Monthly Archives: March 2009

A Dangerous Fantasy

You hear a knock on your door. You open your door to find George Clooney or Hugh Jackman or whoever you want dressed to the nines waiting to take you out on a date. He takes you to the perfect place, the food is delicious, the wine is perfect, and he is listening to every little detail to every story you tell as if his life depends on it. He takes you home in his Audi R8 or Aston Martin Vanquish and you ask him if he wants to come in to have coffee and what-not. Of course, he obliges.

Wake up.

Clooney or Jackman or Pitt will never do all that with you. That’s why it’s called a fantasy. Fantasies are fun, but it’s not reality. They are so fun because you have complete control over something that makes you happy.

Fantasy baseball or any other sport operates in the same way. Fantasy sports allow users to draft players onto a team, set up lineups, make trades, add or release players and even create crazy, often raunchy team names usually featuring a double entendre. The players’ statistics in real life are compiled and added to the fantasy teams thereby creating winners and losers in the league. For instance, if a hitter were to hit three home runs, and you “owned” him on your fantasy team, his home runs would be applied to your team’s totals. And if your opponent only hit two home runs, you would win that stat category (there are varying amount of stat categories and the player who wins the most stat categories wins the “game” which usually lasts a week).

Controlling your own professional sports team is every guy’s fantasy. Surprise, surprise, guys don’t want to enjoy dinner with the Jonas Brothers, but then again some guys might… Anyway, fantasy sports is a big deal as millions of users sign up and take part each year.

It can be very time consuming. For instance, I neglected to sign up for fantasy football for the first time in many years this fall so I could concentrate on my grad school responsibilities. It wasn’t easy. Sleepless nights, chain-smoking, cold sweats and the fear of a major relapse into the world of fantasy football hounded me throughout the season.

Like a lot of addicts, I am making a deal with myself for baseball season: one fantasy team and one fantasy team only. I usually create three or four teams, but I’m trying to be strong. I know I will probably cave and create another team, but for now, just one team. Complete fantasy baseball sobriety is too much to ask. (God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Whew…)

So with the season just one week away, preparation and scouting must be done to create a championship team. If you are seeing less of your boyfriend, husband, dad, brother, son, guy-friend etc., they are not involved in some tawdry tryst or seedy undertaking. No, they are most certainly weighing the advantages and disadvantages of Ryan Howard’s home runs and strike outs or reading every injury report available on Chris Carpenter to see if 10-15 wins can be squeezed out of his once golden right arm.

While you may be fantasizing about Edward Cullen, I and about 90% of the male race, will be fantasizing about the champagne shower in the locker room with our fantasy team after a championship.

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Baseball Fashionistas

Ballplayers are gruff, grizzly, and I’m trying to think of another word beginning with “gr” meaning dirty but for the sake of time, I will simply move on. These guys play 162 games in a season with some refraining from washing their jock straps for good luck. All locker rooms smell terrible.

But woe betide the ballplayer rockin’ a uniform that isn’t styling. For as mean and nasty as some ball players seem, they are all very in tune with how to wear their uniforms. This post will show the evolution of the baseball uniform.

These guys below all played the game before the Great Depression. Their uniforms were all made out of wool, the baggy look was in, and some even had collars (Honus Wagner, top right). Ty Cobb in the top left has a long sleeve jersey and Babe Ruth, bottom left, is wearing white undersleeves (no team wears white undersleeves today). His Yankees were the first to incorporate pin stripes and rumor has it that New York adopted pinstripes to make their portly slugger (Ruth) look just a bit more svelte.

Ty CobbHonus WagnerBabe Ruth

Ted Williams (on the left) played a bit after the guys listed above, and he incorporates some of their styles with the baggy look, wool uniform and thick stirrup socks. On the right is Willie Mays. His uniform is much tighter, probably a polyester blend, and his stirrup socks are thin.

Ted WilliamsWillie Mays

The next three ballplayers have all been linked somehow to performance enhancing drugs. Maybe that’s why their uniforms are so tight. I mean, it looks like these guys sprayed their jerseys on. Jose Canseco (top left) is wearing the thin stirrup socks but his era (late 1980’s to mid 1990’s) was the last to make the stirrup sock popular. The next two ballplayers wear their tight pants all the way down to their shoes. Shirt sleeves also seem to hang down to the elbow as opposed to the earlier styles that featured a higher sleeve.

Jose CansecoMark McGwireGary Sheffield

Below is Manny Ramirez, the epitome of the modern baseball uniform style. He wears his uniform roughly nine sizes too large (slight exaggeration). Pants resemble boot-cut jeans that hang over the shoes and the top is even very baggy. Not all players wear their uniforms like Manny, but the norm these days is to have pants that look like casual, loose fitting jeans.

Manny Ramirez

It seems as if baseball fashion has come full circle. Uniforms started baggy, became skin tight, and are now baggy again. Socks went from thick stirrups, to thin stirrups, to solid colors. As for the next big fashion statement on the baseball diamond? Look for ballplayers wearing sunglasses with white frames this season. Dark frames are just so five minutes ago…

Matt HollidayJimmy Rollins

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Baseball: A game of signs

A stare lasting a shade too long. A subtle smile. Hair twirling. Compliments. Over-laughing at fairly lame jokes. Playful touches to the arm.

These are all subtle signs a lady might use to let a guy they are interested in know that they are indeed interested. Or maybe not. Or maybe. Or who knows? Maybe said lady is just really friendly.

If these signs have a purpose and the guy doesn’t pick them up, you can get annoyed and perturbed at how dumb we can be. If you were just being friendly, and the guy reads into them just a little too much, we can end up looking stupid. Signs and signals are only valuable if the message is received loud and clear from sender to receiver.

For as dumb as ballplayers look,

Thinkin hurts ma brain...
Thinkin’ hurts ma brain…

sound (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” – Yogi Berra), or act (buying steroids with easily traceable checks), every player has to memorize a complex system of signs and signals.

For example, my bunt sign for high school baseball was a tap on the top of the head to “open the box” of signs. Then the bill of the cap was touched as an indicator that a sign was coming. Exactly two signs after the indicator, the right wrist (left wrist meant something entirely different) was touched to indicate bunt followed by a touch to the chest to “close the box” of signs. If the box was never opened, closed, or if the indicator was never touched, no sign was on even if the coach touched a varying appendage that meant something.

Throw in the fact that the indicator changed every inning and the idea that if you missed a sign, your playing time would be in jeopardy, and suddenly ballplayers aren’t so stupid.

These signs apply to every strategy in baseball. Coaches reside in the dugout and must relay the signs to their first and third base coaches who must then relay the signs to various players. All this must be done without the other team knowing or the strategy would become worthless.

Pitchers and catchers have their own form of signs for every pitch. For example, my catcher puts down one finger for a fastball, two for a curveball, three for a change-up, and wiggle four fingers for a split-finger fastball. Should the hitter pick these signs up and know what pitch is coming, their ability to hit the ball is increased exponentially.

This is why a certain level of gamesmanship is conducted to “steal” signs. Knowing what the other team is going to do before they do it can be the difference between winning and losing.

Going back to the dating example, imagine if everyone wore their personality and intentions on their face for all to see. Would you date “I’m a borderline psychopath who may or may not have missed  my medications?” Or how about “I’m only in it for the sex and when I finally get it, you will have a better chance contacting Osama bin Laden?”

Knowing the other team’s signs is exactly the same. You know their intentions and you can respond accordingly. But then again, what’s the fun in that? Don’t you want to date “I’m a total cheapskate who likes to order water with lemons then I mash-up the lemons and add sugar to make lemonade so I don’t have spend money on lemonade?’ And you’re surprised that guy would make you pay for your meal…

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Movie Review: Ed (Joey’s Masterpiece)

Joey from Friends. A child in a chimpanzee suit. Minor league baseball.

Not exactly the recipe for an Academy Award, but a surprisingly entertaining movie experience? You bet.

Matt LeBlanc (Joey) plays Jack ‘Deuce’ Cooper, a down-on-his luck pitcher with a terrible curveball in the minor leagues. He is depressed with his pitching performances, his apartment is an absolute mess, and he is lonely.

Just when it all can’t get any worse, Deuce has to shelter the team’s new mascot in his apartment; the aforementioned child in the chimp suit.

It is supposed to be a real chimp in the movie’s reality, but the costume looks as if they bought it at Party City. However, I can’t fault the studio for going with the child-in-the-chimp-suit strategy especially after that 200-pound chimp in Connecticut went absolutely crazy.

The chimp, known as Ed, partakes in all sorts of semi-hilarious hijinks such as swinging on a light fixture or stealing Deuce’s food. Ed trashes the apartmment numerous times because he’s a wild animal, but one day, he saves the coach from a line drive.

The coach slaps a glove on Ed and voila! He’s the new thirdbaseman and star player! He’s so good that even Deuce starts to pitch better and the team begins to win.

The plot is terrible and the acting is not much better. This movie did not help anyone’s career (see LeBlanc in Joey or Charlie’s Angels). But surprise surprise! Jim Caviezel played the role of Dizzy Anderson. Caviezel was hardly on screen but his performance must have convinced Hollywood execs to cast him as Jesus in Passion of the Christ…

There is also a small love story woven into the plot. Deuce lives next to Lydia, a single mom (Jayne Brook of countless minor TV appearances) who he is too shy and too preoccupied with baseball to ask out. But Ed the chimp and Lydia’s daughter become best friends, helping Deuce and Lydia connect in the end.

If you go in expecting a life-changing cinematic experience, you will be sorely disappointed by this movie. But the unintentional comedy factor saves this movie.

For instance, one of the players was out all night before a game. The veteran coach gives him some ‘energy’ pills to fire him up. What? This movie was given a PG rating! Amphetamines were a major problem in pro baseball and it’s hilarious that a movie with a chimpanzee playing baseball  would include performance enhancing drug use.

The mere presence of Caviezel in a movie such as this is also incredibly funny. Lastly, the dialogue is surprisingly well-written. There are some great insults and cut downs between the players and when Ed misbehaves, Deuce simply and eloquently states, “I’m gonna spank that monkey.” Scorsese couldn’t write any better!

Ed is a bad movie. But I saw it on HBO the other day, and I actually laughed out loud a few times so that’s why I wrote the review. In the end, the baseball scenes are pretty bad, the acting isn’t great, the love story is forced, and there is a child in a chimp suit who is an amazing baseball player. You can definitely amuse yourself by making fun of the movie with some friends.

Amazingly though, Ed is LeBlanc’s masterpiece. His Apocalypse Now or Citizen Kane if you will.

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Rivalries: Good, clean old-fashioned hate

Every lady has a woman in their life they just hate (or maybe just mildly loathe or slightly abhor).

You get a Blackberry, she gets an iPhone. You get a BMW 3-Series, she gets an Audi A6. Your new boyfriend is an even 6-feet tall with four-pack abs, her’s is 6-foot-4 with chiseled six-pack abs.

She always seems to one-up you and you can’t stand her for it. Much like the girl in Mean Girls who dupes Rachel McAdams’ character into eating weight gaining bars, you live to one-up her. That’s a rivalry (and yes, I know all about Mean Girls and I think Devil Wears Prada is a terrific movie. Still haven’t seen The Notebook, though. Don’t judge, but I digress)

Here are the top-10 rivalries in sports based on level of hatred between the teams.

10. University of Florida versus University of Georgia (Football)

9. Oklahoma University versus University of Texas (Football)

8. South Africa versus New Zealand (Rugby)

7. San Francisco Giants versus Los Angeles Dodgers (Baseball)

6. Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal (Tennis)

5. Boston Celtics versus Los Angeles Lakers (Basketball)

4. University of Michigan versus Ohio State (Football)

3. New York Yankees versus Boston Red Sox (Baseball)

2. Duke University versus University of North Carolina (Basketball)

1. Brasil versus Argentina (Soccer)

Honorable Mention: University of Alabama vs. Auburn (Football), Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals (Baseball), Southern Cal vs. Notre Dame (Football), USA vs. Mexico (Soccer), Miami Dolphins vs. NY Jets (Football)

When that lady-rival walks into the room, there is a noticeable tension present. Your adrenaline is pumping, your insults cut deeper, and you notice every fashion faux pas that even Stacey and Clinton wouldn’t pick up (What Not to Wear is just a good show, I’m sorry. Actually I’m not sorry, I’ll watch a marathon of that show any day).

The same holds true for sports rivalries. Yanks-Sox games just feel more important than any other match-up that day. The added pressure of rivalries often fires up players to play above and beyond their normal capabilities. Others wilt under the pressure.

A victory over a rival makes food taste a bit better, traffic seem not so stressful, and phone bills seem not so bad. Kinda like grabbing the last Marc Jacobs bag on sale just ahead of your hated rival. Oh ya…

Something to try: My favorite team is the SF Giants so there’s nothing wrong with referring to the LA Dodgers as the f%&#ing Dodgers. Or being a Hurricane – the f%&#ing Seminoles and f%&#ing Gators. Try doing it with your team’s rival (but not at church or in the presence of sophisticated company).

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Baseball: Why all the hubbub over steroids?

With the recent confession of Alex Rodriguez regarding his steroid use from 2001-2003, the whole performance enhancing drug issue was given a shot in the arm (pun definitely intended even though steroids are injected in the butt. And my puns are always intended on this blog). The media loves steroid stories and they simply refuse to let the whole issue shrivel up (another intended pun, a common side-effect of steroid use is shriveled testicles).

Why all the fuss? Why are we subjected to hours and days and years of coverage? Why is it an issue at all if athletes are supposed to be big and strong?

Money is the answer to all of these questions.

Take Alex Rodriguez as an example. From 1994 to 2000 (when A-Rod was supposedly clean and drug free), Rodriguez earned $12 million with an average salary of a little more than $1.7 million per year. Very nice indeed. It’s the type of salary that can buy a nice house (maybe two), a couple of nice cars, and a weird item or two (athletes always buy weird items. Mike Tyson has a ridiculously large pigeon collection and Ivan Rodriguez has a life-size statue of himself in his backyard. Gilbert Arenas has pure oxygen pumped into his house to expand his lung capacity, but I digress).

Staying with the A-Rod example, Rodriguez earned $186.4 million from 2001-2008 with an average salary of $23.3 million per year. Wow. What a difference! That salary can buy a neighborhood, a car dealership, and more weird items than Pee Wee Herman or Boy George.

Why can steroid use help ballplayers earn more money? Because while everyone knows that chicks dig home runs, team owners dig the long ball even more. During his steroid years, A-Rod averaged 52 homers per year. He averaged 39 homers when he was “clean.” He earned his first huge payday when he was supposedly clean. But his 10-year $280 million contract he received in 2007 was due in large part to steroid use.

Imagine an aging Hollywood starlet who got some terrific roles in the past, but has since been relegated to playing the crazy aunt on TV sitcoms. Tired of being the supporting actress and desperate for a couple more big roles as a hot love interest, she gets some work done, and is now noticeably perkier. She gets the roles and the big paychecks come flooding in.

Is that fair to the actress who gets passed over because she refuses to get plastic surgery? It is a simplistic example, but A-Rod’s steroid use not only inflated his muscles and wallet, but also his statistics. He is a phenomenal player with or without steroids, but mediocre players who take steroids are taking a clean player’s spot on the roster because of their inflated performances. Their steroid use is not only cheating against the other team, but also cheating the honest, hardworking guys who refuse to take performance enhancing drugs and only bust their butts in the weight room.

That’s why steroid use is such a big deal. And that’s why every player who has ever taken an illegal substance deserves to be punished. They took an honest player’s position and got rich on inflated ability.

PS. This blog post took a serious turn, didn’t it? Here is a video that will lighten the mood and explain the phrase, “Chicks dig the long ball.” And Mark McGwire (big strong dude wearing red and belting homers) could not deny his steroid use at a Congressional hearing.

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Basketball: The Pick and Roll

At a casual glance, basketball is a simple game consisting of putting the ball through the hoop more often than the other team. To accomplish this, however, basketball is a horribly complex game rife with intricate plays, formations and strategies to maximize opportunities to score. While a team’s playbook may resemble an unreadable prescription written by a hyperactive doctor, one easy play stands out from all the rest because it is ridiculously effective and easy to implement: the pick and roll.

To illustrate, picture yourself at a crowded club. You are with some friends having a good time when the prototypical creep (slightly too old for the establishment, clothes noticeably too tight, using dance moves from yesteryear, smells of far too much cheap cologne, perhaps sunglasses at night, and the general aura of scumbag) makes his way toward you and offers to buy you a drink. You tell him that you already have a drink, you are not thirsty, you are training to become a nun and have given up alcohol; basically anything to ward off this disaster waiting to happen.

However, he was not born with the wherewithal to pickup on subtlety, so he continues to try and win your affections with more drink offers, dance offers, and other offers that may not be printable. Now he is bordering on harassment, so you call your girlfriends over to initiate the perfect pick and roll. Yes, that’s right. You have run a pick and roll before, you just never realized it until now.

Girlfriend A (we’ll call her Madison) and Girlfriend B (Samantha) make their way toward you. You walk away from the creep and he tries to follow. Madison and Samantha quickly position themselves between you and the creep, effectively blocking his path. Now you bolt in a different direction, using the crowd to your advantage and you escape out the exit, making your way to another club with names such as Destruction, Catacomb, or Hellish.

On the basketball court, the pick and roll works like this: Player A (You) has the ball and is being guarded by Player X (The Creep). Player A’s teammate, Player B (Samantha), runs over and basically stands to one side of Player X (called a “pick”) blocking his ability to effectively guard Player A. Player A then dribbles toward the basket. Player B “rolls” away and stands open, ready to receive the ball. Player A has the option to continue toward the basket to try and score, or pass to Player B letting him try to score. The play takes between 3-5 seconds, and when done correctly, is a potent weapon for any basketball team. Teams can run this play every time without it losing effectiveness. Karl Malone and John Stockton, both former members of the Utah Jazz, put together Hall of Fame caliber careers by implementing the pick and roll for 18 years together.

Stockton and Malone resembled the perfect chemistry of Thelma and Louise. Only, Stockton and Malone wouldn’t have died in the end. They would have figured out a way to escape and would still be at large, sipping mimosas at some posh villa in the south of France.

That’s the power of the pick and roll. It can allow you score at will on the basketball court, aid your escape from a perverted creep at a crowded club, and help you run-off to the south of France to drink mimosas, rather than having to drive off of a cliff to a fiery death.

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