Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Solving the Boston Blazers 2012 Arena Problem

You remember the promise that I made to the kids when they wanted to see the Boston Blazers play again last year?  You probably don't, but the kids did; and when they asked me to go to a game in January 2012, I "happily" obliged.  I mean who could resist taking impressionable children to watch lap dances, cocked teenagers vomiting everywhere and Dan Dawson and Oh! Cosmo?  But when I went to the Blazer's website to purchase tickets, I read the bad news.  The Boston Blazers have suspended operations as they continue to look for a new arena to play in.  The Boston Blazers have folded!?!  You mean the team isn't playing at all next year?  Are you telling me that the team folded over the Summer of 2011 and I'm just finding out about it now?

Is this the last Blazers game we're going to see?
So the Blazers, negotiating with TD Banknorth Garden officials in the midst of the NBA Lockout, couldn't come to an agreement on leasing the Garden for a handful of home games this Winter?  I honestly find that surprising.  While neither of the games we went to were sell outs, the team brought in 8,000-10,000 fans a game - not bad for a sports that is barely burgeoning out from the shadow of Soccer.  And a lot of the fans that attended the games were teenagers or younger, all wearing their Dawson or Powell jerseys.  How did this get screwed up?  Judging by the lack of clarity of the team's actual status (look at the Team's official Twitter feed and Facebook pages and you wouldn't know the team folded, except for a couple of fan's acerbic comments) and the fact that the entire team's website is just an undated message from the Team's President Doug Reffue espousing the virtue of Blazers' lacrosse with no forwarding information, the reason was all too apparent.  It's a real shame.

But I have an idea that may save Blazers Lacrosse, puts a little life into a struggling venue, and provides a fan base desperate for professional sports to root for an outlet.  Not only that, but the venue's name is a perfect match for the team's name.

Uncasville, CT.  Mohegan Sun.  While the team struggles to partner with a local arena that doesn't serve beer like Conte Forum or is in a slightly undesirable location (think Worcester Centrum or Tsongas Arena), Mohegan Sun Arena is there waiting for another money-making enterprise.  Amidst a struggling economy that has reportedly resulted in a 20% drop in revenues at "the Sun," trying something like the NLL would make a lot of sense.  And with the team out of running for a 2012 schedule (The team's dispersal draft was in September 2011), the arena could juggle its entertainment lineup in 2013 to accommodate 8 home games during a notoriously slow time of year.  Of course, Friday and Saturday nights are popular nights at Mohegan, but games can be scheduled for late afternoon, or early evenings on Saturdays or even on Sundays.

And Connecticut and Rhode Island are lacrosse hotbeds similar to Massachusetts with successful high school lacrosse programs along the Connecticut coastline. Southeastern Connecticut, and all of Connecticut for that matter, is desperate for some professional sports to root for.  One can just tell that UConn's basketball programs are headed for a downturn (scandal for the Men's team and backlash for the Women's team) and these sportsgoers will need another team to cheer.   And while the Connecticut Sun's attendance is below the WNBA average, a professional women's basketball league serves a demographic that doesn't go to a casino on Saturday nights for some shenanigans; it's not a great fit.  Lacrosse would fill that void that the WNBA has created.

A team based in Connecticut may also start drawing interest from metropolitan New York.  Teams based in Rochester and Buffalo just are not going to draw interest from someone living in Queens or Westchester County.  A team, however, based at a casino in Connecticut may draw interest from New York City, particularly if the team conducts some marketing activities in the City.  It will work.

And did I mention the coincidental naming conventions?  The Connecticut Blazers playing at the Sun.  I can just hear the PA announcer call for Dannnnnngerous Dan Dawson and Oh!!! Cosmo.  It's just too perfect.  Contact me when you're ready to find out more, Mr. Reffue.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tim Tebow Meets the New England Patriots - Pats Fans Rejoice

Tim Tebow is finally going to play with the big boys.  After games against the pitiful likes of the Vikings, Chargers and Cutler-less Bears, Tebow is meeting the "bend but only kinda break" defense out of New England.  Sure, the Patriots start a wide receiver at Safety and have another wide receiver come in on passing downs.  And yes, I would pound the over and the Broncos in this game (Brady not only has a losing record against the Broncos, but he has a 1-6 record against Denver, lifetime).  But every Patriots fan I've spoken to is calling for a rout.  I'm not sure about it myself.

First Quarter.  Tebow keeps the ball for two of Denver's first three plays.  Apparently, Denver's strategy will prominently feature "Tebow up the middle," "Tebow left" and "Tebow right." And not three seconds after I write that, I hear boom, bang, boom, McGahee and Johnson both break 20 yard runs; maybe the Broncos don't need Tebow, dammit.  But after Tebow breaks a couple of tackles for the Touchdown, I realize that maybe the Patriots' defense is just God-awful.  To make matters worse, Tebow sends a prayer up to the heavens, teammates surround their savior and Denver fans start taunting the Patriot Defense.  Great.  I can't wait for Simms and Nantz to start telling us how awful the Patriots' defense is.  CAN'T WAIT.  Now I'm wondering how into this game the Patriots are as they try to run a missed PAT back.  Uh guys, you can only do that in college.  My seven year old told me that.

Way to shut the Broncos' fans up as Aaron Hernandez goes for 45 yards on a third and long situation.  Tebow kneels down in prayer.  Chad Ochocinco then catches at 40 yard bomb for a touchdown!  Tebow then kneels down with both knees.  Ochocinco celebrates like he just caught his first touchdown pass, oh right - better late than never.  My screaming and yelling prompts C to come down.

"You're so loud when it comes to that stuff, Dad."  He has a smile on his face, too.  He hates Tebow, just like me.

But literally before I can retort, Tebow leads the Broncos onto another score to make the score 13-7.  This is going to be a long game if we can't stop these guys.  But if they keep up with the wide receiver option, we'll have a chance.

Second Quarter.  After a Denver Field Goal (I would have gone for it on fourth down, myself there) made it 16-7, New England answers with a Hernandez touchdown after Wes Welker's diving catch for a touchdown was overturned on the subsequent replay.  And after a Ninkovich recovered fumble on the ensuing Denver possession, Belichick confounds us all for not challenging the Hernandez non-catch and goes for the field goal to make it 17-16 Patriots.  I would have risked the time out there, but a lead is a lead.  And the Patriots have gone on for 10 unanswered points.

Another takeaway!  Tebow fumbles the ball on a poorly executed pitch and gives the Patriots the ball back again in Denver's territory.  A couple of plays later Brady scores on a keeper to make it 24-16, throwing his shoulder out with his emphatic ball spike (Tom, leave the exaggerated ball spiking for the meatheads.).  I can barely keep up with the back and forth action.  And after a muffed punt for the third second quarter turnover, the Patriots kick the FG and take a 27-16 lead into halftime.  Dare I say that Tebow has us right where he wants us?

Third Quarter.  The Third Quarter is much quieter.  The highlights were a scrambling Tebow running right into Mark Anderson for 10 yard sack coming from his backside.  I openly cheered when that happened, Like this guy gave me the finger at a stop light or something.  And Danny Woodhead (with a big assist from the offensive line) scampers in for a 10 yard touchdown.  Patriots 34-16.  27 unanswered points.  Tebow wishes Jesus was REALLY in the locker room now.

Fourth Quarter.  I don't know how the game can get any more exciting, but here we are in the middle of Tebow time.  Will he be able to lead the Broncos to the comeback?  Well, the First play of the Fourth Quarter is an almost sack for a safety, an almost fumble for a touchdown and ultimately an incomplete pass from Tebow. Denver Punt.  The Patriots seem complicit in the Tebow show though as Tom Brady gets pummeled into the ground by Elvis Dumervil for an 8 yard sack.  New England Punt.

And right on cue, here we go again.  Tebow completes a couple of long passes just before he scores on a QB keeper to pull the Broncos within 11 points.  Jesus Christ, this is killing me.  He's not really going to do this, is he?

Thankfully, my prayers were answered.  as Rob Gronkowski starts to Hulk up on his 38 yard catch and run to put the Patriots immediately back into field goal position.  Hernandez with a couple of long catches and runs himself leads to BenJarvis Green Ellis 2 yard touchdown run.  Tebow is shown on the sideline with a bewildered look on his face (this isn't supposed to happen to me!?!).  Welcome to the Belichick show, prayer boy!  And things are looking really bleak for Tebow as he scrambles himself into a 29 Yard sack!  Welcome to the big time you poor-passing Jesus freak!  Game is finally over.  We have the ball with 4 minutes left and an 18 point lead.  I think this game is over.

Annnd, I'm right.  Mercifully for Broncos fans, the game ends with the Patriots winning by a lopsided margin, 41-23.  Always the one able to summarize things quite succinctly, G, who was asleep during the entire second half, rouses himself at the end of the game, looks at the score and declares very simply:

"Tim Tebow stinks."

And Denver fans all start to shudder at the thought.

photo courtesy of broncostalk.net

Thursday, December 15, 2011

We've Seen Tim Tebow Around Boston Before

This Tim Tebow guy is something else, isn't he?  Most people revile him, everyone else just can't figure him out.  For instance, don't ask my nine year old about "Tebow Time," he'll come after you - he hates Tebow that much.  What we all can agree to is that he's all the NFL is talking about.  Even Peter King, who is never at a loss for words, can't pigeon hole this guy - calling last week's win over the Bears "weird."  And although Tebow holds many of the SEC's Quarterback records (over Peyton Manning and Eli Manning), accounted for 145 touchdowns in essentially three seasons, won the 2007 Heisman Trophy, led the Florida Gators to two NCAA Championships and was a First Round draft pick, hardly anyone can believe what's happening in Denver right now.  Maybe it's the way he wins or the condescending way he believes God has something to do with his football prowess but no matter what, Tebow is the hottest property in the NFL.  Just like I said.

This pass is sailing high and wide, just a hunch...
His professional career started inconspicuously.  He was pegged as a back up when he was drafted in 2010 and management clearly wanted nothing to do with him.  This was especially true when Broncos Coach Josh McDaniels was fired in 2010.  John Elway could barely contain his disdain for the young pious dude.  He was just going to be a role player on a team that was expected to compete for the AFC West Division title. When circumstances led to him being thrust into the starting role, he started winning.  No one expected much from him, as he was just a placeholder - a bridge - to a higher profile player.  But as the wins started piling up, particularly during the recent winning streak, people started taking real notice.  He even revived Willis McGahee from his drunken stupor (or whatever was afflicting him).  Tebow was leading some people to think his presence was divine intervention or Magic.

Magic.  Yeah, we've seen this before around Boston.  Maybe instead of a Heisman-winning Quarterback who no one seemed to like, our Tim Tebow was instead an aging bullpen coach from Walpole, Massachusetts whom everyone liked.  He was management's 342nd choice to manage the Boston Red Sox, though, and was just going to be a bridge until a higher profile manager became available.

But then the winning started.  After Manager John McNamara was fired right before the All Star Break in 1988, this Manager led the Red Sox to win 19 out of 20 wins after the All Star Break, and 24 straight wins at Fenway.  They started calling what was happening "magic" and although the only Gods involved here were the baseball gods, they were Gods nonetheless. He impossibly made Todd Benzinger an important piece to the baseball puzzle, revived his flagging career that seemed to have been stuck since rising through the Sox farm system.  And even though his boss, John Harrington, didn't have big teeth and a Hall of Fame pedigree, he still was not the boss' first choice.  Our Tebow's name?...Joe Morgan.

Led by Mike Greenwell, Bruce Hurst, Roger Clemens and of course Wade Boggs, the Red Sox team that was underachieving all season, was now the darlings of baseball.  And Joe Morgan was given a lot of the credit.  He was able to stoke the stars into playing and eke out some decent performances from role players and aging veterans.  Even Dennis Lamp and Jim Rice showed some signs of life.  And that streak in July? It propelled the 1988 Red Sox to the ALCS, where they lost to the Oakland A's in 4 games.  

After that streak ended and the team finished the year 26-30, no one was talking about Joe Morgan anymore.  He had become just another name associated with the fruitless pursuit called the Boston Red Sox.  He was never able to duplicate that magic.  He led the Red Sox to the 1990 ALCS, again only to be swept by the Oakland A's and his managing career was finished in 1991.  After being let go, Morgan never managed again and retired in his comfortable Walpole home. Morgan Magic is now just a figment of our imagination.

The point being that the magic will eventually end - maybe even this week against the vaunted Pats defense.  Don't get me wrong.  Tebow isn't a bad guy, but he's also not going to remind anyone of the Manning brothers, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, so yeah, the magic will end, it always does for these guys. 

photos courtesy of orlandosentinel.com and manginphotography.net

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Latest on the Braintree Dave and Buster's Outpost

We've been down this road before.  Yes, the orange and blue road known as Dave and Buster's.  While Dave and Buster's in Providence is usually on our New Year's Day agenda, the full court press was put on us by the children when the Braintree, Massachusetts outpost finally opened last week.  And after the kids brought home some pretty good report cards, we finally relented to their pressure.  We thought the place was going to be opening tomorrow, but when a friend indicated that they were there earlier this week, we thought it would be a good idea to take them for the soft opening.  Plus, it's a great time to be going to the mall - two Saturdays before Christmas...this could be really fun...

Braintree, MA 2pm.  The JMR party mobile was exactly that.  Screaming, excited kids.  Parents with splitting headaches.  In between basketball games 2 and 3.  We were a party on wheels, I'll tell you.  40 bucks in each of the kids' hands and off they went.

We walk up the stairs and the first thing I notice is that the parking lot is not that busy.  Strange.  I thought this place would be teeming with teenagers being adjacent to the mall and all.  The next thing I notice are all the doormen, greeters and managers milling around the front entrance helping customers.  I think it was one manager per child.  I'm not sure if they think we're all stupid, or if the City of Braintree was really cracking down on some of the issues that we took for granted in Providence.  Who knows what a couple of games like Skee Ball and Trivia might do to these teenagers.  Particularly creepy was the Secret Service-like headgear the managers were wearing. 

OK.  We finally power up our cards and sit down in the bar to drink.  The lady I was talking to explained that the City wouldn't let them put a bar in the gameroom area - one of my favorite parts of the Providence restaurant.  We thought we would be ok with that when we were told that we could sit in the bar and play games too.  OK.  Let's try that.  Hmm, they got that one slightly wrong as we spot C seemed to be scolded by one of the Managers with the CIA gear as he's pointing at us twenty feet away.  The manager beckons us over to tell us that we had to accompany our children around the games.  See, in Providence, we could go shopping or see a movie while the kids were playing games and no one would care - although it is Rhode Island I suppose.

But the food was good. The beers were tall and the games spit out tickets, two at a time.  We would be ok.  Some brief reviews from the kids.

C:  Enjoyed the Wheel of Fortune game, especially when his numerous swipes of his power card resulted in hitting the 1000 ticket jackpot.  Enjoyed the french fries.  Disappointed that his lava lamp didn't work.  I wish I could have just bought the lava lamp at the mall, myself.  Also won a huge three pound watch that only a grandmother could love and a life size teddy bear.  I'll be throwing those things out in a couple of weeks.

G:  Spent most of his money allotment on one of the bounce-the-ball-in-a-hole games.  I think he was gone for about 10 minutes when he found me looking for more money.  Jesus.  He had a lot of fun going through the ticket redemption island.  He ended up picking up an Angry Birds stuffed animal and a kickball.

S:  Another bling winner.  I kept trying to talk her into playing the games that spit out the tickets rather than the grabber or coin games, but then i thought that it really doesn't matter as long as she is having fun.  She ended up with some candy and a candy squirt gun.  That Squirt Gun didn't survive the night before Dad threw it out.  Sorry.

Overall, a very good experience.  I was disappointed that the kids couldn't roam around on their own (my 9 year old was more than happy to play the games by himself).  But the kids were entertained, my throwing shoulder aches, and the beers were tall.  Even the manager who scolded C came over and started to talk to S.  She looked at him like he was the Easter Bunny (that's not a good thing), but at least he was pleasant and helpful.  We'll be back.  I don't really have a choice, I think.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Watching the 1984 NBA Championship in 2011

OK, I finally found one good thing about the NBA lockout. The local sports station that owns the TV rights to Boston Celtics' games now had to scramble around to fill in the holes created by the Celtics not actually playing any games.  Tonight, the space filler includes the the Classic Game 7 of the Celtics-Lakers 1984 NBA Championship featuring Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Magic Johnson and the venerable Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Not quite Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett.  But C seemed excited when he came downstairs to watch the game with me.  Join us as we dissect this game.

"They are wearing girlie shorts, shorty shorts!" C chuckles.  "Why are they wearing such shortie shorts, Dad?"  I change the subject as I don't have an adequate explanation. 

I'm not sure what this is all about
Luckily, in the next moment, Larry Bird comes off the bench back into game.  "Hey that's Larry Bird!!"  C is legitimately excited.  I regale him with stories of Bird's magic - the Dominique game, the 60 point game, etc.  "Larry Bird was the best player ever, wasn't he?"  Why yes, he was.

"And is that Magic Johnson...and Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  The Lakers were awesome!  You can't stop the Sky Hook unless you triple team him."  Cam yells as Jabbar scores over Robert Parish with a four foot skyhook.  Hey buddy who are you rooting for - the Celtics or the Lakers?

We then begin to compare Hall of Famers on the teams.  (And no, not the Hall of Fame hair that McHale, Scott Wedman and Danny Ainge had).  The Celtics had Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson.  The Lakers countered with Magic Johnson, Jabbar, James Worthy and Bob McAdoo.

After a hard foul by Kurt Rambis, we both have a nice chuckle as Tommy Heinsohn discusses the "No lay up rule." A double foul and a three for two foul rule?  Even on national TV Tommy could not be less impartial.  No Tommy point for him.  Dick Stockton earns one though for not laughing at Heinsohn after that ridiculous sequence.  That sequence demonstrates that the quality of basketball back int eh 1980's was much more exciting.  In fact both teams scored at least 100 points in all 7 games.  Seeing the fast breaks up and down the court, I can see why.  Maybe Tommy was just getting confused or something?

After G comes downstairs, we have to start all over again.  yes that Larry Bird.  Yes this is from 1984.  "Is this 1823?"  G asks me.

"No it's 1984" I answer, wondering if he was even listening to my answers to his questions. 

"So who wins Dad?  I'm waiting for him to remember what I said earlier when I turned this show on.  "Just keep watching, the game's almost over." I actually answer.

And as the game ends I keep rewinding the end to show the boys Larry Bird throwing a couple of haymakers trying to get off the Court as the crowd storms the Court.  This is a funny sequence as CBS alternates between Lakers guys dejectedly going the wrong way toward the Celtics locker room as they enter the clubhouse and this ugly dude with his shirt off, wearing cut off shorts and standing on the rim like a jackass celebrating with a couple of women with enormous hair. 

Man I love the 1980's...or the 1820's as G would have you believe.

photo courtesy of ioffer.com

Monday, December 5, 2011

Are the Indianapolis Colts the Worst Team in NFL History?

For the last 13 years, the Indianapolis Colts game has always been one of the highlights of the Patriots' season.  Piped in noise, the AFC Championship comeback, Fourth and Two - almost all of the games have been memorably decided by less than a touchdown.  Not this year, though.  Peyton Manning is hurt and the Suck for Luck Campaign has gained steam as the weeks of futility have piled up.  Even C asked me why the Colts were so bad.  The question is, are the Indianapolis Colts the Worst Team in NFL History?  Are they New Jersey Nets bad?

Fur Coat guy cracked us up.
Another question to consider is whether Peyton Manning is the MVP of the last 10 years.  All the media types were saying that the Colts still had pro bowl-caliber talent - Saturday, Wayne, Freeney, Addai, etc. - they should not be winless.  Did these guys ever think that the aforementioned players are pro bowl caliber because Manning made them that way and in actuality they just suck?  Remember how bad the Patriots were when Brady got hurt?  Oh yeah, I forgot, never mind.

Foxboro, MA 1pm.  It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in December.  Although I might be the only one to think this, I'm glad that the game got flexed to 1pm.  I'm getting too old to be getting home at 2am on a work night.  Besides, who wants to tailgate in the dark?  C came with me - his first regular season Patriots game  - so I was interested in getting his take on the Tailgate and game crowd, as well as how bad the Colts really were.  There would be questions, too.  Was the drunk 55 year old lady who always sits behind our usual seats going to get all fired up?  Will the guy in the old fashioned football helmet fall down the stairs again?  Will we see the guy in the half fur coat, again?  The options are limitless.  But, so long as the McDonald's near our seats is still open, we'll be all set.

The game started inauspiciously as Belichick went into conservation mode early.  Seeking to exercise some sort of demons, I guess, Kevin Faulk was getting the majority of the carries in the First Quarter.  Even after a Faulk fumble was overturned, he continued to get carries.  Green-Ellis, Ridley and Woodhead were all standing there wondering if they had some sort of escalation clause in their contracts that would have been triggered with carries or yardage.  The crowd started to get restless. (Although C would tell you that that was just me; everyone else was fine).  Meanwhile Dan Orlovsky led the Colts to an unsuccessful First Down on the Patriots one.  Manning would never let that happen.  3-0 after the First Quarter.

After an Adam Vinitieri field goal made it 3-3, the Patriots ended  the half scoring two touchdowns, one by Benjarvis Green-Ellis and the other by the Patriots' 2011 MVP Rob Gronkowski.  The one interesting thing about the Second Quarter was the reception that Vinitieri received.  Who cares that he was booed?  He'll get into the Patriots Hall of Fame.  Look at it this way - if you're wife gave birth to three wonderful children and then a couple of years later left you for a guy with more money, how would you feel?  I booed him, too.  Patriots 17-3.

The Third Quarter played out similar to the Second Quarter.  Two more touchdowns by Gronkowski to make it 31-3.  Some more ineptitude ensued every time the Colts touched the ball.  They can't move the ball at all against the Patriots' Bead Curtain defense.  My cover is looking good and C has only asked me for McDonald's twice.

Ah, but the good time didn't last.  The Fourth Quarter saw three touchdowns unanswered by the Colts, including a miracle 33 yard touchdown by Pierre Garcon with just 30 seconds left.  My cover went to concern after the first touchdown, to praying for a miracle garbage touchdown after the second touchdown to outright despair after the third touchdown.  The game all of a sudden was in doubt until Deion Branch recovered an onside kick with 20 seconds left to bring the game to an end.  Final score 31-24.  Pretty good for the worst team in NFL history.

As we were leaving, I asked C if he thought the Colts were the worst team ever.  He looked at me, after getting over his distress after having to leave early, and said "They looked OK to me."

They'll be even better when they trade Andrew Luck for some team's entire draft next spring.  No matter what I might think, the Colts aren't going to be the worst team for long.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bobby Valentine Joins the Red Sox, and How Does That Help?

He came in first place exactly once.  He's managed in the American League and the National League to moderate success and has been both the victim and the beneficiary of mid season managerial changes.  He had a fairly undistinguished major league career and has been known as a very quirky, some would say eccentric, manager.  And now he's forever associated with a tumultuous clubhouse where the players have openly rebelled against management.  His career record as a manager is 910-790 - barely over .500.

Bobby Valentine, you're probably thinking as the new Red Sox Manager?

No.  I'm talking about Jimy Williams.  The former Red Sox Manager managed for the Astros, Blue Jays and Red Sox.  Williams only played two years in the mid 60's and was the manager when the Red Sox imploded during the infamous Carl Everett-led 2001 Red Sox collapse (well for 118 games of it).  He also won exactly zero World Series for the Boston Red Sox during his five year stint with the Sox.  I hated that team.

Can't wait for this Era to be over
And while he might not have Jimy-isms to snicker over now, we may still chuckle over the enduring image of Valentine sneaking back into the dugout with full disguise after being thrown out of a Mets game. 

I'm digressing from the point, though.  The real issue is not who Bobby V most resembles, but who he is most different from.

By all accounts tonight, the Red Sox ownership has found the mouthpiece that it has wanted ever since that tragic 2009 drubbing by the Angels in the ALDS - when fingers were pointing in all directions, particularly after the Ninth Inning, Game 3 collapse at Fenway.  The Red Sox brass wanted to depart completely from the Francona/Epstein regime after that 2009 season, and with the beer and fried chicken-fueled debacle of late September 2011, Lucchino and Henry finally found their opportunity to clean house.  While one would think that departing completely away from Francona meant hiring a taskmaster manager who kept the Becketts, Lesters and Lackeys in check, we couldn't be more wrong what the Red Sox were thinking.

Terry Francona was always a players' manager and always took a bullet for his players, never blaming them for the team's shortcomings.  The players proceeded to walk all over him.  It was clear that the Red Sox needed to change things up by hiring a manager who wouldn't stand for any of the elitist and entitled attitudes of the Red Sox players.  Valentine, unfortunately, is a change alright.  But instead of being the taskmaster that the team needed, he changes things up by blaming the players rather than protecting them after poor performances. No clubhouse speeches for him, just press and media coverage.  This is good for Larry Lucchino and John Henry because now there will be someone who publicly speaks against the spoiled players, and not just leaks the information from the corner office.

In an admitted hatchet job by Murray Chass, (admitted by me only), the former Times writer has found Valentine to be the most disliked man in baseball, recounting numerous instances where Valentine either publicly called out players for their lack of performance or publicly fought with his own players.  Great.  Honestly, being the most disliked man in baseball is fitting since the last six weeks have demonstrated that the Red Sox are most disliked team in baseball.  It's a perfect match.

And now we're stuck with this crap.  Imagine watching NESN after Red Sox games.  The press conferences and interviews right outside the clubhouse will become Valentine's pulpit.  I thought Valentine was brutal to watch on ESPN, now we have to listen to him 160+ times every year.  And when Valentine gets going after a tough loss, how do you think old souls, like Carl Crawford and Daniel Bard, will react after one of Valentine's public humiliations?  What about the Beckett, Lackey and Lester?  How long before Youk and A-Gone starts complaining?  I really don't think this is going to end well.  Just like with Jimy Williams in August 2001.  I hope I'm wrong.

As a final note, I find it interesting that Valentine's greatest success came in a land where they don't understand a word he's saying.  We would only be so lucky.

photo courtesy of andaplayertobenamedlater.com

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rooting Interest in the Oregon Civil War

When my Brother moved to Oregon more than 10 years ago, one of the first things he told me when I first visited him was that I had to take a side when it came to the Oregon Civil War.  You have to be either a Beaver or a Duck.  You had to wear either Oregon green and yellow (now virtually any and every color) or Oregon State orange and black.  You had to choose sides.  I gave some though to it (at that time Oregon wasn't Chip Kelly-great, but still was winning more than they lost) and decided that I had no desire to be a Beaver.  None.  Ever since then, when my Brother texted me about the game, I greet him simply with a "Go Ducks" text back.  He would get a little pissed, even though we grew up in Connecticut and went to UConn.  But he needs to get a little pissed since he lives inside Beaver territory.  Kind of gross if you think about it.  Oh yeah, their cheerleaders are better looking, too.

This is what they play for?
But the 115th meeting of Oregon and Oregon State would have a new viewer.  G was interested in the game only as solution to his boredom problem.  His interest started growing, however, when I told him that the teams' names were the Beavers and the Ducks.   And the intrigue involving the Platypus Trophy (the trophy was found in a UO janitor's closet after being missing for over 40 years) was enough to seal the deal. 

"Ha ha, I like those names, Dad!" he giggles  sitting down on the couch with me.

"And your uncle like the Oregon State Beavers."  I explain to him.

"So you are rooting for the other team?"  I guess brothers never get along, since G roots for the Ducks with me and his brother begins to root for the Beavers - just because.

But the rivalry, similar to a brother who is 4 years older, hasn't been fair for the past several years.  After seeing OSU win 10 of 11 Civil War games through 1974, University of Oregon has dominated the series ever since going 26-9-1.  In fact, the series has been marked in the last three years with a 65 point drubbing by Oregon in 2008 and a win last year that catapulted Oregon to the National Championship game against Cam Newton's destiny.

This year's Oregon team is again led by Junior standout LaMichael James - the only player I know in this game.  His career started when LaGarrette Blount popped a Boise State kid after a loss in 2009.  James is now the leading rusher in Oregon history and the fourth leading rusher in Pac-12 history - as a Junior.  Because of his injuries, and the fact that the NFL motto is not "Suck for James" he's not going to win the Heisman Trophy, but he's a good little player.

We only end up watching the game off and on...it wasn't much a war.  James unbelievably dislocated his other elbow (he dislocated his first elbow in the first game of the season), but Oregon still won handily, 49-21.  G left for a friend's house at Halftime and C sat down for a little while when he got home, only to get up 10 minutes later to play with his nerf basketball set.  I guess these games don't matter as much here on the East Coast.

But you know what?  Go Ducks!  I think I'll go call my brother.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cooperstown: In Search of the Bloody Sock

Cooperstown 2.0.  I should have realized that the old adage "What goes around, comes around" is not an old adage for nothing.  It was 1984, and my parents had driven adolescent JMR to Cooperstown to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I was a baseball stat geek and my parents thought that bringing me to the baseball mecca would bring a smile to my face.  Despite the length of the drive and all of the effort that my parents made, I was in and out of the Hall of Fame in about an hour.  And I wanted to go home.  Even the promise of baseball cards couldn't sway me.  I really wanted to go home.  So home we went.  They probably figured why waste the money on a hotel if the reason why they were there in the first place (me) didn't want to be there either.  Ever since then, I wanted to go back to see what I missed.  To really SEE the Hall of Fame.  I waited for nine years after my first son was born, but I finally got a chance to go back to the Hall of Fame.  Would Karma be a bitch?

That's the backdrop to our Cooperstown jaunt this past weekend.

9am.  Cooperstown, NY.  After leaving at 4:30 in the morning, stopping three times and making our way through numerous county roads reminiscent of a scene out of The Ring, we arrived to a burgeoning snowstorm outside of the Hall of Fame.  We did manage to park in one of the diagonal spots right in front of the Hall of Fame, so that was a good thing considering the weather.  Or was it sign that we picked the wrong time of year to visit this place?  I think my daughter can answer that for me with the look on her face as I reach out to take her out of the car.  That's OK, she'll have fun looking at old gloves, baseballs and bats.  I just know it!

Right Before the Snow
"Dad, can we go home now?"  She asks me.

"No sweetheart, we just got here.  Maybe in a couple of hours."

"A couple of hours later?"  She looks at me like I just lost her blanket.  Jeesh.

My 7 year old son, on the other hand, was on a mission to find Curt Schilling's bloody sock and bounded right in.  My nine year old was excited to see what this was all about.  At least that what I deducted from him being face down playing with his iTouch.  He did not ask to go home, yet so I feel that I am playing with the house's money right now.

First Floor.  The first Exhibit we see is the baseball-themed art gallery.  Paintings from Leroy Nieman, Andy Warhol and Norman Rockwell line the walls.  We did not spend a lot of time in this exhibit, needless to say.  I have to admit, even I don't get the Warhol painting of Tom Seaver.  Tom Seaver?

Second Floor.  After walking up the stairs, past the Cow dressed up like a New York Yankee (or was Joba Chamberlain's wax figure borrowed from down the street), we sat down to watch the Baseball Experience.  A well done production of the history of baseball and similar to the movie that greets you at the Patriots Hall of Fame.  After that, the Second Floor of the Museum was a mish mash of old stuff that the boys were more or less disinterested in studying.  I thought that the Negro League and Babe Ruth Exhibits were pretty cool, myself.  Unfortunately, they were text and writing-heavy - not a good thing when you have Mom and the kids waiting at the end of the exhibit ready to move on. 

Third Floor.  My favorite floor featuring the Records Room, an exhibit that includes memorabilia from all of the baseball records - famous and obscure alike.  The kids were interested in this section including the year to year records update.  Although it may have been more about the blinking lights than the records, themselves.  I found it especially interesting that Pete Rose's hits record was showcased, but Barry Bonds was nowhere to be found with his two home run records - perhaps this was a sign that Rose would soon be welcomed back.  When I mentioned this to the girls, all I got was "who's Barry Bonds" blank stares.  And later on in the exhibit, G finally got to see that nasty bloody sock of Curt Schilling's.  On top of the gross dried blood, come to find out it was one of those long sanitary socks.  OK G, let's move on this is making me sick to my stomach.

One side note:  My favorite part about my first trip to Cooperstown was the baseball card exhibit.  This time, the baseball card exhibit seemed to be an after thought.  The exhibit didn't seem to have been updated since 1989 and was tucked in a dark corner behind the baseball and cricket makeshift exhibit.  Even the T-206 Honus Wagner Card seemed to be shuffled off to the side.  Too bad.

First Floor.  The piece de resistance of the Baseball Hall of Fame - the plaques of all of the Hall of Famers.  I don't remember this presentation when I first visited the Hall of Fame - a sunlit room down a long corridor.  Plaques lining both sides of the wall with the first Hall of FamersFrick area, a weak exhibit about baseball at the movies and spent about an hour in the gift shop. A little anti-climactic. 

The entire tour took about an hour and a half.  About the same as my first journey.  I can just hear my Mom and Dad laughing at me. 

The kids' favorite parts?  DLG and C said the Baseball Experience movie.  G, of course said the bloody sock exhibit.  At least they remembered enough to have favorite parts.  Good enough for me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It's Bowling Night in the JMR Household!

Ten Pin Bowling, or Candlepin Bowling - which is better?  In these parts, that is an age old question.  Every town around here seems to have one bowling alley, most of them being candlepin bowling alleys.  I'm used to ten pin bowling, and MM, after years of watching candlepin bowling on WCVB on Saturday mornings is firmly entrenched on the candlepin bowling side.  Which one would the kids choose?  After years of playing in our candlepin lanes, the JMR household has finally tried them both.  Despite some fits and starts and even more tears, some temper tantrums and some stubbornness, I believe that we have made the decision of which is better.

Ten Pin Bowling.

Granted, I have to explain each type of game with "big balls with the finger holes" or "skinny pins with the small balls," but everyone agreed that the game with the big heavy balls and wide pins was their favorite?  But why?

The kids like the opportunity to hit pins every time that they threw the ball down the lane.  Big balls and wide inviting pins.  Granted, we also bowled with a gutter protectors, but that's beside the point.  The games go faster too when you are only throwing two balls a frame, rather than the three attempts in candlepin bowling.  Finally, ten pin bowling afforded C to experiment with different weights of bowling balls.  He tried a 15 pound ball and the result was a hilarious attempt to throw the ball without hurting anyone.  He settled on a seven pound ball, just like his 5 year old sister.  G, my seven year old decided on a nine pound ball.

Candlepin bowling is slightly different.  I don't think there are too many people outside of New England and Eastern Canada who have even heard of Candlepin bowling, much less played it.  According to the International Candlepin Bowling Association (yes, there is one), candlepin bowling doesn't seem to exist in the United States outside of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. The rules are generally the same with three main differences.  You have three attempts to get all ten pins down (on the third attempt, you only get a 10 score if you knock all of the pins down, not a spare).  The balls are much smaller (only 4.5 inches in diameter) with no finger holes and the pins are much thinner and 15.75 inches tall.  The final major difference is that the pins that have been knocked down (dead pins) remain in the lane to be used strategically on subsequent balls.

While all types of bowling are generally fun (in theory, in practice make sure there is food for the kids and beer for you), the kids found the target practice nature of Candlepin bowling too difficult - leading one child to even boycott one of the games because he was too frustrated.

In an informal poll, the major advantages of ten pin bowling are (1) it's easier to hit the pins and (2) its fun to find different types of balls to throw.  Case closed.

Next up:  Duckpin Bowling.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Reliving the Giants and Patriots Super Bowl Feels Fantastic

Please tell me I'm dreaming.  Tell me that I didn't just see Eli Manning throw a fade over the head of an over matched Patriots defender to pull out a last second win over the Patriots, again.  Tell me I didn't have to endure a bunch of Giants' fans acting the fools in the parking lot after the game (You know you still live in New Jersey, right, and that's not going to change).  Tell me again that Number 77 has checked in as an eligible receiver.

This time some unknown linebacker named Tracy White was the outclassed defender, as Brandon Spikes went down with pulled pansy earlier in the drive.  And this time I had the good fortune of attending the game live as I grew increasingly disgusted as the game went on.  Not so much because of the loss but because I had seen this same exact game played a couple of years ago - February of 2008 actually.  Is Bill "V Rings" Belichick just mailing these games in or something?

Better times yesterday afternoon
The comparisons are startling.  Two high-powered offenses (although not that high powered recently) that didn't come alive until the Fourth Quarter.  The Patriots taking the lead with just a couple of minutes left in the game.  Wes Welker leading the offense, even though the team should be running against this Giants defense.  And plenty of time for Eli to win the game.  I'm still shaking my head just thinking about it. 

But did it have to be this way?  Bill O'Brien has seen the tapes from the Super Bowl, right?  The Giants front four is REALLY good.  They don't need to blitz and try different formations to put pressure on quarterbacks in passing situations.  I'm no genius, but couldn't they have run a little more than they did?  Pound the ball into that line.  Except for some trickery with Danny Woodhead taking a direct snap and handing off to Wes Welker on a reverse (which my friend insisted was tapped up in the air on purpose...yeah I laughed too), the Patriots' offense looked exposed and sorry.  I am actually considering purchasing tickets to this franchise next year?  Lord help me.

But let's not place the blame entirely on O'Brien.  Despite 2 touchdowns and over 300 yards passing, Brady looked awful against the Giants.  People were booing Chad Ochocinco every time a pass sailed over his head or wide left or right.  But that's the point.  Brady wasn't even close on the pass to Ochocinco in the endzone.  A couple of passes to Rob Gronkowski at the end of the game seemed like they should have been caught, but they weren't crisp passes.  I believe the words "Where the Hell was that pass going?" came out of my mouth after each of those passes.  Add to that two hideous interceptions and a fumble, and Brady looked positively Bledsoe-dian.

I'm still not ready to talk rationally abut this.  But where do we go from here?  A tough game against the Jets is looming next week and it appeared that Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes are both hurt.  Not that they're that great to begin with, but I'm afraid we're one more injury away from seeing Junior Seau pulled out of retirement.  Oh God, no.  Please don't tell me.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Baseball, Basketball and Hockey Need the Red Zone Channel

It was kind of funny, the trick I was playing on G yesterday afternoon.  We were watching the Giants and Dolphins game on the Red Zone Channel.  Then the game quickly changed to the Panthers and Vikings game.  G was zoning out for a bit - it took him a couple of minutes to know that the game had even changed.  And just like that, the game changed again to the Rams and Saints battle.  He asked me to turn the first game back on and I told him that I didn't have the remote.
"Dad, stop changing the game.  Give me the clicker."  G was exasperated.
"I don't have it."  I deadpanned.

"Wait what's going on?  I don't get it!"

The wonders of The Red Zone Channel.  One of the best media inventions since the invention of Fantasy Football.  It's appointment television every Sunday afternoon in the Fall.  The premise is simple, the NFL has television rights to all of these NFL games and simply whipsaws around the league showing all of the Red Zone action on one station.  It's ingenious in its simplicity.

But the NFL doesn't do things any differently than professional baseball, basketball or hockey.  Each of those leagues has its own networks and likely have the same rights to their own games.  My idea for these leagues is even more ingenious.  Each of these sports should have their own versions of the Red Zone channel.

Save Channel.  Baseball should focus on the late innings and the obvious save situations.  As the Texas Rangers recently reminded us in the World Series, saves can be one of the most exciting parts of the game.  While it will be difficult to have the channel work with various games starting at four different times at night, this channel would have the greatest potential for revenues, since the games are played practically every day from April 1 through October 1.  And with Fantasy Baseball right behind Fantasy Football in popularity, the games can pinwheel around popular players when they are batting.  Wouldn't you watch if you saw every at bat from Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols or Joe Mauer.

Hoop Vegas Channel.  This is a no brainer.  The games are normally exciting at the end anyway, but then add all of the star players like Kevin Durant, John Wall and Derrick Rose that we can watch every night plus the fact that basketball is the second most bet sport after football, Hoop Vegas Channel would have the greatest chance of succeeding.  We just need to think of a better name for the channel.

Blue Line Channel.  Hockey lends itself well to this kind of channel.  Power Plays, Overtime and Shootouts make hockey well suited to the kid of back and forth action that is the hallmark of a station like the Red Zone Channel.  Ever since the prolonged strike/lockout several years ago, hockey has been playing catch up as the other sports overtook the NHL and in fact zoomed away.  The Blue Line Channel is the way to recapture this audience. 

Baseball, basketball and hockey are starting to fall behind football in ratings and popularity.  Consequently, revenues are starting to fall behind.  These leagues should look at some of the things that make the NFL so successful and try those ideas on for size.  Thus the Red Zone Channel.  Having the games showcased in this manner will generate excitement and more importantly - ratings.  It certainly can't hurt.

Monday, October 24, 2011

What's Wrong with the Cardinals-Rangers World Series?

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers are playing in the 2011 World Series, in case you didn't know.  I'm not sure who is actually watching this World Series though.  Last night, I was watching the Saints obliteration of the Colts and forgot all about Game 4 of the World Series.  Tonight, I asked the boys if they knew the score of the Series.  Mind you Game 5 is playing tonight.

"2-1" G yells out from behind his Wii remote.

"3-1" C follows.  "No wait, it's......oh I don't know, it's 2-1."
I remember when the World Series was the most important sporting event of the year.  I remember the 1982 World Series between the Brewers and the Cardinals.  I remember the Royals World Series in 1985 and the Don Denkinger blown call.  Game 7, if there was one, was tantamount to the Super Bowl and the Olympics rolled up into one.  These days, we can barely remember who plays in the World Series from year to year.  I had to look up who was in the 2008 World Series, even though it was the same Tampa Bay Rays who beat the Red Sox in the ALCS.   I then had a brilliant idea to further prove my point.  Do the boys know anyone on either the Cardinals or the Rangers?

I gave C the first chance with the Texas Rangers. "Josh Hamilton, and.....oh what's his name.  Oh Elvis Andrus and who is that second basemen?  Oh I can't remember his name!"  That's sad.

Then I broke G away from Madden 2010 long enough to ask about the Cardinals.  I was more optimistic, since Albert Pujols was his favorite player.  "Albert Pujols" He responds. "And...uh.....uh....uh Patrick Someone."  Who?  Even his brother couldn't name someone on the Cardinals.  The closest he got was an outfielder named "Matt."

So what's wrong?  Is baseball suffering from an identity crisis?  Perhaps.  Between football and soccer, our sporting time is in short supply during the Fall.  Not only that, we're more likely to be playing with our iPads, iPods, iTouchs and XBox360 than turning on the TV to watch some unrecognizable guys play baseball.  Frankly, if the Red Sox aren't in the playoffs these days, we just don't care about baseball once football starts in September.  This is similar to the problem that the NBA is facing these days.  The competition from the NFL is just too strong. 

And back to the players.  Player exposure is limited in baseball - affecting player popularity.  Josh Hamilton is the most recognizable Rangers player and he is recovering drug addict.  Albert Pujols is the most famous baseball player in Major League Baseball, but he is dogged by persistent rumors about steroid use.  After these guys, you have to be a baseball fanatic to know the other players.  Nelson Cruz, Yadier Molina, Ian Kinsler, Cris Carpenter and C.J. Wilson are great players, but no one cares about them.  They are never on TV around here (unless they play basketball), unlike their football or basketball brethren who are always on National Television.  By all accounts, C.J. Wilson is good guy, but I've seen him perhaps 2 times in my life.  I've seen John Beck and Christian Ponder more on the RedZone Channel.

We're not going to speculate about how to fix the problem, though, we're too busy watching Monday Night Football.

photo courtesy of bettingblogger.com

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Pop Warner Coaching Philosophy

The other day, my seven year old G - in his first year of playing Pop Warner with his Dad as coach - asked me an intriguing question.

"Dad, why do you like to coach?"

Good question.  I always like watching the kids play sports and the wife might say I get too excited at wins and losses.  At the time, I think I spewed out some pablum about wanting to be involved with my children's lives and that coaching was the best way to do it.  I was trying to hide my initial, almost instinctive, response that by being coach, I can put my kids in the positions that they (and I) wanted.  But then I started thinking about it.  If the answer was as easy as the two reasons I listed above, then why do I cheer so loudly when one of the kids on my team strikes someone out or makes a good block?  Why do i have trouble sleeping at night worrying about some play calls?  Living vicariously through my children isn't a good answer either since I never played football or basketball in high school and only played baseball for a short time.  Living vicariously through my children suggests that I was trying to relive past glory.  But I didn't have past glory to relive - unless you're talking about that time when I hit two home runs in one inning when I was 12 against the best pitcher in the town growing up.  It was something more...altruistic.

But I digress.  When I signed up to coach football for my seven year old, I admit that my initial motivation was to put him in a position to succeed where he wanted, not where someone else wanted.  I didn't have any experience coaching football before and my experience playing consisted of pad less tackle football when I was 13 years old.  My left knee still hurts when it rains because of those football games.  But I wasn't intimidated, because after all, I know the rules of football and most of these 7-9 year olds don't.  And I'm not coaching the Crimson Tide, so the first three weeks went by pretty quickly, if not without help from Tylenol and Jamesons (both to calm my nerves after coaching a bunch of second graders).

But after an embarrassing loss at home in our first week, I realized that coaching kids in this sport is actually a lot different than showing up a couple of minutes before a little league game.  In team sports, preparation and work is more important than individual skill, so I made some adjustments to my own coaching philosophy.  Of course, I had a lot to learn about some of the fundamentals - about conditioning, offensive and defensive drills and walkthroughs.  And after some of those sleepless nights (I won't forget how awful I felt when one of the games ended with a last second touchdown and a lot of tears - no not mine), I've developed my own practice plan that has been introduced in bits and pieces this year and will be fully introduced next year.

Conditioning.  Stretching is extremely important.  After a lap around the field, stretching out for at least 15 minutes - including some dynamic stretching needs to happen.  5 minutes of agility drills should follow - including running backwards, side to side and karaoke.  For two hour practice, 20 minutes of conditioning is an absolute must.  I would need to do this too.

Offensive and Defensive Drills.  Every practice should have elements of offense and defensive drills.  Focusing on one over the other on a specific day prohibits the most important aspect of youth football playmaking - repetition.  30 minutes working on defensive drills - including angle tackling, shedding blocks, pursuit and form tackling should be followed up with 30 minutes of working on offense including center to quarterback exchanges, quarterback to running back exchanges, pass throwing and pass catching and form blocking.

Execution.  I am spending this time working on defense's execution (offense skeletons) working at three quarters speed.  No need to tackle anyone to the ground, just wrap them up and wait for the whistle.  After 15 minutes, switch to defensive skeleton and work on offense for 15 minutes.  Try to mix things up with thoughts on keeping your starting team together more often than not.  If you have the ability to work on an opponent's tendencies, work on those with this walkthrough.

Motivation, Games and Sprints.  Motivate the players at least once a week with a "chalk talk."  All of the kids like to hear how well they're doing after hearing all week how they can perform better.  Even in a criticism sandwich, there is still criticism and these kids aren't stupid.  Once a week do something fun.  A quick two hand touch game, maybe a tug of war or maybe a game of sumo.  Something to make practice fun.  If you practice more than two times a week, throw in some sprints at the end of the other practices.

On Game Day, make sure all of the coaches know what their roles are so you don't have two different coaches yelling in play calls (usually different play calls at that).  On game day, it is important to motivate the kids before, during and after game and make sure you tell the kids to root for each other.  This is their team too.  And as Bill Belichick said:  You work too hard during the week not to get excited when you make a good play.  And don't forget to always make attainable goals - score a touchdown, force a turnover and most importantly - have fun!  Don't talk about the game for 24 hours after they happen.

That is my brief coaching synopsis.  Now let's go have some fun.

photograph courtesy of footballbabble.com

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Beast Mode Milwaukee Brewers Is Our Pick in 2011

I asked my nine year old son if he could name anyone on the Milwaukee Brewers.  C, who can rattle off the Red Sox starting nine in his sleep, could only name Prince Fielder.  When I posed the same question to my seven year old, he could barely name Prince Fielder - and probably only because he overheard me talk to his older brother.  When I asked my five year old daughter, she was able name Ryan Braun (although I whispered that name in her ear).  And here is my list of Milwaukee Brewers:

Prince Fielder
Ryan Braun
Zack Greinke
Yovani Gallardo (only because this "ace" go lit up by the Red Sox a couple of months ago)
Nyjer Morgan
Corey Hart
Richie Weeks?

Nyjer Morgan is in "Beast Mode"
I even watched the end of Game 5 of the NLDS and I still could not name the Brewers' closer who blew the save in the ninth inning.  Never heard of him in fact.  This team, short of a couple of famous players is a team mostly consisting of unknown or under-the-radar role players.  And I think they like it that way.

But here we are all rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and their "Beast Mode" to beat the Cardinals in the 2011 NLCS, with the festivities starting tonight.  I admit that G's favorite player is Albert Pujols, but when faced with the possibility that he wouldn't be able to play with his friends if he didn't root for the Brewers in this series, his mind was changed.  "Let's go Brewers!!" he yells, looking at me hopefully (Yes, you can ride your bike around neighborhood, now). 


The Brewers represent what we enjoy about sports - enthusiasm, hustle and having fun.  Traits that I try to instill in my own kids.  It looks like they are more than highly paid robots (We can watch Real Steel if we want expensive robots for entertainment.), it looks like they care.  Do the Brewers go a little overboard at times?  Yes, but better that than listening to the ancient Tony LaRussa tell us what's wrong with our own lives.  I do have to wonder though if anyone on this Brewers team knows who Ben Ogilvie, Paul Molitor and Robin Yount are.  Oh and one more thing - Cris Carpenter is one tough dude to like, honestly.

The Series is going to showcase some of the best hitters (Fielder, Pujols and Braun) facing up against some of the best pitchers (Carpenter, Greinke, Gallardo) in the National League.  It's going to showcase perhaps the craziest person in professional sports (Nyjer Morgan) against the same player he derisively called a woman on Twitter a couple of months ago (Albert Pujols).  There is no love lost between these two teams.  The possibility of a bench clearing brawl is high.

But quickly breaking it down, the Brewers and the Cardinals are nearly evenly matched.  Each team can easily go four deep in their rotations with comfort.  Each team has clutch power hitters at their disposal.  And each team has surprising spark plug hitters who hit .300 this season (Yadier Molina and Morgan).  The Brewers have homefield advantage and that might make the difference.  Greinke, Shawn Marcum and Gallardo going in 6 of the games won't hurt either.  Beast Mode in 6 games.

Not quite Harvey's Wallbangers, but not a bad nickname.

photograph courtesy of deadspin.com

Monday, October 3, 2011

NBA Lockout vs NFL Lockout And Our $100 Tickets

It took over three months, but the NBA Lockout has finally reached the JMR homestead.  Unlike the NFL Lockout which made us reach a fever pitch over the Spring and Summer - even leading this writer to compare the Players and owners to a pair of siblings, the labor problems besieging the NBA went hardly noticed here.  But when C's basketball tryouts, the questions were finally asked. 

"Dad, when can we go to a Celtics' game?"

"Not this year."  I answered matter of factly.  When C looked at me like I was telling another one of my awful jokes, I felt like I had to explain myself.  "The players went on strike and they don't want to play."  Now, despite being a business owner myself, I actually thought it was easier to explain the work stoppage as a strike, rather than a lockout. 

"They don't want to play ever again?  G asked me, as he glanced down at his Rajon Rondo t-shirt.

"Well probably not this year, but maybe next year. Sometimes workers get together and collectively decide that they won't do their work until they get paid more."  I then go on to explain that the same thing happened in the NFL a couple of months ago.  "But you know what?  A lot of players are going to be playing in China and in Europe, so we'll be able to see them play elsewhere."

"You mean we have to go to China?" C asks me, clearly not wanting to go that far to see his beloved Boston Celtics.  And I bet we'll see plenty of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on TV this year - even if it's on Dancing with the Stars or Regis and Kelly.

The issues are simple:  Basketball related income (BRI) for basketball players needs to be reduced from 57% to 46% of total revenues, The current soft salary cap (which basically means that there is no cap) will be turned into a hard salary cap, current salaries need to be reduced in kind by at least 10% and money has to go into escrow to ensure that the BRI remains stable.  There are other stupid issues that are used as bargaining chits for the larger issues.  Age limits, PED testing and extra drafts will be worked out.  I'm not going to bore you with the other details that I've learned about the NBA lockout.  Billy Hunter vs. David Stern, Billionaire owners vs. Millionaire Players.  It's the same refrain.

There are a couple of good things to come out of the Lockout.  Kobe Bryant will likely be out of the States for the year.  We don't have be witness to Chris Bosh's childish behavior.  And best yet, with all of his free time, LeBron James will likely do something really, laughingly stupid - to all of our collective enjoyment. 

But now, I have to yet again explain to my kids the sorry concept that grown men don't want to make money to play games.  The kids don't really care who is right and who is wrong in this labor dispute.  Ultimately, the two sides will agree and the Billionaires will remain Billionaires and the Millionaires will remain Millionaires.  Things will return to the status quo, again. 

And we'll be the ones stuck paying for the $100 tickets, again.

photo courtesy of cnnsi.com

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Red Sox Aren't Going to Have a Coach Next Year?

Terry Francona is gone.  The only manager that the boys have ever known was fired yesterday.  Or maybe he quit.  I doubt we'll ever know...but we do know this.  Something happened in that Clubhouse.  The ultimate players' manager couldn't even keep this team together.  Kevin Youkilis is a putz.  Tim Wakefield is a putz.  John Lackey (perfect name, really) is a miserable soul who sucked Lester and Beckett into his vacuum of crap.  Daisuke and Buchholz are prima donnas.  You can keep going, Carl Crawford is clearly miserable.  Adrian Gonzalez is a jackass.  I wanted to get rid of J.D. Drew months ago.  Blah, blah blah.  Two pitchers preceded to divorce their spouses within days of the last game of the season.  And the Manager who could handle Manny Ramirez couldn't handle "The Dysfunctional Frat."  And now we'll experience the DeMarlo Hale Regime.  It's an opportunity, though. 

All of the defenders will say "Don't blame the players!"   It's Theo's fault.  It's Terry Francona's fault.  It's the management.  I think all of the above have to take a share of the blame.  The Clubhouse was clearly a mess.  The Manager does not have the kind of mentality to take control of an out-of-control clubhouse and the General Manager and Management decided to sign Lackey, Crawford, Drew and Daisuke.  But therein lies an opportunity.

If the team doesn't listen to the Coach, the team won't win.  Teaching moment?

"The Red Sox won't have a coach next year?"  My seven year old asks me. 

"No.  They'll have a Manager.  It just won't be Tito."

"Will you be coach, Dad?"  I shake my head, no.

"Dad, who's Tito?"  My nine year asks me.  But before I can answer him, the seven year old seems puzzled by my inability to manage the Red Sox.

"Why can't you be coach?  You're a good coach, Dad!"  Why, thank you G.  Now go run a lap and do 10 push ups.

"Dad!"  A little louder this time.  "Who's Tito?!?"  Terry Francona, I answer.

"Why did they fire him, Dad?"  When I explain that it was his job to win baseball games and when a manager doesn't win games he loses his job, we then get into a conversation about how the team wasn't playing well enough to win. 

"But they had the best team in the league!"  C explains.  But then just as he that he goes on.  "Well John Lackey sticks.  And so does Carl Crawford.  Actually, only Jacoby Ellsbury played good this year.  Is he the best player in the league?  They all looked so mad and so sad"  Losing focus...At least he didn't ask why I haven't lost my job since my team is 0-3.

"If the players stop listening to their coach, the team stops playing well and stops playing as a team.  No one is happy and no one learns anything."  OK, I am their coach most of the time.  A little bit of psychology at work here.

"I get it Dad.  You want me to listen to my coaches."  My nine year old is starting to get too old to fall for these kind of tricks.  I better dig a little deeper.  "I always listen to my coaches Dad.  I want to win too."  Maybe, I don't?

"Me too Dad.  I want to win too."  G points out.  "i always listen to my coaches."

Good.  Maybe all of my badgering is starting to set in. 

The managerial choices are not great.  Bobby Valentine, DeMarlo Hale, even Lou Pinella are out there looking for opportunities.  I think we need Dick Williams or Earl Weaver myself.  But so long as the boys see that teams that don't listen to their coaches play really poorly, that's more important to me.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Day of Firsts - The Football and Soccer Extravaganza

A beautiful sunny day awaited us as we all rose on Saturday morning.  The JMR household on Saturdays and Sundays – once reserved for donuts, chocolate milk and SpongeBob Squarepants – are now all about two things, Football and Soccer.  More importantly, today was going to be a day of firsts.  C’s first game as the primary pass-catcher for his 4th grade Pop Warner football team, G’s first football game as a starter and DLG’s first soccer game, ever.  Honestly, the parents in this house were more excited than the children and we had to hold back our excitement and nervousness so as not frighten the impressionable children.

9am.  G’s First Game.  After a humbling loss in our first varsity game the weekend before, the junior varsity team was finally playing its first game.  Yours truly was a co-head coach of the junior varsity team, an honor only if you enjoy 25 2nd graders asking you to play a certain position and generally complaining about being thirsty.  But my hard work was going to pay off in this game.  And G was starting left tackle.  Michael Oher might have been proud (if we threw the ball, of course). 

The game got underway with a quick touchdown from the opposing team followed shortly by a touchdown of our own led by some superb blocking from the left side of the line.  This was going to be a much different game than last week, I could just tell.  G was excited too, blocking everyone near him and getting tossed around like a rag doll sometimes.  It didn’t matter, he was having fun.  And on a kickoff by the opposing team, G’s excitement on the front line of the kickoff return team came bounding through.  Catching the ball on the fly, he started to run.  He had dreams of touchdowns in his mind.  Unfortunately, he was stopped about two steps after moving forward by the opposing team.  It didn’t matter, he was excited (and so was I). 

Although we ended up losing 26-14, I saw a lot of good things from everyone, and G was as proud as a seven year old could be.

10:30am.  DLG’s First Game.  We’ve been through this same soccer program before with her two older brothers.  Strutting as a peacock didn’t begin to describe her emotions when I told her all four of us were going to watch HER play soccer.  Usually it was the other way around.  At 10:50, G and I arrive to the soccer pitch to find the mad scramble of children learning the game.  I call it a pitch but it’s the outfield of a school’s baseball field.  Just in time though to catch DLG’s eye as she was practicing.  She was bounding up and down the practice field and when she saw us, she waved and started strutting around, hoping we all saw her Freddy Adu-like skills.

When the game started, however she was starting goaltender.  That’s ok I thought, I taught her how to stop the ball and scoop it up.  Besides, I can position myself right behind the goal to give her some “friendly advice.”

"Stop coaching and let her play!”  MM scolds.  I back away, just as she is replaced in goal, only to start playing defense.  A lot of running in bunches ensued and despite her valiant effort, her team – the Purple Sharks – go down in defeat 3-0.  That doesn’t matter though, because after the game DLG comes up to me and asks me if I saw her play.  Well, yes sweetheart, didn’t you see me coaching you from behind the goal?

10:00am Sunday.  Nine year old C has been working hard all year to get to this game.  He’s starting right end for the game, and for all you Pop Warner coaches, you know what that means.  He’s the one player who will be thrown the ball.  It might be quick outs, quick post patterns or halfback options, but the one constant at this level is that if you throw the ball, you throw it to one position – the Right End.

When I saw C inserted at Right End, I knew that there was going to be a pass play.  And lo and behold, five plays in, the Right End goes on a post pattern.  The Quarterback, C’s best friend and next door neighbor, heaves the ball up…and he catches the ball over the defender for a 25 yard gain!  The first executed pass play for this team…ever.  Watching from the far end zone, I start running down the sideline screaming “Nice catch 57!!” while a bunch of parents look at me like I’m about to eat their children.  As I run to the bleachers, I then see a penalty flag – ineligible man down field – are you kidding me?  They call that in fourth grade football?  And just like that the play is returned.  Two more passes that day ended in an interception and an incomplete pass (albeit as a result of interference).  Still the team won 20-8, and no one can take away that first catch. 

Two days and three proud moments for Dad.  Not bad.  And I can’t wait to become one of “those” parents.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Football Life by Bill Belichick - Teddy Bears and Costumes

Last week made for some pretty compelling television courtesy of NFL Films and Bill Belichick.  Following Belichick and the New England Patriots around for the 2009 season, last week we finally got a glimpse into the football mind of a Hall of Fame football coach.  What makes Part 2 of the documentary (and with Belichick dry sense of humor and sarcasm, it borders on mockumentary) so interesting is that we Patriots fans know how the season ended.  Fourth and two; Wes Welker's injury, the drubbing by the New Orleans Saints.  The beginning of the end started with Ray Rice's 83 yard touchdown run and ended with an embarrassing 33-14 loss in the Divisional playoffs.  I can't wait to see how this ends.

And does Derrick Mason get into Belichick's grill during that game?

Definitely not the Result of This Season.
Part 2 starts with us explaining to the kids Coach Belichick's costume for the Patriots' players' Halloween party.  Randy Moss just wants a DJ and go out like when he was younger!  And he seemed genuinely surprised that the Coaches were so interested in going to the party.

Next scene.  And in the ultimate foreshadowing moment, we see the Patriots convert a Fourth and one on their own 25 yard line against the Atlanta Falcons.  And in the next scene we are treated to a brutal stretch in the Colts game.  We all remember how this one turns out.

"Billy get ready on the fourth down I don't want to give them the ball back."  Belichick tells his OC as the Patriots line up on Third Down.  What a great scene with Brady.  "If it's a shitty look, Delay of Game."  Belichick tells Brady as they talk about the Fourth Down play.  A great perspective on perhaps the turning point of the Patriots 2009 season.  Was Belichick leaving the play call up to Brady so if the play failed to convert it was Brady's fault?

Anyway, it didn't matter.  Cut to the next scene against the Saints as Belichick reminisces about Super Bowl XXXVI.  Adam Vinatieri was the best player on that 2011 team?  Winning that game was a miracle?  And all of those great memories ended after the Saints handed our lunch back to us.  That scene was closely followed by a lighter moment.  In a scene with Greg Gumbel, Belichick goes on about his co-star the Chevy Impala and his inability to fix the clock for Daylight savings time.  It's never easy.

In an attempt to get so much fit in to an hour program, the scene then cuts quickly to the Jaguars clinching game.  After we see all of the defensive players dancing on defense, and then giving up a touchdown, Belichick goes absolutely bonkers and proceeds to yell at the "punks" who didn't play defense for 60 minutes. 

And then Welker goes down in the Texans game.  Really depressing stretch for the team, but honestly, this season was not a good season no matter how you cut it and we knew that from the get-go. And of course, the Playoff game went off like I thought it would - although we didn't see Derrick Mason come back over to the sideline for another jab at Belichick, Thank God.

And just like that, the show ends as it started, Belichick in Nantucket on his boat, V Rings.  I really hope they change the name of the boat this year. 

Takeaways:

1.  Belichick really relied on Brady as an extra coach out there.  The exchange between them at the Saints' game was extraordinary television.

2.  Belichick hates - I mean hates - fourth down punts.  Going for it on fourth down seems to be a mental block for him, at times as he justifies by explaining that he believes in his players to make those yards.  Sometimes, as in the Colts game, it backfires.

3.  I really like the family barbecue outside of the Stadium idea.  Maybe we'll hang around after the games from now on.  Maybe Wes Welker or Albert Haynesworth will have burgers cooking outside after one of the games.

Until we see VI Rings.  Thank you Bill Belichick and NFL Films.  That was fantastic television.

photo courtesy of bostonsportspulse.com

Monday, September 19, 2011

Drew Bledsoe and his Hall of Fame Return to Foxboro

Is Drew Bledsoe Hall of Fame material?  Does Akron need the gunslinger from Walla Walla, Washington?  He passed for over 44,000 yards, including three 4,000 yard passing seasons and his similar players on Pro Football Reference includes Bart Starr and Kenny Stabler.  But he also had three seasons where his interception total exceeded his touchdown total.  And in New England, he was seen as an underperforming stud quarterback who could never get the Patriots the Lombardi Trophy until Tom Brady was the starting Quarterback.  Whether he gets the call from Roger Goodell this year or not, Bledsoe has been bestowed the honor from Robert Kraft and the Patriots Hall of Fame this year.  Drew Bledsoe was one of my favorite players and with the opportunity to see Scott Zolak in action - well this was cause for a family roadtrip back down to Patriot Place.

5pm.  Foxboro, MA.  The four of us arrive early (LC decides to join us later that evening), not so much to get a good parking spot (we didn't) or to see Lion King 3D (No one wanted to).  We just wanted to go through Hall of Fame, maybe toss the football around for a while and generally enjoy a celebratory atmosphere.  The New England Patriots home opener was happening tomorrow and a palpable buzz was in the air.

After catching some confetti and kicking some field goals at the Hall of Fame - and after unsuccessfully trying to buy the lego set for the Patriots helmet in the lobby of the Hall of Fame - we join a thousand others in the concourse for the ceremony.  Bledsoe is joined in the Hall of Fame by Jon Morris, a Center for the Patriots in the 1960's and 1970's.  A very nice gentleman who stirred the crowd by declaring this ceremony as the Crowning Achievement of his Football Life; unfortunately, none of us were there to see Jon Morris.  Both boys - who mind you were not alive the last time Bledsoe was in New England - started grumbling about all of the "old guys."  I have to admit, I was more interested in Bledsoe myself.  At least Morris recognized this as well.  "I'll start wrapping things up as most of you came here to hear the next guy."

"Yeah, no kidding" some guy next to me whispers to his girlfriend.  Tough crowd. 

But not to be deterred, the induction speech was followed by a round table with Morris' old teammates from the old Boston Patriots.  I think Gino was there and a couple of other guys I didn't recognize.

I didn't have much time to find out who they were either, since the kids started to wrestle with one another and DLG started to get really tired (and when I say tired, I mean she started crying).  So we climb the stairs up to CBS Scene to watch the ceremony on the big screen.  Finally, Bledsoe comes out to talk.  The memories start flooding back.  The nightclub incident with Max Lane, the Super Bowl, the Jets' hit, the AFC Championship game in 2002.  It was all there.  And I find it ironic, after Bill Belichick's discussion with Wes Welker about Wally Pipp in A Football Life, that Drew Bledsoe was the true Wally Pipp.  And on behalf of Patriots Fans everywhere, thanks Mr. Pipp.

Bledsoe goes on to talk about the little dude, Troy Brown and Scott Zolak.  He thanks his offensive line for all of their hard work.  And he goes on to thank Bob and Myra Kraft.  His Mom and famous Dad in the 10 gallon hat seemed proud of his son's accomplishments.  And we were too.  Hey, so what if he underperformed in his nine years here, his last game for the Patriots was a Super Bowl win. 

Midway through his speech, G asks me an interesting question.  "Is Drew Bledsoe the best Quarterback ever?"  He was wondering why he was going to the Hall of Fame and Tom Brady wasn't.

"No, stupidhead. Tom Brady is." C responds not giving me a chance to answer.

And so we see Drew Bledsoe's true legacy in New England.