Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015: The Year the Mets Win the World Series

Yep, that's right. I'm placing an awfully large amount of responsibility on Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, two pitchers who didn't toss an inning in the Major Leagues in 2014, but what the hey. I haven't got much else to look forward to sports-wise, so why not? Since we've last spoken (which is what I'm going to cheekily call the intermediate period in which I was too lazy to post my NFL picks (Final record: 120-132-4)), a lot of things have happened and they aren't particularly positive. First there's the Giants ending their mediocre season in a loss to the Eagles, though I guess the fact that it's over might be a positive, and then the Devils decided to make one of the more bizarre coaching moves I can remember. The Devils then proceeded to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins and sully their chances in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. Southampton dropped out of second-place in the Premier League after a rough five-match losing streak, and then the Knicks, well, the Knicks are apparently still playing basketball, so that's either a negative because they're so awful or a positive because they've somehow managed to continue putting a team together for 48 minutes despite being so awful.

I can't decide.

This brings us to the Mets, who, along with the Geelong Cats, are one of just two teams I follow on the entire planet that haven't lost a game in the past month, and that's only because they haven't played. The Mets, somehow, have become my one last hope for satisfaction, and that brings us to 2015. For the first time in quite some time the Mets actually have some reasons to be excited, although we only get to see one of them each day. At the start of the 2015 MLB season, the Mets' starting pitching rotation should feature Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and Jon Niese. Those first four could be a first or second starter on most Major League rosters. Each of those four is under 26 years old, and Jon Niese isn't much older.

That's a pretty good reason to be excited about the Amazins, and it's about time, too. The Mets, and this will be shocking to most of you, are currently in their longest championship drought ever (really!) at 29 years. 2015 will mark 15 years since the Mets' last appearance in a World Series, which, amazingly (see what I did there?) is also the longest the team has ever gone without winning the National League pennant. 2015 is also the year in which I will turn 30 years old, which is an ethical crisis in and of itself, but it means at 30 years of life and the last 15 of them without seeing the Mets reach the Fall Classic, I will have officially spent half of my life since I last saw the Mets play a World Series game. I suppose you could say this same occurrence happened when I turned two, but it's more useful for me to explain my neuroses with it now.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

NFL Picks Week Fifteen: Music City is great, but look both ways

This past weekend I made my first-ever visit to Nashville -- or to the entire state of Tennessee for that matter -- and after being told by friends and coworkers that it was one of the most enjoyable towns you can spend three days in I must report back that it is all true. I had a tremendous weekend full of good friends, a family-required visit to our distant uncle Jack, pulled pork topped with mac-n-cheese, I had a ton of fun at the Blackhawks-Predators game and the Giants actually won for the first time in two months.

There was only one minor thing that went wrong.

Ok, I may be blowing that slightly out of proportion. When I say "hit by a car," what I really mean is more "nudged by a slowly rolling automobile and not suffering even a bruise," but the shock is about as dramatic as you could expect, particularly when after being stuck in traffic for an hour in search of a restaurant and a parking space we found the restaurant had free valet parking. Irony. In any event, on Friday night just hours after arriving in the Volunteer state, my friend Jill and I walked in downtown Nashville toward our ultimate destination, Puckett's Grocery, a highly-recommended home of greasy southern fare that truly hit the mark. Just let your eyes get lost in that fried cookie dough brownie sundae I had for dessert. The only stumble came when my brother frantically called me after hearing from his wife that someone had written on Facebook about me getting hit by a car.

I probably should have explained in more detail that I was merely bumped by a driver who wasn't looking as he made a right turn on a red light (and also that I had the right of way), but people only communicate in 140 characters or less these days, so I was in quite the pickle.

No matter.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

NFL Picks Week Fourteen: My first trip to Music City

So, I didn't write an update in this here blog last week. Was it because I couldn't bear the impending mediocrity that was Northwestern's masterpiece in egg-laying against Illinois on Saturday, which cost them a bowl game? Was it because I somehow knew the Giants would blow a 21-point lead against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team with a total of 13 wins in the past four seasons? Could it be because I anticipated Southampton's disheartening 3-nil loss to Manchester City and its rough 1-nil loss to Arsenal just a few days later? Was it because the Devils continue to struggle and the Knicks continue to be the Knicks?

No, I was just busy.

But there is no escaping the fact that for many reasons, it has been a busy week. Beyond the fact that all of my teams seem to be terrible at the moment, I've had my own bit of personal work to sift through, like this story on U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Sauer, and an obituary for late Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau. Then there's the added quirk that my complete childhood and everything I know to be true and just in this world was shattered on Tuesday afternoon.

It's been a tumultuous few days, which may or may not entirely explain why I never got around to telling you all what my picks were for last week's NFL games. I went 9-7-0 in case you were wondering, which I'm sure you weren't.

All in all, the whirlwind has left me somewhat exhausted and mentally spent, which means I could really use a vacation, and just as luck would have it, I'll be hopping on a plane to Tennessee tomorrow. My impending trip to Nashville, one of the few major American cultural hubs I've never been to, has me pretty excited, even if it involves watching the New York "Football" Giants play the Tennessee Titans in what has the look of a high-intensity battle for top-five draft position. Doesn't get any better than that.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

NFL Picks Week Twelve: On what it means to win in South Bend

On Oct. 2, 2004, I was a sophomore in college going on a jog along Northwestern University's Lakefill when at the north end I came across an enormous gathering of Ohio State fans tailgating on the shores of Lake Michigan. On this night Northwestern would be playing Ohio State in front of a national TV audience looking for its first win against the Buckeyes in 33 years. Campus was alive with anticipation for reasons no one really knows. I remember walking along Sherman and Simpson and seeing students tailgating and playing beer pong in their backyards, almost as if it was a real college. For myself and a group of friends from freshman year, our preparation of choice was a power hour at our friend Sparky's apartment on Simpson St.

We got drunk, we had a blast and on Noah Herron's 33rd carry of the night we beat Ohio State in an overtime thriller. To that point, and I say this without irony, it was the greatest night of my life.

When you went to a school that has framed itself as a perpetual underdog thanks to its remarkable history of football ineptitude, moments when you are pitted against a legendary nationally-recognized program and somehow seize them are particularly special. Experiencing those moments when you are young, dumb and, well, you know, have a special kind of youthful optimism about them. You don't know what tough turns life can take in your 20s in terms of a career, family, friends or romance because you're a college kid, and all that matters right now is you can rush the field and there's beer to drink.

I still get the opportunity to celebrate sports victories that carry a special brand of surprise or joy, but it is rare that I get to experience the kind of fresh-faced child-like exuberance that comes with an upset victory in college sports. I do not live on a college campus anymore, though I suppose one could argue New York City provides access to the same kinds of vices, and so the magic of a football upset, while still invigorating, does not always carry similar heft.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

NFL Picks Week Eleven: Three years of waiting to see our lady

Last weekend, Northwestern played Michigan in what can only be referred to in the loosest of terms as a "college football game." I say without hyperbole that this was probably the worst-played football game I have ever seen in my life between any two teams at any level relative to the (theoretical) amount of talent on the field. In what was ultimately a 10-9 defeat for my Wildcats against that bitterest of bitter foes, the game was so inexplicably discombobulated that it very nearly verged into the territory of "fun bad" as we all drank in the local alumni bar and watched the mediocrity (and that's being generous) ensue.

To wit, this clash of cretins featured the following incidents and factoids:

-- Northwestern finished with -9 yards rushing due to quarterback Trevor Simien taking multiple sacks.
-- NU at one point started a drive at Michigan's 15-yardline and came away with no points.
-- Michigan had an averaging starting field position of its own 42 and somehow scored merely 10 points.
-- Punting on 4th and 26, NU's punter bungled the snap and kicked it with his left foot for 20 yards.
-- Michigan fumbled at one point after snapping the ball into a man in motion in the backfield.
-- Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner missed a handoff because he tripped... on nothing.
-- Northwestern missed a 36-yard field goal.
-- NU had no plays over 20 yards and its longest rush of the game went for a whopping six.
-- Michigan converted just one of its 12 third down opportunities.
-- Michigan and Northwestern combined for six turnovers including four very bad interceptions.
-- Gardner finished the game with a QBR of 5.2. Simien wasn't much better at 38.9.
-- NU did not score on its first 12 drives. In the second half, three of those drives began in Michigan territory.
-- Somehow NU strung together a 95-yard drive that ended in a field goal to end the shutout.
-- The game ended when NU scored a touchdown with three seconds to go, but opted for a game-winning two-point conversion on which Simien was quickly sacked rather than overtime despite having out-gained Michigan by a significant margin in the fourth quarter.
-- Michigan knew the exact play that was coming on the two-point conversion.

This was, in no uncertain terms, a tremendously bad football game, that part way through brought comparisons to an epic encounter in 1939 between Texas Tech and Centenary College in which driving rains made offense nearly impossible and the teams resorted to punting a total of 77 times in hopes of recovering a weather-driven muff at the other end of the field. A whopping 67 of those punts occurred on first downs, including 22 of them on consecutive plays in the second half. I would say that game was equally as bad as Northwestern-Michigan was, but at least that one had a coherent strategy.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

NFL Picks Week Ten: Look, I forgot, ok?

Hey, let's not waste time talking about who did what and who hit whom and who hit that and who slept with whom and who extorted what.

Things happen, ok?

In this case, the thing that happened was I was too busy to come up with anything particularly clever to write about this week, and while seeing all of the terrible America-themed Veterans Day unis that are sprouting up across the college football universe today (like Purdue's) are giving me fodder, it's probably best that I just call it quits and show you my NFL picks for these week even though one of those games was already played.

Whatever. I picked it wrong anyway. Shit happens. I think you'll all find a way to survive, and if you're having trouble thinking of the positives with me not writing anything interesting this week, just think about how Southampton is still No. 2 in the BPL table after Shane Long's two-goal second half against Leicester City this morning.

See? That fixed the problem. Ok, on with the incorrect weekly picks.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

NFL Picks Week Nine: The Mets are tied for first place again

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2015 World Series New York Mets are currently undefeated and tied for first place in the NL East with an inside track for home field throughout the playoffs. That is the most exciting baseball news I have become aware of in months, and I am currently the most optimistic I have been about the Mets in years. I mean, how can you not be when they haven't lost a game yet?

This is the anticipation the offseason brings sometimes. While I actually am somewhat cautiously optimistic about the 2015 Mets, I now can sort of think about them in earnest since the 2014 World Series featuring Madison Bumgarner against the Kansas City Royals came to an end last night. It's always a bit wistful when baseball season ends, and perhaps more so when Alex Gordon doesn't get waved home by the third base coach as the tying run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth like he should have been, but I am enthused about next season, both because the Mets will have Matt Harvey back and because they won't have to face Bumgarner three times in a seven-game span.

I mean, seriously, that was one of the greatest performances in World Series history, perhaps the type of thing you'll tell your children about. In fact, if you're a San Francisco Giants fan, it is almost certainly the type of thing you will tell your children about.

Royals fans...maybe not so much. Coming so close only to see a wild ride like theirs end with the game-tying run 90 feet away must be a brutal feeling, but, uh, hey, the Chiefs host the Jets on Sunday! And unlike the Royals the Chiefs have actually won four of their last seven games.

Sorry, that was a low blow, wasn't it?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

NFL Picks Week Eight: What the hell am I going to do this weekend?

It's that time of year again. I have discussed more than once just how dull and mind-numbing it is to endure the annual bye week of the New York Giants. After all, fall is my favorite season because it carries with it the promise that even if the Giants are bad, at the very least they're giving me something to watch. But once over that 17-week stretch of entertainment that is the NFL season, the Giants take a weekend off. Often it leaves me wondering what I should do with my time and how I can kill the next 14 days until I see them play again, but usually there is one carrot that gets me through the drudgery. At least on Saturday I can watch Northwestern play, even if it also delivers its special brand of frustration and disappointment.

2014, however, is an entirely new kind of manufactured disappointment. This time around, in a cruel aligning of the stars, my cure for boredom is also talking the weekend off. And I have no idea what to do with myself.

That's right. This weekend both the New York Giants and the Northwestern Wildcats will be on their respective bye weeks.

This particular set of circumstances hasn't occurred in 10 years, when both Northwestern and the Giants took off the weekend of October 16-17. Of course, that was during my sophomore year of college, and considering the late-autumn chill had not yet set in in Evanston by that point I at least had drinking to help occupy my time. I could do the same now, but as a 29-year-old professional I should probably have a more responsible and socially acceptable solution to the problem.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

NFL Picks Week Seven: Ned Yost is making my head explode

The MLB Playoffs are a funny thing. Boiling down an extensive 162-game season that presents a large enough sample size to more or less separate the wheat from the chaff to a series of lightning-quick postseason series that are largely dependent on randomness and pitching matchups seems silly on the surface. This is because, well, it is. If the goal is to crown a true champion that is the best team in a sport each year, then a playoff system that twice per year requires two teams to play a single elimination game after a marathon season kind of flouts the purpose. Anyone who has studied statistics knows small sample sizes are prone to random variation and that larger sample sizes are needed to bear out the true nature of things. To that end, several studies have shown the MLB playoffs are largely a crapshoot.

I mean, that doesn't mean it isn't fun. And to be fair, if the Mets were somehow defying the law of averages on a nightly basis, I'd be loving every minute of it.

But the point remains. Ned Yost, or as I call him, Bunty McBunterson, should have managed this team out of the postseason about 19 times by now. Yost is a man whose managerial strategy thrives on old-timey small ball used at all the incorrect times with a little bit of bullpen mismanagement mixed in. This is not an unpopular opinion to have. Far and wide in both Kansas City and Yost's former home city as a manager Milwaukee has it been talked of that his management is, well, terrible. Even in mid-Septemeber his blunderous moves one after the other were ridiculed. A light has been shined on how his old-school mentality is completely inconsistent with statistical evidence. His total bungling of the AL Wild Card game this year is legendary. Not only did his inexplicable decision to bring in starter Yordano Ventura in relief on two days rest raise the public ire of Pedro Martinez, but his persistent dedication to sacrifice bunting has been mind-boggling. In that game, which the Royals somehow won despite their manager, after getting the leadoff man on, sacrificing him to second in the 9th, 10th and 11th innings, which according to the Wins Probability Added statistic had a negative impact on Kansas City's chances of winning. This included a ninth inning in which the Royals trailed and gave Oakland a free out when they had three outs left in their season.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

NFL Picks Week Six: The 2014 NLCS bores me to death

At the outset of the 2014 MLB playoffs there was one thing more than any other that I simply did not want to see. Of the 10 teams in the postseason field, I knew I would be bored out of my gourd if I had to watch the goddamn St. Louis Cardinals reach or, heaven forbid, win the World Series again.

Well, look who just happened to upset the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers. Yet again the Cardinals and their brand of unsexy and mildly wholesome baseball have managed to reach the NLCS and the only thing that stands in the way of a fifth pennant and potentially a third World Series title in the past 11 seasons is... the San Francisco Giants.

Retread, retread, retread.

Don't get me wrong. I don't have any issues with the Giants. As the one-time team of my family before it moved west and the theoretical ancestor of the New York Mets, there are a lot of reasons to like a team that is rich in history and was, until four years ago, equally as frustrating to root for as mine. In addition, I certainly don't have the kind of vitriol for them that I do for St. Louis, a dull team that ruined what was supposed to be the most special kind of special seasons for the Mets back in 2006. But the Giants are starting to wear on me, too. I've seen them succeed with two championships in the past four seasons and seeing someone fresh and new win the pennant, even if it's a team I'm supposed to hate like the Washington Nationals, wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

NFL Picks Week Five: The Royal Treatment

Of all the cities in America for me to have something of a second home base or social network, Kansas City is far from the obvious choice. New York is, and almost certainly will always be, my home, but Chicago is the only other metropolitan area in the world in which I've lived. San Francisco is a place I know well and in which I know many people. Hell, even Los Angeles, a place for which I have less than zero fondness is a locale I can map out geographically and have several couches I could crash on if necessary.

I could not draw you a map of how Kansas City is laid out, nor could I explain to you its mass transit in any meaningful sense. But for some reason, as I keep thinking back to it, it is a place that feels like home whenever I'm there.

This all started because 11 years ago I worked at Fairview Lake YMCA with a girl named Susie (because what girl from Kansas City wouldn't be named Susie), who eventually led me on a friendly visit to her hometown that opened the door to an entire group of people in the City of Fountains, a nickname KC has rightfully earned. I've now been back to Kansas City three times, once to learn that I will never be able to dunk on a regulation rim, once to experience Real America in all its glory and once more to see Susie tie the knot. There is a whole handful of people in the city I could happily stay with the next time I'm in KCMO (and there will definitely be a next time because have you had the BBQ?), and each of those people is always welcome to stay with me, which many have done.

Also, need I note that Kansas City is the birthplace of my beloved New Jersey Devils?

Needless to say, my feelings for the Paris of the Plains are clear, and it's because of those connections that I've felt a twinge of wistful excitement watching the Kansas City Royals play playoff baseball for the first time since I was three months old. We could talk about championship droughts ad nauseum. Hell, the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals are all currently in the postseason this year and each is currently in the midst of a longer wait for a World Series title. But each of those teams has had stretches of competitiveness and near brushes with glory in between. The Tigers have won two pennants in the last decade, while the Orioles, Pirates and Nationals can all claim multiple division titles since the Royals last played meaningful games in October. Even the Chicago Cubs, they of the century-plus wait for a title have reached the NLCS in the past 15 years.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

NFL Picks Week Four: On the New Year, God and football

I am not a particularly religious man. As a child I went to Hebrew school every Sunday from the age of eight all the way through my bar mitzvah and my confirmation at age 16, an event I find most memorable both for my horrid mutton-chop sideburns that I somehow thought were fashionable and the moment at which I walked back from the bathroom to sit down to lunch in the synagogue with my family only to have my dad lean over and inform me that my fly was open. Perhaps it was that open fly, perhaps it was the democrats or perhaps it was the undeniable influence of enlightened liberal arts education (or maybe it was just being a Mets fan), but somewhere between my bar mitzvah and the current day I lost the faith. I'd like to believe in a higher power, but the rational side of me has difficulty justifying it.

However, I do value tradition and customs and on a cultural level I feel overwhelmingly Jewish, likely as a justification for my family's loud dinners and neuroses, but also because I believe in the importance of connecting with your heritage. German-Jewish scholar Solomon Maimon once posited that Reform Judaism, my particular brand, was not so much a system of rules outlining how one ought to worship, but a forum for discussing the very nature of spiritualism and the almighty. This speaks to me, and while I may not believe in God, I like to think that if there is one, it is modest enough to value my general goodwill as a person above my dedication to praising its name. If you've ever read the Old Testament, this hope is probably foolhardy, but as a result of that, I may consider myself to largely be an atheist these days (though the best atheistic gospel of this week may have come from Keith Olbermann), but I still try to hold to some of the customs I was raised with as best I can. I am rarely in a synagogue and I can't remember the last time I attended a shabbat dinner, but I light my menorah, I fast on Yom Kippur, and tonight when the sun sets, I will party like it's 5775.

לשנה טובה, kids. 

Tonight marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the annual turning over of the Jewish calendar (though this is different from Simchat Torah, when we roll the scroll all the way back to Genesis). Many Jews mark the beginning of the high holidays by attending services in synagogue and having dinner with their family. Tonight I will be doing none of those things. The closest, I will get to observing the holiday tonight will likely be a few token Happy New Year greetings and an endless hunt to purchase a copy of this for my almost-nine-month-old nephew Sammy, which is probably likely to give him more happiness than the other gift I considered for him this week.

No, instead in my family, we celebrate these holidays on the actual dates if we can, but more often than not on the date when we can all manage to get together for them. This year, that means we'll be ringing in the New Year tomorrow on the second night of the holiday, which brings up a pretty profound quandary, as well as the entire reason I'm bothering to write about the Jewish holidays on this blog.

Friday, September 19, 2014

NFL Picks Week Three: I have nothing to talk about

Ok, just to be clear, that's almost certainly not accurate. There is plenty to talk about in the world of sports. I could tell you how I'm watching Sydney play North Melbourne on delay in the 2014 Preliminary Final, how Southampton looked phenomenal in beating up Newcastle United 4-nil last weekend, how I went to a Mets game on Wednesday night and it was unsurprisingly uninspiring or how despite a head-scratching loss to the Cardinals on Sunday afternoon, I'm still not that worried about the Giants .... yet.

But you know what? I'm really just too tired to go into detail on all of those things at the moment. Also, I'm pretty sure there is construction outside with a jackhammer incessantly banging away and it is really sapping my energy to be clever and informative on my day off, to say nothing of thinking clearly.

It's a ton of fun.

So, rather than try to strain my cortex to put something witty together, after all, only four or so of you are going to read this anyway, I'm going to skip through the razzmatazz and just get to what you're all waiting for: another attempt to see how bad I am at picking NFL games this year. I mean, it is definitely early in the season and those first few weeks are all kind of random anyway, but my start to the season has been less than good. Let's see if Week Three changes that, or, at the very least, if Northwestern finally wins a game and I stop caring about my picks as a result. I can dream, can't I?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

NFL Picks Week Two: To the Travelers go the Spoils

There are many aspects to planning out a road trip of the sort I returned from last night. One that I heed you all to consider if you're pondering a similar venture is to account for just how much sports-related crap you might find yourself coming home with. As you can see to the right, there were quite a few silly trinkets I came back with from my six-day jaunt through eight states and one province across two countries; that photo doesn't even include the multiple bottles of bourbon that were purchased. In the end I found myself somehow braving the subways yesterday with a messenger bag, duffel bag, three bottles of bourbon, one life-sized baseball bat, one mini baseball bat, one double bobblehead doll, one Cincinnati Reds stein, one terrible towel and an entirely superfluous Super Nintendo that was dragged along for inevitably no reason.

If you are plotting a trek like the one I just finished, account for these acquired articles in your pre-trip packing. It somehow escaped me.

Of course, that really only makes the trip more fun in the end. In a span of just six days I saw five old friends, went to four new stadiums, three bourbon distilleries, two sports halls of fame, two breweries, the world's most famous horse-racing track, one baseball bat factory, countless regional fast food chains and one incredibly wet boat ride around Niagara Falls. To cap the whole thing off, somehow my friend Dan and I didn't kill each other over the 30 hours and 2,500 miles we spent alone together in a car thanks to a steady stream of satellite radio and hearing the first 15 seconds of Florence + the Machine's cover of "Addicted to Love" about a billion times.

So, yeah. I recommend it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

NFL Picks Week One: The Road Trip Begins

The months of February through August are, no doubt, a bleak time on the calendar. The brutal cold of winter's depths chills us to the bones, the sweltering humidity of summer soaks us through our clothes, and that cole slaw at the Memorial Day BBQ always seems to have just a bit too much vinegar in it. These are universal trials and tribulations, pains we each endure as we await our savior when it arrives on the first Thursday of September. Rest assured, though, after waiting patiently and counting down the minutes, that wonderful day is here.

The NFL is back tonight. Life has found meaning.

Unfortunately for some of us, the wait is a little longer than we might like it to be. The Giants don't play their season opener until Monday night at 7 in the first half of ESPN's annual Week One Monday Night Football doubleheader. The extra 30 hours will make the wait almost that much more interminable, but on the plus side I can be excited by the fact that when the Giants kick off their hopefully-slightly-better-than-mediocre 2014 campaign, I will be there to see it in person.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, I am setting off tonight on a whirlwind sports road trip of epic proportions. My friend Dan and I will set sail (or drive, more accurately), from Jersey City this evening to embark on what will be a veritable orgy of bourbon, sporting events, sports museums and a highly unhealthy amount of greasy food. As you will note, I have planned it down to the minute to maximize the fun, though I have not been dragging any guide books to parties.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

2014 NFL Preview: Birth of the Road Tripstravaganzapalooza Spectacular

Surely, you all noticed last week when I expressed my excitement over the start of Northwestern's 2014 season with the notable caveat that the team would likely break my heart at some point during the next four months. Well, if you read the funny pages on Sunday, you probably saw this year's rendition of the Wildcat Shakedown wasted no time in, well, shaking itself down. In perhaps the most colossal screw up I've seen since I first started following NU (Note: the loss to UNH in 2006 is not as bad given it was one of the best programs in Division I-AA and boasted all-time great receiver David Ball, though the Cats were a noticeably more talented and well-trained outfit), the Cats decided to be generous and spotted California-Berkeley a handsome 31-7 lead before finally realizing there was a football game going on and closing it to within 31-24 in the fourth quarter.

Of course, you don't get wins for trying super duper hard when you realize you've got to try super duper hard super duper late, so despite opening the season at home as 11.5-point favorites against a team that failed to beat any Division I opponents last season, Northwestern is 0-1 in 2014. This was frustrating on multiple levels, not the least of which was that it ruined an opportunity for that ultra-rare alignment of stars known as the Football Hat Trick Day, a term I had the foresight to make up on Saturday morning, after I noticed three different teams I follow across three different codes of football all had games in a 12-hour span. The Geelong Cats took care of business against Brisbane despite it being a relatively meaningless home-and-away-season finale and now have an opening-round Finals match against big-time rivals Hawthorn Friday morning (naturally you're all counting down to this), and just a few hours later Southampton picked up its first Premier League victory in which it trailed on the road in 20 years when the Saints scored three times after falling behind 1-nil at West Ham. The two most difficult hurdles in the race out of the way, heavy-favorite Northwestern (words I never thought I'd see in that order) seemed a safe bet to complete the circuit.

It's a good thing the bar had beer.

Fortunately for me, rather than wallow in the tears of that unfortunate misstep, I get another distraction this weekend when the NFL, at long last, gets underway. Sure, the New York Giants don't exactly look poised to dominate the NFL, compete for a Super Bowl title or, if they continue to struggle with the offense, even earn a playoff berth. But, ever the optimist, I have faith Eli Manning will get a handle on the new scheme and somehow the Giants will eke out nine wins in their 2014 schedule. As we've seen in the past, sometimes nine wins is all you need.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Only four days until the heartbreak begins

Northwestern football is not an easy thing. There are times when it is comparatively easy to, say, serving in a North Korean labor camp, but even those times, I find, are rare. At no point was this more evident than a year ago when my Wildcats were sitting on the precipice of a potentially program-defining season. In 2012, NU had pulled off its best season in nearly two decades, going 9-3 with all three losses coming in brutal fashion before winning a bowl game for the first time since 1949. It was a year that was so good, with each loss being so precarious, that one couldn't help but wonder what could have been.

And so 2013 was supposed to be the year. We were ready to join the big time and as we sat 4-0, ranked No. 16 in the country and were ready to tangle with Ohio State in a game that could have been as strong a statement as a bunch of guys in tight purple shirts can make. Even in the third quarter Northwestern held the lead and looked to be on the verge of a transformational moment. And then it all fell apart. Despite that loss, NU fans held their heads high until a surprisingly bad performance against Wisconsin. Then the cracks started to show. And they continued showing. And showing. And showing. Eventually it became clear that 2013 wasn't going to be the dream season many of us hoped it would be, and to further the point, we plebians of the college football world were viciously knocked down as we tried to scale the summit, reminding us where we stood in the course of things.

After that brutal experience, this Saturday, we're going to do it all over again. And I. Can't. Wait.

Call it masochism if you must, in fact, that's probably a fairly accurate assessment, but there is almost nothing I enjoy more during the year than spending my fall Saturdays gorging on beer, wings, waffle fries and if all goes well some purple shots. There is nothing that feels better than tipsily toasting with friends and walking through Central Park after seeing a Northwestern victory, however rare they may be, and that time of the year is almost here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ok, so it's been a while. What's good?

It occurred to me this morning that I've gone more than a month without updating this here blogtastic space, and that probably qualifies as the longest I've ever gone without publishing a new post. I know some of you (two people) are disappointed by this. I have no one to blame but myself and the countries of Spain, Portugal and Morocco, but when you leave the country for three weeks in July and this is followed by what is the deadest black hole of sports all year (particularly when you're a Mets fan), well, this is what happens.

I apologize for that, but, I mean, let's been honest. There's been a grand total of zero that's happened in the sports world aside from Germany winning the Weltmeisterschaft, and that was nearly a month ago. I imagine most of you don't want me to get nerdy and wax poetic on the Giants' installation of their new offense under Ben McAdoo. You definitely have zero interest in a treatise on how Geelong recently solidified a top-four (and maybe top-two) spot in the ladder by edging Fremantle with the 2014 AFL Finals Series right around the corner. Have any interest in how I feel about Southampton selling pretty much every player they own to Liverpool and then naming Jose Fonte captain? I didn't think so, though I would like to point out how much I love their new jerseys while we're at it.

What's that? You want to talk about the sudden emergence of Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom because you actually know about the Mets? You're inspired by his remarkable July that saw him go 4-1 with a 1.39 ERA, earning him NL Rookie of the Month honors? His deGromination of the National League has you thinking Sandy Alderson and his player development staff uncovered another stud pitching prospect that could be flipped for a badly needed bat or bolster what looks like it could be a stellar rotation next season?

You have...hope?

Oh wait. Never mind all that.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Futbal like it oughta be

As many of you know, over the last few years I have taken to exhausting large portions of my vacation days with one 2-3-week-long bonanza outside of the country each summer. This was sparked by a trip to Israel way back in the salad days of 2010, followed by a five-nation tour of the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria in 2011, my Scandinavian adventure in Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Norway and the Netherlands (again) in 2012 and a wild and crazy trip last summer to Kenya, Tanzania and, unexpectedly, the Netherlands last summer.

Unsurprisingly, these trips have created many memories. Each trip usually has one or two that aren't so great, like when my flight to Amsterdam in 2011 turned around midway through because it was leaking hydraulic fluid. Or when my passport got stolen in Norway. Or when I somehow found myself in a boat in the middle of the Indian ocean at night getting extorted. Or when the airport in Nairobi -- and I don't think I can say this enough times -- burned down before I was supposed to leave.

But among all the crazy, wild memories I have had in my foreign travels, one of the most memorable was, unsurprisingly, a sporting event. In 2011, The FIFA Women's World Cup was being held in Germany, where I was conveniently in the midst of traveling. I briefly toyed with the idea of attending the final if the U.S. made it, which it did, and certainly would have were the game being played in Berlin, where I was scheduled to be at the time. Unfortunately, the Berlin Olympiastadion was undergoing renovations at the time and the game was to be played in Frankfurt instead.

Still, even if I wasn't going to be attending, with the U.S. in the final I needed to find a place to watch, and my friends Kristen, Luisa and Mike and I happened upon the bar in a hostel in Mitte called Belushi's. The place was supposedly American-themed and there were many fellow traveling countrymen sitting in the bar and watching the game on various big screens. All we were doing was watching a sporting event we could have watched on TV at home, but the atmosphere and the experience were something altogether different.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mama said knock you out

I have no real problem with Belgium. I've been to the country twice and found it to be more or less pretty pleasant. Granted, my experiences are quite mixed as I've been to Antwerp, which is a delightful city with some tremendous museums, and Brussels, which might be the most uninteresting place I have ever been. And I've been to Elkhart, Indiana more than once. I do hope to make it to Bruges one day even if the crux of one of my favorite films, In Bruges, is that the city is unbelievably dull, and I once visited friends in Aachen, Germany, which is almost sort of near Liege.

In short, Belgium is fine. They make good chocolate and taught us to make waffles in large circles. I generally have little reason to dislike the place even if it can't decide if it wants to be one country or two.

Or, at least I had little reason to dislike the place.

This afternoon will change all of that, as the United States faces Belgium in the Round of 16 at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Salvador, Brazil. Getting this far was no small feat, as the Yanks barely hung on in a hard-fought loss against Germany to emerge from the Group of Death this past Thursday. Now that the United States has managed to exceed most people's expectations, however, the real work begins.

There are almost no places in sports where you can find the same kind of tension and drama that you will find in the knockout stages of the World Cup, particularly if it ends up going so far as "the dreaded penalty shootout", which has happened twice already in the current tournament. Should the U.S. and Belgium be forced to penalty kicks, I might tear a few hairs out and swear off chocolate-covered waffles forever, but there would have to be 120 minutes of stalemate to come before that happens.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sometimes a tie is worse than kissing your sister

I would not consider myself such an enormous United States national team fan that I watch every friendly and keep tabs on just who might be a better option than Michael Bradley in the center midfield (answer: probably no one on this roster), but I do follow the team's qualification process and watch when I can. And more to the point, I have put life aside to watch every single U.S. World Cup match since 2002, with the one exception of its Dos a Cero victory over rival Mexico in the round of 16 12 years ago because my alarm somehow failed to go off in time for the 2 a.m. kickoff, as the game was played in Jeonju, South Korea. I have watched those games in basements, living rooms, bars, public parks and once in the empty offices of the Boston Globe's D.C. bureau. This coming Thursday I am taking a personal day from work so I do not have to be distracted during our group play finale against Germany.

Since I first made the World Cup appointment viewing, I have witnessed a heartbreaking quarterfinal loss in which the U.S. went home despite dramatically outplaying the Germans in 2002, a miserable group stage from which the U.S. failed to advance in 2006, a painful 2010 round-of-16 ouster against Ghana in which Asamoah Gyan scored the winner in extra time against the run of play, and a stunning collapse against Mexico in the Final of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

It isn't Northwestern, but the USMNT delivers its fair share of heartbreak.

But with all of those matches burned into my brain, I have never experienced the kind of bitter, broken feeling that seeped into me just before 8 p.m. on Sunday night. The negative shift in emotions was so dramatic that I have yet to entirely process it and couldn't quite bring myself to write about it until 36 hours later. And the U.S. didn't even lose.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Mets have driven me to soccer: FIFA World Cup 2014

Last night something remarkable happened. I went to Citi Field to watch the Mets host the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers and thanks largely to a surprisingly solid outing from Daisuke Matsuzaka and a line drive grand slam by Taylor Teagarden in his first game with the team, I actually saw New York win a game at home for the first time in four visits. This isn't the first win I've seen in person this season of course. In April I saw the first nine innings of a 13-inning win against the Angels that I missed the conclusion of so I could catch my plane. In New York a few weeks later I saw the Mets slug their way to a surprising blowout win at Yankee Stadium.

But this was the first time I got to hear "Taking Care of Business" and it was a dandy of a time. So everything's cool, right? Well, not really. That win was the Mets' first in a week coming on the heels of a six-game losing streak at a particularly inopportune time since they were on the cusp of reaching .500 again and a mere three games out of first. Shockingly, I don't think the page has really been turned, so, essentially, I'm in need of a distraction.

Thank goodness for futbal, am I right?

Tomorrow marks the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, which, as you can probably deduce from what I've written before, has me outlandishly excited. Of all the sports I watch, soccer is not my favorite, but of all the competitions I deign to throw myself into, the World Cup just might be the best. Sporting events are nearly always more exciting when they take on a nationalist twinge, but for all the complaints Americans have had in the past for soccer, its low scores, its ties, its flopping, few games on a national scale can match the World Cup for drama. This country should know that well after producing the two greatest moments in its soccer history in recent tournaments.

The World Cup with its pitched intensity (see what I did there?), worldwide enthusiasm and penchant for producing rare brushes with greatness given its quadrennial schedule is an event unlike anything else. Each tournament brings its own special collection of wild moments, heartbreak and controversy that will linger, and I plan to be glued to the television screen for each and every match I can watch up to and including the Final on July 13 (which I plan to watch in an open plaza in Madrid, Spain, but more on that next month).

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The 20th anniversary of when heartbreak hooked me

Hockey is a central factor in my life these days. If you know me, you know this. You know I watch an inordinate amount of games each season and that I work in the industry however small or ineffectual the capacity. When people meet me and find out what I do, the question I almost universally receive is, "Have you always been a hockey fan?"

Have I?

I suppose in a literal sense the answer is no. After all, I'm fairly certain that when I emerged from the womb the only things I was really a fan of were napping and breast milk. The team from which I draw the most central core aspects of my peculiar brand of optimistic pessimism didn't draw me in until a few weeks before my fifth birthday. The Giants didn't absorb me until the Leon Lett game in 1993, in which the team didn't even play. While I watched the 1994 NBA Finals, the Knicks didn't become my team until I was mesmerized by Latrell Sprewell and the '99 Bockers' unexpected run to a conference title.

As for the Devils, it seems foolhardy to imagine they pre-dated all of these teams, but I'm fairly certain that not only do I know the moment when I became a fan, but that it happened on this day 20 years ago.

I knew little of hockey as a child beyond the Mighty Ducks movies, though like so many American children, they certainly played a part. The earliest relic I have of any real Devils fandom came courtesy of a poster my sister got at a game featuring the 1992-93 squad, they of Dave Barr and Craig Billington. But this didn't suck me in, even if the black-and-white player photos and the pixellated Devils logo were dazzling. I hadn't yet attended a hockey game at this point and my first Devils game wouldn't even be until Dec. 7, 1995.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

That kid is back on the escalator again

One of the most alarming things I've found as I attend baseball games this season is the disturbing trend that time continues to move on. Humanity has tried to stop this many times, but unfortunately there are no ways to create a Picture of Dorian Gray for all of us or even a Benjamin Button. We're going to get old. That's the truth of it. Unfortunately, for me, this has become more and more apparent over the last week in which I endeavored on an irrational baseball spree and went to four Mets games in six days. This might have been a bad idea since they're the Mets and they went 1-3 over that stretch, but it is what it is.

The big running theme, however, was that children are coming to games and are smart enough now to actually engage with. I should have seen this coming since I recently became an uncle, which is its own kind of weird, but it came into sharp focus on Friday night when a six-year-old kid was asking me to teach him the history of the Mets and I realized he was born after I graduated college. Then the kicker came when his nine-year-old sister kept telling me I was old and asked, "Were you alive for 9/11?"

Seriously? Is that a question people ask now?

On Saturday a group of 12-year-olds joined in with me to mock a Phillies fan who was chanting of his love for the Eagles, which was fine until I realized none of them were alive when the Giants played the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV. On Tuesday a group of teenagers at the Mets-Yankees game huddled over my shoulder to watch Game 7 between the Rangers and Penguins on my phone and they all made mention of the fact that none were old enough to remember the 2000 World Series (one wasn't born until 2002), and then there was last night, when I sat in the first row at Citi Field and faced a barrage of reminders that I'm a mere 14 months away from turning 30.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Well that was fun while it lasted

It seems every April I start to do the same dance. The Mets have average to low expectations, because they're scrappy and try oh-so-hard and Terry Collins is a pretty decent manager they end up having an ok first month of the season, and then my eyes start to widen.

Then, you know, the sample size grows.

Since the Mets were last legitimate postseason contenders in 2008 (let's not talk about how that ended), they were seven games over .500 as late as May 31 in 2009, five games over .500 on April 30 in 2010, actually rallied from six games under .500 to reach the even mark on May 20, 2011, were five games over .500 on May 9, 2012 and in first place (note I attended the game that brought them there in Philadelphia), and last year... well, last year didn't really go so well from start to finish. Meanwhilst, despite those strong starts, the Mets finished with an average record over the last five seasons of 75-87.

Because I know all this, and because I understand the Mets are taking a deliberate, patient approach to rebuilding their team, I had no expectations for this season in terms of final record. I made this patently clear in my season preview, and am concerned only with seeing the individual puzzle pieces the Mets need to succeed develop properly and successfully. I have no designs on the postseason or a division title of any sort. I am rational. I am patient. I am cool-headed.

So naturally, when the Mets finished April this year with a 15-11 record and general manager Sandy Alderson said in a private meeting he expected 90 wins this season, I kept everything in perspective and didn't get too excited.

Ha! Just kidding! I root for the Mets, remember?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ok, so this website was more or less made for me

I go to a lot of baseball games. This isn't exactly a secret to most of you out there, but perhaps some of you don't grasp the scale on which I do this. Perhaps I don't grasp it either. Some of you may recall back in 2009 when I was attending a Mets game at Citi Field and I came across an older gentleman who was seated in front of me and told me of his travels. I noticed how on that day he was attending the 6,226th game of his life.

Ladies and gentlemen, that's a lot of baseball. I have a hard time imagining I will ever reach that level of baseball attendance no matter how many games I make my way to -- and I plan on making my way to a lot of them -- but it might be nice if there was some way to keep track. In my life I've seen more baseball games than the average Joe, and keeping ticket stubs is a minor obsession, so a place to track and log it all without having to mark down my own home-made scorecard would be pretty sweet.

Wait, what's that? It exists now?

Last night I returned home from my third baseball game of the year after watching the Seattle Mariners double up the New York Yankees (I may have been more interested in my Lobel's Steak sandwich for a part of the evening), and I tooled around on the internet for a bit only to come across Hardball Passport on the Twitters. It's a website that enables you the check in and log every Major League Baseball game you've been to since 1975 (and every minor league game since 2002), which once filled provides you with a remarkable array of statistics regarding your baseball past.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

An open letter to my alma mater

To whom it may concern:

Yesterday a Chicago institution celebrated its 100th birthday. Wrigley Field, a stadium so steeped in lore, tradition and beauty that it's easy to forget its primary tenant last won a championship six years before it opened, is a landmark that holds a unique and rich position in the culture of Chicago. As I read through the series of articles praising this historic structure, many of my thoughts went to my own experiences within its walls. While a student at Northwestern University I attended my first of many games at the Friendly Confines. That first one came during New Student Week my freshman year, when I rode the L down to Addison by myself to watch a meaningless game, as the Cubs had clinched the division the day before. In October of my freshman year, my high school buddy Josh and I stood on Sheffield and Waveland during Game 7 of the NLCS to watch whether it was misery or joy that ensued (it was misery). I went to every game the Mets played at Wrigley while I was in school, with the lone exception being a series that took place while I was back home in New York that coincided with my 21st birthday. I once saw the Mets nearly get no-hit at Wrigley, still one of my most vivid baseball memories. I attended several NU day at Wrigley student events as an undergrad, and my favorite memory in the building came in 2010, when Northwestern played Illinois in football at Wrigley in a game that brought out thousands of alums, was the scene of ESPN College Game Day and prompted Wrigley's famous marquee to be painted purple.

There is a common thread here.

I associated many of my experiences at Wrigley with my alma mater, an institution of its own impressive stature that I am all too willing to brag about to friends and coworkers who have no interest in hearing it. I have an exorbitant amount of purple shirts, Northwestern football jerseys and formal purple and black shirt and tie combinations because of my alma mater. I spend every Saturday in the fall watching Northwestern with my fellow alums, and over the course of my undergraduate education and the nearly seven years since I graduated from school, I have traveled to Madison, Wisconsin (twice), Minneapolis (twice), Iowa City, Iowa, Boston, West Point, New York, back to Chicago (thrice), to Champaign, Illinois and Berkeley, California to watch Northwestern's football and basketball teams play. My fandom and dedication, I feel, is not up for debate.

However, as my thoughts of Wrigley meandered over to my thoughts of Northwestern yesterday, my school made news of its own -- as it has been wont to do over the past few months -- that left me unsettled. I am proud of my school, and never was I more proud than in January when Kain Colter became the public face of the fight to unionize college athletics.

There are times when we can be proud of our teams and cheer them on for one solitary year of potential greatness. Anyone who has walked through the arch at the corner of Sheridan and Chicago on a daily basis knows all about Northwestern's miracle run to the Rose Bowl in 1996 for instance. But what Colter's movement presented was not the chance to win a championship that one school gets to hang a banner for and cling to. This was something different.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are so damn boring.

Did you watch hockey last night? You did? You might have. Anyway, I watched hockey last night. It was fine, I guess. On Wednesday night I missed the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs because I was out celebrating my mother's 60th birthday. It didn't look like I missed out on very much though.

There were three games on Wednesday. In the first game of the postseason the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens traded goals for three periods, including a nutty coast-to-coast job by Steven Stamkos, before the unheralded Dale Weise beat Lightning goalie Anders Lindback for a game-winner in overtime. At nearly the same time the Pittsburgh Penguins found them down 3-1 to the underdog Columbus Blue Jackets, in the playoffs for just the second time in their history, and then rallied with three goals to win the series opener 4-3. In the late game, which I actually did watch most of, the Anaheim Ducks jumped out to a 4-0 lead against the Dallas Stars and appeared set to coast to an easy win until the Stars scored three times to make them sweat it out.

One day of playoff hockey, three one-goal games. Total snoozers.

Surely last night had to be more exciting than that. Well, at least have. We got a taught 1-1 game between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers that hung on the knife-edge until New York broke out with three goals in the third period to put its hated division rival in a 1-0 series hole. Meanwhilst, in St. Louis the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks dropped the puck on Game 1 of their series. All that happened was three goals in the first period, a late goal to force overtime, a desperate save by Blues forward Maxim Lapierre in the first extra period and Alex Steen netting the winner in the first triple-overtime game in franchise history. This after Chicago had numerous chances stoned by Blues goalie Ryan Miller and St. Louis killed off multiple power-play opportunities.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

From now on I get to pass over Los Angeles

חג שמח, everyone! As many of you know last night marked the beginning of Passover (or Pesach if you want to sound conservative), and much like Moses leading the Israelites on an exodus out of Egypt (and with the exact same stakes), I made a frantic exit of my own on Saturday night. I spent this weekend in my favorite city, Los Angeles watching the New York Mets embarass themselves in Anaheim against the Angels, who will hence forth be referred to as the Anaheim Angels because, damnit, that's really what they are, and as the innings began to dwindle Saturday night it started to become very clear to me that perhaps I had packed my schedule just a little too tightly.

See, I have a tendency to be fairly lax with my travel plans these days, which is to say that I generally ignore all the hogwash about arriving at an airport three hours early or whatever they say it is these days. This is the product of years of arriving at the airport early and having absolutely nothing to do for two hours. While it's nice to get some reading time done, I always figured that maybe it wasn't necessary to kill time by the Gate for hours on end and dine on a $17 cheeseburger. This has occasionally gotten me into some trouble, but by and large it's been a more efficient use of my time.

There is a certain uncertainty that creeps into your head, however when you find yourself sitting in an airport bar watching the end of a Mets game being played 35 miles away that you were in attendance of just an hour earlier. Suppose, however, that is mostly Jose Valverde's fault.

I can explain.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The 2014 New York Mets: Because they have to

After the winter we've had in New York there are only a few things that could make the wait through the snow, the chill and the mythical polar vortex seem worthwhile. As a proud resident of this city and an adamant baseball fan I can assure all of you that one of those things is not going to be the New York Mets.

Yes, the Mets. Those guys.

Now, I don't want to give you all the impression that I'm completely downtrodden about the 2014 varietal of Fred Wilpon's merry bunch. As I told a friend this morning when he asked me if Dillon Gee was a solid choice to anchor his fantasy staff, I don't particularly care about this season in terms of win-loss record. After all, there are at least five or 10 or maybe 26 teams in the Majors that are more talented or well-balanced than the Mets, but the future remains bright -- really bright -- for the first time in a long time.

I do not expect the Mets to win as many as 80 games. A final total of 75 victories might be an achievement, though I expect they'll do better than the 63 wins an opposing scout predicted in Sports Illustrated this past week. But regardless of the wins as they may or may not come, the Mets have plenty of positive aspects for fans like me to keep their eye on. These are the things I want out of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, and the things in which I've invested my hopes for the Mets actually having a winning record again before David Wright retires:

Friday, March 28, 2014

It's that time of year where I talk about Aussie Rules Football again

I'm pretty sure I lost you all at the title there. That's fine. I expect that. But I really wish you wouldn't all be so closed-minded about something so exciting, so momentous, so super that I cannot hide my excitement. No, I'm not talking about how my bracket is more or less shot or the fact that the New York Mets are opening up the 2014 season on Monday because, apparently, they have to.

What I'm talking about is the glory of Australian Rules Football.

Ok, I can see you pulling away from me here, but stick with me. You're (mostly) Americans. You love American sports like football and baseball and the like. That's great. But it's important to know that Australians are trying their best to get into the things we love here. Really. The 2014 Major League Baseball season opened last week while most of us were sleeping when Clayton Kershaw toyed with the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Australia. The SCG is one of the oldest and most picturesque of Australia's sporting grounds and it made for some pretty awesome pictures.

The key takeaway, however, aside from answering the riddle "If the MLB season starts 20,000 miles away and no one's awake to watch it, did it happen," is that the Aussies seemed to enjoy the whole thing. Really, they did. They wrote all about it through their own, uh, peculiar lens, but the whole thing went over like gangbusters.

I am now asking you to do the same with their national pastime.

Yes, I realize many of you think this is untenable because a) the games are on at awkward times and b) you don't care. I'm not entirely sure what I can do about that second one, but luckily this weekend I have a solution for the first one.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

You know absolutely nothing about the NCAA Tournament

It's that special time of year again where we all become convinced we can do the impossible and actually fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket correctly. At this point, I'm not sure why anyone really ever feels confident and conclusive in their picks. As I explained to a friend last night, the NCAA Tournament is about as random as it gets. You have no control, you have no idea and everything you think you know you actually don't. If you want foolproof evidence of that, just look at pretty much any NCAA Tournament that's ever been played.

The only thing we really know for certain is that Northwestern is not going to be participating.

People can come up with whatever strategies they deem fit in the elusive hunt for the first perfect bracket prediction in human history -- and they have -- but as far as I am concerned there is really only one strategy that makes sense. Sprinkle your first two rounds with a small handful of upsets, mostly stick with the chalk for the late rounds and then pray a teentsy bit. This, really, is the only reasonable strategy you can muster.

And why is that when the Florida-Gulf Coasts and George Masons of the world are lingering in the shadows? Because those guys getting anywhere are super, super rare. In the past nine years we've had two 11 seeds make the Final Four (George Mason in 2006, VCU in 2012), which seems like remarkable evidence that miracles aren't so miraculous, but we must also remember that in those nine years 34 11 seeds didn't make it, and only one other 11 seed has ever reached the Final Four ever in history. Indeed, runs like that, shocking as they might be at the time, are exceedingly rare. Wild giant-killer upsets will happen in the early rounds, but in the end the cream rises to the top nearly every time. The average Final Four features 1.8 No. 1-seeded teams -- almost half -- while even just a cursory glance at all of the past seeds to reach the Final Four shows that perhaps with the extreme outlying example of 2011, the top seeds are almost always the best bet to reach the tournament's last weekend, while high seeds, whatever trendy upset cachet they might have, are generally a terrible, terrible bet to reach the latter stages of March (or really April these days).

This all happens because of two truths no one really wants to openly admit when it comes to generating excitement for the annual March bonanza. 1) High seeds are high seeds for a reason: They're better. 2) Upsets are called upsets for a reason: Lower seeds are worse.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Worlds are colliding in Southampton

When you live in a major city and tend to run in the same social circles, it's far from unusual for you to run into people you know or find peculiar social connections with complete strangers. I am used to this phenomenon after several years of walking the streets of New York City and coming to the conclusion that, as I often say, upper-middle class 20-somethings that went to name universities live in a small world. If you've ever done online dating, you'll often find that the world is even smaller than you thought.

Sports, however, are supposed to be an escape from these types of bizarre life events.

They aren't completely free from them, of course. Various sports leagues have their fair bit of crossover, whether it be basketball and hockey teams sharing arenas or baseball and football teams dwelling in the same stadium or at least the same complex. Slate, earlier this year, ran an extremely addictive game exploiting this called "Six Degrees of Kevin Garnett", an encyclopedic generator that attempts to connect any two athletes that have ever played in the four major North American sports leagues. It's amazingly good. For instance, it can connect Hall-of-fame baseball racist Cap Anson, who died in 1922 with former Canadian-Barbadian hockey player Anson Carter, who debuted in the NHL in 1996, in just nine steps.

Those connections, however internecine and unexpected, however, are at least on the same continent. Yesterday my sports world was tumbled upside down with a peculiar announcement that will be of absolutely zero interest to anyone reading this blog who isn't me, but you're about to (maybe) read about it anyway. As a naive 17-year-old in 2002, I made a decision to jump full bore into rooting for an English soccer team, and at the behest of a one-time co-counselor at Fairview Lake, I went with the lovable Kansas City Royals-esque Southampton FC. I have written about this before.

Many of you probably don't know, though, that Southampton has a bit of a history of managerial instability. The Saints have had so many managers since I began following the team that while I'm pretty sure I can name most of them offhand (Gordan Strachen, Harry Redknapp, Glenn Hoddle, Alan Pardew, Nigel Adkins, Mauricio Pocchettino, etc) I would be hard-pressed to name all of them. The team has also had a remarkably tumultuous tenure above the field managers, with two relegations, two promotions, multiple chairmen and multiple owners -- one of whom actually died shortly after rescuing the team from financial administration.