Friday, April 29, 2011

Get Your Overpriced Ephemeral Merchandise Here!

Some of you probably noticed that there was a huge television extravaganza on recently with some royalty involved. Yes, the first round of the NFL Draft was last night, and boy howdy was it a party. I know, I know, you probably thought I was talking about some other royal TV... thing, but come on, we fought pretty damn hard to free ourselves from the yoke of these imperial oppressors, no matter how fabulous their sense of humor might be.

The brilliant, and not at all crazy, Jack Edwards knows exactly what I'm talking about.

So no, the royal wedding in the wee hours of this morning was not the exciting TV event I was talking about, although I really did enjoy when NBC's camera lingered over Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera clearly had no idea who she was. Come on, people? Even Dust and Sand knows who she is. Frankly, I think it's awfully nice of her to even bother making the trip to the wedding considering all of Australia was probably emotionally spent from Geelong's stunning win over Hawthorn earlier this week. Of course, the Cats have done that before.

But I digress. The draft. The Giants had the 19th pick in the NFL's annual selection gala, and chose to use it on Prince Amukamara, so named because he was the first son of a Nigerian chief, and if you don't think this qualifies him as royalty, you should check out the names of his sisters. Interestingly, he's not the first Giant draftee to be a sort of African royalty, although he grew up in Arizona, but what struck me most about the evening, aside from the fact that many Giants fans weren't sure we needed another defensive back (Ed: You can never have enough defensive backs), was that within moments I got an e-mail from the Giants offering me the exclusive opportunity to purchase what might just be the most useless piece of merchandise I've ever seen from a sports team.

You see, at least draft hats and the like can still be worn easily. The Giants are probably never changing their logo. But this was advertised to me as a "Prince Amukamara draft jersey". I understand this is a business and that sports teams need to make money where they can, but this just seems over the top. To buy this jersey would be a painfully silly purchase. And there are more than a few reasons why.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Crap What A Goal

Ok, so I am chided by friends for my love of hockey on a fairly regular basis. I know that in most cases this is purely a good-natured ribbing, but the overarching theme seems to be that hockey is a niche sport or that it's boring. Well with the playoffs underway for about 10 days now, it's been pretty damn exciting -- even more exciting than the fact that Ike Davis hit home runs on consecutive nights during passover.

Of the eight first-round series that have happened, only one of them has been resolved as of this morning, in a sweep as it were, but the other seven series have each been taught battles. Overtime -- and multiple-overtime games have abounded, both Washington and San Jose have completed amazing comebacks for the ages, Boston has rallied with two wins on the road to tie a series that looked lost, Buffalo is on the verge of upsetting Philadelphia -- a team tabbed by some to win it all -- after last night's thrilling road overtime win, the Blackhawks have suddenly sprung to life and are making life nervous for the No. 1 overall-seeded Canucks after a big win in Vancouver, and Nashville and Anaheim happen to be caught up in a spectacular series that just about no one is talking about.

Compare this with the NBA, and while I do rather like the NBA, most of my friends who mock my love for hockey do so in deference to hoops. And this year the excitement is no comparison. Sure, the NBA has had its exciting games -- Game 1 between Memphis and San Antonio comes to mind -- but three of four series in the Eastern Conference alone are one game away from being sweeps.


But this is not meant to antagonize or come off as pompous. I like the NBA. But after hearing from dozens (yeah, dozens) that hockey is boring, I can't help but point their collective attention to the absolutely bonkers goal that was scored by Bobby Ryan in last night's Game 5 between Anaheim and Nashville.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Oh This Won't Be Depressing At All

Yes, fair readers, I know it's been a while since I've posted here and that surely you're all very upset at me for it. I apologize. It's been a busy week you see. A number of important and wild, crazy things have happened, such as the Knicks losing not one, but two soul-crushing playoff games in their first postseason appearance in seven years, some wild comebacks in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the NFL's 2011 schedule release, an event that has left me wondering if my two designated road games this season will actually be feasible given that they're in back-to-back weeks.

But friends, I come here to talk about none of those right now. Because those are good things. Fun things. And what I have to tell you is not fun at all.

I'm going to my first Mets game of the season tonight. It won't be pretty.

See, I've had several seasons when the Mets fell into mediocrity -- and did so early -- but it's rare that I've been living in the New York metropolitan area and seen them fall so quickly that I haven't even gotten out to a game yet. And fallen they have. After losing two straight to the Astros, the Amazins and their sparkling 5-13 record are at the very bottom of the Major Leagues, meaning that unlike last year's team, which simply plodded its way through injuries to a mediocre 79-83 record, this year's squad, with mostly the same roster, is downright awful.

The team is so bad that New York Daily News beatwriter Andy Martino actually got away with two of the more scathing -- and at the same time brilliant -- game stories I've ever seen, capturing not just the Mets awfulness, but the ambivalence of the fans that are currently watching. I'm generally disinclined against Martino since he grew up a Braves fan, but he does a masterful job of tiptoeing the line between truth and bitter sarcasm that apparently has eluded other writers in recent days.

And he hits the nail right on the head. This team is bad. Really. They're not good. We know it. They know it. And yet here I am ready to pull up stakes around 6:00 pm tonight and ride the 7 train to Citi Field for what is sure to be the first of several times this year. The positive to all of this is that when you know the team is bad you can at least laugh at it to make the pain dull itself. Also those $6.50 bags of fresh Kettle Corn they have at Citi Field are a tremendous deal.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The One Time In My Life That I'll Actually Think The NBA Does It Right

I'll be honest in that I think Draft Lotteries are kind of silly. Yes, I understand the point is to increase incentive late in the season so bad teams don't just throw in the towel knowing that a high draft pick is their reward. But the incentive to play well is also provided to most of these players by the prospect of, you know, not having jobs. So whatever impact a potential high draft pick has, I'd have to think, is minimal. After all, with the very real chance of getting cut or traded, most players, I'd assume are less preoccupied with the well being of their franchise in the longterm than of their own well being in the short term.

As a result, potentially robbing the worst team in the League of a rightly deserved chance at the top overall pick in the draft, and the best chance of improving itself, seems somewhat unfair.

But God Bless the NHL, because the fine folks in professional hockey have a solution to this stickler of an issue. That solution is that there are several rules beyond simply picking a ping pong ball out of a jar, with the most prominent one being that the most you can move up in a Draft Lottery, even if you win, is four spots, meaning that no one beyond the five worst teams in the League can grab the top spot and the draft is weighted in such a fashion that the worst team must be extremely unlucky not to get the top selection as their chances are roughly 48.2% with everyone else's chances far lower.

This is far more reasonable than the no-holds-barred weighted lottery the NBA uses in which any team can grab the top spot with a little bit of luck. That system has only given the top spot to the worst team in the League three times in 21 years, and in some occasions, wholly undeserving teams defy the odds and grab the top slot, such as Chicago in 2008, which won despite having only a 1.7% chance of winning and being better than eight other teams, or in 1993 when the Magic actually had a .500 record and won the draft lottery despite having just a single ping pong ball in the running. For the record, those picks turned out to be likely 2011 League MVP Derrick Rose and, in the event of Orlando, Chris Webber, who was immediately flipped to Golden State for Penny Hardaway and three first-round picks which would eventually turn into Todd Fuller, Vince Carter and Mike Miller. Sure, more ridiculous things in this world have happened, and yes, the pick that wound up being Carter was shipped to Toronto before he was drafted, but either way you slice it, that's an almost overwhelming amount of talent for a team that just missed out on a playoff berth.

So yes. In my estimation, the NHL's system is far better for purposes of maintaining fairness. Or at least, that's how I felt before the Devils were involved.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Getting Ready For My Night At The Joe

I am mere hours from stepping into one of the more storied hockey venues in the world as I will be in attendance to see the Blackhawks visit the Red Wings this evening. As far as hockey arenas go, this is one of the ones I'm really most excited for given its relative age, tenant and history. The Red Wings have been among the most well-run franchises in professional sports for the last 20 years and tonight I will get to see, firsthand, one of the more unique arenas in the League.

Also the game is kind of really important.

This will be a fun and appropriate capper to what has been an enjoyable few days in Michigan. This state is actually the only one of the upper Midwest that I had never spent much time in, so not only was I happy to get a taste of Ann Arbor and various staple eateries such as the Maize and Blue Deli or The Cottage Inn, but I've also gotten the opportunity to try what has to be the greatest named beer I've ever heard of in my life, which was of course, a local brew from the city of Detroit known as.... Ghetto Blaster.

Yes, Ghetto Blaster.

I won't even claim to be above the fray on this one. We absolutely bought a pitcher of this beer simply because the name was hilarious and the word "blaster" made me immediately assume this was the type of beer that would be produced by some combination of events on The Wire and at Mos Eisley Spaceport. Whether or not they serve it at the cantina, I can't say, but if Han drank it he would almost certainly be shooting first. The beer itself isn't half bad, though I wouldn't consider it great.

Really the name sells the beverage.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Live From Detroit: Teams No. 40 and No. 41

It's that time of year, people. The time I start to forsake my friends, loved ones and job for the ultimately foolish experience of carefully timed trips to see sports venues.

Yes, I know that I did already make trips to see the Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Capitals earlier this year, but this right here is my first two-fer and the first time I've actually needed to board a plane to get anywhere. Of course that plane ride started off somewhat bumpy when I found out that Spirit Airlines is actually not the deal they claim to be because they actually charge you $30 to bring a carry-on bag onto the plane. Isn't avoiding bag fees the whole reason we pack light and make carry-ons to begin with?

In any event, the trip since then has been entirely smooth as my good ol' buddy Lindsay was at DTW in no time to pick me up AND THEN WE HAD CULVERS.

So yeah. So far it's been good. The reason for all this commotion of course is that over the next three days I will be knocking two vaunted names off the list of 122 that I have not yet seen before in the Detroit Pistons and the Detroit Red Wings. I actually did see the Detroit Tigers four years ago when I was a senior in college, but even including that day trip from Chicago, I've spent almost no time in Michigan in my life so this will be something of a new experience, and considering that I had completely forgotten about Culver's being in Michigan, this is already worth the trip.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I was particularly excited for Friday night's game for multiple reasons, namely a) Joe Louis Arena, the Joe, looks to be something like the Fenway Park of hockey, b) my seats are going to be awesome, c) they're playing the Blackhawks, who I always enjoy seeing, d) the Blackhawks may well be playing for their playoff lives that night.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Brace Yourself, Friends, For This Is The End Of Days

What I'm about to write might seem somewhat odd considering that the two ominous portents I'm about to discuss are, in theory, really good news. Really, they are. But I'm having difficulty coping, and considering there are bizarre occurrences aplenty popping up all over the globe, I'm inclined to believe that we're just days away from frogs dropping from the skies.

I mean, seriously. It's a statue of Michael Jackson at a Premier League soccer stadium. A goddamn scare one at that.

So yeah, that's the first incident of late that can really make you think, but in my life the more immediate things to notice are not so much colored by a diamond-studded glove as they are colored by, well, blue and orange. I refer of course to those two apples of my eye -- and by apples of my eye I mean, "those kids who disappoint you because they develop a drug addiction but you love them anyway".

Ah, curiosity, the name is the Mets ... or Knicks.

So what is my point here? Well, I'll get to it. After the Mets dropped their first game of the 2011 season in uproariously bad fashion, they somehow crafted a comeback Saturday night in an eventual 10-inning win over the Marlins to even the record at 1-1. Today with the rubber match looming, the Amazins didn't have to worry about making things close as they completely smacked around Javier Vazquez in a 9-2 romp. So what we have here is a Mets team that, despite its expectations for being utterly terrible this season, actually has a winning record three games into the season.

I know. I know. There are 159 left for them to lose disastrously, but for the time being, New York is on pace to go 108-54, and I'm perfectly fine touting that. Granted, this would hardly be the first time I've decided to relish in a flukish early-season run -- if three games could even be called a run -- but lease, let me enjoy it while I can.

So where do the Knicks fit in? Well, not only did they finally get over the bizarre hump tonight of actually defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers, but in doing so the Knicks sealed their first playoff berth since 2004. Ah yes, the heady days of 2004. When men were men, women were women, Barack Obama was a little-known state senator in Illinois, the Boston Red Sox were still eight and a half decades removed from their last World Series and I was but a freshman in college who thought it was ridiculous to assume the Knicks would go seven more years before reaching the postseason.

So, you know, it's been a while. But what might be more bizarre to wonder is just how long it's been since these both happened at the same time.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Just The Start We Were Looking For

Now, I don't want to go out on a limb and say that after the offseason of no impressive player acquisitions and billion-dollar lawsuits against the ownership the Mets suffered through, that after six innings it looked like the Amazins were about to suffer through the worst possible start to their season.

But, uh, it looked pretty bad.

Not only did Mike Pelfrey's Opening Day start fall apart on an unexpected grand slam by that immortal slugger John Buck in the fourth inning, but the Mets were actually on the short end of a no-hitter by Florida ace Josh Johnson through six innings before finally breaking the spell and ultimately succumbing in a 6-2 loss in at Sun Life Stadium. Seriously, the best part about the whole night for a Mets fan was that Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band played the National Anthem on his sax.

So that happened.

I know getting my knickers in a twist over this is, of course, a fairly foolish thing to do. After all, there are 161 games left to go this season, so getting antsy when there is plenty of time to change is irrational at best. But should I even bother to believe that there's a chance things will get better than they were Friday night? I mean, they ought to. I have a hard time believing they'd get much worse.

But that's why they play the other 161 games, so here we go in about seven and a half hours for Jon Niese and Ricky Nolasco, which should be a ripper, or something. If the Mets can pull off a win that'll be exciting even though an awful team does that 60 times a year or so, but if they CAN do that maybe we'll forget the mediocre that lies ahead over the next six months. Or at the very least, perhaps fans can make more hilarious ticket sales pitches like this one.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Super Happy Baseball Fun Time Hour 2011

Surely some of you have seen some advertisement in your years for a Japanese imported TV show with a title that doesn't quite translate to the U.S. One episode of Seinfeld made particular light of this because a brief clip of Jerry on a Japanese TV show meant he was going to receive countless royalty checks for a whopping 12 cents, which led him to have a serious case of writer's cramp. I title this post this way because, in case you hadn't noticed, the 2011 Major League Baseball season started today and like I do in most years, I probably need to write some sort of preview detailing how I think these things will go. And really, considering the team that I follow and put my irrational faith in, well, I'd rather not talk about how things will go. That's because I'm unlikely to see a baseball season that goes how I want it to unless I start following a team from Japan, where baseball might actually be a super happy fun time this year.

And really, if I wanted to do just that, I do already have the appropriate merchandise for a team to support.

However, while I do follow two sports teams in foreign countries fairly closely, adding a third that is in a country that doesn't speak English is probably too much work. So .... I'm stuck with the Mets. And this year that doesn't look like it's going to be too good a situation. And what would give me that idea beyond the whole "bloated-roster-with-aging-expensive-ineffective-players-coupled-with-a-painfully-thin-farm-system-and-an-ownership-group-that-is-currently-being-sued-for-a-billion-dollars-because-of-its-connection-with-a-ponzi-scheme" thing?

Well, if you read the Sports Illustrated baseball preview this week and its scouting report on New York, it included really positive nuggets like, "Their system is really thin and there's not a lot there. I don't see an impact player coming from within and they have to change the climate. If they're smart, they'll blow the club up and start over," and "God help them." Not making that last one up, either. Fortunately, Terry Collins sent me a letter this morning letting me know that everything's cool, which I can only assume is some sort of misguided April Fool's joke. So basically the Mets are widely expected to be terrible this season, which I suppose isn't surprising, but I can at least take solace in the fact that the Phillies won't be winning the World Series.

And how do I know this?

Well, I could go into detail about how their historically impressive pitching staff is currently just masking an offense that will be nowhere near what it was three years ago when they won the World Series, but really I'm simply relying on the fact that the Phils were the cover subject of this year's Major League Baseball preview issue. And we know how I feel about Sports Illustrated and its supposedly nonsensical cover curse. But also, let's take a look at SI Cover subjects for their baseball previews over the years. If you do your research, you'll see that with the bizarre exception of an impressive three of four stretch that included the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, 2007 Boston Red Sox and 2009 New York Yankees, Sports Illustrated hasn't featured the eventual champ on its baseball preview cover in my lifetime. Though it did curiously predict the 1998 home run chase. That's a going rate of 3 for 25 right now, an average which is, to say the least, not good enough for Cooperstown.

So, uh, yeah, I'm not worried based on that entirely irrelevant statistic. Some of you may say that the picks I'm about to make are somewhat biased because the season already started today, but, uh, for the 12 teams that did open their season, there's still 99.4% of the season to go. I'm pretty sure it will matter about as much as it would have if I wrote this yesterday.

Let's make some awful predictions.