Friday, December 28, 2012

2013 Predictions

With the new year a few days away, it is time to look onward, but not necessarily upward. Predictions, month by month for the year 2013:


MLB Hall of Fame voting results are released. Barry Bonds receives 58% of the vote, falling slightly short of the required 75% for induction. Roger Clemens falls short by a similar margin. Bloggers and pundits in favor of these players' induction into the Hall and fervently against such an action are both furious. "How could a majority of voters want these guys in?" someone will exclaim incredulously. "How could so large a group of voters want these guys out?" someone else will exclaim even more incredulously.

Sammy Sosa will receive 18% of the vote, falling well short of the checkpoint for people to care.


With Kobe Bryant no longer leading the NBA in scoring but the return of a healthy Steve Nash and Pau Gasol buoying the Los Angeles Lakers to an impressive two-month stretch, basketball analysts will pretend they never counted out the Lakers back in December. They will all pretend like they were expecting the turnaround once the big four were all playing together. They will all pretend like the internet doesn't exist to easily squash the validity of this backtracking. 


With a ridiculously easy draw for the weakest one seed in the NCAA basketball tournament, Duke University will make a historic run to the Sweet Sixteen by beating every opponent by at least 22 points. In their Sweet Sixteen match-up though, facing the fifth seeded Butler Bulldogs in a rematch of the 2010 National Championship, current Utah Jazz forward and former Butler star Gordon Heyward is somehow allowed to come out of the stands and take a half court shot, which he nails, to give Butler a two point victory.


In their first series of the season, the New York Yankees face off against the Boston Red Sox. The teams manage to tie all three contests: a worrisome foreshadowing of the respective third and fourth place finishes in the AL East the teams will land. Also, Kevin Youkilis is booed lustily by both fan bases although the announcers make a point of telling the television viewers that everyone is simply yelling "Yoooouuuuuk!"


With the NHL playoffs in full swing, the Pittsburgh Penguins nab their 12th victory of the postseason, locking up a berth in the Stanley Cup finals and tying their victory total from the lockout-shortened regular season. The Penguins, who went 12-7 in the regular season, landed the six seed in the Eastern Conference and followed the hot play of their goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, all the way to the cup finals.


After very different regular season runs, where the Oklahoma City Thunder seemed to be out for blood every night on their way to 64 victories and the Miami Heat seemed to be out for lemonade during a stroll through the park on their way to 51 wins, the two meet once again in the NBA Finals. In his first finals appearance, newest Thunder player Kevin Martin pulls his very best James Harden impression by shooting terribly from the floor and disappearing for long stretches. The series takes an even larger turn in the Heat's favor however when, in a surprising twist, Kevin Durant brings The Wire analogy of him and Russell Westbrook being Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale full circle by deciding to share his scoring abilities with his rivals during a co-op meeting held in a Miami Embassy Suites hotel.


Fresh off his return from a worrisome injury and surgery, Alex Rodriguez returns to the Yankees' lineup just three days before the All-Star break but somehow is invited to participate in the Home Run Derby. Fans feverishly discuss how his participation could hurt his comeback or his swing and come to a 100% consensus that he should not do it. Rodriguez, always keeping an ear to the public whispering, decides to pass up the competition and instead play in the MLB Futures game. He is mistaken for a player's father on six separate occasions. He is correctly identified as a player's father on one occasion. The two combine for the first ever father-son, back-to-back home runs in the 15 year history of the Futures game.


Entering Jets camp as the number one quarterback, rookie NFLer Mike Glennon finds himself in front of dozens of cameras and reporters before he has even thrown a mini-camp passing tree. Eventually the reporters all disperse as it turns out Mike Glennon is not NBA player Chase Budinger transitioning to his second professional sport as was previously thought. Before leaving, the last cameraman casually suggests to Glennon that he, "I don't know, dye your hair or something. You guys could seriously be twins."


NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, taking a page out of David Stern's playbook, announces his future retirement date as October 2023. Bettman explains how that will be the 10th year in a row of hockey seasons without a lockout taking place and it would be a fitting time to step away. A reporter at the press conference will then ask if Bettman meant 11th year, as 2023 would be 11 years after the 2012 lockout. Gary, bending into the microphone with a slight grin spreading over his face, says "No. 2023 will be the 10th anniversary; trust me. See you next month for the start of the season....or will you? HAHAHAHA!"


In the first ever MLB World Series match-up between two teams each with $200+ million payrolls, the Los Angeles Dodgers lose in five games to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Backed by Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and mid-season acquisition Alex Rodriguez, the Angels' offense slices through the Dodgers' pitching staff. Interviewed after his three-homer game, A-Rod explains how by passing up the invitation to the Home Run Derby back in July, it really allowed him to hone his swing and hit all those second half home runs. 


After going undefeated in 2012, but being ineligible for postseason play, Urban Meyer's Ohio State Buckeyes once again go undefeated in the regular season. As Meyer has made it obvious he is the baddest man in college football and no other school has any hope of winning a national title while he is still coaching, there is nothing remotely funny about this. 


Heading into week 17 of the NFL season, the four NFC East teams are all tied at 9-6. With the schedule slanted towards divisional match-ups later in the year, the week 17 games happen to see the Giants playing the Redskins and the Cowboys facing the Eagles. With so many possible outcomes and tie-breakers to consider, the playoffs are left up in the air until after each of these games has finished up. In the waning seconds of the NY-Wash game, Eli Manning manages to squeak into the end zone on a ballsy end-around call that he audibled to at the line of scrimmage. However, the Giants' glee is quickly stomped out as it is discovered their 10-6 record was not good enough to win the division. Through a heavily controversial set of rules and regulations, it turned out that the Cowboys, also finishing 10-6, end up receiving the divisional crown because of a more entertaining press conference given by Tony Romo one day back in September when Eli Manning was "kind of bland and seemed disinterested in answering reporters' questions."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

College Sports Madness!

For the past few months, Pinata posts have been slow. This is because the college sports landscape has been in full swing. Not only has college football been on the front burner but basketball too has begun, meaning team previews and season outlooks were on the agenda.

To see everything I've been working on, from weekly football recaps and title game projections to basketball team previews and supplemental articles, check out my writer profile page at College Sports Madness.

As an aside, and since it has been a while since I've written about baseball, what was with those postseason awards?? Verlander can't grab a Cy Young just because he has a few less wins? Mike Trout can't win the MVP because his team missed the playoffs? Come on! How many more years until voters realize individual awards should not be won or lost by a player's teammates?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises unpopular opinion alert

If it wasn’t evident enough from the title, the subsequent piece of writing discusses certain key plot developments in Christopher Nolan’s most recent Batman movie. Do writers still need to constantly offer spoiler alerts? This article is about The Dark Knight Rises. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you probably wouldn’t click on the piece, right?

I hope that is the case because, in my humble opinion and without further ado, Batman should have died.

After letting the movie, and specifically the ending, sink in, it seems pretty obvious that little knuckle-curve Christopher Nolan dropped in didn’t make a ton of sense. Batman should have died.

Some people are still of the opinion that he DID die. The final scene in an Italian café was just esoteric enough to have it seem plausible that it simply took place in Alfred’s mind or a dream or…something. However, most agree Nolan decided to have Wayne escape the bomb at the last second and live happily ever after having saved his city. The first reason Batman should have died is strictly logistical. He, umm, HAD to have died! It showed our neighborhood crime fighter still in his plane with five seconds ticking on the nuclear bomb. Even if he fixed the autopilot and even if he managed to eject from the plane without us seeing, how would he have escaped the blast radius in time? In a movie where Hines Ward could return a kickoff for a touchdown, I realize there are many unbelievable plot pieces but, strictly from a common sense standpoint, come on; Batman had to have died there.

The second reason a death was needed had nothing to do with whether Bruce Wayne could have made it out alive. Simply speaking, Nolan’s Batman trilogy made more sense with the death of its protagonist. From talking of dying a hero to Batman himself telling Selena Kyle that he had not yet given everything to Gotham, the dark knight ending his life to save his city at the end of Dark Knight Rises would have been some powerful symbolism. To tell you the truth, when The Bat was flying out to sea and Robin was looking on, it got a little misty in my theater. I liked where I thought Nolan was taking us; I really liked the movie in general, until Alfred showed up in that restaurant again.

With supposedly no more Batman movies in the works for Nolan and his gang, why make the ending so surprisingly cheery for such a shadowy trilogy? As far as “tacked on endings” go, it wasn’t quite at Return of the King levels but it’s up there.

(Image courtesy of

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A college football playoff? Say it ain't so!

If you have not yet read my College Sports Madness colleague Dan Levine’s piece on this topic, check it out here. He describes the feelings held by most…well, most people with a heartbeat.

Unfortunately for him and for all of you who agree, he is wrong. It happens to the best of us. There is no shame in being wrong. It happened to me once, back in the 90’s. I think it was a Tuesday. Anyways, the College football powers that be making a playoff imminent seems like a fool’s errand. They are destroying the one advantage they have over every other major American sport going.

All you average sports fans, real quick, a quiz for you: who won the Big 12 basketball regular season title this past season? It happened literally within the past few months. You are thinking to yourself it was probably Kansas but it might have been Missouri…or did Baylor pull it out? You want to know the answer? The answer is: it doesn’t matter. It never matters. Nothing in the regular season of college basketball ever matters. The same goes for Major League Baseball, the NBA and don’t even get me started on hockey. Could the regular season possibly mean LESS than it does in the NHL? It’s almost a secretly, well concocted joke at this point.

It is debatable whether the NFL regular season is important. It matters because you have to make the playoffs but ask the New York Giants if they felt like they were the best team during this past year’s regular season. College football has a monopoly on the Regular Season and that should mean something.

As amateur football currently stands in division one, every game means the world from week one through December. If you want to get serious for a minute and think about it, with the exception of the teams in the literal National Championship game in January, every other team’s LEAST important game is actually their bowl game. It means squat.

So instead of banking on this week after week excitement, college football wants to turn to a playoff system, relegating the regular season to something between what the NFL currently offers us and what the NHL drags out claiming to be professional hockey. No longer will that awesome November weekend game between top teams matter as much. A team eliminating itself from title contention with a single loss will be a thing of the past. The pressure and subsequently the will of the best players to perform at their peak execution game after game will dissipate. College football will become…normal. And I for one would hate to see that happen.

2012 NFL Draft Grades

1) Indianapolis Colts
Grade: A-
            Andrew Luck as their first pick was a no-brainer. This does not diminish their selection though. He is indeed the best quarterback prospect since John Elway. Adding two tight end weapons later on, both with first round talent, is a bonus. Their best value pick came in round five in the form of Josh Chapman, a player once thought of as a first day possibility.

2) Washington Redskins
Grade: B-
            Robert Griffin III is the guy Washington wanted. However, they gave up an awful lot to get him and he is not nearly the sure thing Andrew Luck is deemed to be. Pretty much their entire draft rests on RGIII’s success: a worrisome outcome for a team that has been without a quarterback for so long.

3) Cleveland Browns
Grade: C-
            Two first round selections hardly buoyed their draft grade when they make the picks they did. Giving up three additional late round picks for the right to draft Trent Richardson third seems silly when he would most assuredly have been available at their original slot if Minnesota kept their pick. Brandon Weeden later in round one was even more questionable as he seems hardly better than Colt McCoy is, and years older than McCoy, who already has years of NFL experience.

4) Minnesota Vikings
Grade: B
            Trading back in round three, picking up three additional picks and still getting their man Matt Kalil is a move to be admired. Their second pick of day one was a little more questionable as safety Harrison Smith seems to have a low ceiling in the minds of scouts.

5) Jacksonville Jaguars
Grade: B-
Trading up to select Justin Blackmon makes sense but the many holes elsewhere on the Jags’ roster were not necessarily filled. With only six total picks made and one being a punter in round three, Jacksonville left some talent on the board. Andre Branch in round two was a nice selection though.

6) Dallas Cowboys
Grade: B
            Giving up their second round pick to trade up and get Morris Claiborne is the kind of big draft day move fans usually like from their teams. It certainly addresses a major team need and he was the best cornerback in the draft but his Wonderlic test and the fact that Dallas never interviewed him send up some red flags. Their best pick was Danny Coale, a wide receiver taken in round five. He is tremendously reliable and should fit in well as a possession receiver.

7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Grade: B
Tampa Bay took the best safety in the draft and the second best running back with their two first round picks. It filled two major team needs. They also selected Lavonte David in round two, a player many people felt might go in round one.

8) Miami Dolphins
Grade: C+
Two great picks cannot fully be offset by Miami’s first selection. Taking Jonathan Martin in round two and Lamar Miller in round four are both tremendous. However, Ryan Tannehill is who this draft will be made or broken with and not only is he a huge question mark; it remains to be seen whether he can actually play better than Miami’s current quarterback option: Matt Moore.

9) Carolina Panthers
Grade: B
Luke Kuechly is a solid first round selection. Joe Adams could be a difference maker as a return man in round four. However, Carolina missed on a number of team needs including defensive tackle and outside linebacker.

10) Buffalo Bills
Grade: B+
Although they added no quarterback depth and will rely fully on Ryan Fitzpatrick for the foreseeable future, Stephon Gilmore and Cordy Glenn make up one of the best two round combinations of players any team made.

11) Kansas City Chiefs
Grade: C+
Dontari Poe is a very risky pick, especially in round one. Adding offensive line help and skill position players later could not offset the uncertainty created by Poe as their draft anchor.

12) Philadelphia Eagles
Grade: B-
Giving up two mid-round picks for Fletcher Cox seems fair. Nick Foles is also a nice backup quarterback possibility with what Philadelphia was forced to trot out on the field last year when Michael Vick went down.

13) Arizona Cardinals
Grade: B
Michael Floyd is a nice weapon to place opposite Larry Fitzgerald in the Arizona offense. He should open up the middle of the field for Fitzgerald on crossing routes as well as for backs and tight ends running shorter routes. Their best value pick was Bobby Massie in round four.

14) St. Louis Rams
Grade: B+
Trading down and taking Michael Brockers is a nice move for a team needing help all over their defense. By taking Janoris Jenkins in round two, St. Louis makes the statement that they are willing to take risks in the hopes of adding talent to a depleted roster.

15) Seattle Seahawks
Grade: D
Adding two additional mid-round picks by trading down in round one does little to offset making the biggest reach of the draft. Taking Bruce Irvin, a part-time player with limited upside as their first selection would have been questionable even for a team with the luxury of taking a player with one specific skill. Seattle does not even have that luxury. Russell Wilson has the potential to carve out a spot for himself in this league but having already paid big money for Matt Flynn this offseason, Seattle again seems to be the wrong fit for this move.

16) New York Jets
Grade: B-
Stephen Hill is a great round two pick. The Jets also added depth at OLB and RB: two areas of need. Yet taking Quinton Coples in round one is too risky to warrant a higher grade. There were better, safer players still available who play the exact same position as Coples when the Jets made this selection.

17) Cincinnati Bengals
Grade: A
The overall quality and quantity of Cincinnati’s picks led to this grade. Dre Kirkpatrick fills a giant need as the team’s first selection. Kevin Zeitler might have been a bit of a reach as their next selection yet Wisconsin offensive linemen are as solid as they come. Devon Still in round two is a smart pick and the Bengals also managed to add weapons at receiver, tight end and running back, including Dan Herron, a possible contributor from the sixth round.

18) San Diego Chargers
Grade: A-
San Diego’s draft is oversimplified yet overshadowed by the first player they took. Melvin Ingram was thought of as a top ten possibility so not only was he great value at the Charger’s selection, he also addressed one of their biggest team needs.

19) Chicago Bears
Grade: C
Always worrisome is the player that flew up draft boards real late in the process, well after games were finished being played. Shea McClellin might turn into a good player but he shows evidence of being another combine-mover. Alshon Jeffery was also questionable coming off a bad year and coming into the draft process overweight. To make matters worse, Chicago didn’t address their need at defensive end or their biggest need on the offensive line.

20) Tennessee Titans
Grade: B-
Tennessee delivered a nice, solid draft. Kendall Wright is a weapon to pair with a returning Kenny Britt. Zach Brown is a nice selection as well. By addressing some team needs, the Titans neither disappointed nor blew anyone away with their weekend moves.

21) New England Patiots
Grade: B+
Normally fond of trading back, New England went in another direction by trading up twice on day one. Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower are both talented defensive players who can greatly help the Patriots pretty quickly. Their best pick might have been Alfonzo Dennard in round seven.

22) Detroit Lions
Grade: A-
Detroit’s franchise outlook seems to be shifting. Riley Reiff was great value late in round one. And going Oklahoma-heavy in the rest of the draft is an easy way to collect talent. Ryan Broyles’ production was historic in college. Coming off an injury was the only reason he dropped on draft day. Ronnell Lewis in round four and Travis Lewis in round seven were both good risks to take as well.

23) Pittsburgh Steelers
Grade: A-
Pittsburgh needed help along their offensive line in a major way. Taking David DeCastro, the best guard in the draft, and Mike Adams, a first round talent at OT in round two, is a great way to fill that void. Chris Rainey’s speed and versatility in round five was a bonus.

24) Houston Texans
Grade: B+
Grabbing the national leader in sacks and forced fumbles late in round one is solid reasoning. Whitney Mercilus will try to fill the void left by Mario Williams. DeVier Posey was a nice pick in round three but Houston’s best pick was Jared Crick in round four.

25) Green Bay Packers
Grade: B
A team like Green Bay has few roster holes. Rushing the passer was one of them. Their first two selections both addressed this. Nick Perry, the USC rush end and Jerel Worthy, the big tackle in round two, both should help a depleted defensive line.

26) Baltimore Ravens
Grade: B+
Trading away their first round pick and still being able to nab Courtney Upshaw in round two is great draft work. With their other second round pick, Baltimore took offensive guard Kelechi Osemele to help with depth.

27) San Francisco 49ers
Grade: C
Taking a downfield, speed wide receiver was a good option to complement Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. The problem was San Francisco didn’t take the best one available. In addition, LaMichael James seemed superfluous to a team already with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter in the backfield.

28) Denver Broncos
Grade: B-
Denver made a lot of moves which seemed to not get them very far. They addressed some team needs, swapped mid-round selections, added some additional picks and added a quarterback for the future. But for a team that just added Peyton Manning and might have been trying to make a splash for the current roster, Denver missed the boat.

29) New York Giants
Grade: B+
The Giants lost Brandon Jacobs and needed a replacement running back: check. They lost Mario Manningham and needed a replacement slot receiver: check. They added depth to their defensive backfield: one of the most banged up spots on their roster for the past few seasons. In addition to tight end depth and offensive line help, the Giants would have hit a home run if they were able to add any type of linebacker help but they were not.

30) Oakland Raiders
Grade: C
It is hard to make a huge improvement to a weak roster without high draft picks. Only the future will determine the real value of Oakland’s 2012 draft but after that horrendous Carson Palmer trade where they gave up all those high picks, it was going to be tough to make any kind of headway this draft.

31) Atlanta Falcons
Grade: B-
No first round pick set Atlanta up to add some defensive help late and a solid center, Peter Konz, in round two. Their big draft splash was Julio Jones last year and they took him knowing it would effect this year’s options.

32) New Orleans Saints
Grade: C+
New Orleans did the best they could with the situation they put themselves in. Without a first round pick from a prior deal with New England and having lost their second round pick because of the penalties from Gregg Williams’ bounties, the Saints were forced to fill holes with late rounders. Nick Toon was an impressive receiver in college and getting him in the fourth round is a nice pick.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Boys of Summer, an MLB Snippet

Every year at this time, Major League Baseball starts up anew with each team having a chance at the pennant.

Originally a narrative by Roger Kahn about the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Boys of Summer now simply represent America's pastime. From McCovey's Cove to Pesky's Pole, Major League Baseball has started another season this month with "Opening Day", as writer Tim Kurkjian once put it, being the best two words in the English language to a baseball fan.

Unlike the other professional sports in America, baseball has a historic connotation to it. The sport of baseball is historic. Starting in the 1800's, MLB has a leg up on the competition in that regard. It also has history on its side in terms of numbers. Every number in baseball is special.

Home runs totals, stolen bases, consecutive games played, and everything else in between all mean something. They all mean something because, although the stadiums and players have changed, the rules have not. It is still 90 feet to first base. It still takes three strikes to get a batter out and four balls to walk him. An overthrow by the shortstop has always been an E-6. Throwing a perfect game will always mean immortality.

These rules of baseball have never changed. Thus, it opens the door to comparing eras, comparing the greats of the past with the greats of today. Each era has its own quirk or identity, yet all can be compared and argued on the basis of the final tallies.

When the Seattle Mariners won 116 regular season games in 2001, tying the mark set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs, it was neither more or less impressive than the season 95 years prior. Those two clubs will be in the record books side by side because baseball is ageless.

Ender's Game Series is Science Fiction Gold

Orson Scott Card's fabled Ender's Game Science Fiction novel series uses rarely seen writing technique of "companion novels" to perfection.

Readers were first introduced to Andrew Wiggin in 1985. Many science fiction readers know him better by his nickname Ender. Orson Scott Card released the novel Ender's Game in 1985. It went on to win the Nebula Award as well as the Hugo Award for the best Science Fiction novel of the year.

The chronological sequel, Speaker for the Dead, written just a year later, went on to win both awards as well. This story takes place after the events of Ender's Game. It is a sequel by definition.

The more interesting "sequel" to me however is the one written to take place during the exact same time frame as Card's original. The book Ender's Shadow was written in 1999 as a companion novel to Ender Wiggin's first adventure.

Companion Novels

The challenge and skill in writing a companion novel cannot be exaggerated. To write essentially the same story again, yet make it all the more interesting is a testament to Card's brilliance as well as to this world he created.

Writing a companion novel is usually the last technique used by writers, or movie directors for that matter, to continue the story of a beloved character/world. First comes a sequel. This is obvious. Continuing where we, the reader, left off previously and telling us what happens next is the common thing to do. If readers loved a character or enjoyed hearing about a tale set in a distant land, they will want to hear how things progressed.

If a sequel is not an option for some reason, say the main character dies, then the next best choice is writing a prequel. Again, obvious. Tell us how this character came to be who we saw them as. Tell us the back story and past events that shaped our main character's life.

Of course sequels and prequels are child's play. The writing of a companion novel is rarely seen because it is hard to make it interesting. Imagine reading a story you liked. Now imagine the author trying to write another novel that takes place during the exact same time frame, with the exact same characters and covers the exact same events. Would this be at all interesting to read? Simply writing from a new point of view is nice but it does not totally solve the problem. Just look at the movie Vantage Point for an idea of how that can fail.

So when Orson Scott Card wrote Ender's Shadow covering the exact story that took place in his award-winning Ender's Game, I am sure people were skeptical. It would be told from the point of view of a different character, namely Ender's Battle School associate Bean, but still. Would it work?

Ender's Shadow

Well, we got our answer. Now this book did not receive the critical acclaim that Card's first few stories did. I am not a science fiction awards expert so I don't know if it wasn't as well received or there was stiffer competition. Nevertheless, I actually was more entertained by the companion than by the original.

In the introduction to Shadow, Card tells us this story can be read before or after reading Ender's Game. Since they cover the same time frame, there is no need to read one before the other. I actually disagree with his sentiments. I felt like reading the original helped to buoy my enjoyment of the companion. Sure, I knew the ultimate outcome already and where the plot was going, but to see events take place through another character's eyes, getting a completely new view of an event I already made judgments on was fascinating.

The best example I can give is when Ender Wiggin and Bean first meet. Bean is a newbie to Ender's new army. In the first book, the relationship is shallow, if there at all. Ender sees Bean as a little version of himself a bit, the smallest yet smartest launchie in a new army. So he is hard on him, thinking it will help him in the future, just as the teachers were to Ender when he first arrived at Battle School.

However, in Ender's Shadow, we find out oh so much more. The relationship is deeper and more confusing than I ever could have imagined. Without giving too much away, it turns out Bean was not put in Ender's new army by accident or even by chance. And even though Ender may not have known who Bean was, Bean certainly knew an awful lot about his new commander. The relationship from Bean's point of view is just one thing that completely turned my perceptions around from one story to the other.

I wish more authors tried the companion novel strategy. Although it does seem hard to pull off successfully, if done correctly, the outcome can be grand. Ender's Shadow may not be historically remembered but what it did for the award-winning books that came before it cannot be overstated. In fact, it made me want to reread the original tale again, just to see those very same events after knowing how other characters reacted to them.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Spring Training Voyage Finale

If you missed any of the previous installments of my Spring Training Voyage, scroll down through March's blog posts or click here for Part One, Part Two and Part Three. And now, the exciting conclusion to Murderous Pirates of the Raging Seas!, wait, this is not my dialogue to a 90's movie adapted for viewing on TNT.

March 19
Detroit Tigers at Philadelphia Phillies
Bright House Field, Clearwater, Florida

The Phillies’ Florida home was the best stadium of the bunch we saw this trip. It was smaller than the Yankees’ park but had a much more fun and entertaining vibe than the backyard that the Blue Jays played in. Fans circled the field entirely, as there was standing room and picnic blanket seating all around the outfield. The concourse was also charming, giving a pristine backdrop to home plate.

But once the game started, the ambiance and locale was surreptitiously overshadowed by one man: Tigers’ new third baseman Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera last played third base in the Majors a number of years and a few dozen pounds ago. He will most assuredly be one of the poorer fielding men at the hot corner all year long. This game would serve as the foreshadowing scene in books or movies where a future guilty criminal is seen displaying some sort of evil smirk. March 19 was Miggy’s evil smirk.

He started off at bat however. In the top of the first, Cabrera drew a walk (classic) and had a delayed steal of second base. Describing it as a delayed steal is in no way a crack at Miguel’s lack of foot speed, but rather the description of the play which worked so well because of Miguel’s lack of foot speed. He would finish the game 0-0 with a walk, steal and run scored because in the bottom of the first, he took a wicked hop to the eye, shattering his sunglasses and his face and ending his afternoon early.

I wanted to be upset about this because I felt bad for the man and hoped he would be okay. I actually ended up being upset for much more selfish reasons. If he was seriously injured, it would be a huge problem for my fantasy team of which he is the batting anchor (…I know). And even more pressing, he was the main attraction of the game I was currently attending with players like Prince Fielder already getting the day off. Cabrera being forced to leave early was a real downer on the game. Thus, we were forced to find other players and other storylines to follow.

Interestingly enough, around the next inning or so, two gentlemen came up to my dad and me holding a pair of duplicate tickets as the ones we held. It turned out one of us had been hustled. Whoever sold the tickets online had sold one set as paper receipts and resold the same seats using the actual stub tickets. I am actually surprised this does not happen more often. For whatever it is worth and fortunately for us, my dad and my tickets were the “authentic” set and the other men had the phonies. In a normal game it is possible they would have been forced to leave and have had to scrap with the seller to get their money back. In a Spring Training game, they were allowed to stay but ended up having to jump around seats five or six times as different guests kept arriving late and holding the rights to the seats they were trying to use. It put a little scare in me for buying tickets online in the future; that’s for sure.

As far as the game went, on the field, the Phillies took home the victory with a four run fifth inning. We witnessed a check swing double, two Hooters waitresses as ball girls, and dueling hat tricks by Tigers outfielders. Austin Jackson, DHing this game, finished 0-4 with three strikeouts, a walk, a stolen base and a run scored: the epitome of Austin Jackson. Meanwhile, teammate Clete Thomas one-upped him, going 0-4 with four k’s: the infamous golden sombrero. I also liked what I saw from Brennan Boesch, both in his parent’s complete disregard for the English language and for his fantasy baseball sleeper potential.

It would be our last Spring Training game of this year’s four game, three city tour and Bright House Field was certainly a pleasant host. And yes, I did buy a Philly cheese steak.


The Tampa Bay, Dunedin, Clearwater triumvirate is a great location for any Spring Training trip. We were able to see a handful of different teams without having to travel very far at all between stadiums.

John Mayberry Junior is a monster of a man.

You know how some players have easy gas, where they have such a fluid arm motion, it seems like they are barely throwing yet the radar gun says 96? Octavio Dotel has very hard gas…

The Tampa aquarium is a lot of fun even if you pass on the dolphin excursion.

The games don’t matter in the least outside of players getting in shape and trying to make a roster yet fans seem to not realize this. This is especially true of Phillies fans.

I cannot wait for the regular season to get in full swing (pardon the pun) and to attend a couple games that count in the standings, although it is sad knowing I cannot get seats as good as the ones obtained for Spring Training baseball. It is a special event who's vibe and closeness cannot be duplicated once the corporate structure of big business sports takes over come Opening Day.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Some Hunger Games thoughts

Setup: I am a huge fan and proponent of adults reading kids' literature. The Harry Potter books are fantastic, as are some other selections.

Caveat: I have read The Hunger Games but only book one. I have not read the second or third books in the series and, frankly, do not plan on doing so. I did not love the book. It seems slightly overrated, the Oreo of books: a lot of buildup and popularity when there are far better, lesser known options out there.

Thoughts: The movie left me with the same exact feeling I got after finishing the book. I thought the story and plot were viscous almost to the point of being unnecessarily ghoulish. Obviously the movie plot stems straight from the novel so it is through no fault of the movie producers this exists. Nevertheless, this exists.

With this gruesome, over the top story arc, the scenes progress almost like a fairy tale. It is a juxtaposition I cannot overcome as a reader/watcher.  Everything horrible is happening yet every additional piece of information falls into place perfectly to suit our protagonists, almost on cue. I suppose this is the dynamic that should exist in a children's book but it doesn't do it for me.

Beyond the book problems that carried over to the movie, the film had some of its own drawbacks. Skipping over massive amounts of narrative left emotional holes in the story arc. At one point, when it is revealed two children will be allowed to win if they come from the same district, Katniss thinks of Peeta and the possibility of both of them surviving. So with the turn of her heel, she departs and immediately finds his blood trail and stumbles literally right on top of him, even though the movie never addressed that Katniss ever even knew Peeta was bleeding, let alone hiding.

These skips in plot are necessary for a movie to cover so much from a detailed piece of text yet the movie did a rather poor job. With the omissions the writers chose, they somehow managed to still make the movie feel way too long, as it dragged on much of the pre-Games fanfare that I did not find particularly engaging.

Not everything was bad. There were a few misty moments, a few heartstrings being pulled but I think that may have more to do with kids being in such grave peril and impossibly ridiculous situations that touches my sensitivity rather than how it was portrayed on screen. I felt the eyes water when Katniss volunteered to take her sister's place just because I knew it was supposed to be touching even though the scene itself seemed a bit awkward in its execution. The same can be said for Rue's demise, who I knew I was supposed to care about greatly but the movie failed to build her up as anything more than a squirrely girl in a tree.

Closing: Haymitch is no Mad Eye Moody.

(Image courtesy of

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sustained Mediocrity

Long-time New York Giants running back and recent Super Bowl victor Brandon Jacobs just signed on to be a member of the San Francisco 49ers ending his tenure as a Giant.

More accurately, his Giants' time ended earlier this year when they released him but there still remained the option that they could bring him back, until today that is.

Jacobs was never a star, nor even a full-time starter yet his career accomplishments are surprising. He is the Giants' all-time leader in rushing touchdowns. He had four consecutive seasons of at least 800 yards rushing even though he was the starting back for only roughly half that time. His career year, 2008, was a sight to behold: 1125 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns in just 13 games. And more important than the individual numbers, since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, Brandon Jacobs has been on two Super Bowl champion teams. Not a bad career for a big boy out of Southern Illinois.

The question of how successful someone is always comes up when a chapter of their career comes to a close. Jacobs is no longer a Giant, so how impressive was his Giants career? Taking a broad view it seems he was nothing more than a cog in a good franchise and yet his numbers are pretty impressive and he was a main part of those two title teams. So who's career has been more successful, Jacobs or a man like LaDainian Tomlinson?

Obviously this is a ridiculous query from a talent standpoint. Tomlinson is a Hall of Fame back and one of the most impressive runners in NFL history. His numbers are nearly peerless. And yet, his teams always came up short in the playoffs. He never made a Super Bowl, let alone won one. He was a very high pick (fifth overall in 2001), meaning the production was almost expected. So was he actually more successful than Jacobs? It comes down to how you evaluate success and what qualities are more important but the interesting thing to me is that the question can exist at all.

In the basketball world, a more extreme yet common analogy is between a player like Chris Webber or Charles Barkley and Robert Horry. Would you rather have the Hall of Fame career from the highly drafted player or the championship-laden career from the often forgotten "role player"?

It is a fascinating quandary, one that just cements the fact that Brandon Jacobs, Giants career finalized, had himself one heck of a time in Big Blue.

(Image courtesy of

My Spring Training Voyage Part Three

On my journey through the Grapefruit League, we already touched on game one here, and game two here. Below is part three:

March 18
Philadelphia Phillies at Toronto Blue Jays
Dunedin Field, Dunedin, Florida

After scrounging up tickets for this afternoon’s game, we found out why the game was sold out to begin with. If Steinbrenner Field is the Yankees’ version of a Spring Training home, Dunedin Field would be the bullpen. The Blue Jays spring home could hold no more than 6000 folks, if that. Needless to say, our tickets, in the “upper deck” were probably closer to the field than our seats at the first Yankees game. To finish the analogy of Toronto being quite a bit minor league compared to our previous host, Dunedin had their own in-game announcer to keep the crowd engaged and to give away stuff. But we were not discouraged. Cole Hamels would be on the mound for the Phillies and Jose Bautista would be in the lineup for the Jays. There would be no Brett Lawrie today but instead, at third base for the Jays, we got to see the ageless, glove wonder, Omar Vizquel. The crowd loved Vizquel partly because he is easy to root for and partly because the Dunedin crowd’s mean age was pushing 70.

In the bottom of the first inning, Jose Bautista’s first at-bat of the ballgame, he was fooled by a Hamels’ pitch and launched his bat into the stands and down one of the spectator tunnels. (I told you the field was small.) On the second pitch of the same at-bat, Bautista ignited an inside pitch deep and way foul onto a practice field next door where, for some odd reason, someone had parked a car. As the ball was approaching the car, the crowd began to rumble. It ended up missing the vehicle but I think the reaction would have been louder for that connection than if Bautista had hit a home run. And we got our control variable later in the game as Joey Bats did indeed mash a huge home run to left center. P.S. the crowd loved it.

The Phillies got beat up pretty good in the game, leading even more to everyone’s desire to mark the Blue Jays as a sleeper pick this season, with the extra wild card spot available. Toronto put up a couple crooked numbers, in the third, fourth and sixth innings on their way to victory. The batting hero of the game was, in Spring Training fashion, catcher Yan Gomes. He went 3-3 on the afternoon with two doubles and three RBIs. We also got a glimpse of one of Toronto’s new closer options, veteran reliever Francisco Cordero.

After the contest, the story, other than Jose Bautista’s at-bats, ended up being the stadium itself. So quaint and tiny, Dunedin Field is the epitome of Spring Training baseball: where you go to see the best players in the world, the Major Leaguers, play in little town parks and get closer to the action than you ever could during the regular season. I mean the Jays’ park was so backwoodsish, they didn’t even have a recording of Take Me Out to the Ballgame playing during the seventh inning stretch. 

Tune in for the conclusion of my Spring Training trip coming soon...

Monday, March 26, 2012

My Spring Training Voyage Part Two

If you missed Part One of my journey south to check out Florida's MLB Spring Training, you can catch it here. Below is part two:

March 17
Houston Astros at New York Yankees
George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, Florida

Five games in four days quickly dissolved into four games or perhaps three games. The original Sunday double-header underwent a schedule change since the last we checked as the Yankees-Orioles game went from being Tampa-hosted into being held in Sarasota, an Orioles home game. It also came to light that the Blue Jays game, in very tiny Dunedin Stadium, was sold out on Sunday afternoon. My dad and I scrambled for tickets, trying to salvage at least one Sunday match but in the mean time, we had our second Yankees game to attend: a sunny, Saturday tilt against the Houston Astros.

The Astros are actually quite an ideal Spring Training team to see play. It is hardly impossible to be disappointed with the lineup they trot out as their normal, Major League, April starting lineup is pretty Triple-A-ish to begin with. The highlights existed in the forms of Jason Bourgeois (because of the spelling of his name and because he was traded within a week of this game being played), Brett Wallace (because of the massive post-hype sleeper potential of this once prized prospect), and Chris Johnson (because he might actually just be plain good at baseball). The Yankees again rose to the occasion, giving us a semi-normal squad featuring Gardner, Granderson, Cano, Rodriguez and some bench guys. The pitching matchup was also fortunate.

Bud Norris, probably Houston’s very best starting pitcher, would be facing new Yankee Hiroki Koroda. This was my first chance to see Kiroda and he did not disappoint, breezing through the first few innings before making way for the bullpen. Norris, on the other hand, struggled mightily, walking four men in just the first two innings. But the bullpens were the story anyhow. Houston brought in former starter, former closer, former starter, new closer Brett Myers to pitch the middle innings and he was pretty good. The reason for Houston, a team going nowhere this season, to transition one of their top starters back into being a closer is suspect but Myers can certainly close out games at the Major League level.

On the home team’s side of things, the middle innings were host to another closer sighting as Mariano Rivera entered to Enter Sandman to pitch the fifth. Not that it mattered how he fared but Mo was just fine in his one inning of work. To close out the game, the Yankees, having already used their regular season closer, turned instead to a prospect hoping for big league glory this season: Dellin Betances. Standing at 6’8”, saying Betances is an imposing figure on the mound does not quite do him justice. Pardoning the pun, big things are expected of this man by 2013 if he does indeed spend this season in the minors.

To wrap up the Astros match, and the Yankees half of our Spring Training pilgrimage, we had two great Brett Gardner sliding catches, a Dewayne Wise sighting, a Bill Hall home run and Chris Johnson cementing himself as perhaps the only Astros hitter worth drafting in fantasy baseball this season by tallying two doubles. The Yankees won, if that sort of thing matters to you, but we would be saying goodbye to Steinbrenner Field and making our way west for some new pastures.

Part three on the way...

Friday, March 23, 2012

My Spring Training Voyage Part One

My Spring Training Voyage:
The Grapefruit League Edition


It started as a simple idea, floated into the ether out of the mouth of my father. “Let’s go to Spring Training this season.” I am paraphrasing of course, as the literal vocabulary is neither memorable nor important. It was the proposal that mattered. So out of the blue the thought came that I at first assumed this was impossible. There was not enough time to plan such a venture. This was, after all, just a few weeks from now. We both were healthily employed, albeit in circumstances easily maneuverable to act on such an endeavor. After my initial hesitation, paraphrasing myself now, I said something along the lines of, “Okay.”

The plan was in motion. I would fly in to Tampa Airport on Thursday night, the 15th of March. Spring Training would be in full bloom by now but it would feel like the very start of it for us, neither man having ventured into the world of Grapefruit League action before. We would see five games in four days, culminating with a return flight home on Monday night, March 19th.

March 16
Washington Nationals at New York Yankees
George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, Florida

Walking in to George M. Steinbrenner Field, the home away from home of the fabled New York Yankees, it is hard not to see the correlation. Having a professional vibe in an amateur setting is not easy to pull off. Yet, a Yankees’ Spring Training site cannot be second class. The seating is limited but the façade is here; the concession prices are in line and the unmistakable air of superiority flows through the fences as if George himself were sitting up in the press box.

With Spring Training games though, as with any exhibition, you never know what type of team you will see. Not everyone is going to suit up; this is a given. Brett Gardner was seen taking some swings on the practice field next door, leaving the strong implication that he would not see any game time this afternoon. In regards to Gardner, the Yankees’ punch-less leadoff man, a player with 15 career home runs to his name, he sure was ripping the ball in batting practice. Not to say that this should be a surprise. He is a Major League ballplayer after all. And yet, it was still surprising to see a man of Gardner’s known skills tearing frozen ropes to the fences. It was equally as perplexing to see that same man, perhaps the 20th most popular current Yankee, have a line of seemingly sane adults line up at the field edge to get his autograph and picture. But to each his own.

So knowing the roster may be Spring-ish, we were crossing our fingers for a Yankees lineup that resembled anything close to what April would deliver. In fine fashion, the baseball gods complied. Granderson would start, as would Robbie Cano and Alex Rodriguez. Teixeira would bat cleanup, followed by some notable bench players in Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez and Francisco Cervelli. Throwing in starting shortstop Doug Berneir, a man no one outside of the Berneir family was familiar with, was just the exception that tied the lineup together. It couldn’t be perfect and we knew that going in. On the other side, it was exciting to see what the Washington Nationals would serve us. Really the other eight batters were irrelevant as long as Mr. Bryce Harper had his knee-highs on. Being the number one prospect in the world yet not being of legal drinking age and destined to start the year in the minors, Bryce Harper is the future of the Nats. He, along with Stephen Strasburg, makes the future Nationals one of the more compelling teams to follow.

As we took our seats, fortunately in some shade, Washington was taking batting practice and the afternoon’s starting pitchers were making their way onto the field for some light running. On the visitor’s side, new Nat Gio Gonzalez would be manning the rubber, an exciting option if Strasburg was not to start. And in pinstripes, the man on the mound would be one CC Sabathia. Listed at 6’7”, 290 pounds in the game program, CC came out looking rather svelte if I do say so myself. Add him to the list of players coming into Spring Training “in the best shape they’ve ever been in.”

The game progressed as many other games have, with starters struggling out of the gate. This specific game continued as only a Spring Training game could though. Nearly every batter took three hacks and made way for a replacement somewhere in the middle innings. Each starter was yanked just as unceremoniously. The swapping became so hurried that, to start the 6th inning, Curtis Granderson ran out to center field only to find Justin Maxwell already there. Curtis had been taken out of the game, only it seemed no one had told him about it. We also had another Melky sighting. Yankee fans will remember Melky Cabrera fondly from past seasons, as The Melk Man always delivered! Now, there is another Melky in Yankee pinstripes this season: Melky Mesa. I can safely say I never expected there to be two separate sets of parents to name their child that, but one can never predict the wayward feelings of people who have just brought a living creature into the world…or something.

The end of Game One came. Bryce Harper played and managed nothing of note; A-Rod cranked a huge home run over the left field fence in the bottom of the fifth; and the star of the game was none other than Nats’ third baseman Steve Lambardozzi! The young infielder went 3-3 with a home run, 2 runs scored and a nice glove stab on the defensive side of things as well. We would be back to Steinbrenner Field tomorrow to continue our journey.

To Be Continued...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

March Madness: South Region Game Breakdown

Courtesy of College Sports Madness

#1 Kentucky vs. #16 Mississippi Valley State/Western Kentucky

No matter which 16 seed wins their first round match, Kentucky should throttle them in the round of 64. Not only does Kentucky have the huge talent advantage, they will also be playing the game in Kentucky: one of the perks of having the overall number one seed. A 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed and they sure don’t make it easy. If this game is closer than people expect, do not read too much into it and just assume a young and inexperienced Wildcats squad may be looking ahead to Iowa State or Connecticut.

#8 Iowa State vs. #9 Connecticut

Iowa State should be kind of upset about this. Last year’s National Champions, the Connecticut Huskies, are conceivably even more talented this year. They struggled with consistency and acclimating new players, as well as coaching vacancies and player suspensions. Yet despite UConn’s trouble in the regular season, they were playing well coming into the NCAA Tournament and are quite terrifying as a 9 seed. Iowa State has had a very pleasantly surprising year under new coach Fred Hoiberg. However, they have to be upset with this draw. It’s not that the Huskies deserved a better seed as they did lose 13 games this season. But that is no consolation to the Cyclones as UConn just might be the most talented 9 seed in tournament history.

#5 Wichita State vs. #12 VCU

Touched on in the South Region Overview, each of these teams has something going for them. The underdog Rams are one of the hottest teams in the country. Winners of 25 of their last 28 games, VCU has gone on a tear all the way through the CAA conference title. They also come into March Madness off the incredible run their school made a season ago. No team has higher confidence in themselves right now than the Rams of VCU. However, their opponent is so efficient on offense it might not matter. There are very few schools who use possessions more effectively than the Wichita State Shockers. With such great shooting numbers, opponents have a hard time playing within themselves when any spurt of mistakes could put the Shockers out of reach. Although State does a good job of spreading the scoring around, two of their best offensive weapons are Joe Ragland and Garrett Stutz. Both men score more than 13 points a game while shooting above 55% from the floor. Ragland’s shooting splits are something to behold by themselves, as he also shoots 49.5% from three and 82% from the line.

#4 Indiana vs. #13 New Mexico State

Indiana has faced some intimidating front lines this season, including Kentucky, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Minnesota. And yet, the New Mexico State Aggies may be the biggest team Indiana has had to battle all year long. With three rotation players standing 6’10” or taller, New Mexico State sucks up rebounds like a vacuum. And the team’s best player and leading rebounder is none of the three. Wendell McKines averages a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds per contest, standing at just 6’6” tall. Of course Indiana has some bodies to match the Aggies, including freshman sensation Cody Zeller. The younger brother of ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller, Cody looks to be even better than Tyler was as an underclassman. Teamed with sharpshooters Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls, New Mexico State may be able to control the boards and little else in this game.

#6 UNLV vs. #11 Colorado

If this game was played in January, here would be the game reset: Colorado stinks and UNLV does not. If this game had taken place even just two short weeks ago, the story would have been much the same: Colorado is barely an NIT team; UNLV is comfortably in the NCAA picture. Yet in mid-March, after Colorado’s impressive conference tournament run, and UNLV having taken a bit of a slide since their early 2012 heyday, the story reads a bit differently: Colorado could beat UNLV. It probably won’t happen but there is something to be said for momentum. Colorado won the Pac-12 title. The team that won the Pac-12 regular season, Washington, was the first ever power conference team to have won their regular season and not made the NCAA Tournament. So…the Pac-12 was kind of down this season, in an understatement to rival saying the Big Dance is sort of popular. Yet this should not take away from Colorado’s accomplishment. They still went out and won their conference, playing in do-or-die games every step of the way. UNLV will have to have some smooth practices and come out sharp to avoid the upset.

#3 Baylor vs. #14 South Dakota State

Some fun facts about South Dakota State: (1) they are nicknamed the Jackrabbits; (2) they won the Summit League title for the first time this season, ending Oakland’s attempt at a three-peat; (3) their best player is junior guard Nate Wolters. (4) Wolters led the team in minutes, points, rebounds, assists and steals this season. (5) Wolters will not be enough to prevent South Dakota State from being swallowed up by Baylor’s massive size and length.

Okay, you caught me. That last one is not really a fact, nor the least bit fun. However, Baylor’s front court is no joke. Led by future NBA lottery pick Perry Jones III, and surrounded by Quincys, the senior Acy and the freshman Miller, the Baylor Bears are one of the most talented teams in the country. I can see no reason why South Dakota State should trip them up.

#7 Notre Dame vs. #10 Xavier

In one of the more intriguing second round games, the underachieving, underdog Xavier Musketeers will face the overachieving favorites, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish…if that makes sense. Coming into the year, the predicted fates of these two teams would have been mirror opposites of how they turned out. If Notre Dame was going to make the tournament, it would be as a late at-large choice, garnering a double digit seed. Xavier, meanwhile, would stroll through their conference and receive a high mid-major seed. If this matchup was guaranteed in November, not only would the seeds be flipped, you could have assumed it to be a 6 v. 11 or 5 v. 12 game, with Xavier as the heavy favorite. Nevertheless, here we are. Xavier’s season was rattled by an on-court incident that left them out of sorts and behind the at-large pack. Notre Dame, on the other hand, played surprisingly well once conference play started and revealed themselves as a Big East power behind Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant. How fickle the college basketball landscape can be.

#2 Duke vs. #15 Lehigh

Duke is a weak number two seed. They do not defend well, especially in the back court. They have very spotty inside play and rely too heavily on the three point shot. What they do have though are great shooters, a talented play maker and a great coach. These should be enough to squeeze past Lehigh even if the outside shots aren’t falling. Lehigh relies almost exclusively on the playmaking of junior guard C.J. McCollum. He led the Mountain Hawks in everything this season and won his second conference Player of the Year award. Yet without much help around him, even Duke’s spotty guard defense should be able to control Lehigh. During the season, when Lehigh played any team close to the caliber of Duke, they lost. They simply do not have the bodies to stick with an ACC power like the Blue Devils even if the best player on the floor may be wearing their jersey.