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.

Oops.

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.

Almost.

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.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

NFL Picks Week Ten: Off to see, among other things, Team No. 68

Earlier this summer I had a trip back from Japan that lasted roughly 30 hours, beginning with a massive bowl of ramen at Narita International Airport and ending at my work cubicle after a hastily-taken shower and approximately two hours of sleep. It does not actually take this long to fly back from Tokyo, but I had the foresight to schedule a 14-hour layover in Chicago that I foolishly thought would be shortened by catching an earlier connection. I would not have done this in any city that wasn't Chicago. For one thing, there are 20 flights per airline per day between Chicago and New York, and for another, should I somehow not be able to move to an earlier flight, at least I knew several people in the city with whom I could have dinner or drinks to kill those 14 hours. Unfortunately, I was not able to get on an earlier flight, and proceeded to find myself too tired to drag my luggage downtown and then back again. What followed was four pleasant hours chatting with an ex I had randomly bumped into in the terminal, and then 10 interminable hours of intermittent napping and general misery.

I deeply regret being too lazy and/or tired to leave the airport. Tomorrow, I will be flying to Chicago again. This time I will leave the airport. I'm excited about that.

I haven't yet decided if I'm going to make going to Chicago to see a Northwestern game an annual tradition, but I'm starting to think it's a good idea. Beyond the numerous friends I have in the city and the fact that it is a relatively easy trip, something just feels good about walking around campus again. I assume this is a pretty common bit of nostalgia across all college-educated Americans, and I assume I will keep this up for at least the next two years considering I already have a Chicago fall wedding on the books for 2016 and 2017 will be my 10th (holy fucking shit, 10th) college reunion.

The thing is beyond those milestone raison d'êtres, there are only so many excuses to keep flying back that sound more reasonable than "a desire to feel young again." And in my experience, not everyone thinks what you find reasonable is actually reasonable. Oh well. The only other legitimate cause I've had to return to the upper midwest, or at least within a 90-minute drive of Chicago, is to see the lone major professional sports team in Illinois or Wisconsin that I have not yet crossed off my list of teams seen. This Saturday night, however, that will come to an end.

That's right. After much delay and national panic, I will finally see that mysterious holy grail known as the Milwaukee Bucks.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

We Must Keep Dreaming

I have often told people of a dream I had once a few years ago that was at once both practical and fantastical. Visually it was something of a blur with little defined or specified aside from patches of green, brown, white, blue and orange. What I remember most clearly from this dream, however, was not what I saw in my unconsciousness, but what I heard, and it was one, simple, declarative statement.

"The New York Mets have won the World Series."

It shouldn't be a surprise that I might dream about hearing this. If you read this blog, if you know me personally -- hell -- if you've seen me walking on the street, you know I've been a Mets fan roughly two and a half decades. You know I've cared about this team so long that it felt less like a choice than a happenstance akin to my having brown eyes or being Jewish. You know that I've shamelessly peppered my nephews with Mets merchandise in hopes they, too, will feel the same way one day.  That I might dream of the Mets winning the World Series may be a bit sad for a 30-year-old man, but it is hardly a shock.

What was noteworthy about this dream, was not that it was about the Mets winning the World Series, but rather, that my it was the only time I can recall dreaming, pausing my dream and then rewinding my dream so I could see it twice. Even my subconscious knows seeing this team that is often so inept and dysfunctional win a world championship is such a ridiculous concept, it had to see it twice to verify what, in fact, it was seeing.

I'm not sure if that says more about the Mets or my neuroses -- or perhaps how misaligned my priorities are -- but it certainly says that in my very core, I don't really believe I'll ever see this happen.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

NFL Picks Week Eight: The Mets have the Royals right where they want them

Ok. I'll be honest. Game 2 last night did not exactly go how I wanted it to. Actually, it went the exact opposite way of how I wanted it to. Down 1-0 in the World Series, but with the Mets' top pitcher this season Jacob deGrom and Kansas City's wildly unpredictable Johnny Cueto facing off, I anticipated the Mets would win the game and earn a split in KC. Most importantly, though, the key was getting to Cueto early, not just because it would mean runs on the board, but because the Royals' bullpen had expended itself dramatically in that epic 14-inning win in Game 1. Kick Cueto to the curb early, force an already tired bullpen to throw six innings and you might have the Royals on their heels for the rest of the series.

A complete-game two-hitter that saves a tired bullpen and puts the Mets down 2-0 is not exactly what I was looking for.

But hey, here we are. The 2015 National League Champion New York Mets are headed back home to Citi Field facing a 2-0 deficit in the World Series ahead of Game 3 Friday night. It didn't have to be this way. The Mets have blown three separate leads over the first two games of this series, and almost certainly should have taken Game 1, which Kansas City tied on a solo home run by Alex Gordon with New York two outs away from victory. But ifs and buts, etc. What's done is done and all the Mets can hope to do now is even the score with three games in Queens this weekend.

Surprisingly, I actually like their chances. After all, Noah Syndergaard has basically been dynamite this postseason and Steven Matz, well, everyone says he's really great, so he must be even though I never see him pitch into the sixth inning. What I'm saying is, Mets fans across the boroughs are having a bit of a doomsday freakout right now, which, uh, I guess is understandable. But we could very easily be sitting here in three days with the series all square at 2-2 and Matt Harvey on the mound at home in a pivotal Game 5.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ya Gotta Believe

When the calender turned this past December, I looked toward 2015 with anxious anticipation as well as disbelief that in just a few short months I would somehow be celebrating my 30th birthday. I also looked forward with amazement at how in just a few short hours my nephew Sammy, would be celebrating his first. Since before Sammy was born I have done my best to pepper him with gifts and plant the seeds so that years from now he might watch the same teams I do with the same feelings. Of those gifts, there is no other team for which he has gotten more silly pieces of paraphernalia, than the New York Mets.

Time flies and over the past week I have received the revelation that somehow, someway, it has now been half of my life since the Mets were last in the World Series, and nearly all of it since they had actually won the damn thing. After all, I was a mere one year, three months and 13 days old on this exact date 29 years ago, which, incidentally, happens to be the last time the Mets won a world championship. Sammy's parents don't care very much about baseball, though my brother does claim, ironically, to be a Kansas City Royals fan. But their ambivalence opened the door for me to shower their son with Mets-related clothing, the goal of which, of course, was to warp his mind into being one of those sad folks who invests themselves in this aimless second-fiddle franchise.

I had a plan in place, though. Babies grow. They grow fast. Most clothing you can buy for them is sized in terms of months rather than years because they won't fit very long, and so I made a conscious decision to buy Sammy Mets clothing sized for the ages at which they would be in season. 2014 wasn't supposed to be breakout season for the Mets, though, and so when it came to his first jersey, I opted for the 18-month fit as opposed to six. My argument was the Mets might actually be decent in 2015 and wearing the jersey wouldn't be an embarrassment. Keeping that foresight in mind, along with my nephews impending first birthday on Jan. 1, 2015, and that the Mets' lone championship in my lifetime came when I was all of one year old, I proclaimed for my annual year in review that this would be it, and I titled that post "2015: The Year the Mets Win the World Series."

It was supposed to be a joke.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

NFL Picks Week Seven: This is really happening, isn't it?

There is a certain element of drama that disappears from the game when the outcome is no longer in doubt. The last time the New York Mets won the National League pennant, a five-game romp over the Cardinals in 2000, I remember being on the phone with my father during the final outs as I watched on the couch in the den of my childhood home. As the Mets inched closer and closer to the World Series, leading 7-0 as Mike Hampton was in the midst of a masterful three-hit shutout, there was no angst, no worry, no concern. I just told my dad, "Let's end this thing already."

This was the only time I had seen the New York Mets win the pennant until last night. The Mets wrapped up their first ever four-game sweep in a best-of-seven postseason series with an 8-3 win in which they had put up a four-spot before the Chicago Cubs ever came to bat and ended a series in which they never trailed once. It is a delirious, euphoric moment, but in no tangible way does it really feel real. There are probably many reasons for that. For one, these things always feel bizarre in the moment, and not as if they're a part of history. For another, I'm not really used to seeing good things happen to the Mets. And lastly, it was just so damn easy. The Cubs were a Vegas and popular favorite heading into this series and the Mets toyed with them as if they were the Murderer's Row Yankees facing a group of high schoolers. The Mets' offense struck early in each game and the pitching locked the Cubs' considerable offensive power down with little trouble in a way that doesn't so much prove New York's championship bonafides as it does defy belief.

And at the heart of it, that's the issue. This, what the New York Mets are doing, defies belief. This doesn't seem real or possible for a team that was tip-toeing around .500 for the first half of the season while putting out lineups where people like John Mayberry Jr. and Eric Campbell took turns batting cleanup. This team is now going to its first World Series since I was a sophomore in high school with a starting rotation that some are calling one of the best young groups ever assembled, a lineup that is mashing when it has to and a second baseman who hit a career high of 14 home runs this season, but now has apparently been anointed by the blood of Jesus.

It all makes no god damn sense.