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The Misadventures of a Baseball Blogger

I wrote a piece for Narratively about my time as a Mets blogger. You can read it here. If you are either indecisive or a particularly discerning clicker, here’s a short preview that may sway you:

I wrote a blog about the New York Mets from the end of the 2009 season through the 2012 season. The Mets won 230 games and lost 256 over that span, finishing second-to-last in the division each season, with attendance falling each year despite a new stadium. For those three years, the Mets were bad, if not remarkably so.

Over those three years I spent thousands of hours watching that unremarkably bad baseball team fall down and drop fly balls and strike out. I spent thousands more hours blogging about that team. What possesses someone to spend that much time writing a blog about a bad baseball team? Why was it important for me to tell the world it would be funny to elect Brad Emaus to the All-Star team after an aborted 14-game Mets career, and that fading pitcher John Maine was somehow admirable for trying to overpower hitters even when pitching with a ruined shoulder? Why spend time this way?

If you don’t want to read what I wrote, you should at least look at the illustrations. They are fantastic. I’ve always wanted to know what a cartoon version of me directing Mr. Mets’ eyes to my crotch might look like, and now I do.

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Awakening

Long time, internet. After a brief hibernation and a handful of life changes, we’re back. Two things you should know:

1. My writing about the Mets is on Amazin’ Avenue now. Eric Simon and Co. were kind enough to take me on. Here is what I wrote today, and here I what I wrote two weeks ago. I’m shooting for a post a week, probably on Thursday or Friday.

2. Apologies to anyone who left comments since the redesign. I wasn’t checking, and it looked like the spam filter on the comments is hyper aggressive. To answer all your six-month old questions, here I am.

3. I lied, there’s a third thing. I don’t know what I’m going to do with PatrickFloodBlog.com, but for now I’ll definitely post links to whatever I write anywhere else. I may use this space for non-Mets posts too, which is something I’ve always wanted to try. Basketball and not-sports, most likely * website suddenly devolves into Bruce Springsteen fanpage *

Okay. Hugs and kisses all.

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Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com! This is your very first post. Click the Edit link to modify or delete it, or start a new post. If you like, use this post to tell readers why you started this blog and what you plan to do with it.

Happy blogging!

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Brief Links

>A quick couple of Sunday links. I’ll have a few things for y’all this week.

- The Fielding Bible recently posted a new FAQ about Defensive Runs Saved, a defensive statistic available on Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com. It’s worth taking a look if you’re interested in those sorts of things. (h/t Fangraphs)

- Surprisingly, the best “old” players are not from the steroid era. (Baseball Analysts)

- GIF images of failure. (Memories of Kevin Malone)

- Mets attendance is down, but ratings are up. (Wall Street Journal)

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Sunday Links

>$^%&#$!!! A few Sunday Links:

- From Baseball-Reference Blog: Do batters rush in the All-Star game?

- Joe Posnanski says 400, 500, and 600 home runs means less than it used to.

- I’m linking to this Book Blog post because I asked the original question. If you pay the $3 a month to Bill James’ website, you can bother him with questions that he usually answers; if you’re lucky, sometimes he’ll even answer without snark. That alone is worth the cost of admission, even if he occasionally declares your statements to be nonsense. When I’m too lazy to figure something out on my own, I’ll see if he knows the answer already. Anyway, James’ site is pay-walled so I won’t bother linking to it, but the Book Blog has the question and answer copied, plus some commentary in the . . . comments, I guess.

- Goodbye John Maine. It was fun while it lasted.

- Gary Matthews Jr. thinks he’s going to get a major league job somewhere. GMJ is probably mistaken.

* * *

The children of the sun begin to awake; their bats, not so much.

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Sunday Links

>Mets suddenly don’t look so hot. Who are all these new Braves, anyway? Eric Hinkse? Him? Gregor Blanco’s name sounds like a question . . .

Sports:

- First, plenty of LeBron reactions from all over the interweb, which was interesting mostly as a pop culture moment. In case you missed it, Will Leitch, Joe Posnanski here and here. All the statheads are predicting a 55-63 win team based on those three players and scrubs.

- Joe Janish doesn’t believe Mike Pelfrey is going through a dead arm period, but rather is victim of a subtle mechanical flaw. Pitching seems really, really hard. (Mets Today)

- Tommy Hanson is related to the Hanson brothers. This is true. (TedQuarters)

- How do the Mets starters fit in as #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 starters? (Amazin’ Avenue)

- I am the Great Cornholio! Hat tip to everywhere. (The Fightins)

- OH MY GOD, ICHIRO! (The Book Blog)

- Capitol Avenue Club wishes everyone a happy V-F day.

Sharks or dinosaurs, and something else:

- Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the Mojoceratops. (New York Times)

- Maybe you just should have made your own lost kitten posters. H/t to Jezebel.

And that’s it for now.

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Cleveland

>I went to Cleveland to visit my sister and then wrote the first half of this a few weeks ago. I couldn’t finish it then, for whatever reasons. It just didn’t seem relevant at the time, but there probably won’t be a better time to bring up Cleveland than today, at least for a while. Here you go:

Progressive Field is nestled into the northern section of Cleveland, Ohio, squeezed between a parking garage, the looming specter of LeBron James, and a highway that, depending on your perspective, leads into or out of the city. The stands enwrap a playing field that is below street level, the upper deck reaching high above the outfield grass in right. A high wall in left field pushes its way onto the field of play, ranks of steel bleachers lingering behind the wall, the scoreboard behind the bleachers, and the rise of Cleveland’s skyline behind even that. It is not a lazily designed ballpark; every section seems to have been given exactly enough room to serve its purpose. It’s tempting to describe it as cramped, but I believe cosy is more appropriate. It is an entirely comfortable place to watch a baseball game; it feels very much like the home of the Indians that it is.

The ballpark, much like Disney Land, is impeccably clean, as if this was the first time it had been used, or as if an army of men armed with powerful hoses diligently sprays down the entire park every night. Maybe the clean feeling has to do with the Indians being last in the league in attendance. It remains a warm place nonetheless. The ballpark vendors will smile patiently at slightly confused visitors who fumble with their change as they attempt to purchase a box of M&M’s. The presence of security is minimal and seemingly unnecessary; if passing through the suites is the fastest way back to the parking garage, you will be allowed and probably even encouraged to pass through the suite level. There is the usual mixture of age and interest groups in attendance: elderly couples, groups of twenty-somethings in business clothes, families. It is entirely possible that a middle-aged man seated in front of you will be wearing a black t-shirt with the three sandy cowboys from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” imprinted on the back, and then Clint Eastwood will glare at you from the man’s back for most of the game, thoroughly displeased either with you, his own miserable existence on the bottom of that man’s laundry pile, or the inability of the Indians left fielder to even loosely predict the trajectory of a spherical object in flight. Likely some combination of the three.

In the upper deck on the third base line was where I watched the worst Indians team in 20 years attempt to play baseball against the New York Mets. This Indians team featured no regulars hitting above .300 and one hitting below .200. Their star center fielder is missing, having undergone season ending surgery on his knee. Their best player, their right fielder, is playing under the threat of being called away for compulsory military service in his home country. The pitching staff is a mixture of under-performing youth and the just-performing aged. Their infielders field ground balls like butterfly nets field air, and their outfielders chase down fly balls as if they were chasing after those same butterflies. The television announcers narrate with a dreary resignation normally reserved for state funerals, the sort of soulless tone newsmen in horror films use to dutifully inform the public about the continued zombie uprising.

Unintentionally — or perhaps just unavoidably — highlighting the contrast between the storied-if-unlucky franchise and its current unstoried-if-unlucky team, the upper deck is decorated with murals of both past Indians greats and present Indians adequates. Bob Feller’s image is flanked by that of a grown man called Pronk; an image of Kenny Lofton falls somewhere between the two. Bob Lemon can be found near Fausto Carmona; an image of Lou Boudreau graces one section, Kerry Wood another. My seat was above an image of Larry Doby, Hall-of-Fame center fielder and the first black man to play baseball in the American League. In Doby’s second year — the second year blacks played in the Major Leagues — the Indians won the World Series. They have not repeated since.

It was near the image of Mr. Doby that I watched the Indians starting pitcher surrender thirteen hits in five and two-thirds innings, including six hits in a row during the top of the third. He received a standing ovation from the Cleveland crowd for heroically denying a seventh consecutive batter to hit safely.

The Indians fell behind by five runs in that third, narrowed it to 5-3 as the sun lazily disappeared on a long June day, and then saw the Mets lead expand again to five runs as the summer night took over. Cleveland threatened in the last of the eighth, finding themselves with the bases loaded and no men out, due mostly to the Mets bullpen’s liberal use of strikes. A giant drum kept by a fan in the rear of the bleachers, mostly quiet until that point, began to sound, its beat echoing optimism throughout the stadium.

The Indians responded by scoring a run on a sacrifice fly.

Then they grounded into an inning-ending double play, 5-4-3 across the infield, leaving the score at eight runs to four.

The score held in the ninth. It was another Cleveland loss in a season of Cleveland losses. The remains of the crowd lingered and finally dispersed into the night. The parking garage was emptied quickly. As we headed in our car back towards the highway, outstretched arms in black and white remained spread across the lit building behind us, an image of a man that served as the most recognizable landmark in Cleveland. The billboard read “One for All.” Beneath the lettering, a single swoosh.

***

The Indians aren’t the worst team in baseball this season, as the Orioles deny them even that lowly title. They are, however, having a miserable season in a town that is now home to three miserable sports teams, playing out the sort of season that makes their announcers go off on thoroughly amusing rants. In a crushing move, the city’s one symbol of hope just left, awkwardly announcing his decision in a prime time television special that represented everything I find embarrassing about professional sports. Things are not good in Cleveland, and it was all brought to me by Vitamin Water.

And that’s really the only word I have for it — it was embarrassing for everyone who likes sports. It’s quite clear now that LeBron James completely missed the point of just about everything. To paraphrase the music critic Greil Marcus on what America means: I’m no better than anyone else, and no one else is any better than me. We have no need for kings, particularly self-proclaimed ones. No one rooted for LeBron James because he was so much better than everyone else at basketball — no one roots for any athlete because they’re better. We root for athletes because we like to root for the good things in us that they sometimes reflect. We like to imagine that we would save our hometowns and never leave. Even if it’s not necessarily true.

I assume that winning is the most important thing to professional athletes. I can’t imagine anyone reaching the highest levels of sports without being absurdly driven to succeed. That’s what seems to have driven James to leave Cleveland — a desire to win. Good
for him. It’s the right move, in that sense.

That being said, I’m not sold on the idea that winning and losing are the things that really matter to fans. It certainly matters. I just don’t believe it matters as much as some think. The Cubs and their fans should serve as living testament to that.

I suspect that is where so many athletes like James depart from reality — winning just doesn’t matter to those of us in the stands as much as it matters to those on the field. He seems to think that people will love him if he wins, no matter what else. But the people at that Indians game in Cleveland weren’t there because they wanted to see winners. The Indians team I saw is the worst in twenty years. They were really, really bad at playing baseball, particularly considering they are paid to do so. Fans weren’t there for the people on the field — it wasn’t an atmosphere of desperation or misery. The fans were there for the people around them. I was there to spend time with my sister, my brother and my friend. Someone else was there to spend time with their father, or their grandfather, or their date. Their coworkers. Their spouse. Their buddies. Sports gives us something to talk about with the people we might not have anything else to bond over. It gives us something silly and meaningless to care about in a way that doesn’t hurt, at least not in the way real things can hurt. And maybe winning makes it more interesting, but it’s not what it’s really all about to us in the stands.

LeBron James kept mentioning his fans, thanking his fans, and that was the saddest thing about all of this. Who does he think he’s talking about? He just blew up everything about himself that was likeable, and he seems totally clueless about it. Yes, there will always be the idolaters and the talking heads who worship winning. But the people in Cleveland who bonded over liking James are now just going to bond over hating him, and keep on rooting for their Cavaliers, their Browns and their Indians, even when they’re awful.

And I’ll keep rooting for my Knicks, my Giants, and my Mets — but not because I worship the players. They’re just people. I’ll keep rooting because it gives me something silly to care about. It gives me something to talk to my father about, my mother, my siblings, my friends, or the stranger who strikes up a conversation because I’m wearing a team’s shirt. But it’s never really been about those on the field or those on the court. It’s not about LeBron James, or Alex Rodriguez, or even the David Wrights, the ones we like, whatever they and Nike and everyone else that has their hands in our pockets seems to think. It’s about meaningless games in Cleveland spending time with the people we actually love. It’s about the ones around us.

Yesterday was sad, strange, and embarrassing for the silly little obsessions we call sports. It was mostly ridiculous. But don’t forget that sports can be, and often are, better than that. We’re all better than that.

Image via Chris and/or Kevin’s Flickr.

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Fourth of July Links

>Fourth of July, the mid-way point around baseball, and everyone hates K-Rod. Summer. Links:

- First, I haven’t self plugged in a while. You can follow me on Twitter, or “like” the Facebook page. (“Like” is a verb in that sentence.)We can social network! Or whatever it’s called.

Sports Stuff

- 25 years ago today, the Mets played THE fourth of July game, complete with the least impressive cycle ever and early morning fireworks. (Daily News)

- Inside the pickoff play that ended Friday night’s Mets game. (New York Times)

- Toby Hyde says everything that probably needs to be said about the Mets trading for Cliff Lee. (Mets Minor League Blog)

- Josh Johnson has overtaken Ubaldo Jiminez as the pitcher to rave about in the National League. (Beyond the Box Score)

- Watch this video about Mariano Rivera’s cutter. Unbelievable. (New York Times)

- Basketball-Reference’s blog is actually pretty awesome. Here’s a statistical look at how losing LeBron James would turn the Cavs into something more closely resembling Cankles. (Basketball Reference)

Sharks or Dinosaurs, and then something else:

- Large dinosaurs used geothermal heat to keep their eggs warm. (Discover)

- Snoop Dogg attempted to rent Liechtenstein. As in, the entire country. For a music video. The reason he couldn’t? He didn’t give them enough notice. (BoomBox)

- It’s Independence Day. We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive!

Okay, enjoy your 4th — but for me, this boardwalk life’s through. You oughta quit this scene, too:

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Doubles and David Wright

>

David Wright hits a lot of doubles. He has twenty-two doubles this season, which puts him three off the major league lead. He has 244 career doubles in 921 career games, and is now the Mets franchise leader in two-base hits; Miguel Cabrera is the only active player under age 30 with more career doubles than Wright (and Cabrera has just 29 more doubles in about 800 more plate appearances). Still, Wright has never finished higher than seventh on the NL doubles leaderboard in any given season. He hits just enough to make it into the top ten, but not enough to jump into the top five.

As might be expected with Wright, his doubles have been boringly just about evenly distributed over his career. He hit 17 in 69 games as a rookie; then 42 the next year; 40 in 2006; 42 the year after; 42 again in 2008; and, despite everything else, he still hit 39 in the 144 games in 2009. He is on pace for around 48 this year, which would be a career high and might be enough to lead the league . . . but there’s still a lot of baseball left to play. Tomorrow never knows.

I want to bring up David Wright and his doubles because I’m often surprised at how little thought doubles are given — well, no, that’s not true. I’m not surprised by it at all. Doubles aren’t flashy little red Corvettes like home runs or stolen bases; they’re not a stat tracked in fantasy baseball leagues, likes runs and RBI; they’re not even the “most exciting play in baseball,” as triples are sometimes called. Someone hits a ball into the gap, he makes the turn at first and then coasts his way easily into second base . . . and he gets a double. It’s a bit more exciting than a well-struck single, but not all that much more exciting. SportsCenter doesn’t show a highlight reel of all the night’s doubles. It really doesn’t come as a surprise that no one pays much attention to them.

I would guess that even the most causal of baseball fans know who the all time home run leader is, the stolen base leader, and the hits leader. I’d also guess that most fans can also come up with a fair estimate for what sort of numbers their favorite players complies each year for those stats. Ryan Howard will hit between 40 and 50 home runs, Carl Crawford will steal around 50 bases, and Ichiro will put up over 200 hits. Carlos Beltran will hit around 30 home runs, Jose Reyes around 15, and Luis Castillo around none, if he gets lucky. If you follow your team, you have a feel for these sorts of things. Call it fantuition.

On the other hand, I don’t think anyone pays attention to doubles in the same way. About how many doubles does Carlos Beltran hit every year? Jose Reyes? Ryan Howard? Albert Pujols? I have to look all of those up. Who led the National League in doubles last year? Miguel Tejeda? Really? Him? Who’s the active leader in doubles? I didn’t know without looking. (It’s Ivan Rodriguez.) And the all time doubles leader  . . . well, that’s a bit of a tough all time one. Tris Speaker doesn’t quite ring with the same recognition as names like Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, and Pete Rose. For whatever reasons, no one really cares all that much about doubles. If baseball statistics are like Friends, then doubles are like Phoebe.

In fact, the all time doubles leaderboard has an interesting mix of relatively unheralded players:

Tris Speaker – 792
Pete Rose – 746
Stan Musial – 725
Ty Cobb – 724
Craig Biggio – 668
George Brett – 665
Nap Lajoie – 657
Carl Yastrzemski – 646
Honus Wagner – 643
Hank Aaron – 624

So, people had funny names a century ago, didn’t they?

Just the top five contains deadball players and a steroid era player; it also has maybe the nicest player in baseball history sandwiched between (1) a man banned from the game for life and (2) the man Ernest Hemingway once called “the greatest of all ballplayers . . . and an absolute shit.” It’s a peculiar mix of eras, playing styles, and demeanors, unlike some of the other historical leaderboards.

For comparison’s sake, five of the top ten all time home run hitters played in the 2000s, and just one played before 1950. All of the triples leaders played in the deadball era — Stan Musial is the closest thing to a contemporary player among the top twenty-five in triples. The batting average leaderboard is Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, and deadball stars. This is all in relative contrast to doubles. There doesn’t seem to be an era when doubles became more prominent. The top years for doubles are simply the top offensive years in baseball — there are no real comparative up periods as there are for home runs and triples. Because of that, the leaderboard isn’t dominated by one time period over any other one.

(Perhaps) more interestingly — and the real point here — the doubles leaderboard sees a more than a fair share of the underappreciated players in baseball history. Rose, Cobb, and Aaron are well known for their other accomplishments, but Honus Wagner, for his part, is best known for being on a baseball card. Bill James once called Craig Biggio the best player of the 1990s. Either Tris Speaker or Stan Musial might be the most severely underappreciated player of all time. I’d guess that Nap Lajoie is best known for being that guy with the funny name.

The thing is: among position players, Baseball-Reference awards Speaker the seventh most career WAR, with Musial tied for eighth place; Lajoie, Yaz, and Brett are all also ranked in the top 30. Still, I don’t know how recognizable the names of Tris Speaker and Stan Musial are, especially when compared to names like Ruth, Bonds, Mays, Aaron, Williams, and Mantle that sit around them on such lists. I suspect that it speaks to the historical underappreciation of the two-base hit’s value.

Which brings me back to David Wright and his doubles. The Mets have been playing much better baseball of late — plenty of this has to do with Jose Reyes, who has gone absolutely bonkers (.363/.404/.600, six home runs, ten steals) since May 22. He rightly deserves much of the credit. The pitching and defense have also been surprising, allowing just 3.09 runs per game in the month of June. The bullpen suddenly looks much sturdier, particularly with the addition of Bobby Parnell and his seven strikeouts in four innings of work. The manager has stopped doing inexplicable things — for the moment — and now only does explicable-if-odd things. That has all helped.

But David Wright has also been going crazy, batting .355/.410/.605 with six home runs since the May 22 win over the Yankees. He also hit thirteen doubles over that span of games, which would be an (unsustainable) pace of sixty-five doubles over a full season. The single season record for doubles is 67, set by Earl Webb in 1931. Wright is not going to keep it up, but he has been doubling at a ridiculous pace . . . but because no one pays much attention to doubles, Wright’s hot streak has gone undernoticed.

Two side notes. Skip if you don’t care:

1. Earl Webb had a peculiar baseball career. He started off as a bad pitcher in the minor leagues, compiling a 37-47 record over four seasons in the low levels, so he found himself turned into an outfielder. He played four games for the Giants in 1925, back to the minors in ’26, emerged for two seasons as a part-time outfielder for the Cubs in 1927 and 1928, disappeared to the Pacific Coast League in 1929, and then reappeared with the Red Sox in 1930. In 1931, he hit his 67 d
oubles, drove in 103 runs, hit .333, and finished sixth in MVP voting, playing for a team that won just 62 games. His performance dropped off somewhat in 1932 and he was traded to the Tigers. A year later, he was picked up on waivers by the White Sox, and then was out major league baseball just two years after setting the doubles record that still stands. He kicked around to play four more seasons in the minors, hitting well above .300 for the first three of them.

What’s particularly odd, is that his career major league line was .306/.381/.478; his minor league average was .333, with a slugging percentage of .521. The slugging percentage was mostly made up of doubles. The dude could rake — after all, he holds the single season doubles record. I have no idea why he was a full time player in the major leagues for just three years, and there isn’t much information freely available on him. Maybe it can just be chalked up to the historical undervaluing of doubles.

2. I would like to point out that Wright is batting .325 with runners in scoring position this season, if only because that stat seems only to get paraded about when he isn’t hitting with RISP.

Anyway, all the talk is “as Reyes goes, the Mets go,” or “the Mets are only as good as their starting pitching.” And that’s sort of true. The Mets play better when Reyes plays better, and they play better when they pitch better, but . . . maybe that’s because the Mets play better as a team when the individuals playing for them perform better. Or whatever.

Still, it’s easy to point to the Mets record when Jose Reyes scores a run and say that it explains their recent success. Maybe it does to a certain extent. But I think, in a way, it’s also ignoring the foundation of the Mets success. David Wright is the best player on the Mets. Jose Reyes is easily the most fun, but Wright is the best. Even during his miserable May, Wright put up a league average OPS. David Wright at his WORST is still better than half the league. Jose Reyes has been great. The pitching has been great. And David Wright has also been great. But the problem is that Wright almost always is great — even if it’s done quietly with a bunch of doubles.

For whatever reason, we just don’t pay attention to doubles — like Stan Musial, Craig Biggio, and Tris Speaker, I think David Wright will continue to be underappreciated until we do. At least, he will be as much as a superstar third baseman playing in New York can be underappreciated.

Image via Keith Allison’s Flickr.

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Sunday Links

>The Mets still have the third best record in the NL. I have no idea what to say . . . so here are links instead.


Baseball

- Johan Santana is not as good as he used to be. Nobody panic, nobody panic . . .  Everyone panic! (New York Times)

- The R.A. Dickey refutes that he is, in fact, a nerd. (Ted Berg)

- Ron Weasley Prince Harry threw out the first pitch at Citi Field yesterday. Sadly, due to being a ginger kid, he expired moments later from exposure. (Daily News)

- Jesus Felicano is rooting for the Marlins interim manager, and David Wright may be booed in Puerto Rico. (ESPN New York)

- A whole lot of Wally Backman being crazy, or perhaps just being Wally Backman. (MetsToday)

- Baseball Reference uses a different WAR formula for pitchers than Fangraphs. Here’s a look at the differences. (Beyond the Box Score)

- Chris Carter never got his home run ball back. (NY Times)

- The Dodgers made some base running mistakes the other night. It’s probably all Rhianna’s fault . . . does anyone else ever wonder if the song “Rude Boy” is about Matt Kemp? (Memories of Kevin Malone)

Sharks or Dinosaurs, and something else:

- This showed up in my Google reader, and is presented without comment. (NotCot)

- Also, this is too weird not to pass along. Some guy has a nipple on the bottom of his foot (with pictures). The foot is that of a man, and the link is to a science website, so I assume it’s all safe for work, depending on where you work. What does that feel like to walk around on? (Discover)

That’s all I got. I’ll be back with something wordier tomorrow. Until then, I don’t know if any of us will ever recover.

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