Tuesday, March 30, 2010

15 Definitive Changes to Improve the NFL Game Experience

Last week, as reported by profootballtalk.com, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell discussed the growing reality that the live NFL game experience simply does not compare to watching a game at home on a wide screen HDTV with ready access to NFL Sunday Ticket and the Red Zone Channel.  At the beginning of the 2009 season, I had declared that the in-game experience was better than watching the game at home.  But I don't shell out thousands of dollars every year for season tickets, parking passes and concessions.  I also pass on opportunities to watch games in any weather other than sunny and reasonably warm.

It got me to thinking:  how can the in-stadium experience be improved to ensure that  stadiums remain full - except for you Los Angeles - errr I mean Jacksonville - Jaguars?  With the help of a couple of fresh minds with a different perspective on what it means to go to a football game live, we have determined that there are 15 improvements that can be made - even for obnoxious Jets fans (I'm thinking about you guys, too).

Seven Year Old's Perspective.

1.  "All-you-can-eat popcorn."  Depending on how much money Dad has, that is already true.

2.  "All the football players who played in the game have to sign footballs for the fans after the game and throw them into the stands."  This is a really good idea...

3.  "Me and my friends can play tackle football on the field before AND after the game."  (His emphasis, not mine.)

4.  "Me and my friends can tackle the players after the game."

5.  "The players try to tackle us after the game."  That would actually be quite amusing - well, until the kids actually got tackled.

Analyzing his five solutions, it seems clear that to a seven year old, more interaction with the players, the stadium and the game will really enhance his game experience.  I think some of these solutions should be studied a little harder and prhaps even implemented.

Five Year Old's Perspective

A little bit different of a perspective I am safe to say.

1.  "Be able to play my DS." While the adult equivalent would be an iphone with the NFL Network application, I don't really see this enhancing his stadium experience.

2.  "Be able to bring the Wii and play soccer."  Ditto.

3.  "More Ice Cream."  His experience at a football game was obviously last preseason when it was about 85 degrees at game time.  Games against the Buffalo Bills in mid-December?  He would probably change this to hot chocolate.

4.  "More hot dogs and chips!!"  What he means is having this available after the game.  This is legitmate, since the stadium essentially closes down after the Third Quarter.  No one wants the food left on the grill back at the tail gate - although I am guilty of occasionally indulging in some of these tasty after-game treats, only to pay for it later that night.

5.  "I want to see shooting stars."  This I will call the Plaxico Burress corollary.

JMR's Perspective

It's too easy to complain about obscene ticket prices, ridiculous parking rates and concession prices that make me think we live in a communist country, monopoly-wise.  I for one appreciate the fact that most teams have only 10 home games - 8 regular season, 2 preseason - that bring in perhaps 700,000 fans every year.  Compare that to Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium, where a disappointing attendance year hovers around 2 million fans.  In baseball, our attendance partly pays for approximately 25 players and 10 coaches.  NFL teams NEED to gouge us in order to pay its 53 players and 20 coaches.  Health insurance and other overhead in the football dwarves that of any other professional sport.  High prices are here to stay.  Here, on the other hand, are five other realistic changes NFL teams can make.

1.  Cut down the number of TV timeouts.  How many of you have been bored silly by the 20+ TV timeouts occurring every half?  My solution.  No timeouts after change of possessions.  It's simple.  TV timeouts shall only occur during actual timeouts called by teams or as a result of an injury or a challenge flag.  Have in-game commercials or product placements on telecasts similar to soccer telecasts, increase the called timeouts by 30 seconds or one minute to increase the number of commercials during those breaks.  Enough of the constant milling around.

2.  More Relevant Statistics.  Listen we all have phones to check scores and even stats for our fantasy football players.  I don't want to bring it out though every 15 minutes with Joe from Walpole teetering behind me with his two Bud Lights.  The Stadium scoreboard should not only show out of town scores, but also statistics relevant to most fantasy football players.  The use of the Kangaroo, as discussed in Goodell's press conference, leads me to believe that there will be a ban on cell phones.  I suppose with all the betting that goes on in pro football, why not treat the stadium like a casino and ban cell phones?

3.  No Tailgating.  It pains me to say this as much as it pains you to read it.  But bear with me for a second.  Why not create an area at every football stadium similar to the experience you get on Yawkey Way or Eutaw Street at Camden Yards in Baltimore.  This comes with one caveat - lower beer and food prices - but the football teams may sell that much more beer and food because we're not polishing off three sausages and quarter barrel at the McDonald's parking lot.  This will also improve the experience for families who won't have to explain the vulgarity and unsteady gaits of most football fans to their impressionable children.

4.  Free Stuff.  No t-shirts shot from cannons, no foul balls, no uniform equipment thrown into the stands at the end of the game.  We, as fans, couldn't be more disconnected from the game than in football.  But if I get a t-shirt from some 21 year old intern shooting a water cannon gun at me?  Well then, I can justify the $100 ticket because that t-shirt would have cost me $20 outside the stadium! Seriously, I think that way.

5.  Shorten Games.  This isn't what you think.  Sure, permitting less time on the play clock will help things on a very minimal basis.  What I suggest is that stadiums should stay open late, after the game.  If you watch a 1pm game at a stadium, you will miss the 4pm game getting home.  You may even some or most of the 8pm game.  What if you keep the stadium open and play one of the 4pm games on the big screen?  Permitting beer sales at this point is too sticky, but you can still sell food and other goods.  The additional overhead is minimal since most of the workers are paid on a per game basis.  Combine this with some of the fan friendly type access to the field and I think you have the proverbial gold.

There are a lot of hardcore fans who want to build their fires, drink their beer and piss where they want to piss.  But you know what?  The pink jerseys and the kids are more likely to spend money at the stadium than you are.  The NFL has admitted that they need them as much as they need you.  Goodell realizes this, even if he doesn't admit it.  Listen, my kids love to watch football with me, and that's not a bad thing.  Encouraging us to go to a game or two is not a bad thing.  And we promise not to take any of your beer.

photograph courtesy of oregonlive.com

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Who Can Beat JMann Review? March Madness Game Blog

After a crushing defeat at the hands of the Tennessee Volunteers, my dreams of winning my third straight NCAA pool went down in flames with Ohio State's choke job.  I thought that my victory was sealed once Kansas and Georgetown lost; the Midwest bracket was that bad - or so I thought.  Thanks Evan Turner and Club Trillion.  I can't wait to read about all of the end of game "he should have been called for the foul" comments on clubtrillion.com.  St. Mary's was even worse. I thought they were playing the UConn Huskies women's team, they were so far behind in the first half against Baylor.  Reevaluating the 2010 NCAA Basketball Championships, two things are given - there is no way I'm rooting for the Kentucky "One and Dones" or - gulp - Duke.  

One of my sons was jubilant when my team lost.  When I told him that I wouldn't have enough money to take him to Dave & Busters because Ohio State lost, he wasn't appreciative of my point.  He was merely focused on Dad losing, not the consequences of Dad's loss to HIM.  My other son was much more sympathetic. 

"Dad, do you want to play basketball?  I promise not to dunk it on you!" He said apologetically.  Looking at the decrepit plastic hoop hanging on the dining room wall that doubled as his dunking machine, I decided that I needed to find another outlet for our basketball enthusiasm. 
4pm.  Home.  I would advise picking against me this time around.  A couple of these games I thought about just throwing both names in a hat and picking whomever came out.  Nonetheless, I'm pleased to report that we're all getting involved in the games this weekend.

(5) Butler (+4.5)
(2) Kansas State

G:  KSU.  "They are the best team."  My five year old triumphantly exclaims.  Similar to his Patriots' picks, the superlatives are thrown around more than a dead mouse in a tabby cat's mouth.
S:  Butler.  "Because they sound like a butt!"  As long as she doesn't start doing the shake a shake a boom dance.
C:  "Forget it.  I'm not doing this Dad unless I get a really good dinner."  Not coincidentally, the pizza and french fries will be here in 45 minutes.
JMR:  Kansas State.  The Tournament always seems to come down to who has the best player in a particular game.  Jacob Pullen is the best player left in the Elite 8 not named John Wall.  I see a strong performance from the Wildcats.  Post script - Gordon Hayward has the kind of Derek Jeter smirk that makes me wish I were the starting Center for the Wildcats.  At least we have some momentum here.

(1) Kentucky (-4.5)
(2) West Virginia

G:  Kentucky.  "Because that's who I'm rooting for."  He got even more excited when I told him that Rajon Rondo went to Kentucky.
S:  Butttucky.  No need to explain this one, so I didn't even bother asking her.
JMR:  West Virginia.  Even without Darryl Bryant, their starting point guard, and an injured De'Sean Butler, West Virginia gutted out an ugly win over the upstart Washington Huskies.  I think they needed a game to grow accustomed to a new primary point guard.  Frankly, West Virginia just has too many weapons who are not of questionable character (I'm talking about you, DeMarcus Cousins and Danny Orton).

(6) Tennessee (-2)
(5) Michigan State

C:  Tennessee.  "Because they beat your team, Dad.  Ha ha ha."  Thanks for rubbing it in.  I didn't tell him that I used his allowance to pay for his pizza tonight.  Ha ha ha ha HA!
G:  Tennessee.  "They beat your team Dad with that 3 pointer at the end.  I'm sorry."  Actually, not that it's burned into my memory, but it was Evan Turner who had his last second 3 point blocked by J.P. Prince.
JMR.  Michigan State.  I think the Ohio State game took too much out of this over-achieving team.

(1) Duke (-4.5)
(3) Baylor

G:  Duke.  "They are the best team!"

"No they're not" my seven year old responds. "The Cavaliers are the best team."

"No!  The Celtics are the best team!!" comes the retort.  I'm not sure whether to be proud that they know some of the subtleties of the NBA power structure or disappointed that they don't know the difference between College Basketball and the NBA.

MM:  Baylor.  A wild card pick from literally out of nowhere.  I almost asked her if she knows in what state Baylor University is located (Texas).  
JMR:  Duke.  You know how I feel about Duke.  A bunch of role players coached by the Devil.  Admit it.  Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith will be a bunch of NBA stiffs.  Yet the deal they made with the Devil will allow them to experience the Final Four, and perhaps even win the National Championship.  Coach K might as well dress in all black, complain that he can't kill Jacob himself and start calling himself John.

My Final Four has now changed.  Obviously.  Kansas State ovecomes Michigan State.  West Virginia beats Duke.  West Virginia beats up on Kansas State to win this very strange NCAA Pool.

One consolation no matter what happens is that Opening Day is next weekend.

Monday, March 22, 2010

No, not Those Gaels, These Gaels!

Well it's over.  It's not really over I'm told, but no, it's really over.  I will be treated to a wonderful dinner at a pizza place or subshop in a couple of weeks.  Team Lost Electronics picked Kansas to win it all, and interestingly predicted deep runs by Temple, Vanderbilt and some team named "Sienna" (Apparantly the play- in game was played by two Italian Winter League teams.)  In the meantime, Team JMR was finalizing the details of its third win in a row.  Pizza or a meatball sub?

The kids were really disappointed, not that they lost, but that they had to spend their allowances on someone as uncool as Dad.  They also justified their loss by stating that we were going to take them to Dave and Buster's sometime soon anyway, so who cares that it's not in a couple of weeks.  Attitude adjustment time will be coming, but not right now.   After the tears were wiped from their eyes, I suggested that we all pick a team that we can root for together.  Ohio State (my pick to win it all) seemed a little petty to pick as the group's favorite team.  How about Mom's pick du jour, Georgia Tech?  Even my 5 year laughed at that suggestion.

Then, intuitively, my seven year old starts asking me some questions.  "What's that team that lost that Mom spat on when we were picking teams?  What was the team that named after Mom?"  Mom spat at Villanova, because of my hatred for all things non-UConn.  Mom's middle name is Mary.  Our new team was starting to take shape.  The St. Mary's College Gaels!  In a very weak regional bracket, we also picked a mid-major that might be able to win at least one more game if not get to the Final Four.  I did a little research to get the boys excited about our new team.  Here are the four most relevant things about St. Mary's that the boys would appreciate.

1.  Australians.  Seriously, what is it with this school?  They have FIVE Australians on the team.  Not just bench warmers, mind you, but three starters on a 28-5 team that dominated Gonzaga to win the West Coast Conference Tournament.  Matthew Dellavedova was even recruited by other Division I schools.  Did these guys think they were heading to Melbourne's St Mary's?  All I know is that any team dominated by Australians is okay with me.

2.  Gaels.  The definition of "Gael" is an ethnic-linguistic group that originated in present day Ireland and includes the Highland Scots.  To some folks in the Midwest it might mean The Gaels an Irish traditional folk band based outside of St. Paul, Minnesota; sorry girls, they only play private parties at this time.  Anyway, the kids, being more than 50% Irish and Scottish, were very excited for this angle.  Australians and Ireland all represented by one team?  Unfortunately I had to dodge questions about when they could go to Ireland with this lame response - "sorry guys you need to have a special card to travel outside of the United States..."  Not bad for being put on the spot.

3.  Ugliest Player Ever.  I noticed this when I was watching St. Mary's play Gonzaga in the the WCC Final; not only is Matthew Dellavedova the ugliest play I have ever seen, he plays ugly.  A Point Guard who drives to the basket with his head down? Check.  An ugly black and white mouth piece that makes him look like an illegitimate Klitschko Brother? Check.  The lack of a haircut since 2002?  Check.  This dude is ugly.

It's impossible to root against this guy, though.  Impossible.

4.  Going Back to Cali.  Kentucky, Kansas, Syracuse, Duke.  I'm East Coast, but always wished that I was West Coast.  Ohio State, Villanova, Kansas State, West Virginia.  It seems that everyone was leaning toward the Atlantic Ocean this year, and there were no good teams west of the Mississippi River (I know some of the Big 12 teams were West of the Mississippi, but that also defeats my point).  In fact, the Pac-10 was given no chance in this year's Tournament.  Here comes a small college, from just east of Oakland, and all of a sudden, we all want to go to Berkeley for vacation.  Forget about Ireland, my kids are now asking when they can go to San Francisco with us (the answer: never).

*  *  *  *  *

We finally picked our favorite team for the rest of the college basketball season, The St Mary's Gaels.  Funny man Omar Samhan's Mother was right.  St Mary's has helped to ruin the pool for the Broken Electronics.  But that's okay.  Because now we hope to see you guys in Indianapolis. 

Oh and by the way, I'll have a Meatball sub with onions and peppers.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I Need Your Help Evan Turner and Club Trillion

$300.  It's costly going for a threepeat.  2008 and 2009 were great years for the man.  I needed a North Carolina victory last year to wrap everything up, but I didn't even need Kansas or Memphis in 2008 to win that year.  Some might say that I'm getting cocky, but I'm confident that I will win my NCAA bracket for the third year in a row.  So confident that I'm willing to bet $300 for the chance to win $20.  It's a little bit different this year though, and frankly I won't mind if I win or lose.

If you've been reading lately, you know that everyone - Mom (MM), my boys (C and G) and Daddy's Little Girl (DLG) - has grown immensely interested in basketball.  Whether it be the Celtics, college basketball, pick up games in the driveway or seven year old playoff games, basketball has become the "cool" thing to do.  Better than sitting around playing video games, that's for sure.  Well, what better way to get the kids even more interested in college basketball than to teach them about "brackets," "pools" and "gambling."  So here is the challenge.  JMR against MM, C, G and DLG.  MM and the kids win, it's a day at Dave and Busters, where Mom and Dad will easily drop three dimes on food and games.  JMR wins and the kids take their allowance money and treat us out to dinner.  Nowhere fancy of course, we pay them peanuts.  One point for for each win in the First Round and double points for every round after that.  If someone picks an upset in any round, that person gets double the points in that round.

8pm.  I think the kids consider it a win just being able to stay up late on a school night so they're bouncing off the walls ready to pick the teams, no research is needed.  While I have spent three weeks poring through statistical research and watching all of the conference championships, MM spends 10 minutes doing her "research" on the teams and the brackets.  (Go figure, guys at ESPN make a living on what it took her 10 minutes to do.)  And 5 of those minutes were probably spent making fun of my car.  Despite the differences in preparation, we sit down to make our choices.  I quietly and methodically make my choices - mostly based on strength of schedule, strength of conference and performance in their last 15 games.  The other side's strategy is as follows:  pick a few well knowns and the kids get a few wanna-bes.  Apparantly their strategy is to confuse me into making mistakes of my own.  Well it's not going to work.  I'm well-rested and limber.  I feel it tonight.

It takes a while for my opponents to settle down to make their picks.  I'm practically finished when they start.  They move through the Midwest bracket first.  Listening to the rationale for each of their early picks, you know I'm in trouble:  Kansas ("They are the best team") UNLV ("How can they not win, they're in Las Vegas?"), New Mexico State ("Because your Uncle went there for college"  N.B. He went to the same college we went to in Maine, and he went to graduate school in New Mexico, but it was the University of New Mexico - good job Sis), Maryland ("Remember we went there for vacation?") and Tennessee ("The women's team is always awesome!"  I don't even bother reminding her that we are picking the men's college basketball games).  Again, realizing that they are just trying to confuse me, I stop listening and focus on finishing my own picks.

JMR's Picks

ROUND 1:  Kansas, Northern Iowa, Michigan State, Maryland, Tennessee, Georgetown, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Syracuse, Gonzaga, UTEP, Murray State, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, BYU, Kansas State,  Kentucky, Wake Forest, Cornell, Wisconsin, Marquette, New Mexico, Missouri, WVU, Duke, Louisville, Utah State, Purdue, Notre Dame, Baylor, SMC, Villanova

ROUND 2:  Kansas, Michigan State, Georgetown, Ohio State, Syracuse, Murray State, Pittsburgh, Kansas State, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Marquette, West Virginia, Duke, Utah State, Baylor, Villanova

SWEET SIXTEEN:  Kansas, Ohio State, Syracuse, Kansas State, Kentucky West Virginia, Duke, Baylor

ELITE 8:  Ohio State, Kansas State, West Virginia, Duke

FINAL FOUR:  Ohio State, West Virginia

CHAMPION:  Ohio State

MM and the Kids Picks

ROUND 1  Kansas, UNLV, New Mexico State, Maryland, Tennessee, Georgetown, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Syracuse, Florida, UTEP, Vanderbilt, Xavier, Pittsburgh, BYU, Kansas State, Kentucky, Wake Forest, Temple, Wisconsin, Wahington, New Mexico, Missouri, WVU, Duke, Louisville (or "Loserville" as my son endearingly calls it), Utah State, Siena, Notre Dame, Baylor, SMC, Villanova

ROUND 2: Kansas, New Mexico State, Georgetown, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh, Kansas State, Kentucky, Temple, UNM, West Virginia, Duke, Siena, Baylor, Villanova

SWEET SIXTEEN:  Kansas, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Kansas State, Temple, West Virginia, Duke, Villanova

ELITE 8:  Kansas, Kansas State, West Virginia, Duke

FINAL FOUR:  Kansas, Duke

Reviewing our picks, I will be in good shape if Ohio State makes it into the Elite 8, MM and the kids will be the victors if Kansas wins it all and Ohio State falls early.  I'll need everyone from Evan Turner to Club Trillion to help me out.  I will be updating our status periodically on Twitter.  Find my updates at @jmannreview.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Toe Tapper Comes Home - Nomar's Legacy

I still can't forgive him.  It has been five and a half long seasons since the surly star of the Boston Red Sox played (or failed to play, your choice) his way out of Boston, getting traded to the Chicago Cubs for essentially Orlando Cabrera at the 2004 trade deadline, and I still can't forgive him, despite his legacy of success with Red Sox fans.  Two World Series Championships have failed to diminish my dislike for this man - a man whose entire career up until that point was marked by hustle, hard work and playing through pain.  That dislike, which had been festering since the questionable timing of his surgery on his wrist back in 2001, was punctuated by a pathetic display on the night of July 1, 2004.  There, he asked out of the lineup, only to ask back in after Derek Jeter dove into the stands to catch a foul ball in extra innings of a game that was important to both teams.  The picture of him sitting in the dugout, lifeless, still runs through my mind when I see a profile of him.  I still can't forgive him.

Let's get back to his legacy.  As a sports fan, it is unreasonable to expect professional athletes to care as much as you do about the team you root for.  Nomar was from LA for Christ's sake!  He couldn't care less about the Red Sox.  And the fans, well yeah, it seemed like he cared when it suited his needs or when there was a camera nearby (ask random fans that had personal contact with Garciaparra, and their opinion would be as unanimous as the Country's opinion of George W. Bush in the Fall of 2008).  But as a professional athlete, forgetting the egos involved, you must do your job - that is the essence of being a professional, isn't it? 

I don't fault Nomar for hating the media circus in Boston, or recoiling at the crush of a rabid fan base, those are merely personality quirks.  At least he was consistent with them and us.  However, from his initial call up in 1996 to the first couple of months of 2004, he was an example of the success that comes from hard work, determination and hustle.  Those are all qualities that as a teachable moment I would point out to my children as qualities that you can strive to imitate.   I had some questions about him, though.  He didn't seem to be that genuine when he was approached.  He appeared to be very concerned about his image and questioned everyone and everything that was not compartmentalized into an "I love Nomah" box.  It happens once or twice and I chalk that up as having some bad days.  If it happens all of the time?  Well there is something else going on there.   Gathering up this information, questions began to surface at the time about whether he was unprofessional in dealing with his injuries and the expectations of a suffering fan base.

Despite the statistics, and Rob Neyer can tell you all you need to know about Nomar's statistics, there also lurked a man who seemed to be out for himself in an almost pathological way.  He would call the scorer's box if a questionable error or hit call went against him.  Everything finally culminated in a nasty divorce of sorts on July 31, 2004.  I remember where I was when I found out about the trade.  And it was ironic that the indelible memory of Nomar is that game in New York in July 2004 - when he was at his most unprofessional.  Maybe he forgot what it meant to be a professional.

Fast forward to earlier this morning.  Nomar, sitting in front of the Red Sox press conference wall, signed a one day deal  with the Red Sox in order that he may retire as a Red Sox.  It wasn't like Yaz, Jim Rice or even Tim Wakefield was retiring as  a Red Sox, it was Nomar who left after the seven year itch hit him.  It was then released that he was joining ESPN as an analyst, and something began to strike me as peculiar.  I caught his interview with one of the local radio stations.  He sounded like he usually did - even during this happy occasion - guarded, and waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Remember, he hated all the guys interviewing him.  Too bad his nemesis Steve Buckley was too busy to join Dale and Holley.  I would have actually turned the dial back to AM to hear that interview.   But memories of better times, his hustle and his SI cover dominated conversations; and he still seemed uncomfortable.  Wasn't this circus his idea?  Incidentally, all I have read today is whether Nomar's legacy in Boston is positive or negative. 

But would this be a story if he retired as an Athletic or a Dodger?  Would we, as Sox fans, care if he simply retired?  Interestingly enough, my impression is that this would be a non-story if this unfolded in any other way.  And I couldn't help but think that this was all a publicity stunt.  He was joining a major sports network with a huge marketing staff and budget.  Burying the hatchet was the best way to start his new job with a clean slate - but more importantly, gave some life to a story that noone would have otherwise cared about.  Somewhere Mark McGwire is nodding in agreement with me.  Address all of the issues, put the past behind you once and for all, and move on, while still getting some publicity for yourself and your new employer.  Public relations 101.  I'm just surprised he laughed off the PED discussion.  He could have taken the Andy Pettitte route considering all of his injuries and put that one behind him too.  I guess I was wrong.  Despite his despicable attitude at the end of his first stint here, he still remembers how to play us and the media like a professional.  Good for him, I suppose.  And I wish him luck at ESPN.

But, I still can't forgive him.  And neither should you.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

When Basketball Really Means Something

It was too nice of a day to spend it indoors, I thought to myself as I was awoken by the first sunshine in weeks and three exuberant children.  But I promised everyone that today would be all about basketball.  It's an important endeavor in this household, you know.  And for good reason.  With such tall children, maybe my dream of sending my kids to school tuition free could actually come true.  (It's difficult to type with my fingers crossed like they are right now.)  So I slowly got ready and made the children breakfast.  Yeah, it was too nice today to spend it indoors. 

We pile into the car.  Mom and Dad get their coffees, and a large bucket of Munchkins are purchased.  It seemed like the ride took forever.  "Mom, can you tell Dad not to park so far away?"  I hear from the back of the car as I pull into the parking lot.  I'm not sure which one said it, whining children all sound alike to me, but at least we don't have to pay for parking today.  As we walk in, we try to sneak past the concession stands to get to our seats.  But my five year old is too smart for that ploy. 

"Can I get a snack?"  My five year old asks me pointing to the popcorn and Doritos.

"Only if you pay for it yourself with your own money."  That should keep him quiet, because he doesn't have any money!

"Can I buy two snacks?"  He asks me as he pulls out a couple of dollars from his pants.  How the hell did he get money?  Or better still - where did he get that money?  I tell him he can get a snack later and luckily that made him happy.  Maybe he can buy me a Diet Coke with his stash too, since coincidentally my wallet seems 2 dollars lighter.

After some more high level negotiations involving snacks, drinks and a driveway basketball game later in the afternoon, we finally get inside.  This must be an important game to a lot of people.  The buzz and murmur in the air is palpable, as we walk in.  Watching the players warming up, it seems like they know it's an important game too. 

"Are we rooting for the team in blue or the team in red?"  My five year old asks me as he tries to settle in to his seat.  "I'm rooting for the team in blue."  I nod and tell him that that's a good choice.

"Settling in" was actually more like a joke.  I'm struggling with a daughter who wants to lie down with her balnket and a 5 year old asking me if he can play his DS.  "Just watch the game guys."  I stifle a little whine coming out of my own mouth.  While this goes on, I miss the tip off jump ball.  I also miss the teams trading the first two baskets of the game to pick up some spilled Gatorade. 

"I'm sorry Daddy" my daughter sweetly says.  How can you get mad at her when she does that?

"That's okay sweetheart.  Just don't do it again, ok?"  She nods at me knowing that that is exactly what she going to do with her chocolate milk later in the car on the way home.

As the game progresses, it didn't take long for team red to increase the score to 8-2.  Our guys are playing hard but they just can't knock down any shots.  Their defensive intensity is at a high level, but they are looking a little too much for their own shots rather than looking for the open teammate.  That's a coaching issue, I think.

16-6.  Ugh.  The game is already getting a little out of control.  It's too bad.  The players have worked really hard this year; it would be a shame if they aren't rewarded with a win.

The defense is superb.  Numerous defensive stops and steals are keeping the score low at the beginning, but their shots just aren't going in.  18-6.  The intensity increases as the time starts winding down.  Screaming signals and plays starts with even more earnest. 

Unfortunately the whistle blows with team red beating team blue 18-6.  The players walk off the court, shake hands and huddle up to talk about the season.  Spectators clap for the players as they walk off the court, applauding the outstanding hustle and play.  Maybe you already guessed that this wasn't the NBA, college or even high school basketball.  It was my seven year old's first playoff game. 

After we spend some time consoling him (and telling him how well he played) on the drive back home, he stops for a moment and finally asks, "Can I practice basketball when we get home?  I really love playing basketball and I want to keep practice shooting." 

"How about we play a game?"  I respond.  "You and Mom against your brother and me.  First to 100 wins."

"Yeah, Dad!  And we get the ball first!"      

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Savior of the Boston Red Sox Pitching Staff, No Really

Finally, 2010 baseball begins in earnest.  News reports from Spring Training in February usually includes players doing a lot of stretching, a lot of walking around or a combination of both at the same time.  Not much happens, let's face it.  But once March hits, the games finally begin.  These games are not exactly competitive, I admit, what with players out of the game doing drills in the outfield, during play and non-athletes trying their hand at the national pastime.  In fact, I'm curious if Maria Menounos will be trying her luck on the pitcher's mound considering her successful stint as the Celtics' play-by-play person last weekend. 

A multitude of stories really begin to take shape once the games start as well.  What's going to happen to Mike Lowell?  Is Daisuke ready to return to his form of...2008 (I don't know if he has ever had a form to return to, he's always been shaky)?  Is David Ortiz finally going to admit that he's 42 years old?  When I saw a promo on NESN for the Red Sox doubleheader against the national college powerhouses Northeastern and Boston College, the most important question to my seven year old also surfaced.  "Why is that guy named, Boof?"  Good question.  I have to admit that I didn't know that much about Boof Bonser either except that the Red Sox traded a minor leaguer to the Twins for Bonser during the offseason.  Not quite the splash that John Lackey and Adrian Beltre had, but still Boof Bonser could turn out to be the most important acquisition of the Red Sox offseason.

With that said, we went to discover more about this enigmatic hurler.  Below are the four most important facts about the Red Sox new middle man, from the hand of my seven year old.

1.  "On November 14, 2003 he was traded to the Minnesota twins."

In what could have turned out to be the most lopsided trade in the history of Major League Baseball, the Twins traded pain-in-the-ass catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the San Francisco Giants for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Bonser.  As with Bonser, Liriano had a stellar rookie season in 2006 but got injured and has not lived up to the lofty expectations since.  Joe Nathan in 6 years holds the Twins record of career saves with 246 and has appeared in 4 All Star Games.  The moral to the story is that it is always risky to trade for young pitchers (no matter how good the Red Sox tell you they are).

2.  "Bonser gothis first win on May 27, 2006"

"got his."  Bear in mind that he was writing this biography as extra credit so he could stay up later.  I think he was getting tired at thispoint.  After an outstanding debut game against the Milwaukee Brewers, where he took the loss despite striking out 8 and giving up 1 run over 6 innings, Bonser secured his first win against the Seattle Mariners in his next start, despite giving up 8 hits and 4 runs in 5 innings and needing a triple play to get out of bases loaded jam.

3.  "On Febuary 25, 2009, he had surgery and couldn't throw balls."

2009 was a tough year for Bonser. After experiencing arm trouble in 2007 and 2008, particularly at the end of 2008 when he was assigned to the Twins' bullpen, Bonser finally underwent surgery to repair damage to his Labrum and Rotator Cuff.  The surgery kept him out of the rotation for all of 2009.  Based on his performance in 2008, the time off and subsequent change of scenery can only help his career.

4.  "and he was tradded to the Boston Red sox"

That's right.  On February 25, 2009, Bonser was traded to the Red Sox for a player to be named later (Chris Province, I have no idea, either).  Bonser enters this Spring fighting with the other Ramon Ramirez, former cast off Brian Shouse and a couple of ball boys for the last spot on the Red Sox pitching staff.  If he makes the roster, he could become an integral part of the Red Sox title hopes.  With injuries constantly striking Beckett and Wakefield and inconsistency plaguing Daisuke Matsuzaka, a reliable seventh starter could become an important piece to the Red Sox success, believe it or not.  Also working in his favor is that even when he is ptching well, Daisuke usually only lasts until the fifth inning.  I don't know about you, but I can't watch Manny Delcarmen pitch against the Yankees in the 6th inning of a 5-4 game; I just can't.  The middle innings can't be relegated to mop up duty anyway, since the Red Sox offense figures to be a little weaker this year.  

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Bonser makes his Red Sox debut tomorrow against Boston College.  He figures on pitching for a couple of innings or 40-50 pitches, whichever comes first.  Undoubtedly, this game will go a long way in determining Bonser's career path with the Red Sox, since he is out of options and can't be sent to the minors without passing through waivers.  Here's hoping he makes it, just so we have something to snicker at during a long season of pitching and defense.  That reminds me, John Paul Bonser, paying homage to his Mother who gave him the original nickname as a child, legally changed his name to "Boof" in 2001.  I'm afraid to ask what would cause a Mother to nickname his son "Boof."  All I know is that my kids won't be given any nickname that will get his butt kicked in school.