Saturday, July 26, 2014

Why We Root, Root, Root . . .

All the excitement of the FIFA World Cup led many of my non-soccer friends to come to me (as the resident soccer expert at work) to ask what all the excitement was about.  I tried to explain the cultural differences between most of the world and the US; that we have an embarrassment of riches in the sports we can follow that dilutes our fanaticism.  Most US cities or regions have multiple sports the local residents may attach themselves to.  Most of the world does not.

In the New York area, I grew up with two baseball, football, basketball (yes, I’ll count the ABA Nets who were led by Julius Erving at the time), and hockey teams.  We even had niche sports and regular events with four horse tracks (before Roosevelt Field became a regular Flea Market), the US Tennis Open, and (for a short time) major league soccer.  

In most other countries, soccer is like college and pro football and the NBA combined.  It’s sounds simple, but it’s the only way that Americans can understand it.  There are two teams you root for: your local club team (no matter the league level) and the national team.  Loyalty is passed down through families.  As I learned more about the game and the “football” culture, I identified with it completely.  

As I grew up in New York, I rooted crazily for my teams (Yanks, Giants, Rangers and Knicks); played and attended tennis matches; spent way too much “time” at the tracks.  I followed them all with the intensity of a zealot.  There were many times I was asked to calm down as every missed shot, home run or first down resulted in screams, thrown items or, one time, a slightly dislocated shoulder.  I’ve been asked if I had any brothers on the team (by my mother-in-law) and been yelled at (by my wife) for waking the baby when the Yankees inexplicably won the World Series in 1996.  I’ll take all the blame because this is who I am.  I’m a sports fan.

(Post Break: One former girlfriend played amateur psychologist with me and said I was so invested in sports because I was missing something integral from my “self.”  I told her the only thing I would be missing was her – goodbye.)   

I’m extremely grateful for the love and understanding of my family – they know what they’re dealing with.  During football season, I’m unreachable on Sunday mornings prepping for football; October, May and June nights are spent watching playoff games; and “daddy language” was never to be repeated outside the house.

As summer vacation beckons, my family gladly incorporates a sporting event (it’s a Yankee road game this year).  Past adventures have included Giants training camp, Fenway Park, and old and new Yankee Stadium.  My daughters have incorporated sports into their life – as athletes and fans (and even some “daddy language”).  As time goes on, I feel this love and passion for the games are among the best (and most consistent) things I can pass on.

It’s funny how love and passion lead to becoming a fanatic– you know, that’s how you get the word “fan.”

Just Sayin’ 
In the spirit of this post, I’ll refer you to Tom Verducci’s tribute to writer (and awardee of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor given by the Baseball Writers Association of America) Roger Angell in Sports Illustrated ( and a section of a 1975 piece from Mr. Angell: 

It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look—I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring—caring deeply and passionately, really caring—which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naïveté—the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball—seems a small price to pay for such a gift. 


Monday, July 14, 2014

In Building Up, Knicks and Yanks Go Their Separate Ways

We're so shortsighted or too distracted as fans to see what's directly in front of us, and we're always looking for the next big thing.  So let's spend the summer  . . . giving all our attention to NBA free agency!  New York fans have been getting a front row seat to team building on several levels for several teams. 

The "Melo-drama" (sorry about that) which was pretense for Carmelo Anthony getting a max contract in the neighborhood of $120 million for five years from the Knicks is only worth paying attention to if your baseball was doing nothing (Hello, New York fans!) or you don't have a beach house.   Phil Jackson's master plan started with the acquisition of Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert, drafting Cleanthony Early, developing Tim Hardaway Jr. and signing Anthony as the centerpiece.  As a Knick fan, you have to ask the next question - how does this make you a contender?

It's been 42 years since the Knicks last won an NBA championship.  Three eras of basketball - (Kareem, Magic and Bird, and Jordan) that have blown by with the Knicks only seriously contending in about four of those seasons.  Even in 1999, the last time they were in the finals, they were the eight seed and constant overachievers - but not really contenders. Phil is betting on these kids to develop and for Melo to provide the leadership (which he has never demonstrated).  While I'm sure Phil would like to add another free agent body (buenos dias Senor Gasol), salary cap limitations look like they will force the Knicks to develop a team internally.  It's a gamble, but at least it's a strategy. 

The Knicks issues compare favorably to what is facing the Yankees.  As the Yanks progress from the
Core Four to Sore Four (my new nickname for their "starting" pitching staff),they are forced to revise their team building strategy.  In spite of a lack of salary cap, it's practically impossible to build an effective baseball team through free agency.  Baseball general managers have shifted tactics to locking up younger players at the first sign of success, buying out their arbitration and early free agency years.

In the past, the Yankees would sit and wait for players to become eligible.  Now their patience is netting them a beat-up Brian McCann; a game, but inconsistent Jacoby Ellsbury; and a used-up Carlos Beltran.  There are no pitchers to be had as stars like Kershaw, Cueto and Hernandez are locked up through their prime years and others like Wainwright and Verlander are getting on in years (despite Wainwright's outstanding success this year, he is 32 years old).

Do the Yankees become sellers as they approach the trade deadline?   Since they're only five games out and in a weak division, I think they will double-down and become buyers.  The trouble is, there's not much left to bargain with.  Any young, pro-ready talent would already be up with the team (sit down, Yangervis) and some highly touted talent has not panned out (I'm looking at you Mason Williams and Manny Banuelos). With all the papers talking up Rob Refsnyder in the last month, we'll sit back and watch if he becomes the next core star.   There's no chance that Tampa will trade David Price to the Yanks and that's not necessarily where the problem lies.  They need an everyday player to be the main cog in their lineup.  A centerpiece.  You know - a Carmelo Anthony.

Just Sayin'

I just paid for two of my Fantasy Football leagues - so its time to study!

With Tanaka-san on the shelf, it would be nice if Shane Greene turned out to be the real thing and not a tease (like Chase Whitely).

As a sports fan, the last three months have been riveting between the Stanley Cup playoffs and World Cup.  But now it's time to dedicate myself to catching up on the TV I've missed.

I can't recall a year where so many baseball players have been hurt.  It seems like I'm reading about some out for weeks and months every day.  Yadier Molina, Brandon Phillips, Tanaka - when did these guys become so fragile?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Yankee Outlook Could Make for a Long, Hot Summer

I've been distracted by several things over the past few weeks.  Since mid-May, the Rangers had an exhilarating climb to the Stanley Cup Finals; the World Cup (we have a family pool since we're all soccer junkies) captivates us and the US Men's team surprises us as they walked through the Group of Death; the Knicks rebuilding process is taking shape as Phil Jackson learns on the job and makes a nice trade with Dallas for point guard Jose Calderon and draft picks that turn into athletics forwards; it's always fun following Giants mini-camp and the NFL as I prepare for my three fantasy football drafts; and personal stuff, as we lost a close friend and my daughter graduated high school.  But now I'm ready to get back into some Yankee baseball!

But the Yankees suck.

Maybe that's a little harsh.  They just can't hit, field or (sometimes) pitch, but aside from that, I'm sure they're OK.

They've just cut their April and May MVP, who picked a bad time to hit less than my IQ for the past month and field like he's just discovered he has hands.  (I no longer feel compelled to learn how to spell "Yangervis".)  The veteran off-season pick-ups that would make up the offensive loss of Robinson Cano (I'm looking at you Beltran, McCann and Ellsbury) are hitting a combined .247 with 22 combined home runs - which basically makes them Mark Teixeira.  Brett Gardner and (I can't believe I'm typing this) Ichiro Suzuki have been the only consistent producers in the lineup.  Even the great Jeter (hallowed be His name) is showing that taking a year off to injury and coming back at 40 years old can make you an average ballplayer.  There is absolutely no consistency in the lineup due to injury, maintenance, or lack of production.  Which subsequently affects the team in the field. 

The outfield has held up well as Gardner is able to become one of the best defensive left
fielders in baseball and Ellsbury has been better than we remember in centerfield.  However, the infield looks as if it would take me running to first to enable them to turn a double play.  With Kelly Johnson and the forementioned Yangervis Solarte playing third base - which neither of them had done before this season at any level - there is no stability.  Jeter, whose range has been suspect for most of his 30's, is playing like a 40 year-old shortstop (the last time I saw a 40 year-old shortstop, I was playing third base on a softball team).  General Manager Brian Cashman is under the gun to find a third baseman (and no, Alex Rodriguez is not available) who can hit and field.  Actually, any hitting would do since the Yanks are 12th in the AL (20th overall) in hitting and were just swept by the team ranked 13th. 

Incredibly, the optimistic side of the team is the pitching staff.  This group suffered from the loss of CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova (my pre-season pick for Cy Young) but have been stabilized by the revelation that is Masahiro Tanaka.  Tanaka has led the league in ERA for the past two months (he was pitcher of the month in May) and has provided something (the only thing?) that Cashman can point to as a success.  Typical performances from Hiroki Kuroda and David Phelps have helped and Chase Whitely started a strong 3-0 but has stumbled in his last two starts (just as CC begins his rehab assignment).  The bullpen is still finding its rhythm as David Robertson has taken over for Mariano Rivera and done a serviceable job (welcome to the new reality Yankee fans - no more "automatic" feelings when the gate to the 'pen opens in the ninth).  Delin Betances seems to be the Tanaka of the bullpen, showing almost unhittable stuff in his outings.  However, he had to take a couple of days off already, which does not bode well for his second half longevity. 

The results so far have been as consistent as the weather.  Hot one week, cool the next, with no chance at getting a prediction better than 50% correct.  Without a change, or upgrade in the lineup, they're mired in mediocrity.  With the lack of offense, the Yankees are playing a brand of completely un-entertaining baseball, that makes even the most chauvinistic baseball fan long for a good soccer game.  

Just Sayin'

With Cleanthony Early, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, and Louis Labeyrie the Knicks win the "coolest names" category of the draft.

If the Giants offensive line is a puzzle, I'm glad that we have OL coach Pat Flaherty to put it together.  

Thank you Brian Boyle for doing all the dirty work over the past few years.  I hope we don't miss you too much. 

Fantasy Football Update: If I have the first pick, I might go completely outside the box and pick a kicker.  At least they have a better chance of making it through the season.  As my granfather would say, "Running backs, feh!"

With eight teams left in the World Cup I have Brazil, Holland and Belguim still alive in my pool - but I have a hunch that Columbia might take it all.