Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I've Been Living a Lie For Two Decades. It's Time To Come Clean.

This has been a weekend of revelations and redemption for me and my baseball past. The shocking thing is that when I woke up Saturday, I had little thought that I would discover something so profound or amazing that it would shake the very foundation on which I base my fandom and my sports identity. No, I thought when this weekend began the only baseball moment that would occur of note for me -- particularly since very little of note is occurring with the Mets these days -- was that after 10 years of strenuous, angst-inducing, gut-twisting waiting, Jon Weg and I would finally get our hands on a stadium giveaway Mike Piazza bobblehead doll.

For those who know me, you know that sports-related tchotchkies and nick-nacks are often my stock-in-trade when it comes to being a collector. How else could you explain my irrational excitement this week when I came into possession of nine brand new very awesome and very ridiculous NHL thematic garden gnomes. The Mike Piazza bobblehead had always eluded me, however, mostly dating back to April 28, 2002, when Weg and I attended in hopes of acquiring our own bobbles only to find that because we were over 12 years of age, we were not eligible despite the fact that we would be infinitely more appreciative of it than a six-year-old. Despite our finer efforts to get one -- which included yelling at gate attendants and at one point hiding a stray bobble among our Krispy Kreme donuts -- we left empty handed and a thorn was left in our sides for a decade.

This Saturday however, redemption came. In honor of their 50th anniversary -- and because no one on the roster that hasn't gotten the bobblehead treatment is worth giving it to, unless you really love Kirk Nieuwenhuis -- the Mets instead did five bobblehead giveaways of team legends and fan favorites: Tom Seaver, Rusty Staub, Keith Hernandez, Edgardo Alfonzo and, most importantly, Mike Piazza. And this time around the rules had changed. There were no age limits, only numerical ones. The first 25,000 fans in attendance got their bobblehead, and since the Mets rarely get 25,000 people to the park these days, the end result -- and the ultimate redemption -- was a fait accompli. Incidentally, the Mets won 3-1 to snap a six-game losing streak against the absolute dregs of the NL, but given their record at this point of the season, all of that is fairly immaterial. Instead I was far more preoccupied with my long-sought and finally-acquired bobblehead doll which has taken its rightful place among my collection, but last night when I attended a fairly surprising Yankees loss with my father, the topic came up of how my father, a Yankees fan, raised a son a Mets fan because he made the foolish decision of making a Mets game the very first game I ever saw.

So what, though? The first game doesn't necessarily have to make the home team your team. After all, fandom is a devotion that develops after years of conditioning, but this one came with an extra bit of incentive. As the game had been near my birthday, my father got my name put on the scoreboard, a photograph was taken, and I woke up every morning to the sight of my name in Shea Stadium -- a sight I still wake up to today after taking the photograph to my current apartment. This is the only evidence I have of my first game, and for whatever reason I had long assumed this was a game against the Cincinnati Reds, mostly likely June 17, 1991. However, last night as we watched the Yankees fall apart in the 11th inning, my father dropped a bombshell in that he insisted the game was actually in 1990 when I would have been approaching my fifth birthday. That was the moment when it hit me.

I was completely wrong about when my first baseball game was.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

London is Calling. You Have to Accept the Charges.

I haven't been to jolly old England since I made a trek there with my grandmother in 1998. I hear it's fun when you're an adult, and I suppose I'll find out one of these years when I make my return to the British isles, something I got more intrigued by after watching all the Olympic coverage. However, London is not necessarily at the top of my list for my next travel destination. Now, I've got other wild and exciting things planned like a trip to Kansas City next weekend, a jaunt to Chicago in October and a trip to Cincinnati in November. And internationally speaking, let's just say a repeat trip to England isn't the first place I am headed -- ideally that would be Australia.

However, I've got a sneaking suspicion that London is about to louse up my future travel plans regardless, because of this discomforting bit of news that came about earlier this week. I know. I know. "Dave, you're not a Jacksonville Jaguars fan. What do you care if the Jags play a game every season in London?" Well, bizarrely, I did have a mild flirtation with Jaguars fandom back in the mid-to-late 90s when I was 10 years old and they just looked and sounded so effing cool. Going to two AFC Championship Games in five years didn't hurt either. But then Mark Brunnell, Natrone Means and Kennan McCardell gradually left the team, they made an utterly disastrous decision to shuck their potentially classic unis for a mistake in photoshop and, you know, I grew up and focused on the fact that the Giants had always been my one and only.

But see here's the thing. I have made no secret about how I'm trying to see all 122 teams in the four major North American sports leagues play a home game. After all, that is, you know, the point of this blog. And much of this requires understanding of the intricacies of scheduling rotations and the like. According to the NFL's schedule rotation, my Giants are supposed to visit the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fall of 2014. This matters because I have not seen the Jaguars play a home game yet, and this would be the obvious choice over the next few seasons.

I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that London is about to get in the way. Why? Well, the purpose of this game is to make money, and to make money in a foreign country, you need a big name draw. And who is a bigger name draw than the NFL champions who just happen to play in the biggest media market in the world? After all, one glance at all the previous NFL international regular season games shows that almost every season, at least one of the teams is a marquee franchise with a wide fan base or a recent history of success. The Jaguars aren't exactly that, which means they'll have to play someone who is, and considering the lack of marquee teams that should be good in their division in 2014, and that all but one of the games played in London was a cross-conference game, it seems a better than even shot that the Giants will be headed for Wembley Stadium in two falls.

That, uh, kind of sucks.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Tragedy of Traveling During the Olympics

A funny thing happened as I read Sports Illustrated this morning. In the leading off section I was glancing through the headshots of medal-winning U.S. athletes from the recently completed Olympic Games in London when I looked up the name of one particularly decorated face and found that it was Missy Franklin. Of course I keep myself somewhat in tune with the news throughout vacations so the name wasn't foreign to me. I knew who Missy Franklin was, I knew she was a teenager and I knew she was way better at swimming than I am.

But I didn't recognize her.

Were this any other Olympic Games when I was sitting around at the office watching four channels at once of coverage daily or setting myself down in front of NBC's much-chastised, but actually pretty decent tape-delayed nightly programming I would surely recognize all the big names and big faces at a moment's glance by now. But see I've been traipsing around northern Europe for three weeks -- well, "was", I got back a week ago -- and so while I picked up what loose ends and scraps from the Olympic dinner table news websites and Twitter would afford me, I still spent these games feeling uniquely out of sync with what was going on.

See, generally speaking, I love the Olympics. I actually prefer the Winter Games, but the Summer Games, too, are among one of my favorite things to watch, not simply because we are watching the finest athletes in the world reach a level that took four years of buildup, but also because it gives us the opportunities to see some of the more exciting -- or bizarre -- sports that we don't usually see in the United States. Every four years when the Summer Olympics roll around I relish my chance to see things like fencing, rowing, weightlifting and, most of all, team handball, which is pure dynamite.