Saturday, January 30, 2010

Good One, Mr. President

I'm not sure how many of you out there are watching the Georgetown-Duke men's college basketball game on CBS right now -- I'm sure most of you are waiting for the big showdown between Northwestern and Michigan State later tonight -- but if you were watching you may have caught this amusing exchange between Verne Lundquist and President Barack Obama, who took a few minutes away from governing to take in this afternoon's game and sit down with Lundquist and Clark Kellogg.

Barry has made it very clear that he is a big sports fan, and doesn't appear to be afraid of throwing his weight around on the topic. The three watched a clip of Obama practicing with UNC earlier this year and after watching the President miss a layup after driving the lane Lundquist asked him, "It's obvious that you're lefthanded, but can you go to your right, Mr. President?"

"Well, I met with the Republican House Caucus yesterday."

Say what you will about his governing. At least he's got a sense of humor.

Friday, January 29, 2010

So Here's An Interesting Tid Bit

One of my most shameless attributes is that I will miss no opportunity to glorify my favorite teams. Given that I like the Mets and the Knicks, these opportunities are sometimes quite rare, but today I came across this piece of informations which, somehow, I had never realized.

The New York Giants are the only NFC team to make multiple Super Bowl appearances in the last decade.

Did anyone realize that? I, and I pay more attention to this team than is healthy, somehow had absolutely no idea. Fortunately, though, even in a brutal season like this one, I will still have this fact to fall back on. Of course, dubbing the G-Men the "Team of the 00's" is probably foolhardy. For those who remember, 2003 and 2004 were painfully brutal campaigns, and the Giants only made the postseason six of the ten years of the decade. This is a good clip, but by no means on the level of, say, the Patriots, Colts or, well, Eagles.

Given that the Eagles still haven't won an NFL Championship since 1960, however, it'd be hard to give them that title either. Unless Chuck Bednarik comes out of retirement that streak is probably sticking.

In any event, with no football games this weekend -- unless you consider the Pro Bowl a football game -- I'm glad I can dig up chestnuts like these. Some of you may be quick to remind me that the Giants got their keisters handed to them in Super Bowl XXXV, and they did, but they also won Super Bowl XLII in the greatest fucking game ever fucking played.

At least in my mind.

Given that it's currently Friday night and none of you will probably be perusing this site until Monday morning, if then, I've decided to take some time deciding what story to post next, but I promise you all, Monday morning you will have another exciting tale about my life to read.

In the meantime, entertain yourself by watching tonight's Devils-Maple Leafs game -- because hockey's awesome even if you don't want to believe it -- or by watching career highlights of Kurt Warner, who announced his retirement today. I won't go into too much detail on his career, mostly because his years with the Giants were outstandingly forgettable, but if Warner doesn't make the Hall of Fame, it will be a total joke. Besides, don't you all want to see him thank Jesus just one more time during his induction speech?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Team No. 31 is Officially On the Docket

I've got some exciting news for all of you, and no, it's not the Blackhawks-Sharks Preview I have up this morning.

Yes, that's right. The next step on the journey is officially scheduled for Feb. 8, 2010, when I and the painfully coerced Bert Wyman will drive down to Philadelphia to see the Flyers face off with the Devils at Wachovia Center.

After all, I figure it's the least Bert owes me after I froze my ass off at the Jets-Bengals game earlier this month with him.

The showdown will be the 31st different team I've seen play a home game and so I'm officially calling it the "Mike Piazza Game", though I'm not sure how comfortable I am associating a hero of my teenage years with Philadelphia. I'll find some way to manage.

It will be my first new team of the year, which is good progress since I'm trying to get to six or so new ones before 2011. Of course, that will all depend on how my schedule breaks down. 2010 is already looking like an awfully expensive and busy year.

Stay tuned, though, a full update and a story will be up.... eventually.

In other news, I think we're going to get a pretty strong indicator of just how powerful Sports Illustrated is soon. And by that I mean the New Orleans Saints officially have no chance of winning the Super Bowl. Yes, the SI Cover Jinx doesn't always come through, but after knocking off the two teams featured on regional covers on Championship Sunday, this irrational superstition looks like it's on a roll. Fortunately for Drew Brees and company, there is still another issue set to come out before Super Bowl XLIV kicks off. I would expect a lot of people in the Bayou to hope their native son, Peyton Manning, gets some cover love before the big game.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Goodbye College, Hello Cleveland

Originally written January 14, 2010

The last few days of college are a bizarre time, particularly for those of us who are without a job or any real idea of where they’re going in life. I had no job lined up and prospects were pretty scarce. I applied to 100 or so over the final few weeks as I wrote my last papers and began packing up. Most of the calls had come from news clipping organizations I had little interest in working for that would have required me to be in the office by 4:30 a.m. on some days. Beyond that the ways to find a job writing in sports in New York without having ever actually interned for a major newspaper seemed few and far between.

I believe it was my stepmother, Audrey, who asked me what I wanted to do for a living the day I graduated. The latter of my two commencements ended at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston and as we went through the obligatory picture taking session by Ryan Field, Northwestern’s football stadium, she posed the question.

“I want to watch baseball,” I said. “For money.”

It was always good for a laugh, and yet I wasn’t particularly sure where I’d go. I had tried my best to balance mailing out resumes, packing my things, and squeezing in all the necessary goodbyes and drunken memories that the final two weeks after finals provide you with. Those goodbyes are tricky. You’re not sure which of the people you’ve spent the last four years with you’re going to still be in contact with and who you need to say goodbye to for good.

And there are some.

But you can’t afford to be too schmaltzy or else your life will never get where it’s going. You just have to take it in stride. And it ain’t easy. But you manage.

I tried not to let it on as I packed my room and scrambled to sell furniture that I wouldn’t be taking back east, but jobless me was a nervous wreck and what laid ahead was a mystery. Fortunately, I had one carrot to distract me from the uncertainty before my mother and I caravanned two cars full of four years back to New Jersey.

For me, I generally would drive from my childhood home in Millburn to Evanston in one shot if I were by myself – all twelve hours of it. My mother couldn’t stand to sit in the car that long in one day and whenever I made the trip with her, we would break it in two, often staying at the same Hampton Inn in Milan, Ohio that had a rather pungent textile factory across the highway from it. That wasn’t always bad, as we would usually eat at the same restaurant, a BBQ grill joint called the Roadhouse, which was the type of place that served you your rack of baby back ribs with a side of 5 oz. grilled sirloin.

But for the trip home my mother had suggested that we instead stay in a nice hotel in Cleveland and treat ourselves. The actual hotel itself that we stayed in was of little interest or import to me, but I did notice one thing that was.

The Indians were in town.

That sealed the deal. When I originally asked my mother if the Indians were in town she told me she had already checked and that they were not playing the Mets. Of course, given that they play in two different leagues, the chances that the Mets would be there that week were scant anyway, but Cleveland was playing Philadelphia. At the very least I could root against the rival Phils. I decided to be the generous one and buy the tickets – after all, my parents had just paid for four years at a private college, I could give my mom a break – and I found two seats in row GG not far behind home plate for the Wednesday evening tilt on June 20, 2007.

And the seats came out to a mere $50 each. I love being impressed by ticket prices that aren’t in New York.

Of course, before the game came there was still the nasty business of graduating, writing my final papers, doing my drinking, saying my goodbyes, packing for home and selling my furniture. The furniture would be the most immediately impactful as I slept on my own bed one night before selling it, then slept on the bed my roommate had left before selling that, and then spent the last night sleeping on our disgusting couch.

The abruptness of the transition is confusing if for no other reason than that you’re not always sure how sentimental to get. Luisa had come over to give me company while I packed my final things and when she left nonchalantly said, “Well, it was fun going to college with you.” It seems simple, but sometimes you aren’t sure how serious to take these things, particularly since in the case of Luisa, we have kept close contact since graduating and college no longer appears to be the basis of our friendship so much as one chapter of it.

This is the case with a number of my close friends, but not so much with others. Knowing who will and won’t stay a part of your life is probably the most uncertain and difficult aspect of transitioning to the real world. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I'm doing this: To have an excuse to go around the country and keep in touch with all of them.

Still, at the time I was far more preoccupied with packing and getting on the road quickly on the 20th. The game itself was the night that we were leaving Evanston, which meant we’d have to make a quick exit to ensure we made it to Cleveland in time for the 7 o’clock start. This would be delayed by, as so often happens between children and their mothers at moments of heightened stress, a fight. In this case it revolved around a parking ticket my mother had gotten while we were loading up the cars that morning and my juvenile insistence that she simply ignore it so we could hit the road.

With the city backlog, my logic went, they’d never know the difference.

This, of course, did not sit well with my mother who made a point to go to the town municipal center and pay the ticket. Considering town hall was next to my apartment building, this wasn’t too big of a diversion.

After getting on the road, cooler heads began to prevail and we left one car behind the other on Lake Shore Drive, where I got my last looks at the city I had called home for four years. As I teetered between lead-footed and sentimental we eventually found our way onto I-80 and, with 90 minutes or so to spare, pulled into the Hilton Garden Inn in Cleveland.

My mother and I checked in and headed to the stadium just a few blocks away. Jacobs Field, or the Jake as it is colloquially known, is often considered one of the best parks in the Majors. This doesn’t come from any sort of trendsetting architecture. The modern trend of faux-retro parks still pulls its impetus from Camden Yards, which beat the Jake to opening day by a few years.

But indeed the intimacy and sight lines are among the best in baseball. To me, however, the most striking architectural feature is outside the stadium. The building’s structure features visible steel beams all around its exterior that give the appearance of an exoskeleton holding the stands up. What was most fascinating to me, however, is that the skeleton and its older style stadium lights are painted a bright white, making them stand out and giving the building an individualized and unique appearance that straddles the line between antiquated and futuristic.

The inside has a few features that might make it seem noteworthy, but nothing overwhelms anything else – with, perhaps, the notable exception of the 149-foot long video screen in left field. At the time it became my favorite park in the Majors. I can’t begin to imagine how much more pleasant it is to watch a game there than it was to do so in the Indians’ former home, the monstrous Cleveland Municipal Stadium, which housed 74,438 fans as opposed to the relatively cozy 43,515-seat capacity of the Jake.

I decided, as I often do, to take a stroll around the park and view it from different angles and see what it has to offer. As I continued my walk I happened upon Heritage Park, a circular museum dedicated to the Indians’ hall of famers and major moments that resides behind the batters eye in center field. Apparently it had just opened that year, but regardless, I hadn’t seen a hall of fame section that was quite so aesthetically pleasing in its subtle appearance and seamlessly weaved into the style of the ballpark. As I’ve visited more parks that have added their own hall of fame sections, I’ve enjoyed seeing the different orientations, but this one teaches you about the club’s history while still maintaining its presence as part of a stadium.

And speaking of being part of a stadium, the outfield concourse at Jacobs Field features a beer garden. Yes, these are common now, but this was the first time I had spotted it, or perhaps as a 21-year-old this was the first time I took note. I don’t much like drinking at ball games. If you have too much the whole experience moves too quickly and you lose track of what’s happening on the field. In the case of baseball, I understand this is preferable for some people but I’m far more concerned with seeing the tension that develops between the pitcher and the batter, and having five too many beers in me makes that infinitely more difficult to keep track of. Regardless, I suppose having the open air beer garden is necessary considering Jacobs Field was paid for by a 15-year sin tax on cigarettes and alcohol.

I will say this, though. The fans at the beer garden certainly looked like they were having fun. In the end that, I suppose, is the key to the experience.

And speaking of beer, as I walked back to my seat I passed by a stand that was selling Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat on tap. Sunset Wheat, as any of my close friends could tell you, is my favorite beer on the planet. It’s like candy. The big problem with this lies in the fact that Leinenkugel’s, based in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, hadn’t spread much out east. In fact, I had never seen it east of Chicago in my lifetime, to the point that I had made sure to buy a six pack of it before driving back to New Jersey much like I had always made sure to bring a healthy supply of Yeungling back to Evanston.

I don’t really buy beer at baseball games, both because it distracts me and because, usually, it’s outrageously expensive. I don’t need to spend $9.75 on a Miller Lite. But with the prospects of never seeing Sunset Wheat when I returned to the east coast staring me in the face, I bit the bullet – it was only seven dollars – and bought myself a beer to take back to my seat.

Ironically, I would see a six pack of it at the Kings Supermarket in Short Hills, New Jersey a week later. Leinie’s, evidently, had chosen to expand just in time.

The park was more than 50% full that night, but I was still surprised with the turnout after being accustomed to always seeing a full house on TV. In fact, Cleveland sold out the first 455 games at the Jake, a Major League record at the time, which is commemorated with “455” being among the retired numbers that hang against the brick walls in the right field portion of the upper deck.

Granted it was a week night, but the night I was there, the official attendance was a mere 53.7% of capacity at 24,278. For me, however, the average crowd didn’t take away from the game, which, for its first 5 ½ innings was a rather taut affair. Cleveland and Philadelphia had been tied, 2-2, leading up to the sixth inning, when the Phillies took a 4-2 lead courtesy of a two-run homer by Rod Barajas. The Indians responded in the bottom half of the inning by scoring eight runs and having eight consecutive batters reach base to put the game away. C.C. Sabathia pitched six innings to earn the win, becoming the first Indian to get 10 wins in seven consecutive seasons since Addie Joss turned the trick for Cleveland a century earlier from 1902-1909.

As a rule I will almost never leave a game early, particularly if I’m in a new stadium. My diligence paid off in the top of the ninth inning when Shane Victorino came to bat for Philadelphia with two outs. Victorino had two strikes on him when he fouled off a high pitch that banged off the façade of the second deck and dropped down directly in front of my mother and I.

I never will understand why we scrape so violently and irrationally for a dinged up piece of cowhide, but there I was diving to the ground with my sole competition a glasses bedecked woman who appeared to be in her mid-30s. The woman may have been closer to the ball.

But I don’t care. I got it. It was mine. After two decades of watching baseball games and dozens of close calls, at long last, I had caught a foul ball.

The man sitting to my right asked if he could look at it, and perhaps I was too used to trusting everyone in the Midwest as I handed it over to him. Fortunately, he, too, was a trusting non-east coaster. He glanced at the black scuff mark left by Victorino’s bat, handed it back to me and, with a smile, said, “Congratulations.”

On the way out of the park my mother anxiously told me to stop staring at the ball as we walked back to our hotel for fear someone would steal it. Once we returned, I began telling the world, which seemed far less excited about it than I was, before finally getting some rest for the next day’s drive home.

24 hours later, I pulled into our driveway behind my mother, walked inside, and that was it.

College was over.

I remember the morning after my bar mitzvah dealing with the depression that comes after the passing of a major life event. I was older and more capable of handling it now, but this was far more daunting. I now had to find a way to move on. I had to find something to do.

My first post-college job interview was with an HR person at Time Inc, who was testing my worthiness to be employed at I admit that I was unprepared. At the very least I should have gone to the website that morning to familiarize myself with it. Of course, that problem didn’t really prepare me for the woman’s first question:

“If an unexpected occurrence were to arise in the office, what contingency would you have prepared for that paradigm?”

I stumbled my way through some nonsense response that showed how unprepared I was and probably cost me the job immediately – I was ushered out of the office shortly afterwards – but what I wanted to say to her was, “You know people don’t talk like that in the real world, right?”

After killing time with my friend Matt for a few hours, I headed to Chelsea Market to interview at for the position of a night shift web producer. The atmosphere was far more relaxed and much less formal, and the first thing I had to do was take a written test on baseball trivia. At the very least, even if I blew another interview, at least I’d have some fun.

Afterwards, I went home to continue my post college malaise as I tried to find direction and, most importantly, a source of income, uncertain of what the immediate future would bring.

Two nights later I got an e-mail from the night production manager at I would be watching baseball for money.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The SI Cover Jinx Lives

I think it's hard to be surprised by the fact that the Saints and Colts will be facing off in the Super Bowl. And no, that's not because both the Jets and Vikings were on the cover of Sports Illustrated in their respective regions this week -- though I wouldn't entirely discount that I suppose.

New Orleans and Indianapolis were simply the best teams in the league for most of the year, even if both slowed down near the end of the season. Regardless, I do have some sympathy for the Jets, who, after they had taken a 17-6 lead late in the first half, I really started to believe they were going to win the game. But in an eerie similarity to their last AFC Championship appearance in 1998, one big pass play by a future Hall of Fame quarterback turned the tide for good.

As for the NFC, this was a great game marred by a drawn-out, booth-review and penalty-flag filled overtime that was fairly unsatisfying. For me, however, the highlight -- beyond Brett Favre throwing another pick on a potential conference-winning drive -- was when Joe Buck pointed out that the Vikings hadn't won an NFC Championship Game since their last Super Bowl appearance.

Keen insight.

So who's going to win Super Bowl XLIV? Hell, I don't know. Give me 13 days to think about it.

In the meantime, I hope you all can stand the wait. I'll have a full-fledged story up for you all tomorrow.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's Championship Sunday

As the Jets and Colts battle for AFC Supremacy, and the Saints and Vikings do likewise in the NFC, it is important that we remember and honor something that football simply wouldn't be the same without.

That's right.

Today is the 75th anniversary of the beer can. Few things have changed humanity quite so profoundly.

Oh, and I'm taking the Jets and the Saints. Everyone enjoy your football.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Working In the Madhouse on Madison

Originally written July 2, 2009

At the front of the United Center on Madison Ave in Chicago, there is a statue of Michael Jordan making one of his legendary dunks with the ball palmed in his right hand. It’s a truly remarkable statue, and one that I’m particularly fond of, partially because it reminds me of an Arena that I wound up spending a profound amount of time at during my senior year of college, and partially because the innocent defenders Jordan is dunking over don’t look so much like basketball players as they do hellish demons.

It is peculiar and yet a reasonable metaphor, as it presents Jordan not so much as an athlete but as a god-like figure commanding his kingdom and those beneath him. In a sense, this is exactly what Jordan was. He was the single most dominant basketball player ever. Yes, there are those that would argue for players like Wilt Chamberlain or perhaps more legitimately, Bill Russell. I was not alive to see those legends of the hardcourt, but for my money, his Airness was king. He was a brilliant and unstoppable force while his Bulls took six NBA titles in eight seasons, and while those titles wouldn’t have come without the quality supporting cast around him – players such as Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Luc Longley, B.J. Armstrong, Dennis Rodman – there was no man in the history of the game that you’d rather have on your side with a Championship on the line.

One of my great regrets as a sports fan is that I never saw Jordan play in person. The closest I would come was seeing the building that might not have existed without him. For decades the Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks called the ancient Chicago Stadium home, but in the mid-1990s, the outmoded building was replaced by the sparkling new United Center, or the UC as I would come to call it. Reaching the arena by car is somewhat confusing if you don’t do it every day, and it’s not in the greatest neighborhood in the city, but those issues aside, it is a spectacular place to watch basketball or hockey. It is deceptively large, with capacity reaching well over 22,000 seats, and it is filled with the sports bars and luxury boxes that have come to dot the landscape of the modern basketball or hockey arena.

My first visit came on January 17, 2004, when I noticed in the morning that my torturous Knicks were in town and found two nosebleed seats available on the Bulls’ website. Josh Sherman, a friend of mine from high school that also attended Northwestern was my first thought to try and bully into going to the game with me. Josh, a tortured Knicks fan himself, decided to tag along, but noted that his roommate, Andy, would also be attending the game with his father in courtside seats. Not only could we go to the game, but Andy and his father were also willing to give us a ride.

Josh debated for quite some time whether or not to charge his cell phone and then opted against it, assuming there would be more than enough power in it to last the night. This would be put to the test later on in the evening, but first Andy’s father took us all out to dinner, a particularly generous move on his part considering he had never met me before, and that he seemed rather shocked that Josh and I both loved Latrell Sprewell. After eating we got to the stadium where Josh and I found we were in the very last row of the entire arena, in the corner of the court no less. Our seats were so far away that we were actually in folding chairs rather than typical stationary stadium seating.

Despite the seating arrangements, the view was perfectly fine, as the Knicks pulled out a surprising victory, sending Josh and I home happy amidst a sea of disappointed Chicagoans. Our mood would drop moments later, however, when Josh, after finding that his cell phone had died in the second quarter, found out from Andy that a pair of courtside seats sat empty the entire game and we could have moved down had he only been able to get in contact with us.

Shit happens.

Interestingly, in four more years of living in Chicago, I would only attend one more Bulls game, a group affair with my friend Evan’s softball team, where I spent most of the time dazzled by how easily Houston’s Yao Ming covered the entire court in what couldn’t have been more than five strides. I would have plenty of time with the Blackhawks however, whom I first saw from the top bowl of the stadium on January 13, 2006, as Blake Kluger, with whom I had traveled to St. Louis to see the Mets play the Cardinals four months earlier, my friends Abe Rakov , Pat Dorsey and I took the absurdly long L ride to the UC to see Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. At the time, the Blackhawks offered student tickets in the last rows of the stadium for just $8. I took this opportunity to break a $100 bill my father had given me for Hanukkah, completing a quest I had set off on to break the large bank note with the smallest purchase possible. Our seats were so high up and the Blackhawks were so bad at the time, that the highlight for me was getting the Chicago Blackhawks Mr. Potato Head giveaway as we walked in.

Little did I know at the time that I would be watching quite a bit of Blackhawks hockey just eight months later, when I applied for and accepted a web internship with the team. I had been faced with a quandary before my senior year of college. Fortunately for my parents and unfortunately for me, I had enough credits from high school to fill out an entire quarter of classes at Northwestern. The upshot of this was that my parents made it abundantly clear to me that if I didn’t want to take a quarter off my senior year, I could pay for the classes myself.

With that, I spent summer applying for internships in sports media in the Chicagoland area and found myself with a few options. That summer I had been toiling away as an intern for NBC Sports and Olympics. Eventually, I settled on a schedule that had me splitting time between working in on-air promotions at a regional sports channel called Comcast SportsNet Chicago, working on the web for the Chicago Blackhawks and working at nights as an editor for the Daily Northwestern.

Despite not taking any classes, burning the candle at both ends – and in the middle – took its toll on me. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to falling asleep at Comcast SportsNet’s offices more than once, something not lost on my superior, who would tell this to his brother, whom I would also wind up working with, some years later. The balancing act would be a tricky one, but one that was entirely worthwhile.

My start with the Blackhawks would be a rocky, however. On my second day on the job, my boss let me go home early only for me to find that my car had a flat tire. I spent three hours in the United Center parking lot on an 80-degree day waiting for AAA to show up and produce absolutely no ability to fix it. Despite that one particularly long afternoon, I would eventually learn a great deal about the sports industry, and having the experience on my resume set me up well for my first two jobs out of college.

Also, it was really, really cool.

You always need to exude an air of professionalism when you’re representing an organization bigger than yourself, in this case a professional sports team. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit 21-year-old me felt like a big shot when he got to flash his employee photo ID and go through all the doors with restricted access listed on them. I got to prowl the bowels of the United Center on game nights as I watched and updated from the press box, grabbed viewer questions for the Hawks’ radio commentators to answer during the second intermission and went into the visiting locker room to get quotes after each game. I have fond memories of getting confused, if not nasty looks from Chris Pronger, and holding a tape recorder to Mike Modano, Roberto Luongo, Jacques Lemaire, Barry Trotz and Wayne Gretzky, among others.

The most stressful night for me was when the Mets, trailing 3-2 going into Game 6 of the 2006 NLCS, were trying desperately to hold off the Cardinals in the ninth inning. At the time Billy Wagner was nailing down the save, I was following the tense final moments in a flurry of text messages from my friend Tania in one hand, while my other hand was holding a tape recorder to Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. Some might argue that my priorities were not in order. They’d probably be right.

Still I came to know the UC like the back of my hand. I shared many awkward elevator rides with players such as Michal Handzus and Martin Havlat, and managed to pull strings where I got prime seats for my roommates and my girlfriend at the time. To this day, I’m still pretty sure she and her roommate were most excited by the fights. In fact, I recall getting them tickets for one game and looking down from the press box at their section during on-ice altercation to find her roommate pumping her fist and cheering enthusiastically.

The interesting thing about working for the Blackhawks was, for me, that despite not caring for them at all before my internship, I developed a fondness for the club despite the fact that, well, they weren't very good. With the aging Bill Wirtz holding the purse strings, the Hawks weren’t competitive and drew a mediocre crowd any night the Red Wings weren’t in town. Wirtz had even prevented home games from being broadcast on TV for fear that it would dissuade Chicagoans from making a trip to the arena. The front office staff was smaller than most and even those who were employed had to forgo luxuries such as bottled water.

Despite those things, I still enjoyed my time there. Even if I missed a few major moments, such as when the Hawks fired head coach Trent Yawney – I was on a plane flight back from New Jersey at the time – I always felt like I had something to do. Most days at the office were followed by a hockey game at night, and whenever there was downtime, the interns always managed to pass it by playing bubble hockey in the back room. Even though I probably shouldn’t have, I walked around the UC with impunity, catching free shows of the circus during lunch time, or walking around the court when Bulls coaches were taking each other on in pickup games.

Of all the experience I gained at the UC, I would say one discussion with General Manager Dale Tallon, set the bar as far as life lessons would go. Tallon was a friendly and astute hockey man. Long a part of the Blackhawks organization as either a television commentator or part of the front office, he would lead the Hawks from perennial cellar dwellers to Cup contenders after I graduated by drafting players like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and acquiring or signing others such as Patrick Sharp and Cristobal Huet.

I will always remember him fondly as the guy who would playfully jab me in the stomach when we were stuffed into an overcrowded elevator after games on the press level. Most important however, was one day at lunch, when he sat down to eat with all the interns, an unusually common occurrence for someone in such a lofty position. I, as a college senior with little business experience, was washing my dress shirts at my apartment in the washing machine. As well, like most college students, I was prone to bouts of laziness that left my dress shirts with more folds in them than a poker game. On that particular day, Tallon pulled out the seat next to me and grabbed a hold of my sleeve.

“Is this one of those new ‘perma-wrinkle’ shirts?” he asked.

From that day on, my dress shirts have been laundered.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

When You Desperately Want to One-Up SI

I'm not a particularly superstitious man, but my first thought when I saw this week's Sports Illustrated with a screaming Mark Sanchez on the cover was, "The Jets are not winning the Super Bowl."

Though it should be noted that Sports Illustrated released regional covers this week, the SI cover jinx is a long-known old wives tale, and as the Jets shoot for an unlikely berth in their first Super Bowl since the last days of the Johnson administration, this could factor into their heads. Well, actually, the likelihood of that is pretty slim. But either way, for a group of fans as anxious as Jets fans are, it was just about the worst thing they could have seen ahead of this week's AFC Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Just about.

At least that's what I thought until my buddy Bert, who had been trying to convince me to take a spur of the moment trip to Indy this Sunday, showed me an e-mail that was sent to him and, presumably, other Jets fans today containing the image to the right. Now depending on what you read both teams have done this, and yes they are actually selling this already, but how on Earth could any of them feel comfortable tempting fate this way?

I know I wouldn't.

This is just asking for trouble, and with the second-biggest game in franchise history fast approaching, I think most Jets fans wish the NFL Shop could show a little less hubris. If Rex Ryan and company can't knock off the Colts on Sunday, I think they know where to place the blame.

I guess what we can assume from this is the Colts and Saints will probably be facing off in Miami on Feb. 7th.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

This Won't Excite the Rest of You...

Nearly as much as it excites me, but I hit a tremendous groove writing today and the result is that I've zipped through and finished the chapter I'm writing in my book about when I went to Jacobs Field with my mother in 2007.

I'm not sure when a condensed version of it will pop up on here, but for now I'm very satisfied with how the long version that will, theoretically, show up in the eventual book turned out. I get the feeling that this blog is really giving me the impetus to start getting through my writing at a solid rate, though I do have concerns about what happens when I catch up to the present and start running out of things to put up here regularly.

I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. In any event, my New Years resolution was to spend part of every day writing or researching one of my independent book projects and so far, for the most part, I'm sticking to it.

Lastly, for those of you who are keeping track of my sporting ventures, there will be a Dave sighting this Friday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. when the Devils host the Montreal Canadiens. This is hardly a major trip for me. I've been there several times. But if anyone out there is going to be at the game, don't be afraid to say hi.

Have a good day everyone. A new story will be posted in the coming days.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Frozen Tundra

Originally written January 2, 2010

The Peters are a tall family.

To a person modest in stature such as myself, this is the most readily apparent fact about them. Kyle stands somewhere in the neighborhood of 6’4”, his father is in a similar range and his brother, whom I didn’t meet during my stay at their home in Elm Grove, Wisconsin, is apparently somewhere in the neighborhood of 6’7”.

Just to make things clear about how much larger they are than you, their television is a 73-inch HD flat screen which took up the entire wall of their den.

Their distinct height advantage is somewhat intimidating. Ironically, Kyle is anything but. He is confident and sure of himself, but also one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. I first met Kyle during an ill-fated flirtation with Northwestern’s club Ultimate Frisbee team my freshman year of college. I wouldn’t get to know him well until the next year when we took multiple German courses together.

By the time senior year came around, Kyle lived down the block from me on Foster street between Maple and Ridge, and we would occasionally get together to watch football. That said, Kyle and I ran in different social circles, so outside of German classes we didn’t socialize all too often on a regular basis, which left me somewhat surprised at the beginning of senior year, when he called me to let me know that he was going home to Wisconsin to see the Packers-Saints game on September 17, 2006 and would I like his extra ticket.

This was the Packers. This was Lambeau. The Frozen Tundra. The Oldest Football only facility in the NFL. Home of the Ice Bowl. Home of Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Max McGee, Vincent Lombardi. This was it. This was Lombardi in his fedora stalking the sidelines and Starr diving over Jerry Kramer to land the Packers in Super Bowl II. This was the deep baritone voice of John Facenda as the camera pans up on those high green walls on NFL Films Presents. Lambeau Field, the cathedral of the modern National Football League, and a place legendary for its fans, its tailgating, its atmosphere and, perhaps most notably, its championship be-decked tenants.

“Yes, Kyle. I will go.”

This journey wouldn’t be so far, however. Milwaukee is a mere 90-minute drive from the north side of Chicago, so our trip to Kyle’s home in Elm Grove, Wisconsin would be a breeze. Until, that is, I arrived and realized how much shorter I was than everyone else. Not that the intimidation lasted very long. The Peters’ height was outstripped by their hospitality. Not more than five minutes after I walked through the door I had been made aware of the television, my bed for the night, and the stocked fridge to which I was more than entitled.

To say I was overwhelmed by the homespun-ness of the Badger state in my first real excursion outside Madison or Milwaukee was to put it lightly. My first real sign of this was the Sunday morning talk radio decrying the Packers’ signing that week of Koren Robinson. In fact, one talking head called it “the bottom of the barrel”.


Robinson was not terribly far removed from several productive seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, but, you see, he was a drug addict. I, personally, am as straight as an arrow. Perhaps too straight. But I tend to fall on the side of drug users deserving understanding and aid rather than ostracism. However, what shocked me was less the ostracism than the actual offense. Robinson had not been addicted to heroin or cocaine. He had been using marijuana.

It’s not my thing, but I never considered it a particularly dramatic concern either. It had always been my experience that pot smoking happened among a large sector of high school and collegiate America, and I never believed it to be a serious problem.

My cohorts in the car to Green Bay seemed to feel differently.

They also considered Robinson’s pot use to be a significant offense and to chalk it up to Midwest naïvete would be insulting to them. They were all intelligent people. But it was clearly a dramatically different cultural line than I was used to, and a surprising one considering Brett Favre’s own struggle with pain killer addiction, an issue I considered little better.

Perhaps the most telling part of the experience however, came along I-43 when Kyle’s mother was pulled over by a highway trooper for breaking the speed limit. If there ever was a sign of how dedicated the state of Wisconsin is to the Green Bay Packers there is none more obvious than when a representative of the law bends their rules for the Green and Gold. The trooper was a female officer in her mid 30s with short blond hair and a soft Wisconsin accent. Upon staring into the car and noticing the preponderance of Packers jerseys she asked the only question she could, and perhaps the most unnecessary.

“Are you going to the game today?”

After informing her that, yes, we were she did not skirt her responsibilities. She wrote the ticket, but rather than explaining all the complexities, she made quick work of it, telling Kyle’s mother when the ticket was due to be paid by before apologizing to us pulling us over and then wishing the Packers the best of luck and sending us on our way. Surely, there were responsibilities for her to attend to, but on Sundays in the Dairy State the Pack reigns supreme.

Green Bay is a remarkable town. At a population just over 100,000 people, it is by far the smallest city to have an NFL franchise. Compared to the likes of New York, Chicago or even St. Louis it is fairly small and sleepy. When the Packers play just about all of downtown is completely barren with the exception of the stadium and the sports bars surrounding it.

What is most wonderful about Green Bay is that it is the last remaining link to the NFL in its purest foundations. I’m not one of those obnoxious antiquated scribes who refuses to believe anything can match the magic of yesteryear. That is a total fallacy. The NFL today is better than it ever has been in my life.

Still, Green Bay harkens back to when the NFL was a rag-tag group of traveling teams based in smaller Midwest cities. The Frankfort Yellow Jackets, Canton Bulldogs, Duluth Eskimos or Pottsville Maroons would never survive in the modern NFL. The fact that the Packers have managed to stick is a testament to a time when the League was a far less rigidly – and far less financially solvent – version of its current self. Smaller teams had a way into the fledgling League but with the increase in travel costs and the onset of the depression most went the way of the dodo.

And yet the Packers live. Green Bay might have joined them were it not for the efforts of Bears owner George Halas, who heavily campaigned for the city to help fund the construction of Lambeau Field, or City Stadium as it was known when it opened in 1957. While Halas was in one of the biggest cities in America, he felt it was important to have the NFL maintain connections to its small town roots, and with other NFL owners threatening to force the Packers to move to Milwaukee if their stadium conditions weren’t improved in the mid-1950s, Lambeau Field saved the only connection the league has left.

You certainly feel this as you pull into the area around the stadium. While we parked in the Stadium lots, people far and wide were offering their lawns as parking space for a mere $10 a car, a situation you almost never see in professional sports now. As I would find throughout the course of the day, a Packers home game feels like a college game with the rowdiness and single-minded dedication of its fan-base and the tightly packed-in nature of its seating configuration. It is intimate while feeling huge and huge while feeling intimate. It is intense, and crazy from early morning tailgating to the final seconds of the fourth quarter.

It is, in short, the most fun atmosphere I have ever experienced at a sporting event. And the home team didn’t even win.

Who knew watching a team named after a meat packing factory could be so fun?

Of course, this was surprising considering I was disappointed when we pulled into our parking spot and I got my first glimpses of the stadium. Unbeknownst to me, Lambeau had undergone an extensive renovation a few years earlier. The affect on the building was actually fairly minor – much of the construction revolved around the addition of luxury boxes and a large atrium outside the walls of the bowl – but that, right there, is what was missing. The new atrium looks nice, but at its expense was the iconic green walls I had always seen on TV.

No matter. This was Wisconsin and I was still going to get my fill of brats, cheese and beer before entering the stadium regardless of what it looked like. And damnit I was going to like it. It was about two beers and several servings of cheddar cheese and crackers in that I noticed Kyle’s friend Casey had a ring on his finger. Casey, you see, was hitched. This really threw me. Casey was my age and happily married, but he certainly didn’t look much older than, well, a youthful college student.

While this was hardly a significant, or perhaps even unusual development to everyone else there, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for most of the day.

But if Casey had a curveball he had thrown me, I had one to throw him. That came about when a man in the parking lot was trumpeting his tuba to the strains of “Roll Out the Barrel”. For the uninitiated, “Roll Out the Barrel” is a drinking song very popular in the upper Midwest. That is, I must assume, the only place it is popular. In fact, while I have heard it a number of times, I have never heard it anywhere but within the borders of the state of Wisconsin.

According to Wikipedia the song, officially called the “Beer Barrel Polka” is actually a Czech song popular during World War II and that it has popped up in various bits of culture ever since, including Marx Brothers movies, Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” and the regular set lists of Liberace. Of course, I don’t believe any of that for one second. Until I attended a Milwaukee Brewers game in 2001, I had never heard of it before, and after I attended a Wisconsin-Northwestern football game in 2005 I hadn’t heard it since. Perhaps it is actually a Czech song and a huge influx of immigrants from former Soviet Republics to the Midwest following World War II brought their beloved polka with them, popularizing it across Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

More likely, I think, is that people in Wisconsin just really love beer. Well, they do. That much is irrefutable. After all, their baseball team is called the Brewers and they play the song during the seventh inning stretch of every game.

When the strains of “Roll Out the Barrel” were wafting towards us I said to Casey, “You know that no one outside of Wisconsin knows this song, right?”


“I had never heard it before I came here. No one sings it. Ever.”

“Not even at ball games?”

“No, that’s what we have ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ for.”

If Casey had given me something with which to ponder the stability of my reality, I felt sufficiently confident that I had returned the favor.
With kickoff nearing we made our way into Lambeau for the start of the game. The aforementioned addition ran up a $250 million-tab between 2000 and 2003, somewhat jarring when you consider the $960,000 price tag for the entire building in 1956. Still, the atrium is gorgeous, and reminds me very much of the main entrance of Miller Park, while the added luxury suites, restaurants and Packers Hall of Fame no doubt keep Green Bay a financially viable and competitive franchise among the big dogs of the NFL.

Walking in you can feel the history, as if you were at Wrigley or Fenway, and that is because when the Packers made their renovations, they avoided the mistake of the Yankees, who essentially rebuilt the original Yankee Stadium in the 1970s and robbed it of its antiquated mystique. While the Packers may have changed the external appearance of their home, the interior bowl remains relatively unaltered. It is a crowded, packed and thoroughly un-modern grandstand, with tight seating arrangements and poor traffic flow.

And that is what makes it great. Sitting in the stands now one feels as if sitting there during the heyday of Lombardi was no different. Watching Brett Favre and watching Bart Starr must have been markedly similar.
Kyle’s seats were in section 113, a mere 20 rows off the 20 yardline. We would see Favre up close early on, as he hit Greg Jennings for a touchdown in the first quarter. The Packers would jump out to a 13-0 lead. Jennings made the storied Lambeau Leap after scoring.

Of course, the joy would be short-lived. New Orleans overcame three early turnovers by Drew Brees to eventually pull out a 34-27 victory. The last seven of those Packer points came on a touchdown pass to recent Northwestern alum Noah Herron. If memory serves correctly, the three Wildcats among us broke out in a chorus of the Northwestern fight song when Herron broke the plane, but looking back, it’s entirely possible that it was just me.

I spent much of the day glancing at the scoreboard, a time-honored sports tradition these days. With the onset of nationally televised games and fantasy sports, keeping track of the league as a whole has become more important than ever before. And as a result I spend more time than I care to say staring at the out of town scoreboards.

I find few things more fun than the spontaneous, widespread reaction of a crowd watching a dreaded opponent win or lose on the out of town scoreboard. Of course in this particular instance, the entire section would not be cheering with me when I started screaming. This happened when the Giants, who had trailed 24-7, pulled out a remarkable 17-point fourth quarter to force overtime in Philadelphia. If you’ve ever cheered on your own team via the out of town scoreboard in another, entirely unrelated stadium – and I know that is a rather particular set of circumstances – it is a bizarre experience.

When Big Blue tied it, though by what means they had done it I had no idea, I was not silent. Of course, with the Packers trailing by 14 points at the time, much of the section was befuddled by my excitement, causing many confused looks from the crowd around me and one young boy to ask his grandmother why on earth I was so happy.

This theme would continue in the car ride as the Packers postgame announced on the radio that Eli Manning had thrown a 31-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress in overtime to give the Giants the win. As I celebrated in the back of the car, Kyle, his mother, Alec and Casey were all extremely unamused.

For those of you who haven’t been to Lambeau, the one positive you can take from that is you’ve never had to leave it. This is not because it is such a wonderful monument to the gridiron that you want to stay forever – though that is true – but rather, Green Bay, geographically, is pretty far up there and for most fans there is only one way to leave. As a result, traffic stands still.
For a while.

It took more than three hours to make a return trip to Elm Grove that should have been only two.

But even with the traffic, Packers fans always have one trump card that the rest of us don’t. Every Sunday they get to watch a team so deeply connected in the veins of NFL history and the heart of their community. It’s a team that they, themselves in the city of Green Bay own. It is a situation unlike any other in the NFL.

And perhaps best of all, they get to watch them at Lambeau. That, too, is an experience unlike any other.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Giants Have Some Fans Down Under

Some of you may have become aware that in the last year I've developed a bizarre interest in Australian Rules Football, with particular affection being reserved for the Geelong Footy Club.

Yeah, I know, it's easy to like the team that's won two of the last three Grand Finals, but I'm willing to bet you, the reader, didn't even have the slightest clue that that's the case.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Aussie Rules or how it works, you probably will still be after watching this video of Geelong winning the 2009 Grand Final in a thriller over St. Kilda, but if not perhaps it'll spell things out. The sport is actually pretty easy to get the gist of and once you've watched it a few times, pretty damn exciting.

I bring this up to all of you because AFL is slowly but surely starting to have a fairly significant impact on American football. Some of you may recall the punter for the Arizona Cardinals is a big Aussie named Ben Graham. But you probably don't know that Graham made his bread for well more than a decade as the captain of Geelong FC. Graham isn't the only one either. This afternoon Dallas' special teams will hang heavily on the performance of former-Aussie Rules Footy player Mat McBriar. Philadelphia's punter, Sav Rocca, used to troll the ground for Collingwood FC and North Melbourne, and his brother Anthony, also a former footballer for Collingwood, is currently training to follow Sav to the NFL.

I find this pretty interesting -- at one point I thought about trying to pitch a story about AFL being a fertile ground for NFL punting prospects to anyone who will take it -- and at some point I plan on making my way to Australia to see a few matches, and in particular to catch the Cats at Skilled Stadium.

Let me know if you're interested.

I bring this up now however, because I came across this article last night on Geelong's website about Graham's journey to a second consecutive Super Bowl being derailed. His appearance last year was major fodder for the Australian press.

As you see, this picture runs with the story of Graham standing with current Geelong Cats Matthew Scarlett, whose off-the-ground soccer to Gary Ablett set up the Cats' championship-winning goal, and Corey Enright. What I find most curious about this picture though, is that while Graham is on the Cardinals, his friends and former teammates are wearing..... which jerseys? That's right. New York Giants jerseys.

I knew there was a reason I liked this team.

That's all for today. Enjoy the football, I'll have a new story up tomorrow.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Let's Kill Some Time

I don't have much interesting stuff to tell you all today, though I'm planning on posting a story tomorrow, so hopefully that will keep all of you interested.

In the meantime, I wrote another preview, which I'm much happier with than the last one. As well, my friend Crystal turned me on to America Bowl, a dedicated analysis of every President and every Super Bowl. If you love football and happen to fancy yourself a history nerd, it's worth a light-hearted gander.

I'll have something actually worth reading for you all tomorrow.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Mecca of American League Baseball

Originally written June 15, 2009

It bothered me for quite some time that the Cubs were out of town on my first major college visiting trip. When we first had decided to take a jaunt to the Midwest, seeing a game at Wrigley Field, the legendary home of old National League baseball with its ancient grandstands and ivy-covered outfield walls was my biggest priority.

Those priorities had to be reordered after glancing at the schedule, but fortunately, a year later I would not be in a similar spot when my mother and I made a college tour in Boston. Yes, the point of the trip was, ostensibly, to look at universities like Tufts or Harvard – the latter of which I never seriously considered applying to – but for me the entire purpose of the drive to Beantown was to get out to Yawkey Way and make my first visit ever to Fenway Park.

My mother and I checked the schedule after planning our trip and found the Sawx would be hosting the highly mediocre Tampa Bay Devil Rays that week. In a building so rife with history and so low on capacity the seats were appropriately overpriced, but there are only so many opportunities an out-of-towner has to see a hallowed part of baseball history that is mostly unaltered from the day it opened. My mother bought tickets for the two of us as well as her high school boyfriend Richard, who now lived in Massachusetts, and two of his children. For the two of them it was a reunion. For me it was a religious pilgrimage.

We arrived well in advance of our guests and, as I always do when given the opportunity, I stuck along the baseline in the outfield during batting practice in hopes of snagging a baseball. That we, as rational, thinking, complicated psychological creatures go so gaga and go to such desperate lengths to grab a piece of cow hide that is easily purchased at a sporting goods store is always something of a mystery to me, but as I have spent countless hours attempting fruitlessly to snag one, I am in no place to criticize.

On this particular day I came as close to finally bringing a ball home as I ever had before when former light-hitting Mets utility infielder Jason Tyner stepped into the cage for some BP. While I remember Tyner because I enjoyed his scrappy play and quick start when he came up with the Mets, I’m fairly certain that the only people who remember that Jason Tyner ever played Major League Baseball are me, Tyner and my friend Adam Litterman, who could never grasp why his beloved Twins batted Tyner at DH when he had no discernible power stroke whatsoever.

As I waited eagerly and at attention down the leftfield line, Tyner hit a hard ground ball into foul territory and right towards where I had plotted myself against the wall. Sensing my moment for defensive greatness had come I leaned over the wall and put my hat on the ground in hopes of scooping it up as it rolled in. Instead, the ball zipped into my hat, rimmed out and rolled to the unattended nether regions of left field.

While this wasn’t as psychologically damaging as when a middle aged woman pushed me to the ground so she could snag a foul ball I was chasing after at a New Jersey Cardinals game when I was ten years old, I was nonetheless disappointed.

One could possibly assume this was hubris after I had just defended my wearing a Mets hat at Fenway Park to a curmudgeonly usher who grumbled at me upon seeing my headwear.

“May I help you?” I asked, wondering what my offense was.

“A Mets hat?”

“It’s not a Yankees hat.”

“It’s not much better.”

“I was one in 1986. Don’t blame me. Blame Buckner.”

This was the point at which I walked away believing I had cleverly one-upped the Fenway employee. It wasn’t until repeated viewings of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series had shown me I was being a bit presumptuous. While Bill Buckner undeniably bore most of the brunt of Boston’s anguish and outrage after the Red Sox collapsed in Game 6, any astute and knowledgeable student of the game would know that clearly relievers Bob Stanley and Calvin Schiraldi are truly to blame for the Sox squandering their would-be first title since 1918.

While Boston would finally shake the Curse of the Bambino two years later, in absolutely stunning fashion, no less, I became aware that day, April 26, 2002, that my mother was unfamiliar with the Red Sox plight. One of the nice features of Fenway is all of its pennants are posted on the center of the main grandstand behind home plate. As I explained to my mother which ones indicated mere American League titles and which represented World Series Championships, she pieced the math together and realized that Boston hadn’t celebrated a World Champion in baseball in, at that point, 84 years.

I proceeded to explain to her in detail the Curse of the Great Bambino with special mentions to Babe Ruth, Harry Frazee, Bill Buckner, Mookie Wilson and No No, Nanette. This was a profound surprise to my mother who had no clue of any Beantown misery. Of course, by the next time I visited Fenway Park, in May of 2009, Boston’s fortune’s had changed dramatically. The Red Sox had won two championships in the previous five years and were consistently one of the best teams in baseball.

It’s a good thing I made that second trip as I remember a stunningly small amount about the game and the stadium from my first visit. I can probably chalk most of this up to spending most of the night attempting to flirt with my mother’s high school boyfriend’s daughter who had attended the game with us. This was, clearly, an unsuccessful and, given the ties between our parents, an extremely awkward venture, but as an awkward 16-year-old I knew naught for propriety or smooth talk with the ladies. In fact, in the near decade since that game I’m fairly certain that's still the case.

Any time I managed to actually win one over – and it happens once in a while – is a tremendous stroke of luck.

My second visit to Fenway Park very nearly failed to get off the ground, as I had been planning to attend the Mets’ first trip to Boston in three years with my good friend Luisa. Luisa was the first good friend I met in college, as we were grouped together on an outdoor wilderness trip before orientation Freshman year. Ups and downs persist as they do in all relationships, but she, a Bostonian and I, a New Yorker, have relied on our east coast elitism to forge a strong bond with one another.

When I first took note of the Mets’ 2009 schedule I sent Luisa an e-mail with the following words:

“Mets. Sox. May 22-24. Fenway Park. We are fucking going. Period.”

Perhaps my language was a bit brash, but Squeeze, as she was sometimes called, never shied away from profanity and so with months to go before the first pitch, the plan was on. After weeks of scouring auctions on eBay, I finally happened upon two standing room tickets for the series opener on Friday, May 22nd. Unfortunately I was unable to get more than the one day off from work, so my whirlwind trip to Beantown would last a total of 17 hours.

I could generally live with that, but I was unaware that the fun was just beginning. For starters, my bus driver arrived 45 minutes late and announced that he was originally expected to drive a bus to Washington, D.C., but our driver had somehow disappeared.

Into thin air.

I had made the bus reservation fairly early to budget for such a mishap, but one can never anticipate a truck carrying gasoline that explodes in the middle of I-95 and completely shuts down traffic in both directions as a result. That seems like a difficult contingency to prepare for. And so, my bus remained motionless for more than an hour in southern Connecticut as I fretted about my best laid plans running dramatically astray and considered that my hopes of arriving early for batting practice would be reduced to praying I would actually make it for the first pitch. Fortunately, I wasn't the only person on the bus in this position. The man across the aisle from me heard me tell someone I was concerned about making it to the park on time and he turned to me and informed me that no matter what, we were making that game.

I was intrigued to see what plan he had ready for that, but once we passed the completely burned out 18-wheeler traffic picked up. In the end a bus originally scheduled to arrive at 2:15 p.m. finally pulled into Gate 21 at Boston’s South Station around 5:45. I sprinted to the nearest T station, headed to Luisa’s apartment in Back Bay, dropped off my bags and off we were. Luisa was sporting a Sox jersey with her last name on it, which her mother had been presented with by the team at an event once. Luisa asked me if it was lame of her to wear her own name on her jersey, and I told her not to be too concerned by it as I turned my back to lead her out the door and reveal “KALAN” embroidered across my back.

She was elated to not be the only one.

Fenway is, as a co-worker of mine put it, Disneyland for adults. The stadium is so ancient and yet rich with quirks, character and history that placing it all into context in your mind is merely impossible. More than rich with history however, is how rich with fun the building is. Rather than take your tickets at the gate, tickets are required just to get on Yawkey Way behind the stadium, enclosing the street so it can become a large drunken cookout as Red Sox Nation starts a veritable celebration that something greater than any of them is about to happen – a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, the historic mecca of the American League.

Like so many newer stadiums, the outside walls are a rich, red brick face, but these bricks were not thrown in to recreate some architecturally fashionable retro kitsch. These are the bricks that held brand new Fenway Park when it opened its doors in 1912. These are the bricks that housed Carlton Fisk’s waved homer off the foul pole in 1975, Bucky Dent’s back-breaking homer in 1978 and the spark for the Sox’ great rally in the 2004 ALCS. This was home to Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio, Carl Yazstremski, Luis Tiant and perhaps the greatest pure hitter of all time, the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams.

There is immeasurable history in those walls, and unlike Yankee Stadium, which has seen more than its fair share of history and triumph, Fenway – save for a few alterations – appears the same today as it did then. When you stand within those walls, you feel it. Seeing in person the building you’ve seen on TV a number of times, but never quite grasped until you set foot there is a wild experience. The gigantic John Hancock sign, the far-back stretching bleachers, the short right field wall, the construction beams in the grand stand, Pesky’s Pole and, of course, the Green Monster all pop at you as you walk into the field level and make you feel like you’re somewhere special.

If you’re lucky, like Luisa, you get to experience this every time you go to a baseball game. Much as I adored Shea Stadium and enjoy Citi Field, it is laughable to believe they are comparable to coming here. And given that I rarely have the opportunity to find myself there, and that I had standing room tickets, I was determined to move my way down and get as close a look at the field as I could.

Luisa had clearly never been taught by her father the ancient art of “moving down”. She was not practiced at the old tradition of usurping more valuable seats that you would never in your right mind actually pay for. This was an education for her. Upon walking in, we had already missed batting practice, but the ushers were few and far between, and so we walked about freely needing only to find a pair of seats no one would show up for. Our first stab was in the tenth row behind the on-deck circle, but those seats, we soon found, were spoken for, as were the pair five rows in front that we tried next.

Luisa was anxious we might get in trouble, but I told her to give me one last shot, and so it was that we plopped down some 20 rows behind the first base on deck circle as the game was beginning. The seats had not yet filled in around us and late arriving fans were still coming in through the first three innings. Eventually, the entire section filled to capacity – with the exception of the two seats we had taken.

With the only drawback being a particularly obnoxious Mets fan who sat behind us and yelled brazenly throughout the first several innings – and perhaps Boston’s tradition of singing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” every game – we had spectacular seats to enjoy, and, at least for me, a spectacular game. Mets ace Johan Santana was on the hill and delivered a dominant performance as the Mets pulled off a 5-3 win in hostile Fenway. It wasn’t as hostile as normal of course, hundreds of Mets fans made the trip, all of them giving me a vote of confidence when I passed them on the streets of Back Bay afterwards. While the park was divided, we all understood, clearly, that our divisions did not run as deep as our caps and jerseys might have implied.

After all, we all hated the Yankees.

After the game, Luisa and I walked around Fenway, caught some drinks and ate a dessert that was far too large for the two of us, and toured her neighborhood where she gleefully pointed out the palatial manse of the Patriots’ Tom Brady. I will never stop being surprised by how early Boston shuts down, but it didnt' matter as a long day had worn me out and I had an early bus to catch the next morning so I could make it to the office in time. The trip was rushed and hectic to be sure, but few are the opportunities to see a place like Fenway. For all things considered, sightlines, amenities, etc, it is not the best stadium in baseball. Of the places I have been to, I will still defer to Jacobs Field for that designation.

But watching a game at Fenway is an experience unlike any other. I spent less than 24 hours in Boston for the purpose of a baseball game, which, to some, surely, is insanity. But after two games in Fenway Park, I have come to the conclusion that while few places warrant that type of frenzied dedication, if I had to select just one, this would be it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Some Vague Updates

I don't have much to tell you all about today. Well, I could post another story, but I figure I'll give it a few days before I do that.

Meanwhilst, I figured I'd post a preview I wrote that's online today. I'm pretty sure it's not one of my better ones, but I can handle that for now. Go nuts.

Also, I appreciate the large swath of invitations I've suddenly gotten from people to go see their favorite teams in different places. The couches, I assure you, are greatly appreciated. One of these people, Jeff Goldberg, is determined to, at some point, pull me in for a trip to see his Carolina Panthers. We'll get there when the schedule works out, and speaking of schedules, Jeff happens to have turned me on to this site, which will be dramatically helpful for future planning, assuming the NFL continues it's schedule on the same rotation that it has been doing for the past eight years.

Given that there has been no expansion or realignment, this would seem a safe assumption.

I'm sure there are a slew of these around the web, but if I'm going to base most of this on following the Giants around, this could be extremely useful for knocking out the 20-some NFL teams I've got remaining...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tales From Citi Field I

I know I keep saying updates will be sparse, but I figure for the first few days I should put some stuff up just so you all have something interesting to read and so it looks like I've actually written enough entries to fill up the page.

I feel the most appropriate place to start is with my first regular season game at Citi Field, the Mets new home earlier this year, when I ran into one of a number of colorful characters I have met during this journey. I note that it was my first regular season game because I had attended both of the Mets' exhibitions against the Boston Red Sox a few weeks earlier, which basically served as cash cows taking advantage of anxious fans like myself eager to see the building.

It is a beautiful stadium, with good sightlines, an intimate feel inside and all the exciting amenities newer, modern parks provide. Unfortunately, my first few times there it didn't quite feel like home. It was, without a question, far nicer than Shea Stadium, but when you went to Shea you knew it was the Amazins' home. Citi Field didn't quite feel that way. Perhaps the best thing about it was that, since I and my father attended the first game there, it was the first time in at least a decade when I went to a baseball stadium and was certain that Kris and Anna Benson had not yet had sex in it. Beyond that, I also made a point to use the rest room as soon as I walked into the gate, because, as I told my father, they would never be that clean again.

My first regular season game at Citi Field was on April 25, 2009. It was a gorgeous 80-degree day and the Mets, who had been somehow unable to hit with men on base, seemed to finally get over that hump with an 8-2 win over the Nationals. As I sat in the stands talking with Weg about my plans to see every stadium and which trips I was planning to make later that year, it caught the attention of a man sitting in front of me. He looked like a prototypical Brooklyn Jew in his early 60s, grayed with a beard, glasses, a bit of a belly, an intensely friendly talker and apparently quite fastidious. He had been keeping score on a piece of legal notepad paper and as he explained, he wrote a homemade scorecard at every baseball game he’d ever been to. At the top of each page he wrote what number baseball game that was for him in his entire life, at least since he had begun keeping count.

Today was No. 6,226.

As Jess commented when I told her about him later on, “Well, that’s one way to spend your life.”

Indeed, that is an awful lot of baseball games –- well more than I ever expect to attend. Despite my rather auspicious goal, there are too many other things I want to do in my life to be able to afford sitting in a baseball stadium 6,200 times. If a baseball game occupies an entire day’s worth of planning, that man had spent more than 17 years attending baseball games and doing nothing else. And that doesn’t even include the travel time required since, as he would go on to tell me, he had already accomplished my goal. To a fairly impressive level no less.

In his life he had made a point to see every team in the four major North American sports leagues and whenever a new stadium opened up he dropped everything to make a trip to go there. The man had seen the Quebec Nordiques, Winnipeg Jets, Houston Oilers, Montreal Expos, Charlotte Hornets, Seattle Supersonics and Hartford Whalers. He had been to Wrigley Field more than 100 times despite the notable obstacle of having never lived in Chicago. He had seen Maple Leaf Gardens, the Montreal Forum, the Astrodome, Candlestick Park, the King Dome, Tiger Stadium, Milwaukee County Stadium and old Comiskey. He made a point of stating how he wanted to get out to Pittsburgh next year for one more Penguins game at Mellon Arena before the Pens moved into the Consol Energy Center.

The man had done it all, been everywhere and then some. I did not feel hindered or daunted or beaten. Surely I wasn’t the first to attempt this type of lifelong journey. Rather this was an opportunity, a chance to learn the ins and outs of the trip from someone who knew what laid ahead. As I talked to him about my experience he told me that at my age he had only been to about six or seven stadiums. In other words, my 23 before the age of 24 was a solid head start. But as we discussed the various arenas he told me once and for all what the ultimate secret to completing the mission was:

“Never get married.”

I suppose I’m lucky in that I’m not married yet, and perhaps this is the opportunity to knock out as many different teams as I can before I get tied down by the wife and kids. But make no mistake, I will have the wife and kids. Finding someone to share my life with and raising a family are important to me. Not immediately, of course, but down the road sure. One might say that it’s even more important than seeing every professional North American sports team. But that doesn’t mean I won’t still try to find some way to combine the two. At some point I will find a woman wonderful and kind enough to put up with me.

And when it comes to this journey, well, she’ll just have to understand.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Alright, Let's Lay Down a Few Ground Rules Here

So with some more free time on my hands and that visitors counter going to the extremely exciting number of 20, I figure I should explain some things before I head to bed.

Because I have already made roughly a quarter of my way through this long and difficult journey of mine, there is already a hefty amount of stuff that has been written. I will not put it all up here at once, however. I will spread it out from time to time, maybe once a week or so, to keep it all from coming out at once and to keep you coming back for more. As well, the chapters I have written are not always brief and concise. To those of you who know me, this is, I'm sure, not surprising at all. In fact, some chapters are fairly long -- the one of Shea Stadium because it is the stadium to which I am most attached for example -- and I will not be posting all of them.

The posts will get unwieldy and boring to say nothing of the damage that could be done to your eyes by reading the whole thing start to finish -- as if we don't already spend our entire days sitting in front of a computer screen.

For those particularly long chapters, I may post bits and pieces of them over time as they include multiple stories. Hopefully each of them will be fairly easily digestible. With that in mind, old stories from Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium (I), two places I attended baseball games at for nearly 20 years, will probably pop up from time to time. Along that same vein, stories from Citi Field and Yankee Stadium (II) will begin to pop up as they happen. I'll leave the messy business of condensing them all into a book for a few decades down the line when I've got more patience for it.

Another thing, there will be multiple posts regarding future trips when they come around in advance of and during them. Some of this will just be informational, some of it will be in hopes that those of you in other cities might notice and choose to join me.

Next point. I know I'm hoping to spread these trips out over an extended period of time, but I'm also not made of money. Let's not be silly. Maximizing efficiency is the key, and generally I will follow my home teams in the process. It won't always line up perfectly, but generally I will try to see more than one team if possible on each trip. A recent weekend, which I did not make a trip for, saw the Devils visit the Minnesota Wild and the Giants visit the Minnesota Vikings on consecutive days. Flukes of the schedule like that are pure gold. I will be on the lookout for them.

Next. Some things that have been done and will be written about are going to be rude, distasteful, and once in a while illegal. Not by me really. I'm too straight an arrow for my own good and I'm pretty sure I never do anything too wrong -- much to my parents disappointment it seems. In the events when something illegal has happened, I will not be naming names. At least not until the statute of limitations has passed.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I am not objective.

Nope. Not one bit. Not even a little. Why did I bother getting into sports in the first place if I didn't have a team I rooted for? And with that in mind you ought to know that much of these trips will involve following the New York Giants, New York Mets, New Jersey Devils, New York Knicks, Northwestern University and, to a lesser extent, the Chicago Blackhawks.

I have my reasons, and I accept no arguments on this.

And if the city of Philadelphia is involved, I am likely to be less than open-minded.

With all that laid out, I think I'm good for now. And if some of you are still confused, well, it's 2:10 a.m. and I want to go to sleep. You'll have to figure it out for yourself.

The first story will be posted tomorrow when I wake up. Get excited.

And So It Begins

Some time ago I decided that I wanted to be one of those crazy people who made a point to visit every Major League Baseball stadium. I think part of my inspiration might have come from a Mastercard commercial in the late 1990s, as part of their "There are some things money can't buy" campaign, which two friends spend a summer driving around the U.S. in an old VW Microbus seeing every Major League team.

Well, I don't own a microbus. And I'm not doing this in one summer.

But some time later, after making a few stops in my late teens, I decided on something bigger. This wouldn't just be baseball. It would be baseball, hockey, basketball and football.

Moreover, this isn't necessarily about individual arenas. I need to see every team play at home in the four major sports leagues regardless of whether or not they share a building. And if they move into a new building, I need to go back. The goal is to see every team in their current buildings as of the time I complete the whole trip. Since there are 122 teams, it will take a while.

I've given myself 30 years and I'm assuming the task will require a decent amount of money, a decent amount of free time and a very understanding wife.

When I mentioned this to my grandmother in April of 2009 she told me I ought to write a book about this and suddenly I decided she was right. So ever since I have been taking notes when I catch a new arena, trying my damnedest to remember all the old ones, and writing down my experiences from all of them as I get caught up to present.

Initially the hope was to keep it all to myself until one of those fat publishing checks came my way some time around July 14, 2040. Getting one of those, as had been suggested to me by numerous people, might be easier, however, if I write a blog, develop a base of work, and maybe a following.

And maybe, just maybe, it might help me meet some people who can house me or join me along the way. And going along the way, after all, is the entire point. The idea isn't just the satisfaction of completing the trip. This will be about the stories, the people and the incidents that I go through along the way -- happy, sad, funny, bizarre, sentimental and self-revelatory.

In essence it will be a defacto memoir of my life written as it goes along knowing that when I hit team No. 1 I was a young child, and that when I get to No. 122, I'll have my own children joining me on the final leg.

I will, here, post updates, photos and abridged versions of the chapters I am writing. Yes, abridged. After all, I wouldn't want to give away everything I've written for free, would I?

Earlier entries will have dates on top that refer to when I originally began writing those chapters, so the timeline might get confusing, but I think you're all smart enough to figure it out.

And hopefully, you'll enjoy the ride as much as I will.