Saturday, March 31, 2012

So There Are Some Really Annoying Basketball Games Tonight

I don't want to seem too cranky because, really, I love the NCAA Tournament. But one of the great things about the NCAA Tournament is that even though the champion is almost always a typical powerhouse program, the little people of the top division in college basketball often make a run that gets your natural love of the underdog up and running. I say this knowing that perhaps in recent years we've been spoiled by this phenomenon. Butler's run to the last two NCAA Championship games was a thrilling and undeniable pleasure. George Mason's Final Four appearance in 2006 was a shocking and memorable moment. Georgia Tech's surprise appearance in the 2004 title game was another historic game while Marquette's unexpected Final Four entrance in 2003 also spoke of surprise.

Of course last season's masterpiece of a Final Four in which both Butler and 11th-seeded VCU made the grade is unlikely to be forgotten.

But this year's Tournament, despite a rash of early upsets, has none of that. In fact, not only is the Final Four field of Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State and Kansas not at all interesting, none of the four programs, at least for me, are in any way likable. Kentucky's overwhelming blue-bloodedness, to say nothing of John Calipari's, uh, questionable record, is almost as overwhelming as the sheer unlikableness of Louisville's Rick Pitino and Kansas' Bill Self. The only coach who is actually somewhat likable is Ohio State's Thad Matta, and he has the considerable hindrances of a) not being a particularly good coach even if he's a tremendous recruiter and b) coaching Ohio State, which is pretty much the most unlikable NCAA program this side of the Michigan Wolverines.

So, seeing as this is the Final Four, of course I will watch. But I ask, quite genuinely, what on Earth do I root for? Realistically, I can't help but assume that a Kentucky championship is inevitable, which probably means that a vacated championship is also inevitable, but given my options and the possibilities I've lived through with this set of teams, I've come to the realization that the only thing that matters to me at this point is that I don't have to see the Buckeyes cut down the nets Monday night. If I do, well, that may finally be the thing that actually gets me excited for baseball season.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

This Is How Out Of The Loop Mets Fans Are

It was a great deal of confusion Tuesday when my friend Christian, writer, co-creator, curator of the superb sports blog The Great Mambino, asked me why "the game from Japan isn't on national television tomorrow morning." Smart guy that I am, I assumed he was referring some game with the U.S. Men's U-23 National Soccer team considering we were moments earlier discussing how the Yanks will not be sending a squad to the 2012 Olympics in London this summer after a late stoppage-time equalizer against El Salvador. Evidently, I was wrong, and that's because there was real, live American Major League Baseball this morning all the way in Tokyo.

Regular Season baseball.

Yes, I was as shocked as you, dear readers. I was as sure as sure could be that Major League Baseball wasn't getting under way until next week, if for no other reason than because I know I'm going to be at the Pittsburgh Pirates' season opener on April 5. The Cardinals and Marlins will be getting the National League's annual slate under way the night before, but that's all beside the point. What I'm getting at is that Seattle and Oakland are playing baseball this week and there doesn't seem to be any indication through major media outlets that it's actually happening.

To me this is completely mind-boggling. Not because this isn't being publicly discussed, but because Opening Day of baseball season used to be an obsession for me. I could not wait for ye olde national pastime (best represented in the recently-viewed-by-me film "The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid") in the olden days, watching the very first game be it from Japan, San Juan or Washington, D.C. Of course, back in those of course the Mets weren't a laughingstock or, you know, owned by people who just gave a $162-million I.O.U. to settle a lawsuit.

Now the Mets are such a disaster I almost didn't realize their sport was happening. Hell, even of the teams that started the season bankrupt, the Mets are the worst off. And yet here we are. This appears to be life as a Mets fan this season, ignoring the oncoming six months of depression and trying to forget that the other teams in trouble are getting breaths of fresh air.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Watching A Villian Walk Off Into The Sunset

This morning as I left my gym I saw a woman pushing a girl in a stroller and the girl stared at me the entire time. I didn't really feel one way or another about it and I waved hello as I waited for the elevator, at which point her mother told me, since I was wearing a Mets shirt at the time, that the girl, perhaps all of two years old, was also a Mets fan.

"I'm so sorry," I told the girl. "It doesn't get easier, kid."

There are many reasons why most Mets fans walk these days with a sense of woe is me, and there are many men to blame for it, as well, Bernie Madoff, Fred Wilpon and Omar Minaya chief among them. But of all the men on either side of the battle lines that have made life tough to root for this team in my lifetime, the man who stands out most as the greatest nemesis this team has had, certainly in the last 20 years and maybe ever, is Larry Wayne Jones.

Chipper.

In the late 1990s, the Mets experienced a resurgence that saw them oh so close to finally jumping over the hurdle to World Series potential, but on a regular basis the Atlanta Braves stood in the way. In 1998, a season-ending sweep by Atlanta of New York knocked the Mets out of the Wild Card chase. In 1999, an epic season in which the Mets won 97 games but lost 9 of 12 to Atlanta, including 5 of 6 crucial games in September in the heat of the pennant race. The Mets and Braves would meet again in a positively epic NLCS that season, before the intense rivalry boiled over again in 2000. This time the Mets acquitted themselves slightly better, going 6-7 against Atlanta including a wild win in late June in which they overcame an 8-1 deficit with a 10-run eighth inning. That season the Mets would earn a trip to the World Series before ultimately losing to the Yankees.

With the almost symbiotic relationship these two teams had for those seasons, and Atlanta's best player being Chipper Jones, it was almost unavoidable that Chipper might be the nemesis that so clearly burned himself into the fabric of a rivalry that for many younger Mets fans, myself included, colored the very nature in which we view the team. For much of my youth and teen years I hated Chipper Jones. He impacted how I view the game in a way few players have managed to match, and when I look back on the Mets and their teams of that era, as much as Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo, Al Leiter or John Franco have established themselves as influential figures, Chipper Jones will have his place as a part of that group.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Tonight is Team No. 45: The Dallas Stars

Yes, my dear readers, I have some exciting news for you and that news is that right now, for the first time ever, I am actually in Texas, which most of the residents seem to think is its own country and may as well be one. Actually to be honest, I haven't noticed too many thinks to make me overwhelmed by the Tex-ish nature of things. I've spent most of the last 36 hours or so hanging out in my friend Nomaan's apartment and watching the NCAA Tournament on multiple devices at once.

Don't worry, people. I'm going to get out and see this fair city at some point.

I will note, however, that I have had some uniquely texan experiences so far, among them seeing a huge sculpture of herding cattle, I think, that appears to be downtown, and a conversation with multiple people sporting long southern drawls asking me about my "yankee accent" and informing me that, unfortunately, I won't be here long enough to be Texas-ized. That right there is a damn shame. However, I will be here long enough to take a nice chunk out of that all important voyage to see every team that we foolish Americans can be coaxed into getting drunk while watching, and by that I mean Team Nos. 45 and 46 will be stricken off the list of 122 this weekend. I am also trying to convince Nomaan to drive three and a half hours each way to Oklahoma City on Sunday to see the Thunder host the Trailblazers that night, but I don't think that one's going to happen, and, well, it's probably the wise move.

I am quite excited about tonight's game, however, as Nomaan and I will go see the Blackhawks, one of only two teams both Nomaan and I actually care about, visit the Dallas Stars, a team I kind of liked when I was 8 and now have absolutely no emotional opinion of one way or another. I was vaguely excited about seeing where Jason Arnott's double-overtime Cup-clincher of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final took place, and then I remembered that the Stars' home of American Airlines Center, was, in fact, not the Stars' home arena back in 2000 as they were finishing their second-to-last season at the old Reunion Arena.

So much for that.

That said, I'm always excited to a) go to a hockey game, period, b) see the Blackhawks, c) see a new team and building. Tonight I get to do all three, so even if a pivotal part of Devils franchise history has been bulldozed to the ground, and it should be a damn good time. Also, apparently we're going drinking in some part of Dallas called "Uptown" afterward. I don't really know what that means, but I'm sure it'll be a fun time so long as I have the energy for St. Patrick's Day tomorrow, which is apparently a big deal around here.

Of course, after tonight's trip to the American Airlines Center, tomorrow night I get to do it all over again. Saturday night the Spurs visit the Mavericks and I will be there for a rare NBA tilt. Yes, people. I do go to basketball games once in a while. Nomaan, who is quite the basketball fan, albeit a Bulls fan, is probably far more excited for that than the hockey game, and since he's giving me a couch to sleep on I can't really argue with him.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Oh, Wait, College Basketball is Still Happening?

So, as you all surely know, I'm doing my best to forget that the NCAA Tournament is happening since the Wildcats decided to lay a big ol' egg when they were the closest they've been to a berth, oh, ever. Indeed Thursday night was a sobering evening for me as I came to terms with the fact that our absurd March Madness drought is now going to be at least an almost incomprehensible 74 years. That's not to say Northwestern is done achieving glory this season. After all, the Cats inevitable NIT Championship run starts tonight at Welsh-Ryan Arena when they take on Akron. I am a bit stunned that NU is actually a four-seed in the bracket after most NIT projections had them as a No. 1 or a No. 2, but since that tournament is mostly derived in a way that creates the most profitable matchups and is, you know, meaningless, I'm really not overly emotional. Besides, at least the Wildcats get a home against against the team with, quite possibly, the best nickname in all of college sports.

WATCH OUT, ZIPS!

So in other news, there's a tournament starting Thursday for college basketball that actually matters and I'm sure you're all dying to know who I think is going to win it. After all, I put a good, solid 15 minutes total of time this morning filling out a bracket that is almost certain to get every game right given both the probability of doing so and my track record. That's pretty hard to argue against.

Now, I know I said earlier that the tournament begins on Thursday when it actually begins tonight -- and that is given particular gravitas when one realizes that last season's Final Four darling VCU actually was in the much-maligned and universally-ignored play-in game -- oh, sorry, "First Four" -- last season. But if those games matter so much, I would like to posit this question. CBS, the broadcasting partner of the NCAA Tournament, one would think, has a significant vested interest in legitimizing the preposterous exercise that is the First Four of the NCAA Tournament, and yet as you can see in my soon to be perfect bracket prediction up top, the winners of those games are listed as "Round 1 #1", "Round 1 #2", "Round 1 #3" and "Round 1 #4". How can I expect those games to be taken seriously if CBS doesn't take them seriously itself?

I can't. And I don't. And I will almost certainly not be watching those games tonight, not when Northwestern has an NIT game happening anyway.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Today's Blog Post Has Been Cancelled

I have no words to describe what happened last night. I will try to improve my mood by doing my taxes.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Let's All Bite Our Fingers For Two Days

So after 73 years and, at least in the case of this season, several months of waiting and anxiety, the chance to finally experience life on the big stage basically comes down to the next two days of college basketball if you are one of those poor, unfortunate souls who call themselves Northwestern fans.

Last we checked in, my Wildcats had come oh so close to a monumental upset on senior night that would have all but punched NU's ticket to its first ever big dance. The game even came complete with a tailor made Gus Johnson-approved game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds. Of course, that superb moment was not meant to be, which essentially meant the Cats' season, for all intents and purposes had come down to one final game -- the regular season finale -- against Iowa in Iowa City.

This was by no means an un-winnable game. In fact, many probably would have tabbed Northwestern to be the favorite. But it wasn't a game the Cats were guaranteed to win either, and given the school's choke-tacular history, I wasn't counting any chickens until I saw them clucking on the bar at Blondie's on the upper west side. Given that Northwestern promptly fell behind by a stunningly large 15 points within the first 8 minutes, I suppose I was right to. So, to salve my wounds, I drank more beer and ordered the loaded waffle fries, which I'm pretty sure contain enough cholesterol and saturated fat to kill a horse. After all, my thoroughbreds were about to come up lame. It was only appropriate that I take an appropriate dosage to forget that the hopes of finally, at long last making the Tourney, were slipping away hastily.

But then something funny happened. The Cats woke up and went on a wholly unexpected 27-5 run to close out the first half and actually take a seven-point lead into the locker rooms. Grit? Determination? Striking back against adversity instead of turtling into our shells?

What was this team? Who are these people?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Some Hat Trick Nights Aren't Enough

Don Giovanni is a pretty good opera. You may not have heard of it, but according to Wikipedia it's the seventh-most widely performed opera in the world, and for good reason what with that Mozart guy and all. I should know since I was in the audience at the Met Wednesday night to see it, but the point of this is to not humblebrag my way to obnoxious cultural eliticism. No, while I was watching Don Giovanni get his comeuppance, stubborn to the end, I had one thing on my mind.

See, I had had a pretty good day to that point. A hat trick day in fact. That all started at 2:30 p.m. when the United States kicked off a friendly against Italy which, while it had no real bearing on any particular World Cup qualifications of any sort, did give the Yanks a significant morale boost in the shape of America's first ever win against the Azzuri -- on Italian soil no less -- and with Mike Piazza in the stands to boot. As far as big moments go that was a pretty exciting one, and all things considered, it was a pretty good start to what could be a busy sports day.

While I was sitting in the orchestra at the Met two of my other teams in the mix, the New York Knicks and the Chicago Blackhawks, both found themselves trailing at home to inferior opponents. In the case of the 'Bockers it had the makings of a particularly shameful outing as they were trailing the woeful Cleveland Cavaliers 61-49 at the half. Chicago in the meantime was trailing Toronto 3-2 at the first intermission. I imagine it was some time around when Leporello abandoned Elvira that the Blackhawks turned the corner, putting together a rally that eventually resulted in a 5-4 win.

The Knicks, meanwhile, must have remembered how basketball works, because they exploded in the second half for 71 points en route to a solid 120-103 victory.

So I had three sporting events, I had wins from my team in all three, including an historic upset, and I got to see a totally awesome opera to boot. And did I mention the dinner at Cafe Fiorello beforehand? It was hard to say this wasn't a good day all around. But then again, if you believe that, you clearly haven't spoken to me in the past two days, because if there's anything that can drag a man like me down it's a different form of inevitably heartbreak I got to experience Wednesday night. And it was dressed in purple.