Thursday, July 29, 2010

Back From California

I have something heartbreaking and shocking to reveal to all of you. Are you ready? Ok. Here it goes.

Sometimes, once in a while, I will take a trip that does not include a sporting event. Of course, I should note, it is not for lack of trying. This past weekend I made a swing out to San Diego for my brother's bachelor party weekend, where we celebrated bachelordom like all men do: at a Comic Book Convention.

This was a pretty interesting experience with more wild costumes and crazy comic book obssessees than you can shake a stick at. I enjoyed myself even if there were no baseball games to go around, but the lesson should be taught that sometimes you're going to have to accept that not every plan will come to fruition. For this weekend in San Diego and Los Angeles, that was certainly the case. I had accepted the fact that the Padres would not be in town the weekend I was there -- and after arriving it became painfully obvious that Comic-Con so takes over the city that hosting baseball games is a ridiculous idea -- but I had not yet given up hope that I might catch my Amazins, who were going to be in Los Angeles over the weekend.

But, of course, it didn't work out that way, nor did I get to catch the Angels in Anaheim the next night due to a number of mixed signals and confused schedules. Not that this is the worst thing in the world. As I have explained, Los Angeles isn't a city I don't expect to go through again, like, say, Oklahoma City. I will be in Los Angeles again, though after the 45 hours I spent there, I'm not sure how many times I can be there.

That isn't a slight against my hosts, who were phenomenally generous and fun, but L.A. just isn't my kind of city. And in many regards, it's a total fantasy land.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Some Brief Updates

It's been a crazy couple of days here and so while I'm distracted by the Mets absolutely killing it out of the All-Star Break -- and by "killing it" I mean "killing their season" -- I'm still going to get you a few piece of valuable information. Once you're done reading about the Devils re-signing massive free agent Ilya Kovalchuk, a move that very well might define the franchise for 20 years -- and save all of us from a long process of LeBron-like proportions -- after they shocked most of the hockey world by acquiring him via trade in February.

No matter. I have more important information afoot.

First of all, when I first started writing a book about my adventures where I went from one place to the next seeing ports arenas, I began scribbling about them in April of 2009. At the time I had seen some 24 teams and set the rather auspicious goal of having all of them written about by the time I went on my massive vacation out west last June. This did not happen. Instead, I was lazy, bumbling, and actually wound up spending some four months suffering through writer's block on my chapter about the Philadelphia Phillies. A rough combination of being daunted by the job and just being outstandingly lazy.

More the latter.

Well, my dear readers, get excited because now, at long last, I have finally reached the unreachable star. Sort of. I still have some 89 teams left to see and write about, but after finally polishing off a story about my trip to see the Mets visit the Orioles in Baltimore last month this Sunday I am now entirely caught up the present in penning my adventures. Don't get me wrong, there are many more to come, but at the very least I am no longer behind the eight ball.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Some Birthday Irony

I, some of you may have noticed, rather like sports. Like a lot. You probably should notice that since that's more or less the entire point of this blog.

Regardless, one might imagine that there is little I would enjoy more on a day I can make entirely about me than watching sports. Makes sense, right? Well, today, as it is my 25th birthday, is that day. In past years I've spent my birthday watching the Home Run Derby, the All-Star Game or attending a Mets game if they happen to be home.

In the world of amateur and professional sports I follow, in no particular order, the following teams:
New York Mets
New York Giants
New Jersey Devils
Chicago Blackhawks
New York Knicks
Northwestern Wildcats
Florida State Seminoles
Southampton FC
Geelong FC

So knowing that I pay so much attention to so many organizations, it seems more than a wee bit odd that this year my birthday happens to fall on the one completely dark day of the North American sports calendar. That's right everyone, the day after the MLB All-Star Game, every year is the only day on the entire calendar in which no regular or postseason games are played in the MLB, NFL, NHL or NBA.

Not a one.

It seems bizarre to me that on my birthday I won't get to watch any sporting events -- though the picturesque vistas of this year's Tour de France will have to do for now, but perhaps that's a good thing. Now nothing will be able to distract me when I'm having my celebratory dinner here tonight.

That's right. The joke's on them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Last Call For The Boss

As a teenager, I hated George Steinbrenner. Growing up a Mets fan made that awfully easy -- in fact almost necessary. Watching your team constantly in the shadow of the pinstripes as they won four World Series in the late 1990s was an irritating and frustrating thing, and Steinbrenner, who had the gall to actually reinvest his profits into the team so they could continue winning, was the prime enemy.

Of course now that I'm 24 (well 25 tomorrow) instead of 13, I have a better understanding both of human nature and of baseball as a historical entity and a business. Given that added perspective it is simply impossible not to understand -- and appreciate -- the absolutely massively important, influential and, yes, great figure George Steinbrenner was in baseball, New York and American culture. When I awoke this morning from a text message that George Steinbrenner had passed away at 80 from a massive heart attack, it was hard not to be affected in some sense. The impact he had was so far ranging and history-changing that you cannot ignore what he did for baseball.

I personally feel something of a connection with "The Boss" -- not just because he happened to be an assistant coach on Northwestern's football team in 1955. But to understand his influence is to understand how sports business has grown and changed today. Many will quote the statistic that Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973 for $8.7 million and grew them into a property worth more than $1 billion, but that is not simply the tale of a man fostering a fledgling enterprise into success. Steinbrenner fundamentally changed professional sports from a pleasant pastime to a business.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Football, Barbecue and Real America

It's been a while since I've posted one of these so I figure I'm long past due. This won't tell you everything you need to know about Kansas City, but if you ever spend a weekend there and get to have anything close to this much fun, consider yourself lucky.

Originally written May 26, 2010.

It’s a testament to Susie’s kindness that she allowed me to invite myself for a second go-round in Kansas City. Knowing that given the NFL’s current schedule rotation, 2009 would be the last time the Giants visited the Chiefs until 2017, and knowing Susie may not be there in eight years, I told her in early 2009, “The Giants are visiting the Chiefs this fall and won’t be back for eight years. As soon as the NFL releases its schedule, I am buying a plane ticket and you are going with me.”

“Sure.”

While Susie pulls for the Chiefs her fandom doesn’t quite reach the obsessive levels of mine –certainly to her benefit – but knowing my mission and that we don’t see each other often, she was willing to play along. There was, however, some anxiety leading up to the trip mostly because without any real plans in place beyond my flight, Susie and I were unable to get in touch. A massive game of phone tag lasted nearly six weeks before we finally connected. To her credit, Susie, who was in the midst of grad school for her MSW, was obscenely busy and not overly concerned with a football game months off in the future.

I, however, wanted to make sure she would actually be picking up at the airport, which, given that she got caught in a different time zone the night before I visited her in Sacramento four years earlier, might have been a legitimate concern. At last we finally got together, everything was set in stone, and all was well. Susie would be at Kansas City International Airport when I flew in on October 2 and fun, friends and food would ensue.

Direct flights to the City of Fountains being as pricey as they are, I would be taking my route through Atlanta, Georgia, my first time ever in the Peach State. I hoped to nap away, but instead the woman next to me decided to strike up a conversation. She was attractive, in her early 30s and able to carry an intellectual chat, which was fine, but her intensity was a bit stunning considering she didn’t yet know my name. During the course of the flight she let me know she was moving to D.C. with her husband and desperately needed a sub-letter for their one-bedroom apartment on the upper west side. It was $1,400 per month, not outrageous by New York standards, but being that I was only four months into my current lease with two roommates on the hook and thought this was a peculiar time to be propositioned for a major life decision, I passed.

I would find this wasn’t nearly as peculiar as what would happen 20 minutes later when she attempted to set my brother up with one of her friends. I mentioned at one point during the conversation that two weeks earlier Elliott had won an Emmy for comedy writing, and she noted that she had a few single friends who love intelligent humor. Unfortunately for her and her friend El had gotten engaged three months earlier, and he was quite happy about it. They’d have to look elsewhere.

In Atlanta, I would get to see one of my buddies in the brief two-hour layover I had. My college roommate, Sam, a life-long Atlantan had moved back to the city after college and managed to meet me for lunch at the airport Houlihan’s. Amidst a discussion of life catchup, the peculiarities of being adults and the rotation of which attractive celebrity Sam put as the background on his iPhone, it was a nice break in the day – a refreshing break from those layovers that usually find me ambling around the airport by myself to see what regional fast food chain I can make my lunch for the day. The only tension came at the end of the meal when Sam insisted he pay for the check, telling me, “You’re in my town.”

I told Sam that he would have to let me pick up the tab when he came to New York, and he reluctantly agreed, though as I write this eight months later he is yet to actually arrive in the Big Apple, while I have made a second, longer trip to Atlanta.

No matter.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Oh, So That's Who This LeBron Guy Is

By now you've all seen the mockery of humanity that was last night's announcement that LeBron James will be playing in Miami next season. I'm not going to go into the whole sob story about how this shows what a weak and callous man that he is -- I think that's a little unfair -- nor will I give you a whole explanation as to why I think this is going to be far less of a success story for the Heat fans than it looks right now, which I do. No, instead, I'll direct you to the classy open letter to Cavs fans that was issued last night by Dan Gilbert, which is impossible to miss since the Cavaliers' website automatically redirects to it from their home page.

The reaction to this letter has been, shall we say, not positive.

Indeed, Gilbert does look stupid, callous and overly defensive. Also, the use of such a ridiculous font, caps lock and quotation marks at every possible moment is hilarious. But Gilbert didn't write this letter to gain respect, or gracefully wish LeBron luck as he went off to the new part of his career. Gilbert did it to rally the fans of the city of Cleveland, so often heartbroken and jilted one more time. And while I have a hard time see the Cavaliers winning a championship before LeBron does, as Gilbert claims they will, I think this letter will actually help him garner support among his fan base rather than embarrass the organization.

Why? Because they all actually feel this way. They feel like a spurned lover left at the alter after doing all they could. They feel like they've been stabbed in the back. And after watching Cleveland's dismal performance after being eliminated by the Celtics in this year's postseason, they feel like he quit. On the team, on the city, on them.

Gilbert hit the nail right on the head.

Last night, what we all saw was a city robbed of its heart, sports news robbed of whatever innocence it had left and a number of people on TV who appeared to realize they were all selling a piece of their soul. Even if the proceeds went to charity, which they did, the entire hour felt heartless, crude and I felt as if I was dumber for watching it. Will Leitch does a phenomenal job of succinctly echoing the feelings of most sports fans who are relatively detached from Miami and Cleveland.

In the end what we got was a mind-numbing hour of television after which we all felt unsatisfied and there were no winners. In fact, as Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com notes, both in terms of his legacy, and more tangibly in terms of his monetary potential, even LeBron may come out a loser. Or at least $150 million less of a winner than he could have been.

It is a sad start to our weekend to deal with this hangover, though I'm hoping that some sporting event on Sunday will help me forget about LeBron-O-Mania for a while. If that doesn't help, I will be posting a story on Monday for the first time in a long time. If that can't cheer you all up (and it should, there's nudity in it) then I'm not sure what can help us.

Enjoy the weekend everyone.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

So Who's This LeBron Guy Everyone Keeps Talking About?

Now, I certainly wouldn't be the first person to say that they're tired of this outrageously unnecessary and vain "Decision" special ESPN is airing tonight. I probably won't be the last either. But, uh, I'm tired of this outrageously unnecessary and vain "Decision" special ESPN is airing tonight.

And not just because the screen graphic they made for it is absolutely ludicrous.

No, I'm just tired of it because I've had enough, just like some other major athletes who have been debating their future lately. What was at one point expected to be one of the most cataclysmic, history changing moments in the NBA has become an obscene horse and pony show, and at this point, I don't think I'm out of the majority by saying I just want it to end. Granted, as a Knicks fan, I do want it to end with my team getting the golden calf, but since no one seems to have any clue where on Earth LeBron is going, at this point I'm worn out and done with the suspense.

I want an answer.

But more than an answer at this point, what I want is to be entertained. Thoroughly. If I've had to wait through all these days of irritating round the clock coverage on LeBron that has been nearly as irritating as when they had a health watch running for Barbaro, well, there better be a payoff at the end. And not the kind of payoff I'd get simply from hearing LeBron is a Knick.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

As the Kovalchuk Turns

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that most of you are not paying very much attention to the NHL Free Agent Frenzy. This, of course, is perfectly understandable. After all, it's not like a number of name NHL stars have already made news and signed new deals unlike some other more closely followed free agent markets or anything.

Nope. NHL free agency is totally boring.

However, just when you thought it might get totally dull and static because nothing was going on, Ilya Kovalchuk's wild indecisiveness has saved us all and made this suddenly awfully interesting, and not because he happens to be the most dynamic offensive player to hit the unrestricted free agent market, well, maybe ever. Nor is it because Kovalchuk was the most sought after gem of the 2010 NHL Trade Deadline or because he's scored more goals than anyone else in the League in the last nine seasons.

No, this is simply because today has been one of the more bizarre days as far as sheer number of teams and possibilities that can't make up their mind as to whether they even want to be in the Kovalchuk sweepstakes. Over the course of today, Kovalchuk has been linked to eight different teams across two hemispheres, with some more plausible than others. After a while, what became most clear, at least to me, was that no one really knew anything.

Especially Kovalchuk.