Tuesday, September 23, 2014


            Thoughts on Chattanooga: it seems like a really fun city, because much of what’s determining the size of the town, is the valley in which it sits.  I later learned that this is the Lookout Valley, named after the mountain, which is also one of the largest geographical attractions in the area.  It’s this very valley which makes you forget it’s there until you are right on top of it.
                Rolling through the Appalachians on our way back from Tybee Island, GA on spring break our sophomore year, our car was getting hungry right around the time we hit Chattanooga, Tennessee, a town most of us had heard of, but very few had seen.  Getting to anywhere that served food seemed to require us driving into the heart of the city, picking out a place, and then trying to park somewhere free.  As I recall, there was a Three Doors Down concert at a theatre down there, and so there seemed to be both less parking and fewer people about than you might expect for a Saturday with less going on.
The place we spotted was called Sticky Fingers, a barbeque joint which despite belonging to a small chain, seemed to be genuine, down-home fare.  We hit the head pre-meal, and as I was walking back towards the front of the store, I said mostly to myself, “Where are our friends”.  The hostess quipped right at that moment “You don’t have any friends”, and I immediately understood what kind of place I was in.
                We had no trouble getting a table quickly, which was fortunate for our stomachs. The meal didn’t disappoint either.  The ribs were fantastic, and we tried just about every variety with every sauce provided as well.  We proved their name correct (me probably more than anyone).  And we looked forward to stopping in next year on the same trip.
                Unfortunately it didn’t happen like that for everyone involved in the first adventure. Being in a car full of people more impatient as well as ignorant of the joys of Sticky Fingers, I was outvoted when we and another carful showed up the next year’s ride back and found that there may be a 30 minute wait.  So our car ate Qdoba instead, waiting about as long to sit down as it sounds like the other car did at Sticky Fingers.  But I’m not bitter or anything. Especially not because I was then 21 and could have had an adult beverage there.  We did make it back to the area for the same restaurant at a slightly different location the next year, but all my dreams were fulfilled once more.

                And this was the emotion dug back up when the Twins announced they are moving their AA affiliate to Chattanooga to take over the Lookouts (also a great name).  I was aware of the team of course, and I now have a connection reasonably close in Atlanta, that we could base camp from if we were to fly in and take a day trip. And bring him to the restaurant of my dreams which he momentarily kept me from.

Monday, August 4, 2014

City Ball

Watching the Giants and Phillies is making me think that the National League has about the best location not just amount leagues in the Majors, but among almost any American sport.  (Arguably the MLS western conference might be the second best such environment and dynamic among team locations.)
                The fact is, though, that most of these teams are almost inarguably the important teams in their area.  Cincinnati has the oldest professional baseball team in existence, Miami has a very large Cuban population, despite a terrible ownership history.  The Giants own the bay area, have the most beautiful stadium in the game, and a couple recent ‘ships under their belt, and the Phillies are still in their city!  But let’s take a look at a cross section of the most ideal locations for the National Pastime.
                Los Angeles: Despite the fact that they’ve only been in this area since 1958, this team is probably the most storied team of any kind on the west coast.  They’re the team of Sandy Koufax, Steve Garvey, and Kirk Gibson.  In the nineties they won six Rookie of the Year awards in a row.  They’ve played in the same place since moving from the Colliseum early in their residence.  They have the best announcer in sports.  And while they haven’t won a Series since ’88, the team has probably the brightest future.
                Best current pitcher in the game; one of the most exciting young players in the game; a giant new TV contract and an owner who is most famous in the town for his accomplishments in another sport.  And they’ve done it all while surviving a team that plays an hour away, but insists on calling themselves “Los Angeles”, another team in San Diego and one of the worst ownership fiascos in recent memory.  What helps the Dodgers here is that their uniforms are just classic, they have a rival in the Giants who are generally competitive and pretty close (by American standards) and did I mention more money than God?  Yes, a lot of people might argue that the basketball team still owns the town, but I have my own axe to grind with them and that team hasn’t even been the best basketball team in their town the past couple years.
                St. Louis: I hate the Cardinals.  They were named after the trim and socks’ colors on their uniform around the time of their founding, having first taken the name Perfectos.  For a time, they weren’t even the only St. Louis Cardinals (the Chicago Cardinals of the NFL having moved there around the middle of the century).  They kicked another, lamer-color-named team out of their city, and sent them to another place which liked birds.  Then they stole the design of that team’s park for their new park.  Their fan territory infringes further across their state then it should and into most of the western Mason-Dixon states.  They’ve stymied the potentially great stories of the ’67 Red Sox, the ’82 Brewers (thank you!) and the ’11 Rangers.  They have the second most championships in baseball, but their fans still complain about a measly first-base call in a (non-deciding) Game 6 against a team with only one championship in their history.[i]   But they are the best baseball city in America.
                Their fans show up year after year.  They do benefit from a lot of exposure in TV commercials, given that they are owned by a certain famous beer company.  But year after year they also have great pitching, role players who are pushed to new heights, and an environment that loves baseball above all else.
                Milwaukee:  As a Packer fan and Twins fan, this pains me.  But I also kind of feel for the place. Their current franchise is an expansion club, and they’ve only had one World Series appearance, which wasn’t in the league they are currently in.  But the first club they had was in too much of a hurry to leave, despite a couple Series appearances (including one win over the Yankees), and some of the greatest players of the generation, playing in a city that loved them.
                Sure the city is largely Packer territory, but they take baseball fandom to new (if drunken) heights.  Their ballpark is incredibly spacious and breezy.  They originated the costumed-fan races that have swept the league and for once there’s something besides Bernie Brewer sliding down three levels to come to the ballpark to watch.  Who cares if there’s probably way too much Miller Lite at the park?  They’ve got anti-heroes, cast-offs and rebels on a team which will show their true colors down the stretch, one way or another.  They used to have the greatest hat logo in baseball and they often still pay tribute to it.  And of course, despite being on the outskirts of the city, fans troop out every game-day to get sloshed in the parking lot while playing bags, and then mosey in for some more beer and delicious brats.  And maybe, for the time, some winning baseball.

[i] Yeah, it was their cross-state rival, but the Royals also had been down 3-1 in the Series.  So no sympathy, Redbirds.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Brand Doctor

                The biggest problem with McDonald's is that they are just so omnipresent.  They are going to have a stake in everything, everywhere, always.  I don’t think I have a problem with them sponsoring so many things, because I don’t inherently support McDonald’s when I, say, watch a World Cup soccer game, but rather just get more exposed to the restaurant chain than I would like to.  One of the biggest problems with this country being so money-driven and class-conscious is that people think having very little money is an excuse to have very little class.  The times I have gone to any kind of Mickey D’s in the past two years or so are those times when I am on the road with my family and they’re buying.  As they pointed out at the end of our Wyoming trip last year- ‘We can’t always afford to spend a lot of money on dinner.’  So I suppose I should be thankful that I live in a country that allows cheap meals sometimes.  But when you make a place like McDonalds part of your regular lifestyle, you miss out on so much joy in life that isn’t just out of reach because you, say, can’t afford a sit-down restaurant, or have very little time.  It’s just SO easy to go grocery shopping and have some frozen pizzas and just try your best to have a sit-down meal.  Your kids need to be able to feed themselves, they need to feel like they’re part of a family and that they’re a self-sufficient breed, and they need to be getting proper nutrients.  No matter what you get at McDonalds, it’s just not going to be as good for you as something you make for yourself. 
All of these consequences build on themselves, and this is to me why McDonalds is so evil.  They’ve just insinuated themselves into the lives of a certain class of people to such a large extent, that a lot of people think of it as just a way of life.  Like, this is where normal people eat on a regular basis- which is sad, because McD’s has a very effective method of making it seem that way, and the more it starts to seem that way, the more it becomes true.  Their slogan now, which they haven’t changed in a decade and probably won’t ever again[i] is “I’m lovin’ it!”  What is “it”?  It is everything you can possibly imagine, because this place is everywhere and everything.  You can’t escape it.  First of all: support Mom and Pop shops as much as you possibly can.[ii]  Secondly: Fix your own meals as much as you possibly can.  Because while the Krocs have done a very good job of making you think that you should only eat stuff that’s familiar to you, that’s the furthest thing from the truth.  One of their most recent commercials is some guy who just became a rich pro athlete- but hey, he stays true to his roots by buying all his friends McDonald’s.  I’m glad we’re not friends, because I would be telling him to take us out for something good, like sushi.  Like good sushi.  When I go to a store, I’m suspicious of things that are too inexpensive.  I would rather pay more for a superior product which I don’t have to replace or otherwise regret getting sooner than I’d like.

However, there are some soccer sponsors I do respect, and one of the reasons I respect this one so much is in large part due to their commercials.  There are several really good Heineken commercials, but I think one of my favorites has to be the one with the guy chasing down some chick who left her business card case in the cab.  (Be warned, the version of this that appears on TV is much shorter.)  He goes to a place called The Chop and gets a shave.  He later goes to a place called Step Sisters.  He learns to swing dance.  Then he ends up at a jazz joint called the Broken Note.  Here he buys the piano man a Heinie and plays a few notes on the piano.  Then he’s quickly out of cards and hasn’t found the lady, whose name is apparently Eve.  Eve is both a great name for an attractive chick, because it is the name of the first woman, but it’s also quite possibly just the name (a great name) of an upper level restaurant which he soon finds from a giant neon sign.  He gives the red-haired hostess the case, as if to ask who he can give it back to, and she leads him to some kind of private urban gondola where they share a couple cold ones.  What’s great about this particular Heinie commercial to start with, is that each of these places just has such a perfect name.  And while other commercials for Heineken have featured men with a lot of talent wooing ladies, they’ve mostly been dudes who are offensively over-confident in whatever environment they enter.  This is one with a guy who, while obviously not shy, definitely doesn’t know what to expect from any part of this adventure, but he’s able to roll with anything.  Especially a hot redhead[iii].  The other great part is that while some of the other commercials take place on a cruise or somewhere foreign, even though the main character is most likely American, this ad made the correct choice of setting with a large (American-looking) city, probably NYC.  Thus we don’t have the subliminal message that you need to be rich to be as suave as the guys in the commercial.  You just need to drink Heinie and have some class.

When I was growing up, my dad had a Chevy S10 with a flatbed in which he would transport us around the neighborhood in the spring and summer.  It was black, had a small cab, a stick shift and he later sold it for about $2000.  But Chevys from there on were always synonymous with trucks for me- the machines of Men, which separated us from the Canadians and the French.  When I was trying to even out the themes in T-shirts I owned, I found one with a Chevy logo at Target and it became one of the only tops I own that doesn’t honor some sports team.  But I do feel like Chevy is a team in its own right.  It was the car answer to the Coke-Pepsi rivalry[iv].  I was on team Chevy.
And Chevy has done a lot of things right to close that gap, especially in the truck department.  They always had the better slogan for their trucks- Like a Rock.  It even had its own song: “I was strong as I could be…”   The Chevy logo is simple and classic as well.  It’s one shape, and while the outline of the shape is essentially 12 segments or so, they do a really good job of emphasizing that it’s pretty much just two really thick lines that cross each other.  You can see on the grill of most of their vehicles, that the long, horizontal line sits on the distinguishing middle bar, with the thicker, vertical line hangs out un-assumingly in the middle, only slightly dangling off either side.  (This simplicity of design was something Ford still hasn’t nailed down.)  And the name Chevy has itself a very American appeal, given that the full name, Chevrolet, is obviously French in origin.  You both ignore that root and honor the forebears who shortened it in this country.
Lately Chevy has been very much trying to emphasize its place in Americana, and is in my opinion succeeding.  Their campaign in the middle of the last decade was “An American Revolution”.  They introduced a bunch of new cars, and brought back many of the old ones.  Everyone loves and knows the Camaro and the Corvette.  But the Impala has a place in the urban landscape of this country and the Suburban was the first major vehicle for people who had a lot of stuff and/or people to carry around, but didn’t want to drive a creepy van.  And I don’t care what people say, the El Camino might be the best vehicle ever, and the granddaddy of all coupe utilities.  But while not all the new vehicles have stuck, I think those who own the Equinox love the name of the vehicle at the very least.  There may not be much of a point to the SSR, either, but let’s be honest- it’s pretty sweet that it exists.  I think they’ve done a great job of solidifying their identity- as a company that takes risks, but knows what it’s done right.
The fact is that I haven’t been a huge Ford backer historically and they haven’t done a lot in this area lately to make that change.  They do just tend to rest on their laurels a little bit.  But there are a few things they’ve had working against them in the past few years.  For one, they can’t help that a lot of Canadians wanted the Ranger, inherently reducing its appeal in America.  And they definitely got hit by the brunt of the recession.  The new image they are trying to create is doing really well for them.  They are fully embracing the eco-revolution and from everything I’ve heard the Fiesta and Focus are really fun to drive.  The main thing that has gotten my attention is their new grill, which I think is more of a representative for your company than people tend to give credit to.  We’ve known for a long time that you want generally to stick with one style across all of your vehicles, but the main conundrum was how to make yours unique compared to every other car company.  Could I look at your car or truck and say “Oh, that’s a ­­______”?  Ford has succeeded with their new-style grills which look equally appropriate on any type of vehicle[v] and are especially identifiable, more so even than Chevy lately.
But what they haven’t been able to do is get a logo that you only have to see part of, the way you do with Chevy, Coke or McDonald’s.  The Ford logo has been the same for a long time, but now that a lot of auto manufacturers are using ellipses for their main logo, it has become so much less unique, despite its trademarked status.  What they probably should do is make a close-up of part of the Ford script within the enclosure.  Something with white-on-blue, ala the Coke tail, which they’ve leveraged so deftly.  The only thing I can think of they may have that people think of them in even the top 5 for is the color blue.

[i] Until the sh*t hits the fan and it becomes something like “It wasn’t just us!”
[ii] I’m glad we live in the age of Yelp!, we have a means of telling what places of those we’ve never heard of are actually good.
[iii] “Fine! We’ll go somewhere private and have sex! Settle down!”
[iv] Which really isn’t one anymore.
[v] Even on the embarrassingly wide array of cars that are going by the moniker “Crossover” these days.  Can we just admit that some of them are essentially Station Wagons?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Under the Radar Television

                FX is a channel that I have gained more respect for over the recent years.  The shows it has are usually as well thought out as any on premium television and it has simply become a network known for trusting showrunners to do their thing and just create really good TV.  Such was the case with the show Louie, through which the network lays claim to the guy many agree is America’s funniest of the moment, Louis CK.  They have for a long time had the cult favorite It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and even shows which I’ve seen almost none of, such as Justified, but from everything I have heard and seen of them are also really good.  But my favorite at this point has to be The Americans.
                The title was the first thing that appealed to me.  It summons a jingoistic part of me, which, as I started watching, was quickly leveraged me to root for the main couple, who feel as strong of feelings for their country as I and a large chunk of us felt, say, just after 9/11.  And while the commercials for the show pressed onto your cerebral cortex with visual stimulation and even the opening credits built a fantastic fast-paced montage of Soviet and American images juxtaposed, the scenery in the show (save the people) seemed purposefully dull.  That also juxtaposed nicely with how fine-tuned and fast-paced the plot and character development became.
                The first season was exceedingly tight, and bore itself like a show already hitting its prime.  They weren’t afraid to dispatch or scale back the roles of certain characters.  And everything about the backstabbing, camaraderie and intrigue made me want to have participated in an era that I only lived during about four years of.[i]  There is a good amount of action and suspense, as well as misunderstandings and screw-ups that add to the authenticity of the show.  Some of the most dastardly things these people do aren’t even physically violent.  Philip (the husband), has his alter-ego Clark marry the secretary at his neighbor’s FBI division, who he has convinced he’s an Internal Affairs investigator, so that he can continue to use her as his informant.
                What strikes me about it too, that brings special appeal to me, is the magnitude of how serial it is.  So much so, that I can’t really tell you what has happened episode to episode, but more just over the course of one season of another.  As I’m starting to figure out some of the beats of shows, I start to see where they head sometimes.  Since the end of last season, Philip and Elizabeth’s oldest, Paige, has started to stop trusting her parents.  Earlier this season, it led to a fantasticly awkward encounter in her parents’ bedroom at night.  But as a parallel of their relationship with her, the couple has had to deal with the aftermath of a massacre which left their best friends’ oldest an orphan.  This all seems to be pointing to a watershed moment where Paige either learns the truth or is told it.  And while the show has in no way been predictable, this event would actually contradict one of the central tenants of the show.  But I also think it would strengthen the Jennings’ as a family and the Philip and Elizabeth’s identity as both a couple and operating partners.
The season finale a couple weeks ago also did not disappoint.  At the risk of spoiling too much, I’ll just say that this show has an uncanny ability to bring everything full circle, both in respect to themes addressed throughout the season as well as the collision courses of certain characters. There are very few wasted scenes or characters, and while there is no giant cliff-hanger ending, it’s clear we are in for so much more in coming seasons.
What appeals to me in this tv show as much as anything, is what it really gives me of the 80’s.  Since I mostly see that decade from the perspective of what music and movies we get from them, there is very little more appealing to me about it than the Cold War.  But they do a good job of showing how bland I think we all truly understand it was, and maintaining the distinct J’ ne se quoi of the decade.  The little I remember of it from my own life is a lot of beige.  I remember boxy cars and I wish I remembered more sweaters.  Sooo many sweaters…  Fashion-wise, it’s not better than the sixties, of course.  But when viewed through the espionage side, it’s way more fun.  Just as espionage without as much technology as today is itself way more fun.

[i] Although even as late as ’95-’96 (which I remember most of), I think there were enough leftover feelings and suspicion around the country, and from my parents more specifically, that I probably got a little taste of it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Reasonable Call for Attention

When I was in church yesterday, I was sitting next to one guy who seemed to be there by himself, in front of one couple who was probably in their forties, and had a younger couple in front of me who walked in a couple minutes late. 
It has increasingly become my habit to go to the so-called Last Chance Mass at OLL, simply because that’s when it ends up working out best for me during the weekend, and it’s pretty close by.  The only part of it I don’t like is that I haven’t been able to find a bike rack around to save my life (or my soul).  But yesterday I was psyched, because coming down 2nd St., I found one sitting just outside the Punch Pizza.  I was able to both be smug about the fact that I found a bike rack close to somewhere else I wanted to patronize, and also take that of someone who maybe wanted to patronize a place I don’t like so much.  Because- it’s not like they’re going to tow a bike for biking in a spot that person isn’t going to.
                Thus I ended up being much more punctual than usual for this Mass, but with the added worry of not being sure if my light is going to be taken off my bike.  It looks enough a part of the thing that I don’t think I should worry, but I would say there’s still about a 1-in-20 chance that someone takes it.  The light is kind of a piece of crap- plus I also just don’t want to keep it on my person the fewer clothes I start to wear as the weather gets warmer.  And this particular Mass is pretty short, while invading the daylight hours at this point, so all the less opportunity for some petty thief.  Nonetheless, it all added to an increased amount of stress throughout Mass, so I suppose I might have been making too big of a deal about what happened at the sign of peace, but it was still just so far out of the spectrum of my experience that I almost could not deal with it.
                The sign of peace came and I turned to give the sole guy next to me a handshake.  Then I turned around and gave each one of the couple behind me a firm sign of peace as well.  But I turned around to do the same to the couple in front of me and……. nothing.  I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t really do anything, except mentally write half of this out in my head.  In retrospect, was there something I could have done?  I’m honestly asking.  Should I have cleared my throat?  Should I have just stuck my hand out so if one of them sees it out of the corner of their eye, something might come of it?  I had a theory, that they were sort of SoP’d out at that point, having just been given huge hugs by the couple in front of them.  That would explain a lot, especially because they may not have known that couple and it was just something that happened.  That might have used up all their love.  And peace.  (They also may have known them, but I may still have reason to be mad at that couple in front.)
                What is it with all this hugging?  I hope they were all like Best Men and Maids of Honor in each others’ wedding or something like that, because what other reason would you have to justify such a possible invasion of their personal bubbles, not to mention taking up enough time for them to be turning around and giving the guy behind them, who isn’t there with anyone, the sign of peace?[i]  Not that I have anything inherently against hugging.  Quite the contrary.  I think hugs are very important.  I just think what they should essentially mean is “I love you”.  And in that vein, if there are people I am out there hugging, it’s because I almost literally see them as my family.  I’ve heard more and more about humans just needing daily contact with each other lately, because it’s unhealthy not to get a certain amount.  Hugs are a good way to do that, I suppose- but so are high-fives, handshakes, chest-bumps, even the occasional hip-bump[ii].  Just allow the rest of us to share in the human contact, when given certain time constraints.

[i] To be fair to the couple two rows ahead, the people just ahead of me still had plenty of Sign of Peace interlude to notice me.  I hate to say it, but this whole thing is very typical of this church.
[ii] Which I’m actually pretty sure I invented my junior year of high school with my Hungarian friend Dani.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Do You Know Where Your Team Is Right Now?

I was watching Pujols hit number 500 out in Nationals Park this morning on SportsCenter, and just thinking about how much I disapprove of the Angels now being called the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  I do understand the owner’s perspective that he wants to market the team to the bigger city in the metro area, but anyone who actually lives in Los Angeles makes a clear distinction between L.A. and Orange County.  It’s not the same place, so the team name shouldn’t pretend it is.  It really isn’t even pretending- it’s saying “We know they play in one place, but we’re naming it after this other one.”  I was accused the other day about trying to make up the names for how teams name each other, in regards to what right the Brooklyn Nets have to name their team after the borough.  But I’ve come around on that.  Brooklyn is a huge entity, with a huge identity, so they should go for it.  Which brings me to the first rule:
Rule 1:  Thou Shalt Name Thy Team After the Smallest Possible Entity Thou Can Which Most Respects the People of that Area.
                When I was first granted these rules from the Great Sports Commissioner in the Sky, I didn’t understand all the wording.  But I believe this simply means that whatever entity the people of the area most identify with is probably the right one to choose to name the sports team after.  All the teams in Chicago are named after that city because no one cares about the rest of Illinois.  You could sooner name it the NE Illinois/NW Indiana/Southern Wisconsin Whatevers, and it would have the same kind of resonance.  (Except it would be a mouthful.)
                The Rangers play in Arlington, Texas, which is not a very well-known city outside that area, despite having almost as many people as Dallas or Fort Worth.  So for that and reasons of synergy with their nickname, they chose to name them after that state.  Probably for similar reasons, the Minnesota Twins chose their state name, even though there had already been a very successful major sports team in their state named after their biggest city.  Bloomington still had to be associated with the whole state, and as great a name as Twins is, it wouldn’t be possible to call them the [Insert a single city’s name here] Twins.  Nonetheless, I do feel like they are our area’s team most closely named after the Twin Cities,[i] which suits me just fine.
                A couple other questions can be brought up in regards to the GSC’s first rule.  What would he have to say about the Golden State Warriors, who play in Oakland?  First, I would have to argue that no one wants their team named after an s---hole like “Oaktown”, especially if there is no competing team in San Francisco, aka The City[ii].  And while Golden State technically refers to the whole state of California, it specifically highlights the history of Northern California, whither everyone headed during the area’s famed Gold Rush of 1849.
                Then we come to the question of Tampa Bay- the fact that they have two rather large cities surrounding one geographic feature does not necessarily define the area geographically.  It’s said that Tropicana Field in St. Pete is about a 40 minute drive for anyone from Tampa, and considering very few people are from that area and Tampa itself actually hosts a minor league affiliate of the Yankees, this translates to rock-bottom attendance even when the team is good.  This is easier to justify in the football realm, because with only eight home games a year, people from all over can completely justify the trip, and there is very little else competing in that area that time of year.  So considering its giant population, its history as an independent city, and a very recognizable cultural association in the present-day, Brooklyn can have their Nets- and maybs take the Isles when they have the chance.[iii]
                Rule 2:  Thou must at least play in the same Metro Area as thou claimest thy team is from.
                This is a rule that has mostly been rectified, although there are a few cases which at least bear further discussion.  The first and probably most notable is in the Meadowlands of New Jersey, where not one, but TWO teams claim to represent a city in one state over.  I have myself been to new Jersey, and I can tell you that there’s still a strong association with the Big Apple all the way over in Northwestern New Jersey, which the Meadowlands is much closer than.  In fact, most of the entire state of New Jersey is a ‘burb of NYC and they’re content with that.  The original incarnation of the MLS franchise now known as the New York Red Bulls was at least originally called the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.  And they had to point out that the recent Super Bowl in the unfortunately named MetLife Stadium[iv].  In the case of the NJ Devils, they found a great name, a multitude of competition from two other New York hockey teams, and a nickname with which people of the area identify (plus a few more Cup wins than those teams in our lifetimes).
                The sin of FC Dallas of MLS is not so much a sin against their fans, but a symptom of what’s wrong with having a team in that area in the first place.  The team plays in Frisco, a city so far outside Dallas, that no one in the city would try to claim being from Big D.  And if that’s where you are resigned to play as a pro sports team, something needs to be re-addressed about the alignment of teams in your league[v].  It just sucks that the team happens to be doing really well so far this year.
                The former Boston Patriots have acknowledged the distance Foxboro is from the capital of the region in their name, on the west coast, we will soon have an egregious violation of this rule and the geographic sensibilities of all Californians.  The San Francisco 49ers are moving to a stadium just outside San Jose (Frank to Joe?) and about a 75 mile trip to the city they profess to represent.  I have no idea what they could do to redefine themselves (not that they’d want to), but if I was an Oakland Raiders supporter (who are scary enough), I would pull a George H.W. Bush and tell them “This aggression will not stand”!  Nor would I be happy as a resident of San Jose, for our generosity to go so unacknowledged in the team name.  “We’re home of the Earthquakes and Sharks, for crying out loud!”  Naming them something to do with the Bay Area or NoCal would completely contested by Oakland, but they might have to take a more Angelic approach to it.  In Anaheim, they rarely refer to the ‘Los Angeles’ moniker, given the risk of alienation to those actually attending the games, saying simply “Here are your Angels!”  I genuinely feel bad for these teams.

[i] See My Thoughts on The TC Logo
[ii] Which I believe the team actually had on their uni’s for a few seasons back in the day.
[iii] Brooklyn Jets also has a nice ring to it, considering those two other teams’ second class status in the city, and the presence of JFK on the edge of the borough.
[iv] How could they not call it JetBlue Stadium? So much going for that name.
[v] City of Lakes FC!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Line 'Em Up!

                Sometimes I play a game with football team names, which itself doesn’t have a name.  It seems to work well with football nicknames, because they are, in all honesty, somewhat derivative of each other.  You’re going for a lot of the same things.  They generally want the name to be scary, and in as much as in any sport, I think fans picture an actual representation of their team fighting one from their opponent.  Thus, I’ve noticed, there are correlations across the conferences of team nicknames.  Here’s how they lined up this time:
Houston and New Orleans:  These are both southern cities, so it makes sense why they should have a similar theme as far as the marketing of their team goes.  And while on the surface this may seem like the correlation between their names isn’t very strong (there aren’t going to be many Texan Saints, let’s just say), where they connect the most is, I believe, in the logos.  Both are versions of somewhat-overused symbols from the places they associate with.  Texas is something like a different country, but Louisiana is one of the more under-ratedly provincial states in the union.
Kansas City and Minnesota:  These places also seem to have a connection with each other, given that they are both western areas on rivers.  But while many might see no connection between a Norse warrior and a stoic Native American, I see it more like this:  Vikings are members of a type of tribe, in a very dog-eat-dog world.  The chiefs could very well be a member of a similar tribe in America, from a time when they might have first been starting to make tools (thus the Arrowhead), and many think the Vikings made it to America anyway.  Plus their logos are very pointy.
Indianapolis and St. Louis:  When you have a couple franchises like this which take long and storied journeys across the United States (and in some cases folding back east, a little bit) you do start to have some similarities in the image of the teams, if not the logos and nicknames themselves.  Both teams have one championship within most of their fanbase’s lifetime, but also play in a market that generally prefers a different sport (baseball for St. Louis, basketball for Indy).  And both teams have rounded logos which are shorthand for hoofed quadrupeds you wouldn’t want to have to fight, but aren’t inherently scary, either.
Seattle and Miami:  In each of these coastal towns with large foreign ethnic identities, football has nonetheless become an important part of the local identity.  Unfortunately for fans of aesthetics, each of these teams has changed their marine-animal logo to one that misunderstands the original’s charm.  Seattle’s ‘Hawk has gotten more angry, though less like one you’d find on one of the area’s famous totem poles.  And Miami didn’t realize that what its logo had going for it was just “It’s a Dolphin wearing a Helmet!”
Pittsburgh and San Francisco: To start, I had always grouped my Packers with Pittsburgh on “Midwestern towns whose teams pay tribute to an historical industry” qualifier.  But I tried something different this time.  The Steelers and 49ers both pay homage to their area’s history, and both of these industries revolve around a metal (useful and valuable, respectively). Each of these teams has also had strong recent runs after dominant runs in the early days of the Super Bowl era.
The Rest:
Philadelphia Eagles à Cincinnati Bengals
Dallas Cowboys à Buffalo Bills
New York Giants à Tennessee Titans
Washington Redskins à New England Patriots
Chicago Bears à Cleveland Browns
Detroit Lions à San Diego Chargers
Green Bay Packers à New York Jets
Carolina Panthers à Jacksonville Jaguars
Tampa Bay Buccaneers à Denver Broncos
Atlanta Falcons à Oakland Raiders
Arizona Cardinals à Baltimore Ravens

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Selling the Farm [Teams]

In my fanaticism for the greatest sport in the world, I like to debate strange topics with myself.  These arguments are often a result of the Baseball Book Club I’m a part of.  But usually it’s just things I think of.  Team names, team uniforms, rivalries, schedules.  All of these things come together in one of my all-time greatest searches: which Minor League is the best?
                By Minor Leagues, I mean leagues affiliated with Major League teams.  But I also have a lot of other arbitrary rules for what constitutes a good league.  You like the League to have a certain amount of its own tradition, but also not take itself too seriously.   This can be reflected in the team names, how far away the teams are from each other, and even just what cities the teams are in.  One of the prime candidates for the title of Best League has got to be the Midwestern League.  It has a FANtastic combination of the perfect places for baseball teams, relationships these teams can foster with their big league clubs, and identities they can forge with their own fan bases.
                A perfect example of this can be found in the Cedar Rapids Kernels.  The Minnesota Twins’ low-A farm club down in Iowa, which a couple buddies of mine and I went down for a road trip to see, are in my opinion doing everything right in the aforementioned categories.  The name Kernels identifies well with the area’s farming industry, but is goofy enough for the kids to enjoy.  The logo itself is a baseball bat dressed in a corn husk, wearing a baseball cap- it’s everything you want a minor league logo to be.  But besides that, they’ve just made all the right marketing decisions.  Their field is beautiful, and as developed as any I’ve seen at that level.  And when they realized what they had in new prospect Byron Buxton and went above and beyond their normal plan by actually making sherseys with his name, they also made the right call.
                But all this seems very typical of the franchises in that league.  There are sixteen of them, so they all have to distinguish themselves in their own ways.  Alliteration in a name is a good place to start because it’s fun to say.  The Dayton Dragons and Lansing Lugnuts both fit this description quite well.  And most of these teams are located in reasonably-sized metro areas.  They don’t have the warmest weather, but they’re able to support a baseball team that size, especially if that team has an exciting attraction or an identity the area can be proud of.[i]  Connections to the major leagues probably help, too.  The Wisconsin TimberRattlers are a couple hours from their big league club, the Milwaukee Brewers; same goes for the Peoria Chiefs and theirs, the St. Louis Cardinals; nor are the Western Michigan Whitecaps much further from the Detroit Tigers.  So a lot of these fans have easy access to the teams their favorite players will soon end up on.
                The Carolina League, on the other hand, is in my opinion a very poorly thought-out league, which could learn a few lessons from the Midwestern League.  It’s a class A Advanced league, but it contains only eight teams, without many nearby connections to the big league clubs, relatively speaking.  Only two teams play less than two states away from their big league affiliates, and several are much further than that. But besides that, the names are not so much uninspired, but rather miscalculated.  I think there’s a rule somewhere that you can’t name a team after the league they play in, and yet the Carolina Mudcats are trying to do that.[ii]  I wouldn’t call a team playing in the American League, America!  Other questionable teams’ names include the Potomac Nationals, named not after a city, county or state but a river.  I wonder how many of their fans live on or in said river.  And finally, I originally thought the Wilmington Blue Rocks were out of North Carolina, as there is a major city of the same name located there, a place the league names itself after.  But nay!-they represent the city in Delaware.  If you’re keeping score at home, that makes three out of the eight teams representing one of the two titular states.  Classic Carolina League!  Also, these eight teams are spread over five states ranging from Myrtle Beach in the Deep South, to Wilmington, well into the Mid-Atlantic region.
                The bigger reason the Carolina League has to be a poor idea for the type of sport it’s trying to promote has to do with what they’re competing against.  While I haven’t compared the types of attendance they have to the other events to which I’m about to refer, it stands to reason, given the scale of these respective events.  There is a limit to the amount of sports an area can handle, and I surmise that the Carolina League is topping the area out of it.  Auto racing is a much bigger deal in this area than it is elsewhere.  And despite the small concentration of teams in this particular area, nowhere in America is ever going to escape the influence of the NFL.  This is all without mentioning what the area might be the most well known for:  college basketball.[iii]  North Carolina has enough die-hard fans for the rest of the area, but the ACC has a strong grip now on the whole eastern seaboard.  The North Carolina-Duke rivalry is one of the country’s best in any sport, and Georgetown, not even an ACC member, is one of the most storied programs in the region.  Therefore, my fixes: rename the Carolina team Raleigh, rename the Potomac team to one of the cities or counties around there, and rename the league The Piedmont League.

[i] Just one of these teams, the Great Lakes Loons, sins in a way to which I will refer later, not picking a city, county or state in their name.
[ii] And they play in Five County Stadium.  Way to assert a specific identity…
[iii] My apologies to NASCAR and college football, both with valid complaints.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Because I Know You Guys Care...

[The following was started in mid-September of last year, and completed about mid-November.  It's an insight into just how insanely into fantasy baseball I became this year, and how much I've come to accept that.] 
               I’m pretty satisfied with my fantasy baseball team right now.  Having been eliminated from the playoffs in Mike Anderson’s league, I’m of course referring to the team I have in Marshall Isotopes, Obsessed.  It has so far been a pretty good season, with a pretty hot start, hovering around fourth place for the first couple months, but then dropping into the middle to lower part of the pack in the middle of the season.  What spurred the slump was part not being able to find a solid 5th, 6th or 7th starting pitcher, but also ignoring my needs on the offensive side of my line-up.  It didn’t help that Gomez and Harper kept running into walls in center and then going on the DL.  But my not being vigilant in the OF pickups also allowed teams nipping at my heals to acquire the latest hot studs and use them to pass me.\
                But it started to turn around about late July.  Harper was coming back, I had just gotten Aaron Hill back and producing and I picked up the oft-ignored Dillon Gee.  None of my team is assembled in a vacuum, and I of course remembered how well Gee had produced for a stretch for me the year before, before he was benched for the season after an aneurysm (?!).  But unfortunately with Brandon Beachy finally returning and a couple rookies producing, my favorite young pickup from last year, Kris Medlen, was about to be scratched from the Braves rotation.  He wasn’t happy about it and it was probably affecting his performance.  But then Tim Hudson (who hadn’t been pitching outstanding, but had sort of earned his spot) was smoked on the shin by a line drive and was all of a sudden done for the year.  Medlen’s rotation spot now more secure, he caught fire a little bit, and I like to think sparked the rest of my team (because that’s how that works).
                Gee settled into a groove, despite not-outstanding stuff and a terrible team, and he and the suddenly Red-hot Mat Latos carried my team through a couple rough starts from Wainwright and Cliff Lee.  And the offense started to do their part.  As many times as I had threatened to cut Elvis Andrus, he refused to go quietly, remembering he’s fast and just stealing every time on.  Bryce Harper’s done everything he can to salvage his fantasy season, and has done a pretty good job of it, despite the Nationals’ overall disappointing year.  Of course, Andrew McCutchen has been my most consistent play all year, insisting on making the NL MVP his, while his Pirates continue to surprise everybody.
                There was a note on McCutchen’s profile the other day, which was one of my favorite of the season.  “Manager Clint Hurdle is electing to sit McCutchen today vs. the Reds…  This is a very questionable move, considering he’s clearly their best player, the Pirates are in the midst of a pennant race and they just had a day off on Thursday [this being the next Wednesday].”  Not sure if Yahoo itself was trying to cover its own ass or just defend playing McCutchen, but it always makes me grin when a fantasy analysis criticizes an on-field decision and also happens to be right.  The fact of the matter is, that while many criticize fantasy sports in general for only worrying about individual players, sometimes what’s best for a player’s fantasy value is what’s best for team value.  The happy ending is that McCutchen was the NL MVP, completely worth his value, and anchored an outfield that when healthy, was as good as anyone’s.
                And yet probably my most deft move of the season took place on the pitching side.  Ubaldo Jiminez had been a fantasy enigma for a couple seasons, but after coming back from injury and putting together a couple good outings, his numbers became too much to ignore.  It probably helped that I was able to watch him in person (or on TV, can’t remember which) early in his run, and so was pretty confident that this was for real.  Nonetheless, given how competitive this league is and how valuable good starting pitching was, it was surprising that I was able to get him when I didn’t.  Perhaps someone had over-reacted to a couple good outings, and a couple others looked and trusted their preconceived notions of him from years past.  But he was able to put together a great second half, which when coupled with my already-strong top of the rotation, was nothing short of unstoppable.
                At a certain point, though, I didn’t know if it was gonna work out the way it did.  I had been jockeying with one other guy from 4th to 5th and back well into May.  June hit and the team seemed to slip further.  I could not find a solid 3rd starter even, to compliment Lee and Wainwright.  My third base was super weak and Gomez and Harper kept running into walls.  Literally- they were back and forth from the DL for a couple months.  Somewhere along the course of getting a couple of my probably-league leading Over-Negative-Fifty pointers from my starters, I tweeted out “I hate fantasy baseball”.  The effect it had on my team couldn’t have been more positive.  I ran off a string of more over 250 days than probably anyone else in the league during that span, most of those days going for over 300.  It ended up being too much for the 3 or for other teams I was hanging back with.  I was soon in third behind the Malherek having the fantasy year of his life, Terry.  But Terry seemed to lose focus, as it was probably easy to do with football season starting and Ellis still sitting so far ahead.
                I never thought it was conceivable to catch Ellis.  It was my goal to reach and maintain second place, which I was able to do.  Because I had not made so many moves throughout the season, I had an advantage on many of the guys who were chasing me.  But Ellis had an even bigger advantage.  He only had used half his moves or so well into September, and so streamed a bunch of pitchers down the stretch, burying the rest of us.  My lead over Kyle was still not secure until I got decent performances from Estrada (rejoining my team from when I dropped him a month in) and Ubaldo the last day of the season didn’t hurt.  And another value pick for me, Greg Holland, really carried his weight down the stretch.  It was such a psychological advantage that your great points day could be helped by another 40 pointer from the KC closer, or that a bad pitching or hitting day could be salvaged by such a bonus.  He got 33 on September 29th which more than shut the door on Kyle.
                The whole season I had been viewing my respective two teams as based around certain divisions in baseball.  My team in my Sporty Friends’ league, Shades of ‘24[i], was more or less based around the AL West.  Kinsler, King Felix, and the the Flying Salmon (Iwakuma) were staples of a team that wound up mounting a 3rd place season.[ii]  Obsessed was based even more around the NL Central.  So when I needed another bat down the stretch to replace the hurt Desmond Jennings, I turned to the division again, taking Matt Adams, who had now taken over for Allen Craig.  It was a double advantage because Terry had Allen Craig, who wouldn’t play the rest of the year, and he’d been a big reason the team was in that position.  Between that and Jose Fernandez reaching his innings limit, Terry was doomed down the stretch.

[i] A reference to the Washington Senators, the Twins’ predecessors, of the year they won their only World Championship.
[ii] In the Poo Holes’ Dynesty [sic] League