Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Moldovian soccer - catch the fever

What are we on, song 18 of my iPod tour?

Song: Get On Your Boots
Artist: U2

Back when I was a young lad of about 15, the United States hosted the World Cup (most people refer to this as the one month every four years Americans get excited about soccer before going back to their default setting of either denigrating the sport or ignoring it completely.) As luck would have it, before the big event, the U.S. National Team was playing in Jacksonville, Florida and our soccer coach conveniently scheduled some games there so we could then go watch the U.S. team face Moldova.

Now you know where
Moldova is located.
This was a cool experience for a number of reasons. First, it was a chance to see the nation’s best soccer players playing the sport I’d grown up playing and would eventually dedicate the better part of my free time in high school to playing. (Well, soccer and Dungeons and Dragons. No, I didn’t really date in high school, why do you ask?) I don’t remember much about the game, other than I missed the only U.S. goal because I was making a trip to the concession stand. The U.S. ended up tying Moldova 1-1 in a game I’m sure you remember like it was yesterday.

Second, the game gave me a chance to learn about Moldova was. It’s a former Soviet Republic that, as of 1994, had only been an independent nation for about 45 minutes and is located between Romania and the Ukraine. Its glorious soccer history consists almost entirely of tying the U.S. in that fateful game.

While I can’t say that one game turned me into a lifelong soccer fan (even when I was playing regularly, I found soccer on television boring), it did plant the seeds that would eventually lead me to be a casual fan (more than the World Cup, less than arranging my life around the Moldovian professional league schedule.) Today, I’ll watch games on ESPN and online, typically on Saturday mornings. I do spend time reading about soccer online and wish I was in the kind of shape I was when I played anywhere from three to six times a week.

Instead, now I live in a place where I believe I can still do all the things I did in high school until I go out and try it and then I realize I’m miserably out of shape. But I’m still more than happy to live vicariously through the players who can actually play. So when I moved to North Carolina, I was excited to find out they had a professional soccer team (granted, it was a step below Major League Soccer, which is several steps below the top European Leagues, so it’s safe to say I would not be watching the best of the best). Unfortunately, the team disappeared last year amid rumors that the owner didn’t actually pay the players, which is apparently frowned upon by the commissioner of the league. (After a year hiatus, the team is back under new ownership and plays about a mile from my current abode.)

One of these days she'll
know I exist.
Fantasy Update: Despite my best efforts, Catherine Zeta-Jones has yet to acknowledge my existence. In other fantasy news, I had the first of my two fantasy baseball drafts this week on Saturday night. I’m generally pleased with my team as we embark on the regular season. I’ve got my second draft tonight (only my brother is in both leagues with me, so it’s basically a whole new cast of characters.)

Next song: A Conspiracy
Artist: The Black Crowes 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Everyone needs a blowfish and its accompanying hootie

Note: Song 17 in my 322-part series.

Song: Only Wanna Be With You
Artist: Hootie and the Blowfish

Longtime visitors to this neck of the interwebs aren’t good at navigating the information superhighway. They’ve also likely noticed a few Hootie and the Blowfish songs in my little iPod tour. As best as I can remember, Hootie was the first concert I ever went to without my parents.

The year was 1995. Clinton was president. Tupac had a number one album while in prison (a precursor to him having number one album while in the afterlife). The first Toy Story movie was released and a plucky little team from Chicago would once again not win the World Series.

I was a young lad of 16. Never really got into the whole Nirvana, grunge scene. Sure, I managed to convince my youngest brother to buy Nevermind with his allowance because I wanted it, but not enough to spend my own money on it. I enjoyed my role in high school as the soccer playing sports nerd who spent endless hours obsessing over my NCAA brackets, memorizing sports statistics (this was at the beginning of the internet when having useless trivia knowledge meant something. Not like today’s kids who can just pull up Willie Mays’ career homerun total (660) or Bob Gibson’s ERA in 1968 (1.12). Sadly, I fear my son will never have the need to learn such vital aspects of our nation’s history.)

A friend of mine got two tickets to see Hootie and after what I can only assume was a potential date falling through, he asked me if I wanted to go. It wasn’t soccer season and I wasn’t exactly beating the ladies off with a stick (something about being taught not to hit a woman, either with my hands or a stick), so after convincing my parents we’d go straight there and come straight home (which we did, I wasn’t exactly the rebelling type), we embarked on our journey.

After sitting through an opening act that, at the time, we didn’t really care about (it was Edwin McCain, who, as we all know, went on to have a successful career as a VH1 commentator for their various “I Love The” series. I’m not sure if he ever made it as a musician.) Anyway, after McCain performs to what can be described as a lukewarm reception, Hootie comes on and proceeds to play basically every song on Cracked Rear View. What else are they going to play? No one knows any of their other songs.

But I was 16 at the time, so I didn’t care. I enjoyed the show. Bought the t-shirt and did basically everything a good concert-going consumer is supposed to do. It was a fun night that, even 15 years later, I’m still willing to write about (granted, I wrote poorly about it and not in much detail, but I did. Mostly because I needed to fill out 500 words for this post and couldn’t think of a humorous way to write about “Only Wanna Be With You” (cue my readers going “Don’t feel bad, you can’t find ways to make most things humorous.” You’re a cruel group of readers, you are.))

Anyway, Hootie remained one of my favorite bands, even after the inevitable backlash to their popularity started. So now you won’t have to keep asking yourself “why does he have so many Hootie and the Blowfish songs on his iPod?”

Next song: Get On Your Boots
Artist: U2

Monday, March 21, 2011

Basektball Overload

What are we on, song 16 of my iPod tour?

Song: Walk On
Artist: U2

Three things signify the arrival of Spring. Spring Training, March Madness and beach weather. Of course, beach weather is a favorite of my dog as well. Not because we take her to the beach, but because it’s actually warm enough to go for a walk. (I’m fairly certain my dog would run in fear from the ocean like she does from practically everything from wind up cars to computer wires.) Fortunately for me, I get time to myself during my walks as my dog never seems to want to carry on a conversation with me.

Unfortunately for you, that thinking time results in a lot of contemplation about things that matter only slightly less than world politics and my fantasy teams (which I’ll be drafting next week, try to contain your excitement.) Before I get started, I should mention I’ve watched a lot of basketball over the past week, which means I’ve watched far too many commercials.

What a Hot Babe
Out Jogging may look like
In an Allstate commercial, they say ‘Mayhem’ is out there and then proceed to describe various types of mayhem, such as a freak storm blowing a branch onto your car or a puppy that chewed up your back seat. Those, I’m willing to agree could be considered ‘mayhem,’ but then they try to pass off a ‘hot babe out jogging’ (which causes a guy to drive into a telephone pole) as mayhem. Really?!? Really Allstate? I’m not quite sure you understand what mayhem is if ‘a hot babe out jogging’ qualifies.

A good announcer can make a decent game good, a good game great, and a great game memorable. A bad announcer can make me decide to take my kid outside to play.

Speaking of which, I can’t decide if I’m a good dad for taking my kid outside to play and missing a fantastic ending or if he’s a bad son for wanting to go outside rather than watch basketball.

The Coke brand managers in the Coke Zero commercials don’t seem to be very good at their job.

I was unaware that the lasses have always loved the scent of Irish Spring.

Companies will use brackets in their commercials even if there’s no reason for them.

I can’t help but think millions of people won’t watch TruTV again until next year’s March Madness.

If you’re going to advertise over a three-week tournament, be sure to have enough variety in your commercials so that I don’t actively hate your company by the second day.

Napa know how n…n…n…n…Napa know how.

On a related note, instead of “People who get it” as their slogan, CDW should have gone with “It-Getters.”

Despite your fascination with the endless possibilities of your bracket, odds are no one really cares about it. They’re more interested in their own.

Every year in March, I claim I’m going to pay attention to college basketball the next season, and when next season rolls around, I say I’ll watch in March. It’s a vicious cycle.

Not that you were wondering, but I picked Ohio State to beat Kansas in my final.

Next song: Only Wanna Be With You
Artist: Hootie and the Blowfish

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I will get by

The NFL Owners locked out the players last week, leading to the possibility there won’t be professional football in the fall.

Dear NFL and NFL Players Association,

I understand you’re having difficulties in reaching an agreement as to how to divide the golden eggs constantly laid by the golden goose you both currently share custody of. Personally, I don’t really care how you divvy it up the eggs as I’m neither a player nor an owner in the league. But I thought you both would like to know that I’m exactly the kind of person you risk alienating with your little squabble.

You see, I’m not a die-hard fan. I don’t live and die with any team’s fortunes. You don’t have to worry about those guys. They’ll be back regardless of how long you’re gone. You can essentially ignore their feelings during your little squabble as there’s nothing you can do that will drive them away. These are the people who will go to New York and watch your commissioner read names off a card. They show up to training camp to watch practice. We’re talking about practice, man. Practice. We’re not talking about games, we’re talking about practice. You can dress dogs up in NFL uniforms and put it on tv and they’ll buy tickets.

No, I fall into the casual fan category. Those record ratings you enjoy. Yeah, that’s not due to the people in the above paragraph. No, they’re due to me. (Ok, not specifically me since I’m not a Nielson household and I’m not measured for the ratings, but people like me.) The only reason I watch your games is because my fantasy football team isn’t going to run itself. But should the game disappear, I’m fairly confident I’ll be able to find other things to do to fill that time. I hear there’s a beach nearby that I can visit. Or a museum. Or perhaps I could read a book. If things get really bad, I could even spend time with my family.

Oddly enough, I’d miss ESPN’s Fantasy Focus podcast more than the actual games, especially considering the podcast is commercial free and your games exist primarily to sell erectile dysfunction pills and oversized trucks designed for people feeling self-conscious about needing erectile dysfunction pills. At least those guys are regularly entertaining, unlike the Carolina Panthers games I’m subjected to here.

So good luck to everyone. I’d say you’d be missed if you can’t work it out, but I’ll be ok. The fantasy football industry may suffer, but I’ll be ok.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Getting answers to life's questions

We’ll return to our normally scheduled blogging next week. I’ve been busy challenging the notions of both “higher” and “thinking” while guest blogging at the Institute of Higher Thinking run by my former newspaper colleague Scott Garner. The first installment ran on Tuesday and can be found here while the second installment will run sometime next week (I think. I guess it’s possible it sucked so bad he’ll cut me off from his blog and make it his life’s goal to eradicate the internet from my writings, thus never posting it. Check over there next week and find out.)

But until then, one of my favorite writers on ESPN is Keith Law, mostly because he’s both highly intelligent and extremely snarky. Law serves as one of ESPN’s baseball writers and prior to switching to the media side, he worked in the Toronto Blue Jays front office. For some reason, he also watches The Bachelor (I’m guessing his wife watches) and tweets sarcastic comments about the show. My personal favorite is when the current season was down to two women and the announcer said the ending will be one we didn’t see coming, to which he responded something to the effect of ‘there’s only two women left, I like my chances of predicting the outcome’ and followed it up with (again, roughly paraphrasing from memory) ‘Of course, he could surprise us all and pick both women.’

So when he was discussing college prospects on Twitter Wednesday night, I asked him about the top prospects for the Colonial Athletic Association, since I’ll likely have the opportunity to see any of them when they came to UNC-Wilmington. I didn’t truly expect a response, but it was worth a shot. But much to my surprise and delight, I was on the receiving end of some Klaw snark. (Chronologically, it flows from bottom to top)

Forget, for a moment, that I’ll spend my spring watching guys who will likely never reach the pinnacle of their sport. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that we live in an era where you can get almost instantaneous responses from well-known personalities to your questions. I know Twitter seems pointless to a lot of people, though if you’re taking the time to read a blog, you’re probably much more open to it than, say, my wife, for example. And honestly, there’s a ton of crap on it, including stuff I’ve posted. Yes, I know that no one truly cares that I wish I had a cool name like Fab Mello. But getting an answer to a question from one of the ‘celebrities’ I follow makes it seem worthwhile to me.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Gone Fishing

Alright, not really fishing as I find that activity fairly boring, but I did write a blog for a friend of mine that's posted on his website. You can find it by following this link.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A parent's guide to parenting (Sports Fan Edition)

Note: This is the final installment of my three-part sports week blogs. A hat tip to Josh Burnham for the idea for today’s topic.

There isn’t an extremely long list of things I want for my son. This is where longtime readers expect me to launch into an extremely long list of things I want for my son. But not day, readers. Not today. Nay, I shall not give you want you expect from me at all times. I’m not your dancing monkey (something my son doesn’t want) here to amuse you. I’m just a blogger who is here to amuse you.

The short list of things I want are for him to be healthy, be happy in life and to be a sports fan. And I’m not talking about a casual sports fan. I mean the kind like in this ESPNRadio commercial. Now there’s only so much I can do about the first two. Having a mom who has two degrees in exercise science will help with the healthy part. Having an award-winning humorist (it was a really down year for humor writing in small Georgia newspapers) as a dad may or may not help with the second part. But the sports fan part, that I may be able to influence. In fact, the process of brainwashing . . . err . . . raising a sports fan has already begun.

A friend of mine’s first daughter was born five days before the Super Bowl, meaning they went home from the hospital just a few days before the game. Most people would take that time to be together as a family and get adjusted to having a new life living in their house. But not my friend. He hosted the Super Bowl party at his house. That’s dedication. The kind of dedication it takes to raise a sports fan. Sure, you’re trying to figure out the whole parenting thing, but you’ve got the rest of their lives to figure that out. The game isn’t going to wait.

Not ideal, but I'd take it.
While I didn’t go that far, it’s only because I didn’t have the option. My son was born in October, during Game Two of the World Series to be exact. Yes, I turned the game on in the hospital and I now realize that allowing him to hear the voice of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver at such an early age will be the root cause of any issues he faces later in life. I did attempt to rectify the situation by having him in the room for part of the Texas Tech upset of Texas, but I fear the damage may have already been done.

Continued exposure to sports, I think, is key to keeping the excitement developed shortly after birth. At five months old, he went to his first baseball game (and also got his first foul ball, thanks to some guy in the stands. You didn't really think he caught it himself, did you?). At six months, he went to his first spring football game. Thanks to ESPN, he saw sports on television nearly all the time and was soon able to identify baseball from basketball from soccer from tennis. Granted, to do that, it meant I had to spend large amounts of time watching those sports. Like really large amounts. Like he didn't know Sesame Street existed until he was almost two. But that’s a sacrifice I was willing to make.
Add in a healthy dose of Wii sports to show how fun it can be to play sports and, at least for me, you’ve got a two-and-a-half year old who is excited when he sees sports on television or gets to go to a game.

Maybe my kid will
have his own cereal
Another friend of mine found famous athletes who shared a birthday with his daughters and got them excited about sports through that method. For my kid, we've got Canadian Football League Hall-of-Famer and Flutie Flakes namesake Doug Flutie, Heisman Trophy namesake John Heisman and soccer legend Pele'. I was hoping for a baseball star, but as far as sharing birthdays go, that's not a bad list.

Granted, there are some precautions that I’ve learned to take. One is not to yell “GOOOAAAALLLLL” during soccer games because, for some reason, my kid thought I was yelling at him and would start to cry. At least, I think that’s what it was. It’s equally probable that, as an 18-month old, he was upset about the team he was cheering for giving up a goal. It also helps to sit in places not near other spectators when you go to games. Amazingly, kids don’t seem to have the attention span to sit through a three hour baseball game and some grumpy old dude who is scoring the game doesn't take kindly to having to pick up sippy cups that rolled under his feet every 10 minutes.

Besides, the more time he’s watching sports, the less time there is for Elmo.

Next Song: Walk On
Artist: U2 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Just living the dream

We're taking a break from our iPod tour for Sports Week. Coming Friday, the exciting conclusion, even though there isn't a consistent plot connecting the three posts this week.
Not needed in Southeast Georgia
I’ll never forget the time I first saw my dream job. It was either 1992 or 1993, who can keep track? Anyway, I went to my first hockey game and saw the coolest possible career. No, it wasn’t that of a hockey player. Have you seen how big those guys are? I’m roughly one-third their size and aside from my lack of skating skills and fear of death, I don’t like the cold, so professional hockey player didn’t seem like a great idea. No, I’m talking about the center of attention for about five minutes three times a night. Yes, I wanted to be a Zamboni driver. Granted, living in a rural, south Georgia town 50 miles from the nearest skating facility (which only offered skating one month a year) didn’t exactly provide the opportunities needed to achieve my life’s goal.

Zamboni driver wasn’t the first of my dreams. I wanted to be, in no particular order, a baseball player, football player, basketball player, astronaut, lawyer, baseball announcer (when I realized my baseball career wasn’t going to pan out), sports writer (which I actually did for a brief time), psychic detective - only in the last few weeks did that one come about, thanks to my newfound infatuation with Psych -  and probably a dozen other careers that didn’t quite pan out.

Side note: My brother had a time when he wanted to be a hearse driver. Not knowing about the other aspects of funeral directing, he assumed you drove the hearse, listened to the radio as loud as he wanted and would have a police escort everywhere he went. This did not work out for him either.

Side Note2: My brother-in-law actually was a Zamboni operator for a few weeks in Charleston, S.C. Fortunately, I didn’t know about this or I would have begged him for a chance to ride on it while he cleaned the ice. Sometimes I think I need more going on in my life.

Despite what seems to be a long list of failures in achieving my dreams, I was able to make one come true. It wasn’t glamorous, didn’t bring me fame or fortune. It did, however, elicit laughter from the wife when I told her about it. Even though I couldn’t play baseball, I wanted to be on the field in some way. As it turns out, knowing large amounts of trivia and stats may be a good skill for winning bar bets, but not so handy when it comes to being a baseball coach. That left only one option – that of the grounds crew. I wasn’t looking to show up hours before the game to get the field ready for action or stick around long after the game ends to get it as ready as it can be for the next game. I just wanted to drag the infield once.

For those unfamiliar with baseball, what’s wrong with you? It’s our national pastime. Next you’ll tell me you’re unfamiliar with mom and apple pie. But for the sake of my (nonexistent) foreign readers, dragging the infield is something done once or twice a game to smooth out the infield and lower the chances of the ball taking a bad bounce. Back when the Macarena was popular, grounds crew members would perform the dance while dragging the infield. Looking back, what was wrong with us? Were we, as a country, that screwed up that we needed an easy dance to do set to a Spanish song? It’s like the Macarena was the bridge between line dancing of the early 90s and the Latin Invasion of Ricky Martin, ect. of the late 90s. I blame De La Soul for the fact that I spent the better part of 1999 humming ‘Livin’ la vida loca’ to myself.

As luck would have it, one of the guys in my graduate classes also happened to be on the grounds crew for Georgia Southern’s baseball team. I’d admire his work frequently as I went to numerous Eagles games. He’d always give me a head’s up about a new design he was going to cut into the outfield grass and then get my opinion about it. As the season wore on, I half-jokingly mentioned a time or two how I would like to drag the infield once to see what it was like.

No Photographic evidence of my work exists
At a game in April in which I was there with my wife and some friends, my friend came up to me and asked if I wanted to drag the infield. I asked if he was serious and he assured me that he was. I was thrilled. It was going to be a dream come true, on par with getting married, graduating from kindergarten and getting my driver’s license. I was to report to the grounds keeping area three outs before my big moment. As the time drew near, I got more and more nervous. What if I screwed up? After all, I would have to pull a three-foot wide thing behind me from one foul line to the next, turn around, and walk all the way back. All this while hundreds of fans ignored what was going on down on the field and my group pointed and made a big deal about my big moment, mostly by pointing and cheering exuberantly to the bewilderment of those around them.

The third out was made and it was go time. And just like that, it was over. While I was probably on the field for a total of 90 seconds, it seemed to only take 75. I was in between actual professionals who were slightly confused as to why I was there, but they were cool with it.

So when I’m on my death bed, I can look back and know that even though I never became a facial recognition expert, a prosecutor, host of a dating reality show, an Olympic curler, a forensic anthropologist, or the executive producer of a late night comedy sketch show I will be able to look back and say that, for one shining moment, I was on the field during a college baseball game. Now if only I can figure out this whole Zamboni thing, I’ll be good.