Monday, October 17, 2011

It's Still Better

It seems like deja vu all over again, doesn't it?

It's been happening for the past three years. We start without a loss, we beat Notre Dame and it's considered a "huge" win, Denard Robinson is viewed as the amazing quarterback athlete...and then we lose to Michigan State.

We've been on this road before...or have we?

There have been major changes to the team since Rich Rodriguez was fired. We have a defense that isn't constructed around a colander. We have an offensive line that has gotten bigger, albeit it's still difficult at times for them to keep the defense back. And we have a quarterback that is learning how to be a complete quarterback - when he's given the right plays.

The biggest objection I have to the game against Michigan State was that Denard Robinson was given too many plays where he had to throw balls over 15 yards. He is still unsure about that, and when he's not consistent, he struggles mentally. When I attended the game against Minnesota, it was clear that Al Borges was trying to give Robinson's receivers short routes to run, so that he could gain some confidence in his throwing arm. Unfortunately, there weren't enough short routes open against the MSU defense. They may have picked up on that thought, or the wrong calls were played.

I was happy to see that they kept it close at the end. If Robinson had not thrown that pick-six, the game might have ended with State winning by just a touchdown.

If anything, this got the national media to stop putting Michigan on a pedestal that they didn't deserve. Did they deserve to be #11 in the nation? Really? Are there only ten teams better than Michigan? I highly doubt that. It puts Michigan back in its place: as a team that's rebuilding and finding its footholds again.

But what does that say about the rest of the season? In 2008, they lost three out of four after MSU. In 2009, they lost six out of seven (the win was against Delaware State). In 2010, they lost four out of six. This year, we have Purdue, Iowa (away), Illinois (away), Nebraska, and Ohio State. Two of those games - Purdue and Iowa, are winnable (especially when you see Iowa lost to Penn State and didn't even score a touchdown). Even Nebraska, who has only played one ranked team all season and looked terrible against them (Wisconsin), is a game that can be won in Ann Arbor. Actually, if you look at Illinois and Ohio State's performances this season, there is a chance to win them all! We can't be discounted for any of these games. Even if I don't think we will, we hopefully won't win just one.

This coming month is the true test for the Wolverines. September and early October were practice, as they always are. If Michigan wants to be true to the ranking that had been given them earlier in the season, they need to show their mettle against these Big Ten teams that do have weaknesses.

I have all the confidence in this team's future games, and I do believe that this team is far better than the teams of the past three seasons.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Erasing a Terrible Memory

Let's take a trip in the Wayback Machine, shall we? Strap yourselves in - it's going to be kind of a bumpy ride.

Where are we going, you ask? Well, to the worst sports day of my life: Sunday, October 1, 2006.

Does this day remind you of anything? It always does for me. This was the day I was tuck in a terrible nightmare and had no way to get out of it.

You see, I was, at this time, a co-anchor for a little, tiny (teensy-weensy, microscopic, et al) local sports talk show in my little, tiny (teensy-weensy, microscopic, et al) college town. It was led by two guys - both of whom lived in the state of Minnesota, and I was the third wheel. I didn't mind that at all, especially since they knew far more about sports than I did. I just put in my two cents where needed, and sometimes got into some fun heated debates.

One of the guys, Dan, was able to use his status as "anchor of a sports radio show" to contact the nearest pro sports teams like the Minnesota Twins, Timberwolves, Wild, and Vikings and get press credentials. He would often head north to "the Cities" to watch the games and get either interviews or sound bites with some pretty popular players. We'd then air the clips on our show near the end, hyping up the fact that we had indeed talked to these players. We weren't joking! Really! We wouldn't just focus on the local team, but also go across the hall to the visitors locker room and get interviews from there.

Sometimes I was able to accompany Dan on these little trips up to the Cities, and they were often a lot of fun. My first game was a Detroit Pistons game, and to sit on press row right next to the court and see those giants crush the T-Wolves (it was in the middle of their Eastern Conference championship streak). I attended a few Twins games as well. It was fun to get the giant press books for each team as well as eat the yummy spread laid out for the press.

Now that you know all of this, can you guess where I was on Sunday, October 1, 2006?

That's right - I was with Dan at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome to see the Twins play the White Sox.

Worst day of my sports life.

Dan had picked this game a few weeks earlier, not really knowing that this day would be so important to the Twins. I didn't realize it, either. I was too focused on celebrating the Tigers' playoff berth. All they had to do on either Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, OR Sunday was win. Just a couple of those games. Any of them. And they would win the division. And we could celebrate some more.

But even though the Twins, who were in second, lost on Wednesday, Friday, AND Saturday, they still had a chance to clinch the division because the Tigers kept LOSING. After they had clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday, they hadn't won a game since entering Sunday. If the Twins won and the Tigers lost, the Tigers would just be a wild card, even after leading the AL Central for most of the season. But if both teams won, the Tigers would clinch.

But that couldn't possibly happen, right? They were far better than that. After all, they had Kenny Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman, and Justin Verlander as their top three starters (probably in that order, for that year). They were having great years from Pudge Rodriguez and Carlos Guillen, and had a couple of breakout stars in Curtis Granderson and Joel Zumaya. This was a great team that had no possible chance of losing such an important game.

Dan and I found our spots in the Dome press box with a long stream of media who were wondering if the scenario of the Twins clinching could actually happen. Dan had brought his nice digital camera along just in case. Since we were media, we were allowed on the field before and after the game. I prayed he wouldn't have to use it.

The Tigers game started an hour early, since they were at Comerica Park. I was thrilled to see Detroit pull out to an early lead in the bottom of the third, when they scored five quick runs to add to their run already on the board. 1/3 of the game done, and they were up 6-0. But Kansas City struck right back in the next half-inning to make the lead just 6-3.

Meanwhile, the Twins game began. I was half paying attention to the real game, and half paying attention to the game on a computer screen. But the game at the Metrodome was a quick one, and in no time it was over 5-1. As a matter of fact, it was over before the Tigers game. A game that was getting too close for comfort...

By the end of the 7th inning in Detroit, the Tigers were winning 7-4. Jeremy Bonderman had pitched 4 1/3 innings, and Joel Zumaya had replaced him admirable. But in the 8th inning there was trouble. Fernando Rodney was on the mound and the Royals were finding runs. Rodney opened the 8th with a hit batter and a walk, and the Royals scored four runs to take the lead.

I was in nervous shock when I heard this news. The Twins game was nearing the end, but you could tell people around the stadium were watching the Around The League Scoreboard and seeing that something was happening in Detroit. When the Royals went up 8-7, you would have thought Joe Mauer had just hit a walkoff home run.

But the Tigers didn't quit. In the bottom of the 8th Matt Stairs homered to tie the game, but nothing else happened. As a matter of fact, nothing else happened for three innings after the 8th. Our closer, Todd Jones, had to pitch 2 2/3 innings to hold on, but playoff strategy suddenly came into effect. Who do we put in to replace Jones?

By the 11th inning the Twins game was finished, and to my utter horror, the Metrodome management decided to put the Tigers-Royals feed on the big screen. So now none of the Twins fans were leaving, and I was the lone Tiger fan in the place. Let me remind you, the Metrodome holds a ton of people, and even though it wasn't a sellout, it was sure close.

Kenny Rogers, a normal starter, ended up pitching the 11th and 12th innings, and one could only hope that our star pitcher would rise up to the occasion. But in the 12th the Royals put on two runs, with the fans of the Metrodome screaming in glee. I could only put my head in my hands.

I wanted to slink out of there as soon as possible, but there was no way my ride (Dan) wanted to go. He was planning how fast he could get down to the field to take pictures. Plus we were supposed to do the Show from the Dome, with our host Joel linking up from the studio. There was no way for me to leave. I was stuck.

The bottom of the 12th came in Detroit, and I was praying that we could somehow get some runs. Some dude named Jimmy Gobble was pitching for the Royals, and was facing our 9-1-2 batters. But even after a Craig Monroe walk with two outs, Sean Casey could only muster a groundout to first to end the game.

After it ended the Metrodome blew up. At least, that's how it felt for me. The Twins, who had been watching the game from the top of the dugout with the rest of the fans, leaped out onto the field in glee and merriment and joy. The fans soaked up the images of their Twins players slapping fives down the first and third base seats. Dan had scooted out from press row at the middle of the 12th inning and I could see him on the field clicking away as the players celebrated right next to him.

Quickly the rest of press row vacated their seats to go and get player interviews for their Championship stories that would air in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press and other papers and online sites. Local TV sports anchors would get soaked in champagne. But I just sat there, mostly by myself on press row, staring at a computer screen, wondering when the next inning would start so the Tigers could get back in the game.

Dan was tickled pink, and he wouldn't let my sullen mood sour his amazing experience on the field. I saw his pictures later - they really were incredible. And he set up the feed back to the studio, where Joel was waiting for us to start the Show. As a Twins fan, he was thrilled, but he did a good job being professional about it.  Needless to say, I spent the hour saying nothing - I was not a professional. Scratch that - I said one thing: "The Tigers blew it. That's it. They blew it." And that's all I said.

After the Show was done, Dan and I took the van back to the studio, and I said nothing. Even though the sun had set, I left my sunglasses on the whole way home. I helped Dan put stuff back in the studio, and then I drove back to campus.

But at that moment, I couldn't go back to my dorm room. I got my phone out and called my dad and cried. Like, a lot. If there had been other heartbreaking moments for my sports teams before October 1, 2006, I always had the fortune of turning off the game and doing something else. In this instance, I was in a nightmare from which I couldn't wake up. It had really torn me up.

My dad was just as bummed as I was, but he listened and said that you had to have some sort of realism in your fandom. I realized that I had spent 2006 being shocked at how good the Tigers were playing, and had put them up on a pedestal that I thought they couldn't fall from - I was relying on my dream instead of on facts. From that point on, I would have to understand that sometimes they win, and sometimes they lose.

I did follow that advice later, in 2009. When the Tigers and Twins tied for first in the Central and had to play game 163, I didn't get excited about it. Actually, I was working during the game, so I didn't find out what happened till it was done. Well, I found out the score. I ignored everything else. To be honest, I don't know what exactly happened in that game. I just know the Tigers lost. I had a feeling in my gut that they would lose that game, and they did. But I wasn't heartbroken over it, like I had been three years ago. I wasn't going to call my dad and cry about it. I was going to move on.

Now let's take the Wayback Machine to Friday, September 16, 2011. Actually, in Detroit it was already Saturday. But I got to watch as closer Jose Valverde got Josh Willingham to ground out to third base, and the Tigers finally got to celebrate a Division Title. The champagne flowed, the players broke out the goggles, and the fans celebrated.

I was thrilled to bits not just because they won, but because they won in convincing fashion! There was no waiting for the final game of the season to sit nervously and wait for other games' outcomes. Instead, it was done 1 1/2 weeks before the season was done. The division was clinched. No one can take that away. And my terrible memory could finally be forgotten.

(By the way, in 2006 the Twins were swept in the Divisional series by Oakland, and the Tigers went all the way to the World Series. I guess that helped to erase the memory too.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Weekend for the Ages

I went into this weekend of sports with excitement. I am not a big supporter of the fall season, but the one thing that gets me through it is the fact that my weekends are filled with football. This weekend would be the first full weekend of football this season, with college football in its second week and the NFL opening up their season on Sunday (well, Thursday, but whatever).

Not only would there be a plethora of football, but the Detroit Tigers haven't lost a game since September began. They shocked the Chicago White Sox in a weekend series (culminating with an onslaught of Mark Buerhle and the Sox bullpen for all the nation to see on ESPN2), marched into Cleveland and swept the Indians in style, and then were coming back to Detroit to hopefully welcome the Minnesota Twins into the new House of Horrors.

Let's take a look at the weekend and see what happened:

Friday: Twins and Tigers -MLB
After a Verlander game, it's been a bit of a letdown lately with Brad Penny struggling right behind him. But on Friday the offense picked up the slack for Penny, who gave up four runs in the first but picked up the pace for the rest of the game. Alex Avila hit a three-run home run in the second and Ramon Santiago hit a two-run homer in the fourth to put the Tigers ahead for good.

Saturday: Twins and Tigers - MLB
This was one of FOX's afternoon games, but I was not able to watch it due to regional coverage of another game. But my dad was fortunate enough to go - albeit with a Twins fan - and he had a heck of a game to watch. Max Scherzer pitched seven innings and only gave up two runs, but it looked as if the Tigers weren't going to get ahead, because the Twins pulled into a tie in the sixth inning.


In the ninth though, defensive replacement Brandon Inge came up, and with nobody on, he smacked a Glen Perkins fastball into left field - the same area my dad was sitting in with his buddy. I was coming back from a concert when I got a text from my dad - all it said was, "Walkoff!" I have never seen a walkoff home run, so I was jealous and elated at the same time.

Saturday: Notre Dame and Michigan - College Football
When the game started, it looked as if all the Michigan hype was going to be for those new permanent stadium lights, and the Michigan team on the field was going to act as though the lights were off. I was able to watch this game on my computer, and when the game first started, I was getting the correct video but the audio from another game. So I went on to MGoBlue.com and picked up the Michigan audio feed with Frank Beckmann and Jim Brandstatter. The delay was noticeable, but I'd much rather hear those guys than Brent and Kirk. You'll have to let me know if they were leaning towards ND for most of the game.

Of course, "most of the game" didn't matter in the end. Even though I was tempted after multiple turnovers, stupid penalties, and embarrassing defensive series to turn off the game and pop in a movie, I kept it on. And when the fourth quarter began, I was glad I did.

Michigan managed to take a 24-7 deficit at the start of the quarter and roll four touchdowns down the field. From making up for fumbles to passes from QB Denard Robinson to taking advantage of missed coverage and getting from the UM 20 to the ND 16 and setting up for an unbelievable finish, they did it all. And all I could do was sit there and think, "Is this really going to happen for a third straight year? That's impossible!"

And then I saw Robinson lob a pass up to Roy Roundtree in the end zone, and Roundtree leaped over the defender and kept his foot in bounds, and I was in complete shock. It happened again! Notre Dame's turnovers (like the one in the red zone late in the fourth quarter) doomed their team into looking at a sea of maize beside themselves with joy long into the night. An evening that began with a walkoff ended with an amazing catch under the lights.

Sunday: Twins and Tigers - MLB
Thanks to MLB.com who made this game the free game of the day on MLB.tv - and I managed to learn about it in time. I spent the majority of the game pining for another few runs, because I knew the Twins, even with their AAA club in the house, could easily tack on two runs and erase our first inning lead. But Doug Fister showed me a clutch performance that made me like him even more.

When Jose Valverde came into the ninth with a chance to break Todd Jones 11-year-old record of 42 saves in a season by a Tiger, I was very nervous. When Valverde walked Mauer, I was really nervous. I was not thrilled when Miguel Cabrera couldn't handle the ball and turn a double play to end the game. I was on the edge of my seat when Mauer scored to cut the lead by one. But when I saw who was coming up - some dude named Rene Tosoni - I felt a little better. And I think Valverde did, too, because he threw three straight pitches past him and was able to do his Potato Dance of Joy in front of the Tigers faithful.

Three straight sweeps. They're starting to make me look bad.

Sunday: Detroit and Tampa Bay - NFL
When I heard on Friday that Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount was tweeting that he'd be running over Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, I said to myself, "We better crush this team." 

But I wouldn't be able to watch it, due to regional coverage of another team. (I'm really starting to hate that.) I kept an eye on the score, and got a little frustrated when I saw a "6" on the Lions side. That's a number I'm used to, because it means the Lions couldn't get into the end zone and had to settle for their kicker Jason Hanson to kick a field goal. It seems to be how we used to score in previous seasons.

Fortunately for me, QB Matthew Stafford turned into the Matthew Stafford we were hoping for, throwing 24-for-33 with 305 yards and helping the Lions score three touchdowns in the second and third quarters to help shut down Tampa Bay. Even though the Bucs scored late in the fourth and attempted an onside kick, WR Calvin Johnson shut the door by catching the kick and avoiding an offensive attempt to tie it up.

Do you know this was the first time since September 30, 2007 that both the Tigers and the Lions won on the same day? Isn't that ridiculous? I hope and pray that this wonderful weekend of sports is not the only wonderful weekend of sports I will get this year. I don't want this to be the highlight of the fall season. If these teams can keep up this momentum (and the Wolverines can figure out their offense and defense), I'm thinking we all will be enjoying more than the changing of the leaves in the next few months.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Blurb: Track and Field Worlds

I got cable back. This was quite the wonderful happening for me. I called my large cable conglomerate (who shall remain nameless) to see about getting my Internet and phone moved. When they inquired about my cable, I told them I couldn't afford it. But they said they could get me the basic channels at no extra charge to my bill! So I decided to get it back.

Because I have those core channels back, I get my weekend sports back. College football, the NFL, MLB on Fox, golf, and tennis. Sure, I don't get the 24-hour sports channels, but most of the important events are aired on one of the four major networks.

One of the events that I was fortunate to view was the World Track and Field Championships on NBC. Usually, when NBC airs Olympic events, most people tend to ignore it. After all, it's not an Olympic year. Why should anybody care?

Well, considering I had a boring weekend ahead of me, I cared. The Championships aired from Friday August 26 through Sunday September 4. NBC only aired the Saturday and Sunday events from the two weekends, and only for 1 1/2 hours in the early afternoon, but I was in front of my TV.

I got to watch athletes that I remembered from the Olympics in 2008. A few of those athletes were not here this year - Jeremy Wariner, Lolo Jones, Stephanie Brown Trafton. But I did see a lot of familiar faces.

Allyson Felix, who ran the 200 in Beijing, ran the 200 (and got bronze) and she also ran the 400 this year and got silver! I hope she doubles again next year in London. Sanya Richards, who is now married and runs as Sanya Richards-Ross, competed in the 400 but did not medal this time around. Walter Dix is a speed runner who is probably our best bet for silver in London. I say silver because unless Usain Bolt of Jamaica gets disqualified (like he did this year in the 100m final), there really is no chance for anyone else to win the 100 or 200 meters.

While there were many familiar faces who repeated in their feats, I recognized many athletes from previous championships that won this year! Lashinda Demus competed in Berlin in 2009, but this year she won the 400m hurdles! Carmelita Jeter also competed in 2009 and won the 100m this year. Trey Hardee repeated as world champion in the decathlon.

And some new athletes who I saw this week made statements for themselves to be the frontrunners for London. Ashton Eaton won silver in the decathlon. Jenny Simpson won the 1500 meters. Jesse Williams won the men's high jump event.

If you're reading this and say, "I don't care," well, next year you'll come back and read this Blurb and go, "Hey, she mentioned this winner last year!" I'm keeping an eye out for the stars (and busts, too) of London, just for you!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sweeps are Sweet, but All You Need Are Series

I spend a lot of time nowadays paying attention to the Tigers and Brewers. It's become a fun obsession - "The Cardinals lost again?!" "They both swept this weekend?!" "They made the cover of Sports Illustrated!" Even the guy at work who spends every moment dogging me about my sports teams has been complimentary!

I am thrilled when it comes to a sweep, but as the great Jim Leyland stated at the beginning of the season, (to paraphrase) "You can't win every game in a season." And that's still the case. So when the Tigers can take a few games and then drop a couple, I tend not to fret.

Sweeps are wonderful, but you can't bet on a team to win them all. All I ask is for them to take 2 out of 3. Or 3 out of 4. Or both of a 2-gamer.

I checked. If the Tigers win all the series for the rest of the season, that will be 20 games. They currently are at 70 wins. In a division that looked as lost as the AL Central for the first half of the season, they probably only need to win 90 games to win the division. And bam! They are there!

I'm not saying that sweeping a series is unnecessary. If we can clinch the playoffs sooner, it will make me feel better sooner. Plus we can rest a bunch of starters without worrying about a Game 163 or something like that.

You may pine for the sweeps. But when they take 2 out of 3 from the White Sox, you are allowed to smile and pump your fist. If Porcello or Scherzer drop a game, (OR, not AND) don't push the panic button. Root to win the series. Because when the playoffs roll around, the same scenario goes: all you have to do is win the Series.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Hater's Take on ESPN's New Book

I didn't realize that this had come out until I saw it publicized on an entertainment website. A tell-all book about ESPN? Cool!

Some of the excerpts the website had seemed very juicy, so I knew I had to read it. Was this going to allow everyone else to realize the many reasons why ESPN is so overrated at the moment?

Well, not really. But I did read it, and here are some things I took out of it:

The Start of ESPN is Pretty Boring
A father-son team got the idea to do a 24-hour sports channel on this new thing called cable back in the 1970s. Of course, when the more responsible adults took over, father and son got pushed out of the way.

Much of the beginning of the book is this overview. The book is done in interview form, so you're hearing many sides of the story from all the people that were involved at the time. The man you hate in this section is Stu Evey, who is looked at as the guy that got the gasoline powerhouse Getty Oil to purchase this idea. He gets all the power and just turns into the man who parties too much and doesn't agree on anything the ESPN bosses suggest. Once you get through the 1980s era of the book, it starts to get more interesting.

This Is Sportscenter
They spend a lot of time explaining the forming of those awesome SportsCenter commercials that started to air in the 1990s. I found that to be especially interesting. But many of the SportsCenter anchors couldn't stand the idea of the ESPN "campus" full of athletes and, most reviled, mascots. Because it wasn't true at all!

Boozing and Floozing
The excerpts of the book that I read on the website were taken out of the first chapter of the book. Back in the early days many of the workers at ESPN were doing some not-very-nice things behind the scenes, mostly because Bristol at the time was an incredibly boring town and there was nothing to do. That's not too surprising; if that excerpt had been taken from, say, ten years ago, that would be especially eye-opening.

Executive Hate
Many of the top people on the job at ESPN are introduced with flair, "He was smart as a whip," or "He was a genius at doing this," or something like that. But as the book goes along, many of the decisions that the executives made got them a lot of negative opinions on the part of their peers and underlings. Eventually as the executive leaves the company, people look back and go, "He did good stuff, but man he was a jerk." And this wasn't just for one or two of these guys - it was for many of them!

These Anchors I Love Are Human
Many of these SportsCenter anchors that I had watched for the past 15 years had done nothing on the air to make me think they were nothing short of awesome. But reading these books and listening to them talk about certain people or events that took place and hearing them swear (yes, this is an uncensored book) and talk about those things made me realize that ESPN does a good job making them look awesome. It was a little sad to read those quotes for me. Especially sad was to read about Mike Tirico, who I'd always liked, but then reading a few stories about him made me realize he's a pretty big jerk.

They Missed My Favorite Pairings!
The book spent a lot of time on SportsCenter and rightfully so - it is the flagship of ESPN. And they spent a lot of time on some of the great pairings on SportsCenter: Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick or Robin Roberts, Charley Steiner, and Bob Ley. But I was hoping that they would cover a little bit on my two favorite pairings of the 90s: Stuart Scott and Rich Eisen, and also Dan Patrick and Kenny Mayne. These were the 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock anchors, and they were the first anchors I watched when I started following ESPN. They were familiar people to me, and it made me sad when there was someone else anchoring SportsCenter instead of them. I was heartbroken when Rich Eisen took his talents to the NFL Network.

Formulating the Classics
As an ESPN lover for much of my adult life, it was fun to see the origins of some of my favorite ESPN-related items. ESPN The Magazine was, obviously, an attempt to thwart Sports Illustrated's hold on sports print, but it also tried to take the hip, cool approach to the old, crotchety SI. I guess I'd never thought of that before (I liked both magazines, but my Dad got me ESPN The Magazine in 1999 and I just kept subscribing for the next seven years). I also finally found out who wrote the Answer Guy section of the magazine. That had been bugging me!

I loved when the origins of PTI and Around the Horn were discussed. The executive producer of PTI  had a close relationship with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, and only because he was on board with this project did the two of them agree to do it. And since this executive producer, found outside ESPN, had many awesome ideas that helped give the show its energy - like the rundown on the side of the page (which now has been stolen by both SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight and more), and the countdown of subjects. They did also talk about how Tony Reali got the host gig at Around the Horn after filling in for Max Kellermann a few times and then just taking over the role after Kellermann left for more money.

I also got reminded about  few other ESPN series. Anyone remember Dream Job? Or Playmakers? Or Mohr Sports? Oh yea! I remember those. And then I remembered why they didn't last long, too.

It made me hate the ESPYs more
The ESPY awards has a separate budget from ESPN, and it's more about glitz and glamour than Bristol. And the book talked about that fact - a lot. It would be talking about one event, and then it felt a need to add a few more ESPY stories into the book, when it really didn't need to. I got tired of those stories fast, since it didn't add anything to the book. I remembered why I didn't like watching the ESPYs, that's for sure!

We Get it, ESPN blew Monday Night Football
I hadn't realized that ESPN getting Monday Night Football was a terrible blow to them, but this book made sure to tell me that fact for about 40 pages in the last section of the book. Apparently ABC wasn't interested in doing MNF any more, and ESPN balked at their offer to get both Sunday and Monday night games, and NBC swooped in and got Sunday night. Because they had a better report with the NFL, the marquee Monday night games were now transferred to Sundays.

This was covered a lot in the book. It also talked a lot about the men in the booth - Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann (then Ron Jaworski), and Tony Kornheiser. Did it need to talk about them that much? No. 

By the way, apparently Kornheiser is a thorn in ESPN's side. He's had multiple run-ins with authority because of what he's said or done. I'm surprised he's still on ESPN after all of that!

Disney
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised at all the Disney talk, but I was. Much of the book discussed business dealings after ABC and ESPN got together under the Walt Disney Company, and Michael Eisner and Bob Iger were interviewed. I got a kick out of how they really wanted to synergize Disney into ESPN, like talking about the most recent Disney movie in SportsCenter.

I Finally Know Who To Blame For My "Hating" of ESPN
His name? Mark Shapiro. He had started many things I enjoyed - SportsCentury, PTI, Around the Horn. But later in the 2000s, he began to do a lot of things that I realized I didn't like. Then I read quotes like this:

"When Mark came in, he brought an arrogance. His regime or style, however you want to put it, was basically the turning point for ESPN going from the good guy to the arrogant guy. ...That's what Mark brought to the company."

Also:

"Mark Shapiro ran a dictatorship, and ESPN still suffers from it today."

He decided not to bring Al Michaels and John Madden to ESPN's Monday Night Football. He didn't get the NHL to renew its contract with ESPN. He pushed Dan Patrick out the door. And he did more. Does ESPN seem more arrogant? Absolutely. I wish it didn't, but that's how it is.

The book was an interesting read, that's for sure. It didn't leave many stones unturned - it also included many of the mistakes that ESPN personalities had made, and covered sexual harrasment and racial themes of the company as well. But did it help solidify my hate? Not really. I still go to ESPN when I am watching TV at home. I still probably will. But now there are many other sports outlets where I can get my news. And I probably will continue to ignore ESPN until something awesome happens there.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Media Mayhem

The NFL Lockout is over. Today and tomorrow NFL players will be reporting to training camp and breathing a sigh of relief that their arduous time spent away from their team's facilities is now done.

The NFL Lockout is over. In the next few days owners are selling tickets for meaningless preseason games that had been on the brink of cancellation only a few weeks ago. Sponsors are once again making their pitches to get their signage on various billboards, car doors, and bathroom stalls featuring their team's logo and a sign that says "Official partner of the Houston Texans and the NFL."

The NFL Lockout is over. Today fans are calling into their local radio stations and freely discussing the impact that Matt Hasselbeck will have with Tennessee or how many games Hines Ward will be suspended due to his DUI charge or whether Nnamdi Asomugha will even consider their team in his quest to get more money than he really needs.

The NFL Lockout is over. Today the media smugly sits on the back two legs of their chairs and says, "Our work here is done."

We can arguably say that the players or the owners are to blame for this lockout. But for me, my blame rests on the media. The media that needs to break in to its regularly scheduled programming to let you know that "The owners are meeting at an undisclosed location!" and then interrupt again with "We found out where the undisclosed location is: New York!"

When two sides are refusing to meet on the basis that the other side is full of "jerks," then that may be news. But when each side is trying valiantly to resolve their problem - that is not news. That's just unnecessary.

I understand that the NFL is the most revered sport in all the land. Any NFL news trumps all. But the media turned this lockout into a giant waste of my time. Whenever people talked about it, I was done - I changed the channel or turned it off. The only news I desired to hear from the media was that the lockout was over.

I was reading the newspaper yesterday, and a sportswriter's quote really made me think. He wrote: "The intense fan frustration over the lockout was misplaced because, in the end, nothing of importance was missed."*

Why was there fan frustration in the first place? If the media hadn't jumped on the story when they realized the CBA was expiring, then the fans wouldn't have thought any differently. They still had a draft. There wasn't meant to be football between February and July. But because the media feels it needs to have its finger on every menial "Drew Brees said ______!" story, we as fans feel a responsibility to react. If this had been done behind closed doors, 1) it may have been done faster, and 2) we as fans would feel less like idiots for being strung out for 130+ days obsessing over nothing.

So thanks, media. Because you crave the ratings, you are, in fact, the losers of this lockout. Don't warn us that this thing "may take a while" and that it "may cost us up to half the season" when you probably knew full well that a deal was going to get done this summer. Your hyperactivity makes us respect you even less than before.

We're not that stupid.





*Wisconsin State Journal's Tom Oates: "Biggest Winner? The Fans" Tuesday, July 26, 2011 edition

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Exercise My Freedom To Run!


Posted amongst this blog post is my playlist for my race run. These songs are very inspiring to run a good race! If you’ve been following since the last race, you’ll notice that there aren’t many repeat songs between the two. This is some great music!

Young Blood – The Naked and Famous
 
After the success of the Jingle Bell 5KRun in December, I felt a surge of energy for running. Although I wasn’t pushing myself for pace and time anymore, I was still getting out and running for 30 minutes or more.

This was especially good for winter, since usually many runners decide to hibernate. I bundled up my warm weather clothes and tried to find the routes that were shoveled. To prevent running in the dark, I would bring my running clothes to school and change at 4, then run around that area instead of around home. 

Moth’s Wings – Passion Pit

I took advantage of the warmer days and also ran more during the weekends, when I could run in the warmest part of the day. 

The first time I actually ran after the Jingle Bell was in January, and to my shock I ran four miles straight! Some days I was feeling great, and other times the cold couldn’t allow me to breathe. But I was proud of my winter running accomplishments.

Little Lion Man – Mumford & Sons

Once the weather started to warm up, it was a wonderful change of pace. I didn’t have to fear slipping in unshoveled snow. I could still feel my face at the end of a run. And the bulky clothes (shorts, tights, sweatpants, t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, hat, gloves) started to be shed, and it felt like I had thrown off five pounds and could really move again.

Of course, that meant I could really challenge myself again in distance. I wasn’t really caring about time as much as before; I knew my pace was average (not stellar in the slightest, but good enough for me). My ultimate goal is to run the Princess Half-Marathon at Walt Disney World, and in order to complete that 13.1 mile race you need to keep a 15-minute pace. When I am having a good day I can run a 13-minute mile, so I’m trying to keep that pace right now. The idea of increasing my pace isn’t really on my radar at the moment; perhaps when I am able to run that Half-Marathon I will try increasing my pace. 

You Are A Tourist – Death Cab for Cutie

I was just going about my normal running business a few weeks ago when my friend asked me about my Fourth of July plans. I didn’t have any, and she said she was doing a parade and fireworks on Sunday evening, followed by a 4-mile race on Monday morning. Did I want to come and run?

Usually I’m able to weasel my way out of these races she runs, stating that “I like to run my own pace” and “it costs less to run by myself” and “I really don’t need another t-shirt.” But this race only cost $18 and was early enough in the morning that the heat of the day wouldn’t be a big problem – especially since the forecast for that day was low to mid 80s. So I agreed.

1901 - Phoenix

Now I was stuck figuring out if I was physically ready to run four miles – in the heat! The last time I did a race, the temperature was 20 degrees. This was going to be about a 55 degree difference! I would need some new equipment.

One of the first things I looked for was a good pair of running shorts…okay, that wasn’t what I was looking for. I was actually looking for a pair of black Spandex shorts to wear under a skirt I’d be wearing for a fancy dinner. I did find a pair at Kohl’s, and they were really great. Then I realized I’d be able to wear them running, too! 

Light and Day – The Polyphonic Spree

I also was interested in how to stay hydrated during my longer runs. I did some research on water bottles with my friends, and found that the little ones on belts were too bulky. But a larger handheld one seemed to fit pretty well. I managed to find one on Amazon.com relatively cheap, and aside from minor leaking, it does the job. Plus it has a pocket for my keys!

The days before the race I decided to run 4 miles and get myself mentally ready for it. I’d go out early in the morning to avoid the excessive heat that was coming (the temperature was going to hit 95 degrees in the afternoon). The problem was, as soon as I got outside, I saw black clouds to the northwest. Great – storms were going to ruin my long run. 

Time to Pretend - MGMT

Instead of doing the route I intended, I started out doing a smaller loop – while listening to thunder off in the distance and praying that the thunderstorm would stay out of town – and then got back to my house. I decided to just run the block around my house until the weather came. Then I’d be close enough to home to just run inside. Who knew? Maybe I’d be lucky enough to fit my 4 miles in.

I do not own a GPS watch, so I just kept running. I ran and ran until I thought I’d gotten in enough mileage. I was exhausted, and when I went inside I realized I’d been out for over an hour. The rain had stayed away – actually, the severe weather that I’d seen in the distance had broken up before it hit my town! We barely got any rain. Usually this would irk me, but in this case I was grateful.

Crawling in the Dark - Hoobastank

How many miles did I ran? Actually, I ran over 5 miles – almost enough for a 10k! I was impressed. I felt ready for the race on Monday.

The night before I got six hours of sleep and felt pretty exhausted in the morning. I only had one drink early in the evening, and then nursed a bottle of water for the rest of the night. The parade and fireworks were a lot of fun!

Welcome to the Black Parade – My Chemical Romance

We arrived at the race a little close – we grabbed our packets, and didn’t have that much time to take them back to the car. I’d filled up my water bottle with ice, and my iTunes playlist was ready. We settled in the back of the pack and I got ready to run!

There were over 1100 runners for this race. I made sure most of them were in front of me. As we began to run I just told myself, “Run your pace. Don’t be fooled by the other runners. Don’t try to keep pace with someone else!” So I got into my trot and watched people pass me by – including my friends, who are much more experienced runners than I am.

Poker Face – Lady GaGa

We raced through very nice neighborhoods, and there were many people in their lawn chairs cheering us on. Many were dressed in their red, white, and blue finest, watching the sweaty runners go past their house. A few kids had squirt guns and hoses and would spray the runners. (Of course, only if the runners indicted they wanted to get wet.) I made sure to say thank you, even though I think it’s not a good idea to get wet for a run (something to do with the humidity or your body temp or something). There were also many sprinklers set up around the course. 

This had been advertised as a “mainly flat course,” and I’d have to agree. Compared to the Jingle Bell in December, this was nothing. I could sense the inclines and declines, but it wasn’t anything too bad. 

This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race – Fall Out Boy

There were three water stops, and I didn’t stop running. My motto is “Slow and steady wins the race.” Emphasis on steady. I am not big into stopping to walk, and sometimes it annoys me when people do it around me. There was a lady in a green shirt who’d run ahead of me, then walk so I’d catch up or pass her, and then she’d run past me again, and we did that about five times. It got annoying. 

My water bottle was a huge help at the water stops – I’d open the top, dump the cup of water onto the ice, and keep going. The ice stayed in my bottle for half the race, so the first two water stops I had cold water! I finally figured out how to open it with my teeth too.

Club Can’t Handle Me – Flo Rida

After two miles I was feeling good. I’d been running with the same group of people, so I decided to pick up my pace a little bit. So I increased my speed, and started passing the people in my group…and not seeing them again. Then I started catching up to the people that started out too fast and were now walking to the finish. Then I started passing a few runners who were taking a walking break! I was passing people! It felt very odd. But because I’d kept my slow pace at the beginning, I was benefitting at the end! 

When I hit the last quarter mile, which took place in the park, I really turned on the jets. I was determined not to wipe out on the trail or on the grass the finish line was on. 

California Love – 2Pac

Right before the final stretch, I saw a dad with his 2-year old son ahead of me. The dad let the kid start running toward the finish, and that kid was fast for being two years old! In my head I was going Oh no! This kid is going to cross the finish line before me and ruin my great race! But then he stopped and turned around and headed back for his dad, so I had the final 100 meters ahead of me to sprint to the finish!

I didn’t feel as dead at the finish as I had in December, and that was great. I immediately went over to the snack table and grabbed three cookies and apple slices and found my friends. We sat on the grass and ate and talked until the results were posted. I hadn’t kept track of my time, but the chip timer on my shoe recorded that I’d finished in 49 minutes and 25 seconds – 4 miles in less than 50 minutes! My pace was an astounding 12.22 minutes per mile, which was great for the heat!

Shiny Happy People – R.E.M.

I was very excited for my race, and felt I’d done it well. I know now that I can push my pace a little more and still have enough at the end. I don’t know when my next race will be, but I’ll keep you posted!

Friday, July 1, 2011

My New Favorite Sport

In my personal opinion, a sport is something that gets you moving and makes you sweat. Dancing? That is a sport. Sitting on the couch? Not a sport. Cheerleading? Yes - I believe that is a sport. Playing an instrument? Well, it depends. If you're in a chair in an orchestra hall, no, that is not a sport.

What I saw last night involving instruments definitely would be included as a sport in my book. Last night my friend took my to my first Drum Corp competition. And wow! I think I'll be going to more of those shows!

Drum corps are a summer sport involving teens and college students, roughly ages 13-22 (they "age out" if they are 21 that summer). The "drum AND bugle corps" consist of brass, percussion, and color guard. But if I were to say that was it, I would be missing out on the majority of the corp. There is brass of all shapes and sizes - trumpets, euphoniums, tubas, baritones, and probably more. The percussion section is huge, too. Not only do they have the marching drums - snare drums, quads, and cymbals - but they have a "front percussion" with electronic instruments and a variety of orchestral instruments like vibes and marimbas and other smaller percussion (my area of "expertise"!). Finally, the color guard has various types of dancing, but they also have to learn flag spinning, and working with/throwing in the air and catching mock rifles and sabers.

When you put all these elements together, it's hard to watch. Hard, in fact, because so much AWESOME stuff is going on and your eyes can't keep track of it all! First the color guard is dancing crazily, and then the front percussion is going nuts with their mallets, then the brass suddenly breaks out into a giant chord of amazing, and then the flags appear, then this guy throws a mock rifle 20 feet into the air and catches it on the beat! How do they do that?

Most of these performers are full-time high school and college students who join a drum corp in their area and train like crazy for days on end. They compete against other corps in competitions like I was able to see in Whitewater, Wisconsin last night. It was the Whitewater Classic, brought to you by the local drum corp, the Madison Scouts (who, ironically weren't there last night - they are on tour on the East Coast right now). But the eight participating corps were wonderful to watch - especially the last two: the Blue Stars (from LaCrosse) and the Cavaliers (from Rosemont, IL).

For the inexperienced viewer, you could say that watching a Drum Corp competition is basically watching a three-hour halftime show. But once you start getting into it, you realize that there's so much more to it. Firstly, everything gets judged. The Cavaliers won last night's competition with a score of 81 out of 100 possible points. I don't know the exact judging requirements, but I'm guessing it gets pretty crazy trying to keep track of formations and saber throwing drops.

Secondly, the drum corps don't have any woodwinds (clarinets and flutes). It really allows for the brass to really shine. (Sorry, clarinet and flute players.)

Thirdly, this isn't a retro trip to the best of the Beatles that you're watching. This is artistry! Some of the pieces picked ("Nature Boy" by Eden Ahbez, or "Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op 47" by Shostakovich) wouldn't be found in a football halftime show. And the color guard has to help the drum and bugle sections convey the storyline of the songs, through costumes and acting.

I haven't mentioned the uniforms yet! Those were some of the coolest band uniforms I'll probably ever see. Some look like standard marching band uniforms, but the Troopers' (from Casper, Wyoming) uniforms are actually modeled after the Union Army's 11th Ohio Cavalry during the Civil War. Plus the Drum Major (who directs the whole show - and also is in the age range of the other performers, which is awesome) of the Troopers has a sword strapped to his belt! I am a conductor too - can I get a sword?

I really got a kick out of watching this competition, and I look forward to seeing more. I'm a little sad that I didn't hear about this until I was in college, and one of my close friends alerted me to it. But now I can anticipate each summer with thoughts of seeing another Drum Corp show.

(By the way the World Championships are going to be a movie theater near you on Thursday, August 11. Plus there are a ton of Drum Corp shows before then. You can go to dci.org to find out more! Please do - you won't regret it!)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Shhhh...

Last week I went on vacation. Because I got to stay at a hotel for six nights, I embraced the fact that I had cable again. Back at home, I have been cable-less for the past nine months. It was worthwhile to do it, but I still missed waking up in the morning and getting my top stories delivered to me on my high-definition TV. On my vacation, as soon as I was awake, the TV was on.

I was in an area where the ABC family of networks dominated the TV channel lineup. (If you know who owns ABC, you'll know where I was.) And one of these channels was ESPN. Because it was the only sports channel I got, I was obligated to get my sports news from SportsCenter. So I watched it.

As I was on vacation, the Detroit Tigers were on a hot streak. Between May 30 and June 7, the Tigers won 7 of 8, taking series against Minnesota, Chicago, and the reigning AL champion Texas. And because Detroit was playing against higher profile teams, their highlights made it on to SportsCenter amids the 50 minutes they devoted to the NBA Finals and the Ohio State scandal. And when the Tigers were being shown, the anchor or analyst would say, "It looks like the Tigers are on the rise" or "Watch out for the Tigers" or "The team to beat in the Central is Detroit."

To which I wanted to say, "SHUT UP!"

To be the frontrunner in a division is something I fear. I would much rather be the surprise underdog that no one believes will do anything spectacular in a season. But with Minnesota performing an early season swan-dive, Cleveland fading from their strong start, and Chicago being dominated by Ozzie Guillen rants, Detroit seems to be the most stable team in the Central right now. That means the sports anchors are setting their targets on Detroit to win it.

When Detroit has had a strong start to their season, they always manage to fade out in the second half. Just look back to last year: at the All-Star break, they were ten games over .500 and 1/2 a game out. But then they proceeded to blow up in losses against New York and Minnesota and suffered so many injuries that it was a whole different team by August.

When Cleveland started hot this season, it was great. That meant Detroit could just lurk right behind them and overtake them late in the summer. But if Cleveland keeps losing, the target will head north up Lake Erie and be focused squarely on the Tigers. That is not good. I'm not sure that Detroit, even with their strong veteran core, could keep from collapsing under the pressure of fans and the media.

I won't guarantee that the Tigers will win anything until at least three weeks after the All-Star break. From where I see it, if the Tigers are able to put together a strong post-break string of victories (they start at home against Chicago and Oakland), they'll be able to make a push for the Central. Then I'll be able to see if they're in it for the long haul.

But for now, keep the hype down, please?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Summer Movie Season: Why Should I Care?

Apparently on May 6 the "Summer Motion Picture Extravaganza" began, which unofficially commences the Movie-Tie-Ins-Till-Your-Eyes-Bleed Season as well.

Every year on the first Friday in May THE Major Motion Picture is supposed to resurrect the movie theater industry out of its doldrums and deliver the next big blockbuster that everyone MUST go out to see. This is followed quickly by the Memorial Day Ultrabudget Feature Film, not to be undone by one or two Incredibly Adorable While Hitting the Adult Demo As Well Kids Movie (quickly followed by the Incredibly Stupid Kids Movies With Too Many Fart Jokes). Also in June is the Upstart No One Saw Coming Comedy But Ends Up Making $150 Million, and that film ends up launching the career of a brilliant actor, and also launches the career of the other comedy actors into the Incredibly Stupid Comedy Movie No One Sees (this movie arrives - of course - right after awards season).

July brings us the Fourth of July Special That's Felt Like The Trailer Has Been on a Constant Loop Since April and Movie You Felt You Already Saw Before It Got to Theaters Thanks to the Two or Three or Thirteen Ad Campaigns It Has Going, as well as the Movies That Hoped To Piggyback On Normal Summer Movie Success But Everyone Decides Wasn't Worth Their Time.

By the time August comes (and with it the This Movie Came Out Too Late in the Summer For People To Care Movie), you have a giant headache from going from extreme hot to extreme cold so many times that you don't even bother with Potential Oscar Movie and you finally decide to, you know, enjoy the outdoors for a little bit!

Normally in a summer I am able to limit myself to two or three movies. In the summer of 2007 between May and August, I saw 8. Here's a list:

Spider-Man 3
Shrek the Third
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Live Free or Die Hard
Ratatouille
Transformers
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The Simpsons Movie

There were some movies from this list, looking back, where I'm glad I was able to see it in the theaters. (Transformers! Harry Potter!) There are others, however, where I look back at my ticket stub and go, "I saw The Simpsons Movie in the theaters? Twice?"

So from that summer on, I have put summer movies to a rigorous test to make sure it really was worth forking over all of that money. Here are some guidelines I follow:

1. Do I look at the previews and like what I see?
This is an easy one to follow. If you don't like it, stay away.

2. Is the plot any good, and is it executed in the film well?
Too many times I have gone to a movie and seen a film with a plot the size of a paper clip, or a good plot with actors that cannot act. How did this movie get approved anyway?

3. Am I going to like it after I see it?
It is important when the credits start rolling to look back at the two hours you just spent in the air conditioning and go, "Yea, I think that was worth my time."

4. Am I going to remember it a week later?
Will I look back on the experience and go, "Oh, yea, that was a fun time!" or do I go, "Wait - I saw that movie?"

5. The Brother Factor (optional)
I find that a lot of the kind of movies I enjoy are the ones my older brother enjoys as well. He is very passionate about his movies, and will explain at length why it was marvelous or why it was terrible. If it's a movie that he didn't like but I did, I better have a good case why I liked it, or else it's not going to feel worth the $10 after I talk to him. (This happened with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. I like it - I felt it was a decent wrap-up to the double movie, but he couldn't stand it.) But he also is a good decider on if I should go and see it at all! Should I see Transformers? He went first - he loved it - he took me and my dad to see it. Should I see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen? He went first - he loathed it - I have never watched it. (Should I see Transformers: Dark of the Moon? Only Matt will tell.)

6. Would I buy it on DVD?
This one has to have a disclaimer attached to it. I don't buy many DVDs. Unless it's a movie from my childhood and it's $5 or less, I probably won't get it. Unless I really liked the movie. This has happened three times in the past year - I came out of the theater loving How To Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 3, and Tangled, and immediately knew those DVDs would enter my collections as soon as they came out.

7. Is it worth taking the money out of my wallet?

With the state of my wallet, I am often tight-zipped with my wallet. So if I am going to spend money on a movie, I am going to make sure it was worth it. Most of the time I don't feel a movie is worth it, and will just wait until my local library system makes it available. A free movie is always worth my free time. But a movie I will sit in a dark theater is going to, usually, take $5-$10 away from me, so I'd better not come out and go, "Man, I wish I had my money back! I could have waited till this came out at the library!"

8. Am I going to regret not going later?
I like going on entertainment websites, and sometimes they'll "discuss" the end of a movie in one of their articles. A lot of times I'll just click on it because I don't mind finding out, but last summer I made the mistake of not going to see Inception in the theater. My family saw it, loved it, but when we got together we couldn't talk about it because I had not seen it yet! By the time I realized I should have seen it, it was gone from the theaters. What was worse, the entertainment websites were always writing something related to Inception - its music, its ending, its actors - and I had to literally shut off my computer so I wouldn't click on those articles and spoil the movie! It finally came out on DVD, and for the first time ever, I actually went to a movie store and rented it right away, even though it cost me $4 and I had to return it in 24 hours. I didn't care - I'd been counting down the days till I could find out what everyone was talking about. I remained spoiler-free, and watching it on that Tuesday in my living room was a magical experience.
...But I should have seen it in the theaters to save me from the torture.

So I do go through quite the procedure to see if I want to see a movie or not. But it will help me save a little money this summer. Will I see Thor, Captain America, or Green Lantern? That will depend on The Brother Factor. Do I need to pull out money on something like Bridesmaids or The Help? I can keep my wallet in my purse and see it from the library later. Is the final chapter of Harry Potter a must-watch-now movie? Um, yes - especially if a theater will show both parts 1 and 2 back-to-back. That would just be awesome.

If you would like to save some money, just follow my eight easy steps. You'll come out of Summer Movie Season with two or three I'm So Glad I Saw That movies and more money in your wallet.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Baseball - By Ken Burns

The week before baseball season began, I started to watch the Ken Burns documentary called Baseball. It traces the history of America's pastime from it's inception to 1994. Most of its history covers the Major Leagues, but it does also cover much of the Negro Leagues' history, and briefly covers other leagues from history.

I enjoyed watching the documentary, but it did have a few spots that were sour for me. First, the good:

The Height of Baseball is Thoroughly Covered and Very Entertaining
Once the history of baseball reaches 1919 and the Black Sox scandal, the documentary finds its footing and takes off. The histories and recollections by historians and writers really helps you to understand all the sides of the stories that are heard. "Innings" 3-7 are the best innings by far to watch.

Buck O'Neil is Fantastic
Much like Shelby Foote in Burn's other major documentary, The Civil War, Buck O'Neil is a man with very simple words that really keep you entertained. When he appeared on the screen, I was always tuning in a little better to see what he had to say. Not only were his insights interesting, he also had firsthand experience playing in the Negro Leagues in the 1930s and 40s. It was evident that he loved the game of baseball very much.

Any Major Baseball Stories are Covered
You may have heard the phrase, "The Shot Heard 'Round the World," but do you actually know what even it refers to? Not only does Burns cover it, he really makes sure you understand the mindset of the fans involved.

It Tells One of the Funniest Stories I Have Ever Heard
In 1962 the Mets were one of the worst teams in baseball. So much so that centerfielder Richie Ashburn and rightfielder Elio Chacon constantly were colliding in the outfield when they both tried to catch the same fly ball. So Chacon taught Ashburn how to say "I've got it" in Spanish: "Yo la Tengo." Ashburn repeated that phrase over and over again so he had it down. Finally the day came when a fly ball flew into the outfield, and Ashburn yelled "Yo la Tengo!" as loudly as he could. He was about to catch the ball...when leftfielder Frank Thomas crashed into him instead.

The History of Free Agency 
I didn't even realize how detailed and lengthy the history of free agency was in baseball. The term "player reserve clause" kept popping up all over the documentary, and over and over the baseball team owners rejected it. Finally, after the formation of a player's union  and an arbitration court, free agency was born. That story was far more interesting than it should have been! 

It Starts Each Episode with the National Anthem
Each National Anthem is not the same - there are tons of different variations that are heard throughout the documentary. The other commonly used song and variations are to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The other music used help to set the scene of the inning. At the beginning there is a lot of ragtime, in the 40s a lot of big band, and by the 70s and 80s there is tons of rock.

He's Not David McCullough, but He's Good
The narrator this time around is John Chancellor, and he does a great job narrating. I was disappointed that in the sequel to this series, The Tenth Inning, he did not return to do the narration.

And now, some of the negative parts:

The First Part is very Dull
I understand that to start a documentary on baseball, you need to start at the beginning. But the beginning of baseball is made to seem very dull and boring. It took me a while to get into the documentary because of it. It took a bit to find its rhythm.

The First Part Also is Parallel to The Civil War
The pictures are the same, the music is the same, and even the voices are the same. I almost thought I had put in a Civil War DVD instead.

There is a Major New York Bias
Not until the second half of the documentary does is begin to talk about the woes of the Boston Red Sox, but the ups and down of the New York teams are never more than ten minutes away! I understand that a lot of baseball history was accomplished by the Giants, Dodgers, and Yankees back in the day, but there was so much other baseball history being made by other baseball teams outside of New York and some of that gets pushed by the wayside! Which brings me to my next point...

Where's the Tigers???
Ty Cobb was, at the same time, a bright spot and a stain on Detroit Tigers history. And unfortunately for us, he  is the only Tiger to truly get screen time here. Aside from a brief two-minute discussion on Hank Greenberg and his impact on Jewish players in the League, that's it for the Tigers. No mention of their World Series wins in '35 or '45, nothing about their impact on the city of Detroit in '68, and nothing about their wire-to-wire dominance in '84. Heck, there wasn't even anything about Mark Fidrych, which shocked me! I spent so much time waiting for the Tigers to make some sort of dent in the documentary, and was left very disappointed.

In 2009 Burns went back and filmed The Tenth Inning, which "covers" all the history between 1990 and 2009. I was very interested in hearing these events that I was familiar with as a current baseball fan, but this documentary was not very pleasing to me. Burns decided to have the entire four hours revolve around the career of Barry Bonds, someone that I have always disliked. There would be a few other stories, but eventually the story got back to Bonds in some way. I enjoyed hearing about the 1998 home run chase and the 2004 Red Sox World Series and the emergence of Ichiro Suzuki, but other stories that they chose to talk about, like a lengthy discussion over the Mitchell Report, and the Yankee "dominance". All other World Series championships of the past 20 years were largely ignored.

I would recommend that any die-hard baseball fan make sure to watch Baseball, but the likes of The Tenth Inning could be ignored. The former did its best to combine one hundred years of baseball history into 18 hours, and also succeeded in revealing to me some of the best players in the game: Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, Buck O'Neil, Cy Young, John McGraw, Lou Gehrig, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Bob Feller, and Sandy Koufax. These are great players that helped revolutionize the game with their talents and skills, and hopefully this documentary will help their efforts to not be forgotten.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Waiting Till the End to Say My Piece

January 27. I was on my computer when I spotted that the Michigan-Michigan State basketball game was going to be on ESPN3.com. Yes, the game was at East Lansing; yes, the Wolverines hadn't won there in 15 years; yes, they had just lost six straight and were 1-6 in the Big Ten, but I was still excited. It would be the first time I'd really seen them in action since late December - which would make my grand total M basketball viewings for the year go up to 2.

But when I got to the website, I was dismayed to see that there was only two minutes left in the game. My sadness quickly turned to elation when I found out we were winning! I nervously watched the final seconds click down, and just like that, the tide had turned. After hearing for a month on Detroit sports radio that Michigan head coach John Beilein would likely be fired after this season, and that this team was too young and there were no leaders, it was a shock to my system. Sometimes, a good dose of positive energy can really renew a person!

So I kept paying attention, with my ear to the ground. I didn't make any proclamations that Michigan was the best - because they weren't, but also because I didn't want to take this "upset" and make it a big deal. (Even though I really really wanted to.)

That became my mindset for the rest of the season. After close calls (Wisconsin) and more fun games (MSU again, Minnesota), I still wasn't going to announce this team was turning a corner. And even after they came back against Illinois in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament (since they'd earned a bye), I wasn't going to announce to the world that Michigan was back.

Nope, not even after Michigan pounded Tennessee 75-45 in the "second" round of the NCAA Tourney was I going to proclaim that this had been a good season.

Only now, after a narrow loss to Duke and the end of the season, will I make my remarks:

That was a good season!

After starting well (beating Harvard) and having an awful middle (you lost to Indiana?!), the Michigan Wolverines' players came together as a team to share responsibilities. Even though players like Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. got their names out into the public, there were other players like Stu Douglass shooting threes and Zack Novak trying to guard the big men and snatching rebounds away from them. Even though only two players had gone to the Big Dance before (Douglass and Novak), they showed poise and patience in their two games at that level.

But there's one problem to this season: haven't we seen this before?

Two years ago, in the 2008-09 season, Michigan had built a respectable record and had also gone to the NCAA Tournament's second round, losing to Blake Griffin and number 2 Oklahoma. They had almost everyone returning for the next year, including Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. But they had a down year and didn't even make the tournament. The fact that they made it back this year with no Senior leadership was huge!

But will history repeat itself? After all, we are having almost all our players from this year returning for the next year. Are we going to have all our offseason expectations dashed by Christmas?

I hope that the Wolverines take recent history into account and are able to build on this season. Then hopefully I can proclaim this amazing season from Day One!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Baseball...It Can't Come Fast Enough

I sit here in the midst of a giant blizzard pining for baseball.

It didn't take much for me to get into this stupor. On Facebook I noticed that 97.1 The Ticket out of Detroit was having a "Tiger Talk" with Pat Caputo and Dan Dickerson (Tigers radio play-by-play guy) tonight. Since my plans had fallen through thanks to the snow, I found my evening free.

As I continued to listen, I started roaming the Internet for other Tigers information. And as I found more, I eventually crossed leagues and started looking at video for my National League team, the Milwaukee Brewers.

Watching the videos, listening to the radio, and reading the articles made me pine for the day when I can turn on the radio any night - regular radio or Internet radio - and listen to one of my two favorite teams.

I remember last year having that eternal optimism at the end of March - I seriously thought that the Tigers and the Brewers could meet in the World Series. On one of my many lovely spring walks, I actually debated If they ever met in the World Series, who would I root for? (it took me two seconds to decide: the Tigers)

Of course, hope springs eternal, but April brings reality. Eventually as spring segued into summer I settled into a mood where just listening to them play made my day. Dan and Jim (Tigers) and Bob and Cory (Brewers) were great at bringing the game into my living room or car, and their relaxed voices always made it seem like they were talking right to me!

Now that it's been over four months since my last baseball game with these two teams, I'm starting to go a little crazy. It became evident to me when I heard about the Tigers' opening day plans and immediately scheduled a trip home around it, so I could listen to the game on the radio as I drove!

But even though I'm making all these plans, it still doesn't change the fact that Opening Day is still two months away. So the snow still falls around me, the weather is still bitterly cold, and the drifts pile up.

But it doesn't mean I can't dream that it's already spring!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Disney Documentaries Divert the Dream and Delves into Depression

I am a big Disney fan, and love many things that come out of that company: the Parks, the movies, the channel, and other things, too. Recently I heard about three documentaries that were coming out that were about topics not usually discussed among Disney: one was about Walt Disney's goodwill trip to South America in the 1940s, another was about the time in Disney Animation between 1984-1994, and the third was about the life of the Sherman brothers. All three of these were hailed by critics, so that interested me even more. A Disney documentary that was receiving good press like that? I had to check it out.

Luckily all three came out on DVD at the same time in December (and also appeared OnDemand with Comcast), so I was able to watch all three. And man, these are not your normal Disney fluff, that's for sure. This is all about the happy times, but also about the sad times too.

I am happy that people thought these were good topics to present, before it got too far out of people's minds. I say this in particular for the Sherman brothers' story - both of the "Boys" are in their 80s now, and to hear their story out of both of their mouths was amazing.

I enjoyed all these movies, but all three left me with a slightly sour taste. When one feeds on Disney for too long, it is kind of difficult to see that there is reality behind the dreams and fantasy.

Let's start with Waking Sleeping Beauty, which chronicles Disney Animation from the mid-80s to the mid-90s. The Disney movies that came out of this time (especially the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and the Lion King) really helped shape my childhood. I thought this movie would talk more about how those movies were developed, the voice actors, how the characters were shaped, and so on.

Instead, most of the movie talked about the power struggle between Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Roy E. Disney. With each triumph, those three had to ruin it with their quest to be top dog in Disney Animation. And left in the wake of their storm was all the poor animators and directors and producers who just wanted to make good movies.

I was really hoping to enjoy this movie - and when the movie focused on the animators and the goofy stuff that happens, it was enjoyable. It was too bad that the height of the animation had to have so much negativity going on in the background.

I watched Walt and El Groupo during Christmas vacation, and that movie had lots of fun aspects. It was fun to watch, especially since I had, in the past eight months, watched Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. They showed how parts of those movies were inspired by the travels that Disney did with his animators.

Yes, the trip was basically a goodwill trip so that South America wouldn't join the Nazis, but it seemed like the welcome parties from all the countries involved were very willing to show Walt and his crew the fantastic parties that they could throw.

I liked listening to the letters that the animators' children read in the documentary, and I also liked seeing the real-life inspirations side-by-side with the animation that was used.

The saddest part was at the end, when it turns out that this big research trip churned out very little results. They set it up for this big triumph, then at the end the South Americans interviewed said that very little of the research was used in the movie.

It was nice seeing lots of video of Walt Disney, though. It made me want a bigger documentary out there featuring just Walt. I'm going to have to look that up...

The final movie I just watched tonight. It's about the Sherman brothers, and it's called The Boys. Out of the three documentaries, this was the best one, in my opinion.

The son of each brother got together and documented the lives of their fathers and their careers spanning their entire lives. Both Dick and Bob Sherman are still alive, and it chronicles how these two men who did so much together now live halfway around the world from each other and don't speak to each other any more.

When they were honored with a window on Main Street in Disneyland last year, I was really confused why only Dick Sherman was at the special ceremony they had. But watching this, it helped me to understand it a little better, but was still sad. To see two brothers feel like they had no connection with each other is very depressing. I have brothers and can't fathom how they would just choose not to be around each other.

That said, the movie is not just about the fall of their relationship. It also shows the thousands of songs that these two brothers wrote together. I had no idea how many songs they wrote for Disney and for other companies, too! They showed clips of the movies, they showed Dick pounding the song on the piano, they showed Bob and Dick kind of "composing" together, and they interviewed singers and other Disney honchos. The mood was far lighter than I thought it was going to be, but still, at the end I was sad.

I am still happy that Disney is willing to put out movies like this that pull back the curtain on what's going on while they're making the magic. To me, it was quite the eye opener. If you are curious about any of the events that are chronicled in these movies, I would urge you strongly to see these movies. They are very well made and have different effects that enhance the movies more than usual.

Just be prepared to suspend your infallible Disney beliefs for a few hours.