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.

The date of July 14th is full of some great things throughout history, be they the storming of the Bastille in France, which set off the French Revolution and about three decades of horrific bloodshed, the signing into law of the always-popular Sedition Act, the Chicago Fire of 1874, the outlawing of all non-Nazi political parties and compulsory sterilization of all German citizens suffering from genetic disorders in 1933 and the hijacking of Con Air. And did I mention that even something I love started a war on this date back in 1969?

Yep, July 14th has a great, positive legacy of which I am one of the latest chapters, a legacy shared with such luminaries as Gerald Ford, personal hero Robin Ventura and actor Matthew Fox, whom some friends said I kind of looked like back when I was 20.

But what about my own legacy? That's the question we're all looking to answer for ourselves, right? In my 30 years I've started and failed to finish writing numerous books, I've attempted (unsuccessfully) to climb Kilimanjaro, I'm severely questioning if I'll be able to finish the New York Marathon this fall, I've never seen the Mets win the World Series, I still haven't eaten the morally-complex personalized M&M's my mother bought me as a birthday present and the whole "wife thing" that I expected to have wrapped up by now back when I was 20 remains an elusive chase. As you can see, my life to this point has been a large pile of unfinished business. Some of that business, however, at least in terms of this blog's existence, is more important than the rest.

The whole point of this is to chronicle my expensive, silly lifelong journey to see every team in the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB play a home game. At the outset I gave myself until I was 55 to get it done, and in that regard I still have 25 years left to work with, but given that I anticipate a significant slowing of the pace when I finally settle down (and I'm a bit concerned I haven't crossed any teams off the list this year) now is when I need to accelerate things.

To that end, let's see where I am so far.

NFL
Teams seen: 16
Teams left: 16
Percentage complete: 50%
Outliers/curiosities: I have seen two teams play home games in two different stadiums, and they are the same two stadiums. I saw the 49ers in Candlestick Park, which is now closed.
Best stadium: LucasOil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ford Field in Detroit comes close.
Worst stadium: The Stick.
Best experience: Lambeau Field, Green Bay
Worst experience: Ford Field, which was probably more a result of the shockingly abrasive people in front of us.
Best game seen: Giants at Patriots, 2011
Worst game seen: Giants at Titans, 2014, this was an astonishing exercise in ineptitude by two bad teams.
Next on the list: Buffalo Bills on Oct. 4, Miami Dolphins on Dec. 14.

NHL
Teams seen: 15
Teams left: 15
Percentage complete: 50%
Outliers/curiosities: I have seen the Devils play home games in three buildings. The Islanders will move to a new building this season. The Red Wings are set to move to a new building in the next few seasons as well. One team (The Atlanta Thrashers) has moved to Winnipeg since I began traveling, but I did not see them in Atlanta. I've also seen a Canucks home game in a football stadium (BC Place). I have seen two hockey games in Yankee Stadium.
Best stadium: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit. It's old and dying, but it's the Fenway of hockey.
Worst stadium: Nassau Coliseum. It's gone now, and not a moment too soon.
Best experience: United Center in Chicago. Vancouver, Nashville and Nassau Coliseum (when the Isles are good) are all similarly energetic.
Worst experience: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia. The building isn't bad, but I've never been on the receiving end of so many homophobic slurs.
Best game seen: Lightning at Devils, Game 5 of the 2003 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Worst game seen: Coyotes at Sharks, November 2011. Snooze.
Next on the list: To be determined.

NBA
Teams seen: 10
Teams left: 20
Percentage complete: 33.3%
Outliers/curiosities: I have seen the Nets play in two arenas. I also saw the Clippers and Lakers play in the same building on the same day.
Best stadium: I will cautiously say Madison Square Garden, though they all pretty much look the same.
Worst stadium: Palace at Auburn Hills in Detroit, but, again, there isn't much variance.
Best experience: Clippers games at Staples Center might be the only place in L.A. with a fun, endemic culture.
Worst experience: American Airlines Center in Dallas. It wasn't bad, but it doesn't stand out.
Best game seen: Knicks at Bulls, January 2004
Worst game seen: Nets at Pistons, April 2011, two bad teams playing out the string.
Next on the list: The NBA scheduled for 2015-16 is yet to be released, but I'm crossing my fingers the Bucks will be home the weekend of Nov. 21.

MLB
Teams seen: 24
Teams left: 6
Percentage complete: 80%
Outliers/curiosities: I have seen the Mets, Yankees and Nationals each play in two different stadiums. I have not yet seen the Cardinals' current home, but went to the old Busch Stadium in 2005. I also saw a Northwestern-Illinois football game at Wrigley Field in 2010.
Best stadium: PNC Park in Pittsburgh. AT&T Park in San Francisco is a close second.
Worst stadium: RFK Stadium in Washington. Woof.
Best experience: Fenway Park. It's like Disneyland for adults.
Worst experience: Dodger Stadium. People know the game starts with the first inning, right?
Best game seen: Diamondbacks at Mariners, June 2009, when I saw this.
Worst game seen: Rays at Royals, July 2008, when the game was twice delayed by rain and one person in our party forced us all to leave in the sixth inning because she saw her ex-boyfriend sitting in our section.
Next on the list: To be determined.

Teams seen: 65
Teams left: 57, barring inevitable expansion.
Overall completion percentage: 53.3 %

So after 30 years on this Earth, roughly half of which I've spent trying to see sporting events outside of New York City, I would say I've made some considerable progress in the course of what is, at the moment, my most obvious, public, overarching life goal. There are busy years, like 2014, when I managed to see eight new teams, and slow ones like 2015, where, so far, I've managed to see zero if you don't count my long-awaited trip to St. Mary's Stadium in Southampton. I've seen plenty of games, including two in the Bay Area last month. I will see plenty more, including a few baseball games in Japan in just a few weeks.

But as for chipping away at this old block? I'm accepting that 2015 is going to see that rate slow down, but that has more to do with logistics than turning 30. The plan slowing down for 12 months doesn't mean that I have to.

I have 25 years left in the hour glass as far as this project is concerned, and hopefully many more after that to fill with new geographic scavenger hunts. Until then I will take the lessons of sports, travel and life that I have learned over the past 30 years and apply them to the next, because in the end, what else can you do? The first three decades on this world have been pretty good. I think the next three will be even better. I think that not only because I've made progress on my goals and in my life and might be a little wiser, but there are still carrots out there to grab that keep me going (Yes, even carrots beyond seeing the Mets finally win the World Series). Maybe the lessons I've learned so far will help me grab them.

Like asking that girl Katrina for her phone number. Man, I totally dropped the ball on that one.

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