Friday, August 21, 2015

Big in Japan: A coma-free report on sports in the far east

When I plan my big international vacation each year, I'm often safe in the knowledge that I'm doing it when little of note is on the sports calendar. Occasionally I miss the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, as I did in 2014 and 2011, but by leaving the country for three weeks in mid-to-late July and early August, I often catch that soft underbelly of the U.S. schedule in which there are no championships won, no postseason games and no major tournaments. Occasionally the World Cup and the Olympics throw a wrench into that mix, but those are easy enough to follow abroad.

What has creeped into my head, though, is the fear that I might miss out on a one-off event just as important, like, say, a no-hitter by a New York Mets pitcher. To this point, I have avoided that impossible-to-predict moment, but the concern will always be there. Traveling in the midst of baseball season usually means I'm going to miss seeing the Mets, though in some cases that can be a good thing, either because they're in the midst of an awful season or because they have an astonishingly good record when I'm out of the country.

This time around, I was fortunate to be traveling to Japan in my first foray into the far east. Because the time difference is 13 hours, most Mets games happened at 8 in the morning, when I was coming back from my morning jog and relaxing as I planned out what I would do each day. This meant I watched nearly every game the Mets played while I was gone, which is either good or bad depending on how you view vacation, but considering how popular the Mets are in Japan, I think avoiding it was a losing proposition.

I saw all the excitement: The bungled losses to the San Diego Padres, the Wilmer Flores affair, the Wilmer Flores redemption and ultimately the early-August hot streak that has somehow thrust the Mets into first place. All of that was great, but my biggest victory was avoiding the fate of Steven Manganello, a Red Sox fan who might have endured the greatest fear we all share in the fall of 2004.

What's that you say? "Dave, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series that year to break the curse of the Bambino. How could that have been a bad thing for a Sox fan?"

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Three Teams To Watch As Super Bowl Favorites In 2015

A word from our sponsor

One of the best things about the NFL is the fact that there is certainly a lot of parity around the league. At the beginning of the season, nearly every single team feels like they have what it takes to make the playoffs. However, they are obviously going to be teams with a better chance to win the Super Bowl than others. Here is a look at the three teams to look out for with plenty of fantasy football talent to go all the way.

Seattle Seahawks

This team will be looking to make their third consecutive Super Bowl in 2016. They have done a very good job keeping most of their core together, and they were also able to go out and get Jimmy Graham. He is the best tight end in fantasy football statistically in the last few years. He is going to help Russell Wilson and the passing game become a lot better. It is extremely difficult to have a chance to play for three or more Super Bowls in a row, but they certainly can pull it off.

Green Bay Packers

There are a lot of people who look at the Green Bay Packers is the most complete team in the NFL heading into the 2015 regular season. They certainly have their fair share of talent, especially on offense. With so many weapons ready to put up numbers in fantasy football, it is going to come down to their defense if they want to compete for a Super Bowl.

Indianapolis Colts

Some people might find it weird is that New England is not on this list despite winning the Super Bowl last year, but the Indianapolis Colts just look a little better on paper. Not only do they have an improved team, But they also have their quarterback ready to play all 16 games. Meanwhile, Tom Brady is going to miss the first four games due to his suspension. Andrew Luck is a fantasy football star, and the defense is better than some people realize. This might be the year they turn the corner and start really competing for a Super Bowl.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Don't trust anyone over 30: A Third-life crisis progress report

There comes a point in man's life when he has to sit back, breathe in deep and reassess his choices. Should I have chosen this career path? Should I have tried living in a different city or perhaps taking a different major in undergrad? Should I have asked that girl Katrina for her number at that party at Caitlin Overland's apartment back in 2005?

Should I have accepted life as a Mets fan?

These are the queries that try men's souls, the dramatic life decisions on which we pontificate. At some point you realize your childhood is done and it's time to figure out where your life is going. I, personally, had hoped that I would never reach that point. I had hoped I could live consequence-free forever, gallivanting from wild adventure to wild adventure.

Clearly, with my life of living more-or-less responsibly, always paying my credit card bills and rent on time and having never tried marijuana, I'm living up to those carefree, reckless foundation principles. But like I said, that can't last forever. No, at some point, you must come to the table and cash in your chips. At some point, you must figure out what you're doing and decide if you're where you want to be.

For me, that day is today. Today, on July 14, 2015, I turn 30 years old.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

I thought I had turned down a ticket to history this week. I guess not.

Back in the halcyon days of 2008, a horse named Big Brown became the 11th horse since Affirmed won the 1978 Triple Crown to take both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. With the potential for the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years -- Big Brown was an absolutely enormous favorite to win -- my good friend Adam and I decided with history in the offing, we had best make a trip to Belmont Park to see it in person. What followed was a crowded, sweaty, disgusting mess that involved 94,000 people, the vast majority of them drunk, an interminable hours-long bottleneck to get home and a number of young men so drunk and impatient that they didn't bother waiting on bathroom lines and instead chose to urinate down the stairwells of the grandstand.

Oh, and Big Brown became the first horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown and finish dead last in the third. Whoops.

I vowed that day never to return to the Belmont, which, given my tortured relationship with horses, didn't seem like a terrible sacrifice. However, I nearly recanted on that promise last week, when my college roommate Abe informed me he would be in town and had an extra ticket to the Belmont, should I so desire to see American Pharoah become the latest thoroughbred to take a stab at glory. Much as I love that horse's name, I was torn by a few factors. Most important among those was that this past Saturday was a sports bonanza rarely seen in modern times. At 9 a.m. the Women's French Open Final would make way for the 2:45 kickoff of the UEFA Champions League Final, which in turn served as a segue to the opening match of the Women's World Cup at 6 p.m., the Belmont Stakes at 6:50 and then Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at 7:15, with the Mets playing at 10 p.m. just for kicks.

I had already invited friends over for a day of watching and barbecuing, and making the last-minute move to Belmont Park would not only ruin my social plans for the day, but also likely rob me of the seeing the end of the Champions League Final and most of the Stanley Cup Final. Also, Belmont Park is repulsive.

Wary of disappointing my arriving friends and weary from spending too many hot days in drunk crowds in my 20s, I decided to pass up the tickets and spend the day watching sports and slaving over the grill with my friends. After all, 13 other horses had nabbed the first two legs of the Triple Crown over the past 37 years only to come up short, including six over an eight-year span in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The length of the Belmont track, the pressure on the jockeys and the relative exhaustion the horse feels against a field of fresher competition makes the feat a near impossibility. Surely there was no way American Pharoah would actually make me look like a dunce by, say, running away with the race in a wire-to-wire victory.

Oh? What's that you say? Well shit.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why aren't more people talking about how crazy this is?

I enjoy when the Mets are on the west coast. Don't get me wrong, late-night starts are pretty horrendous for east coasters, particularly considering each game of the NBA Finals (Cavs in 7, by the way) doesn't start until about 11:30 p.m. That kind of schedule can make it tough to get a full night's sleep and be alert at work the next day, but something about those May and June nights where you can go out for dinner after work, come home at 10 and turn on the TV to see the Mets in San Diego or L.A. has a pleasantly calming effect on me. I have no reason why, but there's just something nice about the deliberate pacing of a baseball game you probably won't see the conclusion of if you're getting ready for bed.

All that being said, I'm probably one of the few people who feels this way, and as a result, I would venture a guess that SNY's ratings for the Mets' current series with the Padres aren't exactly setting the world on fire. If that's the case, and none of you spent the two days this week that won't have something sports-crazy happening on them watching the Mets, you might have missed something.

On Monday night, San Diego pitcher Andrew Cashner absolutely lit up the Mets with 12 strikeouts and no walks over 4 2/3 innings. What's curious, though, is that he didn't pitch beyond that, and the reason is because the Mets lit Cashner up, too, knocking him around for five earned runs on 11 hits. Giving up double-digit hits while racking up double-digit strikeouts in less than five innings is quite the feat -- one that you don't hear about all that often.

In fact, the reason you don't hear about it too often is because before Monday night in San Diego it had never happened before in modern Major League Baseball history.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tuesdays with Terry

It was about a year ago I heard the rumor that New York Mets manager Terry Collins spent the seven or so months of baseball season residing in my neighborhood of Long Island City, Queens. While I had no independent verification of this, it would hardly be surprising. Travis d'Arnaud and Ruben Tejada are also names I had heard as possible neighbors of mine and on multiple occasions I have seen Jon Niese and his wife on the subway, while once I had to hide my amusement at seeing how peeved former-Met John Maine was about waiting in a particularly slow line at the local Duane Reade.

This isn't so nuts. I live in a growing, trendy and, as my rent has indicated, increasingly expensive area. In the seven years I've called it home the luxury high rises have sprouted from the Earth and brought with it an influx of wealthy internationals, young corporate families and fewer youthful yuppies than it used to. I'm not so crazy about the older shift in demographics, but the easy access to Manhattan and a direct route to Citi Field have smoothed over that gradual transition.

Also, the restaurants are way better now.

Still, over the past few years I had seen nary a sign of Collins roaming Vernon Blvd or grabbing a late-night deli sandwich at the E&I Grocery. And Tuesday morning as I nursed my bruises and sore muscles from running this year's Brooklyn Half Marathon and then watching the Mets tumble throughout May, I entered the elevator in my apartment building en route to an easy swim at the pool and saw none other than the man who would be manager of the NL East leaders.

Collins leaned on the back of the elevator making eye contact with no one, and I tried to respect his personal space and privacy by not staring or bothering him. The catch with this, however, is that I always use a Mets towel when I go swimming. He must have seen it, and while owning Mets paraphernalia isn't enough to guarantee one could spot the team's manager in casual clothes in an elevator, there was the distinct possibility Collins saw me, saw my towel, and assumed I knew who he was.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I'd ask you to pinch me, but we don't want anyone else getting hurt

For the first time in franchise history, the New York Mets have won their first seven games at home. They've also won eight games in a row for the first time in five years and have a 10-3 start that has only been accomplished two other times in franchise history, with each of those seasons (1986, 2006) resulting in at least a division title and in the first case, a World Series championship. Matt Harvey is 3-0, Bartolo Colon is 3-0, Jacob deGrom is 2-1 and the staff's ERA is 3.00 even.

Oh, and the Mets have the best record in the National League.

So look, guys. I know it's early, but even though I expected the Mets to be improved this season, I wasn't quite expecting improvement like this. It's a long season with 149 games remaining and a plummet back to Earth may well be in the offing, but at the moment New York looks like a bonafide postseason contender and, at the moment anyway, in control of the NL East. There's just one small problem...

So even as the Mets begin the season tearing up the National League, there's a stockpile of absences that's starting to build up, and despite my greater hopes that it's just a required bit of adversity for a truly special season, at some point the chickens are going to come home to roost. To wit, since the start of spring training, the following issues have befallen the Mets' anticipated every-day roster:

1. Anticipated No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler needs Tommy John surgery
2. Lefty reliever Josh Edgin also needs Tommy John surgery
3. Closer Jenrry Mejia is suspended 80 games and any potential postseason games for taking steroids
4. All-Star third baseman and team captain David Wright suffers a hamstring injury
5. Reliever Vic Black has to get an MRI
6. In the span of one inning shutdown reliever Jerry Blevins and hot-hitting catcher Travis d'Arnaud each break bones that will keep them out six weeks and three weeks, respectively

So yeah, the Mets are looking great and doing great, but what in the name of Sidd Finch is going on here?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

19 innings in purgatory: My first baseball game of 2015

Mike, who for the purposes of clarification will henceforth in this post be referred to as "Duffman", was two innings late. Last week my stepmother told me she had happened upon four tickets to the Delta Suite at the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game on April 10 and asked me if I would make good use of them. Even with no dog in the fight, the answer to that was obvious, and so I chose to take with me Mike, one of my best friends from high school, ardent Red Sox fan Luisa, one of my best friends from college and her recently-wedded husband, Duffman.

And Duffman was two innings late.

I'm a bit of a stickler for arriving to sporting events on time. I don't like to miss first pitch, but if someone else gets held up or sidetracked, and evidently this was the case, well that's their folly. Mike, Luisa and I had all been at the stadium since 5:30, watching some batting practice, at which Luisa sweet talked her way into a baseball from one of Boston's outfielders, and checking out Yankee Stadium's various exclusive areas to which our tickets provided access. First we went to the Mohegan Sun sports bar, which was about as sterile as one could imagine, and next to the Audi Club in left field, which seemed nice and elegant, but was only slightly less sterile than the Mohegan Sun sports bar. Finally we made our way through the indirect, confusing tunnels that are concourses at Yankee Stadium, and we made our way to the Delta 360 suite where our actual tickets were.

We indulged in the free popcorn, peanuts and soft drinks and watched the game slowly get underway, and all the while we wondered, "Where could Duffman be? He's not usually late to things." And then, at least in my mind, one thought began to pervade as one inning turned into two.

"What if Duffman doesn't get to see enough of the game to make his trip worth the time?"

Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 MLB Preview: I'm actually excited and I don't need to hide it

They just don't make sports days like today, anymore. Granted, to truly understand why today is so wonderful, you have to crawl deep inside the deranged psyche of a man who would contemplate staying awake until 4:30 a.m. on a school night to watch Australian Rules Football. Still, the fact remains that from the wee hours of this morning to the final hours of tonight, my brain is being treated to a smorgasbord of sports that literally spans the entire globe.

The day starts at 1:20 a.m. ET when Geelong and Hawthorn bounce for each team's opener of the 2015 Australian Football League home and away season. Yes, I know none of you really care about this sport at all, but trust me when I tell you that it is totally awesome. Of course, staying up until 4:30 a.m. when you have work the next morning isn't particularly advisable, so I only watched the first quarter before watching the conclusion of Geelong's, ugh, loss this morning as I got ready for work.

The hours after work bring more excitement still, as I get to see if at least one Big Ten family member will witness a national championship in his or her lifetime when Wisconsin takes on Duke for the NCAA Men's Basketball title, Bucky's first chance at a hoops championship since 1941. My Badger sister was following the score of her alma mater's massive update victory over previously-undefeated Kentucky as best she could from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco last night, which generally just meant waking up to a text message update from me.

Everyone experiences sports fandom in their own way.

Still the start of footy down under and the conclusion of an NCAA Tournament that was turbulent and predictable all at the same time merely serve as bookends for the most exciting part of the day. That comes at 7:05 p.m. when Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals throws the first pitch of the New York Mets 2015 season. Typically, as a Mets fan, the start of a new campaign is something I've grown to dread in my adult years, as the Amazins haven't put together a winning record since they played in Shea Stadium, and have largely spent the last six seasons tripping over their own feet on the way out of the dugout.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.

As that most furiously-paced few weekends of the sports calendar descend upon us, there is one immutable truth about the NCAA Tournament that I am reminded of time and again:

We know absolutely nothing about college basketball.

Really. We don't. The NCAA Tournament, which tips off today, is a mind-boggling cataclysm of assumed hoops knowledge, intensive well-intention research and the massive heap of garbage that gets dumped all over it the moment Cinderella crashes your bracket. No one has any idea what will happen, beyond Kentucky probably winning, when the Big Dance starts off today, least of all me.

That, of course, doesn't stop us from trying, and to that end this year, like every year, I have filled out my bracket and made picks in my survivor pool, a pool from which I was eliminated at the end of the very first game of the tournament last year. This year I actually feel pretty good about my choices, a largely chalky Final Four with a reasonable seasoning of upsets in the first two rounds. That's generally how the tournament goes, after all, but it's the matter of which upsets you will (or more likely) won't get. This year I'm feeling reasonably confident about my faith in Buffalo and UC Irvine for no rational reasons at all, but lately I've been getting anxious as they each become trendier picks. Again, this is not in any way rational, but what, exactly, is rational about boiling a 34-game season of more than 200 teams to a 68-team single-elimination tournament?

Probably nothing.

And so, because I can't rationally think of a better way to solve and understand an irrational idea, I've decided to become one of those nerds that undertakes a totally ludicrous mathematical experiment when March rolls around, in order to determine if I'm better off using my own intuition, picking based on historical matchup probabilities, or if I'm better off flipping a coin. After going through the process, I won't lie, there's a very good chance the Coin Flip bracket, in which Arizona and Oklahoma somehow faced off in the title game despite universal even odds, ends up being the most accurate. Then again the bracket ended up with University of Alabama-Birmingham, a 14-seed that is almost certainly going to get bounced by Iowa State this afternoon, reaching the Final Four.

To perform all this experimental magic, I relied on two very helpful tools my friend Chris found through Googling after I informed him of the idea. For the bracket based on weighted historic probabilities, I used this site, which has the winning percentages for each seed vs. seed matchup since the tournament expanded to a 64-team format back in 1985. To actually perform the simulations, whether they be weighted or 50/50, I used this handy site that allows you to create a percentage weighted spinning wheel and then spin away. This, of course, isn't without its flaws. After all, as we reach the later rounds of the tournaments, certain seeds will have only played a handful of times over the past 30 tournaments, or perhaps not at all. This left me with not nearly a large enough sample size of past matchups on which to base my calculated predictions, but with nothing else to work with, I went with the past, small sample size or not. The one time I had a matchup of seeds that had never met before in the NCAA Tournament (for example, a No. 5 seed and a No. 11 seed have never, ever played one another in the current tournament setup), I just flipped a coin.

Are these trustworthy methods? Well, not really. But what else am I going to do? Just watch for fun? Please.

Here's what we wound up with.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Seeing how the other half watches

This post is far overdue, particularly since I have been back from the UK for more than 10 days now, but as you all might have noticed once or twice, I went abroad to visit my sister earlier this month with the added cookie that I would finally, after 13 years of waiting, get to see my first ever (really first two) Southampton FC matches.

The five of you who actually read this know that it has been a special season on the south coast, though the Saints did a fine job of lousing that up this past Sunday against Liverpool with a little assist from the umpires. I've been keen to get out to a game for years, but this was the first time the stars had truly aligned in any meaningful way. Both of the matches were incredibly exciting to watch, though one had a significantly better outcome than the other, but it really is striking how different the experience is from a sporting event in the U.S.

We can go into the myriad differences in sporting culture between the U.S. and the U.K. such as selling tickets only a month prior to the match or the organized en masse singing throughout the crowds, but the obvious difference is the entrenched history of separation between fan bases. In the States I have watched the Mets, Giants, Knicks, Devils, Blackhawks and Northwestern play in an opposing stadium roughly 45 times.While I will often mock the predilection toward boorishness that colors Philadelphia fans and I know violence is not unheard of in an American sporting venue, I have never felt as though I was in any real danger ever, and the vast majority of opposition fans I will sit near are perfectly pleasant if not overtly friendly.

Not once has wearing my opposition colors been a problem, though some razzing has been more aggressive than others.

Prior to attending the Southampton-QPR match on Feb. 7, my first ever venture to the Premier League, I was only able to secure tickets in the home fans section, meaning I would be surrounded by QPR fans as I watched the Saints for the first time. I was explicitly told by all friends with any knowledge of or experience with the English Football Hooligan culture not to wear my Southampton shirt when I was in the stadium, a notion that sounded ridiculous to. I did not take it seriously at first, but as the game drew nearer and more and more people insisted I steer clear of provocation, I relented and wore a gray long-sleeved shirt over my Saints jersey, rendering it unviewable.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

London Calling

I can readily admit that my sports fandom verges on or surpasses the excessive much of the time. There is no disputing that. What has made me even more remarkable over the past 15 years, however, is the dedication I've shown to teams I've picked up based outside of the United States, namely Southampton FC and Geelong FC. As the Premier League has steadily increased in popularity on this side of the pond, that fascination with Southampton has gotten significantly less bizarre, though it still boggles many minds that I chose a team with little economic chance of ever winning a championship and zero cultural cache in the States. Most Americans jump for a team that actually gives them a chance at glory, the Manchester Uniteds or Chelseas of the world, or a team that should be competitive, but can still claim a hair of underdog status like Liverpool or, lately, Tottenham.

Southampton is a different breed. No one -- no one -- gives a damn about this team in the United States. The Saints are the British equivalent of a lovechild between the Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Bucks, a forgotten small-market blip that has bursts of aw-shucks little-engine-that-could competitiveness buttressed by the cold hard truth that they will never consistently be able to play in the same sand box as the big boys. They have little relevance and little efficacy in the States and the only thing more remarkable to me about Southampton's back-to-back promotions to return to the Premier League a few years ago was the fact that three separate strangers actually mentioned it to me when they saw me at brunch proudly wearing my kit the morning Saints returned officially to the top flight.

The interim years were difficult not just because the team's fortune took a steep nosedive, which I've alluded to here before, but because it was that much more difficult to follow how it was doing. Back in 2008 and 2009 the Premier League wasn't consistently televised in the U.S. so one can only begin to imagine how difficult it was to watch matches down in the third division. I spent irrational amounts of time watching play-by-play tickets on BBC Sports' website and Twitter trying to painstakingly glean whatever nuggets of information I could. That I bothered to do all of this for a team that played in a mid-level British city an ocean away was all the more bizarre considering that, like my Geelong Cats of the AFL, I've never seen them play a match in person.

Well, that all changes on Saturday.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Hey, who wants to check out a museum or something Sunday night?

I feel distinctly out of the loop lately. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it's because I'm planning my impending trip to London or maybe it's because I'm just too damn confused from trying to figure out upgrading my iPhone, but there's apparently a professional football game on Sunday night and it kind of snuck up on me.

I love the Super Bowl. Since the age of eight, making a huge deal out of the NFL's annual championship showcase has more or less been my annual raison d'etre. This coming Sunday is basically a national holiday for me and I pretty much count down the minutes until I can watch football, stuff myself with wings and try to explain to people (again) that punting on fourth down is almost always a stupid strategy.

This year, however, Super Bowl XLIX just isn't doing it for me. It's not because I'm angry with out of touch athletes who won't do the media's bidding (Ed: He's actually a nice guy), disillusioned with a League that is rampant with violent criminals (Ed: It actually isn't), concerned about the NFL's lukewarm response to a very real head trauma epidemic (Ed: But it's getting better!) nor is it because the media is hyping up one of the lamest scandals I've ever heard of (Ed: The Pats may not be wrong). I'm mostly just not all that hyped up for this reason:

A matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots is super boring.

Seriously. These are two teams with zero collective history, come from cities that have no cultural rivalry and are almost as geographically far apart as two Super Bowl participants can be, and I have no strong feelings about either team one way or the other. Yes, I realize I live in New York so I'm supposed to hate any team from Boston, but let's be honest. I root for the New York Giants, New Jersey Devils and New York Mets, all of whom have major geographic rivals that play in Philadelphia, rather than Boston. In fact, the only times the Giants have played the Patriots with anything significant on the line that might foment a genuine rivalry, the Giants have won each time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The toughest ticket in town

There are a lot of things about ticket-purchasing that are internecine and complicated. When to buy, where to buy, how much is reasonable, what secondary vendors are most likely to provide the best deal, where to buy from if you want actual hard tickets, etc. It's a complicated dance, but at least when it comes to buying said tickets in the United States, I think I've got it more or less down.

England, on the other hand, is a whole new ball game literally and figuratively.

As you might have noticed from that handy sidebar I've got of future planned trips, I will be in the UK to visit friends and family in early February. As this will be my first time in jolly old England since I was 13 (and I practically remember nothing about the place), I'm extremely excited for a variety of reasons, but paramount among them will be my first-ever Premier League matches. My visit spans Feb. 5-14, a stretch in which my Southampton FC is both visiting Queens Park Rangers in London and hosting West Ham United at St. Mary's. This, obviously, was not an accident.

I've been following Southampton for some 13 years now through both thick and thin, and right now times are thicker than Louie Gohmert's head (Topical State of the Union joke!). Just four seasons ago, Southampton was toiling in the third division of English Football with the likes of Dagenham & Redbridge and Oldham Athletic. This season, following consecutive promotions and a potentially devastating sell-off last summer the Saints are in the midst of their most remarkable season in decades. Southampton is currently third in the Barclays Premier League after a huge wins away at Manchester United and Newcastle United and is one win away from the fifth round of the FA Cup.

That is an astonishing rise for a club that was bankrupt, in the third division and has the popularity, budget and brand efficacy in England the Sacramento Kings have here. It may also not last if rumors of major sell-offs coming this summer are to be believed, so, damnit, I'm going to see the magic while I can.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Patrik and Me

I have mentioned before that my first Devils game was on Dec. 7, 1995. I won't claim this was when I became a Devils fan. That had already happened 18 months earlier and by this point nine-year-old me had already freaked out in my parents bedroom as I watched the Devils seal their first Stanley Cup championship some six months earlier. As I noted in that chapter when I looked up the game story, as a peculiar footnote, the Devils, dealing with injuries, had called up several prospects including a young winger named Patrik Elias, who was making his NHL debut. My dad and I drove to the game. Elias, apparently, got a private jet. There was no reason to remember this -- Elias wouldn't even score his first NHL goal until the next season -- but it's always fun to know I was there.

In many ways, it's unfortunate that nearly all of Elias' career has been eclipsed by sharing a locker room with, arguably, the greatest goalie of all-time. Elias is not exactly in the same rarified air as Martin Brodeur, and at this point his membership in the Hall of Fame is probably a borderline prospect, but the quiet Czech has managed to carve out one of the most unsung, impressive careers in the last two decades. He's been an elegant offensive weapon displaying skillful quick hands and a penchant for big goals. Elias never really seemed to demand the spotlight. He always seems understated with the media, which, as someone who has interviewed him before, I can verify.

But much like Teddy Roosevelt, Elias has spent his career wielding that big stick and probably getting less attention than he should for it, both because he plays for a team that, too, prefers avoiding the spotlight and because he often has played in the shadows of hall of famers. Even on the night Elias became the Devils' all-time leading scorer he played second fiddle as Brodeur became the winningest goalie in NHL history the same evening.

Then again maybe not. It was St. Patrick's Day after all.