Beyond the Stadium

What Plays Out Beyond the Game

What’s in a Medal?

I have always found the Olympics, whether winter or summer, to be immensely entertaining for one reason: It’s sense of unity. Countries from across the world forget the political nonsense hovering over them and join in a celebration of skill. For a few short weeks we remember how fun and rewarding something as simple as a game can be.

That is why the issue of medals is so distracting. Canada invested millions of dollars in an effort to “Own the Podium”. They burned resources that could have been used elsewhere and treated foreign athletes unfairly. Everything became about who had the better skis and most aerodynamic suits.

When it became clear Canada would not claim the most medals, the success of the United States  shifted from enjoyable to boastful. Suddenly, American athletes have begun mocking Canada and flaunting their own prowess. No performance matters for viewers unless a gold medal comes along with it. Americans have begun to miss the point of the Olympic Games.

In truth, medals should be far from the top of the list of concerns for competing countries. The sheer joy and excitement of participating in such a massive event is reward enough for most of the athletes there. It takes just as much courage to shrug off a crash and come back in another event as it does to win a gold and be expected to repeat.

So I say forget about the rampant patriotism. Start focusing on the amazing stories many of the foreign athletes have. Savor an American (or Canadian, or German, or whoever) victory,  but don’t lament when an underdog country digs out a victory. The Olympics is about loving the celebrations, the surprises, and the crazy performances that happen along the way.

So I say; Go World.

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February 27, 2010 Posted by | Big Events | , , | Leave a comment

Pitchers and Catchers: The True Sign of Spring

Forget about Punxsutawney Phil. Forget about the whole “six more weeks of winter” nonsense. Spring is here, heralded by the arrival of the first batch of pitchers and catchers.

With these players come the first wave of new baseball rumors, speculation, injury reports and unnecessary votes of confidence. Fantasy baseball roars back to life and friends/bitter rivals begin to ponder their keepers and tinker with draft lists. What more could a baseball fan want?

Personally, I look forward to this day just as much as the season opener. Players are eager to talk about the season, even those who ended theirs in a flaming-car-wreck fashion. It seems as though they, along with the general staff, are still loose and not yet in “season mode”.

The A.L. East alone provides its own cacophony of topics. Here is a mere smattering  of the stories that will unfold during Spring Training:

The saga that is the Red Sox rotation.

Boston already had the potential for the next Big Three (Beckett, Buchholz and Lester). The addition of John Lackey serves to make the rotation even more imposing and versatile. The issue is not with these aces, but with who is going to lock up the fifth spot.

One option is the ever-present Tim Wakefield, who is eternally underrated. Though he has stated he is happy with the Sox, he has also been clear about his animosity towards a backup role.

The other candidate, Daisuke Matsuzaka, is a story unto himself. He recently revealed his battle with “upper back soreness” to the media, furthering his reputation as a less-than-forthcoming player.

The youth movement in the Tampa Bay camp.

Like the other teams in the A.L. East, the Rays rely on young, skilled players to succeed. Their average age of 27.6 may not be the lowest, but they have no players over the age of 35. Their young pitching staff needs to prove it can handle the rigors of a full season (especially David Price and James Shields, the latter of whom faltered slightly in his ’09 campaign).

Another issue is who to place at second base and right field. Locking down Ben Zobrist at second would help him focus on his batting but would also decrease his incredible contributions at other positions.

Life after Halladay for the Blue Jays.

Even with Roy Halladay, who was arguably the best pitcher in baseball last season, the Jays had no chance of hanging with the heavy hitters in the A.L. East. Ricky Romero logged some impressive performances early in the year, but faltered later in the season with ERA’s over five in both August and September. Scott Richmond recently came down with a shoulder injury, setting him behind in his training. The bullpen is shaky as well, with Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg showing some inconsistency.

        Of course, many analysts have pegged the Yankees as the team to beat (surprise, surprise). Their success, though, depends on the ability of their superior offense to overcome some two tough pitching staffs in Boston and Tampa Bay.

        So much can change during the course of Spring Training, which is exactly why this time of year is so exciting. So let the (exhibition) games begin, and may we forget about Phil’s shadowy prediction.

        February 19, 2010 Posted by | Big Events | Leave a comment

        Red Sox Must Go on the Offensive

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        It’s the first round of the playoffs, and Sox fans have found themselves in a strange (lately) position. Their beloved team has been knocked out of contention by the postseason punching bag, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Two questions now present themselves to hapless Bostonians everywhere: How the hell can the Angels be in Los Angeles and Anaheim at the same time, and where do the Red Sox go from here?

        The most obvious thing the Sox need to do is become more offensive. No, not in the Kevin-Youkilis-Will-Throw-His-Helmet-At-You kind of offensive, but the kind that sends a baseball into places that are not the infield or the catchers mitt. This means, first and foremost, getting rid of the increasingly burdensome Jason Varitek and adding some power hitters.

        Yes, the Sox were third in the A.L. in runs scored (872) and second in OPS (.806). That is all well and good, but the main power sources in the Red Sox clubhouse may not be sticking around.

        Jason Bay, who swatted 36 dingers despite an abysmal half-season slump, is worth a whole bucketful of arms and legs in this lackluster free agent market. He may be too rich for Theo Epstein’s suddenly thrifty blood. He is the best power hitter on the team by far, and his loss would leave a massive gap.

        There are plenty other question marks in their aging lineup. Mike Lowell, with his oft-repaired hip, is well on his way to becoming a cyborg and is 35 years old. J.D. Drew, the highest-paid Sox player this season ($14 million!?!?!) did not become the stable offensive force Sox brass thought he would be. Victor Martinez, while an excellent acquisition, is already 30. Finally, David Ortiz is not nearly as threatening as he once was.

        The Red Sox made it to the World Series in 2004 and 2007 because they had great pitching and deadly hitters in the middle of their lineup. Now, they have a solid pitching staff and a group of good-but-not-great hitters, with Bay as the only elite source of power.

        To remain contenders, the Sox will have to acquire a big bat at third, say goodbye to Varitek,  re-sign Bay, and find a solution for the revolving door that is the shortstop position.

        Daniel Bard proved his worth this season, so perhaps Boston could use Papelbon as trade bait for a marquee hitter. With Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz leading the rotation, pitching will not be an issue. As the seven total runs against the Angels painfully demonstrated, it was the offense that was not built for the playoffs.

        October 13, 2009 Posted by | Big Events | Leave a comment

        Bowie Strolls In

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         The controversial commissioner Bowie Kuhn was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame Monday after years of futility. Kuhn, who was vilified in Jim Bouton’s classic novel “Ball Four“, was elected alongside former Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, ex-Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss and managers Dick Williams and Billy Southworth. While many of the old time baseball executives are surely pleased by this announcement there are many others who cry foul.

                    Marvin Miller, the champion of free agency, called the voting “rigged.” Miller received 63% of the vote earlier this year, while Kuhn got a weak 14%, far short of the Hall requirements. Recently, though, the Veterans Committee was revamped for the second time since 2001 and, voila! Kuhn strolls into the most hallowed hall in baseball. As Miller stated, it all looks a little fishy.

                    The new committee is made up of seven baseball managers, people who almost certainly despise people like Miller. Hatred aside, Miller is more than deserving of the Hall. He pioneered free agency and player rights, beating down the resistant Kuhn on several occasions. As always, baseball is showing its tendency to avoid change and stick with its own. Miller has been blatenly cast out, and this act serves to tarnish the greatness of the Hall of Fame.

        December 4, 2007 Posted by | Big Events | Leave a comment

        Santana Suitors

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        We find ourselves in the second half of the NFL season, with the NBA and NHL having kicked off as well, but some of the most talked-about sporting news is coming from Major League Baseball. Aside from the Barry Bonds firestorm, all eyes have been turning to the trade talk surrounding Johan Santana.

                    The Minnesota Twins have recently offered their southpaw stud an $80 million deal over four years that has all-but-guaranteed Santana will be leaving the Twins this off-season. A deal of that size is a slap in the face for him, as the vastly inferior Barry Zito soaked the Giants for $126 million last year. If Santana walked out onto the open market today, he could easily get a 6-year deal worth $120 million. There are plenty of teams out there just dying to have his guaranteed low-3’s ERA and 200-plus strikeouts.

                    Of course, the most obvious team to land Santana is the (nefarious) New York Yankees. After being embarrassed in the playoffs and delegated to a mere wild-card winner, the Yanks are looking to shore up their pathetic rotation. Of course, any pitcher under the age of 40 would be unusual for the New York but, hey, stranger things have happened.

                    The asking price for any team, though, will be monstrously steep. The Twins have reportedly asked about several Yankee “untouchables” including Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. The Mets desperately need more pitching, but the talent they have may not be enough for the Twins. Despite these steep demands, it looks like the Santana will be traded. The Twins have already lost Hunter, and they will want to get everything they can for Johan Santana.

        November 26, 2007 Posted by | Big Events | Leave a comment

        The Best Game of All Time…Ever

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        On Sunday, November 4th at 4:15, two titans will come together and partake in an epic struggle to….ok…I think its safe to say I am sick of this shit. It’s the Patriots against the Colts, and sports media would have us thinking it’s just about as good as the rebirth of Christ. Yes, the game will be all good and dandy, and I am excited for it, but really, how hyped up can something be?

                    Suddenly it has become of game of Good vs Evil, and I just can’t justify that. Ever since the Pats were caught cheating, the entire world has turned against them. A few years ago they were America’s team, the perfect model of sportsmanship, camaraderie and humility.

                    Oh, how the tune has changed. The Pats win a few Super Bowls, the rest of the country gets jealous, and everyone starts hunting for something to pin on the team. Maybe I’m just a biased New Englander, but since when have the Colts become America’s new team? Just because Bill Belichick is aged, premium USDA Asshole doesn’t mean the rest of the team should be scorned.

                    Regardless of the silly hype, the game should end up being a great match-up, though not the one everyone is looking for. It will be an offensive circus-kind of like a basketball game, but one that will be fun…and that people will actually watch. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the fireworks of a combined 47 receiving touchdowns.

        October 30, 2007 Posted by | Big Events | Leave a comment

        Goodbye George

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               For 34 years, his powerful shadow loomed over Yankee Stadium, stretching out past the Bronx and engulfing all Yankee fans. His era was marked by dominance, controversy and power struggles. There were World Series victories and division championships galore. Finally, though, the power of George Steinbrenner has waned, and he has given control of his “evil empire” over to his sons. 

             Hank and Hal Steinbrenner will now pull the strings of the organization, with the 77-year-old Boss reducing himself to the role of chairman. From my perspective, the Yankees couldn’t have asked for anything better.

                     While the Boss had a long run of success, the Yankees have dug themselves into a pit that no over-the-hill All-Star could dig them out of. Over the last decade, Yankee Stadium has become the place where good players go to die. The Yankees have hit bottom this season, finishing second to the Red Sox for the first time in almost a decade.

                    This is the perfect time to phase out the painfully outdated Steinbrenner. The new stadium will be completed in 2009, the Yankees are nurturing a core of young players reminiscent of the team that ruled the 90’s, and ol’ Joe Torre finally seems to be on the way out. While it may seem far off, the Yankees are close to a return to dominance-if they can shake the formulaic and impatient Steinbrenner from their backs.

        October 16, 2007 Posted by | Big Events | Leave a comment

        One is Done

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        In a season of near-endless upsets, the 43-37 Kentucky victory over LSU is perhaps the most epic and important. It has been almost four years since the last no.1 was toppled. LSU was only on top for two weeks and for the first time since 1959, but were strong favorites regardless.

                    Top ten teams are falling easily and often, with LSU representing the 10th to tumble in the last two weeks. The triple-overtime marathon was more surprising than Appalachian State, even more shocking than USC falling to Stanford. It is becoming so common, though, that the wonder of it all is wearing off. My biggest reaction to this college football season is: Why?

                    I can’t recall a single season with so many upsets and uncertainties. No team is safe, no lead too padded. Perhaps college football has reached such a level of sophistication, from training to diets to technology, that they are all reaching a shared plateau. There seems to be young superstars everywhere, proliferating like vines in Wrigley Field. Will a no.1 lead ever be considered “safe” again? I don’t know the answers, but would love to see a day where rankings no longer hold water, and any team could hold their own on the field.

        October 14, 2007 Posted by | Big Events | Leave a comment