The Winter Classic…Fenway Park

10 04 2009

The Green Monster and Fenway Park are not your typical setting for a hockey game, but that is exactly what will take place this coming New Years’ Day.  For the NHL, the Winter Classic has been a gold mine of sorts bringing new fans to the game, and tv ratings that haven’t been seen for hockey games in far too long.  The past two have been at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo and this past year at Wrigley Park in Chicago and were viewed as wildly successful.  Bringing hockey to an open air environment has so much upside and for the most part little downside involved.  If this is an event that the NHL can manage to recreate in some form or another each year, thereby not running the risk of overuse this may become the foundation of the return of the NHL to national consciousness.

Boston Herald Graphic

Boston Herald Graphic

The odd part about this whole thing is the speculation that the opponents being debated between are the Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals.  Clearly, I would never dream of belittling the team of my current city and the Flyers and Bruins do have a fairly big rivalry, but I just don’t see it.  The management of the Boston Bruins has been pushing for this game pretty much since its inception and the thought was always that this would be an Original 6 game.  It only seems appropriate, Boston has one of the most storied franchises in the sport and why would you not want to pit them against one of their oldest and fiercest rivals for an event of this magnitude.

I understand the rationale behind putting the most exciting player in the whole sport onto the sport’s largest stage.  But in some respects the rivalry in itself should be enough of a draw, although admittedly I am probably not the target demographic for the NHL.  Watching fans at games, every time Alexander Ovechkin touches the puck there is a palpable excitement running through the crowd.  With that in mind, I can imagine my friends watching the game explicitly because the Great 8 is in the game and tangentially because it is a cool event, hockey outdoors in Fenway Park.  Obviously, not your typical hockey game.   The league obviously has a strategy behind the cities they choose for this games and the teams they ask to play in the Winter Classic.  Since they are so adamant about bringing the young guns to the forefront of the game then there could be no better choice than the Washington Capitals.  I truly hope that when all is said and done that the Boston Bruins are facing the Washington Capitals at Fenway Park in Boston on January 1st, 2010.

How do you say no to a man that can sing and dance like this…

Especially when he can do something like this…

I guess I understand why the NHL is leaning away from the Bruins and the Canadiens and to a team with that man on it.


The Joys of Radio

7 04 2009

I think that people of our generation tend not to appreciate the role that radio announcers play in the world of sports. There is the cult of personality that endears partisan fans to their local announcers, but this is something different. In today’s day and age, when so many teams have their own television channels and when you can watch a game online with the click of a button less and less people are listening to games on the radio. Without a doubt there remains in my head this romantic vision of the family gathering around one of those old school radios to listen to the Brooklyn Dodgers. But it would be too easy to write this off purely as romanticism.

Over the course of my fairly regular visits to Ohio and Connecticut I have spent many an hour frantically pressing the Scan button on the radio hoping to pick up a strong signal to listen to whatever happened to be on. In the past year or so I  have been in the car for March Madness, the Big East Tournament, the Super Bowl and Opening Day of the MLB Season.  Clearly, there are some things you will always miss out on by listening to the game rather than watching, but of course that is why we have YouTube.  TV announcers seem to have this desire to be funny and likable, rather than talking about what is going on in the game, filling up space with idle chatter, normally not related to the game or even the sport (I’m looking at you Monday Night Football Crew!).  Play by play announcers for the radio seem less concerned with their public personas willing to make their broadcast about the game and only the game. While you may not be able to see that crazy dunk, or just how far that home run traveled, you are going to hear the emotion in the announcers voice and you are going to feel like you are a part of the crowd.

I’m not advocating that people toss out their 40 inch HD tv’s but once in a while sit down and listen to the radio broadcast of the game instead.  I’d even take a compromise of listening to the announcers while watching the game on tv if you must.

Just another A-Rod post

12 02 2009

I hate the Yankees. People know that. Yet, I have this weird love-hate relationship with Alex Rodriguez. I guess it’s more of a pity-hate relationship. Normally, I cheer for every error on and off the field that A-Rod makes, but in this case I didn’t. Yea, I was giddy when I first found out and I did call my dad to rub it in his face, but then I thought about it a little bit.

I still cant stand A-Rod

I still can't stand A-Rod

I don’t necessarily feel like A-Rod deserves the treatment that he gets in New York, at least for his on the field performance. He desperately cares about what people think about him and in particular the thoughts of the fans. So in some respects playing in New York City must be absolute hell.  A-Rod wants to be remembered as one of the Yankee greats like Mantle, DiMaggio and Jeter and ultimately the greatest hitter of all time.  The numbers that he has put up while in New York have been nothing short of extraordinary, aside from when it counts to Yankee fans. Until the Yankees win the World Series with A-Rod leading the charge, he will continue to be a pariah in the local papers and the target of far too many boos.

It’s become all too clear to our generation that the players that they group admiring will likely have a cloud of skepticism hanging over their heads. This era will be known as the Steroid Era in baseball and that is truly sad because the vast majority of players played the game right. After Barry Bonds I began to take a very hard stance in my mind, it just bothered me so much to think that a player who was obviously going to hold the record for most home runs ever was more than likely a cheater. I firmly believe that there should be an asterisk in the record books next to every player who has been caught using steroids or even to go as far as to not put them in the record books at all. But the situation with A-Rod really makes me question that belief.

I have to admit though I was a little surprised when A-Rod got caught up in all this. There have never been any questions about his work ethic, body size or any of the other telltale clues. Even though I was a little surprised by this and obviously disappointed (I was really looking forward to him taking the rightful crown of home run king away from Barry Bonds), I don’t necessarily feel as though this should take away from his reputation. Obviously, he screwed up and I am in no way defending what he did, but I do think that there are some issues with just writing him off and out of the record books.  If we take him at his word that he only used steroids for two seasons and it ended 5 years ago then it’s important to look at his production since that period.  More than likely you could take those two seasons out of the records entirely and he would still eclipse Barry Bonds’ home run record with room to spare. I realize that this is a horrible double standard, maybe it is just my hatred for Barry Bonds overtaking any rational thought.

This revelation should maybe make us consider what the historic impact is going to be from this era. We have already seen the impact it has had on the other major professional sports in North America; each has undergone serious discussions about the role of steroids in their respective games and the best way to proceed for each. Whether or not people want to treat those moves as good faith efforts is a whole other issue, but steroids are now at the forefront of sports in America and something that is beginning to be dealt with in the open.

Fighting and Hockey (also posted on Danny’s blog)

29 01 2009

One of the most persistent debates about the NHL and hockey in general is the role of fighting in the game. For many, it is hard to understand not just how a sport can condone violence but how central it is to the game.  These concerns are only compounded by the incidents that have plagued the game in recent years. While very few of these were related to fighting, these incidents only affirm the beliefs of many people.

I tend to hate the argument that because something has always been done one way, that it should continue to be done that way.  But, I’m going to do it anyways. Fighting is a part of the tradition and history of hockey. There is a code of honor, a degree of ethics that exists between all those who choose to fight in hockey and it is based on mutual respect.

– It is very rare to see someone in a fight that clearly doesn’t belong.
– You don’t grab a guy from behind.
– A fight requires two willing participants
– You won’t see sucker punches or anything like that.
– If one person won’t fight, that’s the end of it.
– When a player hits the ice, the fight is over.
– Most of the time, these are fights to protect players who can’t fight for themselves.

There are a number of pros and cons to the existence of fighting in the NHL. I have seen the excitement that a fight can put in an arena and in a team, the feeling can only be described as electric. But I will say that a big hit can achieve the same effect. Some people have argued that fighting is such a turn off that it keeps people away from the game.  That maybe true for some, but I would argue that there are many fans that go to games purely for the spectacle of the fights, this is especially true in the minor leagues. Now whether or not that is a good sign for the state of the game that’s a whole other issue.

Would I still watch hockey if fighting wasn’t a part of the game? Definitely.  But, there is something absolutely thrilling about watching a fight in a hockey game.  Maybe that is the savage caveman in me shining through.

I can’t stand Sean Avery

5 12 2008

Yes.  I am a grump and this post will only confirm this, but I don’t care.  Sean Avery of the Dallas Stars absolutely infuriates me; he has zero respect for the game of hockey, the fans and even worse none for his teammates.  This is nothing new.  In his career, he has time and again managed to set the hockey world aflame, all the while achieving Youtube infamy, be it through his incessant diving, his penchant for the dramatic or his all consuming desire to infuriate the other team.

The sad part is that he is a truly talented hockey player.  The issue is whether he is worth it to teams; there is a reason why he gets traded almost every year.  This week he crossed the line, AGAIN:

I like tough players, that are willing to back it up and know how to get under the skin of other players, but this is just too much.  Granted, this is a really fine line to be trying to draw in the sand, and it is impossible to make a hard and fast rule on the words and thoughts of individual players.  This mentality has always been a part of the game and there is nothing wrong with that.

The thing that bothers me most about this is that it was in no way a slip of the tongue, despite how Avery might want to explain it.  The Dallas coach had spent the morning defending Avery to the Canadian press, the PR staff asked if he wanted to talk to the media at all and he said no, then he goes and seeks out the camera to say this.  This was no accident, it was planned and it was way over the line.

I am not one of those hockey fans that gets all shrill about how the game is too dangerous and how they need to stop fighting.  I think that the physicality is one of the best things about hockey and fighting is an integral part of the game.  So I wouldn’t change any of that and generally speaking I think that sports are going a little too far too quickly in terms of cracking down on the players on and off their respective arenas (hello Mr. Goodell, stop suspending people for good hits on quarterbacks).  But in this case I really hope they throw the proverbial book at Sean Avery.  If not the NHL then the Dallas Stars organization.  It is too bad because they spent a lot of money on him, but the team has under performed and he has been a major distraction and not shown those great hands that made him so valuable to the New York Rangers.

Little League Monster

21 08 2008

This article by Joe DeMartino rang so true that I had to mention it.

It’s not something that you think about often, but facing my Little League Monster is an experience I will never forget.  The sheer terror that was in my heart has not completely left me, more than 13 years later and I don’t know that it will.

My monster was named Jeff Ford and in my mind, he was a freak of nature.  I couldn’t have been more than 5’1, 85lbs at the time, by far the smallest kid on my team and one of the smallest in the league.  So when it came around time to face Jeff Ford’s team, I would be hoping for the week prior that I might not have to face Jeff Ford, that maybe he’d get hurt or have to go out of town.  But that was clearly not in the cards.

On game day, our coach knew the reputation that Jeff had and he without a doubt could see the fear in his eyes.  He knew we were terrified, and tried his best to convince us that the “larger they are, the harder they fall” and that “the faster a ball is pitched, the faster it leaves the park.”  He even challenged us, telling us if any of us were scared, we should raise our hands before the game would start and he just wouldn’t put us in.  I still wish I had raised my hand that day.

As I would approach the batters box I was shaking, there was no need to try to control it.  When I stepped in the box, it was a whole other level of fear.  I think you could have heard my knees knocking for miles.  When he would wind up to throw, I would tighten every muscle in my body, close my eyes at the point of release and just swing.  Needless to say, I never even came close against Jeff Ford.

While I knew that the name Jeff Ford had not escaped me, I was most shocked by the vividness of my memories as I read this article.  I don’t know if these were memories that I had repressed or what, but thinking about them now is pretty amazing.

Don’t worry…It was my culture

4 08 2008

If you go back to the brawl, that’s a culture issue right there. Somebody was disrespecting me, so he’s got to understand where I’m coming from. People that know me know that Ron Artest never changed.

–Ron Artest

Really? That brawl in 2004 was about culture? Not about the fact that you have a horrible temper and set off one of the darkest, saddest events in NBA history? That’s a pretty interesting stance on the issue

For those of you that might have missed out (somehow), here is a quick link here. This brawl eventually led to assault charges for a number of players, the video being played on repeat for millions of people around the world to see and finally a number of philosophical changes on the part of the NBA in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the evening. While there was much discussion about the role of the fans in this, given that the fan did throw a beer at Ron Artest.  While no one will condone fans acting like that, it is not the first time and definitely not the last that objects have been thrown onto the playing surface.  There are many old hockey fighting collections where fans will be taunting a player in the penalty box and he will jump up on to the glass and take a swing, but that was always the end of it.  No melee would ensue and ultimately play would continue on as normal.  Why actions like that are tolerated in hockey but not in basketball is subject to a very different debate.  Whatever those reasons may be, we all saw just how different things went in Detroit.

The reason I bring this up is because Ron Artest was just traded to Houston and Yao Ming is obviously a little concerned about the dynamic of his team with this latest roster addition.  Yao expressed concern, albeit in the wrong format by discussing it in the press, but it could have been defused rather quickly.  But Artest turned it into a big deal, by claiming the events of the Brawl in the Palace were the result of his culture and not showing any remorse for the largest black eye the sport has ever seen.  Are you kidding me?

The lack of compunction is something I will never understand.  That night was an absolute disaster for the game of basketball and it set the NBA back a very long way.  To the point that they are so image conscious that they have mandated dress code, not just on the court, but on the bench and after games for press conferences.  Most decisions made on an executive level now have to take into consideration the effect on their image.  And yet, Ron Artest is unwilling to show any remorse for that night.

Don’t worry though, Artest promptly explained that Yao would understand him soon enough and they would be great teammates.  If I were Yao Ming, I would be very concerned.