Sunday, September 22, 2013

Breaking Up (a Pass) Is Hard To Do

Oh, National Football League.  You make it hard to forgive you, although I keep doing so.

 I think I said I was done with you last year.  Then I came back because, well, just because you were there and I couldn't resist you.  But . . .

1) Aldon Smith and the 49ers.  He crashed his car into a tree at 7 in the morning.  I don't so much care that he was drinking, but he drove while intoxicated, endangering other people.  The 49ers say they care about his well-being as a person, but they are not deactivating him for this game.  He is apparently going to play today, THEN maybe go to rehab.  My love for the Niners will be tarnished if they do play him. 

2) If rumors are true, the NFL exerted pressure on ESPN to back out of developing a documentary with PBS on concussions.  I don't know if those rumors are true, but they fit with the general pattern of issues we have seen regarding concussions recently and a growing discontent over how the league has addressed the matter.

3) Our nation's capital's football team continues to use a racist nickname straight out of Manifest Destiny.  Although I suppose someone with a dark sense of humor might find that fitting, I don't like the fact that the Commissioner continues to support the name.  The reason why no one in the league wants to change it, of course, has to do with money and merchandising, in the guise of "tradition."  I don't accept that as sufficient reason. 

So, these reasons are making me consider boycotting the NFL, by which I mean I would not watch another game and I will continue to never buy football merchandise.  It isn't like it was a realistic option for me to actually attend a game live, due to expense, so my "boycott" would be little more than poking a hole in a river. 

As I say this, of course, Green Bay versus Cincinnati is on the TV, but at least it is on mute. 

Okay, so maybe I'm just a hypocrite, talking big about being done without doing anything.  I know I talked about breaking up with the NFL last year.  But this year, with NBC Sports giving me fantastically improved access to Premier League Soccer, well, that gives me a more than adequate substitute in terms of weekend sports. 

NFL, time to clean up your act, or I really will be done for good. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Opening Day Thoughts

Spring, and life begins again, and a new baseball season rides into town as my daughter gets ready to be born this summer. 

Having a daughter on the way puts things in perspective: the fact that the Giants have won two of the last three World Series means that I will TOTALLY be relaxed about the outcomes this year and can just enjoy the unfolding narratives.  That should last at least two weeks.

Here are my thoughts from Opening Day so far:

1) Clayton Kershaw is amazing.  I hate that he pitches for the Dodgers, but you can't have anything but respect for him.  He shut down the Giants on offense and won the game with a home run.  It was just his day. 

2) Matt Cain pitched well, the offense did their best--although would it kill Hunter Pence to develop some patience at the plate?--and it is a long season.  It was the bullpen that let the Giants down today.  It's going to be a fun rivalry this season.

3) These are not the same Dodgers owners whose attorney attributed some blame to Bryan Stow.  I need to remember that.

4) Jackie Bradley Jr, the Red Sox phenom, looks like he could be fun to watch!  Great discipline.  But he will need to show he can hit.  Drawing walks against CC Sabathia was impressive, but Daric Barton of the A's and Travis Ishikawa of the Giants drew a lot of walks, and that was never enough to really break through into the big time.

5)  Yankees are in trouble this year.  Also, it is strange to see Kevin Youkilis in a Yankees uniform. 

6) Bryce Harper hit two home runs.  Let's just give the World Series to the Nationals now and save us all a lot of time. 

Or, you know, let's not do that. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Addressing The Slums, Literally

There are times when the influence of sports triggers steps forward in society at large.  Think Jackie Robinson and the integration of Major League Baseball.  Now, in Brazil, comes another one of those steps forward.

I found this fascinating: the slums, or favelas, or Rio are finally being mapped. 

It is depressing, but admittedly poetic in a macabre sort of way, that the poorest slums in Rio de Janeiro have not been named on maps.  The poor have been invisible, literally not listed on any map, denied the official addresses needed--as mentioned in the article--for job applications, bank accounts, and emergency calls. 

No wonder drug dealers have roamed the slums of Rio for so long. 

So, the reason why Rio is finally addressing this issue?  Sports, or more directly, the money and public attention that will come to Brazil from the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics.  It doesn't seem like this prompt should have been needed, but hey, if it works, it works. 

A victory for sports, for people like FIFA's president Sepp Blatter who argue that sport should be independent of politics because it serves as its own style of diplomat, bringing outcast countries into the fold and encouraging them to ameliorate those circumstances that cause outrage within and beyond their borders.

Then again, the awarding of the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup hasn't exactly spurred human rights advances in Russia, where new anti-gay legislation is pending.  Clearly Putin loved the old Cold War movies too much, because now he wants to revive that Russia versus the world paradigm through tyranny and just general nastiness. 

Don't expect to see FIFA rescind the Russian World Cup, though, nor the IOC pulling the Olympics.  Too much money at stake, and sporting associations aren't likely to take such blatant action.  But if FIFA refuses to condemn Russia, then it certainly seems like it should not be allowed to take too much credit for improving Brazilian life, even if that is an indirect result of the 2014 World Cup preparations. The same should be said for the Olympics.

Or is it just an example of picking one's battles?  Should FIFA and the IOC be lauded for their influence, the awarding of sporting events and the ensuing public spotlight forcing positive changes in some instances? 

Perhaps we should just say objectively that sports are having a positive effect in Brazil, and a neutral effect in Russia, since the awarding of the World Cup can't be blamed for Putin becoming a jerk--he was one already.  The changes that occur are simply a matter of cause and effect, not a reason for celebrating the sports that triggered the changes. 

What do you think?  Is credit due to FIFA and the IOC for awarding these prestigious events to a country with known social ills, in the expectation that the ills might be treated?  Or is it really just all about the money with them, and any attached progress happens independently of their influence, or more specifically, independent of their intentions? 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Broader View Of Baseball

I was finding myself screaming at the TV on a regular basis, any time the Giants didn't win a baseball game.  It seemed natural enough to think that if the Giants were struggling and the Dodgers were having undeserved success, the universe was unfairly out to get me. 

Then we realized our cat had fleas, and all of a sudden baseball didn't seem as important.  After a frenzied day of vacuuming--in which I learned how to use the attachments on our fancy new vacuum cleaner WITHOUT an instruction book--and decimating our laundry piles and taking the kitty to a vet for treatment, I'm feeling very adult and productive, even if I did put whites in with a pink blanket.  Ouch. 

So this puts me in a more reflective frame of mind.  Time to consider some of the stories in baseball that intrigue me even without directly contributing to the all-conquering success of Buster Posey and company.

1) Bryce Harper.  I've been opposed to Bryce Harper, the young Washington Nationals phenom with the bad haircut, on general principle ever since I read in Sports Illustrated that he has a bit of a swelled head.  But then Cole Hamels intentionally hit Bryce Harper in the first Phillies-Nationals game of the year, for no valid reason, and Harper's response was to steal home.  That's just outstanding.  So now, today, there is a rematch on TV, and a rivalry I can actually care about on the East Coast.  It helps that the Red Sox and Yankees are struggling, so there are actually some different teams being shown on TV.

2) The Athletics.  Oakland is playing quite well this year, and even though Yoenis Cespedes is hurt, he has done enough to pique my curiosity.  With Oakland, I have the benefit of cheering for them as a local team from my boyhood, but with the buffer that they were never my favorite team, so I am not as heavily invested in them.  I can just enjoy the intricacies of the game when watching them play, and they are actually competing in the AL West.

3)  The Orioles.  The AL East is being lead by a team that does not hail from New York, Boston, or Tampa.  And they aren't Toronto.  That's fascinating.  The Orioles have a great tradition from the days of Cal Ripken Jr and Eddie Murray and Roberto Alomar.  They should be contending, and it is great that they are, especially since they weren't given much of a chance this year.

That's enough to be going on with.  It should be an awesome summer of baseball. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Random Thoughts On Writing And Vegetables

Two poems submitted in the last two weeks. This promises to be addictive.

It starts to rain as I walk to buy fresh bagels. There is a novel in that, surely.

In gardening news, it appears that alyssum is the Borg Collective of the world of raised vegetable beds.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

They Look Smaller On TV

When I was growing up, one of my favorite baseball books was Summer of '49 by David Halberstam, which chronicled the thrilling pennant race between the Yankees and the Red Sox. It bestowed mythic status upon players like Dom and Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Yogi Berra, even Birdie Tebbetts. Without baseball, and the larger-than-life status it bestowed upon heroes, how many kids growing up in Montana during the '80s and '90s would have any clue who Mel Parnell was?

These days, I don't find the same fascination when it comes to Boston-New York baseball games. I wish I could still care about the rivalry. I've tried. But . . . no. It doesn't help that Sunday Night Baseball seems to broadcast Yankees-Red Sox approximately 160 times a year, which they really have to try for, since there are only 162 games in a season.

Overexposure makes the whole thing less interesting.

The NFL should have learned this lesson. I heard a rumor in Peter King's column for that the NFL planned to announce the schedule for 2012 as part of a prime-time TV special. Sadly, this was not just a rumor. They actually did it this week.

This sort of non-event event gives events a bad name. It's like LeBron James' "Announcement" special; we really didn't need an hour-long TV special to tell us where LeBron was going to play basketball. And much like that killed off a lot of my interest in the NBA, the NFL televising the schedule makes me question my interest in football.

Of course, I'm also still bitter about the coverage of the NFL draft. I used to enjoy getting up early on a Saturday morning to watch the draft with Vaughn. We would get coffee and breakfast and make our own mock drafts. Now, though, the NFL shows the first round on a Friday evening, east coast time, when I'm still at work. Boo.

I understand why the NFL needs to market every last drop of potential advertising dollars; now that we are no longer able to pretend as a culture that concussions are a sign of manliness and virtue, the lawsuits are going to pile up, especially after Gregg Williams expressly stated the motive of unmitigated violence against opponents.

That's fine for a business to try to protect its interests, but the consequence of their methods risks losing me as a fan even before the 49ers move to Santa Clara.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Green For Saint Patrick's Day, Green For Soccer

The torrential rain stopped long enough. Mostly.

There were still bursts of hard rain for different periods during the day, but our Saint Patrick's Day excursion to AT & T Park for a soccer doubleheader continued, with plenty of hot chocolate, of course.

It was always going to be festive. We figured that out on the train up from San Jose, as more and more fans crowded on the train, a majority of them wearing Mexico jerseys, which had the added benefit of being green, thus protecting the wearer against pinches. (Interesting train ride: people were openly carrying cases of beer, which is apparently not a problem for Cal Train, as the conductors didn't seem to care.)

I was not sure how well a soccer field would fit inside AT & T Park, with the configuration for baseball, but it actually proved to be quite successful, and our seats were amazingly close to the pitch. First game was San Jose versus the Houston Dynamo.

The Earthquakes had moments of opportunity, but never quite finished, while the Dynamo made the most of the penalty kick they earned to take all the points from the game. Still, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

And then things got even MORE festive for the second game, which is a little odd when you consider the first game was a professional match and the second game was a bunch of players 23 and younger. It wasn't even an actual Olympic qualifying match, simply a friendly between Mexico and Senegal. But the fans increased in number and frenzy, flocking to the bottom of the stands just to take pictures of the Mexican players warming up with small games of keep-away. And the procession on to the field was complete with fanfare (apologies for the shaky quality of the video from my iPhone):

Mexico soccer fans are great. I have rarely seen the wave done without any irony. Unfortunately, they also like vuvuzuelas.

The game was brilliant. Despite the youth of the players, there was an added dimension of speed and elegance that seemed to be missing from the MLS game, as fast and as skilled as the Earthquakes and Dynamo were. Senegal was big and strong, but Mexico started the game clearly the superior in terms of creativity and tactics, and their momentum paid off with two penalty kicks earned and converted in the first twenty-five minutes. Senegal looked much improved in the second half and converted a penalty of their own, but Mexico never really looked in danger of losing the match.

It was a great day, capped by a great meal at Tres with our friends Vaughn and Emily, where we had margaritas and shrimp tacos. A perfect flavor for the end of a soccer-flavored Saint Patrick's Day.