Wednesday, May 30, 2012

2012 Celtics - LeBron James vs Greg Kite

All gloating aside, LeBron James is a detestable human being.  I didn't always think so.  I even defended James when he made the notorious decision.  Now that his Miami Heat are playing the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, James has turned into one of the biggest heels in modern sports history.  Greg Kite. Listening to sports radio this afternoon, I even heard comparisons to Bill Laimbeer - Bill Laimbeer - when discussing James and his showboating after Game 1.  You have to be a real tool to be compared to that guy.  I mean he doesn't even bother coming out when he's introduced anymore.  And he rides a stationary bike before a game in a red velvet room.  I just have to shake my head.  Greg Kite.

Now that the depleted Celtics are making one last push for the 18th Championship, my distaste for LeBron has grown.  I just think he is a choke artist that will never be a winner.  Never.  Greg Kite.

So now we are in Game 2.  The Celtics were whipped by 14 points in Game 1 and everyone is vowing to play more physical.  Great.  The Celtics have a seven man rotation.  Who exactly is going to play physical and give up 6 fouls?  Greg Kite? I mean the Boston Banger - although he is 51 years old - could do just as well as the men currently playing defense on James.  What's going to happen tonight?  My message is not as subliminal as it seems.  The Celtics need to play physical like the 1980's Celtics if they are going to have any chance of winning this series.

LeBron James misses the wide open jam!!!  Yes!  That makes it all worthwhile, even if they lose tonight.  Well maybe.

Greg Stiemsma is in with 8 minutes left in the First Quarter.  I think we actually know who is going to be playing Greg Kite in this game...four fouls in 2 minutes.  Celtics take a 24-18 lead after the First Quarter.

Celtics take a 12 point lead as Rajon Rondo is on fire - especially on the free throw line. Greg Stiemsma is on the bench looking like he wants to knock some heads around.  Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are looking spry.  Even Ray Allen is only limping around a little bit.  Even a clear path non-call can stop the Celtics in the Second Quarter.  All right, as the Heat make it a game at the end of the Second Quarter, I might be getting ahead of myself.  Celtics are winning 53-46 at Halftime.

As the Third Quarter starts, I have an impending sense of doom.  The Heat made a little run at the end of the Second Quarter, so we'll see what happens.  And as the Celtics lead diminishes to one with 3 minutes left in the Third Quarter, I guess I had reason to feel uneasy.  And as the Celtics go to the slow motion Pierce offense, the Heat take the lead.  Ugh. 81-75 Heat lead after the Third Quarter.

The Fourth Quarter becomes a back and forth game.  The Heat have the lead, then the Celtics have the lead.  It's nerve-racking in fact.  Rondo with the jumper to take a five point lead!  These guys are hanging in there!  But still back and forth.  I can't stand it!  Or maybe it's the Heat and their fair weather fans I can't stand.

But as Paul Pierce fouls out with 1 minute left, I am faced with the Celtics being down 2-0 in the Series as the game goes back to the Boston Garden.  Tie game at 99-99 after a Ray Allen Three!  And it's going to overtime!

Rondo gets fouled and the Heat take the lead as Dwyane Wade cheats his way to an easy basket.  Where's Tommy when you need him?  Oh well.  The Celtics lose 115-111 while Rajon Rondo goes for 42 points.  Maybe we'll be able to pull a couple of games out in Boston.  See you on Friday.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Luke Scott Brawl at Fenway Park

Another beautiful night to watch a baseball game!  After trying to catch foul balls in leftfield and watching PawSox Ace Daisuke Matzusaka get his hat handed to him by Triple A hackers, I thought that our next baseball game experience was going to have to wait until next year.  But, when we lucked into tickets from one of G's friends in the State Street Pavilion right before the game, we thought we were going to see a great game.  It was fate.  And when G found out that he was going to see the Red Sox with one of his buddies, he made a bee line from school bus to car.

"We're not leaving for another hour." I explain to G as he sits and waits in the back seat of my car.

"That's OK, Dad, I don't want to miss it!"  OK, fair enough.  Can you pick up the trash that's your sister left in the back seat while you are in there?

7pm.  Boston.  This was going to be an interesting game.  Boston and Tampa Bay have never gotten along, ever since Pedro Martinez plunked Gerald Williams in the ribs back in 1997 (and Brian Daubach punched his way in to Devil Rays' lore).  Just last week, Franklin Morales plunked Luke Scott after Adrian Gonzales was hit the inning before.  These teams simply don't like each other.  Joe Maddon doesn't help matters by being such a condescending DB either. 

And Luke Scott is not the nicest guy in the world.  He has bashed Fenway Park and Red Sox fans in general, called teammates derogatory names (and didn't backpedal after saying them) and has generally been a royal jackass.  It says something about Scott - when the Red Sox single him out to hit when teams usually plunk the team's star hitter.  I'll boo when he comes up to the plate.  Even better with the Amish beard he's rocking.

The game started with a bang for the Sox as Mike Aviles scored on a Kevin Youkilis single up the middle.  We were up 1-0 in the First Inning.

But the good feelings quickly disintegrated as Matt Joyce hit a grand slam into the Red Sox bullpen in the third inning followed closely by back to back home runs by Elliot Johnson and lead off hitter Carlos Pena.  The booing was raining down on Jon Lester as he walks of the mound in the fourth inning.   I think my string of 15 years in a row without a loss is going to end tonight.

The Sox score a run in the fifth and two in the sixth to make it a 7-4 game.  They're creeping back!  We are even more hopeful as David Ortiz steps up to the plate with two runners on down by three.  Back in 2003 and 2004, Ortiz would have hit a home run here.  The crowd is abuzz.  But while he is having a pretty good season, the days of Ortiz clutch-ness in every game is years in the past.  Fly out to right to end  the inning.  Bummer - as G and his buddy start talking about the foul ball they almost go when Dustin Pedroia fouled the ball up to our section, I can tell that they are having a good time. 

Speaking of Pedroia, a hit batter in the 7th set the stage for the Top of the Ninth.  Franklin Morales comes in to face Luke Scott.  After a pitch befhind his back and another one by his chin, Morales finally hit Scott in the leg.  After getting hit, Scott starts to walk menacingly toward Morales bat in hand, only to be restrained by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  The benches clear, the bull pens empty and the pushing and shoving begin.  Not much happened, except after the brawl happened, it looked like members of the Rays got into it with fans near the Rays' dugout.  They were too far away from us to see what was going on, but it was amusing nonetheless.

The boys got jacked up after that fracas and started hopping around their seats.  As teh clock neared 11pm, the game mercifully ended with the Sox losing 7-4.  But G was just happy to go see the game with his buddy and his Dad.  he's still talking about it this morning.

"Dad, can we go to the game tonight?"

Monday, May 21, 2012

Daisuke Matsuzaka's Pawtucket Experience

I'm sure Scott Boras never told Daisuke Matsuzaka about this kind of big league experience when they were negotiating their deal with the Red Sox back in 2007.  And I'm sure that Daisuke never thought he'd ever have to pitch in the Minor Leagues as a result of Tommy John surgery performed last year.  Yeah, I'm sure they didn't tell Matsuzaka about a lot of things.  I think we saw Daisuke's last successful start on Patriots Day in 2011.  We were in the Coke Pavilion with a  bird's eye view of the game.  Matsuzaka pitched masterfully (well at least as masterful as he can pitch) and we were treated to yet another win in Fenway.  Yeah, that was his last decent start.

Now fast forward a year and part of the journey that a pitcher takes as he rehabilitates from arm surgery is extended spring training.  Trips to small towns dot a pitchers recovery and a major leaguer like Daisuke probably treats himself to the finest dining (Olive Garden) and the nicest hotel (Super 8 or Holiday Inn Express) the Minor Leagues can provide.  We've seen this before a couple of years ago when Josh Beckett came to town to pitch for the PawSox.  He didn't pitch great, but we had a great time and it's not often that you can stand behind a chain link fence and watch a (former) 20 game winner throw fastballs in the bull pen.  Daisuke probably wasn't thinking about us, though.

And now we come back again to McCoy Stadium for C's 10th birthday party.  C and 4 of his friends join JMR to see if Daisuke can regain some of the magic that he had a back in 2008 and 2009.   All snickering aside.

I thought it was going to be a great start as the kids get pumped up for the game by taking the entire 45 minute drive to play a game called Sweet or Sour.  Basically, the five of them would wave frantically at drivers passing by; if these suckers wave back it's a "Sweet" and if they give a dirty look, its a "sour"  I was thinking about driving through some tougher parts of the city to see how much they actually enjoyed this game, but I decided against it.

5pm.  Pawtucket, RI.  We finally arrive at our box seats (foul ball territory here too) and the kids are excited.  Daisuke, feeding off the energy on this beautiful night, seems to be on his game after a 1-2-3 first inning.  The next two innings? Well, I had to rely on what the PA announcer thought since I had to wait in four different lines to get these five kids food.  Seriously, couldn't these kids just all get hot dogs?  Not fried dough, pizza, french fries and ice cream? 

Two innings later, I mercifully come back (the nice older lady sitting behind us became my surrogate babysitter as the game wore on and told me that the boys were doing just fine) to see Daisuke serving up some of the usual poo poo platter of pitches.  Three hard hit singles lead to a run as the Clipper cut the PawSox's lead in half.  And although we took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the inning, Daisuke proceeded to hit a batter and then give up a two run shot to the last batter in the lineup Ben Copeland.  I don't even think Copeland was that excited to hit a home run off a major leaguer, since - you know - he really didn't.

Besides, the crowd starts to get restless.  Pawtucket isn't that far away from Boston, you know Daisuke, we don't like that crap here either!  The kids start to boo a little bit, too.  I think they just like to be part of the crowd.  One friend looks at me with "Why am I booing" look on his face.  Maybe I'll just stand in line at the concession stand again...

Daisuke gives up two more runs in the sixth before being pulled with one out in the Sixth.  Daisuke leaves to a smattering of applause.  He throws a baseball gingerly into the stands.  I half expect to be thrown back at him, just to show him what a a strike actually looks like.  Come to find out, Daisuke needed a cortisone shot in his shoulder a couple of days later.

But this pitching change seemed to have breathed some life into the team.  The PawSox score 2 runs in the 7th to tie the game, and then they scored a run in the eighth to take a 7-6 lead.  Now if only we can hold it!  Daisuke can't come back out there, right?

So, of course, the Paw Sox closer Mock gives up a little single and then walks the bases loaded with one out.  Nothing like having Art imitate life (or PawSox imitate the Red Sox)  But, on a 2-0 count, the Clippers hitter serves the ball to Jose Iglesias to start the patented 6-4-3 double play.  The crowd rises.  I think I shout "Get two!!"  The PawSox win!  Tonight would have been great for fireworks, what a great way to end the game.  The kids look up from their ice cream, just in time to see that the game has ended.

We all start to head back to the car.  The boys, fresh off the victory start to yell and scream in delight.  I then catch up to them as I hear them talk about who is sitting where.  Yep you guess it.  They were fighting over who got to sot next to the open windows so they could be the point person for "Sweet and Sour."  Oh well.  Its not the game that was the msot important thing anyway.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Foul Ball Territory at Fenway Park

It's C's 10th birthday, and the only thing that he wanted to do for his birthday was to go to Fenway Park to to see the Red Sox play on his birthday.  Seeing the Red Sox on C's birthday has actually become a little bit of a tradition, or sorts.  Well, to go to see the team dressed up as a major league team called the Red Sox.  I looked on line and got some tickets for the two of us.  Of course, Stubhub prices were plummeting faster than Kevin Youkilis's reputation in the league.  And while I could have sit in the lower bowl (with the comfortable seats) for 50 bucks a piece, I picked the Left field box seats or as I like to call it, prime foul ball territory.

After a little traffic and a LOT of walking, we finally arrive at our seats.  It looks like that we will be sitting by ourselves in these seats, we had a row of four all to ourselves.  We waited patiently as the Indians were warming up in the outfield 10 feet away from us. 

We were playing the first place Cleveland Indians tonight trying to shake off a terrible string that saw some terrible baseball against the Orioles.  To add to my interest (Cam had no idea really who these guys are - even though he had both jerseys at one point), Derek Lowe and Johnny Damon joined the the Indians this year.  And while C was a little scared to talk to Derek Lowe as he was giving autographs and pictures for the good looking women flocking over to him, he seemed definitely ready to grab a foul ball.

As the game begins, we settle into our seats.  Clay Buchholz is pitching and we notice that the Indians' line up consists of ALL lefthanders.  Yes!  A fast ball pitcher pitching against an all lefthanded lineup?  We were definitely going to get a foul ball, even if I had to steal a ball from a five year old who just wasn't fast enough to grab that ball.  Alright, I promise not to...

Lowe and Damon talking brain surgery
After Johnny Damon grounds out to the shortstop to start the game, the Jason Kipnis steps up to the plate. 

"Who's Jason Kipnis, Dad?"  C asks me before I look up. 

"Why, is he one of the umpires?"  I guess I am not paying close attention this season.  Oh this is his second season?  Nevermind.

On a 0-1 count to Kipnis, our first chance for a foul ball arrived.  He skied the ball in our direction on a 92 MPH Fastball.  The ball looked like it was coming directly to us!  C and I both tensed up and started moving to the ball.  It was coming fast, I started moving toward the ball, but it then looked like it was going to land a couple of feet in front of us.  I was hoping that C, who was on the outside aisle side would move to the ball, but he, like I, watched the ball land in front of us.  Nice the Dad with his family of four in the row in front of us.  I was pissed because I was convinced that that was going to be the closest we came to getting a foul ball.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox looked good for the first time in days.  Will Middlebrooks hit a double that scored two runs and the Red Sox soon take a 4-1 lead. Dustin Pedroia was also leading the charge as a double to the opposite field made it 7-1 in the Sixth Inning. The game was secondary however, to our quest for a foul ball.  Every time one of the hitters hit a foul ball I was popping up to see if it came close.  We were a shooting range as our area of the ballpark was getting peppered with foul balls.  None as close as that ball in the top of the First, though.

In the Sixth inning, C was headlong into a bag of popcorn, and I a beer, when another ball was sent skyward toward us.  It was heading in a similar trajectory as the ball in the first inning.  Again we were going to be close to it.  By this time, C and I had switched seats and again C was going to be closest to the ball.  I was nudging over to the ball but it landed diagonally from us!  AHHHHHH!  Damn it!

To add insult to injury, the Red Sox started to bleed away the 7-1 lead.  We needed to get out of there before we had to witness the bloodshed.  The crowd started getting a little uptight, I doubt even Sweet Caroline would make for a good time, so we headed to our car, crossing our fingers that the team would hang on for the win. 

Ultimately, they won 7-5; making C 6-0 in games he's gone to personally.  We didn't get any more chances to catch a foul ball, but we had a good time and spent some quality time together, man to man.  Not bad for a newly minted 10 year old.  Happy Birthday, C!

Monday, May 7, 2012

The First Road Trip for AAU Baseball is the Toughest

The first road trip is always the hardest.

Make sure the uniform is packed (and hopefully clean).  Check.  The games, iTouchs and bathing suits have to be packed, too. Check.  Make sure all of his friends on the team are going?  Check.  Call the hotel to make sure the pool is still open? Check.  We are about as well-prepared for a weekend away as we can get.

You see, this past weekend was C's first road trip for his AAU baseball team.  Traveling three hours all the way to North Branford, Connecticut for the Triple Crown Sports tournament?  We had to travel to other towns for football and basketball, but never out of state.  We would be playing the Connecticut Technique Tigers, the Connecticut Capitols and a team from Rhode Island.  We were hopeful that we would get a win out of this weekend as the season has been a little rough.   Hopes were high.

Friday.  The boys were excited when I picked them up from school to start our journey to Southern Connecticut.   Five granola bars later, and with food coma setting in, we arrived at the Holiday Inn.  Or as G liked to call it, home with the pool.  I though the constant fighting would never end, and tonight I was right.  The rest of team started filtering in around the same time.  I think this is when I first heard the words "Manhunt" and "Beast."  The Dads start to gather around to drink some beer.  I suspect I' not the only one who had a long drive from Massachusetts.

Saturday.  The day started with the rooster crowing - alright it was my phone's alarm app - and it set up the day just like the Natural.  The boys were less enthusiastic as the number 6 at the beginning of any time is met with general nastiness and obstinense.  The sour moods though were immediately picked up by the donuts that were meeting them before the game.  Nothing a little sugar and chocolate couldn't overcome.

The Connecticut Sportsplex is an interesting place.  Any place that has a drive leading up a hill with a gate across it is always foreboding.  Where did the dirt road go after our turn?  Some sort of 1950's silo underground bunker, probably.  Aren't all these sportsplexes in weird hilltop locations like this?  I live near one too.  Less interesting was the $3 admission and the no beverages or food policy.

C started the first game of the doubleheader.  I knew it was going to be a long day when he struck out the first batter, but the batter reached third base after a dropped third strike and an error throwing it to First Base.  We don't even play by those rules!  Yeah, this was going to be a long day.  C gave up 1 earned run and struck out seven in three innings.  I won't remind him how many unearned runs...  Game 2 unfortunately ended the same way.  0-2 for the day, but the kids were still upbeat.  I think they had their eyes set on the hotel pool.

But first we had to get some of the best pizza in the world.  New Haven is known for a lot of things - Toad's Place, Yale etc.  But it is also home to two of the best Pizza places int eh world.  Sally's Apizza and Frank Pepe's.  Sally's was closed for lunch.  But Frank Pepe's was open.  After we devoured a large pizza I heard:

"Dad, that was the best pizza I ever had"  G told me that as he lied down after eating.  I think he unbuckled his pants after saying that too.

"Dad, that pizza was Beast!"  I'm not sure what that meant, but I think that C liked it too.

The day ended with A LOT of pool time and a game that the team played called Manhunt.  G described it to me and it sounded like Hide and Go Seek with a cooler name.  But what do I know?

Sunday.  The rooster crowed (Is it crowed?  Cock-a-doodle-doo-ed?) even earlier this morning.  Again, coffee for me and donuts for the boys.  Maybe I should have changed up our luck as we headed to the Sportsplex for our third game.  We were playing the Rhode Island team, and we again were feeling good.  I sensed that the kids all wanted a forfeit so they could go back to the hotel and get some sleep (or go to the pool).  The game started off well as we took a 3-1 lead into the fifth inning.  Unfortunately, we lost the lead and had to go into extra innings tied at 4-4.  Because we had to give up the field at 10am, we played "California Rules" in extra innings.  In other words each team started with a player at Second Base.  Really?  We unfortunately lost that game in 7 innings 5-4.  It was an exciting game and we gave them an ovation as they came off the field.  They played hard.

So we ended up the road trip 0-3.  The kids really seemed to bond; they are a great group of kids.  And they deserve a good ending to the season.  But we are going to be looking for a couple of wins next weekend.  I feel good about those games, too.  No pool where we're going next weekend though.  And definitely a little closer to home.