Archive for July, 2006

I Will Return, I Promise!
July 21, 2006

I am taking a much-deserved vacation and will be out for about ten days. I hope to return to my sports blogging activities around August 2. By the time I return, I’ll have things I’ll want to talk about and you will too. (Thanks, Mr. Rogers.)

Have a great week! Hopefully by my return the Brewers will be back above .500!

JR

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I Need A Recurring Character
July 13, 2006

People don’t always like originality. Look at the movies that are being pumped out by Hollywood studio systems: They’re either retreads of bad seventies TV shows, sequels, remakes, or “fresh” takes on once-dead superhero franchises. (What does it say about the state of cinema when the most interesting character I’ve seen for a while on the big screen is Al Gore?) Things are so bad that I think most people, myself included, are being brainwashed to expect less from Hollywood: When I get excited about hearing about a potential Porky’s remake, something is very wrong.

So I think I need to take a cue from Hollywood and make my blogs less original. I need a running feature that I can plug in whenever I don’t know what to write about. Like a recurring character on Saturday Night Live that gets overused due to a lack of fresh comedic premises. I need a Church Lady. (Am I dating myself? Hey, I could have said Land Shark.)

So, with that in mind, welcome to the first edition of “Sane vs. Crazy.” For those of you who may be a little slow to grasp the concept, a statement that seems logical will be dubbed to be “sane” while a statement that seems wackier than a medicated Star Jones will be deemed “crazy.” Let’s begin with a midseason baseball edition.

1. The balance of power in the AL Central will shift. The popular perception is that the Detroit Tigers, owners of the best record in baseball, will fall apart and that the White Sox will repeat as AL Central champions and likely American League champs as well. Not so fast. The Tigers aren’t a fluke — they are sitting on 60 wins in what is undoubtedly the best division in baseball, and they have the right mix of veterans (I-Rod, Kenny “The Gambler” Rogers) and young stars-in-the-making (Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman) to keep it going. Not to mention manager Jim Leyland has the experience to keep this group on the right path. I like the Tigers to hold off Chicago and win the division. Statement is “crazy.”

2. We will be spared another postseason of Yankees/Red Sox hype. See above. While either team would be an automatic candidate to represent the weaker NL in the World Series, in the AL, one of these teams is going to be sitting home come October. I’m guessing the Red Sox will be the unfortunates, as the Yankees lineup is just a little bit scarier. What will be fun is watching the close AL East race with the knowledge that neither team will have the Wild Card to fall back on. In fact, by the time Boston and the Yankees play again — a FIVE-game series starting August 18 — the White Sox should have the Wild Card all but wrapped up. Baseball fans will be enjoying an October free of Yankee/Red Sox hype, while Star Jones will be enjoying her first October getting the employee discount at Dress Barn. Statement is “sane.”

3. The Brewers will trade Carlos Lee. The 30-year-old oufielder is a free agent at the end of the season and he will demand big bucks to stay in a Brewers uniform. The team has two options — sign Lee to a sizable contract or trade him to avoid simply losing him to free agency. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin have said they will not trade Lee if the team is in the playoff picture. Problem is, the Brewers play in the soft NL where nearly everyone — save probably the woeful Pirates — are in the playoff picture. Attanasio doesn’t want to risk the fan rebellion that would surely come if the popular All-Star was sent packing, so the team will keep him on. Unfortunately, Lee isn’t that swift a defender (as anyone who watched him try to run down Troy Glaus’s double in the All-Star Game can attest), and playing in the NL, the Brewers obviously can’t assign him as the DH. Keeping Lee eliminates the Brewers’ best chance to stock up on sorely needed pitching prospects or land the next Weeks or Fielder. But they’ll do it anyway. Statement is “crazy” but should be “sane.”

4. Erika will win Big Brother All-Stars. The Pilates Instructor from BB4 is smart enough to keep her mouth shut and avoid being targeted, unlike many of the other larger-than-life houseguests. My other pick, should Erika falter, is Jase. The newly-matured family man has grown remarkably calmer and wiser since BB5 just two years ago. Statement is “sane” but blogger is “crazy” for including it in a sports blog.

What To Watch For In Tonight’s All-Star Game
July 11, 2006

It’s difficult to predict who is going to make an impact in the MLB All-Star Game. Since everyone in the world (literally) gets a vote, the rosters are excessively deep. Then, since the managers understandably feel pressure to get everybody some playing time, some All-Stars might come and go faster than CBS’s Tuesday Night Book Club.

Of the three Brewers, Carlos Lee certainly has the best chance to make a splash, as it’s not difficult to imagine him jacking one out of PNC Park. Unfortunately, the reason he has a good chance to go yard is primarily because by the time he gets a chance to bat in the middle innings, the American League will probably have the game put away, and the AL pitchers won’t necessarily be throwing with their customary focus.

If the NL can keep it close, I like Brewers pitcher Chris Capuano to help his team’s cause. On the flip side, if the game is close in the late innings, I think all NL fans (and Brewers fans in particular) will be leery of an appearance by Brewers closer Derrick Turnbow — looking down the NL pitchers roster, Turnbow’s ERA just sticks out like a drunk Jackie Chan attending a concert.

Besides the Brewer All-Stars, there are a few players I’ll be rooting for: Kansas City pitcher Mike Redman, whose selection singlehandedly has caused every baseball journalist in the country to question the All-Star voting process. While I agree with some of the complaints, it would be nice to see Redman shut a few guys down and shut a few mouths in the process. I also hope that Minnesota Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano gets a chance to prove why he should have been voted into the game and not added as a last-minute replacement. I fear though that the rookie may crack under the spotlight and not have his best stuff. Doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be there.

Most of all, like all baseball fans, I’m hoping for a good, close game. But with the AL’s dominance this season in interleague play, I don’t expect it. But the NL may be ready to surprise: With everyone referring to the NL as the “junior varsity” league this year, Phil Garner’s squad isn’t only playing for home field in the 2006 World Series, it’s playing for pride and for the respect of the league. And who knows: The last time the NL won, the game was in Pittsburgh. Maybe the city is good luck for the NL. It certainly hasn’t been for the Pirates.

The Loves of Bill Simmons & The All-Stars That Really Matter
July 7, 2006

Bill Simmons Wants You To Know He Really Loves The World Cup. No, Really.

Lots of people have blogs. Heck, even I have one. You’re reading it right now. (Well, you won’t be for long if I don’t start writing something remotely interesting . . .)

No one can read every blog or on-line column (when would you have time for Youtube or other pages I can’t mention on a family Web site?), but one that I try to read regularly is Bill’s Simmons “Sports Guy” entries on ESPN.com’s Page 2. I’m not ashamed to say that I try to emulate his hilarious and impressively informative mixture of sports and pop culture here on Channel 3000.

At least until I saw one of his most recent columns titled “Why I Love The World Cup.” I initially assumed that the headline would be exposed as acidly sarcastic after reading the column, but I was wrong. After reading dozens upon dozens of Simmons’s entries which hilariously eviscerate seemingly every sports figure and television show known to man, I was shocked at this one which was lavish with praise and gushingly gushy without even a trace of wink wink nudge nudge irony. And to make matters worse, the column was about SOCCER!

Well, I simply won’t accept that Simmons made such declarations as “there isn’t a more electric moment than a World Cup goal” or “these games feel like life or death” without being strong-armed by the mucky-mucks at ABC/ESPN, who, looking to offset the bad ratings and lousy word-of-mouth that World Cup soccer invariably generates (especially this year with the Americans’ poor showing), must have solicited the article, knowing of Simmons’s strong hip factor.

Proof that Simmons is faking it here I believe can be found in his statement that he is “a World Cup fan, not a soccer fan.” What? Isn’t that like saying you’re a fan of Paul McCartney but you hate every song he’s ever written or performed? That statement only makes sense when you consider the far lesser financial investment that ABC/ESPN has in other configurations of soccer (like Major League Soccer) when compared to the World Cup.

Maybe one day, when released from the corporate clutches of ABC/ESPN, Simmons will denounce this vile column. Until then, I remain a broken shell of a man. I mean, who’s left to disappoint me? Will Bob Dylan suddenly license music for Victoria’s Secret ads? Oh, wait a minute . . .

The All-Stars

What about those All-Stars? No, not the players selected for the MLB All-Star Game! Who cares about that? I’m talking about those Big Brother All-Stars!

Personally, I was happy with most of the houseguests who were picked, both by the fans and by the producers. I would have swapped BB2’s Bunky for BB1’s Chicken George, and BB3 winner Lisa for BB5 runner-up Diane, but these are minor quibbles. At least the unbearable Ivette (the sole BB6 nominee left off) and the dimwitted “Cowboy” were sent home.

I also applaud the nominations of Danielle and Alison for the first eviction — those two made the grave early mistake of targeting themselves by aggressively pursuing strategy way too early in the game. It might have made more sense for co-HOHs Jase and Janelle to target the Will/Mike Boogie alliance, but those two are damn entertaining, so hopefully they’ll stick around for a while. (Mike Boogie’s comment about Chicken George being a minnow among sharks was the premiere episode’s best line. Seriously, Chicken George is back? A guy who thinks calling himself “Snoop Chicken Foot” and rapping about Julie Chen SIX YEARS after being booted off the show is still funny?)

My early pick to win it all is BB4’s Erika. She seems capable of (in reality-show speak), flying under the radar long enough to outlast the battle of egos that will destroy the other houseguests.
Oh, and about those other All-Stars? Can you take seriously a All-Star game in which the league’s current batting champ (Joe Mauer) is only a reserve player? Or when a leading candidate for both rookie of the year and the AL Cy Young (Francisco Liriano) is completely left off the team? Or when a silly rule requiring every team to be represented leads to other more deserving players staying home? Or when some of the game’s best players routinely come up with suspicious injuries around the All-Star break that causes them to miss the game? Neither can I.

Brewers vs. Twins: Who Laughs Last?
July 5, 2006

Try as I might, I can’t hide the fact that I’m from Minnesota. I was born in Saint Paul and lived in the Twin Cities until I started college at UW-Madison. I left Minnesota before the Gophers could spark much interest in me, but I grew up and have remained a Twins fan and a Vikings fan.

Now stay with me. Don’t click over to that Lucy Pinder site just yet.

For many people, being a fan of Minnesota sports teams means you hate Wisconsin sports teams and vice-versa, but that’s not how the wolves who raised me brought me up. In particular, I have a great deal of fondness for the Milwaukee Brewers. Just not when they are playing the Twins.

I’m providing this context as prelude to something I noticed this weekend. Call it a vibe, call it a feeling, call it a hunch, call it what you will, but support and excitement for the Milwaukee Brewers seems to be higher than ever before, despite the team again struggling to stay at .500 or better for most of the year.

I noticed this because last weekend during the Brewers-Twins interleague series, I chose to wear my Twins cap to Milwaukee’s Summerfest. I was immediately greeted by a shuttle driver who only half-jokingly informed me that “We don’t have room for Twins fans.” (I’m convinced that his crappy driving was specifically designed to make me carsick.) Once at Henry Maier Festival Park, I was greeted with more dirty looks and groans of disapproval than even a shady guy like me is used to. The character who sold my wife a T-shirt asked if I was from Minnesota in a tone that suggested he could only hate Minnesota more if it was a breeding ground for Al-Qaeda operatives.

At the same time, I was surprised at the number of people wearing Brewers hats, shirts, and yes, tattoos. Jerry Douglas, the opening act at the Paul Simon concert, received a thunderous ovation when Simon — right before the two performed “The Boxer” — remarked on the Brewers cap Douglas was wearing. After not being able to forget the Brewers all day, this mass display of adulation for Ned Yost’s team seemed a fitting close to my Summerfest trip. (Although I noted that Douglas is from Ohio and probably just wore the Brewers cap to ingratiate himself with the crowd. Not a bad idea for an opening act trying to sell CDs.)

Toward the end of the Simon set, I checked my cell phone to learn that the Twins had beaten the Brewers 10-7. Minnesota would go on to sweep the Brewers following a masterful performance by pitching sensation Francisco Liriano in the third game. But despite the good feelings in Minnesota about the smoldering hot Twins, the Brewers, in a classic example of the tortoise beating the hare, may have the last laugh in the border battle: The Twins are ten games over .500 but still nine games out in the AL Central and seven-and-a-half games out of the AL wild card. The Brewers, fortunate to be playing in the weaker NL, are currently one game under .500 but only four-and-a-half games out in the NL Central and only two-and-a-half games out of the NL wild card.

Seems like Brewer fans, and not Twins fans, may have a better reason to wear their team’s cap come September and October.