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.