Saturday, December 1, 2012

Where We Live

Say you are from a large metropolitan area, and you come into contact with a person from that same area in the presence of people from other metro areas (either because you are in a different area or these people are visiting or new to your area). There might be no more exclusive conversation you can have than one about radio stations in your respective area.  Now, you may have conversations about different types of radio, based on your shared or conflicting interests with the Hometowner You’re Talking To, but I don’t think there’s any conversation this Outtatowner With You would be less involved in. 
But say you were all sports fans- generally said OWY would have some knowledge base regarding this sports team, either because his Area’s Sports Team might have played them a few times, or because sports is just an interest of his.  Probably same goes for a band from your area, because oftentimes these bands get big, or there’s going to be a similar band from his area that you and the HYTT might have heard of.  Even if you guys get talking about the weather or politics, that’s something the OWY could have some opinion or insight on about simply because he’s a semi-informed person.  But if you talk about a radio station, there’s nothing he could offer an opinion on, because said local station would never need to make itself known outside of the metro area it calls home.  In this era of instant interaction with different people in far-flung areas, it might be one of the last bastions of regionalism.  Anyway, it’s probably best to change the subject quickly, unless you want that dude to just leave.
                So being a representation of the local area is probably the best thing radio has going for it.  And one of the best ways to do this is by obtaining rights to a local sports team.  My favorite station right now is JACK fm, which seems to be most highly competing with the upstart K-Twin (also on a pre-set in my car- since, I’m guessing, the station was called B96).  I say that, since they’ve been advertising a lot using ‘Twin Cities’, which seems to be in answer to K-Twin’s “Everything for the Twin Cities” campaign.  K-Twin might actually start winning the race for title of the Twin Cities Station, as they are going to have the Twins broadcast rights starting next year.  This is bad news for JACK.  FM tends to have such a small broadcast range, so very few fm stations are allowed to carry sports of any kind.  WCCO let the Twins go a while back, though they really don’t have to worry about losing any kind of regional foothold, as they also have a TV affiliate people know and love.  And there’s probably a reason that stations like Cities97, which have a local nickname for our area in their name, have been so successful (despite, quite honestly, really sucking).  One of the last advantages radio has is its ability to make people feel connected to those they live near.
And another way they do this is to run a lot of commercials for local enterprises.  But even the most diehard tuners-in, tend to want to tune those out.  The best policy I’ve learned is that you have to have other pre-sets at the ready in case it does go to commercials.  They follow one of two strategies- either it’s a commercial you’ve seen on tv without the picture, or a very annoying dialogue that could never happen in everyday life, between two people you’d never want to meet.  They also usually last for about 10-15 minutes, so too much time to try to justify waiting them out if you actually want to be entertained.  I do believe JACK fm has a semi-smart strategy, which is to rip on the fact that they have commercials, saying things like “Wow, you made it through all of those?  Here- have a cookie!”
One of the ways radio can stay part of the fabric of a city so much more easily than other mediums, I’m starting to realize, is because of what you can do while listening to it- driving around, biking around, playing video games, yard games- whatever!  And I can honestly say that I’ve done all of those things recently listening to radio.  (My roomies are quickly finding that I cannot, however, do any of those things while watching tv.) Growing up, one of my most regular summer activities was listening to the Twins while I shot hoops in the driveway.  It helped me not stress out so much.  And I’ve often felt like sports radio, no matter how annoying, can make it seem like you’re listening to the heartbeat of a city.  There’s still a huge (though friendly) rivalry in the Cities between those who listen to KFAN and 1500 for their sports talk.  It’s not just sports talk.  I’ve noticed a lot of dudes with a 93X pre-set in their car which actually never seems to be touched in the course of a short trip.  I have 93X as a preset in the car that I haven’t changed the presets on since I bought, and I understand that it had previously been owned by a middle-aged woman.  Because what’s better than blasting rock-and-roll while you’re cruising down 35W?  While tv keeps us connected to people throughout the country or the world, radio is the means by which we stay connected to where and when we are.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Anatomy of a Collapse

            What I want to figure out is, how did a team like the Washington Nationals lose a six-run lead at home in the deciding game of the first playoff series in the history of their franchise (and the city’s first since 1933).  My friends who watch baseball and I were watching the game that night, and later keeping tabs on it from our phones at the bar, and as we were watching it- rooting for the Nats- we felt this impending sense of doom that the Cardinals comeback was just inevitable.  In fact, I was sitting there just before we were trying to leave for the bar (with our two other friends who aren’t so big on sports), and I pretty much had to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the house.  The clincher was Mike saying “Look, the Cardinals are going to come back, and you don’t want to be here to watch the end of that.”  I knew it was true.  The greater knowledgeable world of baseball knew it was true.  The biggest shock leading up to the last inning was that the Nats had actually tacked on an extra run, which gave us some fleeting hope.  But is a two-run lead safe when facing the Cardinals?  Nope.  It’s like that team has the collective knowledge and experience of their franchise’s entire history- from the Gashouse Gang, to the Mad Dash, to Gibson, to Herzog and the Wizard, and even last year with the Rally Squirrel and Happy Flight (which I guess was also a thing).
            I’ve always railed against those fans who say, “I shouldn’t have gotten invested” because I feel like there’s a reason we get invested in sports.  Or at least if you’re not then just don’t be a sports fan.  But I’ve also found that it helps the healing process a little to be able to explain it.  And maybe in the course of the explanation, one says things like “I should have seen this coming” or “I should have known”. But in wanting to believe that sports will continue to surprise you, there’s a reason you didn’t let yourself know.  That doesn’t always mean the surprise is going to be a pleasant one.  This whole experience for fans of the Nats and just those rooting for them in the meantime should not have been a huge surprise, as it seems like collapses like this do happen in baseball, more than you might expect.  And so what I want to try to understand is why.
            Part of it is just the odds involved in getting out to a lead in the series.  Baseball is a game of inches, and when you get out to even a one game lead with 2 games to go, simply by plugging away and hoping you can take one.  But to settle at that would be to ignore just how resilient this Cardinals team is.  They won Game 6 of the World Series last year down to their last out and down two.  They won the Play In Wild Card Game on the road against an Atlanta team that finished five games ahead of them and got the benefit of the worst baseball call probably since 1985 (paging Don Denkinger).  And then this.  So they clearly know how to strike against teams that aren’t going to put them away.
            Trying not to completely ignore for a second that the Nationals are relative newbies to the postseason, there’s a lot they did to shoot themselves in the foot in Game 5.  Having gotten a six run lead in the early goings, the case could be made that they didn’t do enough to extend their lead.  They didn’t score again until the eighth, and by that point the Cards had already made it a one-run game.  Though there was a rally or two, the Nationals’ hitters seemed a bit too easy on the St. Louis pitchers and seemed to really get themselves out.  But Washington was playing at home and had the crowd and the momentum behind them.  And I understand that it’s an easy pattern to fall into, because when you’re that close to a series win, you just root for the innings to go by faster, no matter what that means. Plus, if you’re the Cardinals, it’s probably easier to pitch when your teams losing by a lot.
            But I think the biggest mistake was in how the Nationals pitched the Cardinals.  Gio Gonzalez could not seem to get a batter out, and needed to be relieved in the 6th.  In that respect, they need to still treat their starter like it’s the last game of the season and they need a win.  That being said, he may have deserved it.  The Cards just kept putting it in play and making things happen, and the Nationals played like they were going to get themselves out.  This was all capped off by Ian Desmond’s just-miss of a grounder that would have ended the game.   Those are plays that just need to be made in a championship season.  Every season has one, and last year it was Nelson Cruz not running through that fly ball in St. Louis.  If they’re made, you have the Jeter Flip play or Kirby Puckett’s The Catch in Game Six of the 1991 Series.  Even Willie Mays’s original The Catch in the 1954 World Series.  But suffice it to say, sometimes not being able to make that play is where your team is done in.  There seemed to be just too many plays the Cardinals made and that the Nationals didn’t.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My T-shirt Glossary

The New Britain RockCats Shirt
What it means to me: I like that this is a Twins farm team, but mostly it’s one of those quintessential minor league team names that follow the pattern of Aspect Of The Area +  Random Monosyllabic Animal.  This one is especially perfect, because I don’t even know if Rock refers to their area being famous for certain rocks, or for the genre of music.
What I want it to project: This shirt ought to say that I care about sports, but not so much that I always need to represent a team that I actually follow, or even a major league team.  It should also say that I somehow have connections to get apparel from a place you may not have heard of or at least don’t know where it is.  The connections I have, of course, are simply to the big league team…
The Story: In one of my best purchases of the winter, I went to TwinsFest™ for the usual excuse to look over apparel and merch I’m probably not going to buy.  But mostly just to get psyched about the Twins.  In the farm system section, I chose this one over a Fort Myers Miracle hat, which honestly would have been cool, but I didn’t think they were worth my time as an A ball team.  The only other choice was a Rochester Red Wings T-shirt, but since we’ve changed Triple A affiliates twice already since I started following the team, doesn’t seem like a great investment.
Loyola Marymount T-shirt[1]
Um… Why…?: It actually means something to both me and Mike B.  Even though the team is not a contender anymore, we became enamored of the team when we watched ESPN 30 for 30’s “The Guru of Go”, which was mostly about that late ‘80s team that made a huge run.  It’s just so amazing that a guy could go so unrecognized for not so much revolutionizing a sport, as turning it in to something else.  That’s what he did with the game of college basketball.  This team had could not be beaten at full strength and they wouldn’t have been at all if not for one of their star players, Hank Gathers, dying on the court.  That’s what he did.  And his good friend Bo Kimble then shot the first of every pair of free throws in the NCAAs left-handed in honor of him- and made every single one.  So Mike and I just have this code for gushing over the whole thing which will come up either whenever there’s something about that team even tangently in the news or if I’m wearing the shirt.
So… Who…?: The whole story is that I got it from a guy at my church who was giving them away to volunteers for some charity run that I ended up not even volunteering at but my mom did and of course they got drenched in the rain which I hear happens every year at this particular thing. [gasp]  But suffice it to say, about the least I’ve ever earned a T-shirt.
Carbon Leaf T[2]
What Is That?: I have loved this band since I first heard them when Marty downloaded a bunch of (illegal?) music onto my laptop my sophomore year of college.  They sat there unlistened to for several weeks, as I was too busy judging them by their name.  But when I did, I loved every album.  Bought the third one that I couldn’t listen to, and have since bought 2 ½ more albums from them (they recently release a legitimate half album, which of course, I bought).  And last fall it worked out that they were in town, and I was available to go to one of their shows.  Alex Hennen didn’t really know them, but he knew I liked them and informed me they were playing.  I was panicking in the weeks leading up to it, while we still didn’t have tickets.  And when Al got them with a week to spare, I was both psyched and offended.  (How are they not popular enough to be sold out at this point?!)  The show was everything it ought to have been and more.  This wasn’t the first concert T I have, but it will be the last one I own, if I have my druthers.
What I Want It To Project:  In the most hipster way possible, I want it to be a band you haven’t heard of, but maybe you have, in which case you’re cool.
The Decision:  I had to decide at the concert between this one and a white one.  I’m normally not much for black shirts, but this was a good decision.  It’s kind of a European fit, and I’m less of a European size now, so I’m glad it is black and therefore thinning.  But the design is a cool one, too, though not one I’ve seen on any album covers.  Kind of got a gothic thing going on, which I respect.
Israel Coke T (retired)
Why I Like It: This shirt, red like the product it endorses, essentially embodies what I’m about.  I love Coke, and I love travelling.  Having a Coke shirt from another country is really one of the most American things you can do, in that you are showing off what another country has made of an American establishment.  It is imperialism at its finest.  But on a less cynical note, I simply enjoyed showing off that I appreciate the language and culture of another country, whether that’s what other people actually got out of it.
What You Should, Too: At the very least, I wanted people to get my love of Coke, one side of one of the great nonexistent debates in our society, up there with Burger King or McDonalds.  The fact that it’s from another country shows that my experiences in another country may have been relatively superficial, but the country that I went to was deep enough that there’s no reason to expound.
The Story: The marketplace in the Old City of Jerusalem is where some of the most intense haggling I’ve ever encountered occurs.  Later on in the trip, my haggling skills would get more polished, but I remember the first deal they offered at this particular t-shirt shop was pretty reasonable. So I made sure to get a Coke shirt, because it was truly one of the experiences I will remember most fondly about the place.  It ended up being one of the few times I’ve actually worn something on a trip that I bought as a souvenir.  I would later wear it to a party at the house of my Jewish cousins (he married into the family), where his mom explained to me what the Hebrew literally translated to.  As she went from right to left (it being Hebrew), I was disappointed to learn it pretty much just wrote out Koh-Kah Koh-Lah, phonetically.  Why?  They could call it whatever they wanted?  I guess the Israelis just thought it meant something to maintain its authenticity, even if they couldn’t understand it.

[1] What I’ve concluded about why I don’t have any soccer gear is the simple reason that it’s not something that’s that important to me.  I have a couple basketball shirts, many Twins shirts and a bunch of Packers stuff.  I still feel comfortable enough with the stuff I do like, that I’m okay knowing a little less about the sport than those I watch it with.  And their being able to answer any questions I have allows me to enjoy it that much more.  I know enough about baseball, football, and more recently basketball, that I can watch those sports on my own and appreciate them.  I just don’t think I’m at that point with soccer yet.

[2] …As many shirts as I have, there are still a fair amount that I wish I did have.  I recently acquired a shirt for an alcoholic beverage I actually enjoy, Magic Hat #9, which I got at Bonnaroo.  The closest thing I had to that previously was a free Miller-Liteguard shirt from a promotion they were doing at a bar downtown.  I hate Miller Lite.  But I would like any Leinie’s apparel.  Another shirt I don’t have is any soccer jersey.  I might have to get a USMNT shirt for when we go down to Kansas City this fall.  I also wouldn’t mind getting a Seattle Sounders kit.  They’re my unofficial adopted MLS team, as I’m not going to cheer for a Chicago team, and I really like the city of Seattle.  But I would probably get an Aston Villa jersey above all, as they are my first team, a Premier League team (hopefully for a while), and their kits are pretty awesome, too.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Duck Season

[Editor's note: This is a re-posting of a column I wrote back in 2010, but one that I wanted to revisit and revise before using it to start up my inevitable fall season of getting in your face about stuff.  Enjoy!]

It’s duck season up here in the North (which is to say, the market covered by Fox Sports North) and that means everyone is excited to eat some delicious Teal or Mallard, the former of which I recently found out is very good with a fine Cabernet Sauvignon.  But one of the more satisfying aspects of eating duck, of course is the fact that they have been hunted down and brought to your table, and it is this whole endeavor to which Minnesota grade schoolers pay tribute by playing a game known around here as Duck, Duck, Gray Duck.
                It has recently come to my attention that not every state in the union knows the game as such.  In fact, people in every other state but Minnesota call the exact same game Duck, Duck, Goose, which is completely wrong.  The game has its origins in a very realistic and distinctly Minnesotan philosophy, that we are all Ducks.  We would never single someone out so ostentatiously as to call them a Goose.  Geese and Ducks wouldn’t hang out in the same flock, waiting to be provoked by a mysterious hand from above and then run in a very tight circle to track down the target, the It, before It reaches the point from which the race began.  (“It”, suffice it to say, is also a Duck).  A Goose definitely wouldn’t abide by these strict rules.  But Ducks follow the rules and know when to give up, because they understand that they will not always be the Gray Duck.  They will hopefully be a different kind of Duck, one that does not have to chase It.  We Minnesotans know that sometimes it is simply your day to be the Gray Duck.
                This brings me to the next part of this philosophy.  Though we are all Ducks, we are also all unique.  The tradition of these gamers in our fair state is that it is the responsibility of It to signify to each of the Ducks exactly what kind of Duck they are.  Just because one duck is Gray, doesn’t mean the other Ducks don’t have adjectives.  They all should.  There is the requisite Smelly Duck, Pretty Duck, Ugly Duck and others.  The only reason the Gray Duck is the type of Duck that has to chase is because that is the way it has always been.  It doesn’t mean he or she is any better or worse than the others.  We just need to know that we are being appreciated for our attributes by the It Duck.  And if the It Duck tilts our head back to get a better look at us in order to figure out what kind of Duck we are, so much the better.  We are one community (which is what the circle signifies), but we are also individuals, with names given to us based on the gifts we bring to the table. We watch and wait for the impending race and root for the Gray Duck because one day we may have to be him, and one day he might actually catch It Duck, though the odds are against him.
                Should he catch It Duck, we all rejoice, because there will be a feast of Duck Soup (is Goose Soup even a thing?), which is signified by the defeated Duck having to sit in the middle of the circle and be observed by those who he once shared the ranks of.  This is not cannibalistic or barbaric, but it shows that someday we may have to sacrifice something of ourselves for the good of others.  It is not right that some may have to leave us, but that is the way of things, and we know that in some ways, they are still with us, silently staring back at us from the center of our lives.
                 Does anyone have a good Cabernet to share?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Best New Show on TV (No- really!)

            There are those out there who’ve said I’m not very discerning- about movies, TV shows, music, books, etc.  And I would say they’re not completely wrong.  These people claim that I like everything.  They’re not completely wrong on that, either.  (And what’s so wrong with liking everything, anyway?)  But allow me to address both issues.  I have different ways of telling myself whether something is good or not.  It often just comes back to a pleasant memory about something, the perception that the enjoyment of a certain piece of media or experience was prevalent throughout the group I’m experiencing it with.  This may be the truest about TV shows in general, however.  I enjoy “having shows” with people.  I’ve heard it said that with as complex and high-brow as a lot of TV has gotten over the past decade or so, that TV is the new reading, in that it’s full of stories people religiously follow and enjoy discussing.  I still enjoy reading, and there is still a lot you can get out of reading that you can’t get out of TV, but this gap is becoming increasingly narrow.  The show I want to discuss now would in no way replace reading, both because of how long it would take to catch up with it and because of a lack of need for height in one’s brow for those who watch.  That show is Fox’s New Girl.
            There are many reasons I should not like this show.  It has Zooey Deschanel who, while I think she is very attractive, very much and for a long time has annoyed the H out of me.  [Excuse me while I try to convince myself that is not a phrase she would use….. okay, I’m good.]  She has that really annoying iPhone commercial, which I don’t like for several reasons, and she’s definitely not as good an actress or singer as she thinks she is.  Though I give her an A for effort in both.  And the other simple fact is that I rarely hitch my wagon to shows that are so blatantly vehicles for big name stars.  But this vehicle has been able to glean adequate performances from the lesser cast members and create characters you root for.  If the show were Zooey and Anyone Else You Recognize, it wouldn’t work, because you wouldn’t buy those two famous people ever in the same place.  As it stands, the rest of the cast’s anonymity is one of its strengths.  They are able to form a believable rapport with each other and an actress who at least tries to cultivate a down-to-earth vibe.
            As a side note, this was a show that cut out the first Token Black Guy from the pilot (probably because he didn’t test well), and if it was because of his character, I blame the writers- he was an amalgamation of different characters they had in mind, which didn’t work for anyone.  Though the other roommates referred to him as Coach and I thought that was cool.  The recent reference to him leaving in a recent episode made me forgive them for this whole debacle.
            The show could also have shot itself in the foot with all the things Fox has done wrong historically:  Over-estimating what it had and putting it in a timeslot where it couldn’t succeed, for one.  Over-selling it.  Under-selling it.  Incorrectly packaging it with another show or simply marketing it poorly.  In my opinion, they pretty much did everything right.  They gave the public the pilot free on iTunes, so they could make up their mind in good time.  They packaged it with Raising Hope, a similar style of sitcom, together in the 9/8c timeslot, and moved it ahead of that show when the time came.  The only issue I kind of have is that the show’s poster on Hulu is a weird one with Jess (Zooey) giving some joyous pose and her roommates sitting behind her looking exasperated.  The tag is “Boys will be boys.  Jess will be Jess.”  That doesn’t quite capture the dynamic of the show.  I would say the opening song and credits does that better.
            Hey girl… whatcha doin’? Zooey starts singing.  Her roommates come in with cardboard cutouts that eventually form a picture frame with her in the middle with the label New Girl.  When she’s done singing, they bring the cutouts down and walk away, not resentful-like, but conspicuously ignoring her.  This captures the relationship the show-writers are trying to cultivate- one of mutual respect and tolerance, but sometimes annoyance.
            And they do a fantastic job.  They’re greatest strengths include creating situations which themselves create the tension and awkwardness from which great dialogue simply appears.  They are the least clich├ęd circumstances for a show that I’ve seen in a long time.  While the script isn’t jam-packed with as many jokes per second as possible, like 30 Rock, it has as many memorable scenes as any on network TV right now.  The Christmas episode, for example, had two of the most genius plot devices that I’ve ever seen.  In the opening scene, you find out that Jess has gotten the three late 20s guys she lives with roller skates.  This is without a doubt the most perfect gift she could have gotten them for the purposes of the show.  I could probably spend the next three paragraphs dissecting how it’s funny.  But I won’t.  I’ll just say that I split a gut and then yelled at my own roommate for five minutes after the episode about why that was the single funnies thing they could have done, him nodding and agreeing the whole time.  The other scene which was pitch-perfect, was when her roommates and her best girlfriend went with her to this street where all of the houses put up lights, only to find they were all turned off.  Her friends proceeded to get out of the car and make a ruckus so that all the neighbors turned their lights on.  It had the perfect mix of sentimentality, rebelliousness, and visually-pleasing Christmas-themed props.  Just a textbook scene from a show that I will be keeping tabs on for many seasons to come.

Monday, March 26, 2012

You, On Wheels

            From person to person, is there one object that says more about who someone is than their car?  It’s starting to seem like in this day and age of public transportation, clustering population, telecommuting and an overall decline in the need for individual motor vehicles, our cars are saying more about us than ever.  In most cases, for example, your car will be the possession of yours people see on a regular basis that you’ve put the most time and money into, and consequently what you’ve spent the most time trying to personalize.
            It’s true, some people personalize their computers- I’ve put a couple stickers on mine, both having to do with Ultimate, causing my dad to now refer to all PCs as U-L-T machines.  In contrast, I’ve done very little personalization on the car I’ve got now, my first car.  I’ve clipped one St. Christopher medallion from one of my CCD pupils to the visor on the driver’s side, but most of what makes my car mine are quirks that I’ve either discovered or in some way caused.  I mean, maybe I was parked a little too close to the car in front of me that Saturday night in October after a full night of DDing all over tarnation, but that doesn’t mean I deserved the F-bomb scratched into the hood. (The F-bomber is in strong consideration to take over for Bucklass Supreme as my car’s nickname.)  Consequently, I am aware that Metallic Dark Teal is apparently not a very common touchup color to find.
            As far as other peculiarities with the BS, it has repeatedly taken just the right amount of coaching to get extra passengers to be able to yank open the aft starboard hatch (my right backseat door).  And I’m not quite sure that I’ll ever understand how the heating and cooling works, but for the most part, I like things just the way they are. Which is why I haven’t yet changed the pre-programmed stations on the radio, or the fact that the clock is five minutes fast.  Really everyone I talked to has noticed intricacies about their own cars, and know exactly how to handle them or deal with them.  We even, I think, to a large extent embrace them.  We have to.  Driving is a skill, and part of that skill is adapting- both behind the wheel, and under the hood, as the case may require.  But it’s one at which we must always strive to get better.  Because driving is also a skill which involves understanding, to some extent, the technology behind it- and technology is something that is constantly advancing.
            That’s what can be most telling about our cars, too.  How we drive is often a reflection of what we’re driving, just as what we’re driving is a reflection of how we want to drive.  A sports car, a pickup, a Jeep- they’re all going to be driven in different ways.  And very few skills offer people as deep an insight into our nature, both as groups and individuals, as driving.  The mention of said act inspires stereotypes for groups, individuals, and populations.  So it goes without saying that simply the type of vehicle we drive can make people think they know how we drive and therefore that much more about us.  The amount of ability it takes to drive a certain car can play into it, but so can what people think they know about how drivers of certain types of vehicles, makes of vehicles, even colors of vehicles, actually drive.  It’s been well-documented that drivers of red cars drive faster and are pulled over more often.  A Buick might make you think an elderly person is behind the wheel and that they’re going to creep along way under the speed limit.
            My car probably doesn’t say much at all- it’s an Oldsmobile.  But if I had to predict which make I might end up with someday, I would guess something German- maybe BMW, but probably a Volkswagen.  I just love their logo.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Not Going Anywhere

This is an open letter to my friend Ben.  Ben and I have a long ongoing argument over whether baseball will eventually become a niche (pronounced nitch, you posers) sport, equivalent to soccer, or less even.  He’s a baseball fan, but believes it’s only surviving because going to the ballpark is a quaint American tradition and it’ll start to die out.  This, therefore, is my manifesto on why baseball will continue to remain relevant in this country for many years to come, whether it ever overtakes football.
            My first argument is that baseball is a truly American sport, and as easy as it is for every part of the world to be connected these days, Americans still want to have something they’ve contributed to the current zeitgeist.  Other countries are quickly catching up to us in terms of economic and military strength, but having the top tier of a truly global sport based in our country makes us proud and will continue to have us coming back to it for generations to come.  England has the highest tier of soccer, as small a country as they are, but baseball has its roots and current highest form here, and I don’t think America will let that go soon.
            Along with that fact is that it is a truly global sport.  We have baseball, basketball, and hockey, truly global sports that were invented and currently have their highest leagues here.  (As far as hockey, let me explain- yes, Canada will claim it’s their sport, but as the most powerful country in North America, we get at least half the credit for the NHL.  And while we’re at it, let’s tally up the score.  Canada: current Olympic gold medal champ.  America: Current Stanley Cup winner [over a Canadian team], Stanley Cup favorite [Detroit, from what I gather- also the biggest hockey hub on the continent], and four of the Original Six teams.  Good game, Canada.)  As a global sport, we know it’s one that will stick around, because as more and more immigrants come to this country, as is the current trend, they will bring with them a love and passion for the game that will reinvigorate that of the current population.  (Yes, soccer is a major force to reckon with in the future, but being that there are whole countries in the Americas that worship baseball over soccer- DR, Venezuela, etc., plus Japan across the way- I have faith the sport will hold its own.)
            The sport is doing everything right to promote its growth in those areas in which it’s lagging- the RBI program, the World Baseball Classic and others are making it accessible (as if the game itself had to be more so) to minorities and youth.  Teams like the Twins are giving live Twitter feeds of those at the game to other fans.  Advanced stats are making it ever easier to identify talent and bringing a new side of the game to those seeking to get deeper into it.  And they’re probably going to expand the playoffs, giving us more postseason, and making more of the regular season relevant.  But in addition to the playoffs is something no other sport really has any answer to: Spring Training.  It’s the most extensive and concentrated preseason of any of the four major sports, and it brims with hope and enthusiasm for all who attend. 
            But baseball’s greatest strength lies in the infrastructure that’s in place right now.  The other week, I was looking at the FA structure of English soccer.  To summarize, they have promotion and relegation of teams for their finish in their respective leagues.  But besides the Premier and the four major leagues below that, there are Twenty Seven levels of leagues in the country.  Each one of these levels below the top six or seven have about twenty to thirty leagues, which themselves have twelve to fifteen teams.  I came to the conclusion that probably everyone in the country plays on some team in this system.  But in that same vein, baseball is set up so that more people in this country than you’d even realize are playing minor league baseball.  I do think that baseball should even consider creating a promotion/relegation system of their own.  It could be done, with a little patience and aid from the big boys.  But as it stands, major and minor league teams in American have developed keen connections between themselves through the farm team system and simply its extension throughout the US and Canada.  Every major town in this country has a baseball team at some level. Most of those have some major league affiliate and this often cultivates an affinity in that area for said team, most notably with Iowa and the Cubs, but also with say, Durham, NC and the Braves.  My dad and bro even said they went to a Twins game at the dome a few years back where they met some fans from Rochester, NY (home of the Red Wings) who just came to see what all their favorite players were up to.
            My final argument has got to be the weather.  This whole global climate change thing is probably going to make our country a generally warmer place, and as it stands, baseball is the last truly warm-weather sport in America.  Basketball and hockey have taken their places and football is a cold-weather sport that simply can be played in warm weather.  I don’t think this will play a huge role, but sports fans will always need a major sport (shut up, NASCAR) that can be enjoyed in the summer and that they feel they have a connection with from a long way back, or at least some other valid reason for rooting for their team in.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Through the Computer Screen

            There are too many social networking sites.  That’s an easy statement to throw out, but in a way it’s true.  There are enough social networks that I have a hard time now explaining which sites are social networks, and which ones just have social networking aspects.  Pandora, for instance, is internet radio as we all know, but you can be “friends” or something with other users on it.  Or maybe you “follow” people.  I can’t really keep track any more.  So I’m writing this piece in part as advice to those who feel lost, as well as a manifesto of how I define my internet self. 
            To start off with, I think I have to define my internet self.  The easy summary is that my internet self, let’s call him CloudBuck, is not me.  And I don’t want him to define me.  I feel like that perception is getting out of control.  Most often, yes, what you do on the internet says something about you and will influence how people see you in real life.  It is not real life, however.  For example, I recently had my Twitter and Facebook hacked or otherwise used without my knowledge.  Said person posted slander about me, in a way that there was little I could do.  The first instance on the ‘Book was when I had my birthday changed.  This was especially annoying because people I didn’t know very well were wishing me happy birthday all day and I couldn’t change it.  And so “Push Notifications” were showing up on my phone all day.  Another thing that was posted later, might have been inappropriate, but I didn’t care enough to delete it.
            And yet there are certain things I want my social network personas to say about me.  Most of them are simply utilitarian now, but on my Twitter, for instance, I try to balance my humorous or insightful observations with simple Facebookesque status updates.  These sites are a powerful tool, but I think they should be used only insofar as they are helping Real You, whether you’re actually networking, knowledge-gaining, socializing or just venting.
            The plethora of networks that I use and have used in the past twelve months is indeed nauseating.  There are several that I do regularly, others on occasion, others I quit and still others I know about and haven’t started yet.  But could at any time.  One I would like to discuss as an example of an “SN” that wasn’t doing anything for me is Foursquare.  I could first point out that it was a pretty good idea until sites like Facebook and Yelped started doing essentially the same things.  But the problems I have with it run deeper.  It felt a lot like a game, which is what a social network shouldn’t be.  The coupons you were supposed to get places were never worth it, you could make up your own places, and it overall just felt like a pissing contest.  I don’t care if you’re the “Mayor” of your best friend’s house!!!  But it got you extra points, so why not?  That was another drawback, that by this whole points system, it actually encouraged you to be friends with fewer people. You get points for being the first of your friends at a location or the friend who’s been there the most- and you only got ranked against your friends!  That feels like the antithesis of a social network.  An anti-social network.  And it would take unnecessary time out of my life having to find internet and check in everywhere I go.
            I like my social networks to interfere in my life as little as possible.  Don’t let me know every little thing that’s going on, but allow me to communicate future events, past events, and current events in an efficient manner.  I had a funny exchange with a buddy of mine on FB where we were poking fun at our friendgirl’s boyfriend who we hadn’t met with inside jokes he probably didn’t get.  But he soon posted, absolutely hit the mark with his response and it had me rolling.  That’s what an SN should do.
            A final thought- besides just sending word of new cool things around the web at record speed, these sites are often their own referenda.  If a site is good, people are going to find out about it quickly through other sites.  And that gives me hope for my buddy who is working with Google, promoting Google+ (heard of it?).  The jury is still out, but if it’s good it will come into more widespread use.  For crying out loud, for a guy who invented the term “social network”, doesn’t Mark Zuckerberg seem like the most anti-social guy ever?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Extending the Olive Branch

Yes, my Packers lost the other weekend.  I’m upset, I’m going to let this one hurt for a little bit- but I’m not going to go around telling people, “I knew they would do this to me, why did I get attached?”  Not only is that not the Packer way, there’s no way that could ever be the Packer tradition.  If you didn’t notice, our team wins. Not Yankees capacity, but as my buddy has convinced me, they’re the St. Louis Cardinals of Football.  (They have a comparable amount of championships, they’re an overlooked Midwestern city that bleeds for their team, etc…)
            What this loss does for me (did I mention I was at Lambeau?) is get me ready for the next big win.  It might not even be the Super Bowl to which I’m looking forward, but if and when we have another playoff win, this Lambeau/Giants Playoff Mini-Jinx will be over and it will be pandemonium. 
            Not all teams’ fanbases are sure they have this to look forward to, however.  Some have not had that big win for a while, or have just had playoff wins lead to bigger playoff losses.  Some have had juggernaut teams with inexplicable collapses, coaches who unwittingly destroy their teams’ chances, veterans who choke in the clutch, role players that become infamous for what they did wrong.  Year after year.  And yet the fans stick around.  I’m talking, of course, about the Minnesota Vikings and their fans.
            And our team (yes, I own part of them now) should take some of the blame.  We did probably ask Brett at just the wrong time (for a tenth time) if he was sure he didn’t want to un-retire, and so went ahead with the lottery-pick QB who’d been sitting on our bench for three years (and would later lead us to a Super Bowl win), and so forgot to leave his spot open when he did say, six months after his first announcement, that he wanted to un-retire.  And then we shouldn’t have put in the poison-pill clause when we sent him to the Jets, and made him trick them into releasing him after that season with the promise that he was for sure retiring this time, but then put it into his head that a certain divisional rival of ours might need a QB.  And then to top it all off, we made him have one of the best seasons of his career, but then cap it off with a crushing pick thrown in the waning moments of regulation of the NFC championship game.  Sorry about all that.
            In all honesty, I would have said I told you so to all of you about that, but that would be like saying I could have foreseen all the misfortune to come.  Randy Moss coming back, dissing Tinucci’s, then leaving.  The stadium roof collapsing, Favre having a sub-par year, and then your arch-rival winning the Super Bowl.  I can’t think of a much bigger fall-off from one year to the next for any team in recent memory.  But that might just be the Curse of Favre…
            With all this being said, the Viqueens (see what I did there?) have had some of the worst fortune of any team in any sport ever.  SI, in their first “Overrated/Underrated” Issue named the Vikes the Underrated Hopeless Obsession.  They don’t get as much national media attention, but lately they've been gaining notoriety very quickly.  One of the main characters on the hit CBS show How I Met Your Mother is a big Vikings fan from Minnesota, and the team has been involved in several storylines throughout the course of the series.  But this is happening with good reason.  The only other sport that seems to have as prominent of Curses or Jinxes is baseball, and their group has been thinning of late.  The Rangers may be establishing themselves as one, but it’s probably only a matter of a few seasons for them.  And in the past ten years, there have been four world champs who won for either the first time ever, or the first time in fifty or more years.  So the Vikings will soon be alone atop the pantheon of sports jinxes.  Hey, it’s better than nothing.
            What makes the idea of a Curse so fascinating in football is their system of revenue sharing and parity.  In theory it makes it so that every team has an equal shot to win.  In theory.  But despite this, and raucous and die-hard fans, the Vikings have not only managed to not win the big game, but also get very close and break your heart.  Should we go over them?  Ninety-eight: Gary Anderson; Oh-Nine: Favre and AP; Eighty-Seven: Anthony Carter; the Giants blowout; the Hail Mary Game; the Choke in Arizona.  Not to mention four Super Bowls- one of which they were huge favorites in.  But that’s what makes the dry spells interesting.  It’s not the Cubs or Lions, who are just pathetic year after year.  I honestly think that in some ways you guys are lucky.  Whenever that big win comes, you guys will have pandemonium.  Remember Sawx in Oh Four?  That was nothing.  This state will be the happiest place on earth for two years.  At that future (possibly completely theoretical) time, I am going into my room and not coming out for… a while.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Playing by Myself

After hiding behind a dumpster, escaping down a sidestreet and getting to the main drag into the Vatican, I found myself safe and back with my friends.  One of them got a water bottle hurled in her direction and then the idiot driver started to hold up traffic in the Vatican while staring me down.  I would later get chewed out by Kip, our trip’s assistant lead, probably with good reason.
Why would I even do this, you’re asking?  Maybe you’re not asking.  Maybe you know me and you don’t need to ask, or have come to expect stuff like that.  But most- make that some of the things I do have an explanation.  During one of the first years up at Many Point Scout Camp, one of the older scouts made up this game called Car Touch.  The main idea was to touch passing cars.  Since these were all dirt roads and there were usually a lot of people walking along them, this wasn’t such a bad idea.  But the idea was still to be discrete about it.  You still didn’t want people to know you were touching their car.  I held on to this ritual throughout most of the rest of my growing up, and I still do it on occasion.  Sometimes I give myself arbitrary points based on the quality of the touch.  But I don’t really care if anyone else is playing with me.  I imagine some people somewhere are, and that’s enough.
The incident I just described probably should have quelled my desire to play this game, though, right?  Well, it didn’t.  Playing the game now reminds me of that story, and about that whole month overseas, which was one of the most fun times of my life and I think even a turning point, or a coming-of-age period for me.  And I think there’s even more to it than that.
I’ve realized this game helps me to understand that cars themselves don’t hurt people, it’s the people carelessly driving and the people carelessly walking that endanger us all.  We are all just people, moving from one point to another, and we all have to watch out for each other.  While some are taking a different form of transportation, it doesn’t mean that at a later point the pedestrian and the driver won’t be in the opposite situations.  Was it dumb to assume that people in a foreign country would take kindly to my harmless game?  Probably.  But at least in America, I know that I can walk close enough to the car, even when it’s moving, to touch it, so it must not be inherently dangerous.  It thereby helps me to understand what a safe distance from the car is, which is good for both when I’m walking and when I’m driving- in the latter case, knowing what a safe distance from the pedestrians is.  I never want to touch cars that are going too fast, just like I never want to assume that pedestrians are going to see me driving and/or try to avoid me.