Friday, December 21, 2012

A Gathering

Quite the cast of characters has assembled in the basement of New England Comics on a Saturday afternoon in mid-November. And no, it’s not the Justice League. It’s a bunch of regular guys you would probably run into at any suburban mall.  Ari is in the second year of his residency at Beth Israel Hospital. Dillon runs tech support for one the leading law firms in Boston. Luke is working on his PHD in Physics at Boston College.  And Hunter scored a boatload of Tootsie Rolls to snack on for the afternoon.
Hunter is also in seventh grade.
“Got any trades?” he asked while jawing on his chocolate candy.
What could bring all these people together in a basement lined with boxes of back issue comic books? It’s Magic: The Gathering, a fantasy-based trading card game that has over 12 million players worldwide. Magic is a game where two people battle with trading cards that feature an array of mystical creatures, sorceries and enchantments. The game has been around since 1993 and most people associate it with pimply nerds who don’t get enough sunlight. That’s not quite the case. Magic attracts a variety of people from all age groups. People are playing at New England Comics for a variety of reasons. Some hope to sharpen their game skills. Others play for nostalgic value. Some love the community and camaraderie.
On weekends, the comic book store basement becomes part trading floor, part social club, and part battleground for cardboard creatures. Dillon Barfield is a thirty year old tech-support professional helps run the Saturday afternoon games. He’s got a slight blonde beard and is wearing a red t-shirt featuring a cheerleader wielding a chainsaw. He’s also one of the friendliest guys there. He helps explain some of the more complex cards to younger players and knows the real-life dollar value of most of the cards.  “Dillon’s House of Cards is open,” said another player as Dillon quoted a price for a rare creature card. “I check the website once or twice a day at work,” he said, referring to the Magic Price Guide.
“I’m real happy with the community we’re building here,” said Ryan Barr, a goateed law student wearing a backwards flat-brimmed Red Sox cap. Ryan helped set up the weekend games about a year ago and is proud of the fact that it has developed into a friendly community. Saturdays are reserved for booster draft tournaments, which are the equivalent of a pickup game. Other types of tournaments features decks that players have spent a lot of time and money building. Today players pay $15 and receive three packs of cards which have fifteen cards each.  The players build their deck during the draft.  Each player selects one card from their pack and passes it on. This process is repeated until all cards in all three packs are claimed. It’s an easy way for the casually interested player to get back in the game. Two law school students are playing for the first time in years and their excited to tap into their inner nerd again. “I saw my brother-in-law’s Amazon account and noticed that he bought a lot of cards,” said Evan, who goes to Boston University Law School. Evan thought he could get back into Magic as well. He’s stoked to play again.   ****
The object of Magic is to get your opponent's life total from twenty to zero. There are five different colors of Magic cards: red, blue, white, black, and green. Each color represents a different theme and subsequent strategy for playing the game. On the Magic online Wiki, Red magic is described as “filled with fire, frenzy, and storms of rock and lava.” Red has powerful cards that create a lot of damage. It’s up to the player’s taste, skill, and quick thinking to figure out what type of deck they want to build.
The main types of cards are lands, creatures, and sorceries.  Land creates “mana,” which is the cost for playing other cards.  Players take turns putting creatures and spells into the battlefield by paying their “mana cost.” A player “attacks” with the cards after they are in play. The opponent can defend with their creatures or play other spells in response.
Creature cards have two numbers on the bottom right corner that show their strength and toughness. If an attacking creature's strength outnumbers the defending creature’s toughness, the weaker creature is sent to the graveyard. For example, a 7/7 Axebane Stag, which looks like a pissed off Dr. Seuss character, would crush a 1/1 Bellows Lizard.  However, a player could play a card called Avenging Arrow, a spell that says, “Destroy target creature that dealt damage this turn.” That Axebane Stag would then die as well.  That is just one of literally thousands of battle scenarios that could take place in Magic. The set being used today, Return to Ravnica, has only 254 cards. However, there are over 11,000 Magic cards total. It requires an encyclopedic knowledge of the cards to put together the best battle plans.
Magic  players do not just use their imagination to fight dragons and wizards, like many kids do in their basements. They develop efficient and effective strategies to win battles. Mosby, a skinny seventeen year old with a blonde afro has been playing since he was 12. He now plays regularly in tournaments and comes to Magic games on Saturdays to stay sharp. “I’m just playing to get more experience,” he said. He’s giving his deck a test run by dealing out a hand of cards to himself. One can see that he’s thinking about this harder than he will about anything else for the rest of the weekend. To win in this fantasy world, you need to be well-rounded in the liberal arts. ****
Like with most things designed by adults, there are also adult issues that come with Magic. Money plays a big role in Magic. These cards aren’t cheap.  If you want to get good at Magic, you’ll have to pay up. Dillon, who regularly plays in tournaments, estimated that a good tournament deck in the “standard” format (the most popular) will cost between $300 to $600 dollars to build. The best players on the Magic pro tour can earn money in the five figures. This is a game that can be mastered by a teenager.
Some also try to make a return on the day. Luke, the physics PHD student,  views the afternoon as part fun and part investment, “If you go out drinking you’re not going to get your money back. With Magic, you’ll probably get your money back,” he said. Luke sold his cards at the end of the day. He haggled with some other players, but many of them said that they had spent too much money on cards already. Luke found and buyer and they settled for $15. “It’s like drugs,” he said. However, this transaction is small change. Black Lotus, one of the rarest and most sought after cards, can go for up to $100,000 on ebay Luke got sick the huge time and money commitment that is required of a serious Magic player. He sold all his cards last year -- a number in the thousands -- and got $2,500 for them. Now, he just plays in booster draft tournaments to have fun on the weekends for fun. He enjoys this style much more.
Magic: The Gathering gathers hyper-intelligent people who speak the same language and appreciate the same culture. It attracts a variety of people across age groups and incomes. The cardboard creatures and spell brings people together like few other things can.
In between matches, Hunter gets anxious. He wandered over to Dillon at the far end of the table.
“Got any trades?” Hunter asked.
“Yeah, take a look,” Dillon said as he opened up his binder.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Barack Obama: The Most Hilarious Photos of His Presidency

In case you didn't hear, President Barack Obama earned Time's Person of the Year once again. I'll be upfront and say that I love this president. I did some volunteering for his campaign in 2008. I voted for him, twice. I think he's done a lot with not much. With that being said, I don't want to discuss politics on this blog.

However, I think Barack Obama and his cabinet have had some hilarious photos during these past four years. Maybe it's just good PR, but I could care less. I don't remember as many hilarious photos during the Bush administration. (Maybe his handlers thought that funny photos wouldn't look good?) Here are some of my favorites

Obama Spiderman 
Pete Souza  
ht president barack obama playing spiderman thg 121219 wblog Obama Photo With Spider Man Shows Playful President
No one is safe from Spidey's web. Not even the Prez.

Obama is not impressed
Pete Souza

You could call Obama "the meme" president. I'm sure a lot of other senior politicians have no idea what a meme is.

Obama Guinness
Getty Images

There's nothing wrong with quaffing an adult beverage when your of age and had a heck of a difficult term of office.

Coach Joe

I think I would have enjoyed playing football a lot more if Joe Biden was my coach. Scratch that, if Joe Biden coached an intramural flag football squad, then I would love it.

Stealing a Kiss:

This kid's got it.

Joe Goes to Costco
via Gawker
Seven Scenes from Joe Biden's Big Adventure 'Looking for Pies' at Costco

"Jill, they've got pies up the sky here. To the sky!"

Seven Scenes from Joe Biden's Big Adventure 'Looking for Pies' at Costco

Said Pies.

Barack Gets a Hug:
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
ap barack obama scott van duzer jt 120909 main Pizza Man Bear Hugs Obama, Starts Yelp Troll War

Hugs are great.  Pizza store owner Scott Van Nuzer just had to give the prez one.


Probably my favorite Obama meme

Any ones I missed?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rockabilly Batman is the Most Poignant Dark Knight Fan Art Ever

Batman is a raw sort of superhero. We know that he's human. We know he can be broken. He didn't come from another galaxy. He doesn't rely on alien rings. He wasn't blessed by the Gods.

He's a man, who worked countless hours perfecting himself and believes in law and order. He's not afraid to enforce justice himself. There's an American essence to him. That's why I love the Rockabilly Batman by Italian artist Denis Medri. It resonates with what Batman is at his core, a hardcore, tough, hero who has a dark side. 

Here's why the Rockabilly theme works so well: 

Batman is the 50's and the 50's is Batman: 
Rockabilly is a predecessor to rock n' roll. Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and early Elvis all had a stripped down sort of sound. There's a guitar, upright bass, and drums, and a piano. No garish synthesizers or heavy editing.

An austere Batman is the best kind of Batman. Christopher Nolan's character showed that the man behind the cowl is better than the campy gadgets and goofy plot lines of Joel Schumacher's movies. I also love The Long Halloween. It's dark and simple. Nothing too fancy. Batman is at his best when he doesn't try too much, just like Elvis. 

It fits the characters:
I may be speaking from personal bias here, but I think Batman has the richest rouges gallery of any superhero. How many Superman villains can the casual Superman fan name? Maybe Spiderman or X-Men have some notable ones, but I would argue that Batman villains are the most notable. Two-Face, Penguin, the Joker, Catwoman...

Take a look at the characters. I can see them fitting right in our vision of 1950's America. The poodle skirts, hot rods, letter jackets, it fits well here. 

That's hard to do with any other cast of characters. Marvel's attempt at putting their characters in the 1930's with the Marvel Noir series got mixed reviews. Its tough, but I would like to see DC take a chance on this. 

Bruce Wayne can do the James Dean thing:
Bruce does his own thing. Just like Jim Stark, James Dean's character in Rebel Without a Cause. He doesn't listen to everyone else who says he should be content with being a rich playboy at the helm of Wayne enterprises. He protects Gotham and doesn't care who stands in his way.

Honestly DC, let's do this. 

Images are from Metri's Facebook Page. Check it out here

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12/12/12 Things to Read/Watch/Listen

It's December 12, 2012 or 12/12/12. A unique date that we won't ever see again. (But as a friend of mine pointed out on Facebook, aren't 12/11/12 and 12/13/12 unique dates as well?)

In honor of that day here are 12 things that I've recently read/watched/listened to and really enjoyed:

1. Back on the Ice by Bill Littlefield
The host of Only a Game on NPR wrote a wonderful profile on Boston Blades hockey coach Digit Murphy. She came and spoke in my sports seminar class earlier this fall. Murphy is quite a character and a trailblazer.

2. The Best-Kept Secret in American Journalism is Murray Kempton from Bronx Banter Blog
This 1982 profile of journalist Murray Kempton by David Owen is fantastic. Even though I just spent a semester taking journalism classes and doing assignments, I sometimes feel more inspired by profiles like this one.

3. @ModernSeinfeld 
I love Seinfeld because it talks about, to quote Elaine from the Bizarro Jerry episode, the "excruciating minutia" of everyday life. This account, which was created on Monday, has ballooned to over 150K followers. It tweets pitches for modern Seinfeld shows. Its hilarious. I love the idea of Kramer getting into Reddit.

4. Muswell Hillbillies by The Kinks
This 1971 album is extremely underrated. It's got a gutty, Americana sound that was way ahead of its time. I've listened to it multiple times all the way through.

5. Looking for Someone by Nick Paumgarten
This is a piece from last year, but it's still worthwhile. This piece from the New Yorker takes a look into the strange world into online dating. As someone who has signed up for such services in the past, I found it fascinating to see how much math goes into these types of things.

6. This Invisible Made Visible from This American Life
I'm rarely disappointed when I listen to TAL. They always have engaging stories. The Invisible Made Visible was their live visual show that they streamed into movie theaters a few weeks ago. It costs $5, but its well worth it. Tig Notaro is especially hilarious.

7. The Ikea Monkey Meme from Gawker
This cracked me up:

This website is all about the business of humor. It's not a humorous website, but a website devoted to talking about humorous people. It's constantly updated with new videos, podcasts, profiles, and a bunch of other cool historical stuff. It's a must-read for me every day.

9. SportsonEarth.Com
This is the new sports website from USA Today. I love its column driven approach (even though the name is kinda blegh.) It always has thoughtful insights into the sports world.

10. Tarkio
This is the Colin Meloy's old band. I'm upset I didn't hear about them sooner.

11. Fresh Air interview with Bill Haider
As much as I love comedy, I love listening to comedians talk about comedy even more. Terri Gross always does such poignant interviews. Haider is a smart guy.

12. Javale McGee
Javale McGee is such a goofball. I'm glad he still does stuff like this. It makes me feel less bad when I do similar things in the hallway of COM.

That's it. Enjoy your 12/12/12 parties.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

R.A. Dickey: Knuckleball + Persistence = Sportsman of the Year

Being described as "unconventional" can be a death knell for a professional athlete. In an era where athletes are being groomed from future athletic glory as young as middle school, outliers don't usually get much attention. The familiar is comfortable. 

Or they get the wrong kind of attention. Basketball players refuse to emulate Rick Barry's "granny shot" free-throw, even though he was an 89 % from the charity stripe for his career. If it looks different, it's weird. And weird doesn't equal success in today's sports world. 

That's why R.A. Dickey deserves to be the 2012 Sportsman of the year.He embraced an unconventional and often ostrcized method of pitching, the knuckleball. Dickey mastered that perplexing and bewildering pitch. Pittsburgh Pirate Willie Stargell described the pitch's oddness. "Throwing a knuckleball for a strike is like throwing a butterfly with hiccups across the street into your neighbor's mailbox," he said.

Yet, Dickey mastered it this season. He is the first pitcher to ever throw back-to-back one-hitters. He also pitched 44 1/3 innings without giving up an earned run. From May 27 to June 24, not a single runner scored on him. 

 Even though LeBron James, the SI's Sportsman of the year, had a fantastic 2012, people knew about his greatness. He seemed destined for success at a high level since he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of seventeen.

Nobody knew what to make of R.A. Dickey. He was a ho-hum middle of the rotation starter  with the Texas Rangers for the first four years of his career. His career started to fizzle and it didn't look like he would be in the league much longer by 2005.

Then he transitioned to pitching the knuckleball. It wasn't easy. He gave up six home runs in his first start. He tied the MLB record for most wild pitches in an inning with four while he was pitching for the Twins. Those are earth shattering missteps for less confident pitchers. He stuck with it and became one of the best pitchers in baseball.

There is a scene in the documentary Knuckleball that shows Dickey meeting with fellow knuckleballers Phil Neikro, Charlie Hough, and Tim Wakefield. They are a guild of men who practice an unconventional craft. One that doesn't have much traction in the world of Major League Baseball. 

That's a great scene because it's something you don't see often enough in pro sports. There are lots of talented athletes, but not a lot of athletes who have succeed doing something so odd so successfully.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

BC Football Could Learn Something From SJU

Boston College’s football formula isn’t working. The program is coming off one of it’s worst seasons ever after finishing 2-10. They are clearly the weakest team  in an anemic ACC football conference and it felt like the only time the media talked about this program was when Coach Frank Spaziani was fired a few days ago. To put it bluntly, the defence and propagation of the fanhood and the progress of rebuilding this program is in jeopardy.

Photo from SI

While Coach Spaziani was an extremely loyal soldier during his 16 years working in Chestnut Hill, something didn’t work when he took over the head coaching reins in 2009. His staff was a bit of a mess. There were four offensive coordinators in three seasons. High profile recruits were few and far between. And these teams didn’t have any sort of identity. The historically stingy defense allowed nearly 30 points a game this season. Unfortunately for fans,, Matt Ryan will not be walking through that door

The Boston Globe’s Chris Gasper wrote that Eagles athletic department should accept the fact that “BC is a layover and not a final destination.” While hungry coaches looking to prove themselves can be beneficial for a program in rebuilding mode,, that doesn’t have to be Boston College. Chestnut Hill can be a destination. They just need stability and a vision.

The Heights should take a page from the Benedictines at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. (My undergraduate alma mater.) If the Benedictines know anything, it’s stability. The University made sure that all incoming students knew about the Benedictine Values, a sort of student code inspired by the Rule of St Benedict. These values emphasized community, hospitality, and respect, and dignity of work, among other things.

The St. John’s football program exemplified these values. John Gagliardi, the recently retired Johnnies football coach, was a man who created a football community that was no-nonsense and successful. Gagliardi described his philosophy as, ,"Ordinary guys, doing ordinary things, extraordinarily well.” During his coaching tenure, he accomplished some extraordinary things. He’s the all-time wins leader in college football history. Under Gagliardi’s leadership, the Johnnies went 465-132, won 25 conference titles and four national championships. Gagliardi retired last week after nearly 60 years on the job. That’s a man who knew how to build and run a program.

While the Benedictine monestary at Sain John’s had nothing to do with the operations of the university football program, it was clear that the Benedictines inspired Gagliardi. The coach helped make Johnnie football into an integral part of the community. He had a clear vision for the program. He wanted to win and to win in a no-nonsense way.

Collegeville (population 3,343) is a much different place than Boston. However, The Heights can learn something from the Gagliardi and the Benedictines. Plan for the long run. Don’t think your going to fix this program overnight. Build it through solid recruiting. Hire a coach who has a clear vision and can carry it out effectively.

BC Athletic director Brad Bates should look to the Rule of St. Benedict before he hires a new football coach. Boston College can be a great football program again. Bates and the rest of the athletic department just need to figure out a vision for this program. St. Benedict encourages followers to “Listen with the ear of your heart.” Bates should do the same.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Probably Not The Right Way To Go Out, AJ Barker

Hey A.J. Barker, in my 24 years on this earth, I've learned that sometimes it is best just to keep your mouth (or your keyboard) shut. That's too bad that you quit the Gophers football team just before the season ended. I know the Gopher football team isn't in the national title discussion, but that doesn't mean you're exempt from going your own way. And even though coach Jerry Kill might be a jerk, so what? Dealing with jerks is part of life.

Writing notes to jerks is also an extremely terrible idea. Especially notes online that are already all over ESPN and a bunch of other national media outlets. You've exacerbated this situation and opened up a Pandora's box of people offering their opinion on you or your situation. (I suppose I'm one of them.)

If you're still hurt, my apologies. I understand being upset over Coach Kill yelling at you, but who hasn't been yelled at?Again, I hate bullies. I hate being yelled at, but I was taught to have a stiff upper lip and move on. My dad taught me not to lower myself to your opponent. Deal with this situation like a professional and talk to the coaches one on one. I don't think ranting on the internet has ever been considered a good career move.

I'm sure you're a good person A.J. and I'm sure Jerry Kill is an alright person as well. I don't know the Gophers locker room, so I don't know the extent of what happened.

What I am saying is that announcing that you quit via a (now very public) tumblr post is a terrible, terrible idea. You've opened up the jaws of the unforgiving internet public on yourself and the Gopher football program (which probably didn't need this sort of attention.) If I was a boss and I saw this sort of thing, I wouldn't hire you.

You've got a lot to learn, AJ.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Twinkie Defense of Miguel Cabrera

My mother rarely let me have Twinkies. I ate them every once in a while at a birthday party or holiday celebration, but I never gorged myself on them. And you know what? I'm probably a better and healthier person because of that.

Mitch Albom and the rest of the baseball writers who voted for Miguel Cabrera for MVP have eaten too many Twinkies. They voted for the feel-good, gooey, traditional, sentimental candidate in Miguel Cabrera over the all-around valuable Mike Trout. Don't get me wrong, I love gooey traditionalism, but you shouldn't fill up on it just like you shouldn't load your lunch bag up with Twinkies. (I tried multiple times, thanks Mom for stopping me.)

My heart goes out to the thousands of people who lost their job at Hostess factories around the country.

However, with regards to the Twinkie as a snack, maybe it's better to let it go. It's more a pop-culture icon than it is a worthwhile thing to eat. We probably should also leave behind solely relying on "Twinkie" statistics to determine an MVP (BA/HR/RBI). Baseball writers (and fans) have far healthier statistics on their hands. 

I'm not going to pontificate why Trout was a much better choice than Cabrera. There are plenty of well-written articles on that issue. Here are a few good examples. Their reasoning boiled down to the fact that Trout added a lot more value in all aspects of the game, as opposed to just Cabrera's powerful hitting.
Nate Silver sums it up quite well:
The argument on Trout’s behalf isn’t all that complicated: he provided the greater overall contribution to his team. Trout was a much better defensive player than Cabrera, and a much better base runner. And if Cabrera was the superior hitter, it wasn’t by nearly as much as the triple crown statistics might suggest. 
A lot of baseball writers used what I'll call a Twinkie defense to vote for Cabrera. They placed sentimentality and nostalgia over hard, quantifiable measurements.This is from Mitch Albom:
Why not also consider such intangibles as locker-room presence? Teammates love playing around -- and around with -- Miggy. He helps the room.
I don't know Cabrera personally, so I don't what he is like the locker room. But last time I checked, Barry Bonds, who has a pretty well-established reputation for being a jerk, won seven MVP awards.

They also mentioned that he was valuable because he changed from first base to third base without whining to make room for Prince Fielder. Big whop. I fail to see how that's a better argument than Trout's far superior base running skills. (He was 49 out of 54 on stolen base attempts.)

The defenses for voting for Cabrera were soft and fluffy. Those voters appealed to the romanticism. Mitch Albom summed it up well, "In the end, memories were more powerful than microchips." These writers are quite fond of trashing the people who are quantifying different aspects of baseball in new statistics. I disagree with that notion. Measurements like Wins Above Replacement are a far better measure of a players worth than just looking at the number of Runs Batted In. Granted, sabermetrics are sometimes difficult to understand, but that doesn't make them any less valid as measurements of the game. 

Sportswriters are threatened by the math geeks trying to take over and quantify the game. I say there should unrepentant parsing of ballplayer millionaires. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE the nostalgia of baseball. It's why I write, but you shouldn't fill up on that and ignore quantifiable measurements. Just like you shouldn't eat a bunch of Twinkies and ignore your salad.  

Sentimentalism runs hard in the snack world as well. People are upset about the demise of Twinkie. It's the loss of something cherished from their childhood. It's hard not to be a little saddened by their demise, but take a step back. Twinkies really aren't all that great for you. They're an outdated and unhealthy relic. Should people really be snacking on those all the time?

To Mitch Albom and the rest of the BBWA who voted with their hearts on not their heads: 

I leave you with a recipe for Kale Chips. They are a delicious snack full of  Iron, Magnesium, Carotenoids, and Flavonoids. They're a lot better for you than Twinkies and they are quite delicious. You might be scared of the leafy greens and might not understand the benefits of antioxidants, but they're good for you. Trust me. You should be eating a lot of them.

Please let go of the Twinkies, baseball writers. There are healthier, more fulfilling snacks and stats out there.

Crossposted to: 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Charlie Beljan, Zach Greinke: Any Advice for Royce White?

I want Royce White to succeed. As someone who has a close family member suffering from mental illness, I desperately want White to be an example of someone who breaks through the stigma of mental illness in sports. 

However, I don't know Royce White. I also don't know what specific of arrangement the Houston Rockets have set up for him. This is what I know. 
From ESPN:

The Rockets intend to fine rookie Royce White for every day he remains away from the team or does not attend sessions with a therapist arranged by the team, according to a report by the Houston Chronicle.
White made a deal with the team to travel by bus to some games this season, so he could confront his fear of flying and obsessive compulsive disorder over the long term. 
Image from

I support White for being willing to talk about his illness publicly  even though he may have regretted talking about it. I believe that White speaking about his condition is important because mental illness still carries a huge stigma in the sports world. You can't see a mental illness, so some people get skeptical that something is actually wrong. This was shown by the responses to White's tweets about his situation

William Rhoden from the New York Times recently wrote about the struggles that athletes with mental illnesses face. One line stuck out to me. This is a quote from Dr. Ira Glick, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, "“Players want to have somebody to talk to, but they don’t want their teammates or the team to find out because of the stigma and they’re afraid of being dropped."

Does Royce have someone he can talk to? He mentioned that this is an issue of "support" from the team. He has been connected with a doctor, but it looks like there have not been any successful meetings thus far.

Charlie Beljan might provide some guidance. Beljan, a professional golfer, suffered an anxiety attack while he was basically playing for his golfing career at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic in Florida. Beljan shot a 64 while in the middle of an anxiety attack, his second lowest professional score ever. He went on to win the tournament after spending the night in a hospital. 

Pretty miraculous. I don't know anything about treating mental anxiety disorders and I may be generalizing here, but maybe Beljan, an athlete who is routinely in high pressure situations could provide White with support and vice-versa. 

Anxiety is not a new thing in pro sports. MLB pitcher Zack Greinke also battled anxiety issues. He took the 2006 season off to deal with his mental illness. He almost quit baseball. However, he went on to win the CY Young award in 2009.

I want Royce White to succeed. The world needs to see a professional athletes who can play in spite of anxiety and the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. I hope someone reaches out to White to offer advice or support. This is bigger than just one athlete. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Red Sox Right to Stay Out of Miami's Shenanigans

It looks like Toronto has gotten over the departure of John Farrell. I don't blame them. With the Yankees trying to balance the checkbook, the Red Sox still on the new manager honeymoon, and the Rays content to do little-to-nothing, the Blue Jays are making a dive to compete.

According to ESPN:
The Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins on Tuesday evening agreed to a multiple-player trade that would send star shortstop Jose Reyes and pitcher Josh Johnson to Toronto, sources told ESPN. Also going to Toronto would be pitcher Mark Buehrle, catcher John Buckand infielder-outfielder Emilio Bonifacio 
Toronto didn't have to send much back:
In return, the payroll-dumping Marlins are receiving Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar, right-hander Henderson Alvarez, catcher Jeff Mathis and prospects Jake Marisnick (OF),Adeiny Hechavarria (SS), Justin Nicolino (LHP) and Anthony DeSclafani (RHP).

Don't worry too much Sox fans. Toronto has improved, but at a price. Reyes is owed $106 million over six years and Buehrle is owed $58 million over four. That's a lot of coin.

The Red Sox should brush off the loss of Buehrle, Johnson, and Reyes. They are expensive, shiny toys that theey shouldn't invest in.

The team needs to stay the course and focus on acquiring talented, inexpensive veterans, limke Dan Haren. First, Haren is a workhorse. He could be a good third starter for this team. He did spend some time on the disabled list last year, but you know what? That was his first time there, according to CBS Sports.

Haren is also two years younger than Buehrle. And here are his average numbers from 2005-11, courtesy of CBS's Matt Snyder: 14-11, 3.49 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 195 K, 45 BB, 226 IP, 34 GS. Haren's 2012 season shouldn't scare Red Sox brass. There's likely to be a huge payoff. 

Toronto still doesn't quite pack a punch on offense. Their team OBP was around .309 and they averaged a so-so 4.42 runs per game. Both worse than Boston. 

The Red Sox shouldn't fret about Toronto. They've put all their chips and it's not guaranteed to work. Focus on solidifying the rotation and getting a few available bats that are still out there. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Timberwolves Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962

Before the achieved mega-stardom, the Beatles paid their dues at crappy nightclubs in Germany. I never saw them, but I'm guessing these were small, terribly lit places, that were full of teenagers in leather jackets looking to get their rock n' roll fix. It was a rough time for that band, but that's where they cut their teeth and grew their rock n' roll backbone.

This is the Timberwolves German period. John has already met Paul (Love meeting Rubio). George developed in to his own unique voice (the development of Pek). Ok...well, the metaphor kind of falls flat, but  the Wolves are starting to develop a unique sound. And it's going to lead to big things.

It's hard to make snap judgement after four games, but there are some encouraging trends going on. Many players are stepping up in the absence of Rubio and Love. Greg Steimsma is a highly efficient swatter. He's averaging 5.6 blocks per 36 minutes, the highest in the league for players who have played at least 60 minutes so far this season. Chase Budinger has provided that scoring punch on the wing that Wes Johnson couldn't ever seem to deliver. And any worries that Andrei Kirilenko has lost a step seem to be dissipating. In the game against Brooklyn, AK47 had 16 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and four blocks. He was also 7-for-11 from the floor. A different player has led the team in scoring in each of their three wins (Barea, Pek, and Ridnour.)

The comeback against the Nets was the fourth largest in team history. Just a few months ago, that sort of game was unimaginable. After Love went down with a concussion, that team lost its motivation and won only one game in the month of April. And while this team will be significantly better when Love and Rubio return, it's a relief to see a cadre of talented players holding down the fort.

One of the things I really like about this Timberwolves team is that they're marketable again. Check out the jersey section at The Wolves have 48 items available, which is more than the Hawks, Nuggets, Grizzlies, 76ers, and Spurs. All playoff times mind you.

So crank up the Twist and Shout, this team has got me wanting to dance.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Ghost of Fenway's Past and Future

The baseball free-agency period begins Saturday. Many names will be discussed in the offices at 4 Yawkey Way. However, the first person on General Manager Ben Cherington’s mind should be Charles Logue, the man who built Fenway Park. Logue knew how to build things for the future, something the Red Sox should emulate. According to the book A Secret History of Boston’s Irish by Peter F. Stevens, Logue was a man “with a reputation for straight-shooting negotiations, reliability, and deadlines met.”

Logue definitely was not the architect of these past few Red Sox teams. For the past two seasons this team’s fa├žade was stuffed  exorbitant contracts, empty beer cans, and Bobby Valentine’s snidely smirk. It’s been ugly. The Red Sox need to build a better foundation.

This means start from the bottom. Fans must be patient this season. John Farrell is coming in to a swamp of issues combined with loads of cash. It’s tempting to spend buckets of money this offseason, but stay patient and work on the young players. That will payoff in the long run.

Start with pitching. The rotation is a team’s foundation. The Red Sox should stick with the proven veterans, shed the waste, give young guys a shot, and wait for the big-time free agents after next season. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are two reliable starters who should improve with the return of Farrell.

Next, say goodbye to Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey. The Dice-K experiment was fun for a while, but seventeen wins in four seasons is not acceptable. John Lackey has not fit in well here. He has been injured, but spending $80 million on a declining pitcher who is recovering from Tommy John surgery  is not a good plan for the future. The potential trade of Lackey for Vernon Wells and Dan Haren would be a good move. Haren is a workhorse pitcher who can reliably eat up innings. Wells is coming off an injury and also has a bloated contract, but he provides left handed power at the plate.

The Red Sox have a bundle of young arms in their farm system. Junichi Tazawa showed he had dominating stuff last season. Over 45 innings of work he posted only .95 walks and hits per inning (WHIP). If closer Andrew Bailey is healthy, it might be worthwhile it to convert Tazawa to the starting rotation.  Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales also showed flashes of dominating stuff last year. Farrell should focus on developing them and seeing what they got.

If Sox fans get upset that their team isn’t spending a lot of money, they should also keep in mind that this is a thin free-agent class. Next year is a bumper crop. It includes Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson, and Ubaldo Jimenez.

First base is another question mark for this team. Give prospect Jerry Sands a shot. He’s the best option because he’s 25 and can hit for power. He’s hit 51 home runs over two seasons at AAA Albuquerque.  Don’t think about Kevin Youkilis. There might only be one or two good seasons left in him. The Red Sox need to think for the future.

However, the Sox should sign David Ortiz for a two year contract. That’s the one feel-good signing Ben Cherrington should make. Big Pappi is the most reliable power hitter in this lineup. He was the only Red Sox player with an on base percentage over .400 last season. And Ortiz wants to finish his career in a Red Sox uniform.

Fans might not know that Logue didn’t build the Green Monster. That came twenty years later. Take a cue from the man who built Fenway, Cherrington. You don’t need to create something iconic right away. It  took Logue a year to drain the “fetid marsh” on Jersey street and erect the cathedral of Fenway. Use this year to plan and experiment. Lay down a solid foundation, find and develop reliable players, and don’t waste money. Follow Logue’s lead, and this team will be rebuilt, properly.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Heat are Public Enemy #1 in Beantown

Some old-school fans may cringe at this fact, but the Lakers are no longer the C's biggest rival. It's the Heat. Kevin Garnett stirred the pot when he refused to acknowledge Ray Allen's tap on the shoulder during yesterday's game in Miami. It was ice cold, but that's how it should be this season.

The storied Boston-LA rivalry has toned down the past few seasons.. There's no real tension or storylines between the two teams. Russell had Chamberlain. Bird had Magic. Kobe has...Pierce? Garnett? No, these teams don't mirror each other well.

The 2008 and 2010 Finals were good stories, but it's a different era now. Rondo, Pierce, and KG are the only ones left from the Big Three era. LeBron has now led a team to a championship and has established himself as teh league's best player.  The Celtics are hoping to recreate themselves as a run-and-gun team. The Lakers have retooled as well.

It's clear that Boston and Miami are the two best teams in the east. Derrick Rose is out untill January. Brooklyn improved, but not significantly better. And New York just got old. Why should the Celtics care about the Lakers? They only face them twice this season and those two games are in a two week span in February, when the NBA doldrums set in.

The Heat are the Alpha Dog team in the NBA right now. Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.” The Celtics didn't try and become the Lakers, they got a quicker, higher scoring team that can run with the Heat.

I'm glad KG "lost" Ray Allen's phone number. That animosity provides a better storyline for Celtics fans and basketball fans in general.

Forget Long Beach, South Beach is where Celtics fans should be focusing their hatred.

Friday, October 26, 2012

David Stern: The World Is Not Enough

David Stern and Adam Silver could be the villains in the next Bond movie. I can picture the twiggy, bald, bespectacled Silver stroking a white cat while listening to Stern pontificate how to get a professional basketball team on the moon. " It can't be any worse than Sacramento, right?" says Stern. "Yes, master. Of course," responds Silver. Cue evil laughter.

Like a Bond villain, Stern ruled through fear, intimidation, and ruthless thirst for expansion to all corners of the globe. But unlike those villains, I begrudgingly tip my cap to Stern for helping build the league into what it is today.

I like that Stern has emphasized smaller markets through expansion and a favorable CBA, but then again, who wants to watch a Charlotte-Sacramento game on a Tuesday night?  There was also all but blood in the streets when Seattle moved to Oklahoma City. Sacramento fans live in constant fear for their team being deported. Stern has a shrewd business mind, which is good for business, but it doesn't always help me as a fan. The league is big, but maybe...too big. (But at least the NBA has built franchises better than the NHL. Hockey in Atlanta? Really?) 

Stern helped usher in a global NBA empire. And I LOVE that. With some of my baseball loving friends, I frequently argue which is a bigger global sport, baseball or basketball? It's no question. You can pick an NBA all-star from every continent. Euro leagues are becoming more attractive basketball finishing schools. Stern was initially reluctant to let NBA players go to Barcelona in '92, but its a decision he probably doesn't regret. This year's Olympics featured some professional caliber squads in Spain, France, and Brazil. This has been a great addition to the sport and I thank Stern for that. The NBA is also televised in 215 countries world-wide. This past year I've had in depth conversations about basketball with people from France and China. I don't think they would have been interested in talking about the advantages of a WAR metric. (And who watches the World Baseball Classic? Really?)    

Stern also implemented some weird policies. There were accusations of racism when Stern implemented a dress code aimed at the hip-hop generation of basketball players. Stern vetoed the Chris Paul-to-Lakers deal that had many basketball-philes drooling. And preventing Stan Van Gundy from being on TV is just wrong. 

So what is the meaning of David Stern? He helped grow a floundering league in to a global juggarnaut. Of course, he had help from mega stars like Jodan, Shaq, LeBron and Kobe. And there have been some rocky times like the lockouts. But I'll let it slide. To quote Bond-villain parody Dr. Evil,  "I've been a frickin' evil doctor for 30 frickin' years! So cut me some frickin' slack." I guess I should. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

John Farrell: Much Ado About Nothing

Something is rotten in the state of Fenway. It’s the idea that John Farrell can lead the Red Sox out of the mire and back to respectability. Larry Lucchino and Ben Cherington may have gotten the man they wanted, but Farrell’s hiring was a knee-jerk reaction that won’t pay off in the long run.

After the Bobby Valentine fiasco, Lucchino and Cherington wanted someone who had good clubhouse management skills. Farrell mentioned how he deals with players several times in his press conference. “If you treat the players like men, I believe it will come back to you tenfold. It won’t always be rosy; there will be tough conversations,” he said.

Toronto was not a rosy place these past two seasons. The team went 154-170 under Farrell and struggled to develop its young talent. The Blue Jays’ recently retired shortstop Omar Vizquel, a future hall of famer, harshly critiqued the atmosphere in the clubhouse."If you make mistakes and nobody says anything about it -- they just let it go -- we're going to keep making the same mistakes over and over again,” Vizquel told Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons in a late September interview. The shortstop also admonished the Toronto coaches for not communicating the mistakes to young players:

“I think a lot of mistakes were let go because it's young guys. You expect mistakes from young guys. It needs to be talked about. It shouldn't just be let go and say, 'Ah, we have another day.' You have to get on it.”

Although he never called out Farrell specifically, it’s doubtful that Vizquel meant for him to escape blame. Farrell responded with a comment saying that the team dealt with player issues internally.  

Vizquel later apologized, but this exchange should have been a red flag for Lucchino and Cherington. This was not an immature rookie going on a Twitter rant; it was a highly-respected, veteran calling out a coaching staff  that was not developing young players. The Red Sox need to have a player development-friendly organization. Will Middlebrooks had a promising rookie year will most likely be the starting third baseman next year. Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie was in a similar situation to Middlebrooks this past season and greatly underperformed. The Red Sox can’t let that happen to their third basemen of the future.    

The notion that Farrell’s connections to the Red Sox World Series teams will somehow lead to success is as ridiculous as an eight year anniversary parade. “Connections” don’t win ball games. Just ask the former Marlins manager, Ozzie Guillen. Guillen was the third base coach for the Marlins when they won the World Series in 2003 and said he was happy to be “home” when he was hired earlier this year. The team won 69 games, the same number as the Red Sox and Guillen is out of a job. Granted, Guillen is a controversial, but his connection with past glory did not do his team any good.

In his press conference, Farrell mentioned that constant change on a team can make it difficult to find success. He dealt with 107 different players over two years in Toronto. Boston fans should cringe at hearing that. Injuries are a part of the game, but good teams find a way to win. The Oakland Athletics were plagued with injuries all season, and yet they won AL West with a rotation that featured all rookies by the end of September. Farrell needs to be able to bring together a clubhouse that will probably feature some new faces next season.

This hiring reeked of sentimentality. Cherrington and Luchinno are patting themselves on the back. Good for them. It’s time they won something. Red Sox fans should remain skeptical. Management can laud Farrell’s “family ties” all it wants, but that doesn’t make up for his managerial deficiencies. Owner John Henry and his management team are extremely happy with this hire, but Red Sox fans are still miserable and Farrell provides few reasons for them to cheer up. Be warned, management. To quote Shakespeare once more,  “how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes.”

Friday, October 19, 2012

Don Draper's Basketball Team

In the first season of Mad Men, the final episode closes out with Don Draper pitching a campaign to Kodak executives to sell their new "photo wheel."  The pitch is pure Draper, emotional, heartfelt, and right on the money. He evokes nostalgia as he cycles through photos of his family. Draper says, "In Greek, nostalgia literally means, 'the pain from an old wound." 

It's a pitch that he would use if he was campaigning for the Brooklyn Nets

You would be hard pressed to find a bigger collective wound in the sports world than one left by the Brooklyn Dodgers when they moved to Los Angeles in 1957. 

 Brooklyn waited a long time for that wound to heal. No one expected that the 22-44 New Jersey Nets to fill the hole that was left by the Dodgers, a team rich with the history. But the Brooklyn marketing campaign has successfully woven its way in to the cultural mosaic of Brooklyn. We don't know how this team is going to be on the court yet, but they're going to be a media force and fun to follow.

The organization has proved itself to be different than it's crosstown competitor, the Knicks. That organization shot itself in the foot this summer when they let go their most likable and marketable star, Jeremy Lin. The 'Melo and Amare show still has not proved itself to their fans. Their most memorable playoff moment came when Amare punched in a fire extinguisher case. They Knicks have been the most popular NBA laughingstock of the last decade. They have not won more than 49 games since the 2000 season. They are an embarrassment and fans have found other teams to support in that time. They have't gripped the passions of the city like the Yankees and Giants have. 

The Nets have not been much better on the court. Their 12-win 2010 season was one of the worst in NBA history. This team wasn't winning any fans on the court. They couldn't just move to Brooklyn and expect fans to come, they had to transform and become a part of Brooklyn. 

image via Grantland.

And they've done a good job so far. Their sleek Jay-Z designed logo removed the frills of their god-awful 3D shield. Their arena, the Barclay's center opened up with a 8-day run of concerts by HOVA. They've also done some decent work for on the court work as well by signing Joe Johnson and getting Gerald Wallace. This team doesn't have it all together yet, but it's said "We're here for you Brooklyn." It's what New York basketball fans have been waiting for. 

 Borough president Marty Markowitz even fired the first shot in the Knicks-Nets rivalry. "It's treason to support the other borough's team," he said during a rally that proclaimed Joe Johnson & Deron Williams day. This team isn't riding in on its laurels, because it doesn't have any. It's creating that connection to establish themselves as part of the borough.

Sports are bigger than just businesses. They are culture. They are part of a community. And the good ones can evoke that pain of nostalgia that makes us love them all that much more.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rajon Rondo's Ben Affleck Problem

Rajon Rondo and Ben Affleck have the same problem. It’s called the “yeah, but...” syndrome. They are both talented individuals, but this disease makes people talk about their shortcomings whenever you talk about how great they are. It’s probably be described with an example. Imagine you’re talking with friend and you start talk about Affleck’s directing credentials..
        You say, “ Hey I just saw Argo. It’s fantastic. Ben Affleck has totally established himself as one of the best directors in Hollywood today.”
        Your friend replies, “Yeah, but wasn’t he in Gigli? And Reindeer Games? I still can’t take him seriously.”
Now switch the conversation to your best basketball chum. You say, “Rajon Rondo is the best player on the Celtics and the team will be better with him in a leadership role.”
Your friend replies, “Yeah, but doesn’t he shoot like 60% at the free throw line?  Doesn’t he turn the ball over a lot? And isn’t he a hot head? I still can’t take him seriously.”
        Affleck’s movie, Gigli did receive a 7% rating on the movie review site, Rotten Tomatoes. And Rondo did record a personal worst 3.6 turnovers per game last year. You can’t disregard those numbers, but just because you get nominated for a Razzie, doesn’t mean you can’t win an Oscar as well.
        I’m not a director, nor am I a point guard, but I’ll venture a guess that those jobs have some similarities. They have to call the shots. They have to work with people to get the right flow to a scene or the right movement to a play. Both a good point guard and a director know when to let people improvise. If Affleck/Rondo can lead behind the camera and add something in front of it, I say let them go forward.
        One of the biggest concerns about Rondo is his shot. It was downright disgusting at times last year. His true shooting percentage was 48.3% on the season, well below the league average. Luckily, Rondo has a new supporting cast that can help disguise his shooting inconsistencies. Jeff Green, Jason Terry, and Courtney Lee all had true shooting percentages above the league average of 52%. (I used the numbers from Green’s 2010 season, his last full season.) The right supporting cast can cover for the shortcomings of a leader. If the leader directs them correctly as Rondo can dishing the ball, just ask Jeremy Renner and his Oscar nomination for The Town.
        Rondo is a master at ball handling. He doesn’t need to be LeBron James and do everything. Ben Affleck has mastered the art of creating a story. He doesn’t need to be George Clooney in front of the camera. Remember that Affleck won an Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon when he was 25.
It’s the same story with Rondo. During Game 4 of this year’s Eastern Conference Finals, Rondo made a pass between LeBron James and Mario Chalmers to a driving Paul Pierce in a space that looked to amount to the size of a sheet of paper. Announcer Jeff Van Gundy even said that he didn’t think anybody else in the league could do that.  Rondo has a unique set of skills that very few other point guards possess. He doesn’t have to be a LeBron James do-everything sort of guy. The offense doesn’t need to run through him. He directs the offense and the Celtics are fortunate to have him do his thing well.
        How do Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce fit in to Rondo’s development? Let’s pretend those two are Alan Arkin and John Goodman, two guys who had roles  in Argo. They play two seasoned Hollywood veterans, one a makeup artist and the other a director. They help create the film company that produces the fake movie that is going to help rescue the Americans trapped in Iran. They provide a role for support, but they don’t head to Iran. KG and Pierce are getting up there in age and coach Doc Rivers can’t expect them to be in the thick of things for all 82 games. They have a place and can step up when they are called on, but for day to day operations, its Rondo’s turn to lead.
        One of the best lines in Argo comes when Affleck and his CIA cohorts propose the movie rescue mission to their supervisor. Their boss doesn’t like it and they respond, “This is the best bad idea we have, sir.” And that bad idea worked. Rondo might not be the best point guard in the NBA, but he's the best player for the Cetlics right now. And they're better for it.