Friday, April 24, 2009

The French Surrender Case Against Armstrong

Good news! The French anti-doping authorities have decided to not seek sanctions against Lance Armstrong.

If you don't know the story, last month Armstrong took surprise urine, blood and hair tests and the French were really, really sure they would catch him cheating this time. So when he passed all three tests, they got mad and said he faked the tests which had been done in front of a testing agent of their choosing.

While his people checked the tester's credentials, Armstrong hopped in the shower (he had just finished practice). The French were apparently going to claim that while in the shower before his test, he used shampoo to clean his urine, blood and hair of all the steroids, testosterone, HGH, THC, TLC, ASAP, NCAA, NAACP, LOL, USSR, WWJD and horse tranquilizers that he is taking. That's good shampoo!

They decided against the sanctions and apparently set Wile E. Coyote at work hatching his next scheme on how to catch Armstrong before he* wins their precious bike race again.

*or any of 3-4 other Americans reasonably likely to win.

Fun fact: Since Bernard Hinault screwed Greg LaMond in 1985 and then LaMond became the first American to win the Tour in 1986, Americans have won the Tour 10 times (not counting Floyd Landis). The French have not won since then.

I Hate Mock Drafts, Have I Mentioned That?

In February I wrote about what a load of crap the NFL Mock Drafts are because the experts' predictions at that point were no different than any other well-informed fan's predictions would have been. Then over the next 2+ months, their picks sway in the prevailing winds and by the time the draft comes, they wind up nailing most of the picks...just like any of the rest of us would have. So they come off as "experts" for their predictions even though the first 5-6 iterations of predictions were dead wrong.

A lot changed since February: trades, injuries, drug issues (I guess they are ready for the NFL), Andre Smith got really fat, etc. Honestly, we have 2-5 years of game tape on these athletes, so how much difference should a 40-time in March make in determining their ability? If Kiper and McShay and the others were so smart and really could identify talent, wouldn't they have been able to take all these variables into account? Instead, they seem to just make their picks, then watch Sportscenter to see what has happened and then make new picks every other week. That isn't predicting. That isn't identifying talent. That is reporting on what has already been clearly important skill, but not worthy of the pedestal that that bird-faced Kiper is on.

So being that the draft is this weekend, for argument's sake I will repost their picks from February 5 along with their correct picks. The prognosticators in question are ESPN's Mel Kiper, Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay, Yahoo! Sports' National Football Post and's Chris Steuber. However, apparently realized that Stueber is a moron (see #1 pick), so they put another guy (Adam Kaplan) on it as well. Kiper's latest Mock Draft on ESPN required an Insider Subscription which I don't have because I don't really care, so I will use the latest one that is available to the rest of us peons. It is from April 11 and the headline for the newer Insider article is that Tyson Jackson is now #3, so what a good player he's become in the last two weeks while playing video games, buying new cars and having a giant, diamond "TJ" necklace made. Picks from February are shown first and their most recent available mock draft picks are second.

1. (Kiper) Matt Stafford, Matt Stafford
(McShay) Matt Stafford, Matt Stafford
(Yahoo!) Andre Smith, Matt Stafford
(Scout) Mark Sanchez, Mark Sanchez/Matt Stafford

2. (Kiper) Andre Smith, Jason Smith
(McShay) Jason Smith, Jason Smith
(Yahoo!) Eugene Monroe, Aaron Curry
(Scout) Michael Oher, Eugene Monroe/Jason Smith

3. (Kiper) Mark Sanchez, Aaron Curry
(McShay) Aaron Curry, Aaron Curry
(Yahoo!) Matt Stafford, Aaron Curry
(Scout) Aaron Curry, Matt Stafford/Aaron Curry

4. (Kiper) Michael Crabtree, Eugene Monroe
(McShay) B.J. Raji , Mark Sanchez
(Yahoo!) Michael Crabtree, Mark Sanchez
(Scout) Michael Crabtree, Jason Smith/Eugene Monroe

5. (Kiper) Aaron Curry, Michael Crabtree
(McShay) Everette Brown, B.J. Raji
(Yahoo!) Malcolm Jenkins, Michael Crabtree
(Scout) Malcolm Jenkins, Aaron Curry/Tyson Jackson

6. (Kiper) Jason Smith, Andre Smith
(McShay) Andre Smith, Eugene Monroe
(Yahoo!) Michael Oher, Eugene Monroe
(Scout) Everette Brown, Brian Orakpo/Andre Smith

7. (Kiper) Jeremy Maclin, Jeremy Maclin
(McShay) Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin
(Yahoo!) Jeremy Maclin, Jeremy Maclin
(Scout) Andre Smith, Michael Crabtree/Jeremy Maclin

8. (Kiper) Eugene Monroe, Brian Orakpo
(McShay) Eugene Monroe, Michael Crabtree
(Yahoo!) B.J. Raji, B.J. Raji
(Scout) Eugene Monroe, B.J. Raji/Darrius Heyward-Bey

9. (Kiper) Malcolm Jenkins, B.J. Raji
(McShay) Malcolm Jenkins, Andre Smith
(Yahoo!) Brian Orakpo, Brian Orakpo
(Scout) Brian Orakpo, Everette Brown/Brian Orakpo

10. (Kiper) Aaron Maybin, Aaron Maybin
(McShay) Jeremy Maclin, Michael Oher
(Yahoo!) Mark Sanchez, Aaron Maybin
(Scout) Matt Stafford, Michael Oher/Mark Sanchez

What do we learn so far?'s Stueber went to USC. Other than that, we know that Stafford will go first, Curry third and Maclin seventh. Other than that, we only know that this whole thing is a total crap-shoot, run by people who are clearly not good at their jobs. Kiper, McShay and Yahoo! changed seven of their picks after watching the Combine and individual workouts and Stueber was really just putting Sanchez first and then picking the rest out of hat all along anyway.

Granted, these are only their top 10's but the percentages are about the same for the rest of the mock drafts: these guys change a minimum of 70% of their picks as the spring rolls on, so why are their initial mock drafts even published? Don't they just reveal these people to be guessing?

Next week I will take a look at their correct predictions and see if even their final draft versions are worth paying attention to and also compare it to Kipers' and McShay's 2009 mock drafts that they filled out the day after the 2008 draft. That should be funny.

[This just in. McShay is apparently changing his picks by the minute leading up to the draft. Apparently B.J. Raji had the hiccups last week and McShay found out and re-ordered his board. 1-4 stayed the same, but 5-10 have all been changed since this morning. So 60% of what he said this morning was completely asinine, but now he has gotten it right. 5-10 are now Tyson Jackson, Andre Smith, Crabtree, Monroe, Raji, Orakpo.]

Monday, April 20, 2009

'That Just Happened!'

While it would be difficult to choose the funniest moment in Talladega Nights, nor the most nonsensical, the faceoff between Ricky Bobby and Jean Girard when Cal Naughton, Jr. teases the ambiguously gay Frenchman with "shake and bake" is right up there in both categories. How often would, "That just happened," have been the perfect exclamation after something shocking, surprising or amazing happened?

Like when two Washington Nationals players took the field wearing jerseys that read, "Natinals"...and no, I did not misspell that, they did. That just happened. And then a million, "They're no better at spelling than they are at baseball"-jokes were posted on websites and in newspapers all around the country.

Former pariah and current only-Nationals-player-worth-keeping Elijah Dukes was benched and fined for showing up five minutes late to the clubhouse, hours before a game, because he was signing autgraphs for children at a non-team sponsored little league event.

The Florida Marlins swept a series last weekend (against the Nationals, of course), in which they trailed in the 9th inning or later in all three games.

Not only was Yankee Stadium the most expensive public works project in human history (this may not be 100% accurate), it is also really un-exceptional looking and if you showed me both the previous Yankee Stadium and the new one, I don't think I could tell which was the new one. Money well spent. But at least the stadium has the potential to turn the franchise into a joke considering that balls fly into the stands like free agent pitchers flying away from the Bronx. I hope the Yanks enjoy the $240 million they spent on free agent pitchers this offseason, because they could be the last two big name pitchers that ever sign with the Yankees unless they find a way to keep balls in this yard (see Coors Field).

Alexander Ovechkin was sitting on the bench at the Rangers practice Monday and was thrown out (this is obviously against NHL rules considering his Capitals are playing the Rangers in the playoffs right now). Ovechkin was asked why he was thrown out of the practice, and he said with a smile, "Because they are afraid of me."

The NBA had four playoff games on the schedule on Sunday. Because they are really smart, they had the only one in the Pacific time zone go first, the next two were in the Central time zone, then the last one was back in the Mountain time zone. So rather than ensuring that audiences across the country could watch, they wound up having the New Orleans Hornets play a game that started locally in New Orleans at 9:30 P.M. on Sunday.

The Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks played into overtime in their series opener last week. As they were sending the telecast back out to the rink, the in-studio anchor on Vs. said to keep an eye on the Blackhawks' Marty Havlat in the overtime. 12 seconds in, Havlat scored.

ESPN has been airing college football practices on weekends. But that's not the "That Just Happened"-moment here. No, right after the practices, they are showing kids play video games. The only time it is ok for a television station to show me a person playing a video game, it is in the opening scene of The Princess Bride, or in Big, War Games, or Cloak and Dagger.

Boston's Josh Beckett threw at a player's head and then started two bench-clearing baseball "brawls." He was suspended six games and appealed. It was lowered to five games and because he is a pitcher and doesn't play every game anyway, he will not miss a single scheduled start.

Apparently college softball players have taken up the women's volleyball tradition of team hugs after every God-forsaken point, and are now meeting at the pitcher's mound for awkward team-high fives after each out. I assume this does not happen when runners are on base, but I couldn't watch the game long enough to find out.

The Florida Panthers' play-by-play announcer has figured out a way to create YouTube-worthy game-calls and catch phrases without becoming Chris Berman, who should die a painful death as pennace for his crimes against the sports world over the past 20 years. I hereby petition President Obama to hold off on banning water-boarding for just a bit longer. But I digress. How do you become an internet hit as a small-time minor league, small market sports announcer? [Update: apparently the Florida Panthers are a real NHL team, my bad] Enjoy this link and when you get tired of it, skip to 2:51. Then you can stop (or click the link for Part 2 in the related videos section on the right).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Dodgers" Now Short For "Bullet Dodgers"

I read an article last week on Major League Baseball's website about how various teams are doing what they can to keep ball games affordable for families, even in these economic times. Since it is basically impossible for people to take their families to NBA, NFL or even NHL games nowadays, and no child should have to be forced into going to an MLS or WNBA game, baseball is your best option for professional sports.

Most teams are doing a decent job of it, with something like 25 teams offering tickets for around $10. Granted, the seats aren't very good, but at least you can get in the gates. The Dodgers are one of the teams that offers seats for as low as $9, which is great except that you have to go to Dodger Stadium to watch the game, which means you will end up paying a lot more than $9 per ticket.

Like most stadiums, the food there is grossly overpriced and generally pretty unspectacular. Your $9 seats gets pretty expensive when you have buy a $5 hot dog, an $8 beer and pay $15 to park 1/2 mile away. The laundry or dry cleaning from when someone throws their food or drinks at you in the stands will run another dollar or two, but that is pretty standard at any stadium. What makes Dodger Stadium stand out is what you have to pay for personal security when you go there.

A bulletproof vest will run you close to $1000 per person. A body guard for the day will cost anywhere from $150-$1000 for the day, plus the cost of his ticket. You may also want to hire someone to watch your car, or pay to fix the vandalism that may occur. We'll call that anywhere from $40-$500 dollars, depending on which route you take, and what your deductable is. After you get stabbed in the parking lot, you will probably get some money back from your bodyguard, but you will wind up paying it back out to the hospital that saves you.

So you're looking at about a $3000 day for a typical game at Dodger Stadium. And if you think I am exaggerating about how bad it is there, consider that on opening night there on Monday, a man was stabbed outside the stadium after a bunch of guys jumped out of the pickup truck and stabbed him multiple times. There were reports of someone in the parking lot with a gun. There was at least one car vandalized. A car accident just outside the stadium apparently sparked a huge fight in the street with as many as 30 people involved. There were mulitple ejections for fighting and unruly behavior in the stands.

The good news is that the Dodgers have beefed up security over the last few years since the Raiders crowd has descended upon Dodger Stadium. They have put in a security tip-line for fans to call if someone around them is acting badly (see photo). The bad news is that they are apparently completely inept and did not catch anyone in the stabbing, the alleged gun case, nor the parking lot vandalism.

So, my fellow Southern Californians, if you want to take your kids to a ballgame, enjoy! Just make sure you do it in Anaheim or San Diego.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New Shea Welcomes Baseball, Mets' Outfielders' Gloves Do Not Welcome Baseballs

Monday was opening day at New Shea as the Mets hosted the Padres. Yes, this was the third time that the new stadium hosted a "first ever" baseball game, but as they said in Oceans 13, those first two were "soft openings." While watching the telecast on ESPN and keeping track of where I need to visit and what pictures I want to take when I go to the ballpark next month, I took notes on some of my thoughts on the game. So consider this a non-live live blog on the game.

There is no way in hell I am going to remember that Jody Gerut was the first player to get a hit and first to homer in a regular season game at New Shea. I guess that makes the trivia question more valuable down the line. Remembering that David Wright had the Mets' first hit will be easy. For the record, Luis Castillo had the Mets' first RBI.

I could have sworn that the Rays lost the World Series, but at their home opener Monday against the Yankees, they raised an AL East Champs banner, an AL Champs banner, and handed out rings. Rings? For losing? What is this, little league and everyone gets a trophy?

Orel Hershiser picked the Rays to beat the Mets to win the World Series this year. I knew I liked Orel. The L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke and Sports Illustrated picked the Mets to win it all. I like them too.

If Mets' G.M. Omar Minaya really only goes after Latin players, how come the Mets start four white dudes? I would venture that that is the most white starting players of any team in baseball. Daniel Murphy, David Wright, Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. And two of the five starting pitchers are white (John Maine and Mike Pelphrey). And three of their most significant off-season additions (J.J. Putz, Sean Green and Jeremy Reed). Crazy, Obama has been president for two months and I am already arguing someone is not racist because he employs a fair number of white people. Anyway, can we finally put the Minaya-only-signs-Latino-players argument to bed?

ESPN got the cameras set correctly for this game. When they aired a preseason game from here last week, they cameras weren't quite right. The outfield looked like Yosemite and the standard pitch-view camera was way too far zoomed out. I couldn't figure out of the ballpark was just bigger than everywhere else by 300-400 feet or if they just hadn't fine-tuned the production. Fortunately it was the former, though the Mets hit 3-4 balls to center field that looked gone by a mile that wound up being lazy fly balls to the front of the track. This park is good for baseball, good for pitchers, good for speedy slap hitters, but not good for casual fans who like homers.

Murphy officially got the first Bronx cheer in the new stadium. After dropping a can of corn Sunday that cost the Mets the game, he had another Monday that he put away easily. As the ball went up and the fans realized it was going to Murphy, you could hear them start to buzz louder and louder until he caught it and got a sarcastic standing ovation from some fans. Murphy had a big grin on his face as he tossed the ball back in. I like this guy. He hits, he learns his lessons (two hands this time) and he can laugh at himself.

I think I figured out why I am scared of Mel Kiper (besides that he looks like an angry bird). He has utterly no sense of humor despite that looking at him, you would have to assume he presents himself the way he does as a joke. He is terrifying. They now have this commercial for ESPN's NFL draft coverage where Mel and His Hair stand there looking dead-serious as they go over an imaginary draft board in front of them. It is like in Minority Report when Tom Cruise is moving around little video clips and files on a giant virtual computer screen/wall. Only Kiper is doing it with potential draftees' names and teams. But you get no sense he knows this is insane. You know he was standing on an empty sound stage and pretending to be doing things and they added in the graphics later, but he is so serious and intent. Does he really see those draft names when he is walking around in the real world? Is that commercial a visual representation of Mel Kiper's universe. I don't know the answers to any of these questions, but that man scares the hell out of me.

At the end of the 2008 season, on a Mets game broadcast, Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez were talking about what it would be like to have Shea be gone. One question Hernandez asked was what would happen to all the cats that live in the stadium (like the famous black cat that cursed the 1969 Cubs during a game when it ran out onto the field, stopped in front of the Cubs dugout and stared them down). I remember Cohen saying not to worry about the cats and that they'd be fine. For those fans who were worried, fear not. They survived. One of them ran out onto the field and then disappear back into the stadium's bowels in the middle of the game. He was like a little blond cat-messenger. "It may be newer and shinier, but we still own this place."

I don't know what I expected from the Mets fans when Gary Sheffield would be introduced for the first time there. I did not expect a collective yawn. The cheer that went up from the 41,007 on hand when Shef pinch hit for Mike Pelfrey might as well have been for Alex Cora.

Trivia: first Mets' homer: David Wright. It is strange as a Mets fan to think that in a four inning bullpen-vs.-bullpen game, we've got 'em. In any of the last few years, I would have been thinking, "oh man, we need to score 4-5 more times to win this one."

Trivia: first player to also be an umpire and single-handedly win a game for a team, ruin the Opener of a new stadium, and ruin my life: David Eskstein. With a runner on third after Ryan Church pulled a Murphy and dropped a fly-ball for a three-base error, David Eckstein called a balk on Pedro Felciano, the home plate umpire deferred to Eckstein authority and confirmed the call. (Eventual game-winning) run scores. Does this ump ask for help on balls and strikes too? This is the circumstance I have ever seen a call be made under ("well, he's a veteran and he says he saw it, so I will call it") and one of the worst calls I have ever seen. I played this alleged balk over at least 10 times, even in slo-mo and there was no balk. Feliciano crouched over on the mound, came set, lifted his head maybe an inch or two, and Eckstein called the balk for faking a movement towards the plate and stopping. I know I am biased as hell here, but this call is absolute garbage and that ump should be ashamed at the way he called it because a player told him to. Feliciano's hips, shoulders, hands, arms, legs, nor feet moved. Just his head tilted up. I hope the league reviews it and the ump gets a fine or suspension given that it wound up deciding a game. If the Mets lose the division by one game, I am gonna lose it. Bruce Dreckman, we are no longer friends.

The Padres do not have a single left-handed pitcher. That has to cost them down the line once all the teams get a scouting report on all these no-name new guys they have in their pen. But for the time being, these guys are getting it done. I didn't understand why the Mets tossed Duaner Sanchez last month and watching him Monday made me still not see why. He's like mini-Frankie, goggles and everything.

Brian Schneiders' intro-music is by Creed. Ouch. Consider yourself knocked down a few pegs, Mr. Schneider. I can only hope he didn't choose this and someone way out of touch just threw it in there because they wanted "white-guy music" for him.

Heath Bell came out Monday and ripped ESPN for their East Coast bias, particularly their Mets-Red Sox-Yankees bias. I completely agree with him on that. They just made this big deal out of having a West Coast Sportscenter beginning at 10 P.M. Pacific time and besides the anchors being different, if you watched both shows, you'd never know the difference. The set is identical, the content is identical. How is this the West Coast Sportscenter? However, Bell also said that the Mets trading him away is one of his primary motivations. I am all for using something like that to fire you up, but the guy was traded three years ago. Move on.

Well there was no late-inning magic at the new park and the Mets now officially lost their Shea opener, Shea closer, and New Shea opener. And now I have to wait for two days before they play again to wash this mess out of my mind.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Baseball Is Here, College Hoops Is Gone, And Other News

It is a big week in sports and I have been pretty lax in writing anything, so here's what I would have written about if I had not been busy watching baseball all the time.

This just in: Lance Armstrong passed a doping-test on his hair, urine and blood but the French think he cheated. You'd think that by now they'd be used to losing and would take it better than this. Though Armstrong won on French soil seven times and there are only 30-40 countries that can say the same thing.

Also hot off the presses: According to the New York Daily News, 23-year-old Olympic legend Michael Phelps was spotted drinking alcohol and dancing with his girlfriend at a bar in New York City. So that's "news" now-a-days.

Of the 20 starters on the Final Four teams in the NCAA Tournament, there was one freshman, one sophomore, eight juniors and 10 seniors. Is it a coincidence that the last four teams standing were some of the most experienced? That's why having seniors, particularly a senior point guard, is on my Rules to Picking the Tourney (that I have not actually made yet).

I did not pick North Carolina because Roy Williams lied to me through my television about Ty Lawson's toe, but in retrospect, has there ever been a more obvious pick to win it all? They're like an all-star team with a USC-football-like draft class. That said, Carolina has 17 guys on their roster. 8-9 played regularly and all of them will be gone next year. By my count, they will lose 12 guys to graduation or the draft. Williams had better be the recruiter everyone says he is or Kansas' mediocre post-championship run this year after losing their stars will look like a dream come true in Carolina.

During a broadcast of the Mets first ever game at Citi Field (preseason against Boston last Saturday), the announcers kept calling the park "Shea." So at one point Gary Cohen said that they should pledge $10 for every time they inadvertently call it "Shea." Then at the end of the year they will donate it all to charity, and Keith Hernandez broke in after Cohen suggested this and said, "no, let's all go out to dinner!" Now having typed that, it isn't very funny and makes Hernandez seem like a bum, but it was funny as hell at the time. In related news, I am calling the park "New Shea" and there is not a damned thing anyone can do about it.

New Shea does not look like home to me. It was hard to watch the game and know this was in the Mets' stadium, even though everything looked like all the other new stadiums. I miss the barred-off boxes in the lower bowl when foul balls go into the stands. The place is spectacular, but it isn't home. This is gonna take a while.

Pete Carroll, who is apparently incapable of referring to himself in the singular, has recently come out wildly supporting his former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. Carroll now says Sanchez is a great QB, a great guy, he'll make a great pro, and he gives him his highest recommendation. This is what a coach should do for one of his kids, but the problem is that when Sanchez announced he was leaving USC, Carroll acted like a 5-year-old (which is on par with his typical behavior). So how does Carroll explain the change from, "he's not ready and we think it is a mistake that he's leaving, so now we am going to storm off stage and make him face the media alone," to "Mark's number 1! Mark's number 1!"? Carroll actually said, "We were testing his resolve." Screw you Pete Carroll, and as much as I love my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, screw all things-USC because of you (and by "you," I mean the singular "you," not the plural. As in "You are an ass", not "You are asses").

Plaxico Burress is mercifully gone from the Giants. He'll soon be a Bengal since they only sign felons (enter Tank Johnson). And in case you missed it, Burress actually shot himself in the leg when he went to a nightclub with a handgun tucked into his sweatpants' waistband. The gun slipped down his pants, Burress reached for it, and hit the trigger. Why sweats at a club? Why a gun in a bar? Why a gun at all? How sweatpants were expected to keep the gun up? Why was there no safety on? Why did he not have a permit? How this incident is protected by the Constitution? Your answers are as good as mine. Good riddance.

Gary Sheffield is a Met. Apparently there was not a high enough asshole quotient on the team. If that's the case, success! I do keep hearing that Sheff is actually a good guy and his teammates always like him but he is just bad at breakups (he's left all seven of his teams in ugly ways, including, of course, calling Joe Torre a racist after leaving the Yanks). My only experience with him was when he was a Dodger, he used to put his batting gloves in his back pocket in such a way that the middle finger stuck up. An accident? 9 straight innings, his batted glove flipped off his own home crowd at a game I went to and sat in the bleachers for. And yes, he did use that glove when he batted and then replaced it purposefully. And I noticed it at multiple games. Strange sense of humor or huge a-hole? You make the call. I haven't decided if I will boo him when I see the Mets play this year. Probably will. (Update: Sheffield struck out, taking five straight fastballs in his first at bat as a Met, to lead off the ninth with the top of the lineup coming up behind him, trailing by more vote in the "boo him" column.)

Hal Steinbrenner said last week that he thought the Yankees' tickets may be a little overpriced. Guess what, you're the boss. Lower them. I think he is exaggerating though. $2625 for a single ticket to a single game that includes food but not alcohol doesn't seem high to me. So what that your average ticket price nearly doubled this year ($41.40 to $72.97). So what that your average price is $22 higher than the next highest team, twice what the Mets charge across town, and triple the league average ($26.24). So what that the standardized "Fan Cost Index" says that a night at the ballpark for a family of four at Yankee stadium is $410.88. So what that a Pabst Blue Ribbon costs $9 and foreign beers cost the GNP of the countries they come from. As Steinbrenner said, it is the Yankees and people expect to pay a little more for the best (or third best, based on last year's AL East Standings). And they can always get the cheap seats for $5...and only have a partial view because they are set behind a restaurant that blocks nearly 1/3 of the field.

Baseball is back of course and the Mets cannot be stopped. (Update: apparently they can be.) Frankie Rodriguez has two saves and Aaron Heilman and Scott Shoenweis are far, far away. Does being 2-0 matter with 160 games remaining? No. Am I getting ready to buy my Mets-Dodgers first round playoff tickets? Yes.

It is Masters Week, so you can't go 5 minutes without hearing about Tiger Woods. And while I do think he is a brat and I don't really like him, I am glad I am around right now to watch him. That dude was told his ACL was torn and his leg was broken and he obviously couldn't play the U.S. Open. So he replied that he was going to win the U.S. Open and then take 8 months off to get back in time for the Masters. And he did. Best competitor ever? I'd take him or Lance in a heartbeat on that one. Also, check out this video of Vijay Singh skipping a shot across a pond at the Masters Par 3 competition on Wednesday...and getting a hole-in-one.

Update: Courtney Paris said that if Oklahoma did not win the national championship in women's hoops, she'd return her scholarship worth $64,000. Apparently in the month since then, she hit the all-you-can-eat cafeteria pretty hard to make sure she'd get her money's worth and wound up getting run into the ground in her Final Four game. The only question now is if she, statistically one of the best players in women's college history, or Tyler Hansbrough, statistically one of the best players in men's college history, will have a shorter pro career.

Finally, Mythbusters had perhaps their best episode of all time last night: "Demolition Derby Special." During the course of the show, they wrecked a bus, two semis, a trailer, a pickup truck, and 10 cars, including dropping one from a helicopter at 3000 feet, dropping three from the highest crane in California, and crashing a rocket-powered sled into one at the speed of sound. Is the science in this show questionable much of the time? Yes. Do I care? Absolutely not.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Michigan St. Spartans Set To End Recession, Cure Cancer

I am not sure if everyone has heard about this or not, but apparently there is some sort of economic problem hitting Michigan, specifically the city of Detroit. It is all I have heard over the past week or so on ESPN and sports talk radio. Apparently the economy there is in the dumps and Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the Union, but the Michigan State Spartan men's basketball team is carrying the hopes of the entire state on their shoulders. I sure hope this economic mess doesn't spread to the rest of the country, or even the world!

The fact that thousands of other colleges and universities around the country are not fighting for a national championship should be of no concern to their fans, because only the fans in Detroit have actually been negatively affected by this apparent state-wide recession.

And on a less serious note, we should all be rooting for Michigan State because the city of Detroit had to suffer through that historical 0-16 Lions team this last year. Sure, in the last 15 years Michigan State's basketball team has a title, the Red Wings have four Stanley Cups (including last year), the Pistons have an NBA title, and sure that is more major sports titles than 90% of other towns during that span, but the Lions are bad and these are good, hard-working, flag-waving-Americans and they deserve more.

Sure since the turn of the millennium Detroit has hosted a Major League Baseball All-Star game, a Super Bowl, a Ryder Cup, four NBA and NHL Finals series, and now an NCAA Final Four. But we should all get behind these Spartans because this is a cursed sports town that never gets to see anything great happen. Plus, North Carolina only has the fourth worst unemployment rate in the country, so those people are spoiled economically as well as in terms of sports (the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup a few years back and the Panthers have a really good wide receiver). And on top of it all, now Gary Sheffield is gone. Is there no bottom to this hole?

Fox radio hosts Isaac Lowenkron and Pooh Richardson made a good point during the MSU-UConn game on Saturday. As Pooh said, this Michigan State team is just like the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team, and their win over Connecticut was just like the Miracle on Ice over the Russians. Lowenkron agreed, saying that all of us Americans across the country should feel a little better about our own situations because that pesky 2-seed went into their home gym and knocked off a 1-seed! I know I feel better about getting laid off last year and having a part-time job now! Thanks AP-ranked #8 school, for showing me that anything is possible...even you beating the #5 ranked school! Oh Miracle of all Miracles!


In reality, I am rooting for Michigan State tonight because I am annoyed that Tyler Hansbrough apparently cannot close his mouth and I am a Duke fan anyway. Plus Tom Izzo seems like a good guy and I'd like to see him win it all again. And Roy Williams already seems like kindof a smug little guy anyway; he doesn't need another title to add to it. And let's face it, neither of them is helping or hurting my bracket at this point. But can we all give it a rest about how hard the city of Detroit has had it and how this win will make it all better? 1 in 5 people in that city is unemployed and no new industries are popping up to help much is this game going to help or hurt? And as I mentioned, it is not as though it is these poor kids in unmatched uniforms vs. a 1998 Silicon Valley little league All-Star team, flying in on a team jet with their trainers, P.R. staffs, and entourages in tow. North Carolina has been hit extraordinarily hard by this recession as those people not deserve a little joy?

Put the game in its proper perspective and enjoy it that way. Despite all the money, and all the lights, and all the cameras, and all the scouts, and all the agents, and all the boosters, and all the talk, it is still just 20 kids playing for a trophy for their schools.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Soccer: 60 Fantastic Seconds, 89 Boring Minutes, 1 Billion Annoying Fans

There are a lot of things about soccer that are annoying. I can get over the lack of scoring, after all, I am a baseball and hockey fan and the scoring is similar. That isn't the problem. Nor is it that I don't understand the finer points of the game. I understand it quite well, but that does lead to problem #1 for me and soccer: that because I am not obsessed with it, I therefore am too brutish and ignorant to understand it. Basically, it is soccer pundits (so to speak) that make me want to hate the game.

There is such a thing as a boring soccer game. There is such a thing as an exciting one. And when soccer people finally come to grips with the fact that 90% of their games are boring, but the other 10% is generally spectacular, the world will be a better place.

USA Soccer released a video to the web that highlights the Team USA shutout of Trinidad & Tobago from Thursday. It is over seven minutes long. There were three goals scored. Here is a link to the video, but you don't need to watch it. Here's the rundown of "highlight" plays: Game starts, we run down and lose the ball. We miss a shot. We score (+two replays). We miss. We miss (+replay). They miss. Their goalie catches a ball kicked from midfield with only one player within 20 yards (+replay). We get an easy save, play extends to when one of our guys gets fouled at midfield. We miss a wide open goal (+replay). We hit a great header that slams into their goalie's chest, lucky save (+replay). We miss (+replay). They have a shot saved and a rebound saved. We score (great play +two replays). We score (slop goal, probably illegal because we looked offsides, then lazy defense +four replays). The End.

So the highlight reel featured three goals, four shots saved and six shots missed. For seven minutes! This should have been one minute long, but soccer people think that the three possession changes, six bad passes, three completed passes and 600 yards of running preceding a goal is crucial to understanding that a dude passed it with his head and then another dude kicked it in because the goalie was out of position.

But at least it didn't show any of the other most annoying thing about soccer: constant diving, constant whining and obnoxious, showy and generally awkward celebrations (like the choo-choo train above). If you think the NFL is too hard on celebrations, watch soccer and realize that the NFL is only doing it for our own good. If you think Vlade Divac or Sasha Vujacic are annoying in basketball, just realize that they grew up in soccer-countries and have turned down the histrionics as basketball players.

But the good news is that Team USA rolled and Jozy Altidore (the latest young American who is supposedly good enough to play for another country) had a hat trick. And I think we qualified for the World Cup, so we all get to hear how this is the greatest sporting event in the world and we should care because everyone else in the world does. But really, do I want to pattern myself after the interests of European people? Do I want to wear nothing but tight, horizontally striped shirts, capri pants and something tied around my neck? Do I want a faux-hawk? Do I want to wear funny little athletic-ish shoes. I think not, my friends. I think not.