Sunday, December 07, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Baseball diaries, Thursday afternoon edition

10:15 AM, Mariners at Tigers: Unbelievably, Jeremy Bonderman escapes the first inning with no damage, which is a rarity for him. Even more surprising, Ichiro did not score despite getting to third on a two-base throwing error by Bonderman himself with nobody out.

10:23 AM, Mariners at Tigers: Magglio Ordonez has doubled to make my fantasy offense's week look even sweeter. Oh, by the way, it also gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the ballgame.

10:25 AM, Rangers at Twins: It's bad enough that fans at the Metrodome can't enjoy the sun during afternoon games, and now Livan Hernandez is being pounded early. Josh Hamilton picked up his seventh sacrifice fly and Hernandez surrendered five hits in the inning. 4-0 Texas.

10:45 AM, Royals at Red Sox: David DeJesus gets called out on what looks like an inside third strike to lead off the game, but Daisuke Matsuzaka walks Alex Gordon with two out. A wild pitch and Jose Guillen single ensue, giving KC an early one-run lead. Good start for my dad's fantasy team, which includes both of those Royals, not to mention two of the Rangers involved in the four-run inning for Texas.

10:57 AM, Royals at Red Sox: I'm a declared Red Sox hater (do any Yankee fans feel otherwise?), but dropped everything to watch David Ortiz bat. The outcome: a weak tapper to second to end the inning.

10:59 AM, Rangers at Twins: Minnesota fought back to make the score 4-2 on a two-run single by Chris Gomez, but Hernandez immediately walks the leadoff man Milton Bradley to start the third.

11:01 AM, Mariners at Tigers: A three-run homer by Brandon Inge has given Bonderman a nice cushion, but he can't strand a runner at third base this time. Yuniesky Betancourt singled and eventually scored on a two-out Raul Ibanez hit.

11:09 AM, Mariners at Tigers: Here comes the high-powered Detroit offense people were talking about for half of the offseason. Miguel Cabrera took the focus off of his defense at first base with a double, and Carlos Guillen's single immediately followed. On a 3-2 pitch, Miguel Batista at least gets the one name that doesn't belong (Matt Joyce) swinging. One down.

11:13 AM, Royals at Red Sox: I leave NESN HD for two minutes and Boston has loaded the bases against Brian Bannister with no one out. Three straight singles has given J.D. Drew a big opportunity in his first at-bat since sustaining a minor injury. In a reprise of the clinching game of last year's ALCS, he takes Bannister deep for a grand slam and I immediately change the channel, impartial observer that I am.

11:19 AM, Rangers at Twins: A Ramon Vazquez double goes for naught as Hernandez gets Ian Kinsler to ground out, proving that he has settled down since the first inning.

11:22 AM, Rangers at Twins: Being the closest game, I'm staying on this one to see how Vicente Padilla handles the Minnesota lineup in the bottom of the fourth, and he makes it look easy in this frame. Meanwhile, Yahoo GameChannel tells me that Lugo singled and was caught stealing. With Boston up 4-1 already, I probably wish he had given me the SB in fantasy.

11:26 AM, Mariners at Tigers: Seattle has already brought on R.A. Dickey in relief of Batista. The knuckleballer gives Curtis Granderson the "good morning, good afternoon, good night" treatment and instantly gets a ground ball from Placido Polanco before Gary Sheffield singled to left. Then, Magglio hit one slowly down the first base line, and he was fortunate that it didn't roll fair since he wasn't running. In the end, this ended up delaying the inevitable as he went down swinging.

11:36 AM, Royals at Red Sox: Jerry Remy is on some odd rant about pajamas and smoking jackets, and meanwhile Matsuzaka gets his fourth strikeout in sending Guillen to the bench, immediately followed by his fifth walk. As usual, he escapes the two-on situation when Miguel Olivo flies out.

11:38 AM, Rangers at Twins: This is why I love baseball. I'm already giddy when I notice that Twins rookie Carlos Gomez is at the plate since I've seen very little of him despite his strong performance so far this season, and on cue he sends the Padilla offering deep to left field for his fourth homer of the year. The Texas lead has been cut to one.

11:40 AM, Mariners at Tigers: Bonderman escaped a bases loaded situation splendidly, allowing a run to score on a double play after Seattle loaded the bases. I flipped over in time to see Sexson's fly to left which ended the threat.

11:47 AM, Royals at Red Sox: With Youkilis at first, Drew makes a bid for a second homer but flies to the center field warning track at Fenway. In the end, I'm thankful that J.D. didn't put another homer in the column for Jack Cust's trainer, my fantasy opponent this week. A quick food break cost me a chance to see Matt Joyce hit one out to make it 7-2 Tigers, but I caught the replay as the inning ended.

11:54 AM, Rangers at Twins: One of the least painful times to be hit by pitch just occurred in the Twin Cities. Gerald Laird was struck in the back by a very slow curve, and a subsequent infield hit from Marlon Byrd has made a scoring opportunity out of very little for the Rangers.

11:59 AM, Rangers at Twins: Remember me? Chris Shelton, who is probably best known for an offensive surge at the beginning of the 2006 campaign, just lined a ball to left to score two for Texas. Apparently the Rangers announcers are well acquainted with Shelton, as they nicknamed him "Big Red" thanks to his hair color.

12:05 PM, Royals at Red Sox: Julio Lugo is thrown out at the plate on a David Ortiz single, and the Sox gets three hits in the inning but fail to score.

12:08 PM, Rangers at Twins: This looked like a sequence straight out of the Bad Idea Jeans playbook despite the fact that it set up a double play. Matt Guerrier just walked Michael Young to load the bases with one out but got Josh Hamilton to ground into the twin killing despite his excellent track record with runners in scoring position this season.

12:12 PM, Royals at Red Sox: Guillen gets his (and the Royals') second RBI of the game with a double which bounced before hitting the scoreboard following another walk to Gordon. In other news, the Tigers are officially involved in a laugher thanks in part to a ground-rule double by Ordonez which scored Granderson and sent Sheffield to third before he scored on a sac fly. It's now 9-2 as the Mariners continue to sink.

12:18 PM, Royals at Red Sox: Make it 5-3 Red Sox now. A hard liner to left that bounced into the corner for a double before Manny retrieved it allowed Olivo to join the run batted in club.

12:21 PM, Rangers at Twins: I'm in time to see Gomez hit again. Well, not really, since Jamey Wright just hit him on the elbow. The bases are full with two out for Brendan Harris. This is a big spot, and the outs were recorded before anyone reached base.

12:24 PM, Rangers at Twins: Harris walks on a full count, and I'm beginning to agree with the announcers that "this has been a long and bottom."

12:25 PM, Royals at Red Sox: Manny Ramirez doesn't get his 499th homer on this at-bat, instead the victim of a strikeout to begin the bottom of the fifth. My condolences to the fans carrying "500" signs around Fenway Park.

12:30 PM, Rangers at Twins: New reliever Frank Francisco ended up walking Michael Cuddyer to make it a one-run game, and Cuddyer several times asked the umpire about pitch location before receiving the free pass. However, Francisco quashed the rally by getting Justin Morneau to pop out.

12:35 PM, Royals at Red Sox: Joey Gathright's single meant that he'd almost certainly try to steal second, which he succeeded in doing. After Matsuzaka made a difficult play to retire Mark Grudzielanek on a comebacker for the second out, he is removed from the game.

12:42 PM, Rangers at Twins: Milton Bradley began the seventh with a walk and Laird eventually got him home on a throwing error by Guerrier, but the Twins escape further damage when Shelton hits into a double play. A moment earlier, Javier Lopez of Boston was able to strand Gathright at second with a strikeout.

12:45 PM, Mariners at Tigers: It's not usually a good sign when you're using J.J. Putz down 9-2, but Putz does strike out the side prior to what is likely to be Seattle's last turn at bat.

12:49 PM, Rangers at Twins: The Twins are out in the seventh, mustering just a fly ball single to right by Mike Redmond who is spelling Joe Mauer for the day.

12:50 PM, Mariners at Tigers: Freddy Dolsi gets a save after pitching the final three innings of this one, and the tiger roar signals the end to this one by a score of 9-2 in favor of the Tigers.

12:53 PM, Royals at Red Sox: A Julio Lugo sacrifice fly has made it 6-3 Beantown. Bannister surrendered 12 hits in this one. In the past, he has commented on the volatility of pitcher performance, and certainly many balls in play became hits against him this afternoon. Jimmy Gobble has made an appearance but allows a Dustin Pedroia RBI double off the standings display in left field. He adds further fuel in giving up a second Boston grand slam off the bat of Mike Lowell. The ball bounced back onto the field after hitting above the Green Monster, but at least the umpires didn't negate another legitimate home run this week.

12:59 PM, Rangers at Twins: They're replaying a nice catch by Carlos Gomez earlier in the game. Coming into this inning he is 3-3, walked once, and has plays a solid center field, so I suppose the Twins can say they got something for Johan Santana. Alexi Casilla hits a solid single, but the Rangers shoot themselves in the foot when they fail to cover first on a bunt single by (you guessed it) Gomez. A glance at the scoreboard shows that the Royals are attempting to lose by less: Guillen has homered for his third run driven in today.

1:05 PM, Rangers at Twins: Well, at least there's one interesting contest remaining. Morneau singled in two on an 0-2 count before Delmon Young lined into a double play. Surprisingly, Joaquin Benoit didn't try to go up the ladder again after getting Moneau to swing at a high 0-1 pitch. 7 all after eight.

1:10 PM, Royals at Red Sox: To recap, Olivo picked up another hit in this game and drove in Teahen, who had walked for the third time. It appears that Craig Hansen, who was once a high-leverage reliever for a short time in the past, is now being used in blowouts. He averts more scoring here by inducing a grounder to first.

1:15 PM, Rangers at Twins: David Murphy followed his leadoff hit with a stolen base, but Laird went down swinging. This might have been a bunt situation with nobody out, but now you have to swing away.

1:18 PM, Rangers at Twins: Marlon Byrd managed to check his swing on an 0-2 count, but on 1-2 Joe Nathan gets him to strike out also.

1:22 PM, Rangers at Twins: I've seen this sort of situation before. Jarrod Saltalamacchia sprints in from the bullpen to pinch hit with 2 men on and the same number out. Alas, he becomes the last member of Nathan's punchout trifecta, and Minnesota's half of the ninth awaits.

1:27 PM, Rangers at Twins: Now another catcher, Mauer, strikes out while pinch hitting (although my viewing was interrupted by an emergency broadcast test), followed by a free pass to Mike Lamb. We'll see if they can avoid extra innings now that a man is aboard; I've seen several very long games this year that could easily have ended in regulation.

1:32 PM, Rangers at Twins: If you think I'm ignoring the game in Boston, you're right. For the record, Yasuhiko Yabuta and David Aardsma were the most recent pitchers for the Royals and Red Sox, respectively. By the way, Minnesota just missed its chance to avoid extra frames.

1:35 PM, Royals at Red Sox: What's this, a three-run game? Yes, Gordon and Guillen stayed hot with singles before Olivo delivered another big hit, a two out bomb to left. It's 11-8 in the middle of the 8th in a game that would make dead-ball era fans have a stroke.

1:39 PM, Rangers at Twins: Here's something else to give old timers fits: the Rangers have been hit by a strikeout epidemic. Kinsler and Young are the latest in this group as Brian Bass does the pitching.

1:42 PM, Rangers at Twins: I like to say that baseball is hard to predict, but I'll say that life is as well. Josh Hamilton had been battling drug problems prior to last season, but he continues to fulfill his potential since appearing in the majors last spring. He hits one into the first few rows in left here, followed by a Milton Bradley double. 8-7 Rangers, and they're hoping for more.

1:44 PM, Rangers at Twins: Bass fields it himself to end the top of the tenth, but may have nightmares about that one costly mistake.

1:45 PM, Royals at Red Sox: Jonathan Papelbon actually has a save situation, and he is off to a good start after the grounder by Alberto Callaspo.

1:49 PM, Rangers at Twins: Gomez is human after all, and flies to center for out number one. That was some fine work by C.J. Wilson.

1:50 PM, Royals at Red Sox: The tying run is aboard for KC with two outs. DeJesus and Billy Butler have singled.

1:52 PM, Rangers at Twins: And then there was one. A chopper to short and a half swing strikeout close this game as Texas triumphs by one run, 8-7.

1:54 PM, Royals at Red Sox: Not to be outdone, Papelbon gets a fly to medium left and dispatches the pesky Kansas City squad 11-8. Good afternoon to you all.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Powered by heavenly tiramisu, here are 10 quick thoughts.

1. Alex stays! Just when I thought the sky was falling following Alex Rodriguez's decision to opt out of his contract, he is now close to a 10-year contract with the Yankees. My despair, which eventually became frustrated acceptance, has turned into outright optimism. Assuming A-Rod remains healthy, the all-time home run leader may not have a federal indictment on his record for all that long.

2. America's Most Wanted? The revelation that Barry Bonds has been indicted for perjury stemming from grand jury testimony about performance-enhancing substances made me realize that the government has joined the majority of baseball fans in making the slugger a major target. Despite the juicy details of his alleged usage in Game of Shadows and often-surly attitude, I've never despised him like many fans of the game do even though one of my best friends is a Dodger fan. At the same time, I've known he was vulnerable to such a charge ever since his testimony clashed with multiple news reports.

3. Apparently, I'm ready for the transition. Don't look now, but I've attended every home regular-season Ducks game so far this year. I actually thought about becoming a season ticket holder prior to last year but got cold feet at the thought of 41 games despite my professed love for the live game. Since January, though, I've gotten accustomed to the Honda Center and enjoy the company of everyone with whom I sit. Now, ten days between their last home game (a shootout win against the rival Kings) and this Friday's contest against Phoenix feels like a gaping void. The spotlight in that game will likely be focused on Ilya Bryzgalov, who was placed on waivers by Anaheim, claimed by the Coyotes, and lauded after shutting out Los Angeles in his debut for coach Wayne Gretzky.

4. Battle for the NFC? From the opinions I read prior to the season, the New York Jets actually had the potential to be better than the Giants. 10 weeks in, the Jets' win against Pittsburgh yesterday was practically a miracle the midst of a 2-8 season while the Giants hold the third-best record in their conference. Aside from Green Bay, only Dallas, which comes the closest to reaching New England's 411 points scored and boasts a 9-1 mark, has been better. I recall Bill Simmons picking the Giants to play his Patriots in the Super Bowl after the G-Men rallied from a poor start. Now, New York's defense may have helped the team shore up a wild card spot by defeating suddenly-strong Detroit at Ford Field. Still, "Fire Millen" isn't such a popular refrain around the Motor City anymore now that the GM has brought home a few wins.

5. Where amazing (and depressing) happens. The NBA's new marketing campaign involves commercials that attempt to bring out the best and most interesting about the league. The slogan "Where amazing happens" was perhaps coined to counteract referee Tim Donaghy's gambling scandal, but it hasn't done a thing to make me feel better about the health of my franchise. The Knicks, who improved to 2-1 after defeating the talented Nuggets at Madison Square Garden, have now lost 6 straight. This includes a 3-point game against the Clippers as I looked on from Section 305 of Staples Center. While my nerves were kept in check owing to New York's win against the Lakers the last time I made the trek to Tinseltown, it was hard not to feel a bit dismayed even as I chatted with a fellow Ducks fan who had accompanied me. Adding Zach Randolph to the frontcourt could have made this team respectable, but uncertain guard roles have contributed to the chaos that has become synonymous with the blue and orange uniforms I used to see in the playoffs perennially. Following this with a double-overtime loss to lowly Sacramento must not have done much for Isiah Thomas' mood.

6. Maybe now I'll learn to have a little more faith. One recent weekend, I told my dad that Ottawa was off to fabulous start in the Eastern Conference. Despite the Rangers' early struggles, I was sure they would eventually bounce back, but conceded that first in the conference (as one ESPN writer predicted) seemed like a long shot. His reply? "It's so early in the season." Since then, the Blueshirts haven't reached the top, but may well be on the biggest roll of any team in the league. Getting four goals from defensemen, including 2 from Michal Roszival, to win in Pittsburgh on Saturday night after trailing 2-0 early was quite the eye-opener. Since I can't stop gushing, I'm not sure if I've seen a more heartwarming goal this season than the one set up by Paul Mara, who fed Jason Strudwick for his shot into the vacant left side of the net in OT.

7. Your move, sir. By all accounts, the Yankees have retained catcher Jorge Posada and closer Mariano Rivera. While the prices were fairly steep, it's hard to fault New York's strategy: catchers are hard to find, and the Yankee bullpen couldn't afford to miss such a key piece with Joba Chamberlain moving into the rotation. What about the moves of some other teams? Edgar Renteria's move to Detroit should aid the Tigers, who are shifting Carlos Guillen and gave up a couple of live but not can't-miss arms in the deal with Atlanta. It's probably true that the Angels have another move in the works, but Orlando Cabrera for the White Sox' Jon Garland feels like an reach. Maybe the Sox' Ken Williams hasn't lost the magic entirely. Also, the Dodgers are said to be looking for a third baseman despite Andy LaRoche's productivity in the minors. Ned Colletti's deadline deals seemed to wake the Dodgers in 2006, but he may have pushed them out of the postseason in '07 with veteran-friendly transactions.

8. This was supposed to be easy. The highly-regarded basketball teams of USC and Kentucky have both lost early games to seemingly inferior opponents. Southern California was defeated by Mercer despite O.J. Mayo's 32 points, and the Wildcats lost 84-68 to Gardner Webb. In my initial band appearance of the year, the UC Irvine men nearly lost their exhibition match to California Baptist before a late run secured the victory for the Anteaters. I know such games are the exception, but in college I've always felt like an early upset can have a greater psychological impact than a comparable game would in the NBA.

9. Is there a champion in the house? Not much more than a month ago, my Bears were staring down a 1 football ranking in the country. It would have been a statement of epic proportions, but a late comeback bid to remain unbeaten was foiled in part due to a late mistake by QB Kevin Riley. While I find it difficult to remove that horror from my mind, the games Cal has played lately have made their brush with being the country's best seem like a dream. The latest indignity? A 37-23 defeat to Washington, who owned just a single conference win coming in. The defense has never been great this season, but now that the offense sputters on occasion (delay of game penalties and interceptions were often the culprit in this one), there's no way to make up for it. Meanwhile, teams like Kansas have their sights set on the title game, which makes me wonder what kind of bizarro world I'm living in when I regard a 6-5 record from a once-laughingstock team as armageddon.

10. Still a master? I had just read the opening chapters to Roland Lazenby's Mindgames, a biography of Phil Jackson. In it, Jackson was described as a 'master manipulator.' Not half a day later, I was reading about comments the Lakers' coach made involving a certain Ang Lee movie to describe the penetration by the Spurs' offense in their game against L.A. "The remarks are in poor taste," said a league spokesman. Agreed, but I shouldn't be shocked at his word choice: during one film session years ago, Jackson is said to have spliced opposing guard Jason Williams' photo next to that of a skinhead.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, January 01, 2007

I know of few ways to deal with someone perishing as tragically as this.

On most mornings, I take a couple of minutes to scour the headlines on, just in case the Yankees have made a blockbuster trade, or coach Jeff Tedford has decided to leave the Golden Bear football team. Sometimes, though, I encounter stories that put my usual concerns in perspective. For instance, I still remember learning about the untimely death of Timberwolves' swingman Malik Sealy, whose car was hit by a drunk driver in May 2000.

Today, the site's top headline concerned the fatal shooting of Denver Broncos' cornerback Darrent Williams. I had watched the overtime period of Denver's game against San Francisco yesterday afternoon, in which the visiting 49ers hit a late field goal to eliminate the Broncos from the postseason. Not 24 hours later, I read that Williams' limousine, which contained 2 other passengers, had been sprayed with bullets in a drive-by attack.

I must stress that, to my knowledge, there has been no information released regarding motive or suspects at this time. However, I cannot help but remember an incident that occurred following Colombia's elimination from the 1994 World Cup. Soccer player Andrés Escobar, who scored an own goal in Colombia's game against the United States, was later murdered in the Colombian capital of Bogotá . While I cannot recall a single incident that would have made Williams alone an object of ire, I get an eerie feeling when I link the outcome of the Broncos' game with the senseless act that followed it. Furthermore, this was not the result of a violent encounter at a bar, but rather what would appear to be a premeditated assault on a specific vehicle. At the least, I would expect that this was not a random act, unlike the unfortunate but unintentional sequence that led to the passing of Sealy.

I hope that, in the future, it will be more difficult to obtain ready access to weapons that can have such damaging consequences. In the meantime, however, I am upset as a sports fan and as a person. It is a terrible shame when any human being is lost in this way, and it hits quite close to home when the victim is an athlete I have observed over the course of a season on idyllic Sunday afternoons. In the words of analyst Mark Schlereth: "There's no reason we should be writing eulogies for 24-year old kids."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Since I seem to have done a lot more internalizing than writing lately, here are a few quick hits.

Sports analysts can be really--and I mean really--überdramatic.
I was watching ESPNews this afternoon when a discussion ensued about the major brawl between the football teams of Miami and Florida International. According to one critic, the seasons of both teams should have been cancelled. Now, it's possibly true that the punishments may end up being too weak for the crime. Still, anyone who believes that the rest of the year should be scrapped, especially in the case of a high-profile program like Miami, is delusional. Forgetting the vast financial implications and the inability for opponents to play potentially significant games, football is one of the bastions of campus life. Even when my Cal Bears began their 2001 season 0-9, we managed to get at least a little excited for the Big Game against Stanford. Denying all those involved with the universities that sort of enthusiasm is short-sighted, and would only make true fans feel worse about the needless incident.

Obviously, I panicked after Game #1 of one particular season.
About a month ago, I was pumped that Cal was on national TV for their first game of the season. They began the year playing a relatively prestigious nonconference game in the hostile environment that is Knoxville, Tennessee. Unfortunately, my beloved Bears never seemed to get things going, and I ended the afternoon taking out my aggression on the basketball court. Ever since though, it has been as smooth a ride as anyone could hope. Now 6-1 after a 21-3 win at Washington State, QB Nate Longshore, RBs Marshawn Lynch/Justin Forsett, and CB Daymeion Hughes seem to be on a collision course with #2 USC. Somehow, I feel like I've seen this movie before.

You know a hockey game is great when a fight takes place after a period ends.
I got a slightly late jump on seeing live hockey this year, but I was glad I didn't wait any longer. The Dallas Stars ended up walking away from the Honda Center with a 5-0 record, but it sure was a fun ride in the process. In case you think this is just another example of an enthusiasm for hockey that relatively few share...well, perhaps you're right. At least I'm not the only one, because John Buccigross sure loved the only NHL contest played yesterday. My favorite moments:

-The aforementioned tussle. This one involved Travis Moen, who arrived last season via the amazingly positive Sergei Fedorov trade. On the other end was Matthew Barnaby, who I remember from his New York Ranger days. Since the first period horn had already sounded, I thought the refs might intervene sooner, but they let the guys have it out. By the end, Anaheim players were banging their sticks on the bench in approval for Moen.
-Todd Marchant, signed by the Ducks following the Fedorov deal, lit the lamp for the first tally I've been privileged to witness all year. You never forget your first, and I instantly flashed back to the dozen or so times I entered the arena last year before my playoff ticket-buying binge even began.
-No one likes to see a goalie pulled from a game as Ilya Bryzgalov was, but Jean-Sebastien Giguere did get a nice hand from the crowd as he entered. I admit I was surprised at the change, even if the second Dallas goal scored by LW Niklas Hagman did look a little soft. My sister then realized that she was peering at the JumboTron, even though a school project prohibited her from watching television all week. I took the opportunity to mock the somewhat contradictory principles of her assignment, which allowed listening to CDs but not MP3s. My response: "TV in arenas is OK!"
-Niedermayer to Niedermayer. When two brothers like Rob and Scott play on the same franchise, they will form a combination on the scoresheet eventually. There was no time for sentimentality here, though: the Ducks still trailed 3-2 after Dallas' three-goal second frame.
-Pandemonium in Anaheim (or as close as is possible during the regular season)! A perfect faceoff win set up Andy McDonald's tying goal with just 20 ticks on the clock. I got very familiar with Chris Pronger when I lived in St. Louis, and he added a helper on this crucial play.
-Two words: Ryan Shannon. I watched his shootout goal against the Islanders on the tube, but the center attempted an even nuttier shot in the opening frame of this one, and somehow Marty Turco sprawled to get in front of it. These are the plays that make me wonder what I ever did before shootouts became a feature in the lay of the National Hockey League land. If you want a better idea of what he attempted to execute, see the amateur photo above.

Dallas has a not-so-secret weapon in the shootout otherwise known as Jussi Jokinen. The guy is a killer in this situation, and ended up providing the difference in the game. Sergei Zubov and Mike Modano also had strong showings. Walking out the door, I felt it unfortunate that I'd have to return in the not so distant future doing something I haven't in a long while: rooting against the home team. The loss notwithstanding, Anaheim has looked strong through five games, and I'm sort of relieved that the Rangers will also be playing at Staples on their swing out West.

Speaking of which: the Blueshirts have been up and down early, but there's reason to hope.
Some obviously overblown reflections on games one through six:

Preview: Expectations were quite high heading into this season for the denizens of the Garden. Petr Prucha and Henrik Lundqvist were rookie sensations, Jagr managed to exceed expectations, and Brendan Shanahan was added in addition to two members of the champion Hurricanes.

Best moment: Half a minute into the home opener, Jagr beat Olaf Kolzig for the first time as the newly labeled captain. Shanahan went on to score two, including career #600, but Jaromir's breakaway conversion set the tone, a belief confirmed by a Rangers' fan poll.

Worst sequence: Kevin Weekes allowing Buffalo to take the lead in the first period on Saturday after the Rangers got out of the gate with a 2-0 lead against the streaking Sabres. I had read that Weekes had gotten booed undeservedly last year, but he didn't help the cause in his first taste of 2006-07 action.

Biggest surprise: Marcel Hossa finding the net in Round 13 of the shootout at Philadelphia after 25 shooters had come up empty. It had gotten so absurd that the announcers were waiting for another moment for Marek Malik to be the hero.

Rivalry statement: Tonight, versus New Jersey. Being swept by the Devils in the first round last year as Jagr battled injury was tough to take, and tonight's 4-2 victory at the Garden showed that Martin Brodeur is only mostly impenetrable.

Earliest team MVP declaration ever: Shanahan. Looks like my affinity for the blue and red paid off in fantasy, as the ageless one has scored in all but one game thus far. Now, if only he could double as defenseman.

Sure, I'm still bummed about the Yankees' exit from the playoff stage.
Somehow, though, I've found the will to stay involved in the day-to-day developments in MLB, at first partially because I wanted reassurance that Torre and A-Rod will stay. On the day in which it all came apart for the Bombers, I also headed to Dodger Stadium for Los Angeles' elimination from the derby at the hands of the Mets. Needless to say, my friend and I knew exactly how each other felt in the darkness of the parking lot at Chavez Ravine. Still, I continue to root against Detroit; so far, it has been to no avail, but I demand revenge, and maybe a team like the Amazins can pull it off. I got into a baseball conversation at Longs today, and the pharmacists seemed amused that I could be so vindictive. Furthermore, I've realized that baseball chats interest me even after my primary reason for reading them was a vanquished team. I guess I'm a seamhead even after the fandom has been sucked out of me, as evidenced by my request to view Game 2 of the NLCS at a local restaurant. If you've seen those commercials with Tommy Lasorda, you know that I'm making him smile right about now. I just wonder whether he has the stomach for an October that's now devoid of his pride and joy.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Professional hockey, like most major sports, believes that meaningless doesn't necessarily translate into cheap.
Despite the fanaticism I displayed last year, as well as my great anticipation of the upcoming NHL season, I’ve realized why I haven’t attended any preseason games, at least as yet. From reading a couple of pieces (notably E.J. Hradek of ESPN's weblog) about how the league manages exhibition contests, it’s all very clear. First of all, teams are only required to dress eight players who are considered veterans.  To add insult to injury, these rarely are stars, or even solid regulars, especially early in the schedule. This brings up another problem with games that don’t count: players like the Pens’ Evgeni Malkin and Jackets’ Sergei Fedorov can injure themselves while playing for nothing in the standings. After all, the majority of players keep themselves in such great shape that extended training camps seem unnecessary. Finally, though, there is one key element that explains why I did not find it necessary to venture to the Pond: cost. My sister and I were given two free seats to the preseason opener last year against San Jose. However, without complimentary passes this time, I faced paying $16.25 at the cheapest, which is the same as a regular season game. Without much in the way of discount at eBay, it’s easy to see why even puckheads like me allow the arena to remain vacant. Not even the team, which aggressively discounted regular season tickets in 2005-06, seems to be interested in filling the seats. I suppose their rationale is that the diehards will actually pay regular season prices for a far lower-quality product. Either that, or they believe that the eventual presence of big names like Teemu Selanne (Anaheim) or Brendan Shanahan (NY Rangers) on the ice will lure customers.  In the Anaheim market, perhaps lack of television coverage might be perceived as another reason for spectators to show up.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets...Giants?
Except for the Jets’ win at Tennessee, which I missed since I spent the day with family at Sea World, I’ve now watched two weeks of New York football. I arrived home in time to see the second half of the Manning Bowl, then spent last Sunday absorbing the pursuits of both teams. Before the hundred or so gathered at Fox Sports Grill in Irvine, the Jets fell behind New England by a score of 24-0. They rallied on the strength of two fantastic plays by receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Lavaranues Coles, then kicked a field goal to bring them within a score. Sadly for me and the fan across the bar wearing a Pennington jersey, this was as close as the Patriots’ offense would allow, as Brady and company ran out all but about a minute of the clock on their final drive.

Still, the story of the day was the Giants. The men in blue were coming off a tough loss to Indianapolis, which featured a more than questionable call late in the game, and New York hardly looked improved during its first two quarters in Philadelphia. However, an insane fumble play in the third resulted in Tim Carter falling on the ball in the end zone for his second career touchdown. A comeback was in progress, although I missed some of the live action since I was in transit to the Grill. After I ran across the street, my eyes turned to the screen in the lobby which almost seems intended to welcome visitors hungry for food and football. I almost immediately saw the Giants tie the game, and seated myself at the bar in time to realize to notice that the Jets were three minutes underway.

My Curtis Martin jersey notwithstanding, I proceeded to divide my attention between the small Jets display on the right hand wall and the Giants, which suddenly became the front and center story. I knew this because the restaurant operators decided to put the game, now in overtime, on the large panel directly behind the bartenders. I concluded last year that the Giants had been my mistress, since I watched many of their games en route to the playoffs on FOX, while the Jets had a forgettable campaign that rarely saw their games televised anyway. Today, it would be the same story: Philadelphia flirted with getting into field goal range, coaxing several Eagles supporters to cheer after each play. However, the Giants regained possession of the ball and with surprising quickness moved into chip shot distance. Suddenly, a holding penalty and subsequent sack of Eli Manning put their potential win in jeopardy. It took a surprising pass from Manning to Plaxico Burress give me my biggest reason to cheer all day. I wonder if the man sitting next to me wearing an Elway jersey saw this as traitorous to my Jets allegiance. Not that I didn’t stick around after Gang Green looked miserable in periods one and two, an act for which the offense rewarded me somewhat.

I’ve been able to reconcile the fact that the Jets are first, and Giants are a sentimental second in my heart. The Jets fandom is largely derived from my dad’s devotion to Joe Namath. Additionally, I have great memories of their 1998 run to the AFC Championship, attended their 2005 first-round win in San Diego, and was heartbroken when they missed several opportunities to beat the Steelers in the next week. Similarly, I still remember the Giants’ playoff loss in San Francisco with bitterness, love watching Tiki Barber, and recall the days of Lawrence Taylor, when I watched one of the first Super Bowls that impacted me as a viewer. I’m certainly a Jets fan foremost, but I relish the chance to witness the exploits of either team.

I’ve been reading a book titled Wrigleyworld by Kevin Kaduk, in which the author admits to rooting for Chicago’s White Sox as well. I find the baseball season too long to root for a second team with much enthusiasm, and the competitive nature of the Mets/Yankees games in recent years has made it even more difficult for anyone considering backing both franchises, and I’ve grown to regard the team from Queens as a rival. Furthermore, the Yankees have enjoyed so much success; in contrast, Kaduk figured that supporting a duo of clubs would double his chance at a championship. For the record, the Sox had not yet won their title at the time of publication. This whole scenario made me feel a little better, even if I never had much insecurity about taking an interest in a second team. Even in hockey last year, I followed the Ducks more than ever due to the number of free tickets I received to their games. Nevertheless, we all know what jersey I’ll be wearing at their November 1 matchup with the Rangers.