Friday, May 19, 2017

Maybe it's me?

Thursday morning I walked into my elevator as I headed to the pool and saw my apartment building's resident celebrity, Mets manager Terry Collins. This is not an unusual occurrence. Collins probably recognizes me at this point even if he doesn't know my name, and we've spoken a handful of times, to say nothing of the memorable moment when I passed him on a marathon-training run 12 hours after the Mets had won Game 5 of the 2015 NLDS and an awkward thumbs up as I ran by. This time I wasn't sure if I should acknowledge the manager in the room or leave him be. I've interviewed enough professional athletes to recognize that they are normal people who might enjoy some anonymity away from the field.

But I had my Mets towel as I always do. He saw it. He knows I know who he is. He knows we've said hi before. It wouldn't be neighborly of me to ignore him, right? Maybe after returning from a winless road trip and while in the midst of a seven-game losing streak that has dropped the Mets to seven games below .500, 8.5 games back of first and included not one, not two, not three, but four games in which the Mets had blown a late lead, well, maybe he just wants some normalcy.

"Good timing for a day off, huh?" I said to him, making it plainly obvious that I know his current predicament.
"Christ, I tell ya," he said. "Yeah, I think I'm gonna go out shopping today. See if I can find a relief pitcher somewhere."

At least Terry has his sense of humor even if he doesn't currently have a reliable eighth-inning setup man.

These are the times that try a baseball man's soul. I would not be so bold as to imagine I'm feeling the burden as heavily as Collins, a man whose very livelihood is at stake in situations like these, but I would be lying if I didn't feel that, well, possibly there was some culpability in my corner. I have noted before that I am convinced the Mets play an improved brand of baseball -- at least in the seasons when they're supposed to be good -- when I am out of the country.

This theory is largely driven by an experience in 2000 when I went on a school trip to France that happened to perfectly coincide with the Mets ripping off a nine-game winning streak. Granted, the coinciding events of me taking an international trip and the Mets being in the midst of a decent season add up to a relatively small sample size, but if we take into account that I was on my three-week trip to Japan when the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes, invigorated the team and the fans with the legendary Wilmer Flores game and overtook the Nationals for first place in their magical pennant run, well, the idea more or less holds up. Add into that my trip to Germany and France in 2006 during which the Mets went on a hot streak, and, well, you see why I believe what I believe, however silly.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Just how we drew it up. Again.

Your bracket is not good. Don't for a second try to convince me that your bracket was even close to the reality this March. Yes, I know, this is not an unfamiliar refrain for this time of year, and sure, there are probably a few dozen people among the millions who filled out brackets on ESPN, Yahoo or CBS Sports that somehow predicted the Final Four of UNC, Oregon, which hadn't reached the Final Four since winning the national title in 1939, Gonzaga, which had never reached the Final Four, and South Carolina, a team that hadn't won a tournament game in 44 years. But a) those people must have predicted this Final Four by accident given how bizarre it is, and b) the odds of that person actually reading this blog right now are pretty virtually nil.

So yeah, your bracket is a late victim of the perils of March just like mine is every year. This month can be brutal, as it was for me in 2006 when my entire Final Four reached the Elite Eight and lost, or as recently as this past weekend when I was eliminated from my survivor pool because Arizona somehow blew a seven-point lead in the final two and a half minutes gainst 11th-seeded Xavier. Or perhaps the lucky folks of Kentucky can speak to their pain following a totally wild last-minute loss to UNC that bizarrely mirrored last year's national championship game.

I also managed to see the carnage first hand this past Friday when I was fortunate enough to be in the stands at Madison Square Garden for the Sweet Sixteen matchup between Florida and Wisconsin. Those who know me know I have a soft spot for the Badgers as it is the alma mater of my sister, grandmother and numerous friends. And so it was with a heavy heart that I watched as the Badgers rallied with a three-pointer in the final 10 seconds to tie the game, battled through a rough night at the charity stripe for Nigel Hayes only for Hayes to hit two free throws with seconds remaining in overtime to give Wisconsin a two-point lead and then painstakingly avoided fouling Chris Chiozza, who then hit an off-balance three at the buzzer to send the Gators to the Elite Eight.



Of course, at this point in the tournament, I had emotionally moved past Northwestern's all-too-brief stay in its first ever dance (and aren't you impressed it took me this long to mention it? I know, I'm impressed with me, too.) The Wildcats' first trip to the March bonanza taught me just how cruel a mistress this tournament can be. Before I complain here, I will offer the disclaimer that I am not claiming, nor do I actually think Northwestern had a better team than 33-1 Gonzaga this season. That would be objectively silly and Gonzaga's 22-point first-half lead would seem to bear that out. But holy smokes the Cats put on a show in the second half, scoring 51 points, more than I've ever seen them put up in 20 minutes, and closing the gap to three points with 4:54 to go before finally losing.

Wait, did I say three? That must be because it should have been three had the refs not missed a glaringly obvious goaltend that not only denied NU a basket, but also set in motion a series of events resulting in Gonzaga being up seven with the ball. The Cats never got close again, the NCAA quickly admitted the error and weeks later the moment is still fresh in our minds. But hey, maybe goaltending will be reviewable next season just in time for it to bite Northwestern in the ass. Anything's possible.

My point is this. You don't know who's going to win. Even down to four teams, you don't. Really! I mean, if you think you do, go nuts. Covers.com currently has UNC and Gonzaga as favorites Saturday night, albeit by single digits, so feel free to test your luck. If you're right, I guess it means you know more about college basketball than I do.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Gift horses, mouths and the NCAA Tournament

Today is a day many said would never happen. It is a day science said couldn't be done. But, despite all this, today is a day that is happening.

On March 16, 2017, Northwestern University, stewards of a basketball tradition that includes hosting the first ever national title game and then promptly knocking the building down, will play in the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament for the very first time. I have already covered what brought us here, and in the interim the Wildcats flirted with something truly special, dominating Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament with a 31-0 run and upsetting the favored Maryland Terrepins before bowing out ....not so gracefully to Wisconsin in the semifinals, all but assuring NU's first ever berth in the Big Dance.

And then it happened.



Now, surely you saw the title of this post and thought, "Dave, you've waited your entire post-high school life waiting to see Northwestern finally reach the NCAA Tournament. You made a point to instagram the moment and spent most of the past three days watching various reaction videos of Welsh-Ryan Arena during the exact moment this was announced. You've watched coverage ad nauseum. Why would you somehow be unsatisfied?"

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Let's buy some goddamn dancing shoes.

The most important forums for civil discussion and the advancement of society -- the internet and Twitter specifically -- were turned upside down this past Sunday night when the Oscars ended in the quizibuck to end all quizibucks, an announcement of the wrong film as Best Picture of the year. This televised conflagration of all we hold dear came to pass when "La La Land" producer and Northwestern alum Jordan Horowitz, whom I have on good authority once went on a date with my friend Amy, accepted the Oscar for Best Picture after a bizarre and confused envelope opening by non-matriculated Northwestern alum Warren Beatty, whom I have on good authority once hit on my sister's best friend Lily in an elevator, only to be informed moments later while making his acceptance speech that "Moonlight" had in fact won the award and Beatty's envelope mistakenly contained a card declaring "La La Land's" Emma Stone as Best Actress.

Naturally, the shared bond between these two Wildcats, albeit some five decades apart, has been examined ad nauseum by the purple community with one of the more peculiar perspectives being that the Northwestern connections to Sunday night's Oscar flub portends the end result of the eternal struggle that is NU's hunt for its first ever elusive NCAA Tournament bid.



This seems on the surface to be a crazy notion. How on Earth could these two disparate events be linked or at the very least correlative? The most logical response is that they aren't, and if you want to get all Occam's Razor on me, well, sure. But if we take a broader view we may be on to something. After all, La La Land was a heavy favorite to win Best Picture as it tied the record for most overall nominations with 14. Things, largely appeared to go smoothly including that Best Picture win, until the confusion and chaos ensued. Ultimately, though, the rightful victor was awarded and Horowitz's grace under fire left him smelling like roses despite having his dream snatched away from him. You might say, in a strange way, the course corrected and everybody won.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

I heard there was a football game tomorrow

Don't jinx it, don't jinx it, don't jinx it, don't jinx it.

Do not jinx it.

Yes, folks, that's right. As the biggest sporting event/entertainment bonanza/advertising expo of the year approaches tomorrow, there is one thing at the forefront of my mind. And that is that we can not jinx it.

Many of you, I assume, have little care for Northwestern men's basketball, but we few that do are a tortured lot. I need not recap the situation for most of you, but I will. There are five men's basketball programs that have been a part of NCAA Division I since its inception and not reached the holy land of the NCAA Tournament. Of those five, one of them plays in a power conference. That Northwestern has never reached the Big Dance seems at times both obvious and improbable. Hell, even Rutgers reached the Final Four once upon a time. The Wildcats' history has no bright lights beyond a retroactively awarded national championship in 1931.

So, while many in the sporting world have focused on the Falcons or Patriots over the last two weeks, with the Giants out of the mix, my focus has been singular. For the first time in a long time, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. Northwestern began this week 18-4, third in the Big Ten and nationally ranked for the first time ever in February. To miss the tournament at this point would require a disastrous finish. Even a 4-4 record in the final eight games should see the Cats through, and there are winnable games to be had on the schedule.

This was is so momentous that it's almost enough to make you forget that Super Bowl LI is this weekend.

But much of that optimism took a steep dive Wednesday night. As many of us let our heads run away with preliminary plans to book flights for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern went into West Lafayette and got positively walloped by Purdue. Now, like so many other Wildcat fans I am pulling my hair out and agonizing, wondering if I was too overzealous to look up flight times in and out of Buffalo on the same day.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

But on the plus side, Spring Training is around the corner

In these dark times known as "The Giants didn't make the Super Bowl," I have little to keep myself hopeful. This is particularly resonant as the Devils and Knicks both appear to be in the midst of middling seasons, the weather outside is gray and in the awful temperature range where it is too cold to be pleasant and too warm for the rain to turn into snow and I continue to cope with the fact that my country is now being led down the sewer drain by an incoherent rambling tangerine who never has his tie at the proper length.

So what am I to do? In a dramatic shift from, pretty much everything I know to be good and true, Spring Training is just 17 days away in Port St. Lucie. I know, I know. The Mets are my salvation? What kind of world am I living in? And yet the Amazins are coming off consecutive postseason appearances for just the second time in their history with unfinished business remaining on the docket.

The Mets have not won the World Series in 31 years, which is the vast majority of my life, but somehow that doesn't seem quite so interminable now. After all, if the greatest championship drought in sports history can fall, surely one not even a third as long is peanuts. The Mets managed to reach the playoffs last year despite losing three members of the starting rotation and half the opening day lineup. With a healthy roster in tow, what could they accomplish? The answer is probably "inevitable disappointment," but at least let that slow-burning pain unfold gradually like it's supposed to. I'll figure it out.

Meanwhile, there's even more hope across the Atlantic, as Southampton FC, enduring something of a frustrating League campaign of its own, completed an unlikely sweep of Liverpool by an aggregate 2-nil score in the English Football League Cup semifinals yesterday, earning them a trip to Wembley for the Feb. 26 Final and me many curious looks when I jumped up and pumped my fist after Shane Long's late goal sealed the win. This is just Southampton's fourth berth in a final of one of England's two major Cup competitions and its first appearance in the final of the League Cup since 1979. The Saints' last appearance in any major cup final was in the 2003 F.A. Cup Final, which happened during my first year following the team, prompting me to think, "Oh, man, this is going to happen all the time!" Southampton's only win in a major cup competition was in the 1976 F.A. Cup, still considered the greatest achievement in the club's history.

Friday, January 6, 2017

When your family creates a Giant problem

Football is family. Surely you've heard that. It's all the rage as the NFL would like you to know. After all, the league has been beating that drum for about two years now, and despite some noteworthy dissent, I'm not really going to argue all that much. After all, I was an unrecognizably sports-free child until I stumbled upon my father watching a Browns-Broncos game on Monday Night Football in 1990. Even then I wasn't won over until I saw the end of the Leon Lett Game when Pete Stoyanovich lifted the Dolphins over the Cowboys in a hail storm on Thanksgiving, this time with both my father and my uncle sitting nearby. Outside of my father, however, my immediate family tends to be somewhat oblivious to the goings-on of the NFL unless the Super Bowl is around the corner or the Giants happen to be playing particularly well.

The exception to this may be my sister, whom I visited in London this past October when I saw the Giants play the Rams at Twickenham Stadium back in a world where we still thought the American people actually had the good sense not to elect a thin-skinned narcissist to the White House. What a special time it was. But I think my sister would be the first to admit that she is, perhaps, not the biggest football fan I know or even in her own home. I did attend the game with her husband, after all.

I have, of course, sought to change this with the next generation, and that includes my oldest nephew, whom I have showered with an overabundance of paraphernalia in an attempt to brainwash him to root for the same teams as me. Apparently he is quite fond of his Giants stuffed football that plays noises when it feels impact, all of which signals some impressive progress considering I think my brother and his wife find football to be (not without some cause, it should be said) a morally bankrupt enterprise.

They are entitled to their opinion of course, but my nephew's interest is of great importance this week because for the first time in five years, which is to say, the first time in his entire life, which at the moment has lasted three years and six days, the New York Football Giants will be playing a playoff game this Sunday.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

David Kalan as it happened! 2016 edition

Look. I get it. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to notice that it's been a while since I've written here. I have been neglectful -- and even moreso than usual. It has been nearly two months since I last bothered to scribble my thoughts, an unfortunate consequence of life getting in the way. Work, travel and the progressive onset of aging have gotten in the way, which is a shame considering it's not as if nothing has happened.

In the past two months since I last wrote, the Chicago Cubs ended the drought of all droughts, the Kremlin appointed a demagogue-ic narcissistic manbaby to be President of the United States, the Mets locked in Yoenis Cespedes for the 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 World Series championship teams and, perhaps most notably, I went to Cleveland with my pal Mike to see the Cavaliers and Browns, making what was my only trip for a new sports team this year, and doing the one thing this blog was supposed to track.

To say I have dropped the ball would be kind.

But that's ok. Much like the rest of us, 2017 has provided an opportunity to turn a new leaf. Of course, I began this new year by dropping my iPhone on concrete and cracking the screen, but one imagines it can only improve from here, right? Right.

I am pretty optimistic for 2017. I have reached that point in life where formative changes can happen on a nearly daily basis. Friends are getting married with frequency, others are having their first children and I, too, am moving toward those grownup milestones by possibly moving out of an apartment I've shared with two roommates for nine years at the young age of 31. Much lays ahead of me. But that's not why we're here, right? We're looking at what lays behind me, even with a year considerably less busy in the sports world for me, but plenty busy nonetheless.

Here is my 2016 in review. Hopefully my next post isn't 2017 in review, but at the pace I've established, it's possible.