Saturday, May 15, 2010

More Teaching Moments - 2010 Preakness Stakes

I guess I have to face the fact that my children aren't that interested in horse racing - at least not as much as I am.  Perhaps they were poisoned by their Mother's groans every time TVG was showing on the weekends.  Maybe it was that they don't have a video game dedicated to the Sport of Kings.  I don't know.  So I resort to my tried and true method for ensuring attention and interest for the Preakness Stakes.  Gambling!

12 horses, 3 of us.  I take the first 4 horses.  My five year old takes the middle four (and little does he know that he has the two favorites, plus my horse, Jackson Bend) and my eight year old takes the last four horses.  If one of the boys' horses wins, that child gets their choice of Silly Bands (rubber bands shaped like objects, animals, vehicles, sports, you name it).  If I win, they BOTH get Silly Bands.  Frankly, I'm not worried about that happening since the first four horses look like absolute stiffs.

One problem that will put my theory to the test.  We're not going to be home when the race starts.  I set the DVR earlier in the afternoon thinking that maybe that's the way to go, since I can fast forward through all the syrupy crap that NBC usually pulls on us fans before the race.  My sons won't care.  As we drive home, a couple of people text me about the race, appreciating that I am horse racing fan.  "Don't tell me who wins!" I scream at my phone.  I start my description of the gambling. 

"Are we going to have to buy you dinner, again; like we did during college basketball."  Ha, they have to win in this race, otherwise I'll lose them for good.

8pm.  Home.  I'm not that interested in all of the back stories either, so I'm thankful that this was taped myself.  I watch the replay of the Derby, since Super Saver won me a lot of money a couple of weeks ago.  But I'm not convinced that Super Saver is going to do anything here.  He started to really labor at the end of the Derby and the longer race might tire him out.  Also, the weather is supposed to be decent; another strike against the Derby winner repeating at Pimlico.  Bob Neumeier takes Lookin' at Lucky, determining that he had a really bad trip in the muck and will have a much better race with a new jockey aboard and perfect weather.  I'm not sure about that pick either; one bump and the horse falls apart.  I start describing this to the boys.  They both have their head buried in their DSs. 

"Come on boys, it's race time.  Who wants to win some Silly Bands!"  I shake my head that Silly Bands are even an enticement to these guys.  Christ.

As I start to get the boys pumped up, the race begins.  Oh boy, Dublin just veered out EXTREMELY wide out of the gate.  Count him out.  Super Saver and First Dude come out fast battling for the lead around the back stretch.  Super Saver seems to be running a little fast this afternoon.  I'm really not liking his chances now. 

And...I'm proven right.  Lookin at Lucky and Jackson Bend both pass Super Saver at the top of the home stretch to challenge First Dude, who has ridden a great race.  No Triple Crown winner this year.  Lookin' at Lucky wins by a head!  My five year old wins the Silly Bands!  I think First Dude held on for Place and Jackson Bend screamed out the Show. 

Unfortunately, they forget about the race about 10 seconds after the end of the race.  Maybe he'll forget about the Silly Bands too?

Nah, probably not.  They're only 3 bucks.  It's worth it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Went to A Baseball Game and A Basketball Game Almost Broke Out

I could hardly contain my excitement.  I am a Father, however, so when I told my (now) 8 year old that I got seats - really good seats - to see the Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays on his birthday, I used the most muted tones that I could muster.

"We got awesome seats to the game.  Do you want to get out early from school and go with me?"  I was sure that the prospect of leaving school early would appeal to my second grader.  He was getting to be THAT age.

"Can I still have my sleepover with my friends after the movie Mommy takes us to?"  He answers cautiously.  I think he thinks that this is an either-or proposition, and I begin to suspect that I will be on the short end of this decision.

"Of course!"  I lie - er - I tell him.  I'll just use his First Communion money to pay for the movie with his buddies.  A present day example of robbing Peter to pay Paul. 

Suddenly, he perks up.  "Yeah Dad, will we get foul balls?  Should I bring my glove?"

So begins our journey to Boston to see the Red Sox.  I put special emphasis on RED SOX.  My new client has tickets waiting for me, so I figure let's get there early and enjoy batting practice and dinner.  Maybe we can get an autograph from one of the young guys.  Little did I know that something else might take over our attention as the game progresses.

No. Not Heidi Watney.  That would be kind of silly.  Although my son did point her out to me; saying that she was the one who talked about the games, during the games.  I asked him if I should take a picture of her and he said yes because she was famous.  Good thinking, son.  I think I will do just that.

"Your Mom is probably going to kill me when she sees this picture."  I tell him as point my camera in her direction.  (Little did I know that she would simply use social media to make fun of me.)  But then I take a picture of Sean McAdam too, as if that would fool her.

"Why would she be mad?"  He asks.  Oh, childhood.  I didn't tell him that I would explain it to him 2 to 4 years from now - whenever I get the cajones to talk to him about the birds and the bees (no pun intended).  I just changed the subject.  "Let's go to the Pesky Pole to try to catch some home runs!"  He half-heartedly agreed to go with me.

After yelling at one of the Blue Jays ball retrievers because he was 6 feet away from us yet kept hitting the BP balls he got back to the BP pitcher, we sat down in our seats.  Trying to catch home runs was a little too boring for the kid.  We were just a couple of rows behind the Red Sox dugout, so I figured it was okay.  We were so close, in fact, that my son could throw his ice cream helmet filled with expired ice cream at Tom Werner or John Henry in the Owner's box and probably hit one of them.  As we sit down, I am reminded that I was told that if the guys next to us asked how much we paid for the tickets, I had to say $500.  I didn't inquire why they would be asking me a question like that; I had my eldest son with me.

When these guys sat down though, I struck up a conversation with them.  One was from California, the other was from Massachusetts.  More importantly, I would later find out, the guy from Massachusetts had a good feed on his phone so as to get real life updates and video on Game 5 of the Celtics-Cavaliers who were playing at the same time.  I begin to feel conflicted.  Did I just get the best seats to Fenway Park I've ever gotten just so I could huddle around a couple of guys and a Blackberry?  When my son asked me the score of the Celtics game, I knew the answer.

So the next hour and a half transpired like this - watch the Red Sox dominate the Blue Jays, then ask the guy sitting next to us what the Celtics' score was.  Daisuke was pitching magnificently, yet, we were more concerned about how LeBron scored only a couple of points in the First Quarter, then the First Half.  Finally, I snapped out of it.  We were at a baseball game for crying aloud.  I've DVR'ed the basketball game, after all.  Enough with this nonsense.  Let's go Sox!

"Let's try to get a ball from Youk after the inning."  I tell my son.  He's too interested in taking pictures to care.  He's excited that the Red Sox are leading, but he's starting to lose focus, particularly now that the game is in the later innings.  I begin to try everything.  I yell at Terry Francona encouragement when he pops his head out of the dugout in front of us.  I buy some more popcorn.  I try to interest him in some trivia and statistics.  I think he had a good time, but as 11pm draws near, it's probably time to go.  As we put on our jackets, I ask the guy sitting next to us what the score is now.  The Celtics seem to be pulling away.  It's a good night I think to myself as we leave tot he strains of "Sweet Caroline."  The Red Sox win.  The Celtics win and the two of us had a great time.

All I had to hear were those magical words.  "When is it my birthday again?"  Maybe he meant the presents that he got or the movie he was going to with his buddies.  I don't care though.  For this night, I'll believe that he was talking about his old man taking him to the game.

Monday, May 10, 2010

List of Top 8 Celtics Playoff Performers - Rajon doesn't need the Rondettes

29 Points, 18 Rebounds, 13 Assists, 2 Steals and +14 Net Points. 

Rajon Rondo's numbers from Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals certainly fill up a stat sheet - joining Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to record that many points and rebounds with 13 or more assists in a single game.  Rajon Rondo even got LeBron James to talk about how he would love to guard RR in Game 5 (which as a Celtics fan, I would love to see).  But, one of the greatest games in Celtics playoff history?  Perhaps.  One thing is for sure.  Since the Celtics won the NBA Championship on that fateful day in 2008, Rajon Rondo has slowly emerged not only as the bridge to playoff basketball after the Big Three retire or move on, but he has also emerged as the undeniable leader of the current team. 

Putting aside the ridiculous "MVP" chants at Sunday's Game 4  (Uh, MVP of what - one may ask - since LeBron dominated the season?), has Rondo been playing the best playoff basketball in Celtics playoff history?  Here are the Top 8 Playoff performances in Celtics' history.

8.  Bob Cousy (1958-59).  19.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 10.8 assists.  A true pioneer to the current style of wide-open NBA basketball - except for you Pat Riley. 

7.  Dave Cowens (1975-76).  21.0 points, 16.4 Rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.2 steals.  Before he decided that a hack license was a more fulfilling career choice (imagine getting into a cab that Paul Pierce is driving), Cowens led the Celtics to their last championship pre-Larry Bird.

6.  Rajon Rondo (2009-10)  17.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 11.4 assists, 1.9 steals.  That double pump lay up to behind the back pass to Tony Allen as LeBron James tried desperately to block his shot is the highlight of the 2010 Playoffs. 

5.  Bill Russell. (1961-62).  22.4 points, 26.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, all world defense and uncalculated blocks.  I was considering putting Russell higher than 5th, but that would have defeated my point about Rondo. 

4.  Larry Bird. (1983-84).  27.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.4 steals, 1.2 blocks.  I just liked that they beat the Lakers that year.

3.  John Havlicek (1967-68).  25.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, 7.5 assists.  I could have obtained more information on Hondo's numbers that year, but that probably would have required me rereading Bill Simmons excruciatingly detailed Book of Basketball (Soon to be available in paperback!!)

2.  Rajon Rondo (2008-09) 16.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 9.8 assists, 2.5 steals.  I was apprehensive when the playoffs started last year against the upstart Chicago Bulls.  KG was hurt and out of the Playoffs.  Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, carrying the load for most of the season without KG, looked about ready to keel over like a 90 year old walking up the 18th Fairway.  Rondo had shown some slivers of brillance during the regular season, but could he lead a depleted and uninspired Celtics team in the First Round?  Like I said, I was apprehensive.  Well averaging nearly a triple double through the playoffs made me realize that Danny Ainge may have made the right move trading all of the Celtics' youngsters BUT Rondo back in the Summer of 2007.  (I don't count Kendrick Perkins, he's 34 years old).

1.  Larry Bird (1985-1986) 25.9 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 2.1 steals, .927 FT percentage, .517 shooting percentage, .411 3-point shooting percentage.  The year by which all others are measured as the Celtics won their last Championship of the Larry Bird era. 

Admittedly, RR has some work to do to catch up to the Celtics' gold standard of playoff basketball, but it is crystal clear that he has joined the echelon of the Celtics lore.  And we certainly believe that he can move up this list.  As my son excitedly pointed out while we were watching the game yesterday afternoon - "Look at Rajon take the ball away from all those other big guys!!  He doesn't even need Garnett and Perkins to help him"  Watch out there, Larry.  Rondo's numbers can only go up when he realizes he doesn't need the Rondettes anymore.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The 2010 Kentucky Derby - The At-Home Guide

Mint Juleps, Southern Chicken Pot Pie, My Old Kentucky Home, Millionaire's Row, JMR's failed bets - the traditions run very deep at the Kentucky Derby.  Even for us in puritanical New England.

The 135th Kentucky Derby in 2009 saw my horse of the year candidate, I Want Revenge, go down with a left hoof issue.  It was the day before the race and I had already placed a futures bet on the horse.  If I searched around, I could probably find that forfeited ticket somewhere in the house.  Undeterred, I ended up wagering on a couple of horses that year - none of which was the eventual winner, Mine That Bird.

That year was an eye-opening year for social gatherings, too.  Usually watching at home with a beer or with friends at informal gatherings, we instead attended a Kentucky Derby in the North End of Boston in 2009.  With Official Kentucky Derby swag of the 135th running, catered food and premade mint juleps, we were introduced to official Kentucky Derby partying.  We had a wonderful time, met some new friends and vowed to conduct our own party the following year.

Fast forward to 2010.  It's like 2009 all over again.  My favorite horse, Eskendereya, was scratched after a left leg swelling issue.  Maybe Todd Pletcher's run of 24 straight losses in the Derby would continue.  And I'm not convinced that the new morning line favorite, Looking at Lucky, will do anything.  In the Santa Anita Derby, one of the major prep races before the Derby, a little bump at the start and a troubled trip made Looking at Lucky just an also ran.  In a 20 horse field on the dirt, when a little dirt can fly in your face?  No thanks.   My horses this year would be Super Saver, a great horse in the muck who appeared to be improving in practice runs and as the track was getting more muddy.  And Ice Box, the winner of another Derby Prep race, the Florida Derby, with a strong finishing kick that could best a field that was loaded with a lot of front runners.

And taking our cue from the time we had last year in Boston, and making good on my vow from that day in Boston, we put on our own party - complete with prizes for best hat, best dressed and parimutuel gambling.  We bought the cheap official Kentucky Derby party favors and go on the hunt for food and Early Times Bourbon.  We find a place for the kids to go and invite all of our friends over to share in our good cheer.

The fastest two minutes in sports truly was that.  Acting as the pool manager for win, place and show wagering, the 6:24pm post time came up very quickly.  In fact, I almost missed the race trying to record everyone's bets. 

But alas, no worries there.  A quick opening by one of the early favorites, Sidney's Candy and long shot Conveyance, eventually yielded to a masterful rail trip by Calvin Borel, the jockey that won with Mine That Bird last year and Street Sense in 2007, aboard Super Saver.  Super Saver ended up having enough in the tank to hold off a hard charging Ice Box, with Paddy O'Prado taking the Show.  Favorite Looking at Lucky ended up a dismal 6th after getting bumped at the beginning.  When asked before the race who I liked, I should have said different horses and kept my favorites close to the vest since I ended up winning on my Win and Show bets, but had to share winnings with the very same people I convinced should take my horses.  After an hour and a half of careful calculations, the HOTB toteboard looked as follows:

                                   Win         Place      Show
4   Super Saver           $18.00     $9.60    $54.00
2   Ice Box                                 $9.60    $  6.20
10 Paddy O'Prado                                   $  5.00

Onto the Preakness Stakes.  After a strong showing, marked by a remarkable finishing kick along the middle of the track, I would consider Ice Box for the 2nd jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Track in Baltimore on May 15, 2010.  He would be crazy not to ride in that race.   As for JMR?  I can't wait for 2011.

Next Edition.  A Kentucky Derby Party in Photographs

Photographs and graphics courtesy of Kentucky and Sports Illustrated.