I’ll admit to being an intermittent Yankee fan through the years. It’s what happens when your own hometown doesn’t have a baseball team for over three decades. But now that we have this very cool ball club called the Washington Nationals, it was outrageously wonderful to learn yesterday that we had stolen last year’s closer for the Bronx Bombers.
That’s right, Rafael Soriano, the guy who stepped up for the great and injured Mariano Rivera last season is now going to be wearing a curly W on his hat. Analysts have been writing that the Nationals sent a statement by agreeing to pay so much money for the best free agent relief pitcher on the market. The statement being, basically, “Screw All of You.”
See, the traditional baseball world made up of general managers, managers, owners and ornery old scouts who still spit tobacco products- doesn’t like the Washington ball club very much. They think we were crazy to sit Stephen Strasburg just to protect the young kid’s arm a year after Tommy John surgery. They see arrogance in Washington GM, Mike Rizzo’s approach because shutting down your star pitcher implies you’re keeping him healthy for all the future division titles, playoffs and World Series wins you’re going to be piling up.
Many in the traditional baseball world are also just plain crazy jealous. In Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the Nats lucked into two of the most remarkable players to come down the pike in about 20 years. The baseball establishment liked the Nats better when they were a doormat; a sorry little team from a rich but fickle market that used to have to pay a King’s ransom for any marquis talent (see Jason Werth).
But after a 98-win season and the realization that 87-year-old Nationals owner Ted Lerner is, in fact, one of the richest men in the world and certainly the wealthiest owner in the sport, suddenly old DC doesn’t looks so bad as a destination for premier talent.
But the fun part about stealing a Yankee is that back in our old insecure days, that’s what we beleaguered Washington fans thought was surely going to be the fate for our diamonds in the rough. That sometime in 2016 or 2017, Bryce Harper was going to be wearing pin stripes instead of the curly W- that it would be just a matter of time before Stephen Strasburg would someday be the opening day pitcher for the Yankees.
And now we have the Yankee closer- a decision that no doubt was actually made shortly after a chilly October night at Nationals Park when young relief ace, Drew Storen, picked the worst possible moment in the world to collapse. Blowing a six run lead in the deciding game of a playoff series is something you remember. And vow to never repeat.
Drew will get his chances in 2013, but it will be the Yankee closer, the 33-year old veteran Rafael Soriano who will be shutting the door on most nights. Young Drew will learn. But right now, it’s time for the formerly forlorn Nationals to rule the baseball world. And to their detractors: here’s a little tobacco juice in your eye.
It started Thursday, actually, when the girlfriend took a trip to New York to visit family and friends. Suki, the dog, of course, needed her walks and attention so I took Friday off to take care of the friendly little canine over the weekend. So not only was this the perfect opportunity for a man-cave weekend- but a three-day man-cave weekend- with a Thursday night bonus.
Perhaps you looked up at the night sky recently when a rare alignment of Saturn, Venus and a crescent moon provided an unusual opportunity to revel in the mysteries of the universe and our home solar system. Well, that’s what my man-cave weekend was like. Instead of planets, there was the incredibly rare alignment of the start of the baseball season, the end of hockey’s regular season and the Masters golf tournament.
But not only were my favorite teams playing and available for viewing- they were also…winning. Opening day on Thursday at Wrigley field, featured a thrilling come-from-behind win by the Washington Nationals. Thursday night, the Washington Capitals completed their improbable return for the fifth straight year to the Stanley Cup playoffs with a tense win over Florida while the Buffalo Sabres were losing, clinching the Caps post-season appearance.
The Masters, of course, started on Thursday and so between those three events, Man-Cave weekend got off to a raucous start. Friday was all Masters, but then it all repeated Saturday as the Nationals notched another come-from-behind win over the Cubs in the afternoon and in the evening, the Caps stunned the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. After the hockey it was off to Saturday’s Masters highlights.
The Nationals finally lost a game on Sunday, but, really, who cares—it was Sunday at The Masters. Some people celebrate Easter Sunday by making an appearance at church, hiding Easter eggs for small children or generally contemplating and celebrating the changing of the seasons and the irrevocable end to Winter darkness.
I, however, was reveling in the Church of Golf at the Cathedral of St. Augusta watching mortal men battle the twin challenges of one of the most beautiful and diabolical golf courses ever designed and their own frayed nerves.
I watched in hushed amazement as South African Louis Oosthuizen holed a double eagle at Augusta’s 575 yard par-5 second hole. I’ve never seen anything like it before and never will again in my lifetime. The guy hits the green on his second shot and the ball literally takes a sharp, right turn and travels 60 feet at the perfect angle and velocity to just drop gingerly into the cup in one, final, slow, glorious rotation.
Do you know how ridiculous that was? That one golfer, with one shot, picks up three strokes at the final round of the Masters on Sunday? There have only been 4 double-eagles in Masters history- and I believe this was the only one of them that was ever televised.
The playoff ending that ultimately crowned Bubba Watson Masters champion was wonderful too. Even though I don’t particularly follow them, I capped off my magical weekend watching the Texas Rangers on ESPN Sunday night baseball- for no particular reason except I could.
I think it was Saturday night (not sure- the whole weekend was one large blur) I talked to Millie in New York. I believe she asked me if I missed her and, of course, I said, I missed her tremendously. She knew better. “You’re having the friggin’ time of your life, aren’t you? Nationals, Caps, golf. You can watch whatever you want, eat whatever you want- no interruptions. You have walked the dog haven’t you?”
I had. Honest. Only takes 15 or 20 minutes. In fact, if it weren’t for Suki’s two daily walks, I seriously doubt I would have seen the light of day. I hear the weather was great this weekend. Except for a few short ventures to the great outdoors- I would not have known because- as he intended- when God created light- he purposely made sure hardly any of it would seep into the man-cave.
Tim McCarver, the one time Cardinal catcher and now color commentator for Fox Sports said it best moments after one of the most improbable and dramatic games in the history of the World Series: How did that happen?
Down to their last strike in the bottom of the 9th and 10th innings and each time depending on a pair of 2-RBI desperation hits before the game-ending, walk-off homer in the 11th by a guy who nearly cost them the game by dropping a pop up earlier in the contest, the St. Louis Cardinals are not just the comeback kids. They are Lazarus, Jason and Dracula rolled into one- anything that’s ever come back from the dead.
The last day of the regular season, the single most dramatic evening to ever close out a baseball season and memorialized here, seems now like just the appetizer for the main meal that was served last night in the Cardinal’s 10-9 win over the Texas Rangers. It was on that last day of the season that St. Louis completed its comeback from 10 and a half games back on August 25th to take their place in the playoffs.
Baseball is often humbling. But it is also a vehicle for redemption. When Cardinal 3rd baseman, David Freese, dropped that easy pop up in the 5th inning and the Rangers capitalized and took the lead, he looked for all the world like the goat. And when he was down to two strikes with two out in the bottom of the 9th, he was looking like a cooked goat. Except he tripled. Two runs scored and the Cardinals had tied the game.
That they would do the same with Lance Berkman one inning later with two strikes and two outs is, of course, insane. And when Mr. Freese stepped up in the bottom of the 11th and hit his walk-off homerun to force a deciding game 7 Friday night, well, it was, as usual with this sport, stranger than fiction.
I would be very surprised if the Rangers recover from one the most devastating losses in the history of the Fall Classic. When Red Sox 1st baseman, Bill Buckner, had a ball go between his legs in game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets, everybody knew what would come in game 7. And like the Mets, I have a feeling these Cardinals are also a team of destiny.
Before the game, the Cardinals carted out every conceivable living hero in their storied history; Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Stan Musial. It took that, and probably the ghosts of every other Cardinal who ever played, plus 50,000 screaming, towel-waving fans, several dollops of fate and a pinch of outrageous fortune to pull this thing off.
Twice, they’d put up the plastic in the Rangers dressing room and put out the cold champagne and prepared for the presentation of the championship trophy. And twice they took down the plastic and carted the champagne away. Definitive proof that in the greatest sport ever devised, it is always the final out that’s the toughest.
It’s not even Wednesday yet and there’s a new I-phone I won’t be buying, another non-Presidential candidate no one will be voting for and a country music star making headlines whose political opinions no one cares about.
The New I-Phone
Maybe it’s because I recently spent $200 on an I-Phone 4 and Apple announced today it’s now going to be reduced to $99. Maybe it’s because the new I-Phone is 7 times faster at playing games and I use my phone mostly as a…phone. Or maybe because it was touted as the I-Phone 5 and it’s actually the I-Phone 4s.
But, no, I will not be shelling out $300 for this new “thing.” I cannot keep up with all the new “things.” Often, new “things” don’t work all that well. Somebody let me know when the I-Phone 10 comes out.
The Latest Version of “No”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had to call a news conference today because the media did not believe him the previous 107 times he said he would not be running for President. So everyone gathered in Trenton this afternoon to hear him say it again and the non-event is going to be leading newscasts all day today.
Note to political pundits desperate to spice up the increasingly bizarre Presidential race- when a politician says over and over and over and over again that he is “NOT READY” to be President, he knows that’s something that could be used in a campaign ad against him and he is definitely not interested in running for President.
Are You Ready for Some Football?
Actually, no. I had absolutely no interest in Monday Night Football this week because who cares about the 0-3 Indianapolis Colts when there are baseball playoffs that actually matter? So, I missed that ESPN dropped Hank Williams Jr.’s opening song because the country music star made a comment recently comparing President Obama to Adolph Hitler.
Now conservative bloggers are reportedly outraged that ESPN is outraged at Williams who seems to be quite outraged about Barack Obama still being in the White House.
Ok. Why do we care again what Hank Williams Jr. thinks about anything?
Let me make this clear. I expect country singers to sing, athletes to play sports, Hollywood actors to act and politicians to make things up. Don’t confuse me by mixing up your roles in our lives. I’m already confused about what I-Phone to buy and what non-candidate not to vote for.
Training camps across the NFL are in full gear and silliness abounds. Once again, Brett Favre is uncertain about whether he will retire or not. Over at Redskins Park, a rich, fat guy with a bad knee gets more ink than the entire team combined and I can’t get enough of it.
Back in July, Men’s Journal magazine published an excerpt of an article by Stephen Rodrick featuring the following quote from a fellow named Buss Cook. He is, uh, Brett Favre’s agent:
Brett talked to goddamned Ed Werder at ESPN, says he needs ankle surgery. Now why did he do that? I’ve got Childress calling. I’ve got reporters calling all damn morning. Goddammit, why does he have to be such a goddamned drama queen? Play, don’t play, goddamn, people are getting sick of it. I’m getting sick of it! Why does he have to talk to these people?
Several dozen news cycles later, this past Monday, reports surfaced that Favre had decided to hang it up. Wednesday afternoon, Favre talked to the same ESPN guy again, Ed Werder. Bus Cook, I’m sure, is thrilled.
Brett Favre told ESPN’s Ed Werder in Hattiesburg, Miss., on Wednesday that he has not made any decision about returning to play for the Minnesota Vikings this season and said he will play if healthy.
One is tempted to say “who cares,” and maybe feel a little sorry for a 40-year-old football player who twice before has announced retirement and each time returned for one more dip in the pool. I, however, prefer to view it as a ritual of summer. The same way you feel when the first stirrings of spring arrive in March that remind you that warmer temperatures and baseball are coming soon. Another Brett Favre drama-queen moment of indecision- Ah! Football is right around the corner!
I admit it. I eat up articles about Albert Haynesworth. He is the immensely large man who accepted a $21 million bonus and then thought a voluntary mini-camp was really voluntary and didn’t show up. He tried to get himself traded. Didn’t want to play nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. Whatever.
As a loyal Redkins fan, I have been captivated not by their prospects as a competitive team, but over the last few years, anyway, by the sordid dramas they generate in the wake of allegedly maturing Redskins owner, Daniel Snyder’s insane antics. Like signing this Haynesworth guy to the largest contract in football and then promising him he could play any position he wanted. Ok, that’s the Daniel Snyder of the past, but the legacy lives on.
Albert is being put through a public relations ringer at Redskins Park on these hot humid days. There’s a new sheriff in town. Redskins coach, Mike Shanahan, a man who once fined Denver Bronco’s players for not arriving early to meetings, is not allowing Haynesworth to practice until he passes some physical tests that include a 300 yard sprint in 25-yard intervals. He’s supposed to complete them in 70 seconds the first try, then after a little rest, run it again in 72 seconds. He missed by a second last week and hasn’t tried it again since because he’s developed a legitimately bum knee.
Numerous cameras have captured his sad, humiliated presence on the sideline watching his teammates work out. More than one of them have been quoted as saying he hasn’t been around in so long, they don’t much remember Albert Haynesworth anymore.
These kind of articles I want more of. A little less Favre and a little more Haynesworth would suit me just fine. Justice is a much more compelling storyline than indecision.
March Madness is upon us, people! It’s off to the races and the biggest annual time-suck since you last filled out your own tax forms. I don’t know how much productivity is lost in the American workplace and really, I don’t care. This is important stuff.
Every year, I come up with some new fangled, bizzaro formula for predicting the winners. I am, actually, a total spreadsheet nerd and I can spend hours on this stuff analyzing and sorting. I have had mixed success. I’m usually in the top 5 in my office pools.
I almost perished from a bitter, awful, horrendous and deeply sad disappointment in 2008. I had picked Memphis to win it all. Nobody ever thought friggin’ Memphis would win the National Championship. And there they were- beating Kansas by 9 points with 2 minutes to play. I had this. I could taste the $400 pot. Regrettably, the Memphis boys had a significant weakness. Free throws. Coming down the stretch, they couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. I had not factored in their horrific FT%. Aaaauuurgh. I know the Memphis players and the larger Memphis community were crushed. But so was I. Big-time.
Last year, I correctly picked North Carolina to win the title, but my other Final 4 were off so, again, close, but no cigar.
This year, I have discovered that there are many, many people out there on the World Wide Web, smarter and nerdier than I. They have applied their mathematics degrees to the greater societal good and have used logarithms, Pythagorean theorems and good old common sense to come up with their sets of predictions. And so I have researched them thoroughly and selected the analysis I thought was the most complete and I’m going with their rankings which were made before the tournament field was set.
I will not tell you what system I am using, ok? Find your own! I will tell you this:
The system is cool and I believe, accurate enough, that it honed in on a number of 1st round upsets that include five teams seeded 9th-12th. I do have three top-seeds getting to the Final 4…but also a #4-seed. It all has the ring of truth to it. If there are alternate realities out there, I KNOW this is one of them. I am just hoping the cosmic dice select this particular reality, because, I’m telling you people, I’m feeling it this year.
Here are the 1st round upsets:
#9 Northern Iowa over UNLV
#9 FSU over Gonzaga
#10 St.Mary’s over Richmond
#11 Old Dominion over Notre Dame
#12 Utah State over Texas A&M
My Final 4: Kansas, Duke, Syracuse & Wisconsin
National Champion: Duke. Very few teams entering the tournament as the #1 seed actually win it all. But if Duke pulls it off in 2010 it will be their 3rd time. They do it approximately every ten years. Check it out.
I like Vancouver. It’s a lovely place. I love Canadians. They are the nicest people ever. But I’m not sure they’re feeling like the Olympics are the best thing that’s happened to the city about now.
Having been in Atlanta for the 1996 summer games, I can attest to what a nightmare these things can become. I remember watching Jim Lampley at about 1:15 am, reporting that a bomb had just gone off at the Olympic Plaza next to the CNN Center and doing my duty as a journalist and head of CNNRadio at the time, getting in my car and driving literally 90 mph down the interstate and getting passed by cop cars rushing to the scene. I recall the eerie scene in downtown Atlanta that night as police helicopters hovered over the city with their floodlights while homeless people slept in the streets and bomb squads searched for more explosives.
Nothing that bad has happened in Vancouver but it certainly hasn’t been smooth going either. The nightmares began with the death of Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili on the eve of the opening ceremonies during a practice run on a course the Canadians had bragged was the fastest ever built. An investigation found it was the luger’s fault and had nothing to do with the track. That led the Georgian President to make the point that he was pretty sure an athlete’s “mistake” is not supposed to result in death.
Less tragic but embarrassing events have since become commonplace in Vancouver. Here’s a list:
1) During the opening ceremonies, one of the four pillars supporting the Olympic torch failed to rise from the floor leaving a Canadian athlete with nothing to light.
2) Then there was the imprisonment of the torch as organizers put it behind an ugly wire fence in downtown Vancouver. They’ve since taken some steps to improve the view and make it a little more accessible to the public.
3) Bus drivers taking people to the venues have quit, complaining of long hours and lousy working conditions. Others have gotten lost and many of the buses have just broken down.
4) The speedskating finals were delayed Sunday and Monday due to malfunctioning Zamboni’s that left uneven ice surfaces. They finally had to truck one in from Calgary. Apparently, more delays at the skating venue today as well.
5) Cypress Mountain turned into a quagmire as warm weather first forced organizers to truck in snow and then when it rained, had to cancel 28,000 tickets when the spectator area became unsafe from the flooding slush.
There have been some nice moments in these Olympics. The Chinese couple that returned from retirement to win the Olympic gold that had eluded them in their long skating careers. Seth Wescott winning a dramatic victory in Snowboard Cross. Hannah Kearney winning the Mogul gold. Apolo Ohno with his silver in short-track speed skating as two Koreans took each other out at the last second. Lindsey Vonn winning the Alpine Skiing event on her bum leg after a two-week lay-off. As I write this, no one has actually seen her winning the gold but I read about it. Maybe I’ll watch it, though it’s kind of a bummer to know in advance what the result is going to be.
I must say, America does not seem exactly mesmerized. American Idol cleaned up last night. As for our Canadian friends- they’re learning that old lesson about being careful what you wish for.