Monday, May 31, 2010

Sometimes It's Best Not To Get Too Greedy

I'm sure you all caught wind of the big sports story yesterday, the end of a dynasty that had dominated its realm like no other. Yes, that's right, the Northwestern Wildcats' streak of five consecutive NCAA Women's Lacrosse Championships came to a stunning halt in Towson, Maryland yesterday at the hands of the Maryland Terrapins.

Sure, this seems like a less than exciting story for most of you, and true, Women's Lacrosse is not exactly the big money-maker of college sports we Wildcats would like to make it out to be, but at our school it is something special. Northwestern hadn't won a National Championship of any sort in 64 years when the lacrosse team took its first title in 2005. Our last championship was in men's fencing, a sport we no longer have a varsity team for. Winning one was special. Winning two was exciting. Three was almost overwhelming.

Five was gravy.

I don't like being arrogant or cocky in the realm of sports and often don't rest on my laurels simply for the major reason that "there is always tomorrow". I make this very clear on a regular basis. Hubris always pumps up that pride before the fall, and, at least as far as my sports teams go, I always try to keep myself in check. Now, I should point out that doesn't mean I'm happy we lost. That would just be nuts. But perhaps losing a bid for a sixth straight title despite zooming out to a 6-0 and later an 8-3 lead only to watch both of them slip away may serve as a useful check on all of us who don purple.

You know, because at Northwestern we're just so used to winning all the time.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

Some of you might have noticed that the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals start tonight at 8 p.m. in the United Center. This year's final series will pit two classic franchises with two extensive title droughts, meaning either Philadelphia's 35-year dryspell or Chicago's 49-year stretch will be no more in about two weeks.

Of course, the matchup is a curious one that at the start of the tournament six weeks ago, most would be hard-pressed to have expected. Chicago finished with the second-best record in the West and were widely considered a Championship contender, but the Flyers' road to the Finals was somewhat bumpier and less expected. If you've been following the playoffs at all, you don't need me to recount the improbability of their run, but in case you missed it here we go:

-- The Flyers earned a playoff spot on the final day of the season when journeyman Brian Boucher improbably outdueled Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in a win-and-you're-in season finale shootout.
-- Philly took out the favored, second-seeded Devils in the first round, though given the Flyers' 5-1 record against New Jersey in the regular season this may have been the least likely step.
-- In a remarkable comeback, the Flyers became the fourth team in professional sports history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit to advance to the conference finals. To boot, Philly rallied from an early 3-0 deficit in Game 7 on the road in Boston. This series also saw Boucher suffer a season ending injury, leaving Michael Leighton, the fifth man to dress for the Flyers in net this year, between the pipes.
-- The Flyers dominated torridly hot Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak and ousted the Canadiens, themselves on an unlikely run, in five games to make a wholly unexpected Finals appearance.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Yeah, That Was A Pretty Good Day

A few years ago, I started obnoxiously coining the phrase "Hat Trick Day" while scanning the sporting events around the office TVs. No, I'm probably not the first person to develop this concept, but I may be the most irritating at bandying it about. Essentially, a Hat Trick Day is when three different teams you follow all win in the same day, and yesterday was a Hat Trick Day of momentous proportions.

Let's start with exhibit A: the one none of you probably know, or almost certainly care the least about, which involved Northwestern's Women's Lacrosse team trouncing Duke to the tune of 18-8 in the National Quarterfinals. Some of you may understand why I think this is noteworthy, but women's lacrosse is big business in my collegiate hamlet of Evanston, Illinois. Northwestern hadn't won a National Championship in any sport in more than six decades before the WoLaxers took the title in 2005 -- in only the fourth year of the program's existence. Not only was the campus taken by storm at the time, but it continues to be taken by storm as the program now sits just two wins away from its sixth consecutive National Title.

This one of course came fairly early in the day and with minimal stress. For one, I wasn't watching it, just following it on an online scoretracker. But perhaps more notably, Northwestern pounced early, taking a sizeable 11-point lead by halftime, making the Wildcats coast to victory fairly easy.

Now if only all things could be that easy.

The Cats now move on to the National Semifinals, which will be played this coming weekend in Towson, Maryland where they'll face North Carolina, the only team to beat them this season before possibly reaching the final on Sunday afternoon. If they get that far, I just may be tempted to make the trip down south if someone else will be crazy enough to go with me.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Back in New York

Yes, this handsome fellow here to the right might just be my favorite memory from my quick swoop down to Atlanta this week. I'd hardly claim that he was indicative of the general class of people in the stadium -- in fact, he was ejected from the grounds after arguing with a security guard who made him turn his shirt inside out -- but he was probably my favorite. The remarkable thing about him is less that he wore this delightful homemade shirt, but that he a) was fairly friendly and congenial and b) apparently used to be in a swim club with my freshman year college roommate Sam, who did not recognize him.

Of course, there was more to my trip to Atlanta than that. Turner Field lacks in some of the snazzier amenities of the newer parks you'll see -- it's 15 years old, after all -- but it is still a wonderful place to watch a baseball game. Good sightlines, an interesting Braves Hall of Fame Museum, and that absolutely delightful Atlanta night time weather. I will get into more detail on the trip when I actually sit down and force myself to write a full length, cohesive chapter on it, but suffice it to say, I enjoyed my time, saw an new stadium, saw an awesome aquarium, drank way too much coca-cola and had a pretty good grasp of the Atlanta mass rail system by the time I took Marta to the airport Wednesday morning.

I'd often heard jokes that Marta was lacking, but after researching the public transit in Indianapolis, which I will be heading to in September for the Giants-Colts game, it looks like paradise. Apparently, people there don't need buses and don't stay out after 9 p.m., which could be tricky for an 8:30 p.m. start.

But I digress.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Georgia On My Mind

In approximately nine hours I will be airborne from Laguardia to Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport for my first trip to the state of Georgia. I have been there once before, a delightful two-hour sojourn as I switched planes on my way to Kansas City last October, but I've never actually been to Atlanta and left the airport.

This will be a new experience.

The reason for this trip? Well, if you've been reading here you already know, so, in all likelihood, you don't know, but if you know me you can probably guess. I'll be meeting up with a few friends, one of whom was my freshman year college roommate, as I see the Amazin just-got-swept-by-the-Marlins Mets visit the Atlanta Braves in their former house of horrors, Turner Field.

This will be team No. 32 for me, meaning I'm almost out of the 90s in that ever-shrinking category of "Teams remaining". I doubt I'll be attending any debutante balls or touring antebellum mansions, but I'm pretty excited for my first trip to the deep south -- assuming you don't count my trip to New Orleans nine years ago. I'm going to try my best to squeeze in a stop at the Coca-Cola Museum and/or the aquarium, but failing that the baseball will do just fine.

Rest assured, you will all have a full report at some point in the future.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

And It's Time For The Conference Finals

I don't have a whole lot of time today to talk to you about how mind-numbingly bizarre it is that the Flyers are the seven seed and yet they have home ice in the Conference Finals....

But with two hours before the West Finals kick off between the Sharks and my (sort of) Blackhawks, I'll give you some rudimentary and hopefully right but probably wrong predictions.

Eastern Conference Final
Montreal over Philadelphia in 7

Western Conference Final
Chicago over San Jose in 6

It should be noted that in the West I'm rooting for the Hawks and in the East, with no palatable champion left for me, I'm rooting for an earthquake.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hockey In Queens?

Recent scientific studies have shown that there is apparently a third NHL team that plays in the New York metropolitan area. In addition to the preeminent Rangers and perennially contending New Jersey Devils, there is apparently another team called the "New York Islanders", which plays in a rundown shack in Uniondale, New York called the "Nassau Coliseum".

I know, I was shocked, too, but apparently these "Islanders" have been around for more than three decades, and evidently have some history to their credit. One of the oft-forgotten dynasties of North American sports are the Isles of the early 1980s, who won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-1983. In fact, they very nearly had a fifth one in 1984 until they ran into the Edmonton Oilers, who had some young buck named "Wayne Gretzky" (whatever happened to him?). The Islanders are now terrible, having not won a playoff series since 1993, but they still bring joy to the dozens of fans who show up at the Coliseum 41 times a year.

Who knew?

Ok, I knew. I've always known the Islanders existed, I'm very aware of the exploits of Mike Bossy and Bobby Nystrom, I know of their celebrity fans, which include Christie Brinkley and E from Entourage, and I actually own one of their jerseys -- but only because it's the most ridiculous sports uniform known to man. I especially dig the cheesy lighthouse logo on the shoulders. Those jerseys are so reviled by the 40 or so fans the Islanders still have that the team was forced to switch back to their old logo midway through the season.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Green, White and Parquetry

I know I've been unable to post an actual stadium story in a while, but it's been busy. Hopefully this one can satisfy you for the time being.

Originally written February 15, 2010.

There is an art to making these trips and finding quirks in the schedule. After all, with 122 teams across the four major sports and 113 of them outside my immediate area, making 113 separate trips would seem an exhausting and expensive venture.

Mostly expensive.

Given that, I often have to scan the schedules to find opportunities to maximize my output. That is to say, if there are two teams in one city that play on back-to-back nights, it is a golden opportunity to strike multiple targets off the list in one shot. When such an opportunity presents itself, I’m generally hard-pressed to take advantage.

One such opportunity presented itself in January of 2009. I had been considering coming up to Boston to visit Luisa and my friend Jenn Reiss and with the Devils visiting the Bruins on January 29, 2009 and me having two days off from work the timing seemed right. When I noticed that the Celtics would be home against the Kings the night before, a trip to Beantown seemed all too sensible. I enjoy Boston, but I find the city very strange, mostly because it feels less like a metropolis to me than it does a large town. I know it comes off as condescending, and I don’t mean to seem that way since I really do like walking around the place, but there is one thing about it that always seemed odd to me.

Boston closes at midnight.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Just What The High Court Needs

Is a healthy rivalry that is entirely unrelated to judicial review and entirely related to New York baseball.

That's right, people. Yesterday Barack Obama announced his next move to shape the future of this country by naming the successor to the seat that will soon be vacated by Justice John Paul Stevens (Northwestern graduate, natch). And with that choice, Obama has selected Elena Kagan, a woman who has experience as White House Counsel, the Dean of Harvard Law School and Solicitor General -- being the first female to have either of those last two positions -- but there is a considerable red flag in that she's never been, you know, a "judge".

Don't be surprised if some Republicans pull that out when they try to turn Kagan into Obama's Harriett Miers, but some might be surprised to hear that the last Justice to be nominated with no prior experience as a judge was William Rhenquist, and things worked out ok for him, at least as far as competency is concerned. It might be wiser to attack her on her previously declared judicial stances, but without her being a judge, attacking any sort of track record seems difficult, which likely was a factor in selecting her for the bench. And so, it seems, with a Democratic congress, that Kagan is likely to be confirmed to the Supreme Court -- and become the third Jewish Justice to currently be serving -- but what happens once she's there could be awfully interesting.

And here's why.

Most of you reading this, I'm sure, are wondering what I'm doing blabbing on about Supreme Court nominations when this blog is mostly supposed to be about sports. And you all have a point. This is an unusual turn for me to take here, though I do find politics to be similar to sports in a number of ways. But the reason I'm mentioning this is because of one little important nugget that Obama squeezed into the introductory speech.

Kagan's a Mets fan.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Because Philadelphians Need Reasons To Look Stupider

I had been trying to avoid talking about this young boy being tased in Philadelphia nonsense for a few reasons. For one, I'm bored with it. It's a pretty straight forward story: Boy stupidly runs on field, boy gets tased to protect athletes on the field, boy is fine, Philadelphia fans look dumb, we all move on with our lives while ESPN doesn't stop talking about it for days.

I was a little annoyed at that I had to keep hearing about it whenever a different former athlete cum studio analyst was asked his opinion on Sportscenter yesterday -- particularly since they all had the same opinion -- and then when ESPN decided to show a montage of the analysts reiterating their opinion, well, it was overkill.

But now I'm going to talk about it. Why? Because it got more interesting yesterday. And moreover, it got funnier.

Now, Philadelphia sports fans have done more than their fair share of stupid things in the past two years, but this, for reason of both immediate timing and for how it affected the game, might have, by far, been the stupidest.

When you go to a sporting event, one of the dumbest things you can do, is leave your seat and run onto the playing field. For one, it's illegal. More likely than not, you will spend your night in jail after making a dash from the stands for home. Incidents involving fans running on the field have ranged from the hilarious to the downright frightening. Given the event of the Monica Seles' stabbing in 1993, anyone who runs on the field, out of concern for the safety of the players, is likely to get the crap kicked out of them. And rightfully so.

So yeah. It's pretty stupid to run out onto the field. This we know.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Team No. 32 Is Fast Approaching

Well, after two blowout losses to the division rival Phillies and a frustrating walkoff loss to Cincinnati Monday night, the hottest-team-in-baseball Mets are suddenly on a three-game losing streak despite getting a shockingly good outing from Oliver Perez.

There's the team I know and love.

Obviously, there isn't much sense in getting worked up one way or the other at this point in the season, and while those close wins bite you in the ass sometimes, but as it stands on May 4, 14-12 and 1/2 game out of first place isn't the worst place to be considering the team is still without its All-Star center fielder. Throw in the doomsday prognostications most had for the team this season and April treated the Mets fairly well, particularly if you acknowledge that the offense is yet to realize its potential.

It'd be awfully nice if May went even better, if for no other reason than that Team No. 32 -- let's call it the Mike Hampton game, in more ways than one -- is officially on the docket and coming this very month. That lucky squad? The Atlanta Braves. I will be making my first trip to Atlanta that involves me leaving the airport and seeing the house or horrors that plagued my Octobers in the late 1990s. I'll be attending the game with my college roommate, Sam, my friend Isabel and my friend Kyle, who some of you might remember as the reason for my lone visit to Lambeau Field.

I'm very much looking forward to the trip, first of all for the obvious reason: it's a baseball game. I'm also excited to see a new place, see some friends and, time permitting, find out what coca cola tastes like in Zimbabwe since the natives can't.