Category Archives: Sports

Deja Vu All Over Again or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Accepted the Yankees

I must preface: I hate the Yankees.

In fact, ‘hate’ is not strong enough a word. I loathe the Yankees. I abhor the Yankees. There just aren’t any words adequate enough to capture the full extent of my emotions.

Rooting for the Yankees is like hoping the star quarterback hooks up with the prom queen. If you like to see the rich getting richer, believe in trickle-up economics or hopes Starbucks sells another frappuccino then maybe the Yankees are the team for you. For my taste, if it came down to a choice between abolishing the Yankees of the H1N1 virus, I would actually think, “hasn’t that poor strain been through enough?”

Yet, despite my passionate distaste for pinstripes I am still able to contain my opinion for the good of journalistic integrity. Just because I hate them doesn’t mean that I can’t admire their significance.

To wit: The New York Yankees are the most important team in professional baseball.

For the reasons of business, commerce, politics, TV ratings and general interest the Yankees are the keystone species in this fragile ecosystem called the Major Leagues. Without the New York franchise in place, baseball would be slowly decomposing in a sweltering canyon with buzzards racing in to pick the carcass.

The success of the Yankees is legend; 26 world championships, an endless procession of Hall of Fame members, a myth immortalized in Hollywood pictures. To the victor go the spoils. So has it been for the Yankees this past century.

This is why the Yankees are so critical. Our reaction to them is polarizing. Only two possible opinions exist: Love or Hate. There is no neutral ground. No other team can generate that level of excitement.

The success of the Yankees is always assumed; it is a forgone conclusion. Any team faced with the task of beating the Yankees four out of seven times in the months of October/ November is staring at a near insurmountable obstacle. Because of this, beating them would becomes a sweeter outcome. The sting of losing to them (sorry Twins and Angel fans) will linger for a while.

Lucas didn’t make Darth Vader a ruthless badass because he felt like it. Vader was a ruthless badass because he had to be. The entire fate of the universe hung in the balance. It was Lucas’ way of upping the ante.

The Yankees reprise the role of the badass cyborg without a heart. They have been World Champions before and they will inevitably do it again.  Their mere participation in the post season raises the stakes.

Other teams create apathy among casual fans. “Who’s playing?” they pretend to care. The Yankees bring the element of extremes. People will tune in because they want to see them succeed. Or they will watch to enjoy witnessing their failure. But no matter what, people will pay attention because they are playing.

The Boston Red Sox erroneously believe that the Yankees are their arch nemesis. The truth is the Yankees play foil to all. They are everyone’s arch nemesis. They are the standard by which all teams, baseball or otherwise, are measured. Dynasties of every kind and in every arena are considered to be “the Yankees of _______.” Fill in the blank with ‘Women’s Collegiate Lawn Bowling’ and the analogy still applies.

Statistically, the Yankees were the best team in baseball this year. But the post season is a different animal. Statistics are meaningless; distracting, even.

Heart, faith, momentum. The intangibles win baseball games this time of year.

But the Yankees seem to have that, too.

In a search for the words that aptly describe the Yankees, a simple one comes to mind: it.

It is the word we use when we want to call attention to the qualities that make something unique. It is the word we use when every other adjective struggles to make an appropriate match. It is the word we use when no other will suffice.

Yoda had it, too, but Lucas called it the force. For the 2009 Yankees, it seems to be with them.

And, like it or not, baseball is all the better for it.

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Filed under Baseball, Sports

Greetings From Antarctica: An Open Letter To The International Olympic Committee

Dear IOC:

Your selection of Rio de Janeiro as host city for the 2016 Olympic Games has been received with much controversy; particularly with consideration to your apparent spurning of United States President Barack Obama in his widely publicized campaign to secure the games for Chicago.

The other finalists, Tokyo and Madrid, also made noble efforts to win the Olympics, however this letter wishes to draw attention to your ghastly oversight and the error of your ways: Antarctica, the real thunder from down under, rightfully deserves to host the Olympiad.

The politics of the selection process continues to be a point of frustration. European sites have a tremendous advantage as the largest chunk of voters. Some 40 constituents can pool their votes together to effectively shut out other hopefuls. Even Antarctica realizes that Europeans are cock-blocking the rest of us!

Madrid is a gorgeous city, but let’s be frank: the only reason Madrid made the final round of consideration is that Juan Antonio Samaranch, former IOC president of some 20 years and himself a Spaniard, made a passionate plea to his cronies to throw him a bone.

Mr. Samaranch even stooped to an embarrassing low by saying that at age 89 he didn’t have much time left. Hola Juan! Antarctica understands more than most the limitations of time. Thanks to global warming, our continent will be reduced to the size of the Guam in thirty years. That only leaves Antarctica a scant few years to host the Games.

Now that Rio has been named a host site, South America is no longer on that short list entitled “Continents NEVER To Have Hosted an Olympics.” Now, that dubious honor falls to Africa and Antarctica.

Dear members of the IOC, don’t give Africa an Olympic city before us! You would be sending the wrong message to the world by rewarding civil unrest, guerrila warfare and blood diamonds. You never read about Antarctica suppressing the right to vote or trading ivory tusks on the black market. Even the Swiss are envious of our neutrality!

And Rio is, well, Rio. Can the athletes even concentrate with all those scantily clad natives strutting around? Isn’t “The Thong Song” their national anthem down there? Fast forward to eight months past the 2016 Games in Rio and you’ll discover a stunning population spurt that will further stress the lower income bracket and increase the slash and burn agriculture that Brazil is so famous for!

In Antarctica, our thick parkas will allow contestants to focus entirely on the competition. Okay, so layers of clothing will probably prevent world records from falling. But if a sprinter crosses the finish line first against a gale force wind across the frozen tundra with a polar bear in hot pursuit, he definitely deserves the gold.

Now we in Antarctica understand your immediate concerns. We lack the venues and the infrastructure to host most, if not all, the events. It is raw and untamed country down here with primitive, make-shift facilities.

But that is the beauty of having the Games down here!

The spirit of the Games is to compete with sportsmanship and humility. A sudden blizzard or a glacial tremor will build instant camaraderie!

And consider the limited harmful environmental impact the Antarctic Games would create. The Olympic village could be constructed entirely of tents, ice blocks and igloos. It would be like a sub-degree Woodstock!

I know it’s probably more likely that we will host a Winter Olympics before the Summer edition, but hear us out: Our cool, pristine, pollution-free conditions are optimal for any athletic competition. Besides, who watches the Winter Games anyway (other than for Ladies Ice Skating)? Antarctica wants ratings!

Let’s recap:

Europe – Haters.

Madrid (paella and tapas) vs. Antarctica (whale sashimi and ice slushies) Edge – Antarctica

Rio – First rated R broadcast in Olympics history.

Africa (pestilence and coup attempts) vs. Antarctica (fresh water and penguins) Edge – Antarctica

We realize that the Summer Olympics lasts a whole two weeks, but that’s how long our summer are anyways.

In sum, please consider Antarctica as a future Summer Olympic host.

Signed,

The handful of scientists and researchers that make up Antarctica’s population

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Filed under Olympics, Open Letters, Sports

Pick a team, any team

There really isn’t a clear criterion for selecting a favorite sports team; the motives are varied and cover a vast range of conditions.

Maybe you spent your summers in Detroit where the Red Wings captured your allegiance. Perhaps your worship of Cal Ripken, Jr. was the catalyst for your love for the Orioles. Or maybe you simply fancy the color purple, in which case the Minnesota Vikings would be your natural NFL choice.

However random the reason, there is one thing that should remain constant: You pick a team and you stick with them.

I’ve followed the Los Angeles Lakers ever since a rookie named Magic Johnson once played all five positions on the floor against Philadelphia in the 1980 Finals. So after the 2009 edition of the Lakers won the 14th championship in franchise history, I was understandably thrilled by their success.

But so, it seemed, was every one else.

Suddenly, Laker memorabilia materialized from thin air. Documented Laker-haters were dressed in Kobe Bryant jerseys. Laker hats with the tags still attached covered the head of every other kid. Those obnoxious Laker flags adorned every car on the freeway like a strange presidential motorcade.

Sure, I’m proud of my team’s accomplishments but I don’t want to share the moment with wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Relationships are fickle in 2009. Our culture lacks the vision to look too far ahead and our minimal powers of reflection barely allows us to remember what we had for lunch. Our obsession with the bottom line prompts us to demand of each other what a big-haired Janet Jackson inquired during the summer of 1986: “What have you done for me lately?”

The choices we make in selecting our preferred sports franchises reflect this fleeting attitude. Fans switch their allegiance in teams like a seasonal wardrobe change.

As a new champion is crowned at the culmination of each sports season, the surge in the winning team’s popularity reaches a deafening crescendo. Should that team fail to repeat its success in the subsequent year, that same team loyalty would meet the same fate as the mutton-chop side burn or a Croc sandal.

Maybe the advent of player free agency and the rise of fantasy sports leagues have contributed to this Machiavellian devotion, where the focus is on statistical analysis and final outcomes rather than the quality of a player’s effort or the spirit of the competition.

The idea of a monogamous relationship with our favorite sports club is a vintage way of thinking and grows rarer with each season.

But like any bad fashion, even the really terrible ones, the cyclical ebb and flow of things will bring everything back into proper focus.

Maybe we will miraculously re-develop the bravery to devote ourselves to something we can believe in and be willing to accept the bad with the good.

Maaay-be.

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In Fish We Trust

With a decisive conclusion to an NBA season where The Finals showcased an overwhelmed Orlando team fall to a historic Los Angeles franchise, Kobe Bryant can finally lay to rest the claims that he can’t win it all without the aid of Shaquille O’Neal or any other player.

Or can he?

True, Bryant is celebrating his fourth championship; his first without O’Neal patrolling the post area. But now there is another teammate of Bryant’s that can boast what O’Neal has rapped and twittered about. Beneath the Kobe/ Shaq Rivalry veneer is a shiny new truth: Kobe Bryant has never won an NBA title without Derek Fisher.

Let’s explore the facts.

Both Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher have played thirteen years in the NBA. The back court tandem combined to win the championship three years in a row from 2000- 2002.

Fisher tested the free agent market after the 2003- 2004 season, landing in Golden State. Later, as a member of the Utah Jazz, Fisher reached the Western Conference Finals in 2006- 2007.

During the same length of time, Bryant remained with the Lakers and led his team to successive early round playoff exits and a draft lottery pick at the end of the 2004- 2005 campaign.

Fisher accepted a salary cut and returned to Los Angeles in 2007, where the Lakers returned to the NBA Finals in consecutive years, winning it all just a few days ago.

To be fair, no one individual can win an NBA championship by themselves. In the realm of sports, the right cocktail of player abilities and temperament is the requirement to hoist a golden trophy over your head.

For Kobe Bryant, the main ingredient happens to be Derek Fisher.

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Filed under Basketball, Sports

Magic In A Bottle

I’m new to golf, and it shows.

My game is so full of shanks, slices and chunks you’d think I was spending an afternoon at the butcher’s rather than on the fairways.

Despite these struggles, the game has captured my attention and my imagination, so much in fact that my wife is starting to suspect something. (Her: What’s this strange number on your cell? Me: Oh, that’s just the automated service calling to confirm tomorrow’s tee time).

Ironically, it was my wife that introduced me to the game. Christmas 2007 saw an oddly shaped box in the middle of the living room that later unveiled itself as a full set of brand new clubs.

“Do you like it?” she asked, her eyes measuring my reaction. I was an awkward nine year old again staring at my gift as is it were a back issue of Playboy.

“Do you realize what you are giving me permission to do?” I replied.

And so it began for me, my courtship of this beautiful game. In my evolution as a golfer, I am three errant tee shots away form a majestic one and a two-put away from saving triple-bogey.

Fortunately, there is hope.

If there is another industry out there that caters to mediocrity more I have yet to discover it. With so much research and technology devoted to fixing one’s game, getting fitted for a Green Jacket at Augusta has become an increasingly competitive (albeit remote) endeavor.

In my quest to improve my game there is no shortage of help. There are contraptions that keep your swing on plane, gadgets that tell you the distance to the pin and gizmos that keep the club face square. There are clubs that are sexier than a swimsuit model yet with more forgiveness than the pope. There are promises of more loft, less side-spin, larger sweet-spots, smaller scores, more greens, less roughs.

If it promised to shave strokes off my game, it found its way into my home.

Like the call from a roadside charlatan, I was seduced. I would be making out with a gilded trophy in no time flat.

It was my wife that restored order.

I was in my garage one lazy Sunday afternoon, tinkering with my latest slice remediation device when she walked in. She made a quick survey of my golf equipment, hands on hips, head shaking.

Storm clouds began to swirl. I braced myself.

“Instead of spending more money on another gadget, why don’t you spend that money on an extra bucket at the range?” With that she spun around and left, leaving me to soak in my moment of catharsis. It was a genuine pearl of wisdom; even more impressive was the fact that it came from a woman that requires a different hand bag with every outfit.

Suddenly my quest for a Green Jacket took an unexpected turn. Gone was the prevailing notion that technologies alone will salvage my game. Cutting-edge equipment and fancy widgets have a rightful place in the development of a golfer. Legitimate tools do exist out there that will help save strokes. But there is no substitute for getting out there, practicing fundamentals and playing eighteen holes in order to improve.

I love golf, yes, but I love the process of getting better at it even more. I enjoy using the power of reflection to understand where you are in your abilities and knowing what you can and can’t do on the course.

Advancements to my game now come from hard work, trial and error and heavy consumption of my pride.

There is no magic elixir, just the willingness to learn and the determination to see it through.

See you on the links!

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Filed under Golf, Sports