Thursday, September 22, 2016

It's been 12 hours and I still can't believe this happened

Over the past 26 years I know that I have definitely been to at least 156 New York Mets games either in New York or elsewhere. The true number is almost certainly higher by a handful, but that is the number I can track through ticket stubs, mental photographic research or records in old letters, such as two games I was able to pin down after finding a record of them in a letter my mother wrote to me at summer camp in 2000 just a few weeks ago. I have seen the Mets lose at least 73 times. There is a good chance it is a few games higher (though somehow I've actually seen them win more than lose).

Last night was one of those 73. Some of those 73 losses have been comical blowouts such as a 15-2 drubbing at the hands of the Cubs and the immortal Cory Patterson on opening day in 2003. Others, such as Ryan Church's flyout to end the Mets' season and close down Shea Stadium in 2008, were of a far more brutal variety. But never, ever, ever, in my life, have I experienced a loss that inspired the particular brand of disillusioned funk-inducement that I found myself trapped in last night. Fans of famously hard-luck teams like to say their clubs continue to discover new ways to lose.

Well, the Mets pioneers on that frontier. Last night, they proved they just keep learning new things.

To appropriately paint the scene for which we found ourselves, one must understand the circumstances revolving around the team at this moment. The defending National League champions were, if not the most popular, certainly not an unpopular World Series pick this spring, largely on the backbone of a superb, young pitching staff that was coming into its own and likely to be bolstered by the return of Zack Wheeler from Tommy John surgery sometime this summer, as well as a competent lineup with one or two superb pieces (Yoenis Cespedes) or savvy additions (Neil Walker).

By mid-September the Mets have had three of their four highly-touted starters miss significant time, with only one, Steven Matz, returning at any point this season. Wheeler, meanwhile, never pitched a game and is hoping to be ready for Spring Training 2017. Cespedes, despite a superb season, has had nagging injuries, while Walker and David Wright are both done for the season with back issues, Lucas Duda has missed significant time with a spinal fracture, and several other players have spent time on the DL in an almost comically endless series of lineup crippling injuries.

And yet, somehow, the Mets, with 10 games left to play, through the sheer might of moxie, an ageless 43-year-old overweight pitcher, a blast from the past at the top of the lineup whom many thought they'd never see in a Mets uniform again, and a surprisingly large contribution from a farm system that was thought to be barren after last season's trade deadline, the Mets are tied with the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants in a Wild Card Bermuda Triangle in which one of the three teams will disappear in, at most, 11 days time. No team should be able to survive what the Mets have gone through to this point, and even with their favorable schedule and odds, there are still those head scratching moments that make you wonder where this team could be if it hadn't had so many inexplicably slip-ups. The prime example of this is the Braves, to whom the Mets have lost 10 of 19 games this season and been swept by twice at home. Twice! These are the same Braves who have played 133 games against the rest of Major League Baseball and won just 51 of them. The same Braves who are the worst team in the National League and second-worst in all of baseball.

Monday, September 19, 2016

NFL Picks Week Two: Hello, Hat Trick Day! It's been a while.

If I had a nickel for every time I started one of these blog entries by discussing how I've not held up my end of the bargain in writing regularly, I would continue to write about not holding up my end of the bargain so I would earn enough nickels to actually make the process worth while. It's a self-sustaining cycle, really. That, however, is not the case, so you should all feel lucky that I'm still doing it. This screed about missing my mark, you guys get for free.

So yeah, typically during football season I write every Thursday (or occasionally Friday) so I can give you the lowdown on how bad my picks for this weekend's NFL slate will be. This weekend, I assume, was no different (I honestly haven't checked them yet), but I really don't care. Why don't I care, you ask? Because, NFL picks aside, this was a pretty sweet weekend, culminating in a pretty sweet, much-needed Hat Trick Day as the denouement.

To wit: On Friday morning, that irksome Aussie Rules team we all know to hate -- the Hawthorn Hawks, duh -- had its incessant threepeat championship run snuffed out in an elimination final defeat to Western Bulldogs that made virtually everyone in Australia and approximately five people in the United States overjoyed that their reign of terror is done.

That night, the Mets kicked off a three-game series against the Twins with a shutout win and my grandmother met my girlfriend for the first time and, as far as I know, approved/was grateful I had a serious girlfriend.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

NFL Picks Week 1: We've got a Wild start to the 2016 season

Friends, I'm feeling wild these days. No, no, not simply because the Mets have erased a 5.5-game deficit and climbed into a virtual tie with St. Louis for the National League's second Wild Card spot. I've got a different kind of "wild" on my mind -- a Wildcat if you will.

I'm not speaking of any current Wildcats, obviously, not after their latest debacle. Instead I'm speaking of a Wildcat who has moved on to greener pastures, or, well, at least higher ones, both literally and figuratively, though given that it's Colorado I suppose we should be careful about saying that. Tonight, Trevor Siemian, perhaps the sixth or seventh best player to fill the role of quarterback for Northwestern since I began my freshman year there, will be the starting quarterback for a defending Super Bowl champion in its season opener.

Why is this interesting? Well, it's been a while.

Let me take you back to 1955, when an actual Wildcat legend by the name of Otto Graham was playing his final season with the Cleveland Browns. Yes, I know. Cleveland is not exactly known for its champions considering this year's Cavaliers were the first to call the city home in 52 years, but for a decade-long stretch the Browns were actually pretty good at that whole football thing, winning four AAFC championships, three NFL championships and appearing in the title game for the respective leagues for 10 straight seasons.

That's a pretty remarkable record, and throughout that entire run, the signal caller for Cleveland was the Hall of Famer with the number 14, a fact I only mention because it is my favorite number. Why this matters is because, like Siemian, Graham was a graduate of Northwestern University. While other NU alums have made appearances at Quarterback in the six decades since (Mike Kafka, anyone??), Graham is the last Wildcat to be an NFL team's No. 1 starting quarterback.

Until tonight.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thank the sweet, (maybe) merciful lord. College football is back.

It's been a while since I've graced these pages, and I will chalk some of that up to my annual summer jaunt outside the United States. This year's winner was a 20-day excursion through England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and then back to England, and while some of you might have visited this blog and assumed the lack of updates indicated a waning interest in sports, allow me to calm your fears.

1) I still love sports
2) I didn't update because of a brutal combination of busyness and laziness
3) The joke is on me because no one is actually visiting this blog

Not only has my interest in sports remained constant, but I've spent a chunk of August preoccupying myself with football. No, not that normal football we Americans are familiar with, but the Australian variety (Geelong is pretty good this year!), the English variety (Why can't Southampton win a game??) and, during my weekend in Dublin, football of a whole new variety. What is this zaniness, you ask? Why, that's Gaelic Football, a sport mostly played in Ireland that is totally bizarre looking, totally off the wall and totally awesome in just about every way.

When I travel I often try to expose myself to new experiences both sports-related and not, and this time around, that experience was standing in the middle of 'Hill 16' at Croke Park for a doubleheader of the All-Ireland Senior Gaelic Football quarterfinals. I originally bought these tickets because they were the only ones remaining at 5 am when I woke up early to buy them online only to fall right back asleep. As I sat through the first quarterfinal, between Tyrone and Mayo, more and more Dublin fans slowly began to file in until it became apparent to me that I was actually standing in the middle of Dublin's main supporters section.

If you squint really hard you can see me.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Entering my Mike Piazza year

Every year around this time -- and by this time I mean, "on July 14th" -- I complete another trip around the sun and begin to get more and more confused by how high the number gets. After all, in a practical sense you always know you're going to age. You know one day you'll grow older, you'll have gray hairs if you have any at all, you know one day you will no longer by young.

You know that one day, you'll turn 31.

Then again, if you look at my lifestyle, you might question that I've actually gotten this old, but that's an entirely different discussion. I still live in the same apartment as when I was 22 and the growing collection of bobbleheads on my window sill remains a testament to my refusal to grow up completely, but I suppose I'm trying. On that window sill is one bobblehead that may stand out the most, a bobblehead of Mike Piazza acquired a few years ago and long pursued because in the salad days of 2002, bobblehead dolls were limited to those 13 and under, and I was denied a Piazza giveaway at the gates of Shea Stadium.

This is a fact I expect to earn interest from almost none of you and sympathy from even fewer, but I bring this up because when I think of 31, the first -- only -- thing I think of is Mike Piazza. As sports fans, we are most malleable in our youth, most prone to developing loyalties and emotionally connecting with favorite players. We have not yet realized that there is a business side to the game and that players often jump from team to team because rather than aiming to fulfill the emotional bonds you imagine they are often just professionals looking for a job. In my youth, there were very few that entered that exclusive club. Phil Simms, Martin Brodeur, Claude Lemieux and Mike Piazza. And of that group, Piazza stands above them all.

As a result, I have come to playfully calling 31 my "Mike Piazza year". Indeed, in two weeks I will be at Citi Field when Piazza's 31 becomes the fourth number retired in Mets franchise history, and I've insisted to friends that I'm only turning 31 out of tribute and deference to my childhood hero and his fantastic, always-evolving facial hair. Otherwise, I would just make time stop.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

You can, briefly, go home again

There comes a point in everyone's life when the house they grew up in is no longer their home. It is a significant developmental milestone for some of us and while I won't claim that moment for me is now -- I haven't lived there in eight years -- there are some times when its place and what it holds are thrust back into your consciousness. For me, that time has come.

My mother has decided to sell my childhood home, and with that comes many responsibilities on everyone in the family, in particular the need for me to clean out my bedroom for the first time in 30 years. Apparently, using your parents' home as a storage facility isn't the greatest idea, and bit by bit I am chipping away at the monumental task of clearing out the house.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, though. In sorting through old drawings of football players and Wolverine from 1993, postcards my grandmother sent me from Spain in 1989 and a copy of the 2001 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue that I have apparently been hiding in a draw for 15 years I've entered a lengthy and at times overwhelming walk down memory lane. In between issues of Sports Illustrated proclaiming that nothing could stop Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods or Michael Vick, I uncovered some shocking discoveries such as the fact that Westminster Abbey hasn't changed its tickets in 20 years and the circus somehow cost $45 back in 1991.

As you might have guessed, though, while English cathedrals and parades of elephants are fascinating, the real finds (with the notable exception of one nearly complete technodrome toy from my fifth birthday) were generally of the sports variety.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Facing our pain: 2016 MLB season preview

This is now the fourth time I've paid a visit to Kansas City, the Paris of the Plains, the City of Fountains, Cow Town. I like it here. I'm not sure I could really live here, but my friends in town are a good group, the atmosphere is overtly friendly, and as the menu at tonight's restaurant declared in the most Kansas City-ish of statements, the food is right up my alley.

If there is one food item it lacks, however, it is a good bagel. I know this because at 6:45 this morning, I went to my local bagel shop in Long Island City and bought two dozen of them before immediately boarding a plane for the plains. As I disembarked in Kansas City from a jet filled with dozens of Mets and Royals caps, one of which was worn by Royals fan Rob Riggle, I grabbed the bagels out of the overheard compartment and a young man in a Royals hat next to me asked if that was me fulfilling my end of a bet after last year's World Series. He and his friends wagered the cost of fantasy camp.

He was spot on.

Before the 2015 Fall Classic matchup was set, I had already discussed plans with my KC crew to visit them for the opening series of the 2016 season as it had been announced that the Royals would host the Mets in the first game of the year. What followed was an unexpected chain of events that led the two otherwise unconnected franchises on a collision course with a championship at stake. If you know me, which I assume you must if you're bothering to read this, you know how that went.

I need not re-hash the pain and inner turmoil I experienced when the Mets lost the World Series just five months ago, but I will have to face it this week as I make my way to the K to watch the Mets and Royals open the 2016 Major League Baseball season. I will decide in the next 18 hours if I want to pony up the cash to see the Royals raise their 2015 World Series champions banner on Sunday night with the runner-ups watching from the third base dugout, but I already have tickets to see the Royals receive their rings on Tuesday afternoon, and that might be brutal enough.

On Sunday night the Mets and their fans who made the trek to this town so unlike their own, will come face to face with those three or four moments on which the 2015 World Series turned. Jeurys Familia's ill-advised quick pitch in Game 1. Daniel Murphy's crucial errors in Game 4. Matt Harvey's last pitch and Lucas Duda's errant throw home in the decisive Game 5. They will all flash through our eyes in addition to the Kauffman Stadium scoreboard, and even with the impending excitement of a new season full of promise and potential, these reminders will be harsh, and the belief will hang heavy that it very well could have been the Mets playing this opener with the bragging rights. It could be their fans claiming victory in these silly wagers.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Oh, screw it.

I've done a dangerous thing this spring. A very dangerous thing. After years of pain, disappointment and malaise, I've allowed myself to actually get excited about the upcoming 2016 New York Mets season. I have plenty of reason to be excited obviously. The Mets are the reigning National League champions after a stunning second-half run last season. In the interim they've bolstered their bullpen, improved their infield, somehow re-signed Yoenis Cespedes and, well, there is, of course, that stellar, young starting pitching. Everything seems in place for what should at least be a pretty decent shot at a repeat World Series appearance.

But then, on Thursday, this arrived in the mail.

I've said before how I pride myself on rationality and prefer to ignore ominous portents, jinxes and superstitions. They are all nonsense with little basis in logic or reason. Well, except for one. It is a scourge so vile, so effective, so all-encompassing as to inject fear into the hearts and minds of any fan base, particularly one as psychologically fragile as the hordes in Flushing.

The Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx is real. The magazine itself has statistically given credence to the notion, and in its wake lay dozens, nay, hundreds of broken hearts and, on occasion, limbs. In this arena, it is seemingly a plague unlike any other, and the Mets are no stranger to its far-reaching effects. As recently as last fall, then-Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy was on the postseason tear to end all tears, earning him a spot on the cover. A week later Murphy's bat went cold and his glove was responsible for two crushing errors in a Game 4 loss as the Mets fell to the Royals in the 2016 World Series.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

March Madness 2016: The year of the perfect bracket

You guys. It's going to happen. I can feel it. After so many years of straining and stressing it's finally my time. After 16 years of filling out brackets, this is the year I go for perfection. This is the year I go 63-0 because play-in games are generally stupid.

This is the year I fill out the perfect bracket.

Now, I know what you're saying. "Dave, filling out a perfect NCAA Bracket is virtually impossible." Sure, there's that argument to be made. But in recent years I've recognized that I have a cause, a purpose, that I have been ignoring for years. For you see, I am a graduate of Northwestern University. And as a graduate of Northwestern University, I have committed to a life of never having a vested interest in the NCAA Tournament.

Rooting for the Wildcats is a nasty, brutish and, unfortunately, long experience in which you know the end result will never involve dancing. Northwestern, after all, is the only power conference program to never reach the NCAA Tournament and even our few mid-major comrades in arms are beginning to fall off the map. In recent years, Buffalo, Norfolk State, Stony Brook and Cal State-Bakersfield have all managed to reach March Madness and even NU's snake-bitten former coach Bill Carmody somehow rode a purple wave into the bracket this season. The Cats, however, will be watching on TV Thursday for the 77th year in a row.

That's not necessarily a bad thing though. Much like Bender's inability to taste freeing him of personal preference so he can focus on pure flavor, I have no emotional pangs stretching me in awkward directions when it comes to selection bias. This is something I have not recognized prior to this season, when even 20 wins and some near upsets at Maryland and Michigan weren't even good enough to reach the NIT. Now, however, it is clear. As a Northwestern fan, I have been given a gift, and with my mind free of incursion from popular passions, as Thomas Jefferson might have called them, I am able to harness my mental energy toward picking the perfect NCAA Tournament field.

There's simply no other conclusion to draw. Why else would Northwestern's men's basketball program be granted such futility if not for the purpose of creating the possibility that one of its alums might be granted the opportunity to pursue this noble effort without interference? It must be the case. And after past flirtations with a perfect bracket that have lasted almost two full days into the three-week-long tournament I can only assume these were past hints of what is possible. It must be someone.

And maybe it's me.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

And so it begins.

It has been a long time since a baseball season has left me antsy and anxious for the next go-around to begin starting with the moment the previous one ends. And why is that, you ask? Well, if you've never read this blog or, you know, met me, you may not realize that I made the pivotal lifetime commitment of rooting for the New York Mets, a professional sports franchise that has turned sadistic treatment of its fans into a raison d'etre.

Make no mistake. I love the Mets. My dedication to this team has grown to be an irreplaceable part of my identity. But the last decade has been a trying one, with 97-win team letting the pennant slip through its fingers, back-to-back September collapses and then another half decade in baseball purgatory. I need not recount the pain. If you know me, you know it well.

But after years of walking through the darkness, something strange happened last season. The Mets became fun again.

The 2015 season, despite its painful, error-wracked ending, might have been the most fun I've ever had watching the Mets. It was a campaign so exciting, so packed with unanticipated child-like joy that I actually took a daily three-hour break each morning from my Japanese vacation to keep track of the Amazins' return to relevance. And from the moment that wild ride to the 2015 World Series ended in the early hours of Nov. 2, 2015, one though has remained a constant in my head.

"Is it baseball season yet?"

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

If this blog were my baby, I would be in prison for neglect

And rightfully so. I should know, having recently visited my newest nephew in London, that infants can't really take care of themselves. That might be the only way in which infants and blogs are similar, but they certainly don't write themselves on their own, and in that respect I have failed, well, this blog. I don't think the rest of you were really waiting on pins and needles for my next entry, even if I took worse care of this space than Cam Newton took of the football on Sunday night.

But, you see, it's been a busy five and a half weeks or so since I most recently graced this space with my ramblings. Typically I'm pretty active here in the month of January because the NFL playoffs are happening and, man, I usually have way too much to say about the NFL playoffs. In this particular case, I totally dropped the ball in terms of giving you my thoughts and predictions, which is probably a good thing since I would have taken the Panthers to win Super Bowl 50 and the Cardinals prior to that.


This January though, I was a tad busy. My life has undergone some significant changes, which unfortunately left me too busy to blog most days. I'm sure this impacted your time, well, not at all, but there are some big topics I intended to write on that impact me both in terms of this blog and in terms of my life that I should probably get you all up to speed on. Brace yourself.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

NFL Picks Week Seventeen: The one time I'm rooting for the Eagles

Well, this is awkward.

I often tell people that while the first team I ever learned to hate is the Dallas Cowboys -- an uncontrollable emotional response that can be traced to Emmitt Smith's "Separated Shoulder Game" in 1994 -- the team I hate the most is a much closer rival. The Philadelphia Eagles lie just 90 miles south of New York City and over the years have been the root of so much pain and animosity. I was not alive for the Miracle at the Meadowlands, but I remember all too well the frustration of the Miracle's second coming, as do I remember all of the other difficult losses, thrilling victories and countless epithets thrown my way when I've so much as dared to enter Lincoln Financial Field. The hatred runs so deep that there is almost nothing on this Earth that could every get me to actually root for these Eagles on a Sunday in which they face my Giants.


This weekend, as the curtain falls on another fruitless campaign for the Giants -- as well as the Eagles -- we come to one of those ultra rare moments when these rivals are facing off and, for some obscure, highly complex reason, I'm actually hoping the Eagles fly.

How could this be? How did we come to such a pass? What confluence of events could possibly have led me astray to this unholy desire?

The answer stretches across nearly a decade of NFL history, as we look to Week 8 of the 2007 season, when the Giants and Miami Dolphins played in a rainy 13-10 snore-fest at Wembley Stadium in London. The game, which I told my father "set football back in England 10 years" was the first of the NFL's annual international series, which has now grown to as many as three games in London each season. While some teams, the Rams and Jaguars specifically, play there annually, the rest of the league seems to have been taking a steady rotation. The Giants, however, have not been back.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: The year the road went international

The turning of a calendar is a painfully arbitrary thing. I say painful not because it actually physically hurts to hang up a new calendar, though I suppose it could if you've pulled a muscle, but because it is a date that comes with extreme pomp and pressure to be celebratory, become reborn or reflect. Why couldn't we just as easily do this on, say, September 1 is the start of the Christian Liturgical calendar and has been celebrated as New Year's in the past?

The answer is, I guess, that we could. After all, this day largely just serves as an excuse to drink a lot, which is kind of funny considering there's one of those every three weeks or so on most office holiday calendars. But somewhere along the line someone decided January 1 would be the day we all started writing the wrong years on checks out of habit, so here we are.

If nothing else, like I said, it gives us an excuse to drink. As if most people needed one.

So, as the calendar makes its annual flip, I'm going to do what I always do and recount what a busy, wild year it's been -- and boy has it ever been both of those things. It all started with a bold, aggressive entirely non-serious prediction on Dec. 31, 2014, it continued in February when, for the first time, I saw a sporting event outside of North America, it included very nearly witnessing the prophecy coming through in October and now it all comes to its thrilling conclusion on Dec. 31, 2015, which I will spend, well, I honestly don't know yet. Maybe sleeping?

Considering everything I've done this year, I could probably use it. You'll see.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

NFL Picks Week Fifteen: To Cam or not to Cam

I want to acknowledge before I begin this that a) there are bigger things going on in the world right now than my fantasy team, and b) none of you care about my fantasy team. That's fine. I can accept that. But this is also my blog, so I get to say whatever the hell I want here and that's what I'm going to do. Deal with it.

Now that the preamble is done, allow me kindly to take you back to the salad days of 2012, when I made my trek to Baltimore, Maryland so I could see the New York Football Giants visit the Baltimore Ravens with my friends Lindsay and Chris. This trip was a big one for a few reasons, namely that the Ravens were the only team in the northeast megalopolis apart from the Philadelphia Eagles that I had not yet seen, the Giants were in the thick of a playoff race as they sought to defend their most recent championship and I, for the first time, was in the semifinals of my big keeper fantasy football league. This was a team I had built from nothing through an extensive system of trial and error -- perhaps with more error than not -- but had nursed on the strength of Cam Newton's arm and Giants wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to my league's final four.

As I reached kickoff for the second round of games that chilly December Sunday, the path was clear. A Giants victory would keep the defending champs in control of their own destiny ahead of their season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. For me, a grand total of 13 points between Nicks and Cruz would put me in the championship of my league for the first time. Given the seasons those two had put together, this should not have been too difficult.

The Giants played one of their worst games of the season, taking their fate out of their hands in a season that would end without a postseason berth. Cruz and Nicks combined for virtually nothing. The Ravens won the Super Bowl. My friend Christian, who would advance to the final against me, won our fantasy championship.

These aren't the outcomes I was looking for.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

NFL Picks Week Thirteen: The Giants took two weeks off, so I did too

Yes, I know only one of the past two weeks of NFL football was a bye week for the New York Giants, but honestly, if you saw their performance against Washington last Sunday, amazing catch by Odell Beckham aside, you'd be hard pressed to determine which week was which. The Giants turned in an illustriously awful day with first place in the NFC East on the line, which gives rise to the impression that was surely on no one's mind already, that maybe the Giants just aren't that good this season.

That doesn't mean the season is over, of course. The Skins hold a tiebreaker advantage over the Giants at the moment, but I'm not sure most people in America are prepared to say the words "NFC East champion Washington (expletive deleted)" any time soon. In fact, be it as a result of their play or their karma, I'm pretty sure if any team can manage to slip out of first place in this division, Washington is that team. My suspicion is still that the NFC East title will come down to the Giants' showdown with the Eagles in Week 17, but I might stop short of calling the winner of that game a "champion". Then again, if 7-9 is all it takes to get into the playoffs, I am fully confident the Giants will somehow ride that to another Super Bowl win over the Patriots.

Only time will tell.

I have no real explanation for why the Giants took last week off even though a game was scheduled, but as for me taking two weeks off from writing in this blog, we'll call it a combination of laziness and the busy schedule that comes with the Thanksgiving holiday. That laziness wasn't without cause, of course. Just after my last post I endeavored on one of my more fun, but above all more exhausting whirlwind trips as I ran around Chicago and Milwaukee to the tune of four sporting events in three days, with enough greasy food thrown in to make my college self blush.