Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: The year the road went international

The turning of a calendar is a painfully arbitrary thing. I say painful not because it actually physically hurts to hang up a new calendar, though I suppose it could if you've pulled a muscle, but because it is a date that comes with extreme pomp and pressure to be celebratory, become reborn or reflect. Why couldn't we just as easily do this on, say, September 1 is the start of the Christian Liturgical calendar and has been celebrated as New Year's in the past?

The answer is, I guess, that we could. After all, this day largely just serves as an excuse to drink a lot, which is kind of funny considering there's one of those every three weeks or so on most office holiday calendars. But somewhere along the line someone decided January 1 would be the day we all started writing the wrong years on checks out of habit, so here we are.

If nothing else, like I said, it gives us an excuse to drink. As if most people needed one.

So, as the calendar makes its annual flip, I'm going to do what I always do and recount what a busy, wild year it's been -- and boy has it ever been both of those things. It all started with a bold, aggressive entirely non-serious prediction on Dec. 31, 2014, it continued in February when, for the first time, I saw a sporting event outside of North America, it included very nearly witnessing the prophecy coming through in October and now it all comes to its thrilling conclusion on Dec. 31, 2015, which I will spend, well, I honestly don't know yet. Maybe sleeping?

Considering everything I've done this year, I could probably use it. You'll see.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

NFL Picks Week Fifteen: To Cam or not to Cam

I want to acknowledge before I begin this that a) there are bigger things going on in the world right now than my fantasy team, and b) none of you care about my fantasy team. That's fine. I can accept that. But this is also my blog, so I get to say whatever the hell I want here and that's what I'm going to do. Deal with it.

Now that the preamble is done, allow me kindly to take you back to the salad days of 2012, when I made my trek to Baltimore, Maryland so I could see the New York Football Giants visit the Baltimore Ravens with my friends Lindsay and Chris. This trip was a big one for a few reasons, namely that the Ravens were the only team in the northeast megalopolis apart from the Philadelphia Eagles that I had not yet seen, the Giants were in the thick of a playoff race as they sought to defend their most recent championship and I, for the first time, was in the semifinals of my big keeper fantasy football league. This was a team I had built from nothing through an extensive system of trial and error -- perhaps with more error than not -- but had nursed on the strength of Cam Newton's arm and Giants wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to my league's final four.

As I reached kickoff for the second round of games that chilly December Sunday, the path was clear. A Giants victory would keep the defending champs in control of their own destiny ahead of their season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. For me, a grand total of 13 points between Nicks and Cruz would put me in the championship of my league for the first time. Given the seasons those two had put together, this should not have been too difficult.

The Giants played one of their worst games of the season, taking their fate out of their hands in a season that would end without a postseason berth. Cruz and Nicks combined for virtually nothing. The Ravens won the Super Bowl. My friend Christian, who would advance to the final against me, won our fantasy championship.

These aren't the outcomes I was looking for.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

NFL Picks Week Thirteen: The Giants took two weeks off, so I did too

Yes, I know only one of the past two weeks of NFL football was a bye week for the New York Giants, but honestly, if you saw their performance against Washington last Sunday, amazing catch by Odell Beckham aside, you'd be hard pressed to determine which week was which. The Giants turned in an illustriously awful day with first place in the NFC East on the line, which gives rise to the impression that was surely on no one's mind already, that maybe the Giants just aren't that good this season.

That doesn't mean the season is over, of course. The Skins hold a tiebreaker advantage over the Giants at the moment, but I'm not sure most people in America are prepared to say the words "NFC East champion Washington (expletive deleted)" any time soon. In fact, be it as a result of their play or their karma, I'm pretty sure if any team can manage to slip out of first place in this division, Washington is that team. My suspicion is still that the NFC East title will come down to the Giants' showdown with the Eagles in Week 17, but I might stop short of calling the winner of that game a "champion". Then again, if 7-9 is all it takes to get into the playoffs, I am fully confident the Giants will somehow ride that to another Super Bowl win over the Patriots.

Only time will tell.

I have no real explanation for why the Giants took last week off even though a game was scheduled, but as for me taking two weeks off from writing in this blog, we'll call it a combination of laziness and the busy schedule that comes with the Thanksgiving holiday. That laziness wasn't without cause, of course. Just after my last post I endeavored on one of my more fun, but above all more exhausting whirlwind trips as I ran around Chicago and Milwaukee to the tune of four sporting events in three days, with enough greasy food thrown in to make my college self blush.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

NFL Picks Week Ten: Off to see, among other things, Team No. 68

Earlier this summer I had a trip back from Japan that lasted roughly 30 hours, beginning with a massive bowl of ramen at Narita International Airport and ending at my work cubicle after a hastily-taken shower and approximately two hours of sleep. It does not actually take this long to fly back from Tokyo, but I had the foresight to schedule a 14-hour layover in Chicago that I foolishly thought would be shortened by catching an earlier connection. I would not have done this in any city that wasn't Chicago. For one thing, there are 20 flights per airline per day between Chicago and New York, and for another, should I somehow not be able to move to an earlier flight, at least I knew several people in the city with whom I could have dinner or drinks to kill those 14 hours. Unfortunately, I was not able to get on an earlier flight, and proceeded to find myself too tired to drag my luggage downtown and then back again. What followed was four pleasant hours chatting with an ex I had randomly bumped into in the terminal, and then 10 interminable hours of intermittent napping and general misery.

I deeply regret being too lazy and/or tired to leave the airport. Tomorrow, I will be flying to Chicago again. This time I will leave the airport. I'm excited about that.

I haven't yet decided if I'm going to make going to Chicago to see a Northwestern game an annual tradition, but I'm starting to think it's a good idea. Beyond the numerous friends I have in the city and the fact that it is a relatively easy trip, something just feels good about walking around campus again. I assume this is a pretty common bit of nostalgia across all college-educated Americans, and I assume I will keep this up for at least the next two years considering I already have a Chicago fall wedding on the books for 2016 and 2017 will be my 10th (holy fucking shit, 10th) college reunion.

The thing is beyond those milestone raison d'êtres, there are only so many excuses to keep flying back that sound more reasonable than "a desire to feel young again." And in my experience, not everyone thinks what you find reasonable is actually reasonable. Oh well. The only other legitimate cause I've had to return to the upper midwest, or at least within a 90-minute drive of Chicago, is to see the lone major professional sports team in Illinois or Wisconsin that I have not yet crossed off my list of teams seen. This Saturday night, however, that will come to an end.

That's right. After much delay and national panic, I will finally see that mysterious holy grail known as the Milwaukee Bucks.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

We Must Keep Dreaming

I have often told people of a dream I had once a few years ago that was at once both practical and fantastical. Visually it was something of a blur with little defined or specified aside from patches of green, brown, white, blue and orange. What I remember most clearly from this dream, however, was not what I saw in my unconsciousness, but what I heard, and it was one, simple, declarative statement.

"The New York Mets have won the World Series."

It shouldn't be a surprise that I might dream about hearing this. If you read this blog, if you know me personally -- hell -- if you've seen me walking on the street, you know I've been a Mets fan roughly two and a half decades. You know I've cared about this team so long that it felt less like a choice than a happenstance akin to my having brown eyes or being Jewish. You know that I've shamelessly peppered my nephews with Mets merchandise in hopes they, too, will feel the same way one day.  That I might dream of the Mets winning the World Series may be a bit sad for a 30-year-old man, but it is hardly a shock.

What was noteworthy about this dream, was not that it was about the Mets winning the World Series, but rather, that my it was the only time I can recall dreaming, pausing my dream and then rewinding my dream so I could see it twice. Even my subconscious knows seeing this team that is often so inept and dysfunctional win a world championship is such a ridiculous concept, it had to see it twice to verify what, in fact, it was seeing.

I'm not sure if that says more about the Mets or my neuroses -- or perhaps how misaligned my priorities are -- but it certainly says that in my very core, I don't really believe I'll ever see this happen.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

NFL Picks Week Eight: The Mets have the Royals right where they want them

Ok. I'll be honest. Game 2 last night did not exactly go how I wanted it to. Actually, it went the exact opposite way of how I wanted it to. Down 1-0 in the World Series, but with the Mets' top pitcher this season Jacob deGrom and Kansas City's wildly unpredictable Johnny Cueto facing off, I anticipated the Mets would win the game and earn a split in KC. Most importantly, though, the key was getting to Cueto early, not just because it would mean runs on the board, but because the Royals' bullpen had expended itself dramatically in that epic 14-inning win in Game 1. Kick Cueto to the curb early, force an already tired bullpen to throw six innings and you might have the Royals on their heels for the rest of the series.

A complete-game two-hitter that saves a tired bullpen and puts the Mets down 2-0 is not exactly what I was looking for.

But hey, here we are. The 2015 National League Champion New York Mets are headed back home to Citi Field facing a 2-0 deficit in the World Series ahead of Game 3 Friday night. It didn't have to be this way. The Mets have blown three separate leads over the first two games of this series, and almost certainly should have taken Game 1, which Kansas City tied on a solo home run by Alex Gordon with New York two outs away from victory. But ifs and buts, etc. What's done is done and all the Mets can hope to do now is even the score with three games in Queens this weekend.

Surprisingly, I actually like their chances. After all, Noah Syndergaard has basically been dynamite this postseason and Steven Matz, well, everyone says he's really great, so he must be even though I never see him pitch into the sixth inning. What I'm saying is, Mets fans across the boroughs are having a bit of a doomsday freakout right now, which, uh, I guess is understandable. But we could very easily be sitting here in three days with the series all square at 2-2 and Matt Harvey on the mound at home in a pivotal Game 5.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ya Gotta Believe

When the calender turned this past December, I looked toward 2015 with anxious anticipation as well as disbelief that in just a few short months I would somehow be celebrating my 30th birthday. I also looked forward with amazement at how in just a few short hours my nephew Sammy, would be celebrating his first. Since before Sammy was born I have done my best to pepper him with gifts and plant the seeds so that years from now he might watch the same teams I do with the same feelings. Of those gifts, there is no other team for which he has gotten more silly pieces of paraphernalia, than the New York Mets.

Time flies and over the past week I have received the revelation that somehow, someway, it has now been half of my life since the Mets were last in the World Series, and nearly all of it since they had actually won the damn thing. After all, I was a mere one year, three months and 13 days old on this exact date 29 years ago, which, incidentally, happens to be the last time the Mets won a world championship. Sammy's parents don't care very much about baseball, though my brother does claim, ironically, to be a Kansas City Royals fan. But their ambivalence opened the door for me to shower their son with Mets-related clothing, the goal of which, of course, was to warp his mind into being one of those sad folks who invests themselves in this aimless second-fiddle franchise.

I had a plan in place, though. Babies grow. They grow fast. Most clothing you can buy for them is sized in terms of months rather than years because they won't fit very long, and so I made a conscious decision to buy Sammy Mets clothing sized for the ages at which they would be in season. 2014 wasn't supposed to be breakout season for the Mets, though, and so when it came to his first jersey, I opted for the 18-month fit as opposed to six. My argument was the Mets might actually be decent in 2015 and wearing the jersey wouldn't be an embarrassment. Keeping that foresight in mind, along with my nephews impending first birthday on Jan. 1, 2015, and that the Mets' lone championship in my lifetime came when I was all of one year old, I proclaimed for my annual year in review that this would be it, and I titled that post "2015: The Year the Mets Win the World Series."

It was supposed to be a joke.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

NFL Picks Week Seven: This is really happening, isn't it?

There is a certain element of drama that disappears from the game when the outcome is no longer in doubt. The last time the New York Mets won the National League pennant, a five-game romp over the Cardinals in 2000, I remember being on the phone with my father during the final outs as I watched on the couch in the den of my childhood home. As the Mets inched closer and closer to the World Series, leading 7-0 as Mike Hampton was in the midst of a masterful three-hit shutout, there was no angst, no worry, no concern. I just told my dad, "Let's end this thing already."

This was the only time I had seen the New York Mets win the pennant until last night. The Mets wrapped up their first ever four-game sweep in a best-of-seven postseason series with an 8-3 win in which they had put up a four-spot before the Chicago Cubs ever came to bat and ended a series in which they never trailed once. It is a delirious, euphoric moment, but in no tangible way does it really feel real. There are probably many reasons for that. For one, these things always feel bizarre in the moment, and not as if they're a part of history. For another, I'm not really used to seeing good things happen to the Mets. And lastly, it was just so damn easy. The Cubs were a Vegas and popular favorite heading into this series and the Mets toyed with them as if they were the Murderer's Row Yankees facing a group of high schoolers. The Mets' offense struck early in each game and the pitching locked the Cubs' considerable offensive power down with little trouble in a way that doesn't so much prove New York's championship bonafides as it does defy belief.

And at the heart of it, that's the issue. This, what the New York Mets are doing, defies belief. This doesn't seem real or possible for a team that was tip-toeing around .500 for the first half of the season while putting out lineups where people like John Mayberry Jr. and Eric Campbell took turns batting cleanup. This team is now going to its first World Series since I was a sophomore in high school with a starting rotation that some are calling one of the best young groups ever assembled, a lineup that is mashing when it has to and a second baseman who hit a career high of 14 home runs this season, but now has apparently been anointed by the blood of Jesus.

It all makes no god damn sense.



Monday, October 19, 2015

This is what magic feels like

There is something about witnessing a postseason run for one of your teams that, in the moment, doesn't quite make it seem real. In the particular scenario in which that team is noted for a history of heartbreak when it's good, mediocrity when its not and generally tripping over its own feet, it is doubly surreal. What the New York Mets are doing right now, however, might make surreal seem ordinary. That New York is riding the arms of its long-touted pitching staff is not exactly a surprise. But ripping off two wins to start the NLCS against the favored Chicago Cubs, beating their two ace-caliber pitchers in the process no-less, and doing so with Curtis Granderson and Daniel Murphy delivering almost all of the offensive punch is something to behold.

And, I can tell you, it's something to see.

I have been to more than 180 Major League Baseball games in my life. According to my Hardball Passport profile, 138 of those have involved the New York Mets, though given that I wasn't quite as dedicated to keeping track of my ticket stubs in the 1990s, that number, in reality, is almost certainly higher. Until Saturday night, I had never seen the Mets play in the postseason in person. I did have tickets to the first round in 2007 and 2008, but we all know what happened there. Three years ago I decided on a whim to see my first postseason game when the Yankees and Orioles played in Game 5 of the ALDS.

I'm not sure why I did that. For years I had said I would avoid the postseason until I saw my Mets playing there myself. Perhaps I just saw a deal too good to pass up on an afternoon I was free, perhaps I got tired of waiting. While that afternoon was fun, it was no different or worse for me than any other baseball game. I had no care or investment. It was just nine innings between two teams with whom I have almost no connection.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

NFL Picks Week Six: Oh, right, so that's what it feels like

I remember this. The tension, the angst, the agita. It's all coming back to me. Nine years is quite a gap to go without being invested in October baseball, and the way it twists your stomach in knots was long forgotten and yet feels all too familiar. I often tell coworkers of a conversation I had in 2011, when the New Jersey Devils endured their first season without a playoff berth since 1996, when I was just shy of my 11th birthday. As I watched the postseason that spring I told my coworker how I experienced the most bizarre phenomenon during that first round.

I enjoyed it.

This is not unusual. Watching your team play a postseason game is a stressful, nerve-wracking affair, and when it comes to baseball, I had nearly forgotten just how stressful it can be. I was reminded of it this past Friday, when after a long day of hiking around Glacier National Park with two good friends and a heart dinner of grilled buffalo ribeyes in Kalispell, Montana, I settled in in my friends Dave and Caitlin's living room to watch the Mets play the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS with them, my friend Frankie and Dave and Caitlin's black lab mix Bergen. Almost instantaneously, stresses rippled through my body in a way I hadn't experienced since October 19, 2006, when the Mets lost Game 7 of the NLCS to St. Louis in what would be their last postseason game for almost a decade.

In this particular instance of course, I was lucky. It was a tiny bit of misfortune that the Mets' first postseason series in nine years happened to fall almost entirely throughout the course of a trip to Montana, but luckily they have technology out there now even if my friends there somehow don't have cable. That first game, a dominant strikeout-laden win for Jacob deGrom, though, was relatively stress free. Game 2, which I watched partially at a condo in Big Sky and partially at a nearby bar called The Broken Spoke, was a less pleasant experience and the night that will be singled out in this series if the Mets don't reach the NLCS because of the slide heard 'round the world. I may or may not have made a scene in front of several people I don't know, but on the plus side, the credit card minimum there was only $6 and you still needed to buy two drinks to reach it. Game 3, the most-enjoyable game of the series for obvious reasons, I watched at my friends' Sarah and Jeff's place in Missoula, along with their insanely adorable 18-month-old Marshall, who has a knack for industriousness and may or may not be a good luck charm.



And then there's Game 4.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

NFL Picks Week Five: THE METS ARE PLAYING IN A PLAYOFF GAME

Montana is one of a handful of states in the lower 48 bereft of any major league professional sports teams. That doesn't mean there's no reason to visit, obviously. Montana also happens to maybe be the most beautiful place on Earth. That Montana lacks any major league sports teams isn't a bad thing, but it does make it a curious place for me to spend what might be one of the busiest sports weeks on record.

That week already began on Tuesday when the Astros bored the Yankees to death in the AL Wild Card Game and continued last night when Jake Arietta turned the Pirates into mincemeat as the Cubs took the NL Wild Card Game. Nothing like watching a 98-win season go down the tubes in a winner-take-all frabrication designed for TV. I'm also fortunate in that I was too lazy to blog my MLB postseason bigs on Tuesday like I should have, considering I was going to pick Pittsburgh to win the World Series. The zaniness continues tonight when the American League Division Series kicks off, and the NFL's Week Five schedule gets underway. It was compounded last night when the NHL dropped the puck on the 2015-16 season, during which I will watch the Blackhawks try to defend their Stanley Cup championship and I will cheer the Devils' inexorable march toward the best odds in the Auston Matthews (or whomever) Sweepstakes. No. 13 Northwestern, newly sporting its highest national ranking since 2000, has one its biggest games in years as it visits No. 18 Michigan Saturday afternoon.

Also there are some baseball games this weekend that I'm kind of interested in.

There aren't many things in life that would set my heart aflutter like a deep New York Mets playoff run, and I use the term "aflutter" in the most literal sense as my angst and agita throughout is sure to cause some irregular beats. That said, it is just my luck that the first time the Mets play a real, bonafide postseason game in my adult life happens to fall in the middle of a vacation to the mountain west. Luckily for me, facing the Los Angeles Dodgers means the opening two games of the series will be in later time slots. Game 1's 9:45 pm ET start has not gone over so well back east, but as I am spending all of Friday hiking around Glacier National Park, my mind has been put at ease over not having to balance one of the few chances in my life to truly experience untouched natural splendor with one of the few chances in my life to watch the Mets play an October game that matters.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

NFL Picks Week Four: Is there a Ralph Around Here?

Ladies and gentlemen, much like my beloved New York Mets, I am in the midst of a drought. Much like my beloved Mets, that drought will end this month. Now, I'm not really naive enough to think my drought, which is all of nine months, is as significant as the Mets' which has lasted nine years, but I'm as excited for mine to end this weekend as I am for the Mets' to end on October 9. Ok, that's not entirely true, but it is enough nines to make Herman Cain proud. Except this is marginally more sensible.

Look, here's the point. I started this blog several years ago with the stated intentions of chronicling my irrational goal of seeing every sports team in the four major North American sports leagues play a home game. Unfortunately, there aren't enough teams, enough trips or enough money in my bank account to have a new adventure ready for posting each week, so I have often verged into other topics. Even as I've done that, however, I have still managed to make progress on my goal, typically matching or exceeding my ideal pace of six new teams per year for the next three decades or so.

Then 2015 came.

This year has been slowed by several other commitments, be they vacations, visiting family abroad or still being stuck in that brutal stretch in which everyone you know is getting married. I have capitalized on this to some extent, finally seeing my beloved Saints for the first time when I stayed with my sister in London and experiencing the insanity of Japanese sporting culture as I made a mid-summer trek around the globe. I even managed to combine a wedding in California this past June with trips to see the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's.

The catch here is that none of these teams were both in North America nor teams I had never seen before. In fact, the last time I ventured outside my sports comfort zone within the lower 48 was way back on December 7, 2014 when I watched the Giants pulverize 22 homeless men masquerading as the Tennessee Titans. Since then it's been nothing but watching the same teams I always watch, and if you happened upon a Devils or Knicks game last season you know that can't be a good thing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pave paradise. Put up a parking lot.

Much has happened in my life since 2006. I've graduated college, moved to New York and worked in a job long enough to vest a pension. I've seen two siblings get married, two cousins and countless friends across the U.S. I've gone on vacations to 21 countries across four continents. I've seen 53 new major league teams in five different sports play home games across 33 cities in four countries over three continents. I've seen the Giants win a Super Bowl unexpectedly, collapse into mediocrity and then unexpectedly win the Super Bowl again. I've seen three of my four favorite North American teams move into new buildings, I've seen Bruce Springsteen in concert six times and I've even become an uncle.

I have not, however, seen the New York Mets play a postseason baseball game.

That drought, mercifully, will end next week when the Mets face (and possibly host?) the Los Angeles Dodgers on Oct. 9 in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. That I may be hiking in Glacier National park at the time makes me a bit anxious, but with the magic of modern technology, I'm clinging desperately to the hope that I will still be able to see the magic on a phone or at a local bar. But the fact that it is happening at all, is important. The life of a Mets fan, so often, is an exercise in masochism or, if one wants to believe it ultimately serves a higher purpose, asceticism.

I am not one of those people. There is not higher calling or ultimate lifestyle reward for being a Mets fan. In fact, so often there is no reward at all, large or small. That has been particularly true over the past near-decade since Carlos Beltran was unable to get the bat off his shoulder (though given the nastiness of a 2006-Adam Wainright curveball I refuse to be one of those who still bears resentment against Beltran). The last nine years of living with the Mets has included two epic collapses, the acquisition of one of the greatest pitchers of his era only to see him breakdown over the course of his contract, a ponzi-scheme fueled bankruptcy, front office turmoil and, and yes I know I've mentioned this, but it cannot be stressed enough, a high-ranking front office employee who challenged a clubhouse full of minor leaguers to a fight.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

NFL Picks Week Three: This entry canceled by the Pope

Some of you following the news this week may have noticed that some guy named Frank is visiting New York today and tomorrow, which is apparently bringing every Catholic out of the would work. The Pope is in town and that means tons of traffic changes, early office closings and New York generally being in a dizzy tizzy. The upshot of this is that I am also too busy to write a full entry in this blog -- or at least too lazy -- because the holy father has made it so.

Pope Francis will curiously not be hosting a mass at Yankee Stadium, which is the typical public location for a sitting pope to do so out of concern for his exhaustion, but he will be hosting a mass at Madison Square Garden. This, I believe, is the closest this trip will get to anything sports-related, which is a damn shame considering John Paul II's visit to St. Louis in the late 1990s that included a private audience with Mark McGwire, and a hilarious photo of him receiving an authentic jersey from the St. Louis Blues that I have to imagine he wore regularly around St. Peter's. He certainly wasn't wearing it around the rink.

I don't much believe in Catholicism or the Pope's significance on a religious level (which really shouldn't be a surprised considering the obvious), but I will admit I know people that need his guidance. The New York Giants have a rare Thursday night tilt against the Washington Redskins tonight, and if anyone could use the help of a higher power to get back on the straight and narrow, it's probably my boys in blue. Following consecutive back-breaking losses that could otherwise have the Giants in commanding early position in the NFC East, the Giants need a win desperately to get back into the race, which is a lot to say in Week 3 of the season, but it isn't wrong.

It is rare that both the New York Giants and the Holy Father are in the same general geographic area at the same time -- there aren't many football fields in the Vatican, though I hear there are some good livestock shows -- but I can only hope some of his influence can rub off on Big Blue as they make a bid to save their season. If Francis manages to have an impact on his brief visit to New York, well, maybe I'll start believing in miracles.

If nothing else he might leave with a pretty sweet personalized jersey.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Just what does it take to turn around a hat trick day gone wrong?

Those of you who read this space regularly (and feel free to let me know if you do personally, because I'm pretty sure I could count you on one hand) are probably aware that on those sublime, fortunate afternoons and nights where three different teams I root for win, I like to boast that I've had a hat trick day. Some of those days are truly memorable. Some, however, are not. And then there are those special inverse hat trick days that are so brutally painful that you start to question why you wrap up so much emotion in a trivial event you have no direct influence on in the first place.

Then again, maybe it's not so much that I have no direct influence as it is that I wore the wrong Eli Manning jersey yesterday. We can't really know for sure.

The point is, it often takes something pretty remarkable to overturn the misery of an inverse hat trick day, let alone one where all three teams you're following happen to blow leads in the process. Yesterday, I got to test the theory of just how unlikely a positive occurrence you need to be connected to to truly block out that kind of disappointment, particularly when, at one point, it looked like I might be in for a pretty damned good day.

It all started around 11:12 a.m. ET as I sat in my office watching Southampton, which has not exactly set the world on fire like it did a year ago when the Saints spent half the season in second place in the table. Yesterday the Saints were playing those irritating 800-lb. gorillas known as Manchester United, the type of outfit that overspends to the point that you can mock their inefficiency, but still get steamed that even if quadrupling your payroll only gives them a better team than yours by a hair, they've still got that single hair. At that time, Southampton striker Graziano Pelle had slammed an easy rebound into the net to give the Saints a 1-nil lead over United, which got me thinking I could be in for a hell of a day.

At 11 Southampton faced Manchester United. At 1 the Giants opened their 2015 home schedule against the Atlanta Falcon. At 8 the Mets looked to cap a Subway Series win against the Yankees. And finally, at that same time, the Emmys would be happening out in Los Angeles. Typically, I don't care that much about the Emmys, but, see, I knew a guy who was nominated or something.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

NFL Picks Week Two: Let's do everyone a favor and not talk about last week

Ok, look. I'm not going to go into my complaints and frustration from the Giants' colossal meltdown against the Cowboys in Week One. I mean, sure, the clock management was totally screwy, the refusal to run for short yardage out of a spread is a constant reminder than football coaches accept change slower than eroding mountains and the idea that somehow a one-possession lead with 90 seconds left is better than a two-posession lead with two minutes left is, you know, nuts.

But look on the bright side!

....

See?

Ok, so when you think about it, there are, at least some positives to cling to. The Giants' defense looked far better than many anticipated, with the notable exception of backup middle linebacker Uani' Unga being picked on like a the nerdy kid at lunch during Dallas' winning drive. While the Giants still only have themselves to blame for not ultimately winning, you can also include the fact that the Cowboys got a little bit of home cooking. New York won the turnover battle and more or less held its own in a road game against one of the League's title favorites that any sane person would say it should have won.

I take a mild bit of reassurance from that, or maybe I just get a reminder than the difference in the NFL between great and terrible is razor thin, but the important thing is that I've emotionally moved on from a colossally frustrating season opener. I haven't lost hope even if the betting public has. After all, the Giants would have won a huge season-opening game if it wasn't for a few easily fixable mistakes. So, the logic goes, fix the mistakes, the wins will start coming, right?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

NFL Picks Week One: It's the fourth year of the cycle, everybody!

Tons of great things happy every four years. In the world of sports, we see how intensive training and a strict doping regimen can produce thrilling competitions at the Olympic Games. In politics we witness first hand how much money it takes to buy the Presidency. Scientists gather to find out what cool things we can do with dirt. And in the NFL, it's starting to appear that against all odds, something truly crazy happens.

Every four years, the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

I know, I know. Two Super Bowl titles four years apart does not a trend make. But when one looks at how totally zany those two title runs were, and how much better the Patriots, Packers or any other team the Giants played during those runs objectively were (2007 Buccaneers and 2011 Falcons excluded), one has to wonder if something strange isn't in the air. The Giants were a combined 19-13 over those two seasons compared to a combined 29-3 mark from the 2007 and 2011 Pats. New York was mediocre in most statistical categories, suffered coach-jeopardizing losing streaks and barely scrambled their way into the postseason in both seasons. Both Super Bowl victories required a late fourth-quarter touchdown drive that involved a mind-altering catch to pull off an upset. Each Super Bowl berth required an unexpected overtime field goal on the road against a superior opponent in perilous weather conditions. Each championship, in order to occur, would require its own series of implausible and improbably events.

And yet at the beginning of February, there we were, twice watching Eli Manning, the quarterback who had been a poster child for aloofness and unfulfilled expectations, lifting the Lombardi Trophy with a big ol' "Screw you" grin on his face.

No one really knows how all that happens, but there must be a reason. There must be an outside force affecting the data. And so, much like my belief that the Chicago Cubs must actually be cursed, something has predetermined the Giants' cyclical success. Some higher power has preordained that New York will upset the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl every four years. It's as dependable as the globe's greatest soil scientists gathering quadrennially to talk about earth.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What on Earth is going on here?

This is not my team. These are not the Mets I know.

In my emotionally-scarring 2.5 decades of baseball fandom I have grown used to scars and disappointment, to collapses and anemic offenses, to insurmountable deficits left insurmounted against mentally stronger foes. What I have never grown used to, what I may never grow used to, is watching this team give up a crooked number and have anything resembling "confidence" that it was capable of a rally.

And so, after last night's stunning comeback, which not only gave the Mets a six-game lead in the NL East but also may have provided the back-breaking moment that puts the proverbial fork in the Washington Nationals, I ask the one question that continues to run through my mind as I try to contain my youthful glee.

"What on Earth is going on?"

The New York Mets, suddenly, are good. Like, really good. On July 31, the Mets opened a three-game series against the Nationals coming off two losses and trailing Washington by three games. That night Wilmer Flores, who days before was crying on the field when he thought he was on the verge of being traded, hit a walkoff home run, sparking a stretch that has seen the Mets go 25-11. In that span, New York has made up a shocking nine games on Washington in the standings while winning all five games between the teams.

Friday, September 4, 2015

We'll Always Have San Francisco.

My plan for today was to write about the impending doom that is going to be Northwestern's 2015 college football season -- and fear not, I'm sure I will have more than enough to say about that over the next few months -- but as so often happens in "journalism" breaking news is going to take priority. As the minor leagues opened their football season this weekend (and yeah, they're pros, they just don't get paid), the New York Giants decided to cut a link to their past as the NFL's 2015 campaign is about to dawn next week.

In a move that isn't a terrible surprise to anyone who has watched the Giants for the past two season, New York decided to cut punter Steve Weatherford on Friday. Normally this isn't the type of personnel move that generates much publicity, and for people that pay attention to other teams, it may only seem noteworthy because of Weatherford's famous physique rather than his punting. In fact, his punting over most of his Giants career, in which he pinned opponents inside the 20 yard line 24.25 times a season compared to 42 times in 2010 with the New York Jets, has been relatively average. Last season he finished 18th in the League in average punting distance and 25th in net average distance. Even if you're a fan favorite and a famous physical freak, average is a bad thing to be when you're a punter with a cap hit of more than $3 million in the coming season.

In Weatherford's stead the Giants will apparently be employing Brad Wing as their punter after he was acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers not long after Weatherford was cut. Wing is far less experienced, with just one NFL season under his belt, but his numbers last season were better than Weatherford's and he counts $2.5 million less against the cap to boot. I'm actually quite excited for Wing because he's an Aussie who grew up playing my favorite sport nobody knows about (apparently Geelong didn't know about the sport this season either), and the skills he has as a result of playing footy gives him an extra dimension the Giants could exploit, as LSU did during his college days.

Now, cutting a punter usually flies relatively under the radar, and most fans of a team might be unable to have any emotional reaction whatsoever. After all, punters are one of the most unsung players on the field despite being among the most important even if they shouldn't be. I tend to find myself heavily in the camp of "coaches punt way too often," but even if I believe that to be the case, I can recognize when a punter is having a good day. And furthermore I can recognize when a punter has a great day.

I bring this up, and I feel sentimental about this whole thing, because on January 22, 2012, Steve Weatherford basically won the 2011 NFC Championship Game for the Giants.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

It's been a while. Please be gentle.

The Mets are in first place. It's September. These are two sentences I haven't been able to say successively in nearly a decade. In fact, September 19, 2008 was the last time the Mets could say they held the best record in the NL East in the final full month of a Major League season. That's a span of 2,539 days. Or 60,936 hours. Or 3,656,160 minutes. Or 219,369,600 sec--

Look. You get the point.

It's been a long time since the Mets were in first place or even close to first place with a realistic shot at the postseason. The last time New York was in a pennant race, 23-year-old me was pulling his hair out watching the motley crew of Luis Ayala, Aaron Heilman and Scott Schoeneweis fritter away game after game after game. It was a distinctly different era in my life, where the immediate post-college years filled themselves with booze and frivolity, refusing to acknowledge that at some point the summer camp period of young adulthood ends and you have to figure out your future. Now, at 30, things are so different.

I mean, yes, I still work for the same company, live in the same apartment and I'm still a bachelor. But they're different, I swear.

That season, even as I watched a mediocre bullpen torpedo what should have been a World Series contender (The Mets, who lost the division by three games, would have won it by 12 if all games ended after eight innings instead of nine), I was safe in the naive notion that a big-budget club from the World's largest media market with a burgeoning super star third baseman and the best pitcher on the planet in Johan Santana was certain to stay competitive for years to come.

In fact, the next season when the Mets brought in K-Rod and J.J. Putz to shore up those bullpen concerns, Sports Illustrated went so far as to tab the Mets as its presumptive World Series favorite in its 2009 MLB preview issue. They finished 70-92.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Big in Japan: A coma-free report on sports in the far east

When I plan my big international vacation each year, I'm often safe in the knowledge that I'm doing it when little of note is on the sports calendar. Occasionally I miss the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, as I did in 2014 and 2011, but by leaving the country for three weeks in mid-to-late July and early August, I often catch that soft underbelly of the U.S. schedule in which there are no championships won, no postseason games and no major tournaments. Occasionally the World Cup and the Olympics throw a wrench into that mix, but those are easy enough to follow abroad.

What has creeped into my head, though, is the fear that I might miss out on a one-off event just as important, like, say, a no-hitter by a New York Mets pitcher. To this point, I have avoided that impossible-to-predict moment, but the concern will always be there. Traveling in the midst of baseball season usually means I'm going to miss seeing the Mets, though in some cases that can be a good thing, either because they're in the midst of an awful season or because they have an astonishingly good record when I'm out of the country.

This time around, I was fortunate to be traveling to Japan in my first foray into the far east. Because the time difference is 13 hours, most Mets games happened at 8 in the morning, when I was coming back from my morning jog and relaxing as I planned out what I would do each day. This meant I watched nearly every game the Mets played while I was gone, which is either good or bad depending on how you view vacation, but considering how popular the Mets are in Japan, I think avoiding it was a losing proposition.

I saw all the excitement: The bungled losses to the San Diego Padres, the Wilmer Flores affair, the Wilmer Flores redemption and ultimately the early-August hot streak that has somehow thrust the Mets into first place. All of that was great, but my biggest victory was avoiding the fate of Steven Manganello, a Red Sox fan who might have endured the greatest fear we all share in the fall of 2004.



What's that you say? "Dave, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series that year to break the curse of the Bambino. How could that have been a bad thing for a Sox fan?"

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Three Teams To Watch As Super Bowl Favorites In 2015

A word from our sponsor

One of the best things about the NFL is the fact that there is certainly a lot of parity around the league. At the beginning of the season, nearly every single team feels like they have what it takes to make the playoffs. However, they are obviously going to be teams with a better chance to win the Super Bowl than others. Here is a look at the three teams to look out for with plenty of fantasy football talent to go all the way.

Seattle Seahawks

This team will be looking to make their third consecutive Super Bowl in 2016. They have done a very good job keeping most of their core together, and they were also able to go out and get Jimmy Graham. He is the best tight end in fantasy football statistically in the last few years. He is going to help Russell Wilson and the passing game become a lot better. It is extremely difficult to have a chance to play for three or more Super Bowls in a row, but they certainly can pull it off.

Green Bay Packers

There are a lot of people who look at the Green Bay Packers is the most complete team in the NFL heading into the 2015 regular season. They certainly have their fair share of talent, especially on offense. With so many weapons ready to put up numbers in fantasy football, it is going to come down to their defense if they want to compete for a Super Bowl.

Indianapolis Colts

Some people might find it weird is that New England is not on this list despite winning the Super Bowl last year, but the Indianapolis Colts just look a little better on paper. Not only do they have an improved team, But they also have their quarterback ready to play all 16 games. Meanwhile, Tom Brady is going to miss the first four games due to his suspension. Andrew Luck is a fantasy football star, and the defense is better than some people realize. This might be the year they turn the corner and start really competing for a Super Bowl.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Don't trust anyone over 30: A Third-life crisis progress report

There comes a point in man's life when he has to sit back, breathe in deep and reassess his choices. Should I have chosen this career path? Should I have tried living in a different city or perhaps taking a different major in undergrad? Should I have asked that girl Katrina for her number at that party at Caitlin Overland's apartment back in 2005?

Should I have accepted life as a Mets fan?

These are the queries that try men's souls, the dramatic life decisions on which we pontificate. At some point you realize your childhood is done and it's time to figure out where your life is going. I, personally, had hoped that I would never reach that point. I had hoped I could live consequence-free forever, gallivanting from wild adventure to wild adventure.

Clearly, with my life of living more-or-less responsibly, always paying my credit card bills and rent on time and having never tried marijuana, I'm living up to those carefree, reckless foundation principles. But like I said, that can't last forever. No, at some point, you must come to the table and cash in your chips. At some point, you must figure out what you're doing and decide if you're where you want to be.

For me, that day is today. Today, on July 14, 2015, I turn 30 years old.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

I thought I had turned down a ticket to history this week. I guess not.

Back in the halcyon days of 2008, a horse named Big Brown became the 11th horse since Affirmed won the 1978 Triple Crown to take both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. With the potential for the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years -- Big Brown was an absolutely enormous favorite to win -- my good friend Adam and I decided with history in the offing, we had best make a trip to Belmont Park to see it in person. What followed was a crowded, sweaty, disgusting mess that involved 94,000 people, the vast majority of them drunk, an interminable hours-long bottleneck to get home and a number of young men so drunk and impatient that they didn't bother waiting on bathroom lines and instead chose to urinate down the stairwells of the grandstand.

Oh, and Big Brown became the first horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown and finish dead last in the third. Whoops.

I vowed that day never to return to the Belmont, which, given my tortured relationship with horses, didn't seem like a terrible sacrifice. However, I nearly recanted on that promise last week, when my college roommate Abe informed me he would be in town and had an extra ticket to the Belmont, should I so desire to see American Pharoah become the latest thoroughbred to take a stab at glory. Much as I love that horse's name, I was torn by a few factors. Most important among those was that this past Saturday was a sports bonanza rarely seen in modern times. At 9 a.m. the Women's French Open Final would make way for the 2:45 kickoff of the UEFA Champions League Final, which in turn served as a segue to the opening match of the Women's World Cup at 6 p.m., the Belmont Stakes at 6:50 and then Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at 7:15, with the Mets playing at 10 p.m. just for kicks.

I had already invited friends over for a day of watching and barbecuing, and making the last-minute move to Belmont Park would not only ruin my social plans for the day, but also likely rob me of the seeing the end of the Champions League Final and most of the Stanley Cup Final. Also, Belmont Park is repulsive.

Wary of disappointing my arriving friends and weary from spending too many hot days in drunk crowds in my 20s, I decided to pass up the tickets and spend the day watching sports and slaving over the grill with my friends. After all, 13 other horses had nabbed the first two legs of the Triple Crown over the past 37 years only to come up short, including six over an eight-year span in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The length of the Belmont track, the pressure on the jockeys and the relative exhaustion the horse feels against a field of fresher competition makes the feat a near impossibility. Surely there was no way American Pharoah would actually make me look like a dunce by, say, running away with the race in a wire-to-wire victory.

Oh? What's that you say? Well shit.



Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why aren't more people talking about how crazy this is?

I enjoy when the Mets are on the west coast. Don't get me wrong, late-night starts are pretty horrendous for east coasters, particularly considering each game of the NBA Finals (Cavs in 7, by the way) doesn't start until about 11:30 p.m. That kind of schedule can make it tough to get a full night's sleep and be alert at work the next day, but something about those May and June nights where you can go out for dinner after work, come home at 10 and turn on the TV to see the Mets in San Diego or L.A. has a pleasantly calming effect on me. I have no reason why, but there's just something nice about the deliberate pacing of a baseball game you probably won't see the conclusion of if you're getting ready for bed.

All that being said, I'm probably one of the few people who feels this way, and as a result, I would venture a guess that SNY's ratings for the Mets' current series with the Padres aren't exactly setting the world on fire. If that's the case, and none of you spent the two days this week that won't have something sports-crazy happening on them watching the Mets, you might have missed something.

On Monday night, San Diego pitcher Andrew Cashner absolutely lit up the Mets with 12 strikeouts and no walks over 4 2/3 innings. What's curious, though, is that he didn't pitch beyond that, and the reason is because the Mets lit Cashner up, too, knocking him around for five earned runs on 11 hits. Giving up double-digit hits while racking up double-digit strikeouts in less than five innings is quite the feat -- one that you don't hear about all that often.

In fact, the reason you don't hear about it too often is because before Monday night in San Diego it had never happened before in modern Major League Baseball history.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tuesdays with Terry

It was about a year ago I heard the rumor that New York Mets manager Terry Collins spent the seven or so months of baseball season residing in my neighborhood of Long Island City, Queens. While I had no independent verification of this, it would hardly be surprising. Travis d'Arnaud and Ruben Tejada are also names I had heard as possible neighbors of mine and on multiple occasions I have seen Jon Niese and his wife on the subway, while once I had to hide my amusement at seeing how peeved former-Met John Maine was about waiting in a particularly slow line at the local Duane Reade.

This isn't so nuts. I live in a growing, trendy and, as my rent has indicated, increasingly expensive area. In the seven years I've called it home the luxury high rises have sprouted from the Earth and brought with it an influx of wealthy internationals, young corporate families and fewer youthful yuppies than it used to. I'm not so crazy about the older shift in demographics, but the easy access to Manhattan and a direct route to Citi Field have smoothed over that gradual transition.

Also, the restaurants are way better now.

Still, over the past few years I had seen nary a sign of Collins roaming Vernon Blvd or grabbing a late-night deli sandwich at the E&I Grocery. And Tuesday morning as I nursed my bruises and sore muscles from running this year's Brooklyn Half Marathon and then watching the Mets tumble throughout May, I entered the elevator in my apartment building en route to an easy swim at the pool and saw none other than the man who would be manager of the NL East leaders.

Collins leaned on the back of the elevator making eye contact with no one, and I tried to respect his personal space and privacy by not staring or bothering him. The catch with this, however, is that I always use a Mets towel when I go swimming. He must have seen it, and while owning Mets paraphernalia isn't enough to guarantee one could spot the team's manager in casual clothes in an elevator, there was the distinct possibility Collins saw me, saw my towel, and assumed I knew who he was.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I'd ask you to pinch me, but we don't want anyone else getting hurt

For the first time in franchise history, the New York Mets have won their first seven games at home. They've also won eight games in a row for the first time in five years and have a 10-3 start that has only been accomplished two other times in franchise history, with each of those seasons (1986, 2006) resulting in at least a division title and in the first case, a World Series championship. Matt Harvey is 3-0, Bartolo Colon is 3-0, Jacob deGrom is 2-1 and the staff's ERA is 3.00 even.

Oh, and the Mets have the best record in the National League.

So look, guys. I know it's early, but even though I expected the Mets to be improved this season, I wasn't quite expecting improvement like this. It's a long season with 149 games remaining and a plummet back to Earth may well be in the offing, but at the moment New York looks like a bonafide postseason contender and, at the moment anyway, in control of the NL East. There's just one small problem...

So even as the Mets begin the season tearing up the National League, there's a stockpile of absences that's starting to build up, and despite my greater hopes that it's just a required bit of adversity for a truly special season, at some point the chickens are going to come home to roost. To wit, since the start of spring training, the following issues have befallen the Mets' anticipated every-day roster:

1. Anticipated No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler needs Tommy John surgery
2. Lefty reliever Josh Edgin also needs Tommy John surgery
3. Closer Jenrry Mejia is suspended 80 games and any potential postseason games for taking steroids
4. All-Star third baseman and team captain David Wright suffers a hamstring injury
5. Reliever Vic Black has to get an MRI
6. In the span of one inning shutdown reliever Jerry Blevins and hot-hitting catcher Travis d'Arnaud each break bones that will keep them out six weeks and three weeks, respectively

So yeah, the Mets are looking great and doing great, but what in the name of Sidd Finch is going on here?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

19 innings in purgatory: My first baseball game of 2015

Mike, who for the purposes of clarification will henceforth in this post be referred to as "Duffman", was two innings late. Last week my stepmother told me she had happened upon four tickets to the Delta Suite at the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game on April 10 and asked me if I would make good use of them. Even with no dog in the fight, the answer to that was obvious, and so I chose to take with me Mike, one of my best friends from high school, ardent Red Sox fan Luisa, one of my best friends from college and her recently-wedded husband, Duffman.

And Duffman was two innings late.

I'm a bit of a stickler for arriving to sporting events on time. I don't like to miss first pitch, but if someone else gets held up or sidetracked, and evidently this was the case, well that's their folly. Mike, Luisa and I had all been at the stadium since 5:30, watching some batting practice, at which Luisa sweet talked her way into a baseball from one of Boston's outfielders, and checking out Yankee Stadium's various exclusive areas to which our tickets provided access. First we went to the Mohegan Sun sports bar, which was about as sterile as one could imagine, and next to the Audi Club in left field, which seemed nice and elegant, but was only slightly less sterile than the Mohegan Sun sports bar. Finally we made our way through the indirect, confusing tunnels that are concourses at Yankee Stadium, and we made our way to the Delta 360 suite where our actual tickets were.

We indulged in the free popcorn, peanuts and soft drinks and watched the game slowly get underway, and all the while we wondered, "Where could Duffman be? He's not usually late to things." And then, at least in my mind, one thought began to pervade as one inning turned into two.

"What if Duffman doesn't get to see enough of the game to make his trip worth the time?"

Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 MLB Preview: I'm actually excited and I don't need to hide it

They just don't make sports days like today, anymore. Granted, to truly understand why today is so wonderful, you have to crawl deep inside the deranged psyche of a man who would contemplate staying awake until 4:30 a.m. on a school night to watch Australian Rules Football. Still, the fact remains that from the wee hours of this morning to the final hours of tonight, my brain is being treated to a smorgasbord of sports that literally spans the entire globe.

The day starts at 1:20 a.m. ET when Geelong and Hawthorn bounce for each team's opener of the 2015 Australian Football League home and away season. Yes, I know none of you really care about this sport at all, but trust me when I tell you that it is totally awesome. Of course, staying up until 4:30 a.m. when you have work the next morning isn't particularly advisable, so I only watched the first quarter before watching the conclusion of Geelong's, ugh, loss this morning as I got ready for work.

The hours after work bring more excitement still, as I get to see if at least one Big Ten family member will witness a national championship in his or her lifetime when Wisconsin takes on Duke for the NCAA Men's Basketball title, Bucky's first chance at a hoops championship since 1941. My Badger sister was following the score of her alma mater's massive update victory over previously-undefeated Kentucky as best she could from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco last night, which generally just meant waking up to a text message update from me.

Everyone experiences sports fandom in their own way.

Still the start of footy down under and the conclusion of an NCAA Tournament that was turbulent and predictable all at the same time merely serve as bookends for the most exciting part of the day. That comes at 7:05 p.m. when Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals throws the first pitch of the New York Mets 2015 season. Typically, as a Mets fan, the start of a new campaign is something I've grown to dread in my adult years, as the Amazins haven't put together a winning record since they played in Shea Stadium, and have largely spent the last six seasons tripping over their own feet on the way out of the dugout.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.

As that most furiously-paced few weekends of the sports calendar descend upon us, there is one immutable truth about the NCAA Tournament that I am reminded of time and again:

We know absolutely nothing about college basketball.

Really. We don't. The NCAA Tournament, which tips off today, is a mind-boggling cataclysm of assumed hoops knowledge, intensive well-intention research and the massive heap of garbage that gets dumped all over it the moment Cinderella crashes your bracket. No one has any idea what will happen, beyond Kentucky probably winning, when the Big Dance starts off today, least of all me.

That, of course, doesn't stop us from trying, and to that end this year, like every year, I have filled out my bracket and made picks in my survivor pool, a pool from which I was eliminated at the end of the very first game of the tournament last year. This year I actually feel pretty good about my choices, a largely chalky Final Four with a reasonable seasoning of upsets in the first two rounds. That's generally how the tournament goes, after all, but it's the matter of which upsets you will (or more likely) won't get. This year I'm feeling reasonably confident about my faith in Buffalo and UC Irvine for no rational reasons at all, but lately I've been getting anxious as they each become trendier picks. Again, this is not in any way rational, but what, exactly, is rational about boiling a 34-game season of more than 200 teams to a 68-team single-elimination tournament?

Probably nothing.

And so, because I can't rationally think of a better way to solve and understand an irrational idea, I've decided to become one of those nerds that undertakes a totally ludicrous mathematical experiment when March rolls around, in order to determine if I'm better off using my own intuition, picking based on historical matchup probabilities, or if I'm better off flipping a coin. After going through the process, I won't lie, there's a very good chance the Coin Flip bracket, in which Arizona and Oklahoma somehow faced off in the title game despite universal even odds, ends up being the most accurate. Then again the bracket ended up with University of Alabama-Birmingham, a 14-seed that is almost certainly going to get bounced by Iowa State this afternoon, reaching the Final Four.

To perform all this experimental magic, I relied on two very helpful tools my friend Chris found through Googling after I informed him of the idea. For the bracket based on weighted historic probabilities, I used this site, which has the winning percentages for each seed vs. seed matchup since the tournament expanded to a 64-team format back in 1985. To actually perform the simulations, whether they be weighted or 50/50, I used this handy site that allows you to create a percentage weighted spinning wheel and then spin away. This, of course, isn't without its flaws. After all, as we reach the later rounds of the tournaments, certain seeds will have only played a handful of times over the past 30 tournaments, or perhaps not at all. This left me with not nearly a large enough sample size of past matchups on which to base my calculated predictions, but with nothing else to work with, I went with the past, small sample size or not. The one time I had a matchup of seeds that had never met before in the NCAA Tournament (for example, a No. 5 seed and a No. 11 seed have never, ever played one another in the current tournament setup), I just flipped a coin.

Are these trustworthy methods? Well, not really. But what else am I going to do? Just watch for fun? Please.

Here's what we wound up with.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Seeing how the other half watches

This post is far overdue, particularly since I have been back from the UK for more than 10 days now, but as you all might have noticed once or twice, I went abroad to visit my sister earlier this month with the added cookie that I would finally, after 13 years of waiting, get to see my first ever (really first two) Southampton FC matches.

The five of you who actually read this know that it has been a special season on the south coast, though the Saints did a fine job of lousing that up this past Sunday against Liverpool with a little assist from the umpires. I've been keen to get out to a game for years, but this was the first time the stars had truly aligned in any meaningful way. Both of the matches were incredibly exciting to watch, though one had a significantly better outcome than the other, but it really is striking how different the experience is from a sporting event in the U.S.

We can go into the myriad differences in sporting culture between the U.S. and the U.K. such as selling tickets only a month prior to the match or the organized en masse singing throughout the crowds, but the obvious difference is the entrenched history of separation between fan bases. In the States I have watched the Mets, Giants, Knicks, Devils, Blackhawks and Northwestern play in an opposing stadium roughly 45 times.While I will often mock the predilection toward boorishness that colors Philadelphia fans and I know violence is not unheard of in an American sporting venue, I have never felt as though I was in any real danger ever, and the vast majority of opposition fans I will sit near are perfectly pleasant if not overtly friendly.

Not once has wearing my opposition colors been a problem, though some razzing has been more aggressive than others.

Prior to attending the Southampton-QPR match on Feb. 7, my first ever venture to the Premier League, I was only able to secure tickets in the home fans section, meaning I would be surrounded by QPR fans as I watched the Saints for the first time. I was explicitly told by all friends with any knowledge of or experience with the English Football Hooligan culture not to wear my Southampton shirt when I was in the stadium, a notion that sounded ridiculous to. I did not take it seriously at first, but as the game drew nearer and more and more people insisted I steer clear of provocation, I relented and wore a gray long-sleeved shirt over my Saints jersey, rendering it unviewable.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

London Calling

I can readily admit that my sports fandom verges on or surpasses the excessive much of the time. There is no disputing that. What has made me even more remarkable over the past 15 years, however, is the dedication I've shown to teams I've picked up based outside of the United States, namely Southampton FC and Geelong FC. As the Premier League has steadily increased in popularity on this side of the pond, that fascination with Southampton has gotten significantly less bizarre, though it still boggles many minds that I chose a team with little economic chance of ever winning a championship and zero cultural cache in the States. Most Americans jump for a team that actually gives them a chance at glory, the Manchester Uniteds or Chelseas of the world, or a team that should be competitive, but can still claim a hair of underdog status like Liverpool or, lately, Tottenham.

Southampton is a different breed. No one -- no one -- gives a damn about this team in the United States. The Saints are the British equivalent of a lovechild between the Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Bucks, a forgotten small-market blip that has bursts of aw-shucks little-engine-that-could competitiveness buttressed by the cold hard truth that they will never consistently be able to play in the same sand box as the big boys. They have little relevance and little efficacy in the States and the only thing more remarkable to me about Southampton's back-to-back promotions to return to the Premier League a few years ago was the fact that three separate strangers actually mentioned it to me when they saw me at brunch proudly wearing my kit the morning Saints returned officially to the top flight.

The interim years were difficult not just because the team's fortune took a steep nosedive, which I've alluded to here before, but because it was that much more difficult to follow how it was doing. Back in 2008 and 2009 the Premier League wasn't consistently televised in the U.S. so one can only begin to imagine how difficult it was to watch matches down in the third division. I spent irrational amounts of time watching play-by-play tickets on BBC Sports' website and Twitter trying to painstakingly glean whatever nuggets of information I could. That I bothered to do all of this for a team that played in a mid-level British city an ocean away was all the more bizarre considering that, like my Geelong Cats of the AFL, I've never seen them play a match in person.

Well, that all changes on Saturday.