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Culture Vultures

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- Based on Howard's recommendation from last week, this afternoon we all went to Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's famous architectural foundation and studio located right here in Scottsdale.

When it was built in 1937, Taliesin West (Wright's original Taliesin home is in Spring Green, Wisconsin) was almost literally the only human habitation for miles around. Scottsdale was a dusty village of a couple of thousand people. Now, of course, wealthy subdivisions surround the compound in northeast Scottsdale at the base of the McDowell Mountains.

But the mission that Wright set out to do continues to this day. There's an active architectural school where students, apprentices and architects study and design. They live on the land in sheltered tents and study and work in the original buildings (somewhat modified over the last 65 years) that Wright designed.

The tour is fascinating, showing how the rocks were taken out of the mountains and formed into the walls that Wright felt made the buildings one with its environment, and touring both the buildings (including Wright's home) and the grounds of the compound. The highlight for the kids was in the very last building we toured, a cabaret-style performance center where there was a piano set into a corner of the building (apparently Wright designed homes with these "piano nooks" and told people when they asked what these cutouts were, that they needed to buy a piano and learn how to play it).

Anyway, the tour guide asked if anyone knew how to play and Rachel's hand shot up and she went out and performed "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" in front of an appreciative audience of 20. We learned later that Billy Joel, among others, has played that piano. The piano and performance area is set on a platform where there is air underneath in order to make the acoustics perfect, and you could tell that from the tour guide; when she stepped off the platform the timbre of her voice actually audibly changed.

If you're ever in the Phoenix area, this tour is highly recommended. It lasts 90 minutes and one warning -- it is a bit pricey, $22 for adults and $10 for kids under 12, but I thought it was well worth it.

All of this is not only to tell you about my day today, but to avoid discussing tonight's disheartening 3-1 Cub loss to the Reds in Cincinnati.

It's disheartening, I suppose, because of the huge buildup and anticipation of Greg Maddux' first appearance in a Cub uniform since 1992, and since Maddux had pitched very well all spring, and the Reds frankly aren't a very good team, I expected better.

Actually, Maddux didn't throw too bad a game; he made two mistakes at very bad times, and gave up two homers as a result: a solo shot from Adam Dunn in the 2nd and a two-run homer by Ken Griffey Jr. in the third, and that was pretty much it. The Cubs couldn't get their offense untracked at all today; the only run was a consolation Derrek Lee home run with two out in the 9th. Andy Pratt made his Cub debut and threw a scoreless inning. Best news is that Maddux threw only 78 pitches in his six innings; that makes two days in a row that Dusty Baker has kept a starter's pitch count at a very reasonable level.

Matt Clement is the listed starter for tomorrow afternoon's game, and that means Carlos Zambrano, Sergio Mitre (gulp) and Kerry Wood will start against the Braves in Atlanta, and leave Maddux on track to start the home opener on Monday, which as of now will be played in 45-degree weather with partly cloudy skies. As Opening Day weather goes, we've had a lot worse.

I couldn't watch this game at all (don't get the idea that I "couldn't watch"; I would have loved to, but could not, being still here in Arizona), so I followed the game both on ESPN's GameCast and MLB's GameDay, since at times both of these Internet-based feeds would freeze up and I'd have to switch to the other one. It seemed for the most part that MLB's was ahead and more timely, and it actually indicated the rain delay on its play-by-play. ESPN's site simply stopped reporting until the game resumed. I hate to admit that MLB has a better product here, but they do. Over the winter I actually was contacted by MLB to be part of its "reporter" program, where you input the information via laptop computer and send it to MLB's website, for these live simulcasts.

It sounded interesting, and it pays $85 a game, but you know what? I turned them down because I really want to enjoy baseball with my friends and keep score and I thought that doing this, interesting though it sounded, would actually feel too much like work. Baseball's fun and ought to be so, and I want to keep it that way.

And hey, what's going on with the Tigers? They won again today, 6-3 over Toronto. Last year it took them 22 tries to win three games, and the three wins is 7% of their entire 2003 win total. The way things are going, I'm glad the Cubs don't have to play them this year!