Thursday, September 29, 2016

NFL Picks Week Four: The possibility of missing those special moments

Last weekend did not exactly go according to plan. The very first part of it, a 5:30 am wake up on Friday morning so I could watch Geelong play Sydney with a spot in the Grand Final on the line. What I got in lieu of slumber was an opening quarter so brutal and unpleasant that I was reminded why I try to sleep as late as possible on Yom Kippur every year. The Cats showed up and put on a display by a team of mine in a big spot so poor that the only parallels that come to mind are Tom Glavine's meltdown on the final day of the 2007 season of Super Bowl XXXV. While the rest of the weekend had its positives, a Mets sweep of Philadelphia as the Wild Card race reaches its climax, a resounding win by Southampton against West Ham on Sunday morning, losses in a winnable game by Northwestern and a should-have-been-won game by the Giants left me with a bad taste in my mouth come Monday morning.

Fortunately, the Mets came to the rescue during the week, setting up what could be a postseason berth tomorrow night. Yes, the Mets lost handily on Monday. That came in an uncomfortable position, as New York faced the Miami Marlins in their first game following the tragic death of pitcher Jose Fernandez. I will not go into detail on my thoughts on that right here -- at least not now -- other than to say the weight and pain felt by the Marlins in that first game back must have been so deep that to mention it in the context of these silly games we watch trivializes its magnitude. But putting that topic aside, after the Mets lost a game in which the baseball was clearly secondary, they rebounded to win two straight as the offense becomes more and more potent as well as supplemented by, dare I say, Jay Bruce? Those victories, as well as a poor week from the Giants and Cardinals has allowed the stars to align just such that the Mets might be able to clinch a postseason berth tomorrow night for the second-consecutive season. That's something the Mets have accomplished just once prior in franchise history, and not in 16 years.

There's just one problem. If it does happen, I won't get to see it.

I had an emotional crisis last October when the Mets held a 2-1 lead in the NLDS against the Dodgers with an opportunity to clinch on their home field and the three hours of game play happened to coincide almost exactly with a plane flight I was taking from a wedding in Montana, via Denver. It is, of course, sometimes impossible to plan these things or, at least to expect others to plan their major life events around you (though I strongly feel that fall weddings are a crime against nature). Still, I try the best I can to avoid those uncomfortable scenarios. And yet, here we are.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

It's been 12 hours and I still can't believe this happened

Over the past 26 years I know that I have definitely been to at least 156 New York Mets games either in New York or elsewhere. The true number is almost certainly higher by a handful, but that is the number I can track through ticket stubs, mental photographic research or records in old letters, such as two games I was able to pin down after finding a record of them in a letter my mother wrote to me at summer camp in 2000 just a few weeks ago. I have seen the Mets lose at least 73 times. There is a good chance it is a few games higher (though somehow I've actually seen them win more than lose).

Last night was one of those 73. Some of those 73 losses have been comical blowouts such as a 15-2 drubbing at the hands of the Cubs and the immortal Cory Patterson on opening day in 2003. Others, such as Ryan Church's flyout to end the Mets' season and close down Shea Stadium in 2008, were of a far more brutal variety. But never, ever, ever, in my life, have I experienced a loss that inspired the particular brand of disillusioned funk-inducement that I found myself trapped in last night. Fans of famously hard-luck teams like to say their clubs continue to discover new ways to lose.

Well, the Mets pioneers on that frontier. Last night, they proved they just keep learning new things.

To appropriately paint the scene for which we found ourselves, one must understand the circumstances revolving around the team at this moment. The defending National League champions were, if not the most popular, certainly not an unpopular World Series pick this spring, largely on the backbone of a superb, young pitching staff that was coming into its own and likely to be bolstered by the return of Zack Wheeler from Tommy John surgery sometime this summer, as well as a competent lineup with one or two superb pieces (Yoenis Cespedes) or savvy additions (Neil Walker).

By mid-September the Mets have had three of their four highly-touted starters miss significant time, with only one, Steven Matz, returning at any point this season. Wheeler, meanwhile, never pitched a game and is hoping to be ready for Spring Training 2017. Cespedes, despite a superb season, has had nagging injuries, while Walker and David Wright are both done for the season with back issues, Lucas Duda has missed significant time with a spinal fracture, and several other players have spent time on the DL in an almost comically endless series of lineup crippling injuries.

And yet, somehow, the Mets, with 10 games left to play, through the sheer might of moxie, an ageless 43-year-old overweight pitcher, a blast from the past at the top of the lineup whom many thought they'd never see in a Mets uniform again, and a surprisingly large contribution from a farm system that was thought to be barren after last season's trade deadline, the Mets are tied with the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants in a Wild Card Bermuda Triangle in which one of the three teams will disappear in, at most, 11 days time. No team should be able to survive what the Mets have gone through to this point, and even with their favorable schedule and odds, there are still those head scratching moments that make you wonder where this team could be if it hadn't had so many inexplicably slip-ups. The prime example of this is the Braves, to whom the Mets have lost 10 of 19 games this season and been swept by twice at home. Twice! These are the same Braves who have played 133 games against the rest of Major League Baseball and won just 51 of them. The same Braves who are the worst team in the National League and second-worst in all of baseball.

Monday, September 19, 2016

NFL Picks Week Two: Hello, Hat Trick Day! It's been a while.

If I had a nickel for every time I started one of these blog entries by discussing how I've not held up my end of the bargain in writing regularly, I would continue to write about not holding up my end of the bargain so I would earn enough nickels to actually make the process worth while. It's a self-sustaining cycle, really. That, however, is not the case, so you should all feel lucky that I'm still doing it. This screed about missing my mark, you guys get for free.

So yeah, typically during football season I write every Thursday (or occasionally Friday) so I can give you the lowdown on how bad my picks for this weekend's NFL slate will be. This weekend, I assume, was no different (I honestly haven't checked them yet), but I really don't care. Why don't I care, you ask? Because, NFL picks aside, this was a pretty sweet weekend, culminating in a pretty sweet, much-needed Hat Trick Day as the denouement.

To wit: On Friday morning, that irksome Aussie Rules team we all know to hate -- the Hawthorn Hawks, duh -- had its incessant threepeat championship run snuffed out in an elimination final defeat to Western Bulldogs that made virtually everyone in Australia and approximately five people in the United States overjoyed that their reign of terror is done.

That night, the Mets kicked off a three-game series against the Twins with a shutout win and my grandmother met my girlfriend for the first time and, as far as I know, approved/was grateful I had a serious girlfriend.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

NFL Picks Week 1: We've got a Wild start to the 2016 season

Friends, I'm feeling wild these days. No, no, not simply because the Mets have erased a 5.5-game deficit and climbed into a virtual tie with St. Louis for the National League's second Wild Card spot. I've got a different kind of "wild" on my mind -- a Wildcat if you will.

I'm not speaking of any current Wildcats, obviously, not after their latest debacle. Instead I'm speaking of a Wildcat who has moved on to greener pastures, or, well, at least higher ones, both literally and figuratively, though given that it's Colorado I suppose we should be careful about saying that. Tonight, Trevor Siemian, perhaps the sixth or seventh best player to fill the role of quarterback for Northwestern since I began my freshman year there, will be the starting quarterback for a defending Super Bowl champion in its season opener.

Why is this interesting? Well, it's been a while.

Let me take you back to 1955, when an actual Wildcat legend by the name of Otto Graham was playing his final season with the Cleveland Browns. Yes, I know. Cleveland is not exactly known for its champions considering this year's Cavaliers were the first to call the city home in 52 years, but for a decade-long stretch the Browns were actually pretty good at that whole football thing, winning four AAFC championships, three NFL championships and appearing in the title game for the respective leagues for 10 straight seasons.

That's a pretty remarkable record, and throughout that entire run, the signal caller for Cleveland was the Hall of Famer with the number 14, a fact I only mention because it is my favorite number. Why this matters is because, like Siemian, Graham was a graduate of Northwestern University. While other NU alums have made appearances at Quarterback in the six decades since (Mike Kafka, anyone??), Graham is the last Wildcat to be an NFL team's No. 1 starting quarterback.

Until tonight.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thank the sweet, (maybe) merciful lord. College football is back.

It's been a while since I've graced these pages, and I will chalk some of that up to my annual summer jaunt outside the United States. This year's winner was a 20-day excursion through England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and then back to England, and while some of you might have visited this blog and assumed the lack of updates indicated a waning interest in sports, allow me to calm your fears.

1) I still love sports
2) I didn't update because of a brutal combination of busyness and laziness
3) The joke is on me because no one is actually visiting this blog

Not only has my interest in sports remained constant, but I've spent a chunk of August preoccupying myself with football. No, not that normal football we Americans are familiar with, but the Australian variety (Geelong is pretty good this year!), the English variety (Why can't Southampton win a game??) and, during my weekend in Dublin, football of a whole new variety. What is this zaniness, you ask? Why, that's Gaelic Football, a sport mostly played in Ireland that is totally bizarre looking, totally off the wall and totally awesome in just about every way.

When I travel I often try to expose myself to new experiences both sports-related and not, and this time around, that experience was standing in the middle of 'Hill 16' at Croke Park for a doubleheader of the All-Ireland Senior Gaelic Football quarterfinals. I originally bought these tickets because they were the only ones remaining at 5 am when I woke up early to buy them online only to fall right back asleep. As I sat through the first quarterfinal, between Tyrone and Mayo, more and more Dublin fans slowly began to file in until it became apparent to me that I was actually standing in the middle of Dublin's main supporters section.

If you squint really hard you can see me.