Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hartford Colonials - Do We Have to Listen to Muskets?

Earlier this year, the kids and I went to Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut to attend the Hartford Whalers Fanfest.  It was a nice little field complete with luxury boxes, hot dog vendors and beer lines.  Waiting in the aforementioned beer lines, I noticed a couple of advertisements for the UFL's Hartford Colonials amid all of the UConn paraphernalia.  I banked that information for a later date.  These games probably aren't as rowdy as Patriots games, I thought, so it would probably be a good idea to go to one of their games later in the Fall with the family.

But our own football got in the way.  So instead of attending a game where the weather was conducive to sitting on cold metal bleacher seats, the only Hartford Colonials game we found we could go to was the Colonials last game against the Las Vegas Locomotives at the end of November.  I mistakenly decided not to bother with tickets or to read any news that week about the UFL, and determined to plow ahead.  Luckily that decision of laziness ended up not harming us.  See, while the UFL is considered a minor league to the NFL's major leagues, the league decided to charge an NFL team $150,000 transaction fee for any player they plucked from the UFL - despite the transfer occurring AFTER the season.  As a result, UFL players were seriously considering boycotting the last regular season games.  Oh jeez, and I rode two hours to a game that might not happen?

East Hartford CT.  After a quick sojourn to Starbucks where everyone was so friendly to us, especially the lady telling my wife that she was driving the wrong way down a two way street (Thanks lady!), we get to the Rentschler Field.  Not too busy, I thought, as we parked the car about 100 yards from the stadium.  The first thing we are confronted with was literally 10 guys coming up to us one by one trying to sell their tickets to the game "Less than the ticket window!  Get them before their gone!"  Are the Colonials folding after the season, I thought?  But after smartly purchasing 5 $20 tickets for 60 bucks, we march toward the field, not thinking that this might be the Colonials' last game.  I was too busy dissuading the kids from falling for the various hawkers selling programs and hot dogs, with the promise to get them sick with junk food throughout the game.

We walk toward our seats, while I start fishing for my junk food money.  I observe that we're behind one of the end zones, so immediately I feel compelled to talk my sons into thinking that these are good seats because we might be able to catch missed field goal attempts and keep the footballs.  I don't know if that's really true, but I figured the chances of us catching a football were much less than Dad being caught in a lie.  And I am about to pat myself on the back when I'm struck by a little sign on the back of the seats.

"Family Section - No alcohol permitted beyond this point." 

The scalper was awfully kind to give us family section seats, but what the Hell is this all about?  A nice usher, seeing the looks on our faces as the wife and I continue to look at the sign and mutter to each other, came over and told us that we could sit anywhere except the blue seats along the 50 Yard line, that no one checks tickets.  Let's sit in the sun the girls decide.  I'll get some beer, I decide.

Beer lines!  Finally, with beer and food in hand, and as we're walking to our newly found bleacher seats on the 20 yard line, I notice a couple of guys milling around the field, wearing period clothing.  And they're carrying what looks like muskets, and they're standing near what looks like artillery cannon.  We're sitting 50 feet away from the ACTUAL colonials!  Oh no, this is not going to end well, I can already tell.  My younger son G is still scarred from the Patriots game I took him to and his first experience with musket firing after scores.  He's still afraid of these things and I constantly have to explain that there are no muskets at the Basketball game, or the movie theater or Cape Cod.  But they're here!  So when he asks me if there are any guns, I figure that if I tell him nonchalantly that they are here, maybe he won't even notice that I confirmed his worst fears.  All of a sudden those end zone seats don't seem so bad.

"They shoot guns, Dad?"  He asks with a slight quiver in his voice.

"Yes, but maybe the Colonials won't score."  I explain, and not three minutes after I say that the sound of Cannon fire fills the stadium as the teams are introduced.  I never noticed that the Hartford UFL team's name was an ode to the New England Patriots who just 12 years ago were going to be playing football here.  Nice "scorned wife" touch.

After drying tears on two of the kids, we finally settle in our seats to watch the game.  I can't tell the teams apart since the home team rarely wears white jerseys anymore, so I figure that they're wearing their home blues.  My wife doesn't care.  She decides to scoff at the cheerleaders wearing outfits that belie the fact that its windy and 40 degrees out and snicker about the minutemen staring at the cheerleaders.  (In fact, she tells me later that they were "lecherous" and should not be holding any sort of fire arms - even if they're shooting blanks.  But they're from the 1700's!)

After the First Quarter, the Colonials are winning 10-0 after an incredible interception return for a touchdown by Danny Lansanah.  Only two children have cried over the musket and cannon fire.  My oldest son is snickering when the cannon goes off looking at his siblings, so I figure he's not going to make it 3 for 3 in the crying department.

As the Second Quarter starts winding down, we all start huddling closer together.  The sun has gone down and the wind has started picking up.  I had forgotten how cold it gets around here and I hadn't realized how warm beer makes you at football games until you go without it.   The Locos had just scored to make the game 13-7 and we were all starting to get the "if we leave now what time will it be when we get home?" looks on our faces.  At the same time, the Colonials are stringing together a couple of nice plays to get to the Locos end of the field as the clock starts winding down.  Then Colonials' quarterback Josh McNown (or Cade, I'm not sure which McNown it was) heaves up a mini hail mary.  We all stand in unison as the ball flies toward Colonials receiver Tyson Devree (who made up for dropping two TD passes in the half).  It's a well thrown ball...maybe this can be caught...and it's CAUGHT FOR A TOUCHDOWN!  We all start yelling.  I'm high-fiving the guy sitting next to me even though he's wearing a Yankees hat.  My daughter looks around wondering what just happened.  Muskets and cannons are being fired.  No children screaming.  It's great.

We decide to stay.  About four minutes into the Third Quarter, the Colonials nab another interception and take that one back for a touchdown too.  It's now 27-7.  Aren't the Locomotives supposed to be good?  Aren't the Colonials playing against the defending champions who are going to be playing for another championship next week?  Well no matter, all of the kids start talking about leaving because they are so cold.  I can't blame them, I'm cold too.  So toward the end of the Third Quarter we decide to leave with the Colonials winning by 20 points.  They go on to win their season finale 27-14.

*   *   *   *   *

We're all still talking about the pass that ended the First Half.  C starts to analyze the great pass blocking that led to McNown to have enough time to throw the ball in the first place and then declares that HE could have caught that pass too.  Thatta boy!  My younger son, mimicking his older brother also states matter of factly that he could have caught the ball too.  My daughter is asleep.  Judging by their reactions, I think we'll have to make this an annual trip.   It's a great place for a family to watch a game and is about 25% of the cost of an NFL game (well except for the $10 Guinesses, those are the same everywhere).  See you next year.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Greg Wiggle Vs. Sam Wiggle: Let the Rumble Begin!

I was always a fan of Greg Wiggle of the Australian kids' band The Wiggles; he was my favorite compared to Jeff, Anthony and Murray Wiggle, that's for sure.  He was clearly the talented Wiggle, being able to sing, play guitar and dance about as well as you could expect an Australian man to dance.  It even looked like yellow was his natural color - he owned it that much.

But then in 2007 Greg Wiggle got sick with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and as a result was unable to move on as a Wiggle anymore.  It was a life long condition that "flared" up after a grueling World Tour  Were the Wiggles going to dissolve?  Would they stop touring?  But what would my kids do?  Luckily, and not surprisingly considering the money that was involved, instead of breaking up the Wiggles, the remaining members (and their handlers) determined to REPLACE Greg Wiggle.  They looked far and wide and settled on Sam Wiggle, a dancer in the Wiggles Troupe and understudy to Greg for several years. 

Now I haven't watched the Wiggles in years since my oldest son outgrew the Wiggles when he was 3 years old.  So I hadn't seen any of the new Wiggles episodes.  Was Sam Wiggle any good?  Could he sing, we already knew he could dance?  I didn't know the answer to that question as my daughter (who at 4 years old was able to talk old dad into watch their recent show at the Orpheum) and I rode the train into Town to see the Wiggles afternoon show at the Orpheum.  She didn't care and perhaps she didn't even know that Greg Wiggle existed.  Al we knew was that it was a cool train ride to see an even cooler show. 

As we walked toward the theater, I could tell that we were close given the increasing number of children and harried parents milling around.  I hadn't seen so many strollers, Baby Bjorns and Diaper bags in years.  My daughter, who outgrew all of that stuff almost immediately upon birth was curious about all the gear that all of these kids and their parents had.  She even asked if we could get a diaper bag like the cool colorful bag that the Mom and son sported next to us as we took our seats. 

"But you don't wear diapers"  I reasoned.  She looked at me diffidently about to yawn and moved on to the paper games that were left on our seats as swag.

As the show began, we were struck immediately by the a couple of Wiggles trying to do some acrobatics, since this was a circus themed show.  "Stick to the singing and dancing, boys" I was thinking to myself as Anthony Wiggle and Jeff Wiggle were attempting to do some hand stands (and failing miserably)  Murray Wiggle and the aforementioned Sam Wiggle didn't even bother to try their hands at the acrobatics.  Murray looks about 55 years old so I could understand that, but Sam's only excuse appeared to bet that he was a little overweight.  My daughter snapped me out of my cynicism though when she sat on my lap and started clapping her hands at the their first recognizable song, Rock-a-bye Bear.  I can't tell you how many times I had heard that song in my life, by the way.

As the show wore on, it was evident that I had hadn't watched these guys in a while since I didn't recognize most of the songs.  What made it even more discombobulating was that Anthony's voice was hoarse so it appeared that he couldn't make most of singing cues and had to be picked up by the other guys.  Again, DLG didn't care that much she was too busy clapping with Henry the Octopus.

Finally, after some interesting acrobatics on a fence and gate prop (thankfully by professional acrobats), they got down to their recognizable songs.  My son, after picking us up outside the show, started rattling them off.  Fruit Salad, blah blah blah.  Maybe I should have obtained three tickets...

Despite C stealing all of her thunder, my daughter enjoyed it so much that she didn't feel the need to yell at anyone.  And I guess our vote is for Sam Wiggle.  Fruit Salad, Yummy, yummy.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Guess We Have to Like Liverpool FC Now

Last month, I think we were all a little surprised to hear that Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner were attempting to purchase the Liverpool Football Club from the nearly bankrupt Tom Hicks.  One of the most venerable football clubs in the English Premier League had recently fallen on hard times as the Texas businessman did to English Football in Liverpool what he did to the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars - overspend and undermanage.  Now the Fenway Group's high powered machine was taking over.  Besides not having enough money to sign any free agents for 2011 and 2012, I suppose this is my reward for enduring the bridge years with the Red Sox.  It's also my opportunity to reintroduce Soccer to the boys since they haven't played soccer in months (at least the kind that didn't start with holding a Wii remote.)

8pm. TV.  We were lucky enough to catch Liverpool play the English Premier League's first place team the Chelsea Football Club in Liverpool this past weekend.  Lets go to the action.

"Hey C - look Liverpool is on TV.  Did you know that the Red Sox bought these guys?"

As he studies the screen, trying to decipher what I was talking about, he remarks "Dad, what are you talking about?  Where are the Red Sox players?  Why aren't they playing baseball?"  I guess I shorthanded my remark a little too much although admittedly, I still wasn't sure if Liverpool was in Blue or in Red.
As I'm explaining that the Red Sox OWNERs bought Liverpool and the Red Sox aren't actually playing the game, C and G both ask why the players are standing next to each other holding their hands over their private parts.  My 8 year old having grown accustomed to wearing a cup for football asked why the players didn't wear cups.  The conversation then took a turn toward why soccer players didn't wear cups because they run too much.  "But we run a lot in football too!" 

Before we started debating this strange topic, Fernando Torres scored Liverpools first goal.  It isn't lost on us that Torres is a leader on the Spanish National Team and a favorite of our on FIFA World Cup on the Wii.  "Hey Dad!" My six year chimes in, "that's the guy who kept scoring goals against you when C and you were playing against each other."  Thanks.

"Ole, ole ole ole" starts from the stands.  Needless to say noone in the JMR household is excited to hear all of the singing "Why don't they stop singing?"  Not being able to come up with a good answer, I return to my pat answer for questions.  It's because they're British.  Without singing, they'd be so unhappy.

MM, looking up from her phone at my xenophobic comment then talks about how she played goalie when she played.  "I thought you played Volleyball in High School?" I questioned.

"Oh maybe it was Junior High School, I hated it so much that I've blocked it out of my memory."  She confesses.

"You didn't really play soccer, did you?" I finally accuse.
While agreeing with me, she then goes on "It's funny that I don't like soccer because the boys are so cute.  They're so athletic. Not like the lazy pitcher who play baseball or the "Refrigerator" player in football.  Ooh, even the referees are cute.  Not like football, that's for sure."  Jesus.

I was concerned that the impressionable boys would hear us, but I don't think anyone was listening to our conversation though, as the boys had since retired to the nerf basketball hoop on the other side of the room.  They don't even see that they're superhero Fernando Torres scored another goal in the 44th Minute to give Liverpool a 2-0 lead.  It's probably time to put them to bed at this point.

I think it will be tough to get the boys excited about football in Liverpool, but if I can't watch Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre because John Henry doesn't have any money, at least I can watch the EPL on Fox Soccer Network.  Go Reds.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I Wish Providence Had a Sports Hall of Fame

It was all about Dave and Buster's again.  The pressure was on me to provide blinking light and ticket redemption entertainment again for the kids.  Again, they were bugging me about going to Dave & Buster's down in Providence.  Given my penchant for Hall of Fames, I negotiated a deal.  Dave & Buster's in exchange for them going to a hall of fame in Providence nearby.  I figured a little culture wouldn't hurt them.

Upon arriving on a deal, I then started my search.  There was the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport.  Nah, we had gone there the last time we were in Newport but I wanted something different.  I saw the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, too.  But its credo of "any individual who has brought credit to Rhode Island, brought Rhode Island into prominence and contributed to the history and heritage of the state.  I imagine that would have inclded Buddy Cianci before his convistion for Racketeering back in 2002 that landed him in Federal Prison.  I couldn't even find where that hall of fame was, was it out of a trunk?  They talked about a riverfront hall of fame in Providence, but it was just talk.

No sports hall of fame?  In my research, I was astounded.  Seriously, no sports hall of fame in Providence?  With its rich history of professional sports?  Did I have to go to Dave & Buster's without any cultural return?

*   *   *   *   *

Back to the State's rich sports history.  Forget about the Tennis Hall of Fame.  Forget about the America's Cup Hall fo Fame too.  (Denis Conner's sole gig these days is presiding over sailing opening day, I can only imagine.)  But what about these accomplishments?

Providence Grays.  The Grays played in the National League back in the late 1800's.  In fact from 1878-1885, the Grays were one of the power houses in the National League (I guess before salary caps and luxury taxes that is)  They came in first place in 1879 and won the inaugural Baseball Championship in 1884 when they defeated the American Association's  New York Metropolitans.  In fact, the Grays had an astounding winning percentage in 1884, with an 84-28 record giving the team an unbelievable .750 winning percentage, a mark that still stands to this day.  Unfortunately, the Grays folded after the 1885 season due to lack of support.

Providence Steamrollers.  Originally formed as a semi pro team prior to the formation of the NFL, the Providence Steamrollers were a charter member of the NFL in its first season back in 1925.  The Steamrollers enjoyed a few winning seasons, even winning the NFL Championship in 1928.  Back then, there was no championship game, the league just named the team with the best record champions.  The Steamrollers won the championship despite playing four less games than the Frankfort Yellow Jackets and securing three fewer wins.

The Providence Steamrollers also ushered in the original Monday Night Football when they played the first night game in NFL history back in 1929.  The Steamrollers' home stadium was actually a cycling arena located in downtown Providence.  The Cylodome was flooded out due to heavy rains earlier in the week leading up to the game.  As a result, to make sure that the dozens of fans with tickets wouldn't be disappointed, the team fashioned flood lights out of trains and automobies and played nearby in a deserted park.  I think Al Michaels called that game, too.  Ultimately due to the lack of funding and interest, the Steamrollers folded after the 1933 season.

Providence Steamrollers.  The namesake that played in the NBA (also known as the Basketball Association of America back before David Stern started ruling the roost, the Steamrollers played for three mostly sorry seasons.  The Steamrollers one feat was to post the lowest victory count in one season in NBA history when they won a measly 6 games during the 1947-48 campaign.  Fortunately, they have managed to avoid the worst winning percentage in NBA history (that distinction belongs to the 1972-73 76ers, which posted a worst winning percentage despite winning three more games that the Steamrollers did).  Not surprisingly, the NBA version of the Steamrollers also folded due to lack of interest in 1948-49.

In addition to the professional teams that Providence has supported, the state also boasts two top level minor league teams in the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Providence Bruins.  Further, the X-Games and the Gravity Games were each conducted for the first time in Providence. 

After all of this, Providence still boasts no Sports Hall of Fames?  Maybe I'm wrong, or maybe it's time for JMR to take matters in his own hands.  Be on the look out.