back and forth like old times, mostly with her ripping apart her former TV husband.

Although I still might not be home every Friday night, the internet provides the opportunity to watch episodes that have aired previously on ABC. So I can always make up for an episode I missed (as it goes for many shows on tv these days). In this way, even if you’re not around on a Friday you can still watch this show which will guarantee you a few laughs. It’s definitely worth checking out.