Thursday, September 29, 2011

Regarding the previous evening


Just wow.

As I sit here 13 hours after one of the most memorable regular season nights in baseball history, I still can’t shake the feeling that I spent five hours of my Wednesday night watching something that I’ve never seen before and will likely never see again. On one hand, that feeling is awesome, knowing I witnessed a night that hasn’t happened in the more than 100-year history of Major League Baseball. On the other hand, the feeling sucks because it was such a rush that I hate to think I’ll live another 40, 50 or 60 years and never see something like that again.

Four games that featured four teams fighting for their playoff life. And through the magic of the internet, I was able to watch them all simultaneously. Not in the way that I would flip from one game to another to another and then back to the first one. But in the way that split my television into four quadrants and had each game going at the same time.

In the top left was Atlanta facing Philadelphia, with the Braves having blown an August lead of 10.5-game facing a Phillies team playing only to get ready for the postseason and essentially nothing else. Atlanta had been in full collapse mode since late August. The narrative for the collapse was the overworked bullpen. The fact is the team just stopped scoring runs.

In the top right was the Cardinals squaring off against the Astros. St. Louis had been left for dead with many analysts not even considering them a threat for the playoffs. Houston, well, Houston failed to win as many games all season as the Brewers did at home this season. I think it’s fair to say the Astros put a stamp on the game shortly after first pitch and mailed it in.

On the bottom left was the Tampa Bay Rays, the plucky little underdog with a miniscule payroll, terrible ballpark and fans who regularly disguised themselves as empty seats, facing the New York Yankees who were already in the playoffs and took the game so seriously that pretty much anyone who pitched in the game would not be on the playoff roster.

In the final quadrant was the Boston Red Sox, who are the American League’s equivalent to the Braves this season. They had a big September lead and proceeded to squander it like a high school kid getting his first paycheck. They were facing an Orioles team that, well, they’re not good at the baseball.

The Yankees jumped out to an early 7-0 lead off of the Rays’ young ace David Price, leading to disappointment on my part, not so much for the Rays, but for my hopes of a one-game playoff for Thursday. Meanwhile, the Astros rolled over like a well-trained dog, taking any suspense out of the Cardinals/Astros game. In Atlanta, the Braves and Phillies went back and forth, with Atlanta eventually taking a 3-2 lead heading into the 8th inning with their dynamic (if overworked) duo of Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel set to work the final two frames. Boston was clinging to their own 3-2 lead when the rains came, leading to a 90-minute rain delay.

It was around this time that my wife went to bed. It was also around this time that someone spilled the crazzizlebeans. (Note: I have no idea when the following happened in relation to the other events, just that they happened.)

The Phillies load the bases in the 8th, but don’t score. The Rays score six in the 8th, capped off with an Evan Longoria (who, to Rays fans, is prettier than Eva Longoria) 3-run homer to bring back to life their playoff hopes. The Cardinals finished off the Astros, leaving them stuck in the Houston stadium not knowing if they needed to pop the champagne or pack their bags for Atlanta for a one-game playoff. Boston has a guy thrown out at the plate trying to add an insurance run and the Phillies load the bases but are unable to score in their 8th inning.

My Twitter, meanwhile, is on the verge of meltdown (I follow a lot of baseball writers) with all the excitement.

In the 9th, the Phillies are facing Kimbrel, who set the rookie record for saves in a season (and also blew more saves than all but three pitchers in baseball). Somehow, they managed to score a run with two outs, tying the game and leading every Braves fan that I’m friends with on Facebook to act as though Kimbrel just took a dump on their lawn and then set it on fire for good measure.

Down in Tampa, the Rays were still trailing 7-6 with two outs in the 9th when they sent Dan Johnson to pinch hit. From April 28 until last night, you and he had the same number of hits. So what does he do? Just one strike away from their season being over, Johnson smashes a solo homerun down the right field line to tie the game. Why wouldn’t he? After all, the only guy having a worse offensive season than Johnson was Roy Halladay, the pitcher for the Phillies.

In Atlanta, the Braves and Phillies trade scoreless innings in the 10th, 11th and 12th with the frustration growing on Facebook. Were I a different person, I’d have had some fun with them, but I figured I’d leave them alone. They were suffering enough.

In the 13th inning, the Phillies managed to finally get across a run, leaving Atlanta down to their final three outs. With a runner on first and one out, Freddie Freeman grounded into a double play and as he ran past first, slammed his helmet down. Their season was over. A season that saw many predict them to win the Wild Card, if not the division title, ended with them watching the playoffs from the outside.

Back in the American League, someone turned the excitement meter up to 11. Boston sent its All Star closer Jonathan Papelbon (side note: my wife has his autograph. Sure it’s on a pink Cubs hat, but she has it.) to protect a 3-2 lead. With two outs, the Orioles got back-to-back doubles to tie the game at three. Then, a sinking line drive to left was nearly caught by a sliding Carl Crawford, Boston’s big offseason acquisition who did not live up to expectations. But it wasn’t caught. By the time he gathered the ball and fire it home, the Orioles had scored, leaving Boston’s fate in the hands of their most hated rivals, the Yankees.

Less than three minutes later, Evan Longoria (he’s still prettier than Eva to Tampa fans) hit a walk-off homerun to propel the Rays into the playoffs and complete the comeback from 7-0 down in the game and from 8.5 games back in early September.

I had no rooting interest in any of the games (though truth be told, I’m partial to the Rays after reading Jonah Keri’s The Extra 2 Percent” about how the Rays are able to compete on a shoestring budget) and I was so excited by the night’s events that I didn’t even try to go to bed when the games ended shortly after midnight.

It was one of those nights that you remember why you’re a sports fan. Sure, 98 percent of the time, the games play out like you think they will. The great players will do great things, the average players will make you curse your fantasy lineups for not getting a great player in that position. The teams that are supposed to win usually do. But every so often, the stars align and you get a night that will be hard to forget and impossible to recreate.

Wow. Just wow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Reelin' in the years

Prologue: When I was a junior in college, a group of us spent our Spring Break in Memphis (Tennessee, not Egypt) working on homes of low-income families. We reshingled a roof and cleared a lot of debris from a home that was in disrepair. This was also near the height of NSYNC's popularity with their smash hit "Bye Bye Bye" ruling the airwaves.  For reasons that to this day remain unclear, it became the unofficial song of our group to the point that five of us from the group learned the dance moves and voluntarily performed it in public. 

When your associate pastor calls you for one thing and then asks if you're going to be at rehearsal for your church's 50th anniversary musical review, it pays to have a handy excuse prepared. Otherwise, you get this.

As an added bonus, I got roped into doing Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, (it didn't take much convincing)  but alas, no Bye Bye Bye.

 Despite my performances, the show was very well received and was really enjoyable. And yes, I'm fully aware I lack any musical or dancing talent, thanks for noticing.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Disco Inferno

They (you know, "they," the people you quote when you don't know who said the random piece of wisdom you're about to dispense or who you quote when you want to say something that likely isn't true but you want to avoid saying it so you can't get called on it) say that comedy is tragedy plus time. Unfortunately, 'Time' seems to be a variable that is inconsistent from person to person. One person's "too soon" is another person's "Abe Lincoln wouldn't have been shot if he'd taken off his hat during Our American Cousin so Booth could see." (Too soon?)

So at the risk of straddling that line, I'm going to write about a fire that took place roughly 50 feet from my apartment building roughly seven hours from when I sat down to write this. (Two firefighters were injured by falling embers. They've been treated and released from the hospital.)

It was a normal Friday. I'd solved the country's energy crisis as I usually do, only to destroy the file as is my traditional Friday activity. (Sometimes I solve AIDS, world hunger, or more recently, getting serious about finally finding out who let the dogs out as well as what the undefined "this" is that MC Hammer continues to insist I can't touch.) The Little Guy was down for his nap and I was watching a documentary about the World Air Guitar Championships.

Cool for a Two-Year Old, not so cool
for the residents of the compelx
I hear a fire truck outside my door, but figure it's one of the nearby homes on the surrounding streets. Then I hear another one. And another one. And I think to myself, "What a wonderful world." Wait, no, that's not right at all. I think "wow, those sound really close, I should probably go see what's going on (not Marvin Gaye or even the oft mistaken 4 Non-Blondes song, which is actually What's Up, but either way it's stuck in your head now.) I step outside and see three fire trucks pulling up next to my apartment, which spurs the obvious question, what the hell is going on? Had I taken a second, I would have smelled the smoke that would soon permeate my clothes.

Because I'm in the digital age, I get my camera before walking outside to see to the extent of what's happening (hey hey hey). I see firefighters rushing (they never meander, they're always rushing, probably a good thing) to extinguish the fire. It takes a little while and soon smoke is billowing (the only way smoke travels) out from the attic space throughout the building. It's not a good sight. Fortunately, no one was hurt, all the dogs and cats were rescued, so the "only" loss is the possessions consumed by the fire. (Yes, I say only in the sense that no loss of life happened.)

After a lot of the smoke subsided, I went back inside to get the Little Guy and show him all the fire trucks and ambulance and police cars that were in the complex. He might not understand why they were there, but he liked seeing them. As one of the trucks was getting ready to leave, they stopped to give him a plastic firefighter's hat, which everyone else thought was cool but he, in one of his idiosyncratic traits, refuses to wear. Well, he refuses to wear any hat.

A news report said a faulty air conditioning unit caused the fire and the staff at the complex were trying to relocate those affected to empty units elsewhere in the campus. If one of them gets into the secret Bones and Skull units, I'm going to be upset.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Reflections of the way life used to be (or really, just reflections on college football, week 1)

I look forward to few things as much as I do the beginning of a new college football season. The excitement, the expectations, the knowledge that I'll be tailgating in my apartment complex's parking lot all year is matched only by my enthusiasm for a new episode of "Sid The Science Kid" showing up on Netflix's instant streaming service.

My kid LOVES that show and Netflix only has 13 episodes, which I've subconsciously committed to memory. I fear it's payback for making my parents watch the awful Dinosaurs show on ABC that inexplicably lasted for three years in the early 90s. Karma is, indeed, a b*tch.

So with a new season kicking off (a phrase writers and would-be writers are legally required to use to signify the beginning of any football season or face banishment to writing stories on Dancing With The Stars (Your definition of "Star" may vary), or The Real Housewives of Burgaw, North Carolina) I figured now is as good a time as any to give my thoughts on Week 1 of the season. Actually, it's probably the best time. Doing it after Week 8 would be practically pointless. This will not be a weekly thing. Don't worry, non-sports fans, this won't be turning into a sports-focused blog. Granted, with the sporadic writing output I do now, calling this a blog at all is insulting to those who actually write regularly.

The Good: 
Victory was theirs.
Georgia Southern - My alma mater opened the 2011 season with a 31-17 win over Samford (Alabama) Saturday night. As you might imagine, this game was not televised, leading me to follow the game on Twitter. My wife still refuses to join the revolution. So on one hand, I felt like I shouldn't give her updates I'd received from Twitter. On the other hand, I really didn't want to do anything that may diminish the excitement she showed for college football beginning, which was at an all-time high.

Baylor/TCU - If you missed this game Friday night, you missed one of the most fun games that'll be played all season. Baylor, a school best known for not being good at football, had a 47-23 lead before TCU, a team riding a 25-game regular season winning streak and defending Rose Bowl champions, staged a furious come back to take a 48-47 lead. Baylor, in what can only be described as an unBaylor-like response, drove down the field in the closing minutes to kick a game-winning field goal. If there's a better football game this year, it'll be a fantastic season. And I can confidently say there will not be an NFL game that will come close to matching that game in terms of entertainment, excitement and some other "E" word I need to complete the "Words Starting With E" trifecta in that sentence. I'm not sure I'm prepared to live in a world in which Baylor football doesn't suck. If we let that happen, the terrorists have won.

The Bad:
Because we need
all the information
LSU/Oregon - As exciting as Baylor/TCU was, the marquee match-up of the weekend was almost as boring. Granted, the expectations for a game featuring teams ranked three and four were high, but the game failed to come close to living up to what I'd hoped for.

Part of the problem with the game is the rankings themselves. The fact that people can vote on which team is the best without any games being played seems like a flawed system. It's like voting for Miss America before the swimsuit competition, you can do it, but you don't have all the relevant information. And if you are cynical enough to believe the only reason I used that analogy was as an excuse to post a Miss America contestant in a swimsuit, your cynicism will be rewarded.

University of Georgia Fans - Not all of them, just the vocal ones already calling for the firing of the entire coaching staff, the band director, the equipment manager, the guy in the Hairy Dog mascot suit and the euthanizing of UGA because the Bulldogs lost to Boise State. Look, if you want the coach fired after one game, then you likely wanted him fired before the season started. That's fine. But if you believe your coach was a bad one before the season started, then you probably had low expectations for the season to begin with, so a loss to a top-five (albeit flawed ranking system) team shouldn't come as much of a surprise to you. Also, if you're posting on facebook or twitter for a coach or assistant to be fired, you should be required to also offer a suggestion as to who should be hired to replace them. It's easy to say "fire the coach, he sucks." It's a bit more difficult to say "we should replace Coach X with Coach Y." My brother wanted Georgia's Mark Richt fired last season. Every time I asked him who would be better, he couldn't come up with a viable name that might legitimately come to Athens.

The Ugly: 
All the blowouts - Week one is often a chance for the Big Schools to beat up on Little Sisters of the Poor Tech (Go Fightin' Barbies). For every Appalachian State upset over Michigan, there are dozens of Appalachian State getting absolutely destroyed by Virginia Tech. I know Little Sisters of the Poor Tech gets a nice chunk of change from the Big Schools to be a sacrificial lamb while the Big Schools get a win and the alumni get to feel good starting the season on a winning note (I think that note is a B-major chord).

Sorry visitors from planet Zygofrom
your Dezelbob's weren't fast enough
Georgia's Uniforms - The only good thing I can say about them is those uniforms will confuse the first aliens to arrive here into thinking another alien race already beat them to Earth.