Sunday, August 28, 2011

Williamsport Alive - The 2011 Little League World Series

Every August, the Little League World Series graces our television sets.  Set up so the United States would always be in the Championship Game, the Little League World Series always promises thrills and laughs for us.  Looking for things to watch on TV while we ride out Hurricane Irene, this game fits the bill to keep these kids interested, at least until the power goes out.  Featuring Japan and California, the two teams that have dominated the World Series over recent years, we hunker down in the basement to watch the game.

1989 version of the LLWS
3pm.  Trying to explain the different groups in the World Series is like teaching the kids Physics.  One side consists of all United States teams broken out by region, the other side consists of all of the other international teams broken out by country.  Yes, Japan is a country, not a region.  No, Canada is not a state, it's a country.  No, West is not a State, either.  Confusing for impressionable kids.

And not a good start by showing my nine year old, a budding pitcher, how the kid got hit in the cap by a batted ball in the United States regional - California's starting pitcher this afternoon.   At least the kid didn't get hurt.  Although we wouldn't have needed sport science to explain the blood gushing from the kid's nose if he did get hurt.

After a groundout to start the game, G was saying "Yes" then "No" then "Wait who am I rooting for again?  White or yellow?"  After a bit of hemming and hawing, they both proclaim that they are rooting for California.  I will root for California too, but frankly, I would have preferred the kids from Montana to be in the World Series; it always seems like California is in the Championship game.  Give someone else a chance.  Oh yeah, U.S.A!  U.S.A.!

I'm not sure, but I think that more kids from California named Ichiro as their favorite player than the kids from Japan.  The kids from Japan all seemed to pick the same favorite player and it didn't sound like it was Ichiro.  I will point out that I do not speak Japanese.

"What's the team for Japan.  The Japan Jaguars?" G asks me still considering which team he was going to root for.  Those are the kind of questions I think I'm going to hear all afternoon.

"This ump is so old and so bad!!"  C remarks after each strike is called against California.  After each ball, he cracks "The Japanese pitcher is so awful.  I could pitch better than him!."  What a homer.  0-0 after 2.

Designated runners?  Oh come on!  I yell as a sacrifice bunt and error turns into Japan's first run as the First Basemen throws the ball away trying to get the Designated runner out at Third Base.  Japan goes up 1-0 in the Third Inning.  This kind of play usually turns the star pitcher into a sobbing mess.  We'll see; he took a ball off the face before, too.

Just as Brent Musberger talks up the college prospects of the 12 year old phenom, Hagen Danner, the kid smacks an opposite field home run to tie the score at 1-1.

Controversy in the 4th inning as the California pitcher, fielding a weak ground ball up the First Baseline, forced the Japanese runner out of the baseline, looked like he tagged him on the way by AND threw him out at First Base.  While teams have two unsuccessful challenges, for some reason the U.S. team decided not to challenge so the player was safe at First.  Even G wanted them to challenge that call.  No run scored, though so we avoided some awkward analysis of a little league coach by Orel Hershiser.

As the score remains 1-1 in the bottom of the Fifth, the Californians start milking the count to get the Japanese pitcher to reach the 85 pitch mandatory maximum.  Way to go with the sportsmanship, guys.

Later on that inning, I find it funny that the U.S. feed of the game has a microphone on the Japanese manager, like we know what he's saying to the pitcher.  I wonder what the Manager was saying after the Shortstop made that error on the flip to Second Base loading the bases.  I probably recognize some of that language.

And here we go!  After the bases are loaded, Nick Pratto hits a ringing single to Centerfield to win the game!  Huntington Beach wins the Little League World Series to take the title back to California.  Although G has gone upstairs, C and I exchange some high fives as the Little Leaguers start jumping around for joy.  After Mom tells him that the U.S. winning was awesome C tenderly pointed out "Not for Japan, they were all crying." 

Good for them.  Hopefully this won't be the highlight of their lives. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

2011 Patriots Training Camp - Another Photo Essay

One thing that always seems to get the kids excited includes a confined area games of skill and bouncy houses.  Whether it's a friend's birthday party or the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, I can always count on at least an hour of fight-less, whine-less exuberance.  That's great - a nice day, a little exercise, no yelling about video was all good.  Throw a couple of footballs to cloth receivers and everyone willb e tired tonight.

The New England Patriots 2011 Training Camp wrapped up this weekend, and with the promise of the same bouncy houses that provide the kids hours of entertainment, we just had to go.  Maybe we'll see newcomers Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Shaun Ellis, along with Tom Brady and Wes Welker...who knows.  What follows is the JMR picture essay - so successfully executed in the Three Sheets to Epcot Center journal from last year - but refined into the photojournalist equivalent of Pulitzer prize winning visuals.

You got it.  The Welcome sign as we walk around the field.  This sign was ignored by the usher who yelled at us for mistakenly heading into the VIP section of the seats - in the end zone of all places.  She then proceeded to scold us for turning the wrong way into the press area.  For crying out loud!  Give me a break, lady.

Our first stop was the autograph tent.  The Patriots Cheerleaders thought they recognized the person taking the photograph here, but I told them that it wasn't me.  I then shuffled my daughter in between the Cheerleaders.  They proceeded to tell DLG that she was beautiful and wrote that  she should "Keep Dancing."  This made her day, least until she had to take a picture with Pat the Patriot later on.

G, who was standing in line with me, didn't want to take a picture with the Cheerleaders, but definitely wanted to take a picture with Joe Andruzzi.  When G told the former offensive lineman that he wanted to be a running back on his Pop Warner football team, Andruzzi's response was "Stick with the Offensive line, son."  That smile turned upside down pretty quick after that.  Seeing the sad look on his face Andruzzi then told him he could play what ever position he wanted so long as he worked hard.  Obviously he has young children with that deft handling of the 7 year old ego.

This is what we saw a LOT of.  Players milling around, not doing much.  It makes perfect sense.  I could have been a scout for the Jets for all they knew, don't give any plays away.  Bill Belichick didn't seem concerned either way as he was gabbing with an assistant almost the whole time that we were out there.   A couple of things to note - Brandon Tate and Edelman took a lot of the punt snaps.  Danny Woodhead was NOT out there (his head was probably still ringing from that hit the other night).  And Haynesworth was out there looking kind of spry.  Who knows what that all means?

These are pictures of three children who are all able to throw the football better than Wes Welker - Jesus.  We were watching Brady and Welker warming up as the Special Teams were out on the field working on punt coverage.  Welker would catch the ball and then shot put it back to Brady.  Even C remarked that Welker seemed to throw a little "girlish" - and this with his sister throwing the football in a flowery dress.  One thing LC noticed was that Brady seemed much taller in person.  Assuming she wasn't swooning, I wanted to remark it was the male Uggs that added a couple of inches.

We watched some practice and ran through some obstacle course style of bouncy houses.  Everyone was having fun at this point.  But this photograph was actually our signal that our time was up and that our window was closing.  I had to cajole C into taking this picture.  G literally ran away from me and DLG hesitantly took the picture but only if Mom was standing next to her.  Even then, the tears welling up in her eyes subtly indicated to me that she was unhappy.  When I asked it it was time to go, I received four enthusiastic "yes." 

Luckily for us, after watching a little more practice, we hit the road.  Not 5 minutes after getting inside to our next destination, the rains came.  Lucky us.  All those people we saw in Autograph Alley though scattered like ants when their hill was disturbed.  People were waiting in line when we got their at 11:30.  We got the restaurant at 3 and the line was still queued up.  Then just like that, the autographs were gone.

Any way, we all jumped in the car and tried to dodge the raindrops with varying degrees of success.  And the hall mark of the kids having a good time, they asked me if they could go again tomorrow.  I had to explain to them that Camp is just a couple of days long and today was the last day.  We then talked about the Patriots for the next 15 minutes. 

And another season begins.

Monday, August 15, 2011

38 Studios Will Be Curt Schilling's Last Stand

Curt Schilling probably doesn't know that I like video games.  I played pong and owned and Atari games system with the joysticks that hurt your hand after hours of play.  I owned a Commodore 64, an Atari 260 and 5200.  I played Tetris, Blades of Steel and NHL93 in college and the memories of those games are still brought back to life whenever us Fathers get together for college reunions.  I am now a consumer on my childrens' behalf, buying them birthday gifts consisting of Wii and XBox games like World Cup Soccer and Madden 2011.  But Curt Schilling doesn't know that.  And I suspect that he never will.

A little different than Mario Brothers
38 Studios was started in 2006 as a hobby for Schilling, who was struggling with injuries after the glorious 2004 World Series victory.  I don't know what it was at the time, but I just knew that Schilling was a video game enthusiast.  There was something about his personality that made me believe that he went down into his basement after home games and played Grand Theft Auto on his giant big screen.  Honestly, he seemed like that kind of gamer-dork (and I mean that in a good way). 

Soon, Schilling started pouring his millions into the company and opened up shop off of I-495 in Maynard.  He started talking more about his company than he was about his first two loves - baseball and politics.  And the local media was eating it up.  For a time.

But the years started piling up with no real products to offer us.  First there were rumblings that investors weren't happy with Schilling's egotistical terms - foolishly thinking that venture capitalists would just throw money at him because he was - well - Curt Schilling (VCs invest mostly other people's money and not their own).  Then there was the desperate move to Providence in order to secure a sizable loan from the State of Rhode Island.  That did not go over well in many circles up Boston way.  On the brights side, he might now have a section dedicated to him in my long dreamed Providence Hall of Fame, when I get that built. 

In 2006, multi player games you played on your computer was a hot idea.  Now with Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and Cut the Rope, smartphone apps are becoming the norm.  And social media game giant, Zynga, is looking at an IPO in the next several months.  Meanwhile, Schilling was recently spotted stumping for more money.  Despite good reviews of his yet-to-be-released product, an individual role playing game called Reckoning, Schilling's market is drying up. We are becoming a mobile computing society and none of us spend time in front of our computer anymore, unless we're working (or writing blogs in our Mother's basement).

Ultimately, I'm rooting for 38 Studios.  I like to see successful companies in New England.  Whether it be in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts or Rhode Island, we're all stuck with one another and a success in one state usually means a success for all of the New England states.  I'm just afraid that the window of opportunity has closed for Schilling.  And just like pick up baseball games, breaking a window to try to achieve success just makes everyone run away as fast as they can.  It's going to be a little chilly in the ESPN studio when he and Nomar Garciaparra are paired up for the 2011 playoffs. 

Oh yeah, one last thing.  Can I have your autograph?

photograph courtesy of

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Shaun Ellis Reminds Us of Why We Love Football

A lot of stories have been written about Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth since the Patriots traded for both of them from the depths of the NFL.  Hell, the signing of an offensive lineman who doesn't even protect Tom Brady’s blindside has been getting a lot of attention lately in Patriots Camp.  The wonders of the post lockout football.  But one story that hasn’t been written enough, and could become the biggest story of the New England Patriots 2011 (and hopefully 2012) season, is the signing of Defensive Lineman Shaun Ellis away from the Jets.

Ellis, interestingly enough, one of the Jets’ draft pick received from the Bill Belichick “trade” to the Patriots in 2000, has been a dominant defensive end lineman for over a decade now, anchoring the Jets 3-4 Defensive Line that featured stalwart-less Sione Pouha, Mike DeVito and Marques Douglas over the last couple of years.  And while he achieved much of his success in the middle of the last decade, he will be lining up with all-pro caliber players such as Vince Wilfork and (laughably, I know) Haynesworth.  His sack total could reach 10 for the first time in several years and just the possibility of this havoc gives the Patriots some much needed quarterbacking pressure.  And no more games like the 2 sack performance against the Patriots in the 2011 playoffs.

Imagining this as Mark Sanchez...ha!
Why did Ellis do it?  When questioned about his move to New England, after 11 years with the Jets, one could tell that he was bitter about the circumstances that led to his termination with the Jets.  He was offered a veteran minimum contract by the Jets, which in this day and age means that the Jets just didn’t want him anymore.  Looking for a better deal elsewhere led to his signing with the Patriots and its offer of four million dollars plus incentives.  Ellis described the signing as just being about business, but you know and I know that everyone on the Jets' defense were brainwashed into thinking that the Patriots in general and Tom Brady in particular was the Devil.  Just ask Bart Scott.  Ellis' signing was purely personal against Rex Reed and the Jets and could lead to some interesting pre and post-game meet-ups. Even Rex couldn't wish his veteran lineman luck.

Why did Belichick do it?  My paranoid side believes that the Ellis signing was to first obtain information on the Jets defense, which stuck it to the Patriots last year in the playoffs, and second to force the Jets to spend resources changing their defensive playbook in response to the Patriots gaining this information. The non-controversial, football argument is sound, however.  The Patriots have been lacking big men to pressure the Quarterback for a while and needed to shore up the defensive line that was relying too heavily on Wilfork.  Ellis will be good for 6-8 sacks, 1 or 2 forced or recovered fumbles and 45 tackles.  More importantly, he will draw attention away from other rushers.  It seems pretty clear that the Patriots are going to go primarily 4-3 with Wilfork, Ellis Haynesworth and Mike Wright on the line with Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes and Jerrod (don’t call me O.J.) Mayo at linebacker.

In the end, Ellis could be the most important pick up the Patriots make all year.  If Mike Wright stays healthy, the Patriots suddenly have linemen who can rush the passer.  An effective pass-rush will take some pressure off of the Patriots' young secondary.  And Ellis brings the F-you mentality that both Belichick and Rex Ryan loves onto the other side of the ball.  And don’t discount how important that mental edge is to a manipulator like Bill Belichick. 

The long and short of it?  I can’t wait for October 9, 2011.

photograph courtesy of

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Abby Wambach vs. the Boston Breakers Review

It didn't seem like a fair fight when we were first introduced to the teams.  The Boston Breakers were facing off tonight against the Abby Wambachs... err, I mean vs. the magicJack - located in Boca Raton, Florida - who traveled up to the Northeast to take on the Boston Breakers.  Both teams were fighting to stay alive in the playoff hunt in the WPS.  Coming on the heels of a fascinating World Cup in Germany, it seems almost anticlimactic to come to Harvard to watch the Breakers.  But after asking the kids if they wanted to see Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo again live in person and seeing their excitement, we knew where we were headed, umbrellas be damned.

Future World Cupper?
6pm. Allston.  Obviously, the Breakers are all about the kids.  Facepainting, soccer bouncy houses and giant slides dominated the pregame area, and the kids were in kitsch heaven.  This would have been worth the price of admission itself.  Even DLG got into the act when she succeeded in finishing 5 times around the Giant movers slide in under a minute (and she'll show you the certificate she won for doing so!).  But we had a game to watch. And while we were disappointed that Solo appeared not to be with the magicJack this time around, we were ready for some European Football. 

As we walk to our seats in the corner of the stadium, the kids see the first beach ball bouncing around our seats.  I didn't take notice of it the time, but these beach balls would soon cause us to lose our sanity.  But right now, everyone sits down patiently waiting for the game to start, our biggest worry being a correct translation of the seats 2 I-S O-1 through 5.  What the Hell are they talking about?  I get that we're at Harvard, but I'm not really interested in figuring out the Pythagorean Theorem while I'm here.

The game begins and I notice that the magicJack seem to be dominating play, a couple of misdirected shots, a couple of shots on goal and a shot that hits the crossbar all come from the magicJack.  The Breakers look a step behind and seemed ready to cede the game.  The crowd, half of which is rooting for Wambach, Rapinoe and Shannon Boxx anyway, politely applaud a poorly executed cross from the Breakers that was its only real scoring opportunity in the First Half.  I cause heads to turn when I exclaim that the cross was poorly executed.  So I shut my mouth.  No need to have anyone get bent out of shape.  (under my breath - although that was a horrible play!)

At the 44th minute, shades of the Women's World Cup are displayed when Rapinoe delivers a beautiful cross to Wambach's head.  1-0 magicJack.  That was a pretty goal.  It's amazing that this team is fighting for a playoff spot.  I take notice again that the boys are now watching beach balls fly by them in our section of the stadium.  I fail to take action, however, believing that the boys will play for a minute and then obediently take their seats.  The 1st half ends with the Breakers losing 1-0.

As the Second Half starts (and one suggestion, get the crowd pumped up for the beginning of the two halves, 2 minutes passed before I even noticed that they started playing again) the three kids are now in full beach ball mode.  While they stop when ever the crowd starts buzzing for a play, they continue to badger people to throw them the beach balls.  Just as I walk down to get DLG and G who strayed over to the section next to us, I get a glimpse of another pretty goal from the magicJack on a header from Wambach, this time from a corner kick on the far side of the field.  2-0 magicJack on two Wambach goals.  Seriously, this team is really good.  The Breakers are really in need of a timeout as the game really should be 4-0 or 5-0.  Even a close own goal for the Breakers fails to light a fire.  I think I'm the only one noticing though.

As the game winds down in the magicJack's favor, we decide to leave a little early.  And despite being outnumbered, Abby Wambach practically beats the Breakers herself.  More importantly, both LC and I are starting to get freaked out as the boys start hanging over the side of section asking people 30 feet below to throw them lost beach balls, so we knew it was time to go.  Expecting a half-hearted response to prove my parental point, I ask G what the score of the game was.

"Dad, the other team is winning 2-0 on two goals by that girl with the short hair who's really good."

OK, maybe they were paying attention while playing volleyball next to me.  And I had to promise to take them to another game.  Probably not until next year though, unless the Breakers can beat FC Skyblue next weekend.