Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bubble Fans Anonymous


(Who would like to speak this session…someone new perhaps? Todd, how about you?)

Well, okay, I suppose. Hello everyone, my name is Todd Salem.

(Hi Todd)

I am 25 years old and have been a fan of a bubble team for the last eight years now. When I first got hooked, it didn’t seem like being a fan of a bubble team was going to be anything worth worrying about. It would either happen or it wouldn’t. What could I control being on the outside looking in? But then, as the seasons wore on, the months turned to years, I could feel the despair building.

The one year we made it, we actually made the NCAA Tournament, 2007 it was…that just made things worse. Every subsequent failure was more severe, more to the core. It has gotten to the point where a lack of worry and doubt is just as good as success. Looking back, it was almost better to be worse than those bubble teams, not having to sweat through the grief and unknown, living in blissful ignorance.

That’s why I am feeling good this year. Even though it is only mid-December, I already know my team’s chances are slim to none. I won’t have to suffer through the release of the brackets as in past years. The resume just doesn’t hold up this season. We will not even make the bubble talk, and just saying that out loud is exhilarating. It feels good to tell others that my March of 2012 will not be like the others; it will not be stressful.

Everyone always told me, back when I was younger and naïve, that the bubble teams’ failures stemmed from poor showings in your conference. You needed to finish near the top of your conference to get in. That would prove to the panelists that your team was deserving. Now I know better though. Conference success is just a bunch of bologna.

The real killer is out-of-conference strength of schedule and wins and don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.

My team, let’s just call them VT, has fallen prey to the lack of out-of-conference wins year after year. Finishing in the top three in their own conference has never been good enough. Beating top teams in the nation from their own conference has done little more than place them squarely on the bubble each and every March. The push over the top, into the Big Dance must come from victories over solid teams from other conferences.

And this is why I have my freedom this season. Our chances at impressive out-of-conference wins to bolster an otherwise weak resume have already come and gone. A win over a top ranked Syracuse team in New York would have been amazing. That alone might have been enough with a strong ACC showing this year, but it was not meant to be. Topping a slightly depleted Minnesota squad would have been tremendous but that also did not come to fruition. The following game, against Kansas State, was a necessity. It would be one of the last out-of-conference matchups that VT would face this season. But again, we fell short.

So here I am, not even at the first of the new year and I am already feeling good…no, good is not the right word.

I am feeling relieved.

I won’t have to sit on the edge of my seat, biting my fingernails this spring. Sure, my team won’t be in contention but don’t you all kind of wish you were in the same boat. Wouldn’t it be nice to be unencumbered by it, just once?

I appreciate everyone listening but I don’t think I will need to come to any more of these meetings. I have gotten what I needed from them. Thanks doc, thank you everyone.

(Okay, Todd, thank you for speaking. Would anyone else like to say a few words tonight?)

(Image courtesy of graphicleftovers.com)

Barry Sanders: A Look Back


Montee Ball will presumably break, or at least tie, Barry Sanders NCAA “regular season” touchdown record during Wisconsin’s upcoming BCS bowl. He only needs one more score to do so. Nowadays, stats accumulated in bowl games count towards season totals and career numbers. This was not the case prior to 2002 and that is why taking a look back at Barry Sanders’ 1988 season as an Oklahoma State Cowboy is so fascinating.

Most football fans know Barry as the electric Detroit Lions running back. People are aware of his crazy NFL numbers and his premature retirement in the face of the NFL rushing record. What the casual follower may not be aware of is the Barry Sanders in 1988 was arguably better than any subsequent version in comparison to his peers.

Sanders’ total career NCAA rushing numbers are nothing to write home about. He only really played one full season. Prior to ’88, Barry backed up another future NFL star, Thurman Thomas. Once Thomas left and Sanders took over, he showed what he could do as a junior and then departed for the NFL after the season and winning the Heisman Trophy.

In that 1988 campaign, Barry Sanders broke over 30 NCAA records. He rushed for the most touchdowns in a season, scored the most points, rushed for the most yards, accumulated the most total yardage, etc. For the sake of present day comparisons, let’s include Barry’s bowl game stats as well here in preparation for Montee Ball’s approach of Sanders. Ball is technically one touchdown shy of Sanders’ 39 total touchdowns mark. But if we include the 1988 Holiday Bowl, where Sanders rushed for a staggering FIVE more touchdowns, the record seems quite out of reach. Montee Ball has had a tremendous season, especially down the stretch; he is simply no Barry Sanders.

In ’88, the numbers (including the Holiday Bowl performance) are as such: 12 total games played, 2850 rushing yards, 237.5 rushing yards per game, 42 rushing touchdowns, 44 total touchdowns and 5000 exasperated looks from his opponents (last figure estimated). Barry’s lowest yardage output for any game was 154 rushing yards. That was his “worst” game of the year. He topped 200 yards on the ground seven times, including the bowl game. Four of those contests, he went over 300 yards. No one had ever done that before or since. There wasn’t a single game where he scored fewer than two touchdowns. Barry Sanders circa 1988 was Wilt Chamberlain dominant, standing at just 5’8”.

Sure players today have impressive seasons. Montee Ball’s game log, specifically since November, is something to behold. Trent Richardson and LaMichael James are special talents from the running back position as well. Before we get too excited though about current players, waxing poetic, reaching for unnecessary hyperbole, just remember what Barry Sanders did in 1988 and how no one has ever come close.

(Image courtesy of collegefootball.rivals.com)

The BCS Strikes Again


Those of you expecting to read a bashing of The Rematch have come to the wrong place. LSU and Alabama are clearly the two best teams in the country, having already faced each other or not. In fact, one thing the Bowl Championship Series formula usually does well (critics be damned) is get the title game matchup correct. It is a fairly effective and fine way in determining who deserves to play for the national title.

Yet imagine my surprise coming home from work last Sunday night and reading the other BCS game matchups. As a Virginia Tech fan and alum, after our loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship, I assumed the season was over insofar as we would be relegated to another inconsequential Chick-Fil-A Bowl against some mid-tier SEC foe. Snore. Upon seeing the listings, namely the Sugar Bowl’s choice of competitors, I was stunned; perhaps beyond stunned. I ventured on to Facebook and Twitter, demanding more information, confirming ESPN had not made a mistake. These things happen. It was of course possible one line of editing had shifted my beloved Hokies from irrelevance into the BCS by accident.

Upon further review, it was all true. Virginia Tech will be playing Michigan in the Sugar Bowl.

Beyond the absurdness of this was utter delight. We had, after all, been rewarded by losing our conference championship. Clemson, the team that had destroyed us not once, but twice this season, and won the aforementioned ACC title, would be trotting out to the Orange Bowl against West Virginia. Meanwhile, the team they crushed would be heading to a better bowl game against a better opponent. Whodathunkit? For the uninitiated, an Orange Bowl trip against the Big East champion is usually trouble. It is a lose-lose situation through and through. Win and you were supposed to; lose and be prepared for ridicule and embarrassment. The Orange Bowl is The Cleveland Show of BCS bowl games.

Instead, the Hokies will travel to New Orleans and face a national power returned to glory in the Michigan Wolverines. A win is tremendous, validating a season in which quality wins are few and far between. A loss is not the end of the world as the BCS bowl berth was really the season’s reward anyways.

That gets us back to the Sugar Bowl’s decision. And yes, it is their decision. They chose to pit the 11th ranked team in the country against the 13th. Neither Virginia Tech nor Michigan was in the top 10 in the final rankings. These two teams were chosen because of expected television ratings and fan followings, generating the most revenue for the bowl game.

Sugar Bowl constituents could have chosen Boise State or Kansas State or both to play here instead. Each of these teams finished ahead of each of the two teams actually chosen. But it didn’t and doesn’t come down to that. After the championship matchup and conference title tie-ins are delegated out, it is up to the bowl game itself to choose its desired matchup. It worked in my favor this year but it worked against a few other fan bases. And just imagine my disgust if Michigan had been chosen to play Boise and Tech was left out after having a better year than the Wolverines.

So the BCS, even getting the title game correct (although it was easy this year) still has its problems. Is it right that at-large BCS teams are chosen based on their ability to generate money rather than their season success? No, probably not. Will I complain about it? Not this year. Go Hokies!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Successfully Execute a Fantasy Football Trade


            Step One: Finding Team Needs
Don’t trade just for the sake of it or to mix up your roster. A successful trade in fantasy football must be one that improves your team in a previous area of weakness. If your team has many areas of weakness perhaps consider playing fantasy golf next year instead.

            Step Two: Players that Help your Team Needs
Once a need is discovered, such as touchdowns from your receiving corps, a player must be located who improves upon that weakness. A key of successful trading is finding a little-known player who is performing exceptionally well or who you expect will perform above his current status as the year progresses. If you are in the unfortunate position of having many areas of weakness on your team and thus exhibit very little fantasy football acumen, perhaps take someone else’s advice other than your own on finding a player expected to perform above their means.

            Step Three: A Trade Partner
Finding a trade partner is not as easy as it seems. The key is to find someone who has an obvious need you can exploit…err, help fill. If someone is starting a very weak quarterback and you have a backup quarterback on your bench who serves no purpose to you, this can be deemed a win-win situation.

If no obvious needs jump out on teams that have players you desire, take another course of action.

            Step Three (Alternate): Find a Sucker
If finding a compatible trading partner is becoming cumbersome, find a sucker, i.e. someone who is near the bottom of the standings, has made very questionable roster decisions in the past and a person who the rest of the league talks about behind their back as sucking or being a sucker.

If you are not privy to these conversations or are not aware that they exist, and your team has many notable weaknesses, paraphrasing what Matt Damon once famously paraphrased, you are probably the sucker. Perhaps consider taking up fantasy horse racing next season.

            Step Four: Gaining Acceptance
Just offering a “fair” trade is not always enough. Sometimes a fellow owner must be coaxed or convinced into dealing. Even if a trade seems even, some players are hesitant to deal away someone they were relying on or drafted from the beginning. It becomes necessary to explain what they will gain from this trade and how they can afford to give up whatever you desire.

            Aftermath
Fantasy football is such a luck-based activity that not all trades, even the most well thought out, will work in your favor. Sometimes drafting the best player in fantasy over the past three seasons at a fair price to start the year turns into your roster relying on Chris Johnson in 2011 and you not being able to/not wanting to bench him.

In much the same way, trades can go awry. It is important to boast and brag about this never being the case however. Even if a trade seems to be teeter tottering against you, always talk up how you hustled the other owner and how you are in great shape heading towards the fantasy playoffs.

Even though no one can be “psyched out” in fantasy sports since no defense is played against a matched up opponent, it is important to display confidence and bravado in the face of your league mates. Otherwise, come next season, a number of trade offers will find their way towards you because, despite your best efforts, everyone seems to think you are some sort of sucker.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

College Football: The Final Stretch

Heading into week 10 of the college football season, a few things are pretty evident: this Saturday's LSU-Alabama game is going to determine one half of the BCS National Championship. Here's a preview of that and the rest of the slate of SEC games coming this weekend.

Meanwhile, the other half of the title game is yet to be determined. With a number of undefeated teams remaining, and a few one-loss schools looking to nab the spot, here's a closer look at what the future holds for the teams hanging on to a spotless record.

As always, my College Sports Madness Profile page is teeming with articles about the football and upcoming basketball season.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Make up your damn mind!


The NFL is a topsy-turvy league, I get it. Teams go from worst to first and vice versa rather routinely it seems. How often though will the New York Football Giants do so in the midst of one season? Because they are on their way to doing so again in 2011.

Traveling back a few years, in 2006, New York started rather excitedly at 6-2. They finished 2-6, mercifully made the playoffs at 8-8 and were put out of their misery in the first round by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Everyone then remembers their 2007 campaign even better. They again started 6-2, something we, in the business, call an “Autumn Coughlin.” The second half of their season was a little choppier, losing four times but culminating in a moral victory of sorts against New England in week 17. NE won that final regular season game to clinch their undefeated, 16-0 record. The Giants clinched some feeling of competitive elation that they could play with these boys. From the wild card, the Giants then went on to win the Super Bowl over those same Pats.

The following year, the Giants started off hot, ridiculously hot, best team in the conference hot. They won 11 of their first 12 games. They finished…not so hot, losing three of their final four contests, limping into the playoffs. The Eagles, as in 2006, shoved the Giants out of the playoffs in the first round.

2009 witnessed the G-Men start off 5-0 and promptly lose their next four games. They went on to lose four more, miss the playoffs entirely and waste another fantastic start to their season, a technique people are now calling “pulling a giant.”

Last year, as you may have deduced, the Giants started the year in “Autumn Coughlin” fashion at 6-2. They went a pedestrian 4-4 in their final eight, including debilitating losses against Philly (rather famously) and at Green Bay (rather ominously). Even at 10-6, it wasn’t enough to get in the playoffs, not that they deserved it anyways.

Now here we are again, during New York’s bye week, sitting at 4-2, atop the NFC East. The problem is, the Giants seem like anything but a first place team, almost guaranteeing another year of Autumn Coughlin-ing their way to Pulling a Giant.

To start things off, the Giants are 4-2, having played the easiest schedule in the league. They faced three of the four NFC West foes, the only one still remaining on their docket being the best one, the 49ers. To complicate matters, they have the toughest remaining schedule in all of football. After they play the Dolphins coming out of the bye, the Giants travel to New England and San Francisco (two division leaders), play Philly again, then the Saints and Packers (two more division leaders). Their final four games include two battles with the Cowboys, their remaining Redskins game and a “road” game against the Jets. I’m not saying they will go 2-8 in their last 10, but it’s at least on the table.

As a thorn in their foot, the Giants’ current 4-2 record is rather deceiving. They aren’t even that good. As we said, they have faced the three worst teams in the worst division in football, and didn’t even beat all three, losing to Seattle at home. They were also beyond fortunate to win their game at Arizona the week prior. Their first win of the year, against the Rams, was rather deceiving in itself since the Rams dominated between the twenties. The Giants could barely move the ball on offense without the Rams helping them out with penalties and turnovers. A similar story unfolded against the Eagles the following game even though the scores were not indicative of it. Even if we consider their three point victory over the Bills as “impressive,” that’s simply one win on the year that can be called anything other than fortunate. Throw in the aforementioned home loss to Seattle and an opening game loss to a Redskins team that now looks utterly terrible and the New York Giants are a mess of a 4-2 team.

The positives, if there are any, are in the numbers. The Giants rank in the top 10 in the NFL in offensive yards and points per game. However, their rushing offense, a supposed strength, has been very poor. And their defense has not been consistently strong. Although they lead the league in sacks, their pass defense is near the bottom of the league and they rank 22nd in the league in points allowed per game.

Although it is very early to rely too much on statistics, one number that jumps out as being indicative of the Giants perhaps being worse than their record indicates is their point differential. On the season, they have only scored 7 more points than they’ve given up. A +7 is usually reserved for teams at .500, not for teams residing in first place in their division. For comparison’s sake, the 49ers, a team that has trouble passing the ball, is +70 in point differential on the young season.

Now I am not saying an apocalypse is definite. There is certainly the possibility that the Giants are a good team who managed, through strength of will, to eek out these early season victories. They will use that momentum to buoy them the rest of the way, fighting through a difficult schedule to win the NFC East title. Anything is possible; likely though? It seems as likely as my Autumn Coughlin catching on as an actual saying in football circles. 

(Image courtesy of nationalsportsbeat.com)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The ultimate showdown

We knew it would come to this. The two best characters from the greatest television drama of all time are up for debate yet again. Only this time, they are off their normal surroundings of west Baltimore and cooped up in an office, or in one's case, The Office.

Stringer Bell, or as he is occasionally referred to, Idris Elba, and Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) have recently gained something else in common. Besides being influential cogs on HBO's groundbreaking series The Wire, they have both been employed by NBC sitcoms in the famed Thursday night comedy block. While Elba had been employed at Dunder Mifflin Paper on The Office for a number of episodes a few seasons back, Williams has just been hired as the new biology teacher at Greendale on Community. This begs the question: which former king of the streets is the best office-dweller?

The argument for who is the best character from The Wire is never-ending. Stringer was fantastic, calculated, evil, entrepreneurial and everything else you would want from the man calling the shots behind Avon Barksdale. Omar, on the other hand, was memorable, inspiring, heroic, and, frankly, bad-ass. He was the perfect lone star, running the streets without need of posse or muscle, just the soothing tones of a whistled nursery rhyme. There is no wrong answer for who was the better character. More accurately, there is no Right answer.

However, moving to a life of books and policy and mission statements may leave us with a different outcome. It is still much too soon to tell since Michael K. Williams has just started his first semester at Greendale but he has an awful lot to live up to.

As Charles Miner on The Office, Idris Elba took over control of the Scranton paper company for half a season. He was installed to create an atmosphere of productivity and seriousness that was lacking under current management. What he ended up bringing was his tremendous American accent, his stoic demeanor in even the most outrageous situations and, oddly, the love of both soccer and volleyball. Stringer will be hard to top here.

What we need out of Omar this season on Community is more than he may be capable of. Only more biology classes will tell us for sure. In the mean time, let us bask in the glory that is typecast actors working in roles we are not used to seeing them in and not being able to separate them from where we know them and loved them. By the way, when does Dominic West start shooting that children's cartoon?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Major League Script


A friend comes up to you saying he has a great idea for a sports movie script. Now this friend is questionable in the ideas department in the first place, so you are skeptical. He’s the same guy who wanted to try that “running with the bulls thing” when he saw it on the news one day.

Now his plot starts off and he explains how it is the beginning of September in the Major League Baseball season. It appears as though all eight playoff spots are reasonably set. Teams will be fighting for positioning and home field advantage, but besides a few competitors a handful of games back, the teams seem decided.

As September progresses, each wild card team, who had close to double digit game leads at the start of the month, begins to collapse. Their bullpens are imploding from overuse and having only a few guys who can be trusted in the first place. The starting rotations are crumbling with injuries with even staff aces missing starts. And the lineups are not producing, at least not consistently. You are thinking to yourself that this seems quite unlikely. I mean it could happen to one team I suppose, blowing an historic lead, but both league wild card teams at the same time? Get real.

When he gets to the end of September, the dueling collapses are complete. Going into game 162, the final game of the year, both the AL and NL wild cards are tied between two teams. Each previous double digit leader has completely lost their lead, fallen from atop their pedestal down to the depths of despair. He decides to emphasize how it’s happening to both leagues at the same time again because he finds this tremendously energizing while you think of it as quite absurd.

The last game of the year, the two previous wild card leaders both have their closers pitching in the ninth inning with a lead and, with a preposterous smile on his face, your friend tells you that they both blow the game, each closer (both of whom were All-Stars this season mind you) blows the save in the ninth.

The NL team goes on to lose in extra innings while their competitor had won earlier in the evening and was simply awaiting results; the ruination is final. The epic and historic September collapse is complete.

Meanwhile, the former AL leader loses in dramatic, walk-off fashion after the blown save and ONLY MINUTES LATER, their competitor wins in dramatic, walk-off fashion having come back from a seven run, eighth inning deficit that very game; the downfall is final. The epic and historic September collapse is complete.

You sit back, staring at your friend and his sense of complete fulfillment and can’t help but feel sorry for him. He asks you what you think and you stay silent for a beat, two beats, three beats. “You are a moron,” you say and walk out of the room.

“Wait,” he calls back. “Would it help the story if the AL MVP and Cy Young winners were the same guy while the NL MVP and Cy Young winners were from the same team, a team that wasn’t even close to making the playoffs? That would be ironic right, kind of add to the story arc?”

You need smarter friends you tell yourself.

(Image courtesy of ajc.com)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

College Sports Madness

With the college football season in full swing and college basketball right around the bend, much of my time has been spent on the college game, writing for College Sports Madness.

Here I cover everything from player draft profiles to team season previews and weekly game outlooks. Check out my profile here, where I have written nearly 50 articles up to this point.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The top 8 lists I would like to see - In honor of the eighth and best month

Here is a list of eight lists I would like to see, in honor of the eighth and best month of the year.

1. The top five reasons people hate PDA (public displays of affection).
(this one's a trick question, since there is no good reason to hate something so wonderful)

2. The top ten unofficial holidays / locals only holidays.
(my vote is for Marathon Monday in Boston)

3. The top ten ugly people that Hollywood wants us to believe are attractive.

4. The top twenty excuses for forgetting your own birthday.
(I say excuses because I refuse to believe any one actually does this)

5. The top one hundred moments in history 'they' don't want us to know about.

6. The top twenty things to do on the internet.
(this could be utterly boring and predictable, or surprisingly disgusting)

7. The top ten mixed breeds of dogs.
(imagine if we started calling humans mix breeds, or like Mexinese for Mexican Chinese)

8. The top five places to read the Sports Pinata'
(these have to be different places, they can't all be the bathroom)

Yay August!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Drafting kickers

When it comes to drafting a kicker in fantasy football, there are two accepted schools of thought. Either you take a kicker with your very last pick/dollar or you are an idiot.

The reason a kicker should be selected dead last and never before is because the value is not there to take one any other time. Even using your second to last pick on a kicker instead of a late-round sleeper makes no sense. Go ahead and select a sleeper you have your eye on; there is no reason to risk missing out on that value when another kicker will be there for you after the jump.

To mathematically examine the wastefulness of drafting a kicker before the last round, let’s first make a generous and most likely incorrect assumption. Let’s say, even though it is highly unlikely, you are able to know who will be the very best fantasy kicker before the season begins. Not only is this impossible, but I’ll even throw you that bone because it still doesn’t mean that man should be taken ahead of a player at another position.

Last year’s number one, across the board, best kicker was Nate Kaeding. He did not finish anywhere close to being the number one kicker. But let’s somehow assume you were able to look into the future and KNOW Sebastian Janikowski would be the best fantasy kicker in the league in 2010, which he was.

First of all, what a terrible skill to be able to look into the future and use it for nothing more than knowing the best fantasy kicker. Secondly, it still wouldn’t have been prudent to draft him anywhere before your very last pick. Depending on your league settings, Janikowski scored roughly 10 points per week (~150 points spread over 16 games because of his bye week). Meanwhile, the 12th ranked kicker, the worst possible kicker you would start in a full, 12-team league because no one would be employing two kickers together, was Mason Crosby last season. He scored about 120 fantasy points or about eight points per fantasy week.

This means that if you were somehow able to know the future, draft the very best possible kicker for the upcoming season, and employed him all year long, you would only have gotten two points per week over the team with the very worst starting kicker in your league, two measly points.

In other news, here is a short list of some of the players drafted in the final few rounds of drafts last year, i.e. players that could have been taken if you hadn’t wasted your pick on a kicker: Darren McFadden, Austin Collie, Josh Freeman, Brandon Lloyd, Peyton Hillis, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mike Williams and Michael Vick. That is all.

Read my colleague's counter argument here, courtesy of The Sports Information & Reports Network.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Spoiling Movies: Harry Potter

Ten years, eight films, billions upon billions of dollars and the Harry Potter movie franchise has finally reached its conclusion. The penultimate film left something to be desired, as part ones are prone to do, yet the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two was a solid and satisfying piece, perhaps the best film of the entire franchise.

It started with a bit of “previous on Harry Potter” vibe. Voldemort was shown towering over the casket and corpse of the deceased head master, with the Elder Wand in his grasp. The sky lit up with his jubilation and part two was ready to take off.

Unlike many of the previous films, 7.2 finally got the pace and tempo correct. Where all the previous films often felt rushed, especially compared to their novel version, this one actually felt like a smoothly flowing cinematic experience. The reasoning for this was a logical avoidance of plot rather than a helter-skelter rushed/forced plot development.

The main casualty of this was the battle at Hogwarts. Where, in the book, this takes up many action-packed pages, the movie instead uses it as a background event while the rest of the film is taking place. Frankly, if not comparing it directly to its book counterpart, it works very well. The movie had enough action and adventure to stand on its own without the Hogwarts fighting. It also was able to seamlessly make us aware of things that happened during the battle, i.e. people getting killed, without forcing the specific scenes upon us.

The ending was as campy and off-putting as it was in the book version. In my humble opinion, they probably could have done without it entirely, although that would have brought about the vitriol of novel enthusiasts all over the world.

However, the ending to the action, in the movie, left something to be desired as well. Voldemort perished into oblivion with a simple flick away of his wand, floating into the ether shredded like pieces of paper. Perhaps it was fitting but it left a bit of an empty feeling in my stomach. Didn’t the greatest dark wizard who ever lived deserve a more phantasmagorical big bang and classic movie death?

There were other minor complaints, like how Ginny Weasley was essentially nonexistent in this film, but these can be forgiven. Whereas all the previous Potter films seemed to be trying to force the novel into cinema, the Deathly Hallows Part Two instead seemed to be taking the storyline and turning it into a movie, a slight technical difference but one that proves major in the end.

The by-product of this was the ability to concentrate on specific plot elements and excel in scenes such as the viewing of Snape's memories and the searching for the lost diadem.

Nothing is perfect, especially adaptations, yet this seemed a fitting end to a powerful and influential movie franchise, the highest grossing franchise in the history of film.

(Image courtesy of J.K. Rowling's novel cover art)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Miscellaneous Me

This month on Twitter

Trending nationwide were the following phrases:

"Shawn Bradley." Since he has done nothing in the sports landscape in a decade, I can only assume Space Jam was being shown on television and it was a slow news day.

"Adrian Gonzales." A nice leap into the social consciousness during this month's MLB Home Run Derby for the new Red Sox star. However, until the nation spells his name correctly, I wouldn't put him on Derek Jeter's or Alex Rodriguez's level.

"Kerry Collins." He retired this month from the NFL, ending a surprisingly effective NFL career. Here are some Kerry Collins facts: he ranks in the top 10 all-time in career pass attempts and pass completions; he is number 11 all-time in career passing yards, ahead of Johnny Unitas, Jim Kelly, Steve Young and Troy Aikman.

"Greg Olsen," "Orlando Cabrera," "Michael Bourn," "Lofa Tatupu." These are just a few of the names that were trending nationwide this final week of July thanks to the MLB trade deadline and NFL roster frenzy. It is safe to say, at no other time would any of these men be in the fabric of conversation unless they were killed or had killed.

In other miscellaneous news of the month:

#MLBallstargame - everyone was in an uproar a few weeks ago when Derek Jeter pulled out of the MLB All-Star game with no real injury. Here is just something to keep in mind. He didn't even deserve to make the team. Not that that factored into his decision, just throwing that out there.

#speedlimit - for anyone driving through West Virginia, be aware when taking route 51. This road is like a automobile roller coaster. The speed limit is 50 MPH and the road is an endless cavalcade of huge dips and valleys, leaving you blind to the street ahead with your stomach edging ever closer to your throat.

#NCAA12 - props to the folks behind the video game NCAA '12 for that commercial where the Texas Long Horn's fan is getting a cast put on.

#pokerface - the best description ever for what someone means when they say you have a good poker face comes from Colson Whitehead: "you are a soulless monster whose fright mask is incapable of capturing normal human expressions. You are a throwback to a Neanderthal state of uncomplicated emotions, or a harbinger of our cold, passionless future, but either way, I don't know what's going on in your head."

#xgames17 - I am always a fan of tuning in for the X-Games. It is an entertaining weekend when it comes up in both the winter and summer. Last night, Shaun White threw down a Gold Medal-winning performance in his final run to top Pierre-Luc Gagnon in skateboard vert. Pierre-Luc had won the competition, the Super Bowl of skateboarding as it were, three consecutive years. It was tremendously exciting, something the X-Games is always able to deliver.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dueling Deadlines

On one end we have the Major League Baseball Trade Deadline. After this weekend, players cannot be traded without first clearing waivers, an unpleasant hiccup to circumvent for players with any long term value. So that means any and all serviceable veterans will be dealt for prospects now, while the floodgates are open.

The New York Mets have already dealt their closer Francisco Rodriguez, their outfielder Carlos Beltran and may not be done. The St. Louis Cardinals threw away talented and young outfielder Colby Rasmus for pitching depth. Players such as Heath Bell, Ubaldo Jimenez and Carlos Pena may be on the move any day now, any minute now.

Baseball's trade deadline is an exciting time for teams on either end of the spectrum. Losing teams are able to work off some high priced vets for hopeful, young talent. Teams in contention are able to find that one missing piece that may lead them to autumn glory. The unhappiest fans bases are always of the teams that stand pat, do nothing major while their biggest rivals are wheeling and dealing.

Entirely coincidentally, the very same weekend of MLB's trade deadline, the NFL finally opened its doors and Free Agent Frenzy has commenced as if blood was in the water. Only a day after an agreement had been collectively bargained, big names already have new homes. Quarterbacks with something to prove, Donovan McNabb and Matt Hasselbeck, already have brand new starting gigs to fight for. While some skill position players have elected to re-sign with their old teams, like Santonio Holmes and DeAngelo Williams, others are either still waiting to make their move or have already moved on. Sidney Rice just signed on to be a member of the Seattle Seahawks.

It is easy to be overwhelmed this week, as a sports fan. There is a lot of movement to follow, deals going down hour after hour. While one baseball team gets their man, a football team inks a player to a new, huge contract. It has never happened like this before, dueling deadlines, and yet it is exciting and thrilling, adjectives not always used to describe off-season or mid-season roster movement.

So in a time when past years have brought us nothing more than NFL teams running two-a-days in preparation for the Hall of Fame Game and MLB teams had closed their wallets and tightened their colons, 2011 has been witness to a coming together that would rival Omar and Brother Mouzone. Football is offering us sports fans the wildest whirl of player movement we have ever seen. At the same time, baseball is reaching a perfect storm of teams ready to deal and knowing whether they are buyers or sellers. I, for one, could not be more excited.

Article comes to you from The Sports Information and Reports Network on 7/27/11

Friday, July 22, 2011

NFL free agency Top to Bottom

With the lockout winding down, a CBA ready to take hold of NFL business minds and free agency on the horizon, there are a number of highly regarded, talented players who have no home. With the oft referenced frenzy that will come once teams are allowed to speak with free agents, many a player could swing their value based on who they decide to sign with. Here are a number of players with the most to gain or the most to lose based on their desired home for the 2011-2012 season.

Ahmad Bradshaw – 9th rated RB high: 29th rated RB low...

To find out why and read the rest of the list, visit The Sports Information & Reports Network.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Curb your expectations for the NFC South

Welcome to the NFC South, also known as, the Crapshoot. Last year, the Atlanta Falcons ran away with the division with a 13-3 record and the number one seed in the conference. The year before, New Orleans took hold of the South, also finishing as the number one seed with an identical 13-3 record. In 2008, it was Carolina’s turn to finish as the division winner, as they went 12-4 on the year. The prior season, in 2007, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the NFC South albeit with an average 9-7 record.


For the folks with a very short attention span, let’s recap. In the past four seasons, in a division made up of four teams, there have been four different winners.


Taking this a step further....


For the rest of this division preview go here, the Sports Information & Reports Network.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Point Guard U

Saying Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari has detractors is like saying the Final Four is kind of a big deal. New ground is not being broken. However, all the Calipari-haters cannot deny one thing: the man can recruit (legally or illegally) his butt off.

Delving into whether Calipari toes too far over the line when it comes to getting the best high schoolers to come play for him is an issue, but an issue for another column. The issue being tackled here is one of basketball substance, one of historic consequence.

Are John Cal-coached point guards the best the NBA has to offer?....

Find out by reading the rest of this column here at College Sports Madness.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

David Robertson: an unlikely tale

When the 2011 MLB season began, David Robertson was an afterthought for the Yankees bullpen.

The ageless Mariano Rivera was going to hold down the fort in the ninth inning, like always. Much to the chagrin of GM Brian Cashman, the Yankees also brought in free agent Rafael Soriano to pitch the eighth inning and collect oodles of cash to do so. The Yankees' favorite son, Joba Chamberlain, would also be a member of the pen after relieving, starting and relieving again. He would most assuredly be given the seventh inning as his own. Throw in the Damaso Martes, Boone Logans and Pedro Felicianos as lefty matchup pitchers and the Yankees bullpen was filled to the brink, pushing David Robertson to the sixth inning against right handed batters if the starter got knocked out early: not exactly a plush role.

Fast forward to Independence Day....

Read the rest of this post here at The Sports Information and Reports Network.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The reality of the Pittsburgh Pirates

Saying the Pittsburgh Pirates have a losing record at home and a negative run differential for the season makes it seem like the 2011 Pirates are the same as the 2010 Pirates and every other version for the past two decades or so.

In truth, the 2011 Pirates are a game over .500 and are not like any previous Pirates team since the turn of the century. They are, in actuality, the 2010 Padres.

Winning with smoke, mirrors and pitching is a formula that will take them all the way to a disappointing finish come September and another year of the playoffs being played without them....


Check out the rest of this article here at The Sports Information & Reports Network.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Preemptive strike

The fan voting for the 2011 MLB All-Star game starters ends tonight. Even though baseball fans are some of the smartest and savviest fans in the world, the fan voting always ends in utter ridiculous and highly biased choices. To counteract this inevitability, I am preemptively complaining about who will be chosen as the starters in the mid-summer classic. Many of the choices this year are slap-you-in-the-face obvious, yet preliminary voting results show that these same choices are not in line to get the nod.

Let's start with the American League.

Catcher - The pick here is Alex Avila without much room for argument. He has clearly been the best catcher all year long. Of course the winner will most likely be Russell Martin, a player who was carrying the Yankees the first month of the season but has tailed off quite a bit since. We are 0 for 1.

First Base - Mark Teixeira has been okay. Adam Lind and Paul Konerko have been great but not great enough. Miguel Cabrera is always in contention but Adrian Gonzalez is the most deserving player here. Luckily, he will also win the popularity contest so we're 1 for 2.

Second Base - No one stands out here between Howie Kendrick, Robinson Cano and Ben Zobrist. I would take Zobrist although Cano will most certainly win this vote. Let's call it a wash. The sad part will be if the likes of Ian Kinsler or Dustin Pedroia make the roster over those other, more deserving second basemen.

Third Base - Similarly, Adrian Beltre, Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Youkilis have all been solid if unspectacular. Take your pick. Mine would be for Beltre, but Rodriguez or Youkilis will most likely take the votes by tomorrow.

Shortstop - Really the only possible argument here is whether J.J. Hardy has come on enough to usurp Asdrubal Cabrera and be deserving of the starting nod. I would still stick with Cabrera. Of course, not to burst any bubbles but it is looking like Derek Jeter will win this unless Cabrera makes a strong, late day push. Either way, Jeter even being in this discussion is an outrage.

Designated Hitter - Real cut and dry here. The most deserving player is David Ortiz and he will win the voting.

Outfield - Almost too good to be true, the AL outfield has formed itself into three distinct and obvious candidates and no more. Jose Bautista, Curtis Granderson and Jacoby Ellsbury are the three guys who should be starting and in that order. Oddly enough, the Blue Jay is not the player needing votes to get it. Ellsbury trailed Josh Hamilton recently but not by much so there is still time for America to get this one right.

Starting Pitcher - Although the fans don't vote on the starting pitcher for the All-Star clubs, the decision can still be messed up. Justin Verlander deserves to win this but I am afraid the likes of Jered Weaver or Josh Beckett could steal it from him. It would be a crime if that happened.

Now on to the National League.

Catcher - Thankfully, this is a nice and easy start for the NL voters. Brian McCann should and will be the starting catcher for the game mid-July.

First Base - We are splitting hairs here between Joey Votto and Prince Fielder. I would give the slight edge to Votto but, oddly enough, it might not matter. Last check, Albert Pujols was still leading the voting for NL first basemen. For the first time in his career, Pujols might win something he doesn't deserve. Shout-out to Gaby Sanchez who is having a phenomenal first half and has absolutely zero chance of being voted in.

Second Base - I suppose Rickie Weeks deserves to be the starter here although I would enjoy it more if Nats rookie Danny Espinosa got the nod. This has no chance of happening so if Weeks wins, no complaints here.

Third Base - There is literally not a single deserving recipient of the starting third baseman's job. David Wright is still on the DL, where he's been for a while. Ryan Zimmerman didn't return from his DL stint long enough ago to accumulate any stats. I would vote for Chipper Jones and call it a lifetime achievement start. If Placido Polanco is voted in instead, I'll complain but simply because he stinks and not because someone else deserved it.

Shortstop - There must be some kind of mental block going around when it comes to voting for shortstops. Both leagues are about to get the most obvious votes incorrect. Calling Jose Reyes the odds on favorite to win NL MVP would not be a stretch. The fact that he trails Troy Tulowitzki in fan voting is probably a slight oversight on the level of Fox canceling Family Guy that first time. The only logical excuse to miss one of the easier votes here is that Mets fans are too depressed to submit ballots.

Outfield - Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun and Lance Berkman are the most deserving players on the NL ballot. Although it is not as crystal clear as the AL since Matt Holiday, Michael Morse or Drew Stubbs (if strikeouts don't matter) could be chosen over Berkman, there is no debate about the first two. The problem is Lance Berkman is not the outfielder on the chopping block right now, it's Kemp. Matt Kemp, the only other option to Reyes right now to win NL MVP, not being voted to start the All-Star game would be like Jose Reyes not being voted to start the All-Star game...

Starting Pitcher - Let's let the Phillies clubhouse attendants decide this one. Whoever is nicer to them, Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, should get the nod.

So there you have it. With a few hours remaining in the voting, there are plenty of boneheaded mistakes about to come to fruition. I guess this is a game for the fans and they deserve to see whichever players they wish. It's just a good thing this game doesn't mean anything...Oh, that joke has been used too many times you say? Ehh, I don't care.

(Image courtesy of flickr.com/photos)

Miscellaneous Me

Twitter Edition:

Trending nation-wide on Twitter this month were the following phrases.

#ripnickiminaj. Of course, we would all wish for hip hop singer Nicki Minaj to rest in peace. There is just one minor detail the entire country overlooked. She is, apparently, still alive.

"Idris Alba." I am sure the famed actor who played Stringer Bell on The Wire and had a guest spot on The Office for a season is very happy he was trending nation-wide, however, his name is Idris Elba. Should he take pride in the fact that he was obviously popular enough to gain such traction or should he be upset and saddened that he is clearly not yet famous enough for people to know how to spell his name?

Here are some athletes who could hope to trend as "Idris Alba" did: "Jonny Peralta", "Drew Holiday", "Sean Greene", and "Ryan Lindell."

In other miscellaneous news of the month:

#ESPNbook - My takeaway from all the coverage of the new ESPN book that came out, which I have not read other than the first 10 pages or so, is that Craig Kilborn is historically underrated in TV history. He was one of the first great Sportscenter anchors, creating catchphrases and blazing a trail for how the job would be done in the future. He then went on to host The Daily Show, now one of the most popular daily cable television shows in history. Afterwards, he had his very own late night show for a while and starred in movies. Now, off everyone's radar, Craig Kilborn is vastly underrated.

#whenanimalsattack - Ostriches are freaking terrifying in person. The have a dinosaur face, creepy, beady eyes and a hacksaw-sharp beak. Anyone who doesn't believe in evolution, I'm looking at you wacky religious people, stare an ostrich in the face and tell me it's not in the dinosaur family.

#stanleycupplayoffs - Here is some ridiculousness from the Stanley Cup playoffs: the Canucks had a negative goal differential for the entire playoffs yet made it to a deciding game of the Cup finals somehow. In those finals, goalie Roberto Luongo was pulled in two different games for being inept yet also threw up shutouts in two other games. The Sedin twins, 2010 league MVP Henrik and 2011 MVP finalist Daniel, were completely silenced in the series.

#bizarre - the term "adam's apple."

#theKilling - AMC's show The Killing is yet another perfect example of why my TV-watching theory is great. Rather than pick up a show at the beginning, get hooked and watch all year just hoping, begging that it doesn't disappoint and crush my soul at the end (i.e. The Killing), I instead wait a year, sometimes more, to make sure a show is good and worth following for an entire season or series. I can start watching Breaking Bad season one soon, knowing it will be worth my time.

#fantasyinjuries - I am sure ESPN fantasy sports injury expert Stephania Bell is a nice lady. However, she must be secretly delighted when her advice comes to fruition even at the expense of someone's season. Before the baseball season began, Stephania advised everyone to stay away from Marlin's ace Josh Johnson because of injury concerns. She took a lot of flak for this, especially after he got off to such a torrid start. Now that he is out and was recently moved to the 60-day disabled list, there must be some gratification from Bell, even if she wouldn't admit it.

#E32011 - Takeaways from watching the E3 entertainment expo shows on G4 this month: the new Uncharted game looks spectacular. The new Elder Scrolls game looks like a synonym of spectacular. I hope to attend this event one year.

#douglovesmovies - Doug Benson's creation, the Leonard Maltin Game, is fantastic. I enjoy this game and listening to people play it even though I have still never correctly guessed an answer. There's no novice edition when Doug Benson is in charge.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Yanks among men

The winding and endless drive up Montage Mountain Road was just building suspense. In actuality, my expectations were not high. It was minor league baseball after all. And yet, upon arrival, I realized this was going to be something worth seeing. Tucked under a cliff wall in a valley in Moosic, Pennsylvania sits PNC Field, the home of the Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

The game was going to be an afterthought, a sideshow to the experience and fun that can be provided at baseball which isn't played for paychecks and television. The venue was the opening act. For anyone who thought minor league stadiums couldn't be elegant or pretty, that myth is debunked. The stadium isn't big, supplying a "good" seat no matter where you are. This includes the grille and bar area resting atop the right field bullpen or the restaurant down the first base line with picturesque windows spanning its length, looking out onto the field.

There are no seats in the outfield because none are needed. Instead, the outfield wall is backed by cliffs of rock rolling down from a hill high above. This would be the backdrop for the fireworks display put on after the game had ended, the closing act to the entire production.

Of course the game itself cannot be completely overlooked. A great seat just a few rows behind the home dugout, for a price that would barely buy a bleacher seat in the Majors. That was where we were placed to watch the players that make up Triple A baseball, the veterans who were never quite good enough, the prospects who are not good enough just yet and the players who love the game who still think they might have another chance at the big show.

One of the top five prospects in the world, Jesus Montero, was supposed to be the prime attraction. He ended with one hit, a drive through the middle. Nothing would be made from this one game. Long and lanky prospect Andrew Brackman was also on my radar. Having a terrible time of things in the season so far, he closed out the ballgame surrendering no runs yet adding to his already inflated walk total. The final man on my notes to keep an eye on was one of the Yankees' opponents that night, hitting prospect Lonnie Chisenhall. However, he got the night off nursing some injuries, awaiting his call to the Majors that may come within the next few weeks.

The game's stars ended up being some former Major League players who found themselves back in Triple A. Former Oakland A's pitcher Greg Smith was the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starter this night and although he could barely touch 80 on the radar gun, he was confounding players all night long. He left the game allowing just a single hit and no runs.

The hitting star was not the big bopping Jorge Vazquez nor was it former Yankee favorite and current Columbus Clipper Shelley Duncan. Instead, one-time Major League fourth outfielder Greg Golson got the big double, the winning run as it were, since the Clippers were not able to scratch anything through all evening.

In the end, the experience was tremendous, one that cannot be topped by seeing the "real thing" in a Major League park because the actions cannot be duplicated. In no park would little children be allowed to announce the next batters up to the plate. They would not allow a man to propose to his girlfriend on the field during a mid-inning game. Heck, we couldn't even come inside with our boxes of candy that we got from the car parked just outside, free of charge.

It is not the best players playing the game at its highest level but it certainly is a lot of fun. The night wasn't about building television ratings. It was about the fans, the children, the scene, the stadium, the fireworks win or lose and watching those athletes, some playing in the hopes of reaching that next level and others knowing they never will.

(Image courtesy of sportslogos.net)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Miscellaneous Me

Some NBA thoughts heading into the Finals this week:

- Not enough has ever been made of the fact that Dwyane Wade spells his first name like that. I mean someone like Chone (pronounced "Shawn") Figgins of the Seattle Mariners gets grief all the time and he's not even that famous outside of baseball circles.

Even Brett Favre took flak for years and years because his last name reads like "Faver" rather than "Far-v."

- NBA players should take a cue from actors and tweak/change their names for purposes of sticking in people's heads.

Topher Grace made a very shrewd move by not going by Chris. No one would have ever remembered who Chris Grace was. He would have turned into a "that guy."

I'm looking at you Joel Anthony, if you ever want to be Joakim Noah.

- PER is a nice stat that has its place somewhere but anything that ranks Pau Gasol's 2011 playoff performance ahead of Brandon Roy or Jeff Teague or even the limply armed Rajon Rondo has to be questioned.

- Is there anything more impressive than playoff hockey referees? Watching them avoid pucks, leap over passes and sticks, slide down the boards and seemingly make good calls most of the time makes NBA referees look even worse by comparison.

Dick Bavetta makes bad calls jogging slowly on his feet; just imagine if he was on skates.

- Much like 5'-something JJ Barea's playoff coming-out party, wouldn't it be hilarious if model and new Transformers actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is actually tremendous? Everyone made all the jokes when her involvement was announced but what if she's a really good actor?

I know, it seems unlikely but so did a player shorter than six feet taking the NBA by storm and being unstoppable at the rim.

- The most underrated storyline of the NBA playoffs in general has been the takeover of the Oklahoma City Thunder by Russell Westbrook. Sure plenty of people have mentioned how he hogged the ball too much and made bad decisions but I've only heard a couple people get to the crux of the problem: the Thunder are going to be Westbrook's team.

No one will argue that Kevin Durant is a better player and yet he seems to be letting Westbrook take over the team, emotionally and with the ball. This is not a good thing for the team's future.

- This Finals match-up has some tremendous storylines of its own.

LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki are each trying to win their first title and push their careers to that next level. As is Jason Kidd.

The Miami Heat, everyone's villain, got here a year or two earlier than we expected. A title in 2011 may set up the next sports dynasty.

The Dallas Mavericks are returning to the championship game and will face the monkey on their back, the team that vanquished them in epic fashion in 2006, the Heat.

The failure of the Bulls and Thunder goes on to prove that getting your playoff chops may still be a necessity to reaching playoff success.

The failure of the Celtics and Lakers may also prove that a changing of the guard in the league is upon us; youth and athleticism is in. Dallas is of course the exception that proves the rule.

It will be awesome to watch LeBron guard Dirk when the Mavericks are on offense, if the Heat play it that way, but Dallas does not have the bodies to match-up on the other end. Can anyone on the Mavs stop LeBron or Wade?

Dallas has the big bodies to outmatch Miami on the boards, especially if Haslem slows as the series goes on. Also, can anyone on Miami stay in front of Barea or Jason Terry for that matter?

I would not be surprised if the Heat won the title in five games. I would not be surprised if Dallas won either, however it would be in six or seven games. I guess that gives the edge to Miami. Dallas still can't get any love.

Dallas has lost three games combined throughout these entire playoffs. They would need to lose four in this one series to not win the NBA title.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Enter Sandman

I am not a music savant or critic. I can hardly be called musically literate for that matter. I played the saxophone for a few years in middle school and I can play the chorus to “In the Jungle” on a piano for some reason.

I am not really a fan of rock or metal. My knowledge of the genre stems from nothing more than reading Chuck Klosterman essays.

Music does not “speak to me.” I hear all the time how someone is moved by a song or hears lyrics that touch their soul. I missed out on this form of elation somehow. The closest I usually come to being moved by a song is getting my foot to tap with the beat…with one exception.

Metallica’s Enter Sandman is a song that will live with me for as long as I live, a song that brings out feelings of excitement and anticipation, feelings that have almost nothing to do with the score or melody.

Enter Sandman has become my sports national anthem through no fault of my own. It has happened because I grew up through the 90’s loving the New York Yankees and I went to college at Virginia Tech: two teams that have no correlation to one another and would have no conceivable connection at all if it wasn’t for Metallica’s hit.

Since the mid-1990’s, Mariano Rivera has been the closer for the 27-time World Champion New York Yankees. As baseball fans know, each closer has a song they enter to, much as each batter has walk-up music that plays when they come to the plate. In Rivera’s case, he chose Enter Sandman as his entrance theme, one that displays his power and finesse, oozing excitement. Mariano Rivera has run in from the bullpen to the mound to this specific song nearly 1,000 times since joining the Yankees. I have been in the stands for a few and watched on television for hundreds more. Any time Enter Sandman plays that feeling plays with it. Mariano is coming in, the greatest closer in baseball history. The other team is doomed. Victory is ours. That’s what Enter Sandman represents.

That would have been enough for me, enough for one song. However, upon graduating high school early in the 2000s, I chose to attend Virginia Tech for my undergraduate degree. My first visit into Lane Stadium for a football game revealed more than I was anticipating. Every game, the Virginia Tech Hokies run out onto the field to Enter Sandman.

It even goes beyond being an entrance song though. Enter Sandman is a school tradition. Prior to the team running through the tunnel, the song picks up in the stands, every student starts jumping. We jump, we yell, the fervor building. When the Hokies finally burst out onto the field, the crowd is raring to go. I experienced this every home football game for four years until I graduated.

As is the case with these things, the basketball team also used Enter Sandman to jack up crowds. It was pulled out in strategic places, at opportune times, to get the crowd juiced. Anytime that tune came on, it was like a Pavlov’s Dog reaction. We are Hokies and we know what to do when Metallica comes on.

Years later now, I don’t sleep with one eye open as the lyrics would suggest but Enter Sandman has a place in my heart that I never assumed a song could. If it comes on in a bar or at a random place, I get that thrill back, the anticipation of Rivera coming in to close out another Yankees win, the exhilaration of the Hokies booming onto the field to mash another opponent, and I always start jumping. Always.

(Image courtesy of metallica.ws)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

MLB paint by number

Francisco Liriano threw the first no-hitter of the 2011 Major League Baseball season. On the surface, this doesn't seem so bizarre. He has the reputation of being a good pitcher, with good stuff. However, at least this season, he isn't and he doesn't.

Liriano leads the league in walks. His ERA is over 6.5 even after the complete game shutout. And this no-hitter happened to be the first time he has ever completed a game in his career.

But that's baseball for you. Stats and numbers tell only part of the story, oftentimes the wrong part. Here are 20 more stats from the first month (and change) of the 2011 season, divided into what can be believed and what cannot.

Everything listed below is a complete fact. Just remember the popular Mark Twain quote, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics."

Believable

  • Jose Bautista leads the AL in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He has a 30:16 walks to strikeouts ratio and is hitting a home run every nine at-bats.

Let's just say I'm no longer in the camp that thinks last year was a fluke.

  • Jorge Posada has cracked six home runs on the season, out of his 14 total hits.

Posada is no longer the hitter he used to be. The power is real but so is the average for the most part.

  • The San Diego Padres are scoring 3.10 runs per game.

This would mean a quality start from their starter would almost certainly mean they are losing the game. With how bad they were last year WITH Adrian Gonzalez, this is sure to continue.

  • Josh Johnson has allowed only 4.0 hits per nine innings pitched.

This is by far the best ratio in the league for qualified pitchers, and is no fluke since Johnson was the best pitcher in the league a year ago before he got hurt.

  • Dexter Fowler is in the top five in the NL in both walks and strikeouts.

Kids these days...strikeouts are not a top concern of many hitters. The walks mean Fowler is a good batter with a good idea. The Rockies will take the good with the bad.

  • (Speaking of K's) Austin Jackson and Ryan Raburn have struck out a combined 81 times, nearly 37% of the Tigers' total strikeouts on the season.

No surprise here nothing to say it won't continue. Neither Jackson or Raburn make any attempt to cut down on their strikeouts.

  • Alex Rodriguez ranks in the top 25 in all of baseball in slugging percentage at .537, yet that is only good enough for fifth on his own team.

Rodriguez is having a very nice season, as are many of this teammates. The Yankees should continue to mash the ball all year long even if the batting averages are low.

  • Chris Young (AZ) has scored 20 runs already even though his OBP is below .265 and he's only stolen one base.

Although the steals are sure to pick up, the believable part is the high runs total with the low on-base. Young will never be a good OBP guy but with his speed and base-running ability, the runs will still be there.

  • On the other hand, Jack Cust ranks in the top five in MLB in walks yet there are 236 players who have scored more runs than he has.

The combination of a terrible batting average and a very slow runner in the middle of a below average lineup means the walks will not translate to tons of runs being scored.

  • Of the top 10 players in baseball in at-bats, seven of them have no more than five combined home runs and steals.

Essentially this means, the players getting the most at-bats have neither power nor speed. Teams are willing to accept this oftentimes if the player can consistently get on base.

Not Believable

I hesitate to label these "unbelievable" because that gives them a positive connotation that they do not deserve.

  • Ian Desmond has the second most steals in the league with only a .279 OBP.

The classic example of something having to give. Desmond very well could continue racking up the steals, but not if his on-base doesn't improve. The steals chances will dry up quickly if he continues at a clip of .279.

  • Brian Roberts has stolen third base this year more than he has stolen second.

Just one of those complete facts that is utterly ridiculous. Of course this won't continue.

  • Juan Pierre has been caught stealing eight times, twice as many as any other ML player.

Although it is quite possible Pierre may lead the league in CS, it will be purely because of the amount of attempts. He is too good a base-runner to continue this horrible percentage.

  • Adam Dunn, who has never had an OPS below .800 any season of his career, currently sits at .582, less than half of Jose Bautista's current OPS.

The injury early in April set Dunn back. He will get his bat back together soon enough.

  • The Minnesota Twins have 935 at-bats as a team and 13 home runs. Alfonso Soriano has hit 11 home runs in 105 at-bats.

The Twins may certainly continue to stink. That is plausible. The part that will not continue is Soriano's year. He is not a 30 home run hitter anymore (let alone 50+) and is sure to slow this pace down.

  • There are four pitchers who have as many wins as they do complete games.

Another oddity along the lines of Brian Roberts' steals numbers. If a pitcher is able to go deep into games, the wins will come, eventually.

  • Prior to Liriano's no-hitter (since he now jumped to number one), none of the top seven pitchers in MLB in walks given up had a losing record.

This is perhaps the most unbelievable stat in baseball right now. Giving up walks almost always translates to losing games. It is the pet peeve of pitching coaches, the ultimate no-no of a young pitcher. Throwing strikes is what separates the Cliff Lees from the A.J. Burnetts.

  • Conversely, there are only five qualified pitchers in baseball with a SO/9 of at least 10. Only two of them have a winning record.

Although there are strikeout pitchers who don't have great winning percentages, in general, striking out over 10 batters every nine innings is a sign of success.

  • Matt Thornton has pitched only 9.1 innings yet already has a -1.3 WAR.

Since WAR is cumulative (the more outings/innings, the greater effect your numbers have), this is nearly impossible. Pitching so few innings and affecting your team this much in a negative way is too hard to keep up. The simple fact is that if he continues to this THIS bad, the White Sox won't let him pitch anymore.

  • The Cleveland Indians, who finished 24 games under .500 last year, have played 28 games so far this season and already have at least a 10 game lead on both the Twins and the White Sox.

That's baseball for you.

(Image courtesy of the Associated Press - Chicago)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Video Gaming got Boring

Don't lambast me as an old fart, but when I was a kid video games were fun. They were still fun in high school, and even more fun through college, but now they have become more and more the realm of lone wolfs. Men and women sit alone in the dark, perhaps playing against a faceless human sitting in the dark somewhere else. The days of group gaming are gone.

I realize that online gaming is hugely popular, but popular for whom? My fondest memories of video games begin with playing NFL Gameday on the original Sony Playstation. You and a few friends would battle it out, raise the stakes, and play some more. When the PS2 was released along side the next generation of Madden football, playing your friends became even more of an event. The game was special, the graphics were special, and the party which formed to play felt special.

The N64 and subsequent Wii took this concept up a notch. Mario Party was amazing. I speak in past tense because the game from 1998 or 2000 is more fun than any version in the last five years hands down. The game stinks now. With the Wii, group gaming was introduced to new territory, yet what happened to this momentum? I'll tell you what happened, the casual gamers got bored because nothing new was introduced to utilize the technology, and by the time the Xbox Kinect or Sony Move came out, no one cared. The fun was exhausted to the point of boredom with the Rock Band series of games, and without anything new to do we are now sitting in a void of nothingness when it comes to playing video games with others.

Now don't confuse my disappointment for a lack of interest in gaming. I do love the RPG, and stand by Oblivion as the greatest game I've ever played to date. However, I hold few memories of the game itself, besides the fact that it was amazing and consumed many hours of my life for the better. My video game memories exist with others playing with me, the group dynamic. And this doesn't even have to be a group game; what happened to the games that were fun to not only play, but to watch someone else play? The original Resident Evil, and Resident Evil 2, were so riveting that I didn't have to play them. Watching my friend play was just as fun! Final Fantasy 7 was the same way. The game was fun, up beat, and quirky, a blast to watch.

Today's video games have gone the way of summer movies, bland recreations of past success. Now there is hope on the horizon. LA Noire looks amazing, and should take video gaming to a new and exciting place with a story driven game. Others may want to watch the game unfold like a great film. But video games need to take a page from television and learn to reinvent themselves. Movies are flashy and fun, finding a great balance between new ideas and money making old ones. TV has to stay cutting edge to stop you from changing the channel or canceling your DVR recording. Games need to do the same thing or we will all start going hiking.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Miscellaneous Me

April is sports' busiest month with NBA and NHL playoffs overlapping the MLB regular season and the NFL draft. Nothing says 'sports' like second guessing and using hindsight. It's what separates us fans from the professionals. They have to live with their decisions; we just have to criticize them.

Miscellaneous Me Second-Guessing Edition

- Is everyone ready to finally admit that college football does a better job at finding a national champion than college basketball does?

- Norm MacDonald's new show 'Sports Show' is a redo of Weekend Update but focused solely on sports.
- Ironically, or perhaps not, it is funny and a good concept but does not fit well into a half hour time block.
- Weekend Update style comedy works best in Weekend Update format, i.e. it last less than 15 minutes.

- Drew Carey's new show Improv-a-Ganza is the same exact thing that Whose Line is it Anyway? used to be except it is somehow not as good.

- For all those baseball fans who have unfairly labeled Vladimir Guerrero as a wild, free swinger, be aware that he has never struck out 100 times in a season at any point in his career.

- It's disappointing that Mitch Hedburg never existed at the same time as Twitter.

- Prior to the NFL draft, experts were claiming teams would be more inclined than ever to draft based on need because of the lack of free agency signings.
- The New York Giants used their first three picks this weekend doing arguably the exact opposite of that.
- If they are not able to fill holes through free agency, the skeptics will come out in waves.
- Ironically perhaps, I was on board for their first and second round picks.

- In hindsight, Rebecca Black has to be some sort of marketing genius.
- There are thousands of god awful videos on Youtube, yet she somehow became famous with her's.

- Wasn't it kind of a dick move for Professor Dumbledore to so often wait until the end-of-year feast to make alarming announcements and drastic changes to house cup standings?

- The Fast and the Furious Five just came out and I am upset I never got around to seeing the fourth installment because now I'm afraid I'll be completely lost with the story.

- How many games until we should actually care about a baseball player's hitting streak?
- It is at least 18.
- I don't want announcers telling me about any 11 or 12 game hitting streaks.

- How many games into the Major League Baseball season is it before it stops being "early"?
- We're not there yet.