Wednesday, December 31, 2014

JMR's Top "News" Stories of 2014

I could talk about ISIS, Ebola, Ukraine, Ferguson, Robin Williams and other newsworthy events from 2014.  2014 was not your year if you were a political animal.  Bad news was coming down from all over the globe, and many different discussions had to take place as a result of the news.  Race, war, disease, drugs, suicide, death, and rioting were all central themes to the news in 2014.  It seemed like everyone is just happy that 2015 is coming on us quickly.

But being the optimist that I am, I would rather talk about the biggest "news" events of 2014. JMR news. Whether, sports, pop culture, movies, games, social media, I would rather write snippets about the lighter side of the news in 2014.

8.  Jon Lester and Rajon Rondo are gone; LeBron James is back.  Cleveland finally wins, although they still have Johnny Manziel, but Boston ultimately loses.  The Red Sox don't need Lester and Rondo was perhaps the most overrated star in Boston Sports history.  We all win. 

7.  The Interview.  Honestly, I can't blame North Korea for getting a little high and mighty about this film.  The plot revolves around the assassination of a current head of state.  Even though it is a comedy (despite Seth Rogan's starring role), it's still about killing a non-fictional human being.  And nothing amuses me quite as much as G trying to pronounce Kim Jong Un.

6.  Sochi Olympics.  We were able to enjoy curling, freestyle skiing and the half pipe.  We will not watch those sports again until 2018.

5.  Instagram Generation.  I already wrote about this in some detail, but I thought I would add one more thing to the list.  Although I was the first one in the family to have an Instagram account, I am now the least familiar with the app.  Between C and G's posts and Mom's stalking/lurking, DLG and I are lagging far behind.

4.  Volleyball Firsts.  While Mom started her varsity program, DLG was joining her first team.  Even though she is only 8 years old, she was contributor on a U12 team.  No snide comments, just pride in my daughter.

3.  Swimming Pool.  This really does not count as news per se, but it was a big deal to the JMR family.  Now just have to get the darn thing finally finished and approved.

2.  Basketball and Baseball Championships.  How sweet it was for the boys to win some trophies this year.  G won his travel basketball league and C won his major league championship.  Now we just have to get DLG a trophy and we'll be a sporty family!

1.  Cooperstown Trip.  Although we have already talked about it, C's three home run game, Midnight start time and the Cooperstown Hall of Fame will always be great memories.  And the post of C's home run ball has not been deleted from his Instagram account.  If you are familiar with Instagram, you know that that means it is a big deal.  We might have another chance to go to Cooperstown again in 2016.  Can't wait.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Joining the Instagram Generation One Step at a Time

It wouldn't be right to have preteens in 2014 without having to hear the word (words?) Instagram.  Instagram - IG for short - is the primary mode of communication for adolescents in this day in age.  While celebrities and "wannabe" models use IG to their advantage in the most obvious way, kids will use this app as the central tool of their communication.  I have to admit that this phenomenon is interesting, but its also amusing for several reasons. 

Before we get to the interesting parts, I have to admit that I have an IG account.  I first signed up because some Internet guru told me that it was a good idea as a new social media outlet.  What ended up happening though is par for the course.  No one was interested in buying products or services from my Instagram account or because I had an Instagram account.  I guess the fact that I did not take any pictures contributed to my social media failure.  And once Google started to crack down on link generation, I deleted my account.  Or at least I think I did.  Nevertheless, I partake in IG vicariously, looking at C's and G's accounts when they go to bed.  Pretty mundane stuff to look at (they are just 12 and 10, respectively), but it gives me an insight into their lives - a secret life that they want to keep hidden from me and their Mother.  

Anyway, on to my favorite parts of IG...

1.  The FOMO quotient is off the charts.  "Fear of Missing out" is HUGE on IG.  Everyone is posting pictures of the fun times they are having, or the fun times that they had before.  They tag each other and then in the comments those who are not tagged, ask to be tagged.  If you aren't in the picture, in my mind at least, you should not be tagged.

2.  Another funny thing is the concept of a "like."  Instead of commenting (well except in asking to be tagged - see 1 above), people will like a photo.  If one does not get enough likes, then they delete the post.  Why post something to just to take it down a couple of hours later because only 54 people liked your photo.   And don't you dare like too many photos of kids that you don't know that well.  You will likely get burned or made fun of.

3.  Speaking of posts, one should not post too many times.  Don't you dare post twice in a night and if you do, you have to have a really, really good reason.  Even young adults make excuses for why they make more than one post.  Again, you will get burned by those trolls who notice that you post more than once in 24 hours and will comment on it.  Oh the irony.  (See 2 above).  And yes I am speaking as a parent-lurker.

4.  While the majority of IG post are pictures, some are videos.  Generally the longer the video, or the fact that the post is a video in the first place, the more likely that it is just not that interesting.  The sports and entertainment videos are merely rehashes from Sports Center or Entertainment Tonight and when the boys are watching them in the car, I guarantee that they will hear the words "stop with the data, wait until we get home to watch that video." come out of my mouth.

5.  Everyone on IG did the Ice Bucket Challenge.  Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? And everyone put a video up about it.  (See 4 above) If you asked my kids or their friends what the Ice Bucket challenge was, the words charity, giving and Pete Frates with NOT come up. 

6.  The begging is off the charts.  Begging for likes, begging for followers, begging for a tag, begging to be invited places.  Maybe charity is appropriate (See 5 above).

7.  You have to follow the right people.  You have to follow cool kids.  You can't follow the wrong people or the Juvenile Delinquents.  After a certain amount of time, you have to clear out people you are following so you can gain more IG cred by having more followers than those they are following.

I could go on and on.  But I don't want to seem like more of a lurker than I really am.  Now let me go so I can troll some people on my Twitter account.

'drops mike'

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2015 Will Be The Year of Mookie Betts

I watched Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.  I Watched It.  Bob Stanley (we still don't give him enough "credit" for that loss), Bill Buckner, Gary Carter and especially Mookie Wilson.  I watched the whole thing and I'm still scarred.

I have bad memories of Mookie Wilson driving that ball down the 1st base line, jumping up and down as the tying and winning run scored to take victory out of the Red Sox hands.  And while I seriously doubted I would ever meet another person in my life with the name Mookie, I swore that it would not be a good experience if it ever did happen.

Until Jackie Bradley Jr.'s replacement came along.

Now while everyone is talking about Giancarlo Stanton, Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, the Panda Guy, James Shields, etc., the player that could have the most impact on the 2015 Boston Red Sox could be Mookie Betts. The 5th Round Draft Pick of the 2011 Amateur Draft who is the size of my 12 year old son could very well be the breakout star of the Red Sox next year.  While he has played too many games to qualify as a Rookie next year, his first year as a major player in the line up could be a doozy.  Coupled with Rusney Castillo, Yoenis Cespedes and a healthy Shane Victorino, Betts could be a part of a tough offense-focused outfield that the Red Sox were sorely lacking in 2014.

His 2014 campaign included a general tearing up the Eastern League until he was called up to Pawtucket half way through the season.  His 45 games in Pawtucket was almost identical to his 55 games in Portland.  His .346/.431/.529 splits in the Minors led to a late Summer call up to the big house.  After Jackie Bradley Jr. crapped up Center Field most of the year, it was refreshing to see Betts play CF.  But he also played 2nd base, and Right Field. A true renaissance ball player.

But he's also the leadoff bat that we needed since Jacoby Ellsbury left for the Yankees (Sorry Brock, you're just not that good) and the spark plug that could lead to runs in the first inning and some pop at the top of the line up. He's hit 31 home runs with a slugging percentage over .500 over the last two years.  He's also a patient hitter, keeping his OBP over .360 over that time as well.

The Red Sox are reloading with a lot of high priced talent, but the key to another playoff run in 2015 might be the slight, 22 year old kid on the team right now.

That's a Mookie I can get behind.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Bucket List - Brittany Maynard Shows Us the Way to Live

I've followed the Brittany Maynard story for a couple of weeks now.  I've read about her terminal brain cancer and her quest to die the way she wants to die.  I've read how she has campaigned for "Death with Dignity" and listened sound bites from Compassion and Choices.  I've seen pictures of her life before the Diagnosis and how she moved from California to Oregon to have prescribed to her the drugs she would need to end her life the way she wanted to end it.  I've read both sides of this combustible issue, the converse of the abortion rights issue.  Some people have called her heroic, some people have called her selfish.  And I've heard her decision in her own words.  All I know is that it is tragic that someone has to die like that.

Maynard - In a Happier Time
I've also read that part of her story that brought us pictures from the Grand Canyon.  Family pictures, pictures of Maynard and her husband and of Mother and daughter.  It didn't matter, pictures from that getaway showed a somber crew, with an expectation of passing.  After seeing those pictures, you knew that the end was coming.  A statement that she was reconsidering her date of death was merely a way to keep her story fresh to add more exposure for her cause.  She was ready to end her life; you could see it in the pained looks on every one's faces in those pictures.  The story of her quest to knock one more thing off of her "bucket list" was one anecdote that brought some lightheartedness to the grim story.  But it was reading about her simple trip to the Grand Canyon that it dawned on me.  The media and Maynard herself was thinking about the end, rather than the way that she got there.  Simply put, most of Maynard's coverage has focused on her death, rather than her life. 

Back to that Grand Canyon part of the story.  We were told that it was part of her bucket list and she was able to finally cross that visit off of her list.  When I said to myself that I wanted to see what a bucket list of a person who worked at orphanages in Nepal and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro looked like, i decided to see what else was on her list.  I couldn't find it.  Does it exist?  Is it a private part of her husband's and family's legacy to keep this to themselves?  Most likely.  But the fact that she had the bucket list at all was an even more tragic story here. 

Many people wait until it is too late to live their lives.  We get stuck in our mundane day to day lives.  Teddy Roosevelt's quote - quoted in Maynard's obituary - to "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are" doesn't apply for most of us on most days. Our personal bucket lists get larger and larger every year because we make the time to dream about going somewhere, doing something, but we never take the time to actually do it or go there.  We always take time to fill the bucket, but we never take time to take things out of that bucket list.  We wait until we are ill, or too old to enjoy it, to start thinking about taking some things out of that bucket.  That's no way to live.  Maynard showed us that. 

My Father died of an aggressive esophageal cancer.  He was given months to live after the gold standard of care could not help him.  He was not the kind of person to have a "bucket list;" he was just happy to clean up his garden and have enough energy to mow his yard.  He was pissed that he could not dictate his life any more and he wanted something different.  That's why he stopped the treatments that clearly were not helping him.  And what the end of his life showed me was that we all want to live our lives the way we want to live them, or not live them.  While they thought about the end of their lives differently, Maynard and my Father shared one thing in common.  They wanted to live and die on their terms.

Maynard also showed us that even at the age of 29, we should be thinking about the things in our bucket list. That list can include a lot of different things - traveling, getting a new job, having children.  It just matters that you try to empty that bucket out of tasks when you are still young.  You never know when you aren't going to have enough time to see them all through.

Rest in Peace.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Derek Jeter Confusion

Derek Jeter.  Some of the most iconic moments in Major League Baseball over the last 15 years included him.  Who can forget the dive into the stands to catch the foul pop against the Red Sox back 2004, or the relay flip against the Athletics in the 2001 ALCS?  Who can forget all of the clutch hits including the Jeffrey Maier flyout.  Derek Jeter is one of the most iconic baseball players of the modern era.

Derek Jeter.  But there is flip side to this.  Forget about the backlash by Internet contrarians and the ridiculous rant by Keith Olbermann.  The statistics show that he was a good but not great hitter.  He never led the league in batting average, on base percentage or OPS.  He led the league in hits twice and runs once.  Conversely, he led the league in plate appearances 5 times.  He never hit more than 25 home runs and drove in more than 100 runs once in his career.  His fielding was below average despite his 5 Gold Glove Awards.  Rarely was he the best player on his team, instead, he was benefited by his longevity, it appears.

Derek Jeter.  It's a tough one to decide where I fall on the Derek Jeter Confusion.  Let's face it.  He spent 20 years with the most famous and successful baseball team of the last 20 years.  His most iconic moments would never have happened if he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Kansas City Royals.  In other words he was a product of his circumstances not the cause of it.  For that, this retirement is a non-story.  The logical side of my brain is telling me that I shouldn't care.

But yet here I am watching his last two games as a New York Yankee.  The emotional side is making me care about this.  You would figure that the Red Sox and Yankees playing each other at the end of September would actually mean something, but instead both teams were out of playoff contention.  These last games mean absolutely nothing, yet you can't get into the game tomorrow for less than $200 per ticket.

Re2pect.  Derek Jeter is getting a lot of respect these days.  Gatorade and Nike have both come out with their own version of Derek Jeter tributes.  Every park Jeter goes to he is greeted by cheering fans and gifts from teams.  Memorabilia featuring Jeter's likeness is selling for hundreds and thousands of dollars.  And the respect extends to the JMR household.

C and I both have different things going on today.  When I get home, he and a buddy are watching the game that I had DVRed.  I sit down and ask him to rewind to Jeter's at bats.  It doesn't really matter that he strikes out and chops an infield single to Short.  I wanted to get chills watching the fans (mostly Yankee fans now) cheer Jeter and break out the "Der-ek Je-ter" chant.  That what we really wanted to see.  Who cares if he gets a hit or strikes out.  I mean they even trot out David Ortiz to talk about the Captain. 

I then turn to C and tell him "This can be you if you work hard at baseball."

He just laughed and shook his head.  RE2PECT.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Cespedes Time and our First Major League Baseball!

It was a beautiful night at the Fens.  It was crisp for the middle of August, maybe 65 degrees at first pitch.  G and I had great seats, courtesy of a coach's gift I received from one of my baseball players. Although G would bring his glove to every game we went to, we actually had a legitimate chance at getting a foul ball this time.  I just hope not to the face since we were so close to the action.

7pm.  We stroll around our section watching all of the pregame action.  A couple of salutations and a couple of folks throwing out first balls.  Considering this was a battle of two of the worst teams in the American League this year, it was tough to say that there was electricity in the air, but it was still exciting.  And then Clay Buchholz came out of the dugout, he with his 5+ ERA.  Again, I wouldn't say there was electricity in the air, but there was definite tension; I mean the Red Sox traded their other 4 starting pitchers at the Trade deadline and couldn't get rid of Clay.  How awkward.

First Inning.  But he started strong.  His fastball was reaching 92-93 MPH.  His curveball looked sharp.  Maybe this was going to be vintage Buchholz night.  He struck out the first batter, Jose Altuve hit a deep flyball that Jackie Bradley and then he struck out Chris Carter.  That strike out of Carter was huge, because as Christian Vasquez was coming back tot eh dugout, he threw the ball in the stands, or should I say he threw it to us.  Our first major league baseball! I've been to a hundred games in my life, maybe more and I never got a ball, foul or otherwise.  G goes to his 6th or 7th game and he gets a ball after a strikeout directly from the Catcher?  I'm not jealous or anything, but come on, how is that fair? (In all reality Vasquez threw it in our general direction, I caught it and then gave it to G - don't tell anyone.).  The other way sounds better for G's Instagram followers.

Got the picture of the HR
Third Inning.  One of the best trades G thinks the Red Sox ever made was to trade Jon Lester for Yoenis Cespedes. 

"We're getting Lester back at the end of the year." G has proclaimed a couple of times.  He's not sure how, but he's sure that it's happening. 

And this could not have been more true after Cespedes turns on an hanging breaking ball and blasts one into the Green Monster seats.  That left the bat and got into the seats in about 1 second.  2-0 Red Sox!  As Papi rounds the bases he looks at the seats and nods.  Cespedes in all business though and heads straight back to the dugout, no smile, nothing.  Must have been all of the "training" in Cuba that makes him that way.

8th Inning.  The Red Sox are clinging to a 3-2 lead.  Buchholz has pitched great and is line for the win.  Eric Mujica, starting the 8th, leaves with two runners on base.  Tommy Lane comes on and promptly strikes out the next two batters, leading up to one of the strangest sequences I've seen in a long time.  With runners on first and second, Matt Dominguez hits a soft liner to Shortstop.  Unfortunately, the force at second is safe as Pedroia misses the base.  Meanwhile, pinch runner Gregorio Petit, who was at second at the time, tries to score on the play.  Pedroia throws a strike to Vasquez, who unwittingly (at least I hope it was unwittingly) moves up the base line in such a way, that he can't make the tag on Petit coming toward him.  Instead Vazquez fires the ball to Burke Badenhop covering the plate who promptly drops it.  Run scores, tie game!  Farrell challenges the play, although as we are looking at the replay on the TV, we aren't sure what he is challenging - the play at second? The baserunner being out of the baseline at home? The tag?  After 5 long minutes, the point is mute, the umpires conclude that everyone is safe and the run has scored.

Ultimately, as my cranky back starts to act up, we leave as that run in the 8th has sent the game into extra innings.  With that 19 inning game fresh in my memory, I talk G into leaving.  Turns out the game only went 10 innings as the Astros win 5-3.  We leave in high spirits though, but not before G gets himself the newest addition to his Red Sox wardrobe.

Successful night all around, and I (err I mean we) have finally got that baseball.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ode to Cooperstown Dreams Park - Part One

It's one of the highlights in our seaside town when it comes to youth sports - really youth anything - when you turn 12 years old and you are halfway decent at baseball, you will be able to represent our town at the Annual Cooperstown Dreams Park Tournament.  A baseball tournament featuring over 100 teams vying for the chance to play a championship game at Little Majors ballpark and lay claim to being one of the best baseball teams in the Country.  This baseball tournament repeats itself every week from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Hundreds of teams and thousands of kids play at the 22 fields all Summer, every Summer.  I think, I know, that this tournament keeps this area in business a lot more than the Baseball Hall of Fame 8 miles up the street does.

Our week begins on Friday of July 4th weekend as the kids and coaches start filing into town.  They all have hopes and dreams of playing on Thursday (the final 16 make it to Thursday playoff games).  Some are realistic, some - like our little town - are unrealistic.  Usually, for those first couple of days, the kids would gather to play wiffle ball or trade pins with other teams.  They would eat lasagna and sloppy joes and would talk about things that normal 12 year olds would talk about.  They would compare best pitchers and best hitters.  And they would talk about those stupidly expensive Mako bats.  Except for team from Wayland (about 45 minutes from us on a good day), no other team from New England made it here this weekend.  It's a crap shoot who you are going to play.

Saturday.  Opening Ceremonies.  A lot of marching around with banners.  We entered players into the HR hitting contest, a speed contest called Roadrunner and a pitching contest called the Golden Arm.  No advancement to the championship round from any of our single players.  On the other hand, we were just a second behind in the star drill however with the rest of the team.  Pins were traded, players went home happy.

First Night Game; C playing 1st Base
Sunday.  The games begin.  Because G had his own tournament on Cape Cod, we could not make it for the afternoon game.  The Manager graciously sat C for the afternoon game (everyone has to sit at least one game), which we lost to some regional AAU team from St. Louis, 14-2.  We won the night cap though led by some timely hitting (including a home run to break the 3-3 tie) and a complete game 2 hitter from one of C's buddies.  Come to find out, the team that we played from Elmhurst, Illinois was bunked right next door in the barracks.  The teams became fast friends throughout the tournament, watching each others' games and cheering each other on.  Although LC was livid that a kid pretended to make a catch right in front of us in right field and did not own up to it after the umpire called out hitter out, I guess the kids got over it pretty quickly.  

Monday.  We got beaten up pretty good by a regional team from outside of Baltimore, Maryland, the WHC Renegades.  32-0.  I have already forgotten the details of this game, except that I was thankful for the mercy rule.  The next game was a barn burner, though.  Due to heavy rains and thunderstorms, C's pitching debut was delayed from 7pm to 12:30am the next morning.  We spent time chatting with other parents and players, biding our time for the ridiculous weather to die down.  We were all a little sleepy during that game.  Undaunted by the change in starting time though, C pitched a 3 hitter with 12 strike outs to win the game 13-2.  We are now 2-2 in pool play!

C's Grand Slam Ball
Tuesday.  Even though the team didn't step out off the field until 2:30 this morning, they were back at it for the 10am game against the Mississagua Tigers, a team from just outside of Toronto.  Although they were also much larger than our seaside town, we took it their pitching early, highlighted by 3 home runs from C - including a grand slam.  Now granted, we screwed up the time of the start and missed C's 1st inning grand slam by about 5 minutes.  But we were able to catch the other two home runs.  I have to admit that I was starting to think about the Cooperstown tournament's record for most home runs in a game, which is 5.  Alas, the Manager took C out after three at-bats and he ended the game with 3 home runs and 7 RBIs.  This didn't stop C from becoming a legend as there was a buzz around the field about the "kid that hit the 3 home runs."  What a great hitting performance!  I was so proud of him.  Not only that, but we took the game over the Saugans, 15-13.  They'll probably say that they are a hockey town anyway.  The second game was not as gentle as we lost to a regional team from Central Florida, 15-4.  We ended up pool play 3-3.  One of the best showings ever from the team.

Wednesday.  The playoffs begin.  Since we were seeded 56th, we got a first round bye.  Our first game was against a team seeded 94th from New Jersey.  We handled them pretty easily, 9-3 as C went 2 for 3 and played great first base.  The second game was not pretty.  C was the starting pitcher against a team from Plainfield, Illinois.  A lot of runs were scored.  Another game that I am choosing to forget.  We ended up losing 15-3.  Although, the pats on the back were disheartening, we ended up going to friend's rented house where most of the rest of the team was.  They ended up swimming and laughing, the last loss becoming a distant memory.

Overall, what a great experience for the boys and for us as well.  The boys played great. C, who has played AAU baseball in tough conditions before really shined, leading the team in home runs while also winning one of our games for us at Pitcher.  It was a real treat to see.  And to see the look on his face after the tournament was over...Never mind the fact that he bought a baseball case almost immediately from the gift shop for the home run ball that we had inscribed.  I loved seeing the proud look on his face.   

One last thing.  I told C that his 3 home run game would be something that he would remember for the rest of his life.  What I really meant is that it is something that I would remember for the rest of my life.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The AVP is Still Around in 2014?

Time to go Darren Rovell on you.  I was just flipping channels recently and came across something that I thought had ceased to exist as of a couple of years ago.  I'm not sure why it never caught on; because beach volleyball was always a big draw during the Olympics, but it never caught on between the Summer Olympics.  The party atmosphere had to attract affluent 20 somethings with money to spend.  The athleticism and sex appeal had to draw in both men and women, alike.  It would seem to me that this a is recipe of success for edgy and enterprising companies.  And some well intentioned capitalists took advantage securing some sponsors, finding a TV contract and attracting the best volleyball players in the world.  After years and mergers, the AVP was born. 

In fact, it was just a couple of years ago (it seemed at least) that the AVP made a stop in Quincy at Marina Bay.  We were thinking about going since it always looked like a big party and Marina Bay was 20 minutes away from us.  What's not to love about that - drinks, men and women in bathing suits playing volleyball, and a raucous atmosphere, just 20 minutes from the house?  Alas, it was way too hot for the kids (DLG was just a baby, I remember) when we decided to go.  AVP would have to wait until next year.  That plus I really did not want to wear a pair of Crocs out in public.

Shortly after that, I watched Beach Volleyball once in a while on TV.  It was amusing to watch and I still like the raucous attitude that.  Maybe we could go the following year.

And I kept my promise.  Just a couple of years ago, I checked to see if the AVP was coming back to Marina Bay and discovered that the AVP had gone under.  Just like other fringe sports that sought to capitalize on Summer Olympic glory for the Americans, mainstream beach volleyball just could not secure the crowds or the corporate sponsorships to survive.  I have to admit that I didn't understand.

So I forgot about it.

Until tonight.  Flipping channels, I see that the AVP had magically reappeared on the CBS Sports Network.  What I was watching was the St. Petersburg Open that was featuring a couple of stars from the 2012 Summer Olympics.  Kerri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross, who both won medals for the USA back in 2012 were playing a couple of other women who I had never heard of.  And of course, I looked at the AVP website and found that this was a recent tournament, not some sort of ESPN Classic sport.  It got me thinking how this league could be sustained.

First, seek corporate sponsors that fit in with sport.  Hey I get that the AVP wants us to worry about being healthy, but a sport played on a beach begs for alcoholic sponsors.  Bud Light, Michelob Ultra and Smirnoff Ice make a lot of sense.  Energy drinks, water enhancers and water sports make sense here too.  Paul Mitchell does NOT make a lot of sense.

Second, market the players better.  I'll stay away from the obvious way to capitalize on the sport.  But Kerry Walsh-Jennings and Misty May could do a lot more to be ambassadors of the sport.  More marketing of international championships might make this a little more exciting by bringing in some nationalism.

Finally, look to barnstorm a little more.  During the Summer, the AVP can play anywhere in the U.S.  During the Winter, play in Hawaii, Florida and Southern California.  Reduce ticket prices a little bit but offer higher priced concessions.  Look to bring in more people, rather than overcharging the fans who do want to come in.  And these players are looking to stay fresh for the Olympics so prize money may be reduced with little in the way of resistance.

Before you know it, we'll be back to Marina Bay.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Dominic Moore's Cautionary Tale Speaks Volumes

This goes a little differently than usual.  I don't write about hockey that often, but Dominic Moore's story made me sharpen the pencil again to discuss it.

It's really not a story about hockey, mind you.  And it took a strange post in Boston Barstool Sports to make me write about this in the first place.  Thinking it was just click bait, I decided to click on a story that made one of the writers of that site admit that it was the "Saddest Thing I Had Ever Seen In My Life."  Who wouldn't want to read or watch that?  Especially on a Sunday morning when I was just sitting on my couch watching the morning come and go. 

It turned out that that writer was right.  The segment about Dominic Moore's leave of absence from the NHL to tend to his sick wife is one of the saddest things I have ever watched in my life.  But it might also be one of the kindest.

The piece, which aired on ESPN's E:60 program a couple of weeks back, tells the crushing story of Dominic Moore, a journeyman center who had been toiling away in the NHL for over 10 years, and his wife, Katie Moore.  The lede to the story begins with one of Moore's teammates talking about Moore's come back after he had to take care of "something."  Then we saw pictures of Moore playing hockey spliced together with pictures of presumably his wife.  Immediately, I knew that this one was not going to be an easy one to watch. 

The story begins by taking us through the Moores' meeting at Harvard University, traveling to play in various NHL cities and their eventual marriage in 2010ish.  They bought a home in Cambridge, they were talking about starting a family, everything seemed right.  Unexpectedly, during San Jose's play off run in 2012, Katie Moore was diagnosed with a rare and incurable form of liver cancer just days after complaining about feeling ill.  Moore abruptly left the team to care for his wife leaving the playoffs to the side.  The story then takes us through Moore's diagnosis, and the procedures done to prolong her life and, sadly, her eventual death just 8 months later.  To see the metamorphosis of Katie from a beautiful woman to a frail shell of herself in just 8 months is tragic.  The scene where they walk into their Cambridge condominium after friends had finished the work that the Moores had started was poignant and saddening.  Dominic Moore skipped the strike-shortened 2012-13 season to deal with his tragic loss.  But the story comes around to tell of Moore's reemergence with the New York Rangers this year.

But why write about it?  It's a terrible story, and although Moore emerges to play hockey again, start a foundation in his wife's memory and generally move forward in a positive way, its an awful story that I hope no one has to go through.  But this story, to me at least, is a cautionary tale about how life sometimes gets in the way of itself.  And more importantly how one can try to make sure that it doesn't get in the way.

What the Hell does that mean?  It's easy to take a lot of things in your life for granted.  It manifests itself in a number of ways.  You count the days until the weekend or the Summer.  You come home from school or work and you think you're too tired to do anything but sit on that God damned couch.  You watch as the days pass you by, thinking that there will be plenty more of them.  The problem is that that might not always be the case.  For me, it takes a story of some hockey player and his wife, to remember that life is filled with changes, all that needs to be explored.  For you it might be something else.  It doesn't matter, so long as you find it.

Maybe "cautionary tale" is bad term to use.  Maybe "wake up call" is better.  The point is that all of our lives are short, some more than others.  And if we always worry about the small stuff, the big stuff slips right by us.  We all need to try to relish every second that we have.  It's not easy, and neither is life.  That's what Dominic and Katie Moore's story means to me.

Oh and one more thing, I think I'll root for the Rangers this year.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Kazoo Guy is Still at Fenway Park!

I don't sit in the Bleachers that often when I visit Fenway Park, anymore.  Nowadays, I go with the kids who are always looking for foul balls or autographs.  And I need to be able to see the game with my terrible eyesight.  These two ingredients do not lend themselves to an evening in the bleachers.  Back when I was in school, my buddies and I would always scam seats in the bleachers.  Back then, the tickets were cheap and the beer was plentiful.  When the Red Sox came back to play after the 1995 strike, the ownership group even sliced the ticket prices in half for those bleacher seats.  We went every chance that we got back then. 

But then jobs, wives and kids made going to Fenway an annual tradition, instead of a weekly tradition and my time spent near the Williams Red Seat dropped considerably.  The last time I was in the bleachers, in fact was about 5-6 years ago when I went with a couple of friends of mine to see the Sox play...the Angels, I think.

But never mind those details.  One thing that I vaguely remember about those seats in the bleachers was the sight of this guy with a Kazoo always trying to get the Red Sox - and us bleacher bums - to rally.  If the Red Sox got a couple of guys on base, the Kazoo guy would stand up and play his Kazoo proudly.  I thought it was amusing and made a mental note to revisit this guy the next time I was in the Bleachers for a game.

Boston, MA.  6pm.  Lo and behold, that next time was last night.  A couple of friends of mine invited me to the game against the Rangers.  No work, no spouse and no children to be found.  Just a couple of old friends and some ice cold beers (well somewhat cold beers, we're at Fenway after all).  And by luck, our seats were about 14 or 15 rows behind the Visitor's bullpen.  The weather was a little off, so the question became whether we would see the "Kazoo Guy" this time around.  I even made a crack about it to my friends.  My memory of that last game here was not of the score or even the team the Red Sox played, it was of this guy who played a Kazoo with red socks pinned to his hat.

It was a long time ago that I saw this guy at Fenway. And I don't remember exactly where I was sitting that day all those years ago.  So I thought it would be pretty funny if he was still here trying to rally the (often drunk) troops. I told my friends to keep an ear and eye out.  It would make for a good laugh.

As we sat down in our seats, I thought about a lot of things, one of which was that I would have to wait for a rally to start to see if this guy still came to the games.  After about 10 minutes, I found out that I would not have to wait for that rally to start after all.  Unless there was a Red Sox player with the last name of "Kazoo" who had his jersey purchased by this older gentlemen, I think I found the right guy when he sat down.  He was sitting about 2 rows ahead of us. I deftly pointed out to my friends that this guy was still here and we had that good laugh.  I even snapped the picture above (pretending to take a picture of the field, of course).

During the couple of times that the Red Sox were rallying (they were down most of the game), there he was doing his duty, Just like a fife and drum before the scene of a battle, the Kazoo Guy stood up on his seat, played Garry Glitter's "Rock and Roll (Part 1) on his kazoo, rallied the nearby fans with a couple of shouts of "Hey" and then pointed at the security guard near our section, ostensibly to thank him for not making him sit down.  It was perfectly short and left us wanting more.  He went on to do this a couple of more times.  To no avail it turned out as the Red Sox lost 10-7. 

And we had a couple of more laughs.  I'm going to have to take the kids here next time.  Foul balls and eye sight be damned.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Harlem Globetrotters 2014 - Where is Special K?

Welcome back Trotters' fans!  Here we are again for the fifth installment of the JMR Harlem Globetrotters blog!  See, every year since 2010, the family and I have witnessed the glory that is the Harlem Globetrotters.  Now originally, we went to the Globetrotters because we had nothing else to do on Spring weekends between basketball and baseball.  We were looking to just pass the time.  After having been entertained by the dunkers, the ball handlers and the showmen every year since, this is a destination now for the JMR family. Not a way to pass the time, it is now the highlight of the early Spring season.

My kids are frontrunners too, and not surprisingly, the Globetrotters are undefeated in the five games we have seen.  C knows what the real deal is, but G and DLG think that they are honest to goodness good luck charms.  They don't ask me who I think is going to win anymore, the only question the boys asked me on the way in was whether we would see Special K or Big Easy - their favorites from the last two games we went to.  Mom and DLG were mostly disinterested observers.

Because of our schedules this year, we had to see the Saturday night game.  While not ideal with the kids, we thought that we would see the best that the Globetrotters had to offer.  The anticipation was building as we took our seats.

Boston, MA 7:30pm.  As the Global All-Stars came out to warm up, I was struck by how ragged they looked.  Usually these guys can play ball and then they have to let up to let the Globetrotters win at the end of the game (err, I mean they run out of gas as the game wears on).  But this team could not shoot.  Basketball clanged off rim after rim.  They were stretching like old men on a Sunday morning shoot around.  Jesus, it looked like they just picked 8 guys up from Causeway Street to play tonight.

The boys didn't care though because we weren't there to see them play, we were there for the Globetrotters.  As they were introduced, we all noticed that there was no Special K, and no Big Easy.  I was unsure who the Showman was going to be.  I went to the Globetrotters' Website to see if I could tell from the roster who the Showman was going to be.  I couldn't tell from the website either.  All I know is that G was disappointed though that neither Big Easy nor Special K would be there.

"But they were soooo funny, Dad!" G reminisced.

New blood is good for everyone though, I thought to myself as we sat down to watch the game.

A couple of thoughts about the game.
  • Hi-Lite was the Showman this year, it turned out.  I remember him as one of the featured players a couple of years ago so obviously they promote from within, just like State Street. 
  • Little Globie looked especially creepy this year.  I'm unsure if they created a new mascot or if I had never noticed him before, but man, does he need a makeover.
  • Big Globie was a hit, as usual.  I still crack up when he falls down to that Chumbwamba song, "I Get Knocked Down."
  • They had some different twists on the changes to the game.  No more penalty box, but they had the "Trick Shot Challenge" (Funny, none of the All Stars were asked to make a trick shot, just the Globetrotters), wear the orange shirt and make double the points, and a spin on the make it take it game where missed shots resulted in the player being sent to the bench.
  • The Trick shots involving the foot dunk was impressive.
  • The four point shot never gets old.  No one can make them despite the fact that the shots are never defended.
  • The instant replay trick was impressive.  I liked the touch of substituting the basketball with a beach ball so it looked like the ball was going in slow motion as well.
Needless to say, the Globetrotters won going away.  86-70.  And as with every year, I have to talk the three kids from buying a basketball, program or jersey. And I have to tell them that we cannot see them again until next year.  The kids tucked that information away until next March when we do this all over again.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The 2014 JMR Bracket-Busting NCAA Pool

If you know anything about me, you know that I love the NCAA brackets.  I love seeing Cinderellas try to make it into the Sweet Sixteen or the Elite 8.  I like seeing the best players show their stuff on the big stage.  Most of all, I like the fact that I can watch College Basketball anytime that I want today and tomorrow with no repercussions.

Now it took me a bit to understand what I needed to do to ensure that I can watch basketball without issues from the spouse and kids...include them in the family pool!  So we all put 10 bucks into the pool and the one with the most points wins the pot.  Now I understand that if I win or Mom wins, we don't really win.  And I think I have to contribute DLG's 10 bucks, but who cares.  The Basketball games stay on.

I admit that I have no hope of winning Warren Buffet's Billion Dollar challenge or even Sports Illustrated's Million Dollar challenge.  But I do have a good chance of winning this JMR family pool.  Now 5 strong.

Where am I?
Here are the Final Fours for each of us:

DLG:  Florida, Virginia, Oregon and Duke.  Now I think she picked Oregon to make the Final Four because her uncle lives in Oregon.  She may have picked them because they have pretty uniforms.  I don't know, but it's not the worst pick in the world.  I like the Duke pick too.

G:  Florida, Virginia, Arizona and Wichita State.  When I told G that Wichita State is undefeated because they didn't play anyone good, he wanted to change his pick.  I felt bad for deflating his hopes of winning, but I still took his $10 bill. 

C:  Kansas, Villanova, Arizona and Wichita State.  Ditto.

Mom: Kansas, Michigan State, Creighton and Wichita State.  Ditto.  Also, Creighton?  I think she picked that team because Doug McDermott is on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  When I asked her where Creighton was, she picked Missouri, California, Alabama and Ohio.  When I told her she was close with Missouri, she was even more befuddled.

As I'm sitting here watching the St. Joseph's vs UConn, I am in heaven.  Eventually everyone will filter in and we can all watch the games together.  I'll start by gloating next weekend.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jabari Parker Thrills Them All!

Who knew?  I have grown accustomed to really disliking, if not despising, the Duke Blue Devils.  Ever since UConn lost to them more 20 years ago in the Elite 8 on a little runner, Duke has been on my bad list.  I have spent less time, though, on the hate ever since UConn took Duke Down in the Final Four on the way to the National Championship in 2011, but when I heard that the boys' favorite player in the NCAA was Jabari Parker, I was flabbergasted.  Did they know he played for the evil empire?  And when I obtained tickets for Duke's tilt against the Boston College Eagles, both boys went a little nuts.  Did they not know that Coach K is evil incarnate?

All this for Jabari Parker?  I doubt they had heard of him prior to November 2013.  But now all of Boston was looking to see this absolute beast from Duke.  It really had nothing to do with the two 1st round draft picks we have in the 2014 Amateur draft.

6pm.  Boston, MA.  We were lucky enough to be just feet away from Duke as they warmed up.  It was disconcerting to see that no one was sitting in the 3 rows ahead of us.  What was the problem?  But we still were excited to see Parker warm up before us, with only a couple of sad BC fans standing between us and the Blue Devils.

And when we got to these seats just a couple of rows up from where Duke was warming up, I had to admit that I didn't know who Jabari Parker was either.  But that didn't matter to the boys as they leaned over the railing to the visitor's tunnel, trying to get a high five from Parker and even the stiff dictator, Coach K himself.  They were so excited that the old, crotchety couple behind us told them to sit down, that those weren't our seats.  The game hadn't even started yet!  I guess it was a good thing that crotchety old folks were sitting in those three rows ahead of us either.  Jesus!

The game started quietly enough.  The Eagles and the Blue Devils traded punches as the lead flopped back and forth.  Parker was especially impressive as he would run some plays in the corner spotting up for a 3 pointer, but he looked most comfortable taking a pass down in the low post and taking it up strong against the weaker Eagles' defenders.  He was scoring baskets in transition to, running down the court ahead of everyone and throwing down thunderous dunks.  BC battled on though only trailing Duke by 4 after the first half, led by some dude named Olivier and another guy who looked like Kris Humphries.  Let's give BC 0% chance of winning this game.

The real highlight of the boys night, though, was at half time as they both were able to high five Parker as he walked into the tunnel.  Sweaty handshakes form complete strangers?  Count me in too.  Even LC tried to get some skin from Coach K who stiffened up as he came closer to the 40-ish fangirl.  (I would too.)

The Second Half was a different story.  Shortly after the half began, Duke went on an 18-0 run to start pulling away.  Duke was up by 20 for most of the second half cruising to an easy 21 point win.  Those kids in front of us left with 10 minutes left, figuring that parties in the middle of Winter in Boston had to be better than here.  Fly away, fly away.

But the boys were both ecstatic walking back to the car.  They both got to touch hands with Parker.  Maybe he'll end up with the Celtics and we'll see him a lot more 'round these parts.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How Squares Can Save a Poor Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is an intriguing spectacle.  It is the one American adventure that really has more to do with the journey than the destination.  Unless your favorite team is actually PLAYING in the big game, the vast, vast majority of spectators are either looking on to (i) party at some one's place or a bar, (ii) watch the half time show, (iii) watch the commercials or (iv) to gamble.  Hardly anyone is there to actually WATCH the game.

Ah, gambling.  One of the bastions of the JMR household, as we have taken the March Madness Pool and Fantasy Football to new gambling levels.  I'm teaching my children the right way.  The right way to run these pools themselves when they get older (I guess).  One of the many ways we could have gambled on the Super Bowl was the old mainstay - the Super Bowl Squares.  We felt like we had to make this game more interesting since the Patriots were knocked out int he AFC Championship.  You know how Super Bowl Squares works.  You pay short money to put your name in a grid of 100 boxes.  Some magical process happens and your square is matched to the last digit of the AFC Champion's score and the last digit of the NFC Champion's score.  We play it the standard way.  We keep our numbers through out the game and each quarter crowns a new winner.  People want 0, 1, 3, 4 and 7 as their numbers.  No one wants 2, 5 or 8.

Rudimentary grid
How to get the kids interested, though?  Promise them an iTunes gift card if they win.  Now mind you, this isn't gambling per se since all the kids can do is win something, but they still can live the excitement. 

The best thing about these squares was evident almost immediately in the recent match up between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos.  Even if one team is getting blown out, the Squares keep everyone interested.  The Squares do not care what the overall score is.  They only care about touchdowns, field goals and two point conversions.  Let the games begin!

First Quarter.  Oh man! A safety on one of the first plays of the game puts all of the crappy numbers into play.  All of a sudden, 2, 5 and 8 are looking like the real good numbers.  Seattle leads at the end of one quarter 8-0.  Cue the baseball score jokes!  More importantly, Dad wins the First Quarter.  No iTunes Gift card for you suckas!

Second Quarter.  Now the kids are getting excited.  They've seen how it works and Clash of Clans add ons are dancing around in their heads.  These gift cards must be theirs!  I'm bummed for all those sorry folks who thought Denver was going to wing the game.  Two more touchdowns for a 22-0 lead at half time.  C wins his first gift card.  Good luck collecting from me, son!

Third Quarter.  That Bruno Mars guy seems kind of over matched, am I right?  Never mind.  Denver get on the board with a touchdown and 2 point conversion.  Now 8 is on the board for the other side too!  But alas, Seattle scores two touchdowns itself to make the score 36-8.  Mom wins this quarter and all of a sudden the money outlay I'm going to have is quite small.

Fourth Quarter.  A lot of advertisers are bummed out that the game has gotten out of hand.  Including the big time spots that ran at the 2 minute warning.  Or maybe they thought to themselves that people are still interested in the garbage time when any score can change the winner.  Unfortunately for the kids, Dad wins the Fourth Quarter after Seattle gets the garbage time touch down.  Denver can't even match with a late game, meaningless touch down itself, so the game ends 43-8. 

In conclusion, Dad wins 2 quarters and Mom wins 1 quarter.  C does win one quarter and will eventually get his gift card.  Pity Denver.  And celebrate Seattle.  But more importantly celebrate that the 5 of us could actually watch a game together.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sochi and Short Track Speed Skating

The Winter Olympics are known for featuring "weird sports" (as my 9 year old likes to call them).  Alongside staples such as Downhill Skiing, Hockey and Figure Skating, the Winter Olympics feature sports in which you ski off of a cliff (ski jump), a sport which allows you to shoot rifles at targets (biathalon) and ice fishing (just kidding on that one).    Sochi in 2014 is no different.

One of the sports that the boys got interested in though was an unusual one fraught with danger.  Short track speed skating.  We whetted our appetites with the longer short track races the night before and I was describing the shorter races that are just free-for-alls.  While this seems kind of strange - why not just go to a regular track if you are going 500 or 1500 meters - the strategy seems a little different in the 500 meter races.  These were just qualification races, but they started off slowly for the first couple of laps, gaining advantage and position and then off they go for the last couple of laps.  We were transfixed because the element of danger and possibility of sliding off the track were real.  Now we just had to watch the real short track the next day, where the wipeouts are frequent and Apollo Anton Ohno rules.

9am. Home. Oh no.  We go live to Salt Lake City for the US Olympic Trials and Ohno is an announcer.  What does that mean?  He's not skating anymore? I consider turning this off.  The boys start to look around for things to do.  This is troublesome for a series of races that last 90 minutes.

The women start first.  The names sound familiar from the 1500.  They just go a lot faster at 4.5 laps.

LC joins us and immediately asks the obvious question. "How do they do that without running into each other?"

The men start.  "Did you know Eddy Alvarez is Pedro Alvarez's brother?"  Good memory, G.  J.C. Celski is favored to win this race - the world record holder at this distance.  After a wipeout by Jordan Malone in the first men's final, C comes down to watch.

"Rewind the crash, Dad!"

"Why is she wearing sunglasses?"  C asks.  When I tell him to reduce glare, he then continues, "What glare?"  He does not appreciate my answer and continues on "No, what is glare?" Who cares?  Pedro Alvarez's brother just made the A Final...whatever that means.

The crashes are minimal, like they are afraid to try to win any of these races.  Where is the insanity?  Where is the intensity?  This is very frustrating since DLG loses interest and goes out and plays in the snow.  The boys pick up their electronics as they lose interest.  Come on!  Where is the excitement?

Emily Scott and Jessica Smith are going to Sochi!  Now the men go.  J.C. Celski and Eddy Alvarez make it for the men.  Hopefully the Olympics capture their imaginations more than these races.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Most Interesting 2014 Hall of Fame Ballot

2014 is shaping up to be one of the most interesting Hall of Fame Elections in recent years.  In the post-steroids era (are we really past this yet), some very interesting first year candidates are joining the likes of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.  The questions this year are lingering like a bad cold.  2013's ballot saw no one inducted.  Obviously, that can't happen to often because interest in the ballot would start to diminish.  Players NEED to be inducted in 2014.  Let's investigate the possibilities and the questions.

Will Jack Morris finally make it on his last year on the ballot? (He only gets 15 years after all to make the Hall of Fame)?

Will second year stand outs Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza or Curt Schilling make the HOF in their second year trying?

Will any of the terrible steroid-era players, Roger Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, Bonds or Rafael Palmeiro actually get the call?  Will cheating still matter to these voters?

Who from the new class - Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas or Mike Mussina, for instance - will get the call from the BBWAA?

To help me with my imaginary ballot, similar to Deadspin's purchase of a ballot from a terribly greedy sportswriter, I have asked G to tell me who he thinks will be elected to the Hall of Fame.

G's list...

Roger Clemens
Barry Bonds
Greg Maddux
Frank Thomas
Don Mattingly

I agree with G.  Maddux might be a 100% lock to make the Hall of Fame.  Even Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth could not secure 100% of the vote from the writers, but Maddux has a shot.  With the Internet, writers are under as much scrutiny as players and thus tend to follow the normal course of action a little bit more closely.  A pitcher who was so consistent that he never won more than 20 games (having won 20 games twice), yet put together 16 years of more than 15 wins?  This is amazing consistency for modern day pitchers and may earn him a unanimous vote.  These writers are dying to vote someone in after skipping the vote in 2013 and voting only Barry Larkin in in 2012.  They are desperate to vote.

Who did not make the cut according to G?  Mark McGwire.  When I asked him why, he responded "Well, because he took steroids."  Oh the irony of his picks.

Here are my picks:

Greg Maddux
Tom Glavine
Frank Thomas
Craig Biggio
Jack Morris

Curt Schilling, Tim Raines and Mike Piazza will just miss.  There's always next year, although the pitching prospects will get stronger as Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez joins the 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot.