Monday, March 31, 2008

NOT BAD FOR STARTERS

As far as the Mets are concerned, I don't think Opening Day could have gone any better. And on a personal note, all it took was for the games to count for me to be into the season. I was on board just about after President Bush threw out the first pitch at Nationals Park.

First of all, one of my favorite stats that gets brought up every year at this time (nationally, too - not just on the Mets games) is the Mets' success on Opening Day. In their history, the Mets are 30-17 on Opening Day. That ranks among the best, percentage-wise. So the Mets improved upon that with their win over the Marlins.

Johan Santana, obviously, is the other extremely good news. You couldn't have gotten a better start (OK, a no-hitter would have been better. Here's how desperate I am for one - it's always on my mind. I convinced myself on my ride home from work that it would be ultra-dramatic if Santana's Mets debut was a no-hitter. And then he got through the first 1-2-3, and I was convinced it was going to happen. It didn't. 161 more tries for the Mets this year.) - 2 runs in 7 innings - with 8 strikeouts. This is going to be a fun year.

How about this, too - David Wright - 2 doubles!!! I love it. The first was also pretty clutch - with the bases loaded, he broke the game open.

A few other thoughts from around the league's Opening Day:

-The Brewers-Cubs game was ridiculous. Scoreless into the 9th, then Kerry Wood gives up 3 runs in the top half. Eric Gagne counters by blowing the save and giving up 3 in the bottom half (a 3-run homer by Fukodome, just to make it more interesting). Then the Brewers won in the tenth, giving Gagne a so-undeserved win. Gagne and Wood - both reclamation projects off to a rocky start.

-Exciting news from the world of DirecTV - I think (I haven't proven this, but I'm pretty sure) I now get both telecasts on the baseball package. For instance - today's Mets game, since it was on SNY and FSN Florida, would have been given to me on FSN Florida, because the Marlins were home. But I had both feeds. And there were two channels dedicated to most of the games. So I think if the games are available on both feeds this year, they'll be offered on both. Woo-hoo!

-Early returns on the Wireless Scoreboard are positive - a few flaws, but overall good.

-The game on Sunday night at Nationals Park reminded me that Washington, D.C. is the ballpark trip for the year. Again, The Wife's idea. And she's pregnant, but she'll go for a 6-hour car ride. She's a special one. After seeing the park on TV, I'm excited for that. We'll be going Memorial Day Weekend.

-Seems to me that C.C. Sabathia is notorious for being handed big leads and then blowing them. I think he loses concentration. I think he needs to pitch in tight games.

-I love that the Mets have Mike Pelfrey starting this weekend in Atlanta. I think he'll have a good season, and he's pitched well against Atlanta recently. So he'll get off on the right foot. Plus, it's against Tom Glavine. I hope the Mets destroy him.

A very exciting day. I'm just so happy I came around in the excitement category.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

READY OR NOT, HERE IT COMES

I've never been so unprepared for baseball season. There have already been two games (internationally), and a third gets underway in a half-hour, but I don't think I'm ready.

I'm in my fantasy leagues, my rosters are set, my notebook is set up for the New Baseball Pool, I have selected a few players for "Beat the Streak"....but I'm not ready. Maybe because it's still March. I don't know.

All I know is that tomorrow the Mets play their first game of a season that will hopefully see them win the last game of the Major League Baseball season....but I couldn't tell you their starting lineup.

I know two things - the Mets waived Ruben Gotay Friday, and he was subsequently signed by the Atlanta Braves. And I know the Mets are going to put El Duque on the DL, and give Mike Pelfrey a shot at starting the season as their number five starter. But who starts in left, with Moises Alou on the DL? What's the pitching rotation? (I think Oliver Perez goes before John Maine...but I don't know for sure.) Who is in the bullpen? Who's on the bench?

I just don't know. And I apologize for that. I'll learn by watching - then I'll tell you what I see here. My dad says this is all because I'm growing up. I'm not sure I like it.

I do know one other thing - the Mets' opening game against the Marlins on Monday is at 4pm. So if I really jet home after school, I might make it back in time for the bottom of the first inning. And then Tuesday is April 1st....maybe baseball will seem more normal then.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I LOVE L.A. (EXHIBITION BASEBALL)

Perhaps it's the whole idea of baseball getting underway in March, but I can't quite convince my body that baseball will count in just a couple of days. I can't quite wrap my head around the fact that there have already been 2 games that have counted, actually. But I think this weekend I'm most excited about a game that doesn't count.

The Red Sox are back in the United States, and they continue their long road trip with a west coast swing before heading back east. They're playing a few games in Los Angeles against the Dodgers before going to Oakland to finish up with the A's, then they go to Toronto before coming back to Boston. The game Saturday night against the Dodgers, though, will be special - as part of the Dodgers commemorating 50 years in Los Angeles, they will host the Red Sox in an exhibition game at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
I think what intrigues me most is the quirkiness of the park. (You see the old games at the left, and the stadium being set up for Saturday below.) The Coliseum is a football stadium. But it hosted baseball for four years before the Dodgers moved into Dodger Stadium in 1962. As a football stadium primarily, it has weird dimensions - a very short left-field fence, to be specific. The fence for Saturday night's game will be about 192 feet away in left, shorter than what they had in 1958.

What bums me out is that they're installing a tall net (about 40 feet, I think) above the wall, to prevent balls from flying out of the park. Who cares? It's exhibition. Get players to do something other than fly to left - and if they get one up in the air in left field, it will be exciting. I'm going to try to watch, net or not. There are also going to be more than 100,000 people in attendance. That should be quite a spectacle. If it's a spectacle, and it's in a Coliseum - I'll be watching. I'm glad NESN is airing the game.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

FROM A YANKEES FAN

I've got nothing for tonight, so I'll print this e-mail from Justin from NYC, which I'm not sure why he sent to a separate e-mail instead of the johnnymets e-mail...or the comments section...but it doesn't matter. He makes a good point, in response to my posting from yesterday :

"As a yankee fan and a traditionalist, i have to say, I have no problem with the idea of a hockey game at Yankee Stadium being the last event there. I like the idea that the rangers and possibly bruins will be taking part in a historic event. and the reason they havent done it before is that the yankees were concerned with drainage issues stemming from the ice surface. obviously, once they're done playing there, that is no longer an issue. Plus, Yankee stadium has only been baseball only since the 70's. The giants played there, there were boxing matches there, etc etc etc. And this isnt even the real original yankee stadium. That was ruined in 76, when the stadium was remodeled.

so.. there you go"


I think the last point, about the Yankee Stadium remodeling, is especially true. Thanks, Justin.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

THE HOUSE THAT RUTH BUILT AND JAGR CLOSED

It's been a couple of weeks since this was announced, and it's still sitting wrong in my gut. Well, the idea was announced. I don't think it's official yet. But word is, with the huge success of the Penguins and Sabres playing an outdoor game in Buffalo this year, the NHL wants to do it again. And one of the games they want to play involves the New York Rangers, and the venue would be Yankee Stadium.

Problem is, they want it to be the last event ever at Yankee Stadium, after the baseball season is over, before the Yankees open up their new stadium. Apparently this has the okay of the Yankees and the NHL, and I guess just needs to be made official (again, I haven't heard much about it lately).
My problem with this (besides the aesthetic aspect, if my artistic rendering above is accurate - I think they'd have to turn the rink a bit, which I just couldn't manage) is that it's just not Yankee Stadium. If the Pope were to close it down, I think that would be appropriate. Billy Joel would be appropriate. A Yankees World Series game would be most appropriate. But an NHL game...it just seems like they're doing what's right for the wallet, not for the fan.

If I had my way, the sentimental part of me says the last game at Yankee Stadium should be an Old-Timer's Game. Not even a game, if they don't want. Just an Old-Timer's event. Trot out all your old guys (sadly, that population has dwindled since we were kids). But there's still Whitey Ford, Ron Guidry, Mel Stottlemyre, Lou Piniella, Reggie Jackson - bring back Joe Torre, Don Mattingly, invite Bernie Williams, Wade Boggs, Darryl Strawberry, of more recent vintage. Have a tremendous send-off for the Stadium, let the people who wore the pinstripes close it down....don't let the last image be of a diamond covered in ice. While I think the idea of the Rangers playing an outdoor game in New York is great - I don't think the timing and venue are right.

ONE MORE THOUGHT ON THE NHL: It occurred to me the past few weeks that the NHL has it all wrong. I like hockey - I don't live and die with it, but I like it a lot. And I'm a big Rangers fan. Every year at this time, leading up to the NCAA Tournament, I get into the playoff chase and positioning in the NHL. But I realized recently that it would be way more exciting if this was actually playoff time for the NHL. It should be.

Why not? The NHL needs to shake things up to win back its fans. It's even losing status as a major sport (if ESPN had its way, they'd ignore it completely, since they don't televise it anymore). When the NHL playoffs do finally get underway, baseball has started, the NFL gets attention for its draft, and the NBA playoffs start within a week. If the NHL post-season was underway now, they'd be crowning a champion when the other stuff was happening, and it would get more attention. Plus, the ratings would probably be pretty good during a time when college basketball and the NBA are your only options (before baseball gets going).

One drawback would be that you'd be starting your season earlier, but what does that matter? Training camp might sneak into August, and your opening would be overshadowed by the NFL, but isn't the NHL opening overshadowed by the NFL anyway? And most of the regular season? The payoff would be on the back end.

I'm johnnymets, and I endorse this message.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

IF IT WAS THE METS, I'D BE TICKED

Got out of the shower this morning, thought I'd have a chance to watch regular season baseball....turned on the TV - a Sony, looking much like the one at left - and the screen was black - looking exactly like the TV at the left. I went from NESN to ESPN2, both supposedly carrying the Red Sox-A's, and neither one had a picture.

I checked out another channel. Yup, a picture. Immediately I knew this was some sort of DirecTV problem, not a problem at only our house.

The report now is that there were technical difficulties at DirecTV. DirecTV claims NESN was back on by the seventh inning, and reports say that ESPN2 didn't come back until after the game. I wasn't around to find out - I was already at work.

This is a mess. I don't care very much...but you'd better believe when I complain to DirecTV I'm going to claim myself as the biggest Red Sox fan in the world, who took the day off to watch the game.

Thank goodness when the Mets played in Japan, that game was on ESPN, and I was able to watch it no problem. By the way - I can't believe it has been 8 years since I watched that game. Some parts of it seem like yesterday....some of it feels like a lifetime ago. A lot can happen in 8 years.

BACK TO THE STREAK: I'm back to playing 'Beat the Streak' - one of my favorite parts of the early baseball season, before I get bored with it (and realize I'm bad at it). They're offering $1,000,000 this year to someone who can get to 57 games. I'll let you know when I'm close. I forgot to start it with Game 1 - I'm picking it up in game 2 with Manny Ramirez.

Monday, March 24, 2008

TIME TO COME CLEAN

I feel I need to respond to the Southern Bureau's dig in the comments yesterday, where he seems to go overboard with the Chuck James references. For those of you who don't know, yes, that was a dig. Because I drafted Chuck James (high) in our fantasy baseball draft in January. And I think it's time to tell that story. But to save everyone embarrassment, I'll tell it in true story form, so that it comes across nearly fictional.
***

It was late January. It was cold in Boston...January cold. Four friends walked into the Boston University bookstore, looking for various knicknacks that they didn't need that they would buy just because it had their school logo on it.
John had a mission. He went straight to the magazine rack, knowing if he found the right magazine, he'd be able to spend the rest of the afternoon scouting for that night's fantasy baseball draft. John hadn't done much scouting, and he was a little embarrassed by that fact. What had been pages of research in year one of this league was down to an afternoon of scrambling to pick out the players he thought would perform best in an effort to defend his title. Well, half-title. He had to share the championship last year with Kevin.

Kevin. He'd probably been scouting since last October. Probably even September, before last year ended. That kid thinks about fantasy baseball all day, morning and night. John knew he had to work hard that afternoon to best Kevin.

He also knew Dave was one to worry about. Though he wouldn't pay much attention during the season, Dave was always well prepared for a draft. The draft played to his strengths. Stats. Spreadsheets. The rest of the season was just fluff. But John knew he had to get his players before they fell into Dave's lap. Justin, he wasn't too worried about, draft-wise. Justin knew his stuff, John knew, but he didn't prepare for a draft. He was like Allen Iverson - practice?! Justin just showed up and played.

One thing that did worry John about Justin was that he had a familiarity with the players. They all did, actually. More than he did, anyway. This was because they had spent the day before cutting out mini-pictures of all the players, putting together a tremendous draft board for the big night. So they knew the players...and not just their names, but what they looked like.

So this was the scenario facing John as he bought the magazine, and pored over it at the BU Hockey game that night. While Justin was obsessing over the Hot Dog and Jesus, and Kevin and Dave enjoyed the game, John had half an eye on hockey and the other half in his magazine.

He wasn't crazy about the magazine, to be honest. It was the "Fantasy Baseball 2008 Guide", and it gave projected stats for the players for the year ahead. The title sounded good, he thought, and you can't go wrong with projections, he thought.....if they're right. He looked at guys like David Wright, Carlos Beltran....they seemed reasonable. So he was sold.

John figured if he looked at the major players for each team, just to get an idea of their numbers, he would do OK. "Chipper Jones is made for our league," (where OBP is valued high) thought John. "I'll make him one of my top draft choices." And on and on he went. While still looking through the Braves, John came across Chuck James:

Projected 2008 stats: 15-9, 3.50 ERA, 191 IP, 61 walks, 173 strikeouts.

He did a double take.

Projected 2008 stats: 15-9, 3.50 ERA, 191 IP, 61 walks, 173 strikeouts.

He just found the steal of the draft. "I can't let anyone know about this," he thought. "If they find out about the year Chuck James is going to have, they'll take him before I can!" John became suspicious the rest of the night. He became very protective about his magazine. "I can't let them find out!"

The secret burned inside John. After the game, the four friends stopped for a bite to eat. John couldn't stop thinking about Chuck James. The draft finally came, and with the 36th overall pick, in the 9th round, John selected Chuck James.

The room fell silent.

"Not what I expected in that spot," said Kevin.

Justin laughed.

John got defensive. Now he felt stupid for believing a magazine prediction. He immediately realized he could have picked Chuck James up off the waiver wire.

In the grand scheme of things, not much was lost....except for John's pride. He would now join Dave in the annals of "Making Strange Picks Way Too High"...matching the Shea Hillenbrand pick Dave had made a couple of years earlier. And John still stood by the fact that James will have a good year - once he gets back from AAA Richmond, and fully recovers from the Tommy John surgery that wasn't mentioned in the magazine he hurriedly bought at Barnes & Noble at Boston University.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

2008 PLAYOFF/AWARDS PREVIEW


Above you see my picks for division winners (you already knew those, from the previews), and wild cards (you didn't already know those). I think Atlanta and Cleveland emerge as the wild cards, and you can also see that I think Cleveland is able to rebound from last year's heartbreak (revenge over the Red Sox - in a best 3-out-of-5, where maybe they're better suited to beat Boston) to make it to the World Series, and lose to the Mets. Again, only because of Johan Santana. If not for him, this would be an Atlanta-Detroit World Series, based on my new theory, and the Edgar Renteria trade (thanks for picking up on that theory a couple of weeks ago, Dave in Brighton. But there's no way I could have gone Florida-Detroit). Here are my other picks:

NL MVP: Johan Santana will certainly get a lot of votes here, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say Ryan Braun gets the award, as he will lead the Milwaukee Brewers to their playoff appearance.

AL MVP: A la Justin Morneau a couple of years ago, this year it will go to Travis Hafner.

NL CY YOUNG: This is where Johan Santana gets his hardware. They might as well engrave the trophy now.

AL CY YOUNG: Because he's on my fantasy team this year, Roy Halladay.

NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: I really have no idea who the rookies are this year. Just looking randomly at a list of rookies in 2008 I'll go with this Jay Bruce of the Reds. He's an outfielder, and maybe he'll lead the resurgence I think they'll have.

AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: I don't know. Jacoby Ellsbury.

NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: I think Joe Torre might get some sentimental votes, and if the Dodgers play better than last year, which I think they will, he might get some legitimate votes as well.

AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: John Gibbons. I actually had to look this up to make sure he was the manager of the Blue Jays. But he is, and I think a couple of second-place team managers get "Manager of the Year" recognition this year.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

APPROPRIATE CONSEQUENCES

It's not often I will sing the praises of the Florida Gators (the Southern Bureau and I had a negative experience with a Florida Gator die-hard, back in college). Besides their team colors, I'm just not a fan. It's also not often that I will sing the praises of a college coach - most of the big-name guys are disingenuous and don't really practice what they preach.

But I'm loving basketball coach Billy Donovan's reaction to his team's disappointing season.

A year ago, the Florida Gators won the national championship. This year, they didn't play very well, and they're making their way through the NIT. After the NCAA Tournament field was announced, and Florida wasn't included, Donovan told his team that they were not allowed to work out in the school's $11 million practice facility. He also banned them from wearing their Florida gear around campus.

I love it. Talk about an embarrassment. What player wouldn't want to rally around this and earn back those rights? Immediately, it made me think of the Mets last September, and whether or not Willie Randolph could have gotten away with similar consequences imposed on the Mets.

The situations are similar. The Mets weren't coming off a championship year, but they had won the division crown. And there was a similar complacency, waiting for the re-coronation, when everything fell apart. Unfortunately, there is no NIT in Major League Baseball.
But imagine if, instead of working out at Shea Stadium all off-season, David Wright had been relegated to Gold's Gym (not that he deserves the mention, since he was one of the few guys who showed up down the stretch....but I mention him because I've heard his name as one who spent much of the off-season working out at Shea). How about if all promotional/endorsement appearances, where the players could have earned an extra few bucks, were canceled as punishment?

That's where the problem lies. The difference between the college athletes and a coach's ability to discipline, and the majors, where the players' union would step in right away, is drastic. And you realize just how tough it has to be to manage these groups of men who, in the grand scheme of things, don't have to face very many consequences for not doing the right thing. Someone will still pay them millions, someone will still offer them an endorsement deal.

As a fan, you just have to hope their pride hurts, because that's what will get them going again. They're certainly not going to suffer in their wallets.

Friday, March 21, 2008

THE TOURNEY SO FAR (AKA DAMN HUSKIES)

You know how I know I picked a bad bracket? I was glad UConn lost this afternoon. I would have felt guilty had they beaten San Diego. UConn was so uninspired - like they were supposed to get to the second round automatically. Like they were entitled. San Diego showed up and played hard. Good for them. And good for the fact that San Diego or Western Kentucky are going to the Sweet 16 - they both deserve to be there. UConn doesn't deserve to sniff it.

Their performance today reminded me why I never pick them, and why it felt so wrong for me to have them going to the Final Four. They did the same thing the year George Mason made its run. They just play stupid, and almost lazy. They make bad decisions. I'm embarrassed for having to cross them out so many times on my sheet. It should never have been there in the first place. I can only hope now that someone like San Diego makes a deep run in the tourney, a la Mason a couple of years ago. That's the only thing that will save my bracket.

I also realized that the only reason I ended up with UConn in the Final Four was spite. I don't think I went into this in depth, but I don't buy all of this UCLA Love (no pun intended...although I did make the effort to capitalize the "L", so maybe it was intended). Sure, they're good. But they've only barely gotten by opponents leading into the tournament (and 70-29 opening round wins don't count - that's like beating up on a high school team). So my remaining hope is that my instincts were true - even if they led me in the wrong direction with UConn - and Texas A&M or Western Kentucky, or San Diego, or even an upper seed like Xavier makes it out of that bracket, and saves mine.

OTHER TOURNAMENT NOTABLES:
-Would you believe I was actually sick on the opening day of the tournament? I went home early Wednesday after I was feeling kind of sick, puked a few times Wednesday night, and couldn't make it in on Thursday. No wink, wink here. Honest to goodness. So the good news was I saw most of the opening round (there was a good amount of sleeping - I was really sick). The bad news is I'm still sore from throwing up.

-Tennessee is a fraud. Always. This is one of those times where I wish you could weight certain picks. Because I would trade all of my UConn losses for the Butler over Tennessee pick in the next round. I would bet my bracket on a Butler win.

-I love when there is no 5pm game (the one that they don't show on TV). I think this usually happens on the Friday of the tournament. It's especially good when two of the games go into overtime, as the Drake and UConn games did on Friday, pushing the off-air time into the 6 o'clock hour, which meant less than an hour until the games started up again. I love it.

-I'm also liking the new Holiday Inn Express ad campaign, where they play up their breakfast bar as though it were a singles bar. They're funny.

-The Drake-Western Kentucky game was classic NCAA Tournament. Team comes back from way down to take lead. Team that blew lead hangs on for dear life and gets overtime. Favored team rights ship in overtime, and is in position to win with 5.7 seconds left. Underdog gets three-pointer at buzzer to win. Celebrate your 5-12 upset. (I had it.)

-The other good thing about the Friday night games - there's always another option (not that I'm actively looking for one). But when Boston University has a good hockey season, they are involved in a Hockey East semifinal on the Friday of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. So I'll also have that to watch in between some of the games - BU versus Vermont, 8pm.

We'll be back to baseball after this weekend...but as I've said before, I kind of get a one-track mind during this weekend.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

NOT SURE WHAT JUST HAPPENED

I don't like UConn. Not one bit. But somehow, they ended up in my Final Four. I'm not sure how I arrived there, but I have my NCAA picks, and I employed a strategy of sorts, but I don't know how I feel about this bracket. It's that uncertain period, less than 24 hours from tip-off of the first games, where I'm tempted to start all over....but I need to stick with my first instincts.

Here's a quick overview of my strategy - for the games where my gut instinct was "unsure", I consulted some numbers. cbssports.com has a cool link where you can check out head-to-head stats for any two teams in the country, so I compared turnovers, field goal pct., free throw pct., points per game, and even some schedules to find the teams that I thought would win. (Oddly, I still went against some of my instincts, when I picked the team with more turnovers, or with a worse free throw percentage - I can't explain it.) Also interesting, if my bracket turns out well, there will be some really evenly-matched teams matching up in the later rounds.

So here I'll quickly break down my regions, because it's my blog and I can, and because none of you are really in the same pool as me, so I don't care if you steal my picks:

EAST: North Carolina is the only team I'm sure of here. I think they're the best team in the country, and I have them going all the way. I waffled on the 8-9, I picked Arkansas, but the more I look at it, the more I think Indiana will win. Notre Dame has two rounds in them, but loses to UNC. I like St. Joe's as an 11, Louisville, Butler, and Butler to beat Tennessee. UNC over Louisville (after beating fellow Big Easter Notre Dame) to get to the Final Four.

MIDWEST: Kansas over Kent St. Clemson will beat Vanderbilt, but lose to Kansas. USC outscores Michael Beasley, then loses to Wisconsin. Georgetown over 10 seed Davidson, then over Wisconsin. And Kansas outlasts Georgetown to get to the Final Four.

SOUTH: Memphis is OK for two rounds, but I don't buy them, like I don't buy Tennessee. They don't win games they're supposed to win. Michigan State is a good tournament team, usually I pick against them, but I have them beating Temple, then Pittsburgh. Marquette goes two rounds as a 6 seed, upsetting Stanford. St. Mary's will beat Miami, then lose to Texas. Texas beats everyone in this region - Marquette, then Memphis, to get to the Final Four.

WEST: What did I do here? I'm not sure. I don't like UCLA - they only won the Pac-10 because of a couple of squeakers and missed calls. So I have them getting upset by BYU (?!?! - I don't know why I pick games like this. But I like the way BYU matches up - please, let them beat Texas A & M, at least). Western Kentucky is my 12 over a 5, and then I think UConn barely gets by them. Baylor is the second 11 seed I have, but I have them then losing to Xavier. And West Virginia advances a round, then loses to Duke. Here's where I have some problems - I like Xavier to beat Duke, and I can'thave BYU going to the Elite Eight (can I?), so it's UConn versus Xavier, with UConn, in my opinion, more likely to go to the Final Four. But every year, one of my brackets is a disaster. Hello, disastrous East.

It's North Carolina over Kansas, Texas over UConn, and North Carolina over Texas for the championship.

What's your Final Four? Put it in the comments.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

MARCH MADNESS

I go a little overboard when it comes to the NCAA Tournament.

Let me start, though, by saying that it's one of my favorite sporting events of the year. In the years before I became a teacher, I used to take off from work both the Thursday and the Friday of the first round of the tournament, and sit in front of the TV for 12 hours straight.

Now, I can't do that anymore, but I take the free time I have on that Thursday and Friday and look for the scores - and last year a friend introduced me to the cbs.sportsline.com link that allows you to watch the four games at once. We spent our lunch duty watching the games. (What's worse is now parent conferences are scheduled for the Friday of the first round - so not only do I not get to head straight home after our 12:30 dismissal, but I have to stay until about 5:30 to meet with parents. I guess I have to grow up sometime....and I just found out that this year, the calendar is different - so I might be off the hook, if nothing gets scheduled in on Friday.)

But my obsession with watching the tournament isn't even where I go overboard. It's not gambling either. While I enter a pool each year (and am intrigued each year by different people's scoring systems in the traditional bracket pools, or different pools involving the tournament that don't even revolve around brackets), it's not about the gambling for me. Last year if Georgetown had won it all I would have won some money, but I wasn't heartbroken when they lost to Ohio St.

Nope, for me, it's not about any of that. For me, the NCAA Tournament is all about my personal statistics.

I'm a little ashamed to admit this, but since 1993, I have kept track of my picks in each round of each tournament. So for me, each time March rolls around, it's a chance for me to improve upon my personal best. And last year, I did.

I have no strategy. I just pick the games based on what I know about the regular season, and I like to think I've done so in a more intelligent fashion as the years have gone by (the numbers don't bear that out). Here are some of the numbers:

*Best 1st round performance: 26-6 in 2000
*Best 2nd round performance: 12-4 last year
*I've never done better than 5-3 (6 times) heading into the Elite Eight
*I've never picked all four Final Four teams (I've gotten 3 of 4 three times)
*In 2004 I went 0-for-4 on the Final Four
*My worst year ever was 2006, with a 28-35 record
*My best was 45-18 in 2007
*I've picked the champion just four times in 15 years
*I average 37 wins a year, and there are interesting cycles - when I went to college, I saw a significant dip in total wins, it increased again until I graduated and had to work, and then it increased again until I got married.
*Speaking of marriage, I've also kept track of The Wife's brackets since 2001. She averages 37.5 wins. (The other day I asked The Baby, North Carolina or Duke. She didn't respond. Too young for a bracket.)

If our brackets went head-to-head, I am 3-2-1 against The Wife all-time. But it's not about how I fare against her....it's how I do against myself. And every year at this time, there's always a chance my bracket will end up 63-0.

Postscript: I am using a system this year for games I'm not sure about. I'll update you tomorrow.

Monday, March 17, 2008

BEST WEEK OF THE YEAR

I've decided to postpone my baseball season picks until Sunday. It's not that I haven't finished them...they're done, just waiting to be put out there. It's just that there's something else that's occupying my mind this week.
As far as anticipation goes, nothing beats the first week of the NCAA Tournament. I love it. Tomorrow I'll get into just how much I love it. This week also comes with a warning/pleading: Please don't lose respect for me. You already know I'm a little bit crazy.

The first thing you need to understand is that I'm a creature of habit. And one of my habits is filling out the NCAA bracket in the New York Daily News. So every year at this time, the race is on to find a Daily News near here (in Framingham, Massachusetts) to fill out my bracket. Tonight, on my way home from work (en route to the best corned beef and cabbage in the world courtesy of The Wife - Happy St. Patrick's Day, incidentally), I stopped at a supermarket with lots of different newspapers (no dice), a CVS in Sudbury (no dice), and the CVS right here in Framingham. There, buried beneath about five New York Posts, was Monday's Daily News. Fantastic.

I have one more mission before Thursday (and in recent years this has carried over into Friday and sometimes Saturday) - I need to get my hands on a Sports Illustrated for this week. Ever since I cancelled my subscription, this has been a problem. Used to be I'd get this SI in the mail on Tuesday, well in advance of Thursday's noon tip-off. Now, I have to hunt down the tournament edition. Why, you ask? So I can keep track of the tournament winners and losers, and then I fold the SI pullout section around my picks. (In addition to the original bracket from the Daily News, I usually make myself a shrunken copy of my picks to carry around in my pocket.)

I will join a pool or two - but it's always the same bracket, just in case you were wondering. I'd drive myself nuts if I tried to keep track of more than one.

Now, believe it or not, I don't have a system for picking games. I just pick based on gut instinct. And as you'll see tomorrow, that hasn't brought me a lot of success in the past. So this year, I'm going to develop a system. As soon as I finish this, it's off to the papers to try to figure out a formula for success. And on Wednesday, I'll let you know what we're rooting for, and why.

Tomorrow, you'll lose any remaining respect you have for me.

WHY I PLAY FANTASY SPORTS: As you know, I play fantasy NASCAR (this is my 2nd year), and now fantasy golf (in my first year). I'm not doing very well in either right now, but the reason I'm playing has been accomplished. The NASCAR reason was twofold - to learn more about the sport, and to while away the Sundays between football and baseball. Both have been accomplished.

For golf, it was something I thought I'd be good at (not yet), but it has also allowed me to follow the sport closer than I ever have. And as a result, I witnessed one of the most outstanding sporting events I've ever seen on Sunday. Not unbelievable or the greatest ever, mind you, but just an outstanding performance.

I've been following tournaments closely through the weekend these days - from Thursday all the way through to Sunday. Usually I'm lucky enough to have a rooting interest. Well, this week my rooting interest was to root against Tiger Woods - it was a calculated gamble that I won't get into right now. (And obviously, it didn't pay off.) Woods trailed by nine shots after Thursday (I think), cut into that on Friday, and was a co-leader after Saturday. He took the lead, and was tied on the final hole on Sunday. A par would force a playoff, and a birdie would win the tournament - keeping him undefeated for the season. You just look at Tiger, on a course where people haven't hit their putts all weekend, and you knew he was going to sink it. And it was a tough putt. And sure enough, he sinks it. There is no other athlete in any other sport right now who is that clutch. No one. It was a signature moment. And last year I wouldn't even have noticed it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

PREVIEW: NL EAST

For the first time in I don't know how many years, I haven't bought a baseball preview magazine. I peeked through it the last time I was in the supermarket, and the one I picked up didn't even have the Johan Santana deal. So I figure, why bother? And I also figure, why don't I just write my own. So this week I'll quickly preview each of the divisions, culminating in my playoff picks and my award winners. Today we look at the National League East.

I would be shocked if the Florida Marlins or Washington Nationals are relevant at all this year. So I'm just going to skirt past them (but check with me again at the end of September, when the Mets close their season against the Marlins - that was a disaster last year).

This will be a three-team race all year....I don't know that there will be a time all year when the Braves, Phillies, and Mets aren't within 5 games of each other.

A disclaimer, a la my American League East preview - this assumes the Mets are healthy come April. I'm still not panicked about their injuries - although everyone in their starting lineup is basically missing time -1) Some are getting healthy, and 2) I'd rather a lot of this happens now than in September. Get it out of the way. Who knows, maybe Moises Alou stays healthy the rest of the year after he comes back from this hernia surgery. (It should be called "hergery". Get rid of a couple of syllables.)

Now, I also need to say this: For the first time in my life, I was prepared to pick against the Mets. I really liked the Braves this year - they just look really good on paper, they didn't go away much of last year, when you didn't think they had it in them, and the Mets had some serious flaws. Then they got Johan Santana, and that was the deciding factor for me - the Mets are going to win the division. It just makes the whole team better - I've gone through that a bunch of times. So if the Mets keep a semblance of health, they are the team to beat. But it won't be in a runaway.

The Braves have a very good rotation. They have a full year of Mark Teixeira. They have the best offensive catcher in the division. Jeff Francoeur is coming off a great year. Chipper Jones is back to being effective (not that it matters, since he's always effective against the Mets). I think the Braves will be back to giving the Mets fits, but unlike the last time Tom Glavine was in Atlanta, the Braves will be looking up at the Mets in the standings for most of the year. (Boy, would I love to be wrong and see the Braves at the bottom of the division...but that's doubtful.)

And then there are the Phillies, who are starting to scare me just a touch. The way they played against the Mets last year should have sent the Mets a message, and hopefully the Mets answer back by dominating Philadelphia this year. The roles are reversed. I think the Phillies will be a little too confident, though, based on what happened last year. They're a good team, don't get me wrong - I think they'll get back to their underachieving selves, as they get into a situation where they are almost the favorites because of what happened last year.

My playoff picks and award winners will come up tomorrow - I need to get it out of the way before the NCAA Tournament gets underway, or else it won't happen. Then it's just sit and wait for the season to start......

WHEN YOU'RE HURT, YOU'RE HURT: Boy, the Mets can't catch a break. Not sure how long of an effect this will have, and all I know about this right now is what I read on the ESPNEWS crawl - but apparently Carlos Delgado was hit by a broken bat shard when he was leading off third base. It required four stitches. That just doesn't happen!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

PREVIEW: AL EAST

For the first time in I don't know how many years, I haven't bought a baseball preview magazine. I peeked through it the last time I was in the supermarket, and the one I picked up didn't even have the Johan Santana deal. So I figure, why bother? And I also figure, why don't I just write my own. So this week I'll quickly preview each of the divisions, culminating in my playoff picks and my award winners. Today we look at the American League East.

So much of what happens in the American League East depends on health. The Blue Jays haven't been healthy for the past two years - they've lost key players each of those years. The Red Sox have stayed pretty healthy during their recent run of success, and have been threatened by injuries this spring. So what follows is a prediction based on the way I see the division now - with no key injuries:

Baltimore will be last place. That's a bold statement in the division that features the Tampa Bay Rays, but I think Tampa is looking at a reprise of the 2004 season - 4th place, Baby! The Orioles are just such a mess - and their pitching looks awful without "Bedard" at the top of the rotation. The Rays have built themselves a solid young team, and may be flirting with .500 if they didn't have to play the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Red Sox so much. I also love the fact that they're going toe-to-toe with the Yankees in Spring Training - more on that in a minute.

I'm not in love with Joe Girardi managing the Yankees. I think part of his success in Florida was that he was able to get respect from a team that really had no experience/experience with any sort of leader. I don't think he's as good a fit with the Yankees. I really think there will be tension all year long, and that sideshow will result in a missed post-season, and a third place finish. I think it's already started - I think the fight with Tampa was positive on the Rays' side and just plain silly from the Yankees' point of view. You block home plate, you should expect to get hit - Girardi would demand that of his own players if the situation were reversed. He was a catcher, too - he knows what the position is like. The fact that they retaliated like they did - it's childish, really. I think that sort of thing will be happening all year long and the final year at Yankee Stadium will be a disappointment.

Now is where the injuries factor in. If they stay healthy, I think the Blue Jays are the second-place team. They have a very strong rotation, and I feel like Scott Rolen may have a rebirth in Toronto. I like the additions they made, and they have some good players from the past couple of years. Now, if these guys don't play, they're in trouble - but we're going on the assumption they'll be healthy enough to play all season.

The Red Sox are in the same boat, somewhat. Injuries could shake that team up. Curt Schilling is already gone for much of the year. Josh Beckett's injury is a little more serious than I initially thought it would be. If he has this problem (back spasms) for much of the year, that really hurts the Sox. And on the other end of the rotation - Jonathan Papelbon always seems to be dealing with something towards the end of the year - that's something to watch out for, too. Bottom line - I think Boston has enough to defend their division title - but these top three teams might finish pretty close.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

PREVIEW: AL WEST

For the first time in I don't know how many years, I haven't bought a baseball preview magazine. I peeked through it the last time I was in the supermarket, and the one I picked up didn't even have the Johan Santana deal. So I figure, why bother? And I also figure, why don't I just write my own. So this week I'll quickly preview each of the divisions, culminating in my playoff picks and my award winners. Today we look at the American League West.

The Seattle Mariners got better. The Oakland A's got worse. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim stayed at about the same level they've been at recently. And the Texas Rangers may have done just enough to scoot past Oakland and out of last place.

The A's are in rough shape. They're like the Twins will be this year - they've gotten rid of anyone capable of making an impact this year, and whereas in past years they've been able to survive it, this year, they're going to suffer because of it. They're destined for last place. Want proof - look at their outfield and tell me who you've heard of.

Not far behind (or not far ahead in the standings, I guess), though, are the Texas Rangers. The Rangers are kind of talented. On paper, they look like a good team. But they don't win games against teams in their division, and they haven't done much to get better than last year. And last year they were in last place. Milton Bradley should do wonders for that clubhouse, incidentally. That might be fun to keep an eye on.

The race will be between Seattle and Los Angeles.

Seattle will be very good. Unfortunately for them, there will be four or five teams in the American League that will end up being slightly better, so they will be on the outside looking in come playoff time. I like the Erik Bedard deal for Seattle - but I think it will pay off next year. I think Bedard has a year of adjusting, and the Mariners are 2009 West division champs.

The reason it's not this year is because the Angels stayed good, and might even be better this year than their division-winning performance last year. They're like the opposite of the Rangers - they win the games they're supposed to...and, well, they're good. The West will be a two-horse race for much of the season, but I expect Los Angeles to pull away about mid-September:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

PREVIEW: NL WEST

For the first time in I don't know how many years, I haven't bought a baseball preview magazine. I peeked through it the last time I was in the supermarket, and the one I picked up didn't even have the Johan Santana deal. So I figure, why bother? And I also figure, why don't I just write my own. So this week I'll quickly preview each of the divisions, culminating in my playoff picks and my award winners. Today we look at the National League West.

You know what? The National League West might be one of the tougher divisions in baseball. The NL East has three of the best teams in the league, possibly the three best, but the other two are going to be among the worst in baseball. The American League East is similar. But the National League West, the more I think about it, has four very good teams. Last year it was the only division in baseball with four teams above .500, and don't forget that it took a 163rd game to eliminate one of the top three teams from the playoffs. I expect more of the same this year as far as competitiveness.

Let's start at the bottom and work our way up. The San Francisco Giants will be awful. Aaron Rowand was a nice addition, but, um.....yeah. Bengie Molina is their cleanup hitter. Moving on.

The fourth place team, I think, will be the San Diego Padres. And they're pretty good. They have a very good pitching staff, and I think it will be a tight 3-4 finish between San Diego and last year's National League champion, the Colorado Rockies. I think it's a step backward for Colorado, but I still think they'll finish with about 85 wins.

I think the Dodgers get the "most improved" award for the division. They were kind of hurt by injuries last year, and it's looking like they might have been bitten a bit by the injury bug again this year, but they should be good. I expect them to be more like the wild card-winning team of two years ago than the 82-80 team of last year.

But I think the Arizona Diamondbacks bounce back from an unimpressive performance in the NLCS to defend their division crown. The thing about them from last year is that they are so young, and if Randy Johnson contributes anything, that could only help. I think they'd be fine without him:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

PREVIEW: AL CENTRAL

For the first time in I don't know how many years, I haven't bought a baseball preview magazine. I peeked through it the last time I was in the supermarket, and the one I picked up didn't even have the Johan Santana deal. So I figure, why bother? And I also figure, why don't I just write my own. So this week I'll quickly preview each of the divisions, culminating in my playoff picks and my award winners. Today we look at the American League Central.

I guess I'm sold on Detroit. But I'm not 100% sure. They look great on paper. But so did the 1993 Mets. And I think with these Tigers, there's some potential for clubhouse explosions - between Miguel Cabrera, Gary Sheffield, and Kenny Rogers, someone's going to get a black eye. But I think the big difference between those star-studded Mets failures and this team is Jim Leyland - he won't take crap from the players, and he probably won't have to. One big thing to realize about Detroit is there's this strange Florida Marlins connection:

1) Jim Leyland managed the Marlins to their first world championship in 1997.
2) On that team was current Tigers DH Gary Sheffield.
3) The Tigers acquired Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins this off-season. Both players were on the 2003 championship team.
4) The catcher on that Marlins team was Ivan Rodriguez....starting catcher for the 2008 Detroit Tigers. (Also, that 2003 Marlins team began the year with Jeff Torborg as their manager. Torborg also managed the 1993 Mets. Whoa. Spooky.)

I don't think the Tigers will go all the way in the American League playoffs. (Who will beat them? - find out next week when I publish my playoff picks!) But I do think they'll be good enough and veteran enough to win what might shape up to be a tough division.

Why is it such a tough division? Well, the Indians have that year of experience, as a young team, of having gotten to within one game of the World Series (three times). And they have that bitter taste in their mouth after blowing the 3-games-to-1 lead to Boston. And they still have a very, very good pitching staff.

The White Sox are strange. I think they'll get back to being good - but they really fell off the pace last year. They went from world champs to 90 wins to 72 wins over three seasons - you have to think last year was the aberration. They managed to keep Mark Buerhle, and that was important - would he have stuck around if he didn't see potential? They're not going to threaten the Tigers, but they'll finish with a better-than-.500 record and win some important games.

I always want to pick Kansas City to finish better than they do. And I do think they're on an upswing. I think this will be a breakthrough year for them - a year where they don't finish in last place, but more importantly, a year they build on. The last time they didn't finish in last place was the year they won 83 games....then lost 100+ for three straight seasons. I like rooting for Kansas City, and they're one of those teams like the Reds, which I wrote about yesterday - I keep expecting them to pull out one of those miraculous turnarounds and surprise everyone. Maybe this year.

And then the Twins. 2008 is a year for the Twins to find out what they have in 2009. Francisco Liriano needs to come back healthy and dominant. Carlos Gomez needs to show that he was worth being the centerpiece of the Johan Santana deal (I think he'll be exciting for Twins fans to watch). And then the Twins need to figure out what else they have so they can gear up for the following year - because I think this will be a year of mourning in Minnesota:

Monday, March 10, 2008

PREVIEW: NL CENTRAL

For the first time in I don't know how many years, I haven't bought a baseball preview magazine. I peeked through it the last time I was in the supermarket, and the one I picked up didn't even have the Johan Santana deal. So I figure, why bother? And I also figure, why don't I just write my own. So this week I'll quickly preview each of the divisions, culminating in my playoff picks and my award winners. Today we look at the National League Central.

It's the NL Central that really compelled me to do these previews this year. Everyone - or at least a lot of people - loves the Cubs this year. I don't. I can't really put my finger on why. And I actually was surprised when I saw something about the Cubs defending their division title this year - I had to go look up to see that they won the Central last year. I forgot how close that division got at the end of the year.

The Cubs didn't win last year, though, because they were better than everyone else. They won because the rest of the division was worse than them. That won't be the case this year.

The Cubs are OK...but I don't think they're better than that. And there are some interesting storylines in Chicago - how will Kosuke Fukudome do? Will Kerry Wood add anything out of the bullpen? But the storyline that will not be addressed is will the Cubs win on the 100th anniversary of their last championship...because they won't.

Most of the rest of the division is a disaster. The Pirates, Astros, and Cardinals are all going in the wrong direction. The Pirates are a mess, and the Astros and Cardinals will be plagued by distractions all year. The Astros have the Miguel Tejada situation, and St. Louis has similar steroid accusations and implications on their team.

For some reason, I like the Reds. The past few years I think I might have even picked them to win the division. I'm not going to do that this year, but I am going to say this - I think the Reds are the next team to come out and surprise people. Like the Tigers in 2006, like the Rockies last year, I think the Reds are the next candidate to do that - maybe even this year. I'm not going to pick them, but they're a team with decent talent that plays in a weak division. They could end up winning the division.

But I think this year Milwaukee will finish what they started last year, and make it to the post-season. They're no great shakes either - a lot of pitching question marks - but they should hit their way through the season. I don't think they'll run away with the Central, but I think they'll win it. And looking through this division closely, I think I understand why so many people are picking the Cubs - there's not a lot else out there. It might not take more than 82 wins to win this division again - it was 85 last year. Here's how I think they'll finish:



1-1: Sunday was a big day for me, basketball-wise. Well, not for me personally, but two of the institutions from which I graduated. I'll start with the loss - Boston University lost to Hartford in the America East semifinals - always an exciting time of year as the conference tournaments get underway in college basketball. Unfortunately, BU couldn't get one more win and get into the championship game. I was especially disappointed because I thought they could really win this year (they got hot at the right time of the year) and then get smoked in the NCAA Tournament.

The good news, though, is that my high school, Holy Cross High School, in Flushing, New York, beat Christ the King for the New York City championship. That's their first championship since 1968. So congratulations, Knights. And here's where it all ties together: Dennis Wolff, head coach of the Boston University men's basketball team - mentioned just a paragraph ago - is also a graduate of Holy Cross High School.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

ENDORSEMENT OF A PRODUCT I'VE NEVER USED

This has the potential to be the best Christmas gift I've ever received. Problem is, I haven't had the opportunity to use it yet. And you know how it goes with potential....sometimes the prospect is hit, and sometimes it's miss.

I strongly suspect this one is a star - it's like a 5-tool player. It's called the "SportsCast Wireless Baseball Scoreboard", and it was given to me by my brother and his girlfriend. They got it at Brookstone (so there's the mandatory product placement information).

By picking up satellite feeds, the "SportsCast Wireless Baseball Scoreboard" gives me the current scores, standings, and schedules for every Major League Baseball team. At least according to the book in the box it does.

I haven't tried out the "SportsCast Wireless Baseball Scoreboard" yet - I'm nervous. This has the potential to be awesome. You might be wondering, how can it be awesome for someone who has the baseball television package, and watches roughly 4,000 of the 4, 860 baseball games in a given season anyway? Here's why:

1) The first and foremost reason is those Mets games that aren't on SNY. There's a few every year - in the past it has been weekends, where the games are on the CW11 in New York. I don't get those games on TV, and I've tried, fruitlessly, to tune into WFAN (it doesn't carry to my portable radio in Framingham, Massachusetts) to listen in. Staying at the computer is an option, but it's summer, and I have a one-and-a-half-year-old child now....I can keep her locked up in one tiny room only so much longer. Now I don't have to worry about that. With my "SportsCast Wireless Baseball Scoreboard" I can theoretically take The Baby for a walk - a three-hour walk - where I have the "SportsCast Wireless Baseball Scoreboard" in hand the entire time. I can even claim exercise and take the thing on jogs!

2) Long car rides to New York on summer weekends. Sure, I could always listen to the Mets games - that was never a problem. What I would also have to do would be wait for Howie Rose to update the out-of-town scores. Not with my "SportsCast Wireless Baseball Scoreboard" - now, theoretically, I can get instant updates while still in the car!!!!

3) When I reach my destination on those rides (usually my parents' house), I don't have the baseball package for an entire weekend. I'm relegated to watching only the Mets and Yankees (though it does solve the CW11 problem). Now, theoretically, with the "SportsCast Wireless Baseball Scoreboard", I'll get instant updates of the rest of Major League Baseball from my parents' house. I'll never have to depend on the crawl on ESPNEWS again.

4) I could keep the "SportsCast Wireless Baseball Scoreboard" in my desk at work and theoretically sneak glances during the day when there are day games.

5) I won't even get into how easy the "SportsCast Wireless Baseball Scoreboard" could theoretically make my running of the New Baseball Pool.

So, back to my point. I'm scared to turn the "SportsCast Wireless Baseball Scoreboard" on. You see how much I've built it up. If it doesn't live up to the expectations I've piled onto it, I'll be immensely disappointed. It's like Paul Wilson, Jason Isringhausen, and Bill Pulsipher all rolled into one. It could go from being the best Christmas gift I've ever received to the time when I got a comforter right before I went away to college.

I've taken all the precautions. The "SportsCast Wireless Baseball Scoreboard" book says it works best when it's near a window. All of the places I've mentioned are either outside or have windows. They give you a website to check to see if your area is covered by their service. My area is covered. It takes 4 "AA" batteries. I have 4 "AA" batteries. All I need to do is put in the batteries and turn it on. But I'm afraid when I do, it won't work as well as I want it to.

The "SportsCast Wireless Baseball Scoreboard" claims to even update spring training scores. You see how long I've gone with it having the potential to work (since spring training started) without having used it yet. I'll get there. I still have a few more weeks. I just want it to live on in my imagination for a little while longer.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

ANOTHER CELEBRATION

Yesterday I wrote about how a lot of teams are celebrating a lot of different milestones in 2008. It just dawned on me that if I was a baseball team, I would also be wearing a patch on my sleeve this year "Celebrating 30 Years". I kind of keep forgetting this is the big 3-0...perhaps because I made such a big deal out of last year's birthday on 7/7/07. It was the best 29th birthday anyone has ever had.

But I think 30 is going to be quite good.

Here's what's going down:

There's the "Last Play at Shea", Billy Joel's concert at Shea Stadium, the last concert that will be held there before the new stadium is opened up. I still don't have tickets (I don't know if I updated my lack of success on that front) - but they did add a second show, and I'm hoping something will come up. That will be in July - shortly after I turn 30.

Now, the other exciting part about this whole thing, and I don't think I've mentioned this before (but if I have, please forgive me), but the Mets would be dumb to not play up the Billy Joel thing the entire season. I would love it if they adopted a Billy Joel theme song, a la the Knicks in 1993-1994 with "All About Soul". My suggestions:

-"Angry Young Man" when the Mets come out to take the field.
-"Pressure" every time the opposing team has to make a mound visit. (They usually do this already, I think.)
-"New York State of Mind" right before "Angry Young Man", almost like the build-up to a concert.
-After "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" if the Mets are behind or tied, and if they're ahead, "Big Man On Mulberry Street" or "Everybody Loves You Now".

Just a few thoughts. But I think the Mets have to play at least two Billy Joel songs in between innings during games this season. It has to be their theme all year.

More good news for my 1978-2008 celebration: If I don't get to see the "Last Play at Shea" concert, I will see Billy Joel in my 30th year. He's playing Mohegan Sun on June 15th (the last of six scheduled shows there). I kind of stumbled onto the tickets - I saw that there were some left, so I scooped a couple up for me and the Wife. It's like the perfect storm of events for me - Billy Joel, a casino, and it's Father's Day. So I think it's a match made in heaven.

There's also the fact that I will become a father for the second time towards the end of this 30th anniversary celebration.

All told, 2008 will be an exciting year for johnnymets....but it would certainly make for an odd-looking sleeve patch:

Friday, March 07, 2008

LOTS TO CELEBRATE IN 2008

Every year marks a celebration for someone about something. Sometimes it's forced, other times it's legitimate. 2008 is no different. Here are the milestones (or just inchstones, if you will) being marked by different teams in baseball in 2008 - from the somewhat interesting to the downright ridiculous.

Let's start with a celebration - the Arizona Diamondbacks are celebrating their 10-year anniversary - and they have a decent amount to celebrate.

I've written about this before, but Chase Field (then Bank One Ballpark), when I visited, really flaunts its history - a credit to them, and a strike against a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates, who, based on the amount of history in their ballpark, you would think would be celebrating their 10th anniversary as an expansion team, instead of a team with a history that should be celebrated more than it is.

The Diamondbacks will have a celebration the first weekend of the season, where they will recognize their first-ever team.

Incidentally, the Tampa Bay Rays (whose biggest accomplishment for 2008 is dropping "Devil" from their name) are not advertising anything recognizing their 10 years in the league.

This is less a celebration than just something that caught my eye - but the Seattle Mariners' slogan this year is "MoJo Rising". It should be "Bedard Pitching". I wonder if Robin Ventura was involved in selecting that slogan for the Mariners, or if they just flat-out stole his idea from the Mets' post-season in 1999.

Also of note, Jacobs Field is no more. The Cleveland Indians now play their home games at "Progressive Field".

2008 marks 50 years since the Dodgers moved out west, leaving their Brooklyn fans in a lurch. They're celebrating their 50th anniversary of playing baseball in Los Angeles.

The San Francisco Giants are celebrating 50 years of following the Dodgers out west.

On a related note, the A's are celebrating 40 years in Oakland.Just about everything else being recognized in baseball in 2008 is stadium-related. The Mets, as we all know, are recognizing their last year at Shea Stadium with a patch on their sleeves. There will also be constant reminders of the new stadium that is taking shape right over the left field wall, towering over the visitors' bullpen.

The Washington Nationals have a new ballpark this year, and they're celebrating the opening of Nationals Park with the slogan, "Welcome Home!"

While we're on the subject of slogans, the Texas Rangers are going with "You could use some baseball" this year. My impression is that Texas Rangers fans could use some "winning" baseball. If not, the Rangers' slogan should read "Only ____ more days until high school football."

The Yankees have a sort of dual celebration going. Not only are they recognizing their last year at Yankee Stadium, but they're sending it off with a bang - by hosting the 2008 All Star Game. So I'm not sure how those are being recognized - something tells me the pinstripes don't get covered by commemorative patches, but they have two logos - one for each occasion.

And finally, it may not surprise you to learn that the Florida Marlins are touting something new, but it has nothing to do with baseball (because the brand that will be played in 2008 in south Florida won't be anything to shout about). They will march out the first-ever dance/cheer team in Major League Baseball (I wonder what exactly I saw in Cincinnati last year then - maybe they weren't a team, but a bunch of individuals), and they're called the Marlins Mermaids. Wonder if they stay out on the tarp for the frequent rain delays.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

HURTIN'

With all of the possible trouble spots for the Mets in 2008 - 1B, the bench, RF, the bullpen....it looks like the DL might be the most troublesome of them all. Here's what I mean:

Brian Schneider has barely played this spring because of a hamstring problem.

Luis Castillo has yet to do anything as he recovers from off-season surgery on his knee.

Same with Carlos Beltran.

Carlos Delgado was playing, but had a recurrence of the hip problems that pained him in September. His backup, Michel Abreu, was hurt earlier this week.

Ryan Church, pictured at left, is recovering from a concussion suffered in a collision last week.

Orlando Hernandez still hasn't pitched and might not be ready for Opening Day, but this might work in the Mets' favor, because if Mike Pelfrey stays healthy he might be the better option.

And now the latest starter to go down is Moises Alou, who needs a hernia operation, and is out until May.

The backups are not in better shape - Endy Chavez, Damion Easley, Marlon Anderson (who collided with Church), Jose Valentin, Ruben Gotay, and Ben Johnson are all suffering various ailments, too.

The good news is that it's still early in the spring - the time when you hate to see guys doing well, because you want them to save the good stuff for the regular season. The bad news is that these aren't little piddly things - they're the types of injuries that have the potential to haunt the Mets through the season.

We'll need to re-evaluate the situation in a couple of weeks - if David Wright and Jose Reyes are still the only regulars in the lineup at that point, it'll be time to start turning up the worry dial.

By the way - you can get a good look at the Mets' backup minor leaguers Friday afternoon - their game against the Indians will be on ESPN. ESPN must be thrilled - they miss Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez, and the entire Mets team is injured.

SOUTHERN BUREAU CONTINUES TO IMPRESS: Fresh off his guest-blog here yesterday, the Southern Bureau has a new look on his blog. The link on the right to his "Orange Couch" has been updated. It's impressive.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A VIEW OF BOSTON FROM THE SOUTH

Since the Super Bowl pitted the Giants against the Patriots, we had guest spots from The Wife, Dave in Brighton, and Justin from NYC. But other than his behind-the-scenes contributions, we haven't heard from the Southern Bureau as a guest writer. So let's make up for that with his thoughts on the Red Sox entering the 2008 season as defending champions - a situation they find themselves in for the second time in four years. (I also feel that I still owe the Southern Bureau a blog - he bet that in 2006 the Tigers would win the World Series. I bet against him, technically winning a blog entry on 'The Orange Couch'...but I also thought it would be the Mets that beat the Tigers, so I didn't feel like it was a legit win. So now I will sleep at night, since I feel that we're even.) That's the Southern Bureau below on his impulse-driven trip to the World Series Parade last year - a one-day trip from North Carolina. Only something I can dream about doing these days. Oh, and in case you couldn't tell from that little story - ladies, he's single.

I love being the Southern Bureau for johnnymets.blogspot.com. The pay sucks, but its fun to follow a team so closely that I have no connection to. I watched their off-season moves with the interest of a life-long fan – thrilled when they kept Luis Castillo (great signing), puzzled when they traded away Lastings Milledge for two journeymen (bad move), and pumped up when they traded for Johan Santana (obviously awesome). But with all those moves – and all the promise – I’m sorry to say its going to be a sad October again for Johnnymets, because the Mets aren’t going to win the World Series.

The Red Sox are.

And I’m 100% confident of it.

And that scares the bejesus out of me.

That’s what changed in 2004 – confidence. This isn’t the “old” Red Sox anymore. This isn’t: “what can/will go wrong?” Its: “everything will go right and they’re going to win”.

When the Red Sox went down 3-1 to Cleveland in the ALCS, I was never nervous. Beckett in game five – easy win. Back to Fenway for two more wins. Never had a doubt. And they proved me right.

The World Series against the white-hot Rockies. Yawn. Easy to predict (see: Orange Couch entry from 10/23). Red Sox sweep.

I went to the World Series Victory parade because – as my dad said – you never know when it will happen again.

But I know when it will happen again. This year. Because it’s the NEW Red Sox. And the NEW Red Sox don’t lose anymore.

Make no mistake: It’s an odd feeling. I feel almost dirty having this much confidence in my team. ESPECIALLY since this team is the Red Sox. The team of Babe Ruth, Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, Aaron Boone. The heartbreak of players not living up to potential (Phil Plantier). The sadness of signing great players about 10 years too late (Jose Canseco). The frustration of trading away players too early (Jeff Bagwell).

But none of that matters now. This is a different team. A different feeling. A winning feeling.

And I like it.

Of course as I re-read this, I’m scared to death that I just jinxed everything. And that’s the life of a Red Sox fan. Even with the NEW Red Sox…even with this new confidence…even with two World Series Championships…20+ years of gloom and doom is hard to shake.

So…Go Red Sox. And I’ll see you at the 2008 Victory Parade.

Ugh…did I just jinx it again??

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

ALMOST AS PERVASIVE AS STEROIDS

Not too long ago, had you asked me what cribbage was, I would have responded, "That's bed time at the 'House Sponsored by DirecTV'":

Wow. I can't believe how clean that room looks in that picture (from before The Baby was born). It's a disaster right now. Nevertheless, turns out there's a different kind of cribbage, and it's sweeping the Major League Nation. It looks like this:
It also involves cards, and at this point, that's all I know about the game of cribbage. But I'm going to learn more, because I think it's becoming cool.

I got the first hint of cribbage in relation to baseball when I heard that my favorite manager, Terry Francona (2 days in a row!), plays it before almost every game. I think it was a habit/superstition thing where Francona played Dustin Pedroia in cribbage before every game last season.

Then, it was reported that the game has made its way into the Mets clubhouse.

Before I get into that, a word on John Maine. It was also reported that last week was the first time John Maine had ever used the internet. He didn't even know what it was used for until last week. I like Maine, and I think I'm liking it even more that he's kind of an aloof space case. (And the good kind of aloof space case - the one whose actions don't affect the rest of the team.) He spends his days (when he's not throwing, which is four out of five days, for the most part) doing crossword puzzles and throwing around big vocabulary words. He also proclaims himself the best chess player in the clubhouse now that Paul Lo Duca, Shawn Green, and Mike DiFelice are gone. Although Aaron Heilman insists he's a challenge.

Which brings us back to cribbage. Heilman says he'll beat Maine at his game (chess) this year. But apparently, Heilman's game is cribbage. So speculation out of spring training is that Heilman will gladly take on all comers in cribbage....but I don't think everyone knows the game yet.

Well, I think that's about to change. I suspect, once this becomes more and more common knowledge, cribbage is going to take off like Texas Hold 'Em a few years back. And I'm getting in on the ground floor. And I know exactly who I can learn the game with and practice against - Dave in Brighton. He excels at stationary sports. I wouldn't even be surprised if Dave in Brighton already owns a cribbage board (or whatever it's called).

Monday, March 03, 2008

IN PRAISE OF TERRY FRANCONA

If I could choose a team of only players I liked (and inspired by Dave in Brighton's fantasy baseball team, I'm working on one), the manager would be Terry Francona. In spite of myself, he has become my favorite manager in the game.

When it comes to managing Major League Baseball teams, one of the most difficult jobs is manager of the Boston Red Sox. All Francona has done in his 4 years with the team is win, and make the job look easy.

He started behind the eight ball in my eyes. I did not like the fact that Grady Little took the fall for the 2003 ALCS loss by the Red Sox. But then the Red Sox introduced Terry Francona, and he said all of the right things. He didn't let the Boston media run away with stories. When he'd lose his temper with the media he sounded like a dad who was disappointed in his kid.

Francona doesn't lose his temper much. You see it every so often - and that's how you know an umpire has made a bad call. That's when you see Francona come out to argue. He handles the players and their eccentricities (read: Manny Ramirez) in a classy way. It always plays out behind closed doors. He'll never air dirty laundry, and even when a player starts a potentially controversial situation (like Curt Schilling or CoCo Crisp this spring), you get the idea he took these guys aside and told them things will work out - but to keep everything in-house.

Francona is just flat-out likeable. You want him to kick the chewing tobacco habit (he lost a bet to one of the Red Sox owners last year because he couldn't quit during the season...not for lack of effort - but even finding out about that through the media was like pulling teeth - he doesn't talk about himself). You want him to quit so that it doesn't negatively impact his health.

He also said all the right things when it came time to extend his contract, which should have happened immediately after his second world championship in four years, upon the completion of his eighth straight World Series win (against 0 losses). He didn't want it to be a distraction as the Sox began spring training.

On Sunday, February 24th, the Red Sox gave Francona a three-year contract extension. If I were them, that would have happened a lot sooner, and for a lot longer than three years. But they made the right decision, and they'll be a team to worry about for as long as Francona is at the helm.

SPRING TRAINING ON SNY: I lucked out today and was able to catch most of the Mets-Braves spring training game on SNY. A few observations:

1) Mike Pelfrey has looked great this spring, and he looked great today. Part of me keeps reminding the other part of me that it's still spring training, and we're still at a point where the pitchers are ahead of the hitters. Also, I needed to remind myself that he did the same thing to these Braves last September, so maybe Pelfrey just has the Braves' number. But the other part of me was very excited - Pelfrey threw strikes, he got groundouts, and he broke a lot of bats during his three scoreless innings. It was very encouraging - and part of the talk was about how Orlando Hernandez's situation isn't improving (he has various ailments), so it could be realistic that Pelfrey breaks camp with the team. (One caveat - the Mets won't need a fifth starter until mid-to-late April, so maybe Hernandez isn't behind schedule...and he'll be ready when the Mets need him.) Nevertheless, I would be confident in Mike Pelfrey if he is the Mets' fifth starter this year. More than confident, based on what I saw today.

2) One area where I won't be confident is first base. Carlos Delgado has had a recurrence of the hip injury that kept him out most of last September. So he's not playing right now, but the Mets aren't making a big deal out of it. The problem is, they're thin at first base. And on Monday afternoon, Michel Abreu started at first. He's not good. Abreu has been in the Mets' system for a few years - I always saw his name and thought it was Michael. But it's Michel. Pronounced like "Michelle". But he dropped a pickoff throw from Pelfrey, and he looks like he's working too hard to catch throws from the infield on routine grounders. Not a good sign for a first baseman. Hopefully Delgado's not too hurt, but if he is, the Mets need first base help.

3) Spring training games must be frustrating for broadcasters. This game featured Kevin Burkhart and Keith Hernandez (no Gary Cohen, in other words), and it's spring training, so there's a lot of feature-y stuff to talk about. Not to mention Burkhart's primary role is the sideline reporter, so he's got plenty of stuff to talk about during a slow spring training game. But the players keep swinging at the first pitch. Almost to a tee. Maybe the game slows down when there's all bench players/youngsters trying to prove themselves in the game late, but I didn't stick around to find out. Anyway, Burkhart and Hernandez kept starting stories, and they kept having to go to commercial in the middle of them. Frustrating, I would imagine.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

AN UPDATE ON THE JETS

You may or may not have noticed that I don't spend a whole lot of time writing about the NFL off-season. There are a couple of reasons for this:

1) It happens to fall during the time that I really get excited about baseball season, and

2) I don't understand it as much.

I like football...a lot. But I don't pretend to understand schemes, and gameplans, and how this player fits into this or who would work best in what. I understand that Jonathan Vilma had gotten into Eric Mangini's doghouse in some way, and wasn't the perfect fit with the Jets anymore, and had to be moved, but that's about it. So there's nothing I can comment on that is worth commenting on.

That said, my cousin lives and breathes football year 'round, and he's been reading the blog, and is upset that I haven't touched on the Jets since, oh, about October. And after yesterday's post about the NBA, he's threatened my life. So I think I'll touch on the Jets' moves today.

I'm confused, thrilled, and upset about the three big moves the Jets have made so far this off-season. Not in that order - I'll go over them in the order they happened.

On Friday, the Jets traded Jonathan Vilma to the Saints for a fourth-round draft pick. OK, fine...but then they acquired Kris Jenkins from Carolina for third and fifth-round draft picks. What gives there? I agree with my cousin - it seems like the Jets should have been able to get more for Vilma, especially considering what they gave up for Jenkins.

And here's what bothers me about Jenkins. By all accounts, he hasn't been effective in a few years. And he's been injured recently. The following is not speculation - this is fact...and it's kind of been brushed under the rug for some reason. But almost everyone associated with the Carolina Panthers' Super Bowl team was involved in some way with a huge steroids ring, weren't they? Please correct me if I'm wrong about this - but even if fans aren't sure about that situation, I'm sure teams in the NFL are. So why would the Jets acquire a guy who is so closely connected to a scandal like that....not to mention a guy whose numbers are mysteriously up and down in relation to that incident.

So there's the bad news - it seems like the Jets didn't get equal value for Vilma, and I don't know that it was a smart move getting Jenkins. But their most recent move should be well worth the money invested.

The Jets signed free agent guard Alan Faneca to a record-setting 5-year, $40 million deal. This should improve their offensive line immensely - the young guys will benefit from a veteran presence - and not just any veteran presence, but possibly the best in the league at what he does. The running game should also benefit, and the quarterbacks will actually have some time to make something happen. This one signing could be the difference between two years' ago's playoff appearance and last year's disaster.

BENCH FOR CHURCH ON SUNDAY: Not the pew kind. Ryan Church was sidelined for a few days after a collision with Marlon Anderson on Saturday left Church with a concussion. All of the written accounts of the injury say it was a nasty collision - but I haven't found any video of it. I'm not sure there is any. We'll see if anything turns up by Friday, when the Mets are on ESPN. If it ever turns up, that might be the time. Hopefully this doesn't linger for very long. Promising news - in his first at-bat against a lefty, on Friday (or at least the first one I saw, when I was watching the tape-delay of the Friday game), Church singled to right. So that was encouraging. We'll see what happens the rest of the spring, but he needs to play.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

A FEW WORDS ON THE NBA

I have a confession to make - I'm kind of curious how the Suns fare with their acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal.

I also find myself wondering if trading for Jason Kidd is what the Mavericks need to get to the next level.

In other words, I'm kind of/sort of caring about the NBA again. This is a weird phenomenon. So sit back, relax, because this explanation might take a while.

I used to love the NBA. Back in the late '80's, early-to-mid-'90's (aka "when I was a member of the NBA's target demographic"), I loved the NBA, and I loved the Knicks. I was heartbroken when the Knicks lost a Game 7 to the Bulls in 1992 on my confirmation day, and then the following year when Charles Smith couldn't make a layup. (That series, though, produced the poster of "The Dunk" which you see at left. Any true Knicks fan will tell you the poster doesn't capture the situation depth-wise, and that John Starks is really dunking more on Michael Jordan than Horace Grant. And Patrick Ewing did not push B.J. Armstrong. I had this poster on my bedroom wall until I left for college.)

In 1994, the Knicks lost the championship to the Rockets, and I was devastated. Then, in 1995, I was working right outside Madison Square Garden, listening to Game 7 against the Pacers, listening on the radio as Ewing missed a layup as time expired. I have yet to see video of that play. And I distinctly remember thinking that night, as disappointed fans filed past the store without walking in, that I had to care less about the NBA - the losses were driving me nuts.

It's not that I wasn't as gung-ho about the other sports, but at this time the Mets were awful, the Rangers had won their championship so they were in a grace period, and the Jets were god-awful (that's one step more awful than the Mets). So I cared less about the Knicks. I followed them through college - I distinctly remember reading all about when Patrick Ewing would return from his broken wrist on espn.com as the playoffs started that year - but I mostly fed off my friends' enthusiasm for the NBA. I hardly cared about the Knicks' appearance in the Finals in 1999.

I blamed a lot of this on the lockout, and I still feel that I took some of my pent-up baseball strike aggression out on the NBA. I lost even more interest after the strip-club scandal in which Ewing's name was dragged through the mud, and other unflattering allegations about him came forward. And I never really got over the Marv Albert thing - and I associate him with the NBA more than anything else.

So here we are in 2008, and I'm dipping my toe back in the water. The interesting thing about the NBA is that I now have no rooting interests in any team whatsoever. There are no teams I love, and there are no teams I really hate. My scars from the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers have healed. Ironically, the team I root against the most these days is the Isiah Thomas-led Knicks. There has been a lot of excitement about the Celtics in these parts. While I can never bring myself to flat-out root for the Celtics, I was intrigued enough earlier this year to tune into the final minutes of a Pistons-Celtics matchup. And I watched the end of the All-Star Game. But I couldn't tell you who is in first place in what division. I probably couldn't even tell you what teams are in what division.

I still haven't watched a full game in years. But should I? What kind of a person does that make me, if I go back on my principles like that? And is it really a principle, not caring about the NBA? What if I cared only a little? The baseball regular season needs to start fast so I'll forget all about this.