Monthly Archives: October 2013

Keep a Little Bit of Pride

Five years ago today, the Phillies held their World Series parade.  Here are 2,000 words about it.

Just kidding.  No, seriously, I’m not…don’t close the…come back!

I am going to write about a major happening in the sports world, though.  Last night, a franchise with a long and storied history of both success and non-success knocked off one of the top franchises of this era in front of its home fans.

That’s right, I’m talking about your Philadelphia 76ers, who took down the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, 114-110, on Wednesday night.  Normally, a season-opening win over the Heat would be a good thing, but instead, all I can think is, “hey, guys…you’re doing it wrong.”

The Sixers stripped the roster and traded away the face of the franchise, point guard Jrue Holiday, on draft night in June.  They ended up with two first-rounders in Nerlens Noel – who fell to sixth after being projected as the top pick – and Michael Carter-Williams, and New Orleans’ first round pick next season.  This signaled to everyone that the Sixers were actually looking towards the 2014 Draft, which is going to be one of the deepest in the last 30 years.

At the top of the draft class is the “Maple Jordan,” Andrew Wiggins.  A native of Canada, Wiggins will play at the University of Kansas this season and almost assuredly enter the draft after that.  While there are other blue-chip players likely to be available – Julius Randle of Kentucky and Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, to name two – Wiggins will be the first pick should he choose to enter the draft.

In the NBA, there is no fate worse than sustained mediocrity, which is something the Sixers have excelled at in recent years.  No better than seventh or eighth in the conference, but never one of the league’s worst teams, the Sixers are neither contenders nor bottom-feeders.  Unfortunately, the path to the former often requires you to be the latter.

By gutting your roster, filling it with young players, and amassing high picks in future drafts, you set your team up to lose a ton of games.  You’re not going out there trying to lose, but you really aren’t concerned with trying to build a roster that will win a lot, either.  This sort of tanking has been commonplace in the NBA, and the thought of “Riggin’ for Wiggins” is certainly appealing to a lot of fans.

Believe it or not, count me among them.

Like I said, being a middle of the pack team in the NBA essentially sentences you to a lifetime of being a middle of the pack team.  You have to bottom out and build your team through the draft, and the best way to do that is with lottery picks.  You don’t get lottery picks when you reach the playoffs, so it follows that in order to be better than everyone else, you first need to be worse than as many teams as you can.

So while I think tanking games is rather unsportsmanlike, and have the utmost respect for competitors who play hard for the entire game and the entire season even when the ultimate result is a foregone conclusion, I am firmly in the camp supporting Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie and his rebuilding efforts.  You have to crawl before you can walk, and in the NBA, you need to fall before you can crawl.

When I saw the score throughout the game (I was at quizzo and was only able to see score updates on the bottom of a screen showing a different game), I was legitimately annoyed.  Like, really?  Are they so bad that they can’t even lose properly?

But the truth is that, even though they came out and punched the Heat in the mouth and went up something like 19-0 in the first quarter, this win is not indicative of how their season will go.  As presently constructed, the Sixers will still lose 55 games.  Maybe even 60.  Maybe even more.  They will have a top pick in next year’s draft, and if the Pelicans struggle, maybe even two in the top 10.

So for one night, let’s let them have their big surprise win.  And trust me, this was a big surprise.  It’s like a 15-seed in the NCAA Tournament taking down a 2-seed.  It happens – more and more frequently in recent years – but it’s still a real big deal when it does.  The underdog is the biggest story in the country for two days, but you know what usually happens in the next round?  That upstart 15-seed gets dismantled by a 7- or 10-seed, and just as quickly as everyone had to look up where East Louisiana Valley Tech was, the sports world moves on as if it never happened.

Our plucky 15-seed took down the favored Heat.  All right.  Now they have a game in Washington tomorrow before a home game against Chicago the following night.

For the Cinderella Sixers, midnight is coming real fast.

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I Ask, ‘Cause I’m Not Sure

Does Boston own the word “strong” now?

Look, I remember the Marathon bombings.  I shared my feelings on it back then.  And I’m not saying we should completely move on.  However, I read a story yesterday about an advertising stunt that was scuttled because of the “Boston Strong” phrase, and while I agree with that decision, it raised an issue that bothers me.

Chevrolet has been using a marketing campaign for its Silverado truck that has that little country ditty about the guy who never misses work and stays with the same woman his whole life.  This man is characterized as “strong.”

At Game 5 of the World Series, there was going to be a so-called “card stunt,” where fans would be asked to hold up cards that when viewed on television would say “Silverado Strong.”  After dress rehearsal, the stunt was scrapped because it was deemed insensitive to those affected by the Marathon bombings.

Now, I agree with this sentiment.  If the Red Sox weren’t in the World Series, that would be one thing.  But they are, and the media has used it as an opportunity to ram “Boston Strong” down our throats at every turn, so naturally the first thing people are going to do when hearing “______ Strong” is make the connection.  This is unfortunate, but it’s a fact, and Chevy was better off not doing it.

What I don’t like is what came after.  People began to rip Chevy for using the word “strong” in their campaign in the first place, because of the mere existence of the phrase “Boston Strong.”

Um, no.  If you watch a commercial about a truck, and you hear a song that calls a guy “strong,” and your first thought is that they’re playing off of the Marathon tragedy, then the problem is you, not them.

Boston does not own the word “strong.”  While it was nice that the people of the city had a rallying cry and a phrase to use to put words to their emotions, you cannot corner the market on the use of a word just because you put it on hats or t-shirts or your outfield grass.

(I understand that this is in fact exactly what copyrights and trademarks do, but I don’t mean the use of a name.  I mean a word.  As in “jump” or “run” or “play.”)

No, believe it or not, not everyone who uses the word “strong” is trying to evoke images of what happened in April.  Sometimes “strong” just means “strong.”

Now, if you want to rip Chevy for using the campaign because country music sucks and the song is annoying, then, by all means, have at it.  You have my full support.

My very strong support.

We Are the Champions of the World

On May 31, 1983, the Philadelphia 76ers won the NBA championship.  Philadelphia was in a period of great sports success: the 76ers had reached the NBA Finals three times in the previous six years before winning in 1983; the Phillies won five division championships in eight years, a pair of National League pennants, and the 1980 World Series; the Eagles reached the Super Bowl for the first time in January of 1981; and the Flyers had won a pair of Stanley Cups in the mid-70s before making multiple finals appearances over the next decade-plus.

That was May.  Four months later, in October, I was born.  For 25 years, and a hundred combined seasons, none of Philadelphia’s four major sports teams won a championship.  For a while, I wasn’t sure those two events weren’t connected.

Five years ago tonight, that changed.  In the years to come, hundreds of thousands of people will talk about that night, claiming to have been at Citizens Bank Park the night the Phillies won the World Series.  Only 45,940 of them will be telling the truth.

I’m one of them.

* * *

Looking back, it still seems unfathomable that the Phillies were, for half a decade, the cream of the baseball crop.  Five consecutive division titles.  The best record in baseball two years in a row.  Two straight National League championships.  A World Series title.  Considering how bad things had been in the past, it’s still preposterous to think about.

My sister had “won the lottery,” so to speak, and had her name pulled from the proverbial hat to purchase ticket for the second home game of the Division Series in 2008.  And so there we were as C.C. Sabathia melted down and gave up a grand slam to Shane Victorino in Game 2.  The Phillies took a 2-0 lead in the series that night, and had a chance to sweep the Brewers on my 25th birthday.  Of course, in a postseason where they only lost three games, one of them came on my birthday.  But the next day, with me at work and unable to watch, they finished the job and moved on to the NLCS a year after getting swept in the first round.

The 2008 NLCS was the first of two in a row between the Phillies and Dodgers.  With the Phillies leading two games to one, but with the Dodgers on top late in Game 4 in Los Angeles, Victorino tied the game in the eighth inning with a two-run home run before Matt Stairs tagged Jonathan Broxton for another two-run shot three batters later to put the Phillies on top for good.  Incidentally, Broxton would again give up the winning hit in Game 4 of the NLCS one year later, this time a double to Jimmy Rollins in Philadelphia.  Both hits sealed the Dodgers’ fate, as in both cases the Phillies cruised to a series victory in Game 5.

I remember being nervous and excited and feeling like a little kid on the first day of the World Series, but everything went away in the first inning when Chase Utley hit a two-run home run to give the Phillies an early lead.  They went on to beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 3-2, for a 1-0 series lead.

They lost Game 2 when their inability to hit with runners in scoring position – a problem that still plagues the franchise five years later – reared its ugly head.  I remember being worried at work the next day until one of my coworkers pointed out that the loss guaranteed a Game 5, which was a good thing for me.  That was because my family had once again lucked out in the ticket drawing; we were selected for the opportunity to purchase tickets for a game, and it happened to be Game 5.

The Phillies won Game 3 on a walk-off infield single, the first in World Series history.  The next night (actually, due to rain delaying the start of Game 3, it was technically later the same day), the Phillies jumped out to an early lead, and while Tampa Bay answered, Joe Blanton hit the first home run by a pitcher in a World Series game since 1974 to keep the Rays at bay.  In the eighth inning, Jayson Werth and Ryan Howard added a pair of two-run home runs to give the home team a 10-2 win and a 3-1 series lead.

As I watched Werth pump his fist as he rounded the bases, I had a feeling that would encompass me and everything around me for three days.  It was a combination of excitement, nervousness, wonder, and dread: after all this time, my favorite team was one win away from a championship.  And I might get to see it in person.

* * *

Rain was in the forecast for Monday, October 27, 2008, but by game time, it was just drizzling.  And cold.  Oh, it was so cold.

I made sure we arrived plenty early; my mother had recently had foot surgery, so she had a temporary handicapped parking placard, which meant we were parked very close to the stadium.  This was nice getting into the game; leaving, however, was often tough.

I wasn’t thinking about that, however.  I wanted to make sure I took it all in before the game started, so before I went to my seat – Section 305, Row 2, Seat 13 – I took a walk around the ballpark.  The buzz was palpable.  Everyone was ready.

So were the Phillies.  For the fourth time in five games, they scored in the first inning as Victorino’s two-out single scored Werth and Utley to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead.

Tampa Bay cut it to 2-1 in fourth before tying it in the top of the sixth inning.  By then, puddles were forming on the infield, and the umpires took the players off the field.  Soon after, the announcement came down – Game 5 was suspended.  It would resume when conditions were deemed “appropriate.”

Remember that dread I’d been feeling, along with those other things?  It took over right around then.  Cole Hamels had been dominating throughout the postseason, but had just given up the tying run and after six innings on a cold, rainy night, was probably done.  With the team on the cusp of glory, now the game itself was done for an indeterminate amount of time.  Why was everyone and everything conspiring against the us?  Against me?  Why couldn’t they just let us have this?

Of course they weren’t going to win that night.  Not with me there.  They would probably lose the next two games, too.  It was the only thing that made sense.  God, sports, and Mother Nature were joining forces to finish me off for good.

The next day was dark and dreary and filled with more rain.  No baseball, just agony.

Finally, by Wednesday, things had cleared up.  It had been announced the day before that Game 5 would resume in the bottom of the sixth inning at 8:00 p.m.  We once again arrived plenty early, and I once again took a walk around the park before play resumed, but my feeling of nervous excitement was replaced with nervous sickness.  And, once again, freezing cold.

And once again, the home nine came out of the gate right away, allaying those fears after three batters.  Geoff Jenkins led off the resumption of play with a pinch-hit double, and Werth singled him in two batters later.  Unfortunately, Rocco Baldelli homered for the Rays in the top half of the seventh to tie things up again.  Of course.

Pat Burrell led off the bottom of the seventh for the Phillies.  Burrell had always been a lightning rod for criticism in Philadelphia; while no doubt a very productive player, he seemed to have a penchant for striking out – usually looking – in big spots.  But as his career began to wind down, he became more of a fan favorite.  I had always liked Burrell; I appreciated his production, and always liked players that I felt people unfairly maligned.  My mother really liked him.  When people said mean things about him, I think it actually hurt her.

Burrell had a terrible World Series.  He was 0-for-13, and if it’s possible to look even worse than that, he did.  It was the final year of his contract, and it was kind of an unspoken understanding that these were his last games in a Phillies uniform.  The Phillies knew.  He knew.  We all knew.

So when Burrell stepped to the plate, with no hits in his last 13 at bats, in what we all knew was his final game in this ballpark in this uniform, it occurred to me that this might be his last at bat as a Phillie.  It was late in the game; ideally, they would take the lead and not bat in the ninth, so time was running out.

With the count at 1-1, J.P. Howell hung a curveball.  Burrell did not miss.  Up and out it went, deep to left center field…and it hit the top of the highest wall in the park.

As was customary late in games, due to his history of foot injuries, Burrell was lifted for a pinch-runner; in this case, Eric Bruntlett.  Burrell received the standard ovation, but because of the stakes, we kind of hoped it was a goodbye.

Two batters later, Pedro Feliz, brought to town more for his glove than his bat, singled home Bruntlett for a 4-3 lead.

The game moved to the top of the ninth.  Brad Lidge had converted all 41 of his save opportunities during the season – his only loss coming in the All-Star Game – and was six-for-six in the playoffs, and he came on to cap off his perfect season with a World Series title.

He didn’t make it easy.  After a one-out single by Dioner Navarro, pinch runner Fernando Perez stole second base.  Ben Zobrist then hit a sinking line drive to right field.  Our seats were in right field, and for a second, we didn’t know if Werth had caught it.

He did.  I think I threw up in my mouth a little bit.  Two outs.

Eric Hinske came to the plate.  A power threat from the left side of the plate, he was up there looking to put Tampa Bay on top.

Strike one.

I kept staring at Perez on second base.  A ground ball through the infield and the game was tied.  That’s all it took.

Strike two.

God, that guy is fast.  Look how easily he stole that base!  Lidge puts a lot of two-strike sliders into the dirt; Christ, if he does it again and he gets to third?  Oh man.  Ohhhh man.

Slider.  Swung on.  Missed.  Strike three.

Screams.  Dogpile.  Hugs.  Kisses.  Joy.  Pure, unadulterated joy.

Relief.

* * *

You always hear people say that the happiest moment of their lives is when their child is born.  Maybe it’s true, but I often wonder if some people are saying that just because it’s the answer they think they’re supposed to give.

Regardless, if I ever have a child, that kid is going to be hard-pressed to top that moment.

I was only 25, but with the Eagles being on the doorstep for half a decade and never winning the Super Bowl, and the Phillies building up to success but not quite reaching it, and the Flyers choking in so many playoff series, and the Sixers being so uninspiring, I had had more than my share of sports suffering.  I was battered, nearly beaten; losing this Series after that rain delay with me in the building would have destroyed me.  I don’t think I would have ever bounced back.

It’s ironic that the Phillies ended the city’s drought in a game delayed two days by too much rain, but no matter how they’d done it, they’d done it.  Obviously, I will never forget that run, or that night.  To be there, in person, to see it…to have the moment be shared with thousands of people and yet be so intimately personal…to remember it through my own eyes and words, and not through the call of an announcer…I mean, I’ve spent two thousand words trying, but I can’t describe it.  As important as sports are to me, it’s not a stretch to say it changed my life.

No longer was I a long-suffering fan.  I was a fan of a champion.  I don’t like to use personal pronouns to describe the teams I root for, but in this instance, it was acceptable: we won.  The Phillies, the city, the suburbs, the people.

We were the champions.

It’s been a long five years, but it also went by in a flash.  Sure, the past couple baseball seasons have been disappointing, but I’d like to think that I have some perspective.  We were spoiled for a while there; never more so than on October 29, 2008: a bitterly cold night that will warm our hearts forever.

You Had to Be a Big Shot, Didn’t You?

I have waxed not-so-philosophically about how I don’t care about the NHL anymore, but there was a time where hockey was my favorite sport.  Hey, I was young and it was the late 90s: everybody did regrettable things in the 90s.

One of those people doing regrettable things was a man named John Spano.  He was a Long Island native who bought the New York Islanders.  Now, you may be thinking, “wow, buying the Islanders is pretty regrettable,” and you may be right.  But no, in retrospect, what John Spano did defies any and all logic, even beyond purchasing a moribund franchise in a crappy arena.

Spano “bought” the Islanders…without any money.

* * *

ESPN’s deservedly-acclaimed “30 for 30” series aired its latest installment, Big Shot, last week.  Big Shot tells the story of Spano’s purchase of the Islanders.  It was directed by actor Kevin Connolly, best-known as “E” from Entourage.  I’ve seen like three episodes of that show, and didn’t like it, so I had no real attachment to Connolly when I tuned in.  I felt like this, coupled with the fact that I was familiar with the story’s main points (read: I remember it happening, but was too young to know or understand the details), allowed me to judge the documentary a little more fairly.

It’s certainly an interesting story (and one that couldn’t happen now, right?  I mean…right?), and one of the things that “30 for 30” does so well is tell these kinds of stories that you remember but really know nothing about.  On the whole, if you’re a hockey fan, or fascinated by business, or just enjoy a good true story, I recommend the film.

That said, I had some issues with it, because of course I did.

First and foremost, the star of the documentary was John Spano.  This made sense.  However, the “supporting actor,” so to speak, was Connolly himself.  I understand that he grew up an Islanders fan, and he wanted to tell this story, but he inserted himself into it far too much for my liking.  He conducted the interview with Spano, which is fine – as the director, the best way to steer the conversation to the topics you want is the ask the questions yourself – but Connolly received way too much face time on camera.  There was literally zero need for the cutaway to Connolly listening to a Spano response, but we had a number of them.  Nobody was sitting there watching and thinking, “this is an interesting answer; I wonder what Kevin thinks?  Oh, there he is, it seems like he understands, okay cool.”

Of course, I understand that since this is a bit of a personal story for him, he wanted to be more of a part of it.  Okay.  And if all he did was show himself conducting the interview, that would be one thing.  Except it’s not, because in addition to interviewing the main character in the story and directing the whole operation, Connolly narrated the film himself.  And let’s just say, Kevin Connolly is no Morgan Freeman.  He’s the guy who does the voiceover for Best Buy commercials.  Good for him, but like…I dunno.  It just threw the whole thing off for me.

I do, however, think that landing the interview with Spano is the most important thing that Connolly did.  He could have made the film without it – and he has said that he would have – but after seeing it, it almost seems like Big Shot without the actual “big shot” would be an exposé on Sports Center, not its own 90-minute documentary.

From Spano’s viewpoint, despite his initial reluctance, doing the film was a no-brainer.  While he certainly doesn’t come off as sympathetic, hearing it from his own mouth almost makes you feel like you understand what he was doing and why.  Almost.

In the end, like I said, it’s certainly worth watching.  If you can get past the little things that bothered me, you’ll enjoy it.  And regardless, make sure to take a look into the back catalog of “30 for 30.”  If you like sports at all, you’ll definitely find something worth your time.

Three is a Magic Number

So is 300, I would imagine.  Especially for a bowler like myself.

This is the 300th day of the year.  This is my 300th post.  I guess I’ve kept up my end of the bargain thus far.

I’ve often been sitting here at my computer, staring at the screen, absolutely clueless as to what I should write about, and thinking about not writing at all.  Who would miss it?  Anyone?

But that was never the point; I think over the course of 299 posts, I may have publicly shared a link to three of them.  It was never about getting people to read my thoughts or feelings; it was about committing to something difficult and doing it even when I didn’t want to.

Lately I’ve found myself looking for things throughout the day to write about later that night.  More often than not, I’m unsuccessful, so I’ve had to resort to previous ideas I’ve had, or current events topics, or something ridiculous that has nothing to do with anything but I’m pretty sure I can wring a few hundred words out of.  Then again, there’s also the “what hurts today” option.

(For the record: I made it out of bed this morning, went to work, and have been okay throughout the day.  Every time I sit down or stand up I fear a relapse of last night’s debacle, but fortunately it hasn’t happened yet.  I’ve resigned myself to the reality of probably having to visit a doctor in the near future.  But I’m stubborn, and a little bit tougher than people give me credit for, so we’ll see.)

October is almost over, meaning there are about two months remaining in the year.  Sixty five more posts to conceive and write.  Well, 63; I know what I’m writing about the next two days, so maybe I can give my brain a break during the day.  I can see the ultimate goal, and that goes a long way on those days where the empty text box seems more intimidating than usual.

For those of you reading this, first of all, my apologies; I wanted to take note of hitting one of those nice round numbers, but it seems like I don’t have many thoughts on the topic.  Second of all, thanks.  However you’ve found this page, whether you know me or not, I know that at least a few of you are out there reading every couple days (the little pageview bars at the top of the window tell me so), and I appreciate it.  I hope that over the past 10 months I’ve made you feel like it was worth it, and that I won’t let you down (very often) over the next two.

I Can’t Let It Bother Me

I’m writing another post from my bed.

Today was supposed to be a fun day.  And it was for a while.  I went to a soccer match with a few friends, and we showed up pretty early to enjoy a little pre-game tailgate.  We brought a grill and everything.  Out of eight burgers, I only dropped one on the concrete, so that was a plus.  A negative?  I thought I could grill a potato chip; it promptly fell between the grill grates, melted, and then caught fire.

The local eleven lost, and after the match, I dropped a friend off and went home.  I took a brief nap, woke up, and ate a late dinner.  While cleaning my car out, I felt my back tense up pretty badly.

I went back inside and things got worse.  I couldn’t move; taking a step hurt like crazy, but sitting down hurt even more.  I eventually was able to get into bed, but for a while, any sort of leg movement led to intense pain.

Right now, I’m worried about getting to work tomorrow.  I think I’ll be able to, but if I have another setback, who knows?

I know, I know: I should have been to see a doctor by now.  But it had been getting a lot better recently – to the point where I was going to play golf last Saturday before the plan fell through – which makes this not only painful, but very frustrating.

I’m going to try to fall asleep for a little while; hopefully whatever is flaring up will calm down.  It sucks, but I guess these are the things you deal with in old age.

I Will Try to Fix You

My windshield washer fluid nozzles have been broken for a long, long time.  I’ve mentioned them from time to time when I’ve taken the car in for service, but they always tell me that it’s a “dealer” thing.  Well, my dealer closed up, and I don’t even know where their other branch is, so, yeah.

I’ve known since the beginning what the problem was.  On the underside of my hood is some sort of material that kind of looks like cardboard, or maybe a little asbestos-y, I don’t know.  I imagine it protects the nozzles and the hood itself from the heat of the engine.  Shortly after I noticed my wiper fluid was low, when I went to refill it, I noticed blue stains on the cardboard piece.  Once the wiper fluid vanished even more quickly than normal, I put two and two together and came up with “leak.”

Tonight, I was getting gas on my way home work when I decided to wash the windshield with one of the gas station squeegees.  As I reached the bottom of the windshield, I noticed what looked like a little tube poking out from under my hood.  I popped it open and it turns out that the tube was coming from under the asbestos-y cardboard.  Aha!  This must be the source of the problem.  I was finally going to get it fixed, and I was going to do it myself.  I cannot tell you how proud and masculine I felt in that moment.

When I got home, I popped the hood.  I was going to have to remove the covering from the underside of the hood, which despite my suspicions, I had never done.  It seemed to me that in order to do so, I would have to risk ripping it, and I didn’t want to do that unless I was certain.

Well, I was certain now, and as I prepared to take it off, I noticed four plastic fasteners of sorts holding the covering onto the hood.  I removed them, and just like magic, the covering slid out from the brackets much easier than I had expected.  That kind of bothered me; all this time, and I had never noticed how it was actually attached.

Now that I had the covering removed, I was ready to fix the nozzles.  I could see the fluid line and the parts where it was supposed to connect to the nozzles were detached.  I reached in to reattach them…but they wouldn’t fit.  I assumed that the tubing went over or inside the nozzle housing, but upon closer inspection (rather, upon any inspection, because after five and a half years of driving the car this is the first I had seen these parts), it appeared that the part of the tubing that connects to the nozzles had actually broken off inside the nozzles.

Oh well.

I tucked the loose line back into the cover and reattached it to the hood.  I was disappointed to be unable to fix it, but I resolved to look up the prices of the nozzles and do it myself.

Someday.  Because this was a couple hours ago, and I still haven’t looked anything up yet.

C’est la vie.  Besides, who needs washer fluid in the winter?  That’s what rain and snow and gas stations are for.