Friday, December 27, 2013

NFL Picks Week Seventeen: Adios to a Craptacular 2013 season

So before we get to the nitty gritty, I suppose I ought to explain that I didn't write an update last week because, er, what happened last week? Whatever it was, it took precedence, and the Giants actually ended up winning on Sunday afternoon, so part of me is wondering if perhaps the secret is that I should stop writing at all. Then again, I guess there's evidence to the contrary that superstitions are dumb and all. (Unrelated sidenote I just thought of: Was Weatherford properly handling a low snap on that game-winning field goal against the Niners a universal correction for the infamous Trey Junkin game nine years earlier?)

In any event, sorry that the four of you out there who bank on this for your entertainment (I'm looking at you, Evan) had to take a week off, but as the horrendous 2013 football season winds to a close, I am back and ready to throw both last week and this week's incorrect picks at you. Before you point out the absurdity of posting picks for several football games that happened a week ago, I want to make it clear these picks all come from my Yahoo picks league, which will be made clear by the fact that a large number of them, even after the fact, are wrong.

If you still are skeptical, you need more hobbies.

Before I get there, though, can we talk about how happy I am that this football season is nearly done with? It's not that 2013 was a bad year in general. I mean, my sister got married, I made four trips to California, I found out I'm going to be an uncle and ensured my nephew's life would be ruined by purchasing his first Mets jersey for him, and I made a trip to Africa, which was still great even though the airport burned down two days before I was supposed to leave.

But let's call a spade a spade here. I like sports a lot. And if we're talking about sports, this wasn't so great. The Devils missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs a yaer after a miracle run to the Stanley Cup Final, the Knicks are a colossal disaster, the Mets saw their first sign of pulling out of the darkness go under the knife with Tommy John surgery and, well, then there was football.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

NFL Picks Week Fifteen: I Left My Coat in San Diego

I don't expect much when I visit San Diego. That isn't meant to be a slight. The city is lovely, the embarcadero has beautiful views of the Pacific, the California burrito at El Indio and the accompanying tortilla chips are truly delicious. If you have the chance to fly across the country to eat there your plane ticket will not have been a waste. The people, with the exception of one possibly stoned 60-year-old woman I met on the city trolley, are lovely. The night life is good even if you end up falling asleep by 10 p.m. What's more, I didn't even expect the Giants to play well when I traveled 3,000 miles to get there.

But look. When I go to San Diego, I don't think it's so unreasonable of me that I expect it to, at the very least, be warm.

For some reason, even in this most modest request, San Diego, California was unable to comply last weekend. A city that makes its bones with a steady stream of 78-degree days with almost no humidity 365 days a year came up far short, as every day I was there the temperature peaked at, maybe, 60 degrees. And even that was a rarity. During the game itself temperatures settled in in the mid-50s unless you were one of the fortunate souls to be sitting in direct sunlight. All of this meant that I felt about as hot as the Giants' offense in a spectacularly mediocre showing.

That isn't to say I didn't enjoy myself of couse. After all, when I drove up to Anaheim to see the Ducks play the Islanders on Monday night I got personal approval from Wild Wing on my hooded sweatshirt, as you can see above. No trip with that special moment could be a failure. Plus, I saw Ducks forward Corey Perry score what was probably the most spectacular goal I've ever seen in person. And it could have been worse. I could have been in a place as ill-prepared for its weather as, say, Cairo and Jerusalem.

But, really, would it have been so bad to have a weekend of 80-degree weather no questions asked?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

NFL Picks Week Fourteen: Hey, Let's Go to California! Again!

Years from now, when scribes and scholars dictate and notate the events of David Edward Kalan in his late 20s, 2013 may rightfully be called "The Year of California." This is not a place I spent a great deal of time in growing up, nor do I have any particular strong personal connection to it. And yet, this weekend, for the fourth time this year, I will be boarding a plane and heading to that big homunculus on the left coast.

It is a bit bizarre that it all worked out this way. For some reason, however, I noticed that visits to a particular place you don't normally go to tend to come in bunches. I came to this realization about four years ago when after a grand total of zero visits in my entire life, I found myself frequently winding up at the G Train subway stop at Fulton Street. Now some might argue that California has distinctly more charm to it than the G Train, and in the case of San Francisco, which I've visited twice this year, they are certainly right. The jury is still out on Los Angeles, where I spent five days this past March.

Some might argue that San Diego, which I am visiting for just the second time ever this Saturday, has more charm than L.A. and certainly more than the Fulton Street G station. But if the rumors I've heard are true, the place I will be spending most of Sunday -- Qualcomm Stadium -- by nearly universal consensus, uh, does not.

When I recently told one friend that I would be making my first ever visit to The Murph (It'll always be Jack Murphy Stadium to me), we had the following exchange:

"So I'm making my first ever visit to Jack Murphy Stadium next month."
"Oh, nice! Prepare to be... not at all impressed."

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

NFL Picks Week Thirteen: Let's Light Some Turkey Candles!

Alright, folks, so remember all that talk I gave last week about how I was starting to believe in the Giants? That was fun, right? I know I had a good time with it because, after all, who doesn't love a little dreaming. Evidently, though, as I found, dreaming is really quite silly. I didn't understand that at the time naturally, but as I watched Dez Bryant slice and dice the Giants' secondary late Sunday night (or more accurately, followed in on my phone because I was not near a functioning TV), it became clear that dreaming is stupid.

And lo and behold, so it was.

It's ok. I have grown to accept that the Giants, amazingly, can't win the Super Bowl every year. After all, what fun would that be? (Answer: A lot of fun.) But even if I can't appreciate seeing Big Blue hoist Lombardi every February, there is something that will distract me this week from my football-centric misery (because let's not even talk about Northwestern right now), and that is turkey. Lots and lots of turkey.

Now, to be honest, I don't particularly like turkey if we're talking about fowl or white meats. It tends to be pretty dry if it's overcooked and that tryptophan, well, it packs a wallop. Perhaps too much of a wallop. But Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday because if we overlook the coma-inducing nature of the meat itself or it's dryness (though my stepmother, who is cooking this year, actually makes a pretty juicy turkey), the rest of the food and accoutrements are just as tasty. And let us not forget that, if you haven't heard, on this day they play football. A lot of it.

I will be watching four football games over the course of the holiday this year, ranging from my old high school football team to NFL teams that are playing like they're in high school at the moment such as the Green Bay Packers or Oakland Raiders. Now, while I hope things turn out better for my high school than they did last year, I'll still find a way to enjoy the holiday because, hell, it's Thanksgiving. Food, drinks, football. Oh, and I guess family.

Friday, November 22, 2013

NFL Picks Week Twelve: Am I Ready to Start Believing In This?

I have an unfortunate quirk in that I tend to actually believe my sports teams still have a chance as long as they aren't mathematically eliminated. This has led me to much anxiety -- or as I call it "The Mets" -- but it also gave me the foolish thought that despite their horrendous start this season, the New York Giants were not actually done for the season.

This was, in short, lunacy. After all, the Giants started out 0-6 and didn't look particularly good in the process. There was the season opener in Dallas in which they probably would have won were it not for six turnovers, and the sixth defeat in which they easily could have come back against Chicago but failed. But in between those two games the New York Giants did not look anything close to particularly good. And that put them in the NFC East cellar with considerable hole to climb out of. After all, making the playoffs after losing your first six games isn't impossible (theoretically), but it would certainly be difficult for the Giants to pull off the long, long list of teams that have pulled off the feat.

However, I'm silly. Also kind of dumb. And for that reason, I started telling people the season wasn't done. The Giants had the fortunate luck of being in the NFC East, which this season is more or less terrible, or as I like to say, "evenly balanced." That meant that a little run and suddenly Big Blue was right back in the thick of it. This was the mantra I was preaching when I went to see the Giants play the Vikings (courtesy of Listerine®), and the one I continued to preach a week later when I took my dad to see the Giants visit the Eagles (courtesy of The Eagles, strangely enough).

Suddenly the Giants were 0-2 (albeit against less-than-stellar competition), and afte a bye reeled off wins against the Oakland Raiders and Aaron Rogers-less Green Bay Packers.

And suddenly they were 4-6. And perhaps more shockingly, just 1.5 games out of first place due to their division rivals ineptitude.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

NFL Picks Week Eleven: In Which I Experience the Wonder of Jury Duty

I will put it blunt to admit that this has not been a particularly good week on several fronts. The most notable, probably, is that Northwestern a few hours ago lost yet another disaster of a game, this time to Michigan in triple overtime. The game featured several potential game-winning interceptions that Northwestern dropped, multiple fourth-down conversations in the final minute as Michigan hastily drove to tie the game, and a field goal by Michigan as time expired that forced OT and almost certainly should not have been allowed.

So, if you're keeping score that home, that's a seven-game winning streak in which Northwestern has blown a 10-point lead to the No. 3 team in the country, lost in Overtime twice and lost on a Hail Mary. It's been fun.

In the case of this particular loss, since Northwestern mustered just three field goals in regulation despite largely keeping Michigan in check and having several opportunities for touchdowns the theme of not being able to capitalize and finish drives seems to be carrying the Wildcats through the season. I can only hope that along with the numerous injuries and bizarrely unusual ways to lose that they've found will come a regression to the mean next season, because as it stands, bowling is likely not happening this winter.

The rest of my week was also drab -- though there was the bright spot in that I got to see Twelfth Night with the brilliant Mark Rylance on Thursday night -- but the real pisser was that I, like Homer in that picture up there, got the wonderful experience of being on jury duty for the first time this week. If you've never been, I will not tell you to try it, particularly since the courts will decide that option for you, but it is a remarkably inefficient exercise in institutionalized bureaucracy and hammy litigative play-acting. I was lucky in that my trial settled after a scant three days, but given the interminable combination of unctuous lawyer and self-consumed litigant on the plaintiff side of the fence, I'm glad I had to endure as little of it as I did.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

NFL Picks Week Ten: Northwestern and its Snakebitten 2013 Season

Ladies and gentlemen, I do not believe in the supernatural. To a degree the idea of "what goes around, comes around" is something I do accept, but it is more due to the idea that things regress to the mean rather than it being hatched by karma. I don't by hexes, while I'm not exactly an atheist I don't really put much faith in prayer and with the notable exception of the Chicago Cubs I absolutely do not believe in curses when it comes to sports.

All that said, something is rotten in the state of Evanston, and there's no real way I can put my finger on what, exactly, it is. It is probably not a curse, but there is some funky, supernatural nonsense that has completely thrown what was the most anticipated Northwestern football season in years entirely down the tubes. To wit: One month ago, Northwestern was undefeated, ranked No. 16 in the country, coming off a 9-3 season with its first bowl victory in more than six decades and had a 10-point second half lead on No. 3 Ohio State.

Then things began to unravel.

First Ohio State rallied for an undeserved win in Evanston. Then a week later Northwestern suffered a rough, but explainable blowout loss at Wisconsin, a notoriously difficult building in which to play. Then came an entirely inexcusable home loss to an inferior (or so we thought) Minnesota team and a mind-numbing overtime loss to Iowa that Northwestern probably should have won, but didn't because the team apparently forgot what football was for roughly 38 minutes of the game. Suddenly the Wildcats were unranked, down to .500 and, astonishingly, 0-4 in conference play.

And then Nebraska happened. This is a game that in so many ways I cannot begin to process not exactly because Northwestern lost despite outplaying Nebraska for most of the game in Lincoln, nor because of the fact that Northwestern missed opportunities to increase what was at one point a 14-point lead. It was how Northwestern lost in a way that was so discombobulating and disorienting that for the first five minutes after it happened I really had no idea what was going on. They say you can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but it seems on a day like this past Saturday, Northwestern managed to do the opposite.

Friday, November 1, 2013

NFL Picks Week Nine: Finally, Red Sox fans are vindicated

This is Luisa and Mike. I like Luisa and Mike. They're good people. We're friends. Two years ago the two of them were living in a small city in Germany and they allowed my friend Kristen and I to stay at their studio apartment with them. Luisa and I have known each other for a decade now and had many adventures in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Illinois and Minnesota. And yes, Germany.

One of our adventures included a trip to Fenway Park in 2009 to watch one of the four or so great starts Johan Santana had for the Mets over the course of his injury-marred tenure. This is pertinent information because, as the picture indicates, Luisa and Mike are Red Sox fans. Well, Luisa is a Red Sox fan, Mike is a Cubs fan, which basically means this is the closest he's ever getting to a World Series championship anyway. The point is, I'm happy for Luisa. Really I am. I was with her when the Red Sox broke the curse in 2004 and know the significance this kind of event has not just for Sox fans in general, but for Luisa specifically.

So all that said, here's the thing. FOX, MLB, most of the U.S. sports media, presented Boston's World Series triumph as the end of much suffering because finally, at long last, the Boston Red Sox won a World Series after 95 years of waiting. In Fenway. A World Series in Fenway afer 95 years of waiting. Apparently this must have been a deeply emotional sore spot for Sox nation because if you listen to Joe Buck's call at the final out, it seems like eons of suffering have finally been ended.

That's fine and all, but this isn't exactly a team that's been suffering. Yes, the Red Sox hadn't won a World Series at Fenway in 95 years, but in the last eight seasons before this one they were not bereft of World Series titles. They had won two of them. And judging from this video from the stands, it didn't exactly sound like the Sox were on the road when they won their second of three titles in the last decade in that Bostonian Hub of Denver, Colorado.

Also, not for nothing, but this whole jumping up and down after the final out rather than collapsing in a dog pile thing is pretty silly looking. This is how it's done.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

NFL Picks Week Seven: Because I'm too damn tired to write something long

As I told you all last week, I was quitting football following a devastating loss by Northwestern to Ohio State and the Giants' continued ineptitude. I should make it clear right now, however that I was only actually "quitting" football, not quitting football. This, it should be noted, was apparently a big mistake.

Why do you ask?

Well, for one, the Giants lost at Chicago on Thursday night to run their season record to a tidy 0-6, in yet another game where they actually played kind of decently for two and a half quarters before it all fell apart like a jenga tower after 25 minutes. With such a remarkable and unexpected run of failure to start the season, it's anybody's guess as to why I'm actually making my way to MetLife Stadium on Monday night to see the Giants play the equally hapless Vikings when I could watch from the comfort of my couch. (Answer: The tickets, food and booze are all free.)

That was then compounded by the fact that Saturday afternoon, Northwestern got the tar kicked out of it by Wisconsin in the first game the Wildcats were completely uncompetitive in in about two years. Given that my sister is a Badger, this is something I'm likely to hear about for several months.

So, I might be quitting football. Also, I'm tired and rushing to get to work today, so there will be very little of me complaining about how awful football has been for me the past two weekends (and we haven't even gotten onto the topic of the winless New Jersey Devils). Instead I'm just going to put my picks down and pretend none of this is happening.

Sound good? Great.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

NFL Picks Week Six: I'm quitting football

So I'm going to keep this short and sweet for a few reasons this week. For one, I'm exhausted today and I'm not really sure why since I actually got eight hours of sleep last night. These things happen I guess. For another, I'm rushing to work right now. Thirdly, did anyone catch how the Giants played the other worst team in the NFC East, rallied to take the lead in the second half and then proceeded to turn the ball over three times and lose by 15 to a backup quarterback against their biggest rival? I know I did.

Lastly, Northwestern did almost everything they needed to do Saturday night against No. 3 Ohio State in what had the makings of a statement game and probably played the best game on both sides of the ball that I've ever seen the Wildcats play since I got my acceptance letter 11 years ago. In the second half they had a 10-point lead against the consensus favorite to win the Big Ten and a potential National Championship contender.

And then they lost.

I'm still not emotionally ready to talk about this, which to anyone who knows me, watched the game or watched the game with me, probably isn't surprised by. As such, rather than re-watch NU's final series of the first half in my head again, a drive in which the Cats got inside the OSU 10 yard line with a chance to take an 11-point and get the ball to start the second half (the potential for a three-score lead on the No. 3 team in the country), but instead settled for a field goal and a seven-point edge that would be easily erased, I'm going to just pretend football isn't happening this weekend. Instead I will submerge myself into the baseball playoffs even though the two teams I was actively rooting for (Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh) are now out of it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

NFL Picks Week Five: Let's talk about Northwestern instead of the Giants

Why? Because I'm actually looking forward to this weekend of football, and while a visit from the equally-as-hapless Eagles might pave the way for the Giants' first win of the season, I'm far more concerned with the college game this time around. For you see, my alma mater, Northwestern, is on the cusp of something special. The Wildcats are 4-0 and ranked No. 15 or 16 in the country, depending on which poll you favor. Fresh off its first bowl win in more than six decades and returning most of the roster that ended the drought, Northwestern appears poised to jump in the Big Ten's upper echelon on a consistent basis, quiet the naysayers (of which I know many), and maybe take a run at the Rose Bowl for the first time in 18 years even if they probably should have taken a run last season.

We're not even the only ones who think so. This much was made clear to me in an exchange I had with an Ohio State fan while waiting to use the bathroom at the upper west side sports bar NU's New York alumni chooses to congregate at each Saturday. But it was that very same conversation, offered with subtle unknowing condescension, that illustrated what can be so frustrating about convincing outsiders of why you believe in this team.

"Northwestern's pretty good this year."
"Yeah, we're pretty excited."
"Yeah, I even think they could go to the Rose Bowl. You know, since they might finish second when Ohio State goes to the national championship game."

The point was offered without humor, without sarcasm and with total belief. We are a force to be reckoned with now, but that force is still equivalent to the little engine that could. Most people, no matter how clued in to the empirical evidence of wins and losses they might be, still refuse to believe the Wildcats are ready to consistently play with the big boys. I suppose there is plenty of legitimate reason to hold that belief. After all, Northwestern's football history before even a few years ago was an ignominious one at best. There were fits and starts and flirtations with success in the 40s, 50s and 60s as men like Otto Graham, Pappy Waldorf and Ara Parseghian came through Evanston, but by the late 1960s a dark age set in that wouldn't end until the mid-90s and included such horrors as a record 34-game losing streak and Dennis Green.

Northwestern turned it around and had a miracle Rose Bowl run in 1995, and since then the school has been at least a mildly successful contender, but it has hardly established anything close to consistent top-15 or even top-20 credentials. The chance, finally, to serve notice that those days are over, however, comes this weekend.

Ohio State is coming to town.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The uncharted territory of October baseball

If you're a Mets fan like I am, it may shock you to know that Major League Baseball actually continues its season when the Mets stop playing each fall. In fact, there's a whole tournament of games in October that ends up actually determining whom we consider the champions of North American professional baseball, culminating in what is known as a "World Series." It's ok if you're unfamiliar. I was once unaware myself. It's probably a side effect of living in Queens. Now, however, I'm more than aware and actually excited to see what good baseball looks like. We got our first glance of it last night when David Price, who has both the world's best first name and wears the world's greatest number, pitched a seven-hit complete game gem to put Tampa Bay past Texas and into the final Wild Card slot of the 2013 MLB playoffs.

Of course, saying they've earned a playoff berth is kind of silly when last night's game was effectively a playoff already and tomorrow night's win-or-go-home date with Cleveland is basically the same thing, but who am I to tell baseball it can't use whatever taxonomy it thinks will help it sell more merchandise? Nobody, that's who.

What I can do, however, is tell you whom I think will be winning this whole shabang when its all said and done. I warn you that these predictions may be slightly biased by disliking other teams or the desire to see a fresh matchup (Who wouldn't find it kind of fun to have a Rays-Pirates World Series? You know, aside from FOX executives.) and I also warn you there is a good chance they will be wrong.

Yes, I know that sounds funny of me to say when my preseason prediction for who would play in the 2012 World Series was completely spot on even if I didn't pick the right winner, but I'm willing to admit I'm not perfect. And if you don't believe I'm not perfect, well, you can just take a look at my preseason predictions for this season and realize that folks in Toronto have already turned their attention to hockey season (which starts tonight, by the way).

Thursday, September 26, 2013

NFL Picks Week Four: I might as well talk about Aussie Rules now

Because with the way the Giants are(n't) playing that will bring me at least a little bit more happiness. The New York Giants' season to this point has been an exhibition on just how football games can turn on a dime at various points before spiraling out of control. Am I silly enough to think New York could actually be 3-0 instead of 0-3 this season? Well, not really. While the Giants did have a lead at one point in their game against Denver two weeks ago it was clear they were outmatched by a superior unit -- or at least what was playing like a superior unit. But New York's season-opening loss in Dallas was an exercise in open-palmed forehead slapping as the Giants had a chance to win in the final minutes despite ending the game with an astonishing six turnovers. In this past weekend's "football game", and I use that term extremely loosely, the Giants were nearly tied with the Carolina Panthers after David Wilson trotted into the end zone following a Cam Newton interception deep in Carolina territory. That, however, was nullified in the following sequence of plays:

1) Cam Newton pass intercepted by Aaron Ross returned to Carolina 17
2) 1st and 10: David Wilson 17-yard touchdown run nullified by holding penalty on Will Beatty
3) 1st and 20: Eli Manning sacked at Carolina 34 for loss of seven yards
4) 2nd and 27: Manning completes 7-yard pass to Victor Cruz to Carolina 27
5) 3rd and 20: Manning completes 7-yard pass to Cruz to Carolina 20
6) 4th and 13: Josh Brown misses 38-yard field goal

This might have been the most inept offensive series I have ever seen the Giants play, which given what some of the lean Jim Fassel and Dan Reeves years were like, is making quite a statement. That it wasn't the most inept series I've ever seen from them on either side of the ball is only because in a 2008 game against the Cleveland Browns, the Giants defense somehow found a way to give up 117 yards  to the Browns on a single drive.

From the point the Giants had a game-tying touchdown run against the Panthers nullified things proceeded to unravel not because the Panthers were significantly better, but because the Giants seemed resigned to defeat for no particular reason. One could say it was because the Giants' discombobulated offensive line was so out of sync that it gave up five sacks of Eli Manning in a single half for the first time since Sept. 17, 2006, but even that comparison isn't particularly apt since New York actually won that game. Amazingly, that was a game I actually didn't see because I was in the stands at Green Bay that day, though I was enthusiastically following it on the out of town scoreboard.

So yeah, I won't be talking about the NFL anymore today.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

NFL Picks Week Three: So Last Weekend's Bronco Hunt Didn't Exactly Work Out

Last weekend after I posted here I noticed a bizarre scheduling quirk that, at least to my knowledge, has never actually happened before. There are two football teams (or rather, two American football teams) that I follow, and unless you have never ever ever read this blog before (and I can't imagine why you're just starting now if you haven't), you know they are the New York Giants and the Northwestern Wildcats. They are not similar teams in statue or achievement, though ironically the less accomplished one is generally the more consistent, but they both have my unconditional love nonetheless.

Fall weekends for me generally revolve around Saturdays watching Northwestern at the New York alumni bar, and then watching the Giants on Sunday in a panic room with padded walls. If you're a Giants fan, you know it's the only way.

This weekend the Giants had a much publicized matchup against the Denver Broncos in which the Giants were definite underdogs and the two teams playing were almost an after thought because it was Manning Bowl III. I have been to one of these before when the Giants visited Peyton's then Indianapolis Colts in 2010. That game was just about as satisfying to watch as this one which is to say, "not very." Curiously, each of those games was played the day after Yom Kippur, but despite past influences I'm fairly certain the NFL didn't consult the lunar calendar when planning either of these.

The Giants game was highly unpleasant to watch -- or at least the second half of it -- which really spoiled what I had told my friends was a "weekend Bronco hunt" because at some point Friday afternoon, I realized Northwestern's foe for the weekend, Western Michigan University, also goes by the nickname "Broncos".

How had this not occured to me? How often can this even happen? After all, there are no Buckeyes, Wolverines or Badgers in the NFL. No Gophers or Spartans either. The NCAA FBS is bereft of Steelers and Jets. Cowboys and Redskins are in short supply.This weekend NU does face the Maine Black Bears, which I suppose would lineup nicely if the Giants were playing Chicago this weekend instead of three weeks from now, but even then the match is a stretch at best.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Week Two NFL Picks: Turning Over a New Leaf. (Get it?)

You'll have to excuse me if I make any mistakes in this entry here. I'm a little turned over-- err, hungover. Right, hungover. See, I got turned over six times this weekend. I mean, hung over. Hung over. Whoops. Man, I'm still dizzy. That'll happen when you've had too much to drink, which I assume is what the entirety of the Giants' offense did before their season opener at Dallas this past Sunday.

And why do I think that?

Because how else can you explain their stupendous six turnovers Sunday night, tied for their most in a game in the last 26 years, and three turnovers on their first three possessions of the game. Two of those turnovers were returned for touchdowns, including Brandon Carr's back-breaking 49-yard pick six to close out the game. Six turnovers is a lot for several games, let alone one, and it becomes particularly glaring when the final margin of victory for Dallas, which thieved the ball away a half dozen times and thus presumably would dominate the course of the game, was ..... five points. Five.

That's just a crackerjack performance right there, ain't it? It isn't often that I think to myself, "They probably would have won if they only committed five turnovers," but life is all about new experiences, isn't it? And on Sunday night, the Giants gave me one of the more bizarre new ones I had ever had: watching a team almost win when every player that touched the ball had his hands coated in crisco during pregame warmups. That became apparent after a starting first five minutes in which Eli Manning threw an interception on his first play of the season, the Giants then fumbled the ball away after driving from their own 20 to the Dallas 7 yard line, and then the Cowboys intercepted another pass at midfield on the very next possession.

Perhaps more irksome, what was lost in all of this is that the Giants' much-beleagured 31st-ranked in 2012 defense actually played pretty well. After all, when Dallas managed to get three turnovers off New York in the first three drives it managed to turn that bounty of opportunity into... three points. And even that could be chocked up to the fact that Dallas' first possession started at the Giants' 15 yard line, already well within field goal range. In the course of the game, Tony Romo threw for 36 completions, but managed only 263 yards, relatively paltry for that kind of passing success rate. The Cowboys as a whole managed just 331 yards, a mediocre output considering the absurd amount of extra opportunities afforded them by six New York turnovers. Of Dallas' 36 points, 13 of them were scored by the defense. Of the remaining 23 points the Cowboys scored, 10 of them came off drives that began inside New York's 20 yard line. That leaves a grand total of 13 points Dallas scored on real, sustained offensive drives.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

NFL Picks Week One: Take a deep breath. It's finally here.

Ok, everyone. Relax. Take a few seconds to lower your heart rate if you need to. I know. It's been a long seven months -- a trying seven months. But we did it. We survived. We've gotten to the light at the end of the tunnel. And now it's time to celebrate.

Tonight, in Denver, Colorado, football will return.

Yeah, I know college football started last week, and that is no less significant. Hell, I told you all about it right here and then flew across the country to watch my Wildcats eke out a 44-30 win against Cal. And yes, "eke." If there's a way to eke out a 14-point win, this was it. Northwestern makes a habit of trying to make winning more difficult than is really necessary, and damn are the Cats good at it. This past Saturday was a textbook example, but I mean, NU can always count on getting two pick-sixes from the same linebacker in one half, right? Sure. Either way, it was good enough to move Northwestern up to No. 19 in the AP Poll, so that's certainly progress.

In any event, it was a great weekend in San Francisco and Berkeley (I mean, isn't a weekend there great?), and I had a tremendous time introducing Bert to D-1 college football even if the outcome wasn't quite what he was looking for, and I tailgated with friends I don't see often for six hours. In addition to beer, this included jian bing, which I had never really heard of but is some awfully good eatin'. I have to assume it's solely responsible for China's economic boom over the past decade or so.

But while I do love college football and the numerous amazing burritos it provided me access with this past weekend, we all know the NFL is the cream of the crop, and in less than nine hours, that will be getting fully underway for the 2013 NFL season. Unfortunately, I will have to wait a while for the Giants to get in the swing of things -- New York doesn't play until Sunday night this weekend -- but I still plan on spending an irrational amount of time watching football this weekend (in multiple countries). After all, that's the excitement the NFL inspires when it finally comes to be that time of year. How else could you explain me doing something as silly as joining the season ticket waiting list for a team I have no particular feelings for one way or the other?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The best time of year is about to begin. Let the Purple shots flow.

I like football. I'm not sure if you guys realized this, but if you didn't now you do. You also, quite possibly, have never spoken to me ever. Like not once. But hey, far be it from me to judge how well you may claim to know me if you're ignorant of my not-so-nascent obsession with pigskin. Whether or not you're familiar though, you probably will be by the time you're done reading this because I'm about to talk about football -- and don't worry, it's the American variety this time.

See most of the year is spent ambling around and waiting. There are bright spots. The opening weekend of March Madness might be the best four days in American sports and the Stanley Cup Playoffs may have no equal when it comes to a postseason tournament. Then there's baseball, which can get you through the lazy summer days with its steady dependability and penchant for October drama. But while I love all of these events and the sports themselves, we all know that football, when push comes to shove, is what makes my bull run.

The pros, unfortunately, are still seven days away, but college football with its rampant unpredictability and excuse for daytime drinking every Saturday gets kicked off tonight when North Carolina and South Carolina take the field at 6 p.m. ET. I would be lying if I told you I was ready to settle in and watch the whole thing, I may watch some of the second quarter while I cook dinner, but as long as there is football on the TV it will mean I am thiiiiiis much closer to watching a game I actually care about.

"And when will that happen?" some of you might be asking.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Don't like PEDs? You should probably be watching footy then.

Hey, everyone! Now, before you say anything you might regret, let me just come out and say I know what you're thinking.

"Dave, first you run away to Africa for three weeks and then when you return you don't even write for almost three more? How could you not call us?"

I get it. Really, I do. Let's just say that when you go to Africa your priorities might get mildly shuffled. This is particularly apt to happen when you nearly die 17,000 feet up Kilimanjaro and then the airport burns down on you when you're days away from flying home. Don't get me wrong, it was a wonderful trip with hundreds of amazing wild animals and dozens of memorable experiences, but Africa is a crazy, crazy place and it is, uh, not at all like the United States or New York in particular. It's a place where infrastructure takes a break, punctuality is generally a suggestion and crazy things just happen. How crazy, you ask? Well look. Things got pretty crazy. For example -- and I cannot stress this enough -- Kenya's international airport actually burned down days before I was scheduled to fly home. I can only say dear friends that you have not seen disorganization until you have seen it in Africa.

Rest assured, however, I did make it home, even if it took me an extra day and required going straight from an eight-hour transatlantic flight to my office for a full shift at work. Yes, I know it has taken me nearly three weeks to actually post here so I could entertain you fine people, and I know I'm leaving New York again this weekend (more about that Thursday), but can't we just forgive and forget? After all, I came a long way to write to you people.

Granted, I didn't come from as far as, say, Australia, but Kenya is still pretty far. And Australia probably would have had the organizational capacity to develop a good contingency plan in the event of an airport fire. How do I know this? I know this because the AFL (that's the football league I write about while you all decide to stop reading) has been in the midst of dealing with a widespread PED scandal for the past several months and today they handed down their final ruling, though more sanctions to individual players may yet come down later on. It was an example of brutal, all-encompassing efficiency, which would never be possible or enforceable in Africa, and it might not even be possible in the United States.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

When the stars come out to play in your backyard

Since Citi Field opened in 2009 it had been readily assumed that it would, eventually, be hosting an All-Star Game so the new building could be put on display. After all, the Mets' own mediocre prevented Citi Field from getting any truly significant attention on national television that a new building might gain from, say, postseason appearances. Instead it sat there with the occasional ESPN Sunday night game and little other exposure. So an All-Star Game, a fixed exhibition awarded arbitrarily, seemed the most likely option.

Given that the stadium is now in its fifth season, however, it seems clear that a few obstacles stood in the way. For one, the All-Star Game was played in New York not too long ago if you remember, and MLB, understandably, is generally loathe to host major events in the same place twice in close proximity. Then there was perhaps the bigger issue that several other new stadiums had opened earlier with nary an All-Star Game to show for it. After all, the host of the 2011 MLB All-Star Game, Chase Field in Arizona, had been open 13 years before it finally got the chance to host the midsummer classic.

And so it was that Citi Field's first chance to host the All-Star Game -- and the Mets' first chance to host the All-Star Game in 49 years -- waited four years until earlier this week. The Home Run Derby was held Monday, July 15 and the game itself was played Tuesday, July 16. The dates themselves are relatively inconsequential for most of you, but those of you who know me will note that July 14, the day before the Home Run Derby is my birthday.

Put it all together and you get this: My favorite team would be hosting the All-Star Game for the first time in five decades two days after my birthday. There was no way in hell I was going to miss any of it.

With a little help from my parents and a good friend at Major League Baseball, I was right where I belonged Monday and Tuesday night, and in two whirlwind days it ended up being quite the wild and crazy few days -- though I will tell you now, the first was crazier than the second.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Off to the land of Moneyball and bursting sewage pipes for Team No. 54

There are a handful of movies that regularly make the rounds of premium channels like STARZ or HBO that, as a result, I've seen approximately a billion times and still refuse to change the channel once I see they're on. Air Force One, The Rock and L.A. Confidential all can lay claim to membership to this exclusive group, but one of the most recent -- and amazingly persistent -- entrants to this class is the 2011 baseball drama Moneyball, based on the Michael Lewis book of the same name and, well, basically the entire field of sabermetrics as we know it. It's about as well-made a sports movie as you'll find, one that is well written, well acted, tightly paced and doesn't dumb down the analytics for the viewer as much as you'd think a roundtable of Hollywood executives might like.

Also, the ending is one of the few things in movies that always manages to get me. And for the record, the version of the song sung by Billy Beane's daughter is way better than the actual version.

The book, too, is good, and in general way more successful than Billy Beane and the actual Oakland A's, though perhaps not considering what material each has been given to work with. But it's one of my dirty secrets that as someone who both loves baseball, loves the San Francisco Bay area and visits it frequently, and really enjoyed this book when I read it 10 years ago, I've never actually been to an Oakland A's game or, speaking of dirty, their delightful home stadium of "Whatever internet company will pay to sponsor this concrete mass" Coliseum (right now: O.Co). I say "dirty" because lately this park has not exactly been among the cleanest or most structural sound in the Majors, but to appreciate the good one must experience the bad, right? And as I sift around this country going to stadiums, well, that's certainly something I need to keep in mind.

So, I'm not entirely sure why I haven't gotten around to seeing the A's ply their trade at home yet considering I'm in San Francisco at least once every 18 months or so and know a ton of people there, but at long last that drought will be coming to an end this Thursday, when I see Travis Wood and Jarrod Parker duel in a July 4th matinee between the A's and the Chicago Cubs. No, I don't really know who those guys are either, and I'm a little disappointed I won't be witnessing the "Where are they now?" pitching matchup the night before between Matt Garza and Bartolo Colon (He's still pitching!), but it should still be an experience to cross another team off the list.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

When history happens faster than your eyes can see

At around 10:45 p.m. Monday night I was contemplating what I was going to write in a blog entry this morning that essentially detailed both my excitement and my anxiety regarding Game 7 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. At the time, the Boston Bruins had somehow managed to hold a 2-1 lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in the waning minutes of Game 6, a remarkable feat considering what had transpired to that point. The Bruins had thoroughly dominated the first half of the game only to find themselves tied 1-1 after a demoralizing de facto shorthanded goal by Jonathan Toews and numerous fruitless power plays. This was the type of game we had all seen before. The team fighting for its life controls the pace and dominates, but doesn't manage to translate that domination to the scoreboard before the opposing -- and often better -- team weathers the storm before eventually wearing them down and pulling out a heart-wrenching victory.

This game had that written all over it.

But then in the third period Boston broke through, as Milan Lucic scored with just under nine minutes remaining, re-energizing TD Garden and putting the Bruins on the brink of forcing a decisive seventh game. As the clock ticked down this began to seem all the more certain. When the Blackhawks got a late power play and proceeded to look as dead as Aaron Hernandez's career for the entire two minutes, that seemed to seal the deal.

Much as I was rooting for the Blackhawks, this was, really, fine. This had been a series between two great teams with six taut, entertaining games including three that went to overtime. It was historic in nature and it warranted, nay deserved to have a seventh game. That was necessary to complete the legacy and etch the series into NHL lore as one of the greatest ever played.

And then with 1:16 to go, something crazy happened.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Was this a glimpse of the future? I sure hope so.

It is no secret. The Mets are not a good baseball team. In fact, my fantasy baseball team this season has the very original name "The Mets are bad.", and it's funny because it's true. This is a bad squad, and for most of the season it has seemed the only bright light, nay, the only reason to even bother watching once every five days, was to see the superb young arm of Matt Harvey. Given that these are the Mets, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that Harvey's arm will fall off at some point in the next year or so even though he is still a consistently dominant starter who just might be starting the All-Star Game this season if he had something remotely close to a Major League offense supporting him.

Given that the All-Star Game is in his home stadium, that might be a pretty nice highlight of the year for Mets fans who will have few of them in 2013.

Yesterday, though, we got lucky. The Mets' bullpen mediocrity is widely known and their lineup woes are essentially the stuff of legend at this point. But the starting rotation hasn't really been all that terrible behind Harvey. Jon Niese is a solid middle of the rotation starter, Dillion Gee has actually given the Mets a few strong outings and even Jeremy Hefner, his record aside, hasn't really been all that awful. But all this season, we've known that most of those people were placeholders.

For much of this season, beyond watching the maturation of Harvey most Mets fans were waiting until we might finally see Zack Wheeler make his way to the bigs. Wheeler was the haul brought into the organization in 2011, when the Mets dealt Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants in the final year of his seven-year contract with New York. That Beltran was always unappreciated in New York -- fans will one day rightfully recognize him as the best defensive, and possibly best offensive outfielder in franchise history -- and that Wheeler, the No. 6-overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, was highly touted seemed to make this a win-win situation. Well, maybe not for the Giants.

So with all that buildup, it's any wonder how Mets fans managed to sift through two years of anticipation to see the other half of their reputed two-headed pitching monster of the future. Yesterday, at long last, we got our first look.

Monday, June 10, 2013

OK, I'm going to get nostalgic about Chicago for a minute

As I think I've made it abundantly clear over the years to those who don't know me, I am, first and foremost when it comes to hockey, a New Jersey Devils fan. I have written about them at length, been to more than my fair share of games, felt triumph and tragedy on behalf of their exploits and gotten extremely scruffy for their sake. Unfortunately, given the Devils' less than stellar performance this season, I had the opportunity to do none of that once the regular season was over, but such is my life sometimes.

The Devils are always going to be first in my heart, but for those who know me and my professional history -- or really anything I've written on this blog -- it should not be a surprise that I have a soft spot in my heart for the Chicago Blackhawks. And lucky me, unlike the New Jersey Devils this season, the Blackhawks actually did pretty well. Historically well, actually. And after looking like the best team in the NHL for most of the season, with the League's 30 teams boiled down to two the Blackhawks are one of those left standing, thanks in large part to a not-so-bad performance by Patrick Kane in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final Saturday night.

Their reward is a date with the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, a matchup of two teams that are simply rolling heading into the championship series and might just be the two most complete teams to face off for the Cup in quite some time. Of course to get on that kind of a roll teams have to have some impetus to spark the momentum. In the Blackhawks' case that came in a rally against Detroit after trailing three games to one in the second round, culminating in Brent Seabrook's overtime winner in Game 7.

In the Bruins' case, that impetus came from a stunning rally from three goals down in Game 7 of the opening round against Toronto, including a mind-boggling two goals to tie the game in the final 90 seconds before winning in overtime. Since that monster of a rally the Bruins have looked nigh unbeatable, including an absolutely stupifying domination in the Eastern Conference Final of the Pittsburgh Penguins, whom most of the world had preordained as the East's likely Cup Final representative due to their staggering offensive talent.

Friday, May 31, 2013

This is as close as the 2013 Mets are getting to winning the World Series

The Mets are not a good baseball team. I don't want anyone that knows me to think I'm under some sort of bizarre illusion regarding just how "competitive" an outfit they are. But there was one thing this team promised when the season started which it hadn't promised the fan base in years.


New York's National League club is a far cry from a contender right now, and probably will remain that way until abou 2015 or so, but after the offseason acquisitions of Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, the buzz surrounded pitching prospect Zack Wheeler and the mildly impressive (and now unbelievably impressive start to Matt Harvey's career we Mets fans are starting to think maybe the light at the end of that tunnel is approaching sooner than we had initally feared.

But even though Harvey has been stellar this season -- and he really has -- this was still a team with a ludicrously bad bullpen and a sluggish offense that didn't quite know when it was supposed to show up. We had hints the team was on the upswing, but we were without strong evidence. There was no obvious manifestation of the team's improvement.

And then this week, we got it.

Now I'm not naive enough to assume this will be the spark plug that completely turns the season around. It won't be. But there is still some vague joy and some unique satisfaction to be found in these ragtag inferior Mets pulling off a feat that had never been achieved before against the mighty Yanks. It's an event that could make even the most skeptical and sardonic of Mets fans burst with just a little more glee than they're used to bursting with, and even if the Yankees are widely expected to compete for a postseason berth this fall while the Mets are almost certainly going to be playing for 2014 starting, well, three months ago, this is still something extremely positive for the fan base to hang its hat on.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Weddings and the New York Knicks simply do not mix

There are few things in life that are quite as fun as a wedding. Trust me on that one and take my word for it now since I may feel differently in December when I'll be attending my sixth wedding of 2013. The whole sequence started this past weekend when I flew to Charlotte and then drove 2.5 hours left to beautiful Banner Elk, North Carolina for the nuptials of my good friends Isabel and Joe. You might remember that couple from past adventures such as "Dave ventures to the deep south for the first time and watches the Mets actually win a game in Turner Field" and "Let's watch the Giants forget how to play football in Cincinnati."

Isabel and Joe have been enthusiastic supporters of my sports journeys even though they don't particularly care about it themselves. They've given me a free place to stay more than once and even traveled to meet me with free Skyline Chili in hand. You can't ask for much better than that, and so it was the least I could do to trek to a tiny mountain town near the Tennessee border where everyone is convinced Obama is trying to steal their guns, and stay in a hotel with limited wireless, a bar that closes at 10 pm and literally no cell phone service. But, and I mean this in all seriousness, it was my pleasure to go. All of those technological insufficiencies lent a certain charm and relaxation to where we were staying, and I couldn't have been happier to make the journey. Like I said. Weddings are fun.

You know what's not fun, though? Being a Knicks fan.

Worse still is when the Knicks happen to be choking away their season in the midst of a wedding you've been super excited to attend for months. And wouldn't you know it? The Knicks just happened to be playing the Pacers in Game 6 while facing elimination Saturday night. And guess where I was. You know it. The wedding.

Friday, May 10, 2013

After 23 years, it all comes full circle on the scoreboard

Some of you might remember some time back when I wrote what just might be my favorite post that I've ever written here. This is not because it is particularly clever or particularly well-written. It provides no clever social commentary or particularly astute observations about myself, sports, the world or the social causes of the Haymarket Square Riot or any other historic incident. No, this was a very important, very necessary journey of self-discovery that brought with it a number of revelations of the life-changing variety. I speak, of course, of when I did the necessary investigative reporting to uncover my very first New York Mets game.

As you may recall, for years I had known little of the origin of my Mets fandom beyond a picture of the scoreboard and had long assumed my first game was, in fact, not my actual first game. This all came to light when I decided one morning to actually look at the picture. The evidence was fairly obvious and soon the mystery was unspooled, but the gist of it -- that my fandom was spurred on by having my name on the scoreboard -- was clear.

Last night, nearly 23 years later, my fandom returned to light in the same fashion in which it had started.

Yes, there are some differences that are telling. For one, last night the Mets game was at Citi Field while at the time of the first picture they would still be 18 years away from leaving Shea Stadium. For another, this was a trivia contest (which I answered perhaps too enthusiastically), whereas the last mention was a birthday notice. For yet one more, the contest was organized via Twitter, a tool that wouldn't exist for 17 years after the last time I reached the scoreboard. For obvious reasons, I suppose I should note that last night I was mentioned on the scoreboard not so much by name, but by Twitter handle, a remarkable yet subtle sign of how the world has changed.

As a result of all of this, I also got mentioned by the Mets' official Twitter feed, which, of course, means I can cross one of the major achievements I had long sought off of my to-do list.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

It's the most wonderful time of the year

Ladies and gentlemen, at long last, we have reached that most exciting stretch of spring. No, I'm not talking about those magical nights when the New York Mets seemingly invent new unbelievable ways to lose to what are essentially minor league teams on consecutive nights, though that is typically around this time, too. I am talking about the Stanley Cup Playoffs, two magical months in which athleticism, drama and excitement all coalesce into a display that just about the safest bet to deliver in all of pro sports.

Sure, in the course of a 16-team postseason tournament, every game can't be a gem. But by and large most of them are, and the haphazard zaniness that annually ensues in the first round is unmatched by anything short of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

Need evidence?

Look no further than last night, when the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues opened the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs with overtime-winners that happened more or less simultaneously. There is almost nothing in any major sport that captures the same kind of edge-of-your-seat tension and punctuated explosion of energy that results from overtime playoff hockey. I am saying this not merely because it pays my bills, but because it is, as anyone who watches sports can tell you, absolutely true. Those moments have littered my own fandom over the years be they produced by journeymen like Grant Marshall, entrenched stars like Jason Arnott or potential stars of the future like Adam Henrique. One of the things that made last season's postseason run by the Devils so exciting -- or perhaps exasperating -- is just how many times their season had hung on the knife edge. I should note, of course, that my team is far from the only one to experience this.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

You know, I really can't believe it took this long

As I documented here some time back, my first New Jersey Devils game that I ever saw in person was Dec. 7, 1995. I was 10 years old, seeing hockey games in person were still an exciting novelty as opposed to a enjoyable run-of-the-mill activity, and the Devils had called up some young pup for a one-game cup of coffee named Patrik Elias. The Devils lost that game to Toronto, 2-1. I distinctly remember Ken Daneyko getting called for a penalty in the final minutes that effectively sealed the game and Daneyko angrily banging on the glass as he was being locked into the penalty box. The AP recap makes no mention of this, though Daneyko did have 14 penalty minutes in the game, but it does misspell Elias' first name as "Patrick".

That was 17 and a half years ago.

For perspective, in that span of time my life has changed in the same dramatic number of ways that anyone's could between the ages of 10 and 27, and perhaps most insanely, the man who scored New Jersey's first goal that night, Petr Sykora, was one of several players I interviewed last spring at the 2012 Stanley Cup Final Media Day. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey's starter that night in 1995, was also one of them.

I'm not sure if that says more about how my life has changed than it does about the remarkable longevity of those two particular players, but either way, it has been a long, long time since I saw that first game at Brendan Byrne Arena. Since then I've seen the Devils play in several different buildings with even more names and and I have been at dozens of games. In that span, New Jersey has won nine division titles, four conference championships and two Stanley Cup championships in addition to the one the team won six months before my first game. I have been at a number of games that were pivotal in both the regular season and each of those runs. I was in the stands at both the Conference semifinals and the Stanley Cup Final in 2003 and I went to a total of four playoff games during the Devils' run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final a year ago.

Last night, however, was a first. I went to a game that was completely meaningless.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Easy to be Harv

I'm pretty sure that like most Mets fans, I woke up this morning attempting to forget that the last four days ever happened. Sure, there was the one bright moment when the Mets briefly donned Frank Tanana-era throwbacks, but after two snowstorms, three delays or postponments, a blown six-run lead and, oh right, three losses in three games, it would probably do us all a bit of good to forget about the most disastrous trip out west since the Donner Party got stuck. It was a brutal 96 hours in which New York's offense slowly started to fall back to Earth and the bullpen pitched if not worse than I would have then certainly no better.

So, yeah, that was fun.

As New York comes home and licks its wounds, a 7-4 start that seemed strangely filled with promise is now a discouraging and mediocre 7-7, and the truth is becoming readily apparent that not only will the Mets not compete this season, but it seems like the only joy in watching them might come from watching Matt Harvey.

But, boy oh boy what joy that looks like it'll be.

Harvey just might be the only light at the end of the Mets' tunnel right now, which isn't to say the roster is bereft of quality talent. Obviously David Wright is still an All-Star caliber third baseman and the face of the franchise, but Wright, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy and any other mainstay that has an opportunity to stick around for the franchise's (hopefully) impending renaissance is a known-quantity; they are the intimacy between a married couple that is still enjoyable but without the excitement and mystery that once made everything special.

Until Zack Wheeler makes his debut in the Major Leagues sometime this summer and until top-tier catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud joins him -- which apparently could be much further away than anticipated -- this will be the Harvey show as we all look to learn more about him and make his starts appointment viewing. In not instance is that fact more clear than tonight when Harvey's spot in the rotation is coming up in the Mets' return home opposite Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I forgot that these words could be put on paper in this order

Ladies and gentlemen, the New York Knicks have won the Atlantic Division Championship.

Yeah, I know. It sounds weird, right? In my rational, probability-driven point of view I know that it was probably unlikely I would go the rest of my life without seeing the Knicks win an NBA title, let alone a mere division crown, and yet, it still seems a bit odd. After all, last year when the 'Bockers won their first playoff game since I was a sophomore in high school and that alone was a bizarre sensation, which I detailed at length. But when you take sheer odds into account, and then add in the multiple biases in New York's favor (a big market rife with marketing opportunities that attract top players, general franchise cache that does the same, the ability to spend large amounts of money), it would be silly to think the Knicks were forever doomed to the mediocrity I had grown accustomed to.

And yet, it still seems strange. But here we are.

Last night, by virtue of their 120-99 thrashing of the Washington Wizards, the Knicks, winners of 13 in a row and of 50 games for the first time in 13 years, clinched their first division championship since 1994, when, in case you're wondering, I was a few months shy of my ninth birthday.

Now, if we're being honest, this is a largely meaningless distinction given how little of an advantage division winners have when it comes to seeding, matchups or even home-court advantage in the NBA Playoffs. But it's still a nice little reminder that most tunnels, no matter how long, have some light at the end. Unless you root for the Chicago Cubs. Still, while the Knicks have made playoff appearances the last two seasons and a start (and apparently a finish) to this one that makes them look like a championship caliber team, in many ways as a fan you still need concrete tangible signs that the franchise is taking decisive steps in the right direction. This, even though it will never actually be signified with a banner in Madison Square Garden, most certainly qualifies.

Friday, March 29, 2013

180 Days of Pain: A 2013 Major League Baseball Preview

I shouldn't really say "pain" per se. That might be misleading. As I lined out on a friend's blog yesterday, the New York Mets' 2013 season does have an air of anticipation and optimism about it because after many years of "rebuilding" the Mets' top prospects are finally making their way to the Majors. That doesn't mean New York is going to compete for a postseason berth this year. Doing that was already a pretty far-fetched idea before the news broke that oft-heard-of-yet-little-seen Mets' folk hero Johan Santana will again likely miss the entire season.

Devastating and sad as that news is -- and it really is on multiple levels -- it was silly to think that this really altered the trajectory of New York's 2013 campagin.

No, this is a team going somewhere and going nowhere all at the same time. The Mets are not making the playoffs. They are almost certainly not finishing 2013 with a winning record. They will probably not even finish above fourth place in the NL East. In fact, the most immediate positive to come out of this season will be the totally sweet new batting practice caps and the fantastic new alternate jerseys, finally removing black from the team's color scheme.

But there are more lasting impacts than simply an improved uniform set. Matt Harvey is getting a full Major League season under his belt, Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud will make their way to the big leagues and Ike Davis might actually be healthy for a whole campaign. There is no need for excitement in the outfield or bullpen whatsoever, but that's not the point. Those can be patched in the future with free agency if the team is actually close to real title contention. The point of this year is that we'll finally get to see just how far off we are and if the moves of Sandy Alderson and the gang are going to finally bear fruit.

From the looks of it, they are, and that means in 2014 and 2015 the Mets might actually be good. And in 2016 they might actually be World Series contenders. And as long as I ignore the fact that I'll be 31 during the 2016 World Series, it doesn't feel like it's all that far off.

But if this season doesn't exactly go well? Well, then it really will feel like pain. Kind of like the pain Mr. T brought down in Chicago this week.