Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tim Wakefield, Hingham Jewelers and the 2011 Red Sox

Tim Wakefield is back in our lives!  Whether he's toeing the rubber at the beginning of a game, part of an emptying of the bullpen in an 11-1 blowout, or on the disabled list, Tim Wakefield shows up on our NESN broadcasts approximately 6 times a night during the season.  "Not your average jewelry store!" owner Stacey Page yelps while Wakefield holds up his two World Series Rings, reminding us that he is Tim Wakefield and we are not.  I can just imagine the dinner conversations at Black Rock Country Club when Page and Wakefield cook up their next line of commercials for Hingham Jewelry.  ("No Stacey, this time YOU wear the rings and I'll wear a ski mask!"  "Oh too soon?  Never mind then.")  Unfortunately, Wakefield had as much to do with those World Series victories (17 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings combined in the 2004 and 2007 postseasons) as he did selling that jewelry.  But that's beside the point.  The Red Sox are back.

Here comes the heat!                            courtesy of
Last year, I proclaimed that Boof Bonser was going to be the key to the Red Sox 2010 season.  Seriously, what the Hell was I thinking when I wrote that?  I sincerely believed that Bonser was going to be the 6th starter and Wakefield was going to be a part of the rotation.  I had no idea that Buchholz was going to have his breakout year.  But this year, Mr. Hingham Jewelry is the key to the Red Sox 2011 Season.  I know, I could have picked Beckett (or as Twitter followers call him BecKKKKKett), Papelbon, Gonzalez, Crawford, Ortiz, Lester, Pedroia, etc.  But we know what we are going to get with those players, and we know that they are going to play large roles in the success or failure of the Red Sox's march to its third World Series in 11 years.  And sure, Wakefield's place on the roster was not solidified until the last week of Spring Training, as his 7.45 ERA did little to make us fans feel good about his pitching this year.  But it's the players we aren't expecting to contribute who usually make the difference between winning and losing (and between living and dying).  Who would have expected Buster Posey to be the key to the Giants' World Series victory last year?  Jacoby Ellsbury was buried in Pawtucket for most of the 2007 season before shining in the postseason against the Indians and the Rockies.  And don't forget, Wakefield is only 14 wins away from passing Cy Young and Roger Clemens for the most victories in Red Sox history, with 193.  And if you think erasing Clemens' name from the record books isn't important to John Henry, then you don't know this ownership group.

Looking at the rotation, Josh Beckett has spent a considerable amount of time on the DL two of the past three years - starting only 22 games in a lost 2010 season.  Similarly, Daisuke Matzusaka has only started 37 games in the last two years.  John Lackey has proven to be a workhorse, but even he spent time on the disabled list in 2009 and 2010.  As has been the case for the last five years, someone is going to need to step in the role of 6th man in the rotation.  In 2007, it was Manny's best friend, Julian Tavarez starting 23 games.  In 2008, it was Bartolo Colon and Paul Byrd.  In 2009, it was John Smoltz and Byrd.  Wakefield enjoyed this honor last year and only managed to win 4 games in 19 starts.  Damn you, Boof.  Every year, a pitcher - usually of advanced age - is required to start 5 to 10 times.  It's these starts that can either be throw away games, or games that energize a club.  Either way, they become the most important games in a tight pennant race with the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.

This year is different though; these starts are even more critical.  With "run prevention" and "bridge year" replaced with "Sky is the limit" and "We won't rest," this year's team merely needs someone to eat up innings that would otherwise be going to a taxed bullpen.  Pitching seven innings and giving up 6 earned runs is ok this year because the Red Sox will will those games 8-6, rather than lose them 6-3.  There is no reason to throw away any games with this offense.  Wakefield's 10 starts could mean the difference between going to the playoffs or finishing behind the Yankees and the Rays.  And I laugh at you if you think Felix Doubrant is the answer.

I thought Bonser was going to be that man last year, and I was wrong.   But Wakefield is the key to the Boston Red Sox 2011 season.  And if he's not, then he is still Tim Wakefield and we are not.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Harlem Globetrotters 2011 Redux

Here we go again.  We had several entertainment choices this past Saturday night.  We could have seen the Whale play in Hartford with the Howe Family reunion, or perhaps the New England Revolution's season opener against the D.C. United, or my personal favorite sitting on the couch with a beer watching the NCAA tournament.  UCONN was playing this night for a chance to make its fourth Final Four, after all.  But no.  In a repeat of last year - I think I Remember saying the same thing about watching the 2010 NCAA tournament, my boys talked me into going to the Harlem Globetrotters in Boston.  Tonight promises to be a night of $40 basketballs, ice cream and popcorn and tears.
10:00am.  Home.  We thought making a day of it would be a good idea.  With this in mind, I thought we would begin our day in Kenmore Square at a Fenway Park tour.  It might be a little cold, but the kids seemed excited.  When I finally got to the ticket office, I asked for five seats to the 3 pm tour.  The ticket booth guy glared at me and told me that there were no tours today.
"What are you talking about?  It says winter hours until March 31! its only the 26th!" I excitedly grumble.

"If you read the website, you would see that it was closed on the 26th, sir." he squeals.
"It wasn't.  I checked myself and that message wasn't there."  Now I'm getting excited.
"It was updated, sir, I saw it last night."  the sincere ticket-twit tried to explain.
Knowing I wouldn't get anywhere, I walked away - but not without shouting to no one in particular "Well maybe you should check again!"  Yeah that showed him.
So then we tried the New England Sports Museum.  The main number we called directed us to another phone number.  That telephone number ended up being out of service - Great.  I guess that option's out.  Desperately seeking something to do with the kids, I made the executive decision that we were going with Phase 2 of our culture experiment, somewhere that I wanted to go ever since we went to the Museum of Fine Art, the ICA.  I'll leave that experience for another day, though.
Excited Children galore!
7pm.  Boston.  Some of my notes from the game...Well after walking around most of Boston looking for our seats and popcorn for the kids, we finally get to our seats.  Not bad.  Behind one of the backboards, but still pretty close to the action.  Can't complain about that.  I immediately notice that a lot of this year's show was the same as last year's. Globee running around with his dance crew and the MC talking about the show and the two new rules for this year - the penalty box and the four point shot (circles about 35 feet from the hoop that were activated with three minutes left in each quarter).  My 6 year old asks me if the Generals are any good.  We're watching the lay up line as he asks and I remark that some of them were, but I then point to the short bald guy an example of a General who is not any good.  (More on him later.)  The only thing memorable about the Sweet Georgia Brown-inspired Magic Circle, that's starts up shortly thereafter, is that one of the guys, who looked like Marquis Daniels, actually, couldn't spin the ball on his fingertip despite trying about 6-7 times.  I could do that.  On to the game.
Unlike last year, when the Generals couldn't miss a shot and the game had to be modified half way through to make sure that the Generals didn't win, this game was the Globetrotters' from the start.  They built a 12-0 lead before we could even sit back down from our 20th trip to the bathroom.  On their way to a 16 point first quarter lead, the show begins.  First, Globetrotters left and right are having to go into the penalty box to give the Generals a chance to catch up (really, that's what my 8 year old told me!).  My 6 year old remarks that #4 on the Generals, Dante Hall, looks like his favorite former Celtic, Nate Robinson..  The guy shoots like Nate Robinson too, missing all of his 4 point shots in the first half.  I can't believe that I paid money to be able to see guys wildly miss 4 point shots.  The Globetrotters, despite playing most of the second quarter 4 on 5 (Norman Dale would be proud of these guys), keeps a half time lead of 66-55.

The second half is mostly the same as the first half, with Big Easy, Hammer and Scooter showcasing the usual Globetrotter staples like the pail of water trick and the pocketbook from some random woman trick. Still got us to laugh though. What is most notable is that Globe writer, the short and bald Tony Mazz looks embarrassingly awful, not even hitting the rim or backboard on his three shots.  Even Big Easy stops in an impromptu moment and explains in all of the games in all of the countries he's played that Mazz is the worst basketball player he's ever seen.  High praise.  Needless to say, we didn't see Tony Mazz after that.  I wonder if he's playing on Sunday?
The other remarkable tidbit about the second half is that after a slow start, Bull of the Trotters starts canning a bunch of 4 pointers.  Hitting 6 in the second half alone.  You could tell after a couple of shots that the crowd was getting into Bull's run.  It's actually pretty incredible, the morphing into Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette
In the end the Globetrotters wins 123-94.  It wasn't even that close, what with the 4 on 5 situations and all.  DLG had fallen asleep by the end of the game and the boys started pushing each other, so it was unfortunately time to go home - even though Big Easy was signing autographs right after the game behind our section.  It was a long, successful day, though.  Hopefully they'll remember this day.  See you next year, probably.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun - You Make the Call

Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun?  We were trying to decide on a place to meet that was closer than Las Vegas, but more interesting than Boston.  It was a guy's day trip, after all.  Frankly, I had never really thought about the question before.  There was always a reason to go to one or another – and never having to make the choice.  Foxwoods was closer to home so a day trip was decidedly easier.  Mohegan Sun had the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun - my daughter’s favorite team - so we would go there to see a game live.  The shows at Mohegan Sun - such as my wife's recent induction into the Basement Bar Hall of Fame, Chelsea Handler - were decidedly less geriatric than Foxwoods, too.   But I’ve never really thought about which casino is better.  Frankly if I come away winning, it could be a hellhole or pit and I’d be OK with it.

Let's decide this once and for all, not because my opinion matters, but because I like to think about gambling, and this is a cost effective way of doing so.
These guys were NOT excited about March Madness
Gaming Experience.  Foxwoods has casinos housed in two different distinct casino areas – what I like to call the “Old” Casino and MGM Grand.  The old casino brings back a lot of memories for me since it opened right around the same time that I turned 21.  And it’s clear we’re growing old together.  Even the new carpeting in the old gaming room couldn’t mask the smell of stale cigarettes and mildew from spilled drinks.  The Racebook (and for God’s sake never call it the Sportsbook!) was enormous considering the place contained approximately 5 people inside gambling on horse racing, greyhound racing and jai-alai.  We watched a recent UCONN tournament game there and were surprised by the lack of people.  The MGM Grand was much better and was clearly where the young and rich went.   Despite having one of the largest and most expansive casinos (364,000 square feet) in the world, Mohegan Sun’s atmosphere seems more authentic than Foxwoods.  A little bit more dark, which lent to the mystery of the place.  It didn’t hurt that the craps table had favorable dice. Advantage:  Mohegan Sun. 

Food and drink.  Michael Jordan’s at Mohegan Sun was pretty good.  Not the best steak I ever had, but I didn’t send it back.  On the other hand one of the best meals I’ve ever had was at Prime Steakhouse.  That beat anything I’ve ever eaten in Vegas, California or New York.  Mohegan Sun's Margaritaville is offset by the grease at Foxwood's Hard Rock Cafe - either are fine to ward off a hangover.  The buffets at both casinos are horrible. Stomach-churningly awful.  Slight Advantage: Foxwoods.

Affordability.  Some one has to explain the prices at the Mohegan Sun hotel.  While even hotels at the MGM can run under $200, I’ve never seen rooms at Mohegan Sun for under $350.  Checking out rooms for the Chelsea Handler New Year’s Eve show gave me a chuckle.  I know it was New Year’s Eve, but really $500 for a crappy 150 square foot room?  It would have been easier to rent an apartment in New London or Norwich for the year.  I’d rather sleep at a table in the Sports err I mean race book.  Advantage: Foxwoods

Mystique.  Foxwoods is well known for its poker room.  The WPT always plays its tournament here at the WPT Poker Room, well-attended by the greats of Poker that draws thousands of players and spectators on an annual basis.  I’ve tried the WPT Poker Room, but have never found the sucker at the table (so you know what that means).  Mohegan Sun, as I mentioned before, is the home of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.  Not that that would tip anything over the edge, but any time I hear people talk about Mohegan Sun, my ears always perk up.  Maybe 'm hopeful they will talk about that Night Ranger Concert from a couple of years back in the Wolf Den.  Honestly though, if DLG like Mohegan Sun because of the WNBA, then that is reason enough to give the edge to the “Sun” in this category.   And I didn’t come across any homeless dudes looking for a chicken tender in Uncasville.  Advantage: Mohegan Sun.

Overall, I’d have to choose Mohegan Sun over Foxwoods.  The games are better (what the hell is Sic Bo?), the atmosphere is better and like I said, any place where I can win money is nice place to be.  Now when are we going to get gambling in Massachusetts?  On second thought...maybe it’s better that we don’t get gambling here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Hartford Whalers Have Finally Been Replaced - JMR's Decision

Everyone was getting a little tired of my act.  Yeah, the Hartford Whalers were my favorite team - they would say - but they left Hartford almost 15 years ago!  Get over it, already.  Well, no one was that impolite to me, they would usually just nod at me and stare at the wall hoping that I would soon stop talking whenever the subject of the Hartford Whalers came up.  The Whale Bowl a couple of weeks ago reminded me that I had to move on, and my boys wanted me to be able to talk about hockey without getting pissed off.  So I've decided that now is the time for a new NHL team.  It's time. 

 Are these banners still at the XL Center?  courtesy of
I decided that to be fair I would start my search from scratch and at least at the beginning, all teams were eligible for my new allegiance.  Even the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers had a chance (who am I kidding - they had no chance).  Come with me for the JMR version of "The Decision."

I had four prerequisites that teams had to satisfy before their consideration would go any further.  Unfortunately, most teams were knocked out in this fashion.

1.  I could never root for a team that was in the Adams Division with the Whalers.  Never going to happen.  Sorry to see you go, Canadiens, Sabres and Bruins.  Even the Quebec Nordiques, who were awful patsies throughout the 1980's and early 1990's, would have been disqualified - as bad as they were.

2.  Similarly, if I had a bad experience with a team, you also stood no chance of gaining my allegiance.  See you later Hurricanes, Penguins, Rangers and Lightning (last game played was against Tampa Bay). I'm sure I don't need to go into the other three teams and why I would never root for them.

3.  No Pacific or Mountain Time Zone teams.  If I'm going to root for a team, they can't play at 9 or 10pm more than half the time.  So long Kings, Ducks, Sharks, Canucks, Oilers, Coyotes, Flames and Avalanche.

4.  I am not going to subject myself to another team moving or being contracted, so I have also removed from my list the Thrashers, the Blue Jackets, the Islanders, the Stars, Panthers and Predators.  Mark my words, at least half of these teams are moving in the next 12-24 months. 

When all of these teams have been removed, we're left with the following teams:

New Jersey Devils
Toronto Maple Leafs
Ottawa Senators
Philadelphia Flyers
Chicago Black Hawks
Washington Capitals
St. Louis Blues
Minnesota Wild
Detroit Red Wings

Too many teams to decide.  So I enlisted the help of C and G, who at this point were sitting next to me but looking longingly at their homework.  "Only a couple of more minutes" I'm sure they were thinking to themselves.  I asked them which team I should start rooting for.  It took about 10 minutes for them to consider this question since they asked approximately 7,000 questions about these teams before we started.

C:  What about the Bruins, Dad?  Why can't you just root for the Bruins like me and G? (Because I'm not, and I'm your Father, so stop asking me!) OK, Probably the Capitals because they have Alex Ovechkin.  They are a good team.  Alex Ovechkin is one of the best ever.  Oh yeah, we visited Washington D.C. a couple of years ago.

G:  [The Blackhawks] because they are a good team.  They have Patrick Kane who played in the Olympics against the Canadians last year.  And they win every time.

"Do you like Chicago?" I asked him after he finished writing.

"Uh no." He commented.  His sister started playing his Nintendo DS; he was clearly getting a little distracted.

"Do you like the Chicago Cubs?"  I then asked.

"Who?" asks G.

Then C chimes in.  "The Chicago Cubs, dumbo!  They play football against the Patriots!"  Before G gets in his zinger, I shake my head and move on. 

OK, So I have a choice of the Blackhawks and the Capitals.  I'm still not sure, but I do know that I'm starting to run out of time - the boys are in full-out restless mode and I told them they had to sit with me until I picked a team.  So I pick up the quarter that DLG dropped next to me a couple of hours ago, I mean this isn't life or death or anything.  Heads its Blackhawks and Tails, its the Capitals.

...Waiting... as I flip the coin.....

Chi-Town it is.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Hartford Whalers Whale Bowl Was All We Needed

Not sure where this, my 100th post, is headed?  I don't think any milestone journal posting of mine would be complete without talking about the Hartford Whalers. 

Are the NHL Scouts over here? courtesy of
I was debating whether or not to even write about the Hartford Whalers Whale Bowl that was held a couple of weeks ago.  It seemed interesting to me from the beginning, this further attempt by Howard Baldwin to bring an NHL team back to Hartford.  Former Hartford Whalers players vs. the same Boston Bruins legends who played at Boston's Winter Classic last year, followed by the Connecticut Whale playing in front of the largest crowd in AHL history (sad to tout, but touted it was). 

Sure, it was a two and half hour drive to Rentschler Field.  And fine, the game wasn't being played until 4:30, meaning if I were to bring C, G, and DLG, we wouldn't get home until 10pm, at the earliest.  But after going to the Whalers Fanfest back in August, the kids were excited to learn more about Dad's favorite team (and why Dad always looks wistfully at the ceiling whenever the subject of hockey comes up).  The trip to see the Hartford Colonials at Rentschler Field also demonstrated to me that these kind of trips were acceptable to the children.

Although, I have to ask...what the Hell is

I made plans with a friend of mine from college who lives in the Hartford area growing up loving the Hartford Whalers too.  I started stoking the passion of the children by talking up the prospect of watching a hockey game outdoors.  Surprisingly, they all told me that their favorite part of going would have been the tailgating before the game.  I think they're buttering me up to go to a Patriots game next year, frankly.

But as the game grew closer, I grew more apprehensive.  The weather was barely going to cooperate (below freezing with 30 mile per hour winds) so DLG was probably going to choose to stay at home with Mom.  The boys' basketball seasons were heating up as they were getting closer to the playoffs.  So getting to the Whale Bowl in time with the boys was definitely in question.  The cost seemed a little high for me considering I spent half the price to see the same game in Boston a year ago at Fenway Park.  The two and a half hour drive now seemed like it would be a five hour drive, and I had to go to work the next day (or so my excuse would be to the boys).  But in retrospect, there was a more meaningful reason.  I had discussed a long time ago after watching the former Whalers play the Boston Bruins last year, that it was time to come back to the game and start rooting for a new team.  Who am I kidding, here, anyway?  It's nice to hear that Baldwin is doing everything he can to bring NHL hockey back to Hartford, but until a new stadium is built, it simply will not happen.  Winnipeg, Kansas City and the Pacific Northwest all have NHL ready stadiums.  Quebec will soon have its funding in place to build a new state of the art Le Colisee.  I've been waiting for the Whalers to come home for almost 15 years and I'm afraid that I'll be waiting a lot longer than that. 
It's just not going to happen.  And it's time to move on.

I still have an idea for the NHL that will bring hockey back to Hartford that I will write about in the future.  But in meantime, it's time to come back.  For real, this time.

Join JMR and G tomorrow as we unveil our new NHL team.  It's too late for C - he has Boston Bruins fever.  But for us, the fever is just beginning.