Thursday, July 29, 2010

Back From California

I have something heartbreaking and shocking to reveal to all of you. Are you ready? Ok. Here it goes.

Sometimes, once in a while, I will take a trip that does not include a sporting event. Of course, I should note, it is not for lack of trying. This past weekend I made a swing out to San Diego for my brother's bachelor party weekend, where we celebrated bachelordom like all men do: at a Comic Book Convention.

This was a pretty interesting experience with more wild costumes and crazy comic book obssessees than you can shake a stick at. I enjoyed myself even if there were no baseball games to go around, but the lesson should be taught that sometimes you're going to have to accept that not every plan will come to fruition. For this weekend in San Diego and Los Angeles, that was certainly the case. I had accepted the fact that the Padres would not be in town the weekend I was there -- and after arriving it became painfully obvious that Comic-Con so takes over the city that hosting baseball games is a ridiculous idea -- but I had not yet given up hope that I might catch my Amazins, who were going to be in Los Angeles over the weekend.

But, of course, it didn't work out that way, nor did I get to catch the Angels in Anaheim the next night due to a number of mixed signals and confused schedules. Not that this is the worst thing in the world. As I have explained, Los Angeles isn't a city I don't expect to go through again, like, say, Oklahoma City. I will be in Los Angeles again, though after the 45 hours I spent there, I'm not sure how many times I can be there.

That isn't a slight against my hosts, who were phenomenally generous and fun, but L.A. just isn't my kind of city. And in many regards, it's a total fantasy land.

At least I did get to take more than my fair share of looks at Petco Park in San Diego, which was literally next to our hotel, and came within walking distance of Angel Stadium in Anaheim. Whether or not you can view these things as cool sightseeing or cruel teases is up to you.

In the meantime, a valuable lesson was learned about how sometimes things just won't work out. And I'm probably just going to have to cope with that. And unlike when some best laid plans fall through, I won't always have a Russian oligarch to bail me out.

And so, with that, I have come to accept that I will have to knock the Dodgers, Angels and Padres off the list some other time, but considering the Mets were in L.A. to polish off a season-torpedoing 2-9 road trip, it may be best for my health that I avoided the situation all together.

Plus I got a totally awesome production drawing of Wolverine from the X-Men animated series that I'm going to frame and hang up. And once I arrived home, I found my tickets to September's Giants-Colts game in Indianapolis had arrived.

Until the next stadium some cardboard and a drawing of adamantium will have to keep me satisfied. I think my brother would be proud.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Some Brief Updates

It's been a crazy couple of days here and so while I'm distracted by the Mets absolutely killing it out of the All-Star Break -- and by "killing it" I mean "killing their season" -- I'm still going to get you a few piece of valuable information. Once you're done reading about the Devils re-signing massive free agent Ilya Kovalchuk, a move that very well might define the franchise for 20 years -- and save all of us from a long process of LeBron-like proportions -- after they shocked most of the hockey world by acquiring him via trade in February.

No matter. I have more important information afoot.

First of all, when I first started writing a book about my adventures where I went from one place to the next seeing ports arenas, I began scribbling about them in April of 2009. At the time I had seen some 24 teams and set the rather auspicious goal of having all of them written about by the time I went on my massive vacation out west last June. This did not happen. Instead, I was lazy, bumbling, and actually wound up spending some four months suffering through writer's block on my chapter about the Philadelphia Phillies. A rough combination of being daunted by the job and just being outstandingly lazy.

More the latter.

Well, my dear readers, get excited because now, at long last, I have finally reached the unreachable star. Sort of. I still have some 89 teams left to see and write about, but after finally polishing off a story about my trip to see the Mets visit the Orioles in Baltimore last month this Sunday I am now entirely caught up the present in penning my adventures. Don't get me wrong, there are many more to come, but at the very least I am no longer behind the eight ball.

I'm sure you're all breathing a little sigh of relief now.

The other big news is that my brother's impending wedding is warranting a transcontinental bachelor party. The big day is only six weeks or so off, and in the meantime, Elliott, myself and some friends will be heading to San Diego on Thursday for the purposes of celebrating his last days as a free man in a typical and totally not outrageously nerdy way at all. I'll bet all of you wish you could spend this Friday listening to a bunch of Hasbro designers talk about fashioning Star Wars action figures.

Who needs strippers?

The reason this has warranted mention here on my sports-centric blog is because after my time at the San Diego Comic-Con I will be heading up to Los Angeles where, if all the planning goes well, I will make the Los Angeles Dodgers the 34th team I cross off the list when they host my hot-as-pistols New York Mets Sunday at Dodger Stadium. There are still details to be hammered out, like seeing if the Amazins can find their heads and stop being an embarrassment, but I'm hopeful it all gets taken care of and yet another stop is taken care of.

Of course, at that point, the only problem is I'll be back behind schedule.... But don't worry, I have a long plane flight to occupy myself with after the game. And unlike a certain New Jersey Devils left winger, it won't take me three weeks to make up my mind on how to write it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Some Birthday Irony

I, some of you may have noticed, rather like sports. Like a lot. You probably should notice that since that's more or less the entire point of this blog.

Regardless, one might imagine that there is little I would enjoy more on a day I can make entirely about me than watching sports. Makes sense, right? Well, today, as it is my 25th birthday, is that day. In past years I've spent my birthday watching the Home Run Derby, the All-Star Game or attending a Mets game if they happen to be home.

In the world of amateur and professional sports I follow, in no particular order, the following teams:
New York Mets
New York Giants
New Jersey Devils
Chicago Blackhawks
New York Knicks
Northwestern Wildcats
Florida State Seminoles
Southampton FC
Geelong FC

So knowing that I pay so much attention to so many organizations, it seems more than a wee bit odd that this year my birthday happens to fall on the one completely dark day of the North American sports calendar. That's right everyone, the day after the MLB All-Star Game, every year is the only day on the entire calendar in which no regular or postseason games are played in the MLB, NFL, NHL or NBA.

Not a one.

It seems bizarre to me that on my birthday I won't get to watch any sporting events -- though the picturesque vistas of this year's Tour de France will have to do for now, but perhaps that's a good thing. Now nothing will be able to distract me when I'm having my celebratory dinner here tonight.

That's right. The joke's on them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Last Call For The Boss

As a teenager, I hated George Steinbrenner. Growing up a Mets fan made that awfully easy -- in fact almost necessary. Watching your team constantly in the shadow of the pinstripes as they won four World Series in the late 1990s was an irritating and frustrating thing, and Steinbrenner, who had the gall to actually reinvest his profits into the team so they could continue winning, was the prime enemy.

Of course now that I'm 24 (well 25 tomorrow) instead of 13, I have a better understanding both of human nature and of baseball as a historical entity and a business. Given that added perspective it is simply impossible not to understand -- and appreciate -- the absolutely massively important, influential and, yes, great figure George Steinbrenner was in baseball, New York and American culture. When I awoke this morning from a text message that George Steinbrenner had passed away at 80 from a massive heart attack, it was hard not to be affected in some sense. The impact he had was so far ranging and history-changing that you cannot ignore what he did for baseball.

I personally feel something of a connection with "The Boss" -- not just because he happened to be an assistant coach on Northwestern's football team in 1955. But to understand his influence is to understand how sports business has grown and changed today. Many will quote the statistic that Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973 for $8.7 million and grew them into a property worth more than $1 billion, but that is not simply the tale of a man fostering a fledgling enterprise into success. Steinbrenner fundamentally changed professional sports from a pleasant pastime to a business.

The Yankees do not grow into the massively valuable entity they have become without Steinbrenner's ingenuity and business acumen.While some may question his capabilities as a baseball man -- many have noted that the 1990s Yankees dynasty was not built until Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball for two years in the early part of the decade -- there is no questioning what he did on the business side. By forming the YES Network, the Yankees' regional cable channel that is estimated to be worth roughly $1 billion, as well as allowing the Yankees to become a part of's web umbrella in a bit of Wellington Mara-esque altruism, Steinbrenner played a crucial role turning Major League Baseball into a multi-billion dollar enterprise, which in turn has dramatically altered the landscape of how each sports league and sports media outlet does business.

If, indeed, without Steinbrenner those entities would exist at all. I think it is hardly far-fetched to think that without Steinbrenner, and the changes he helped bring about in this industry, I wouldn't even have a job right now -- or at least not this one. Because of his influence, professional sports in America changed from men on a field and a television camera to a multifaceted segment of culture with media implications ranging far and wide.

And beyond all of that, perhaps, indeed, most importantly in the grand scheme: George Steinbrenner was a winner.

He loved to win. And he wanted to do it frequently. Now given his meddling ways, the Yankees did run an almost unfathomable 15-year stretch between World Series appearances under his watch, but the true sign of just how much he loved to win comes not from the seven titles the Yankees won in his 37-year tenure as owner, but from how much money he invested into the franchise once business truly started to boom in the 1990s and 2000s. The Yankees payroll has totaled well over a billion dollars over the last decade, with untold more millions going into the pockets of other owners as a result of baseball's luxury tax and revenue sharing policies.

I remember in high school complaining to a football coach of mine that old fallback commentary that the Yankees "buy" championships. My coach's response: "Where does it say that's against the rules?" Right he was. Not only is it not against the rules to spend such obscene amounts on your players, but when the other option is to put the money into your own pocket rather than the product on the field, it is in many senses both refreshing and noble to see that Steinbrenner put so much into developing a product that would bring satisfaction to so many fans. Other dramatically wealthy owners of the past, such as Minnesota's late Carl Pohlad did not do the same for the people spending money on tickets -- and while those tickets are, indeed, not cheap, they do come with the promise that you will be seeing the best possible team the Yankees could offer.

Much is made of Steinbrenner's gruff and irascible temperament -- he is famous for having fired numerous managers, namely Billy Martin, who was hired and fired five times -- but what set him apart from other similarly disdained and at times irrational owners like Robert Irsay or Walter O'Malley is how much of himself was put into the organization, personally and monetarily. It was of the utmost importance that the Yankees be among the championship contenders every year. That can't be said for every man that heads a sports franchise.

Of course, in the end, what will probably be the greatest reminder for people of my generation of Steinbrenner as a part of American culture is in his caricature as voiced by Larry David on Seinfeld during the 1990s. And with the glory of YouTube and DVD, those moments will be forever remembered in perpetuity. While people of my generation, sports fan and nonsports fan alike will probably remember Steinbrenner as the goofy, nonsensical boss of the Yankees from those Seinfeld episodes, this was clearly not a bother to the Boss, who took the caricature in stride and even played himself in a scene that was left on the cutting room floor.

While that may be his lasting impression for many, it will hardly be his lasting influence. He is responsible for so many changes to how we know sports today that his mark will continue to be felt as long as professional sports are played in this country. Perhaps most remarkably of all, that may even be an understatement.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Football, Barbecue and Real America

It's been a while since I've posted one of these so I figure I'm long past due. This won't tell you everything you need to know about Kansas City, but if you ever spend a weekend there and get to have anything close to this much fun, consider yourself lucky.

Originally written May 26, 2010.

It’s a testament to Susie’s kindness that she allowed me to invite myself for a second go-round in Kansas City. Knowing that given the NFL’s current schedule rotation, 2009 would be the last time the Giants visited the Chiefs until 2017, and knowing Susie may not be there in eight years, I told her in early 2009, “The Giants are visiting the Chiefs this fall and won’t be back for eight years. As soon as the NFL releases its schedule, I am buying a plane ticket and you are going with me.”


While Susie pulls for the Chiefs her fandom doesn’t quite reach the obsessive levels of mine –certainly to her benefit – but knowing my mission and that we don’t see each other often, she was willing to play along. There was, however, some anxiety leading up to the trip mostly because without any real plans in place beyond my flight, Susie and I were unable to get in touch. A massive game of phone tag lasted nearly six weeks before we finally connected. To her credit, Susie, who was in the midst of grad school for her MSW, was obscenely busy and not overly concerned with a football game months off in the future.

I, however, wanted to make sure she would actually be picking up at the airport, which, given that she got caught in a different time zone the night before I visited her in Sacramento four years earlier, might have been a legitimate concern. At last we finally got together, everything was set in stone, and all was well. Susie would be at Kansas City International Airport when I flew in on October 2 and fun, friends and food would ensue.

Direct flights to the City of Fountains being as pricey as they are, I would be taking my route through Atlanta, Georgia, my first time ever in the Peach State. I hoped to nap away, but instead the woman next to me decided to strike up a conversation. She was attractive, in her early 30s and able to carry an intellectual chat, which was fine, but her intensity was a bit stunning considering she didn’t yet know my name. During the course of the flight she let me know she was moving to D.C. with her husband and desperately needed a sub-letter for their one-bedroom apartment on the upper west side. It was $1,400 per month, not outrageous by New York standards, but being that I was only four months into my current lease with two roommates on the hook and thought this was a peculiar time to be propositioned for a major life decision, I passed.

I would find this wasn’t nearly as peculiar as what would happen 20 minutes later when she attempted to set my brother up with one of her friends. I mentioned at one point during the conversation that two weeks earlier Elliott had won an Emmy for comedy writing, and she noted that she had a few single friends who love intelligent humor. Unfortunately for her and her friend El had gotten engaged three months earlier, and he was quite happy about it. They’d have to look elsewhere.

In Atlanta, I would get to see one of my buddies in the brief two-hour layover I had. My college roommate, Sam, a life-long Atlantan had moved back to the city after college and managed to meet me for lunch at the airport Houlihan’s. Amidst a discussion of life catchup, the peculiarities of being adults and the rotation of which attractive celebrity Sam put as the background on his iPhone, it was a nice break in the day – a refreshing break from those layovers that usually find me ambling around the airport by myself to see what regional fast food chain I can make my lunch for the day. The only tension came at the end of the meal when Sam insisted he pay for the check, telling me, “You’re in my town.”

I told Sam that he would have to let me pick up the tab when he came to New York, and he reluctantly agreed, though as I write this eight months later he is yet to actually arrive in the Big Apple, while I have made a second, longer trip to Atlanta.

No matter.

After lunch I went back into the heart of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which just might be the most massive transit hub I’ve ever had to deal with. Living in New York and going to school in Chicago, you’d think I’d be prepared, but Atlanta’s airport makes just like its city, spreading out massively and requiring long automated walkways and rail transit to get anywhere. Those in and of themselves are not unusual for an international airport, but in Atlanta they are larger than anywhere else, and given that Atlanta has for some time been the busiest airport in the world by measure of passenger traffic and take offs and landings, it probably needs to be.

The good thing about its size is that it was built with this kind of traffic in mind meaning they actually get you in and out fairly smoothly and with little issue. Despite some travel horror stories, with nearly no stress at all, I was on my way to Kansas City, and Susie was ready and waiting as soon as we touched down.

Susie is one of those friends that will always be there. Given how long we’ve known each other and the fact that we’ve almost never lived in the same time zone, I’m astonished by how often we see each other. It has been nearly once or twice a year that one of us has found the other on either coast or middle America, and each time, we’re seemingly able to pick up where we left off before as if the time passed since our last rendez-vous was only a couple of minutes. It isn’t often, however, that I see Susie with a car, and each time I do I’m amazed at how much she just loves to drive around. She adores long spins through aesthetically pleasing Kansas City neighborhoods and could spend hours behind the wheel at 25 miles per hour.

On this drive we were headed to Susie’s house, but took the scenic route to gather in some of the KC charm. While she and her friends might assume I mean that facetiously – and given my northeast arrogance there’s no reason for them not to – I rather like Kansas City. I can’t say I’d choose to live there, but it’s a very pleasant place when you have a local cadre of friends to take you in. On my first visit 15 months earlier, I had become very quickly absorbed into Susie’s social web, and the overt friendliness makes adapting much easier.

It was because of this typical congeniality that I was so surprised by what we saw as we passed a Reform Jewish Temple. I have little familiarity with Kansas City’s Jewish community, but I can’t imagine it being insignificant. And they certainly couldn’t have been pleased with the anti-Semitic protesters disrupting Friday night Sabbath services in the parking lot across the street. I have developed patience for a number of things in this world, but bigotry isn’t one of them. I can’t get past racism and prejudice as being both mentally lazy and astoundingly stupid. Nearly all things, diet, sex and global populations among them, require variety to make them palatable, and it is the differences between sub-groups of humanity that makes life that much more interesting. As I would detail during a group discussion on anti-Semitism in Israel months later, this wasn’t the first time I had experienced anti-Semitism, nor will it be the last, either overtly or subtly, but each time it is no less jarring.

In this case, the brilliant minds in the parking lot assumed our refusal to accept Jesus was hindering our ability to reach heaven. It was nice of them to let us know, as well as to reassure us God was charitable to understand and accept our naivete. Each protester, which included boys who looked no older than 15, had giant red paper hearts with the word “Love” written across them taped to their chests, and they toted signs declaring, “God loves everyone. Even these people.”

Perhaps the only thing more pigheaded than racism is my reaction to it. I waved to a few of the protestors behind the safety of a passenger seat window. When they smiled at me and I knew I had attracted their attention. As they looked on I pressed a middle finger against the window and yelled, “Fuck off”, which dramatically changed the expression on their faces, but fortunately for Susie and I, the red light turned green and off we were to Susie’s home.

On my previous visit to Kansas City I made it very clear that I intended to indulge in as much of the city’s famed BBQ as possible, and while the years lost on my life and the damage to my cholesterol were entirely worth it, I left Missouri feeling more vinegar and tomato paste than man. While I would want some BBQ this time around, it was hardly going to be the same nonstop barrage of smoke pits, but I had neglected to mention this to Susie. This didn’t result in her force feeding baby back ribs, but she did worry that every meal needed a BBQ aspect, and she, along with her roommate Stefanie, constantly asked me if I was ok not having heavily slathered pulled pork every time we ate.

I probably should have made it clear I wasn’t on the same tangy kick this time around, but I would have my needs more than met the first night as Susie, her boyfriend Kevin and I strolled into the American Royal BBQ Fest. Until a few weeks earlier, I had been unaware that the American Royal BBQ Fest would be that weekend or that it even existed, but I would soon be educated that it was the largest BBQ festival in the world, in what might have been the most appropriate city for it. It was a massive gathering, featuring a contest with hundreds of competitors and some attendance estimates as high as 100,000 people. It was held, appropriately for my experience, in the parking lot of Kemper Arena, which has been host to the 1976 Republican National Convention, NCAA Tournament games and several professional sports teams both major and minor, including the NBA’s Kansas City Kings and, most dearest to my heart, the NHL’s Kansas City Scouts, who would eventually wind up in New Jersey in 1982 as my beloved Devils.

Matt, a friend of the Sharkey family whom I had met a year earlier in New York, was hosting a party in one of the many BBQ tents. Included was an unlimited supply of pulled pork, chicken wings, ribs, cheesy potatoes (courtesy of Susie’s mother), baked beans and a full bar being tended by Susie’s brother Steve, who made sure to operate with a heavy hand. In addition to the delicious food, I was surrounded by an atmosphere I was in so many ways unfamiliar with. I was in the middle of a huge collection of handlebar mustaches, denim and leather jackets, black and brown Stetsons, live country bands playing every 20 feet, and hundreds of men wearing chaps without any hint of irony. I was wholly out of place and felt as if I was in the most quintessentially non-elitist, real American moment I would ever experience.

And while I had no particular love for Garth Brooks and those chaps looked astonishingly uncomfortable, I loved every minute of it.

After being thrust into the enormity of Susie’s family at her bowling league a year earlier, this time I would gain familiarity with its intimacy, as Susie’s mother and father, both of whom I had never met, were in attendance. I didn’t spend much time chatting with Mrs. Sharkey, but I soon found that in the case of Mr. Sharkey it was impossible not to. While we first talked about the Chiefs, since I was obviously in town for the game, which no one seemed to think the Chiefs could win, we soon moved onto Raiders owner , whom Susie’s dad made a point to note numerous times had been passed by by the increasing complexity of the evolving NFL.

These were topics on which I could hold my own, but soon I found myself cornered as Mr. Sharkey gave me a running history of his son Steve’s little league team, which had three great pitchers, one of whom had an unbelievable breaking pitch and another of whom was Kellen Winslow Jr. Seeking a rescue, I soon incorporated Kevin into the conversation who told me later on that when he first met Susie’s dad, he had been cornered and forced to talk about the Royals for two hours.

In a perfect world I would have stuck around for as long as possible. The drinks were still flowing, the food was still delicious, the company great and the music, well, energizing if not my favorite. Unfortunately, with work to be sent off to New York and a long day of traveling on little sleep behind me, I needed to be getting home and getting to bed. I would be sleeping on Susie’s couch for the weekend, which normally would be fine, but in this case, the living room was in the very front of the house, and apparently a serial rapist had recently been in the neighborhood. (Update: He has since, finally, been caught) Amidst concerns for every resident and heightened police presence, I can’t say I was comfortable being the first line of defense against any potential intruders, particularly considering the lock on their front door did not inspire confidence. On a windy night in an older creaky house, I heard the breeze blowing through the floorboards every few minutes and spent much of the night sleeping with one eye open.

I made it through the weekend unharmed and managed to cure Susie’s worries that I might demand constant attention while she had work to do. In actuality, I told her to take her time doing school work on Saturday while I watched Northwestern knock off Purdue in the living room, relaxed and enjoyed some Culver’s that she and Stefanie had brought back for me during their morning errands. Really, the entire afternoon and night served as a prelude to the main event on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, though it became very obvious that absolutely no one in Kansas City thought the Chiefs had a shot in hell of toppling New York that Sunday.

They may have had a point. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Chiefs, mostly due to their rich place in NFL history as a founding AFL franchise, albeit in Dallas, and because of their almost unchanged, classic uniforms. They have always been, in my mind, one of the more underrated outfits in professional spots. There is a beautiful simplicity to them that belongs with the Giants, Steelers, Cowboys, Celtics or Yankees.

To go along with my infatuation with their uniforms, the Chiefs, when I was growing up, were quite good. One of my earlier memories as a football fan is seeing Joe Montana arrive from San Francisco to lead the Chiefs to a near Super Bowl berth in 1993. For much of the 1990s, the Chiefs were one of the most consistently successful teams in the NFL, topping 10 wins six times in eight seasons and establishing a fierce homefield advantage. In 2009, those days were long gone. The Chiefs of Montana, Marcus Allen, Neil Smith and Derrick Thomas had given way to the slightly less impressive Chiefs of Trent Green and Dante Hall before finally arriving in their promising, but unbearably young and inexperienced squad featuring Matt Cassel, Dwayne Bowe, Glen Dorsey and Tamba Hali.

That lack of experience would leave Kansas City with a 4-12 record at the end of the year, which came on the heels of a 2-14 campaign a season before and another 4-12 mark the year before that. The Chiefs had made two playoff appearance in the last 12 seasons, and while the future might be brighter, it wasn’t soon. This was evident from talking to any of the fans in the area, who approached me with such pleasantries as, “I hope they just keep the game close” and “Man, that Eli Manning is awesome.”

Indeed he was, and at this time, it appeared, so were the Giants. Big Blue headed into the game 3-0 to Kansas City’s 0-3 record. New York was aiming to make a fifth consecutive postseason berth and was just two years removed from a stunning victory in Super Bowl XLII. If there were a dramatic mismatch in the first quarter of the 2009 NFL season, this looked to be it. If I had learned nothing in my life of sports-related heartbreak however, it was not to take individual games for granted, and while an easy Giant victory appeared as though it should be in the offing, I was hesitant to assume anything.

I’ve always been amazed by the capricious nature of Midwest weather, but the plains states make it that much wilder. On the morning of the game it was quite chilly, and I, prepared, wore my Giants jersey over a long sleeved shirt anticipating the cold. Susie did likewise with her late-90s Derrick Thomas, but as both of us would find later, this would prove unnecessary. We went to her friend Matt’s house because he apparently had several sets of season tickets that weren’t going to be used. The last-place Chiefs weren’t the draw they once were.

Arrowhead has become legendary for the tailgating prowess of its denizens and this, to me, was more than half the reason for the trip. Granted, given the team’s current mediocrity, the crowd was less excitable, but the parking lots were still full of fans decked out in bright red under their tents grilling ribs and drinking light domestic beer at 10 in the morning. Matt had given us a pass to closer parking areas, and all along the drive to the building groups of tailgaters were set up along the hilly, grassy areas by I-70. More than one vehicle was painted and covered with massive Chiefs logos, including several fan-owned mini school buses. Fans cooked and drank their breakfast while a group of drummers calling themselves the Chiefs Rumble made their way from tent to tent.

Susie and I pulled up next to Matt and set up a spread that included Krispy Kreme donuts, cupcakes, tortilla chips, Busch Light and Matt’s homemade chili. While I was told by several sources that this was a more subdued affair than it used to be, I was still enjoying being reingratiated with the Midwest. Something about drinking that early made me feel like I was back in college.

From the outside Arrowhead looks uniquely 70s, not unlike the Royals home of Kauffman stadium – clearly dated in design, but still tasteful and unique. The two stadiums sit together in the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex and original designs for the buildings included a rolling roof that would move between the stadiums when they were in use. While the idea was eventually scrapped for its extraneous cost, I can think of no idea that comes close to it in the current day. Perhaps the shifting roof of Seattle’s Safeco Field is the most similar, but it only involves one playing field. This would have been a link between two sports and two buildings that made two large structures one massive one.

Instead the buildings stand next to each other with no connection beyond similar architecture. Arrowhead itself has a dramatic dipping curve on either side of it that almost gives the upper decks the appearance of horns rising up when you view it from one end zone. Both sides of the stadium have massive ovular TV screens that sit above the dipping curves and look like they, too, are either distinctly 70s or something out of an episode of the Jetsons. That would make perfect sense given that the stadium opened in 1972, except that I later learned the TVs were actually added to the stadium in 1991, which makes them seem entirely out of place, but the theory goes that they’re ovular not to reflect the style of the times but because they look like footballs. While I’ll accept that explanation, the resemblance is extremely vague.

Despite that structural peculiarity, there’s no denying this is a fun place to watch football, and the fact that they serve Gates BBQ there overwhelms just about any negative aspects the experience might provide. While the Chiefs were playing a lost season, the crowds still provided significant evidence for Arrowhead’s unofficial nickname of “The Red Sea”. The stands are still packed and everyone is wearing their jersey even if they suspect they won’t be headed home happy. On this day, there was still a mix of blue sprinkled in patches with that red, as the Giants brought a surprisingly strong crowd to a city that doesn’t get a large number of Big Apple transplants. It occurred to me once we were inside the stadium that this was the first time I would see the Giants on the road, and suffice it to say, they draw well.

Very well.

The team isn’t half bad either. The clinical dismantling most fans were expecting ran its course for three quarters. Big Blue would jump out to a 17-3 halftime lead, as Eli Manning would finish the day with 292 passing yards and three touchdowns, including a 54-yard toss to promising rookie wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. The only thing marring the day for Manning, who also passed Fran Tarkenton for third place on the Giants all-time passing TD list, was that he bruised his heel while dropping back on one of his passes. Manning would play out the rest of the season, but the wound would nag.

One of my favorite aspects of the experience was that this being the 50th anniversary season of the AFL, tidbits on AFL history were everywhere to be found. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of the many days that the AFL’s original eight teams decided to wear 1960 throwback unis, but midfield did feature the Chiefs enormous 50th anniversary logo, which, somewhat to my surprise included their old logo from 1960 when they started play as the Dallas Texans. The most prominent feature of the day however was the color pink, which in some ways almost overwhelmed the red and blue that could be found all over. The NFL had set aside that week to promote awareness for breast cancer research and so any and all things that could be colored pink would be. Gloves, cleats, towels, scoreboards and the halftime entertainers were all sporting the hue.

In the case of halftime, however, it was hard not to be distracted by the bizzarity of the performance, a group of at least two hundred women circling the field in pink shirts and putting on a robust jazzercise display.

The day more or less went according to plan except that I didn’t expect the afternoon sun to be quite so powerful. Not only were the long-sleeve undershirts far from necessary in the eventual 70-degree sun, but I wound up coming home with quite the dramatic sun burn. The Giants themselves would feel somewhat wounded by the end of the day, too. While they came away with the expected victory, Kansas City woke up just about the time the Giants were on the sideline making their dinner plans. The Chiefs reeled off 13 points in the fourth quarter to draw the game to a respectable 27-16 final score, and also forced some unwelcome familiarity with the people sitting in front of us.

To this point, the only one of them I saw as noteworthy was the man in front of me encouraging people to ask him about libertarian Ron Paul’s campaign for president, though the Elvis impersonator in our section did raise an eyebrow. This adorable fellow wouldn’t wind up the most memorable fan, however, as the unpleasant looking woman in front of me continued to lean forward and show off her all too classy Chiefs logo tattoo on the small of her back. Some things are not meant to be shown off to the masses, and this was one of them. In addition, there are some things you can’t unsee, and one of those hit me in the fourth quarter, when the Chiefs finally found the end zone on a one-yard touchdown pass from Matt Cassel to Sean Ryan five and a half minutes into the period.

Most of the crowd unleashed typical warm-hearted cheers. She, however, decided a more robust celebration was in order, and lifted up her shirt for all the world to see. I know normally this should have been the highlight of my day, but for the reason that a) this was not an appealing female, and b) I’m no longer 12, seeing those unsightly C-Cups bouncing around is something I would absolutely love to erase from my cortex.

As the clock wound down in the fourth quarter, just about everyone in the stadium had left except for the masses of Giants fans who were now gathering behind the New York bench on the bottom bowl. Just about all the Chiefs fans had left other than Susie, who I’m sure would have been extremely content leaving at halftime, but, trooper that she is, she stuck it out with me for the full 60 minutes. Exiting after the final whistle was a procession of one high-five from a traveling Giants fan after another, as we happily walked back to Susie’s car.

The rest of the night was a big family pizza party at Susie and Stefanie’s where I insisted they let me buy the beer because they wouldn’t let me buy the pizza after housing me for the weekend. From that point on, I ate too much, drank too much and was invited by Kevin to return yet again for a trip to see Allen Fieldhouse and his beloved KU Jayhawks. Perhaps in due time, but as far as this mission is concerned, with the Chiefs and Royals out of the way, I never need to return to Kansas City again.

That’s not to say I don’t want to, and I’m sure I’ll be there at least once more for Susie’s wedding if for no other reason, but as it stands now, in my goal to see all 122 teams of the four major sports leagues, the Paris of the Plains is the first multi-sport city that I’ve completely tapped out – including New York and Chicago, remarkably. It feels good to strike a city from the map, and hopefully they’ll start falling like dominoes as I get closer and closer to the end.

But for that to happen, I’ve got to move own and continue knocking them down. I’ll always have fond memories of Kansas City, but it’s on to the next adventure.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Oh, So That's Who This LeBron Guy Is

By now you've all seen the mockery of humanity that was last night's announcement that LeBron James will be playing in Miami next season. I'm not going to go into the whole sob story about how this shows what a weak and callous man that he is -- I think that's a little unfair -- nor will I give you a whole explanation as to why I think this is going to be far less of a success story for the Heat fans than it looks right now, which I do. No, instead, I'll direct you to the classy open letter to Cavs fans that was issued last night by Dan Gilbert, which is impossible to miss since the Cavaliers' website automatically redirects to it from their home page.

The reaction to this letter has been, shall we say, not positive.

Indeed, Gilbert does look stupid, callous and overly defensive. Also, the use of such a ridiculous font, caps lock and quotation marks at every possible moment is hilarious. But Gilbert didn't write this letter to gain respect, or gracefully wish LeBron luck as he went off to the new part of his career. Gilbert did it to rally the fans of the city of Cleveland, so often heartbroken and jilted one more time. And while I have a hard time see the Cavaliers winning a championship before LeBron does, as Gilbert claims they will, I think this letter will actually help him garner support among his fan base rather than embarrass the organization.

Why? Because they all actually feel this way. They feel like a spurned lover left at the alter after doing all they could. They feel like they've been stabbed in the back. And after watching Cleveland's dismal performance after being eliminated by the Celtics in this year's postseason, they feel like he quit. On the team, on the city, on them.

Gilbert hit the nail right on the head.

Last night, what we all saw was a city robbed of its heart, sports news robbed of whatever innocence it had left and a number of people on TV who appeared to realize they were all selling a piece of their soul. Even if the proceeds went to charity, which they did, the entire hour felt heartless, crude and I felt as if I was dumber for watching it. Will Leitch does a phenomenal job of succinctly echoing the feelings of most sports fans who are relatively detached from Miami and Cleveland.

In the end what we got was a mind-numbing hour of television after which we all felt unsatisfied and there were no winners. In fact, as Nate Silver at notes, both in terms of his legacy, and more tangibly in terms of his monetary potential, even LeBron may come out a loser. Or at least $150 million less of a winner than he could have been.

It is a sad start to our weekend to deal with this hangover, though I'm hoping that some sporting event on Sunday will help me forget about LeBron-O-Mania for a while. If that doesn't help, I will be posting a story on Monday for the first time in a long time. If that can't cheer you all up (and it should, there's nudity in it) then I'm not sure what can help us.

Enjoy the weekend everyone.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

So Who's This LeBron Guy Everyone Keeps Talking About?

Now, I certainly wouldn't be the first person to say that they're tired of this outrageously unnecessary and vain "Decision" special ESPN is airing tonight. I probably won't be the last either. But, uh, I'm tired of this outrageously unnecessary and vain "Decision" special ESPN is airing tonight.

And not just because the screen graphic they made for it is absolutely ludicrous.

No, I'm just tired of it because I've had enough, just like some other major athletes who have been debating their future lately. What was at one point expected to be one of the most cataclysmic, history changing moments in the NBA has become an obscene horse and pony show, and at this point, I don't think I'm out of the majority by saying I just want it to end. Granted, as a Knicks fan, I do want it to end with my team getting the golden calf, but since no one seems to have any clue where on Earth LeBron is going, at this point I'm worn out and done with the suspense.

I want an answer.

But more than an answer at this point, what I want is to be entertained. Thoroughly. If I've had to wait through all these days of irritating round the clock coverage on LeBron that has been nearly as irritating as when they had a health watch running for Barbaro, well, there better be a payoff at the end. And not the kind of payoff I'd get simply from hearing LeBron is a Knick.

I'm talking about something truly fun.

At this point James is not simply a basketball player. He's an entertainer. He'd have to be to make such absurd poses and wear such ridiculous outfits in public. Maybe if we're lucky, he'll come out tonight dressed like an extra from the 1994 Des'Ree classic "You Gotta Be". Then we can have a Calvin Klein photo shoot.

Or maybe he'll come out wearing the same coat he has on in this ad. We can only hope.

Least likely to me seems that he'll wind up wearing this when he takes the stage, though it'd make me awfully happy. More likely, he'll come out in a fine suit and then put on one of those obnoxious College Football Signing Day type setups where he sits behind a table with each school he's interested in attending before he triumphantly picks one hat to the cheers of all his high school class mates.

If that winds up being the case, we could get some particularly solid entertainment if he picks one team and then winds up stuck in Kevin Hart-Type situation when he found out the L.A. Clippers never actually offered him a contract. Now that would be good TV.

Ok, let's be realistic here. That's probably not going to be what we see on TV tonight, particularly if LeBron winds up announcing his decision beforehand on his own website. Of course, it's probably more realistic that he stays in Cleveland to sign with the Browns. Either way, all of us are annoyed that we're being suckered into watching this craptacular lovefest, and yet we're all still going to watch.

At least it's created some good comedy fodder from the interwebs.

In any event, rather than rant about just how annoying all this bullshit is, I may as well just give some idea of where I think the jackass is going. Particularly since Chris Broussard changes his mind every four hours or so. Of course, Broussard isn't the only ESPN talking head who doesn't seem to have a clue, just the most irritating.

All that said, the obvious candidates appear to be Cleveland, New York, Miami and, maybe, Chicago. While many sources are now saying Miami is the place, so he can team up with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade to form something of a super team, this seems, to me, a bit ridiculous. Not because they can't all fit together under the cap. They can. But doing so probably requires them to fill the rest of the bench out with minimum salaried players, the result of which will either be, an extremely mediocre supporting cast or no supporting cast at all when they can't find enough quality minimum-salaried players to the make up a full roster.

As for Chicago, the allure of chasing after Michael Jordan's legacy is the major carrot the Bulls have put out there, but I don't necessarily see that as a selling point, particularly when the recruitment process has seemingly been more adversarial than cordial. Why on Earth would taunting and a guarantee that you will never be loved like Jordan appeal to any free agent?

And then we come to New York, which, perhaps as a bit of wishful thinking, is where I think LeBron will wind up tonight. Now, there are some obvious reasons why this would seem the likely landing spot. LeBron has an obvious love for New York, as shown by his regular wearing of a Yankee hat at nearly all times. Moreover, he has the chance to establish a strong legacy by rescuing a moribund franchise from the brink, as well as do so with another premiere free agent by his side following the Knicks' signing of Amar'e Stoudemire this week.

And there's the money. New York brings in the obvious media spotlight that makes money a major consideration, with the Knicks' own studies showing that LeBron's earning potential in New York is well over a billion dollars and certainly greater than in any other city.

But what really has me convinced are the circumstances surrounding the announcement itself. LeBron's "Special" tonight will be broadcast from the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, CT, which just happens to be a short drive from the Knicks' training facilities in Greenburgh, NY. Of course, if you listen to Broussard, James has picked Greenwich because it is neither Cleveland/Akron, nor New York City, which would have made his choice obvious. This would indicate that Broussard apparently knows naught for New York geography, since Greenwich, CT is just as close to New York City as Akron is to Cleveland. I should mention that some detractors point out that LeBron has to be in New York this weekend anyway for Carmelo Anthony's wedding, but to them I point out this:

LeBron James is, uh, rich. And doesn't need to be in New York two days early to be at Carmelo Anthony's wedding. He can fly in whenever he damn well pleases.

So there you have it. LeBron's whole charade is pretty irksome and long, and tiresome, particularly since I don't think he'll stay in Cleveland, which, to me, seems to be where he clearly wants to be. But at least it's given us something to talk about for a few days -- something even more interesting than the sport itself -- and when this chapter is published in NBA history and our kids read about, you'll know you were there. It may not actually be "college signing day crossed with JFK's assassination," but it's certainly something noteworthy in our sports, celebrity and media obsessed culture.

And we are all witnesses.

Monday, July 5, 2010

As the Kovalchuk Turns

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that most of you are not paying very much attention to the NHL Free Agent Frenzy. This, of course, is perfectly understandable. After all, it's not like a number of name NHL stars have already made news and signed new deals unlike some other more closely followed free agent markets or anything.

Nope. NHL free agency is totally boring.

However, just when you thought it might get totally dull and static because nothing was going on, Ilya Kovalchuk's wild indecisiveness has saved us all and made this suddenly awfully interesting, and not because he happens to be the most dynamic offensive player to hit the unrestricted free agent market, well, maybe ever. Nor is it because Kovalchuk was the most sought after gem of the 2010 NHL Trade Deadline or because he's scored more goals than anyone else in the League in the last nine seasons.

No, this is simply because today has been one of the more bizarre days as far as sheer number of teams and possibilities that can't make up their mind as to whether they even want to be in the Kovalchuk sweepstakes. Over the course of today, Kovalchuk has been linked to eight different teams across two hemispheres, with some more plausible than others. After a while, what became most clear, at least to me, was that no one really knew anything.

Especially Kovalchuk.

It's rare that one player can be destined to sign with so many different teams over the course of 12 hours, but apparently it takes a dynamic player who can weave through defensemen seamlessly to have the ability to weave through three different countries in one afternoon. The hubbub all started when Kovalchuk's agent, Jay Grossman, promised that a decision was forthcoming not just sometime soon but today. Cue the hockey-writing twittersphere which gets all agog over his potential movement and almost immediately decides that Kovy is going to re-sign with the New Jersey Devils for an almost shocking discount compared to what he turned down mid-season from Atlanta.

Happy David, right? All well and good?

Not so fast.

Then comes a deluge of rumors that the deal may not yet be set in stone, though New Jersey is still the frontrunner, according to the New York Post. Of course, to anyone who has been paying attention on a minute-by-minute basis -- read: losers like David Kalan -- you will notice the subtle difference made by the Post in their headline from when the story first went out.

Hold the phone kids. What's going on? Well, suddenly rumors start flying that Kovalchuk is still being tossed around every which way. The Kings are still said to be in the race for obvious reasons (talent, cap space, big market) even though they have already announced that they are no longer negotiating. Next come the Islanders who are also said to be in the mix, something that, frankly, hasn't been news for a few days now. Soon the Rangers, Maple Leafs and even Kovalchuk's old home Atlanta is said to be jumping in with last minute offers.

Then, out of nowhere, word comes that Kovalchuk is suddenly mulling a return to his native Russia with SKA St. Petersburg. Not only do all of these rumors confuse the hell out of everyone, they also give free license to smartasses all over the internet to irritate the rest of us. Of course, others simply amuse us.

At long last, Grossman comes back out of the ether to indicate that after all of the hockey world went abuzz, Kovalchuk, in fact, won't be making a decision today, which basically means it's time for all of us to take a deep breath and relax because Kovalchuk clearly doesn't know where he wants to go. While we do know he has, supposedly, narrowed it down to two NHL teams, the end destination for the Russian sniper is anyone's guess. While most accept that one of those teams is the Devils, the other one is a subject of some debate amongst sportswriters and nonsensical soothsayers.

My guess? Kovalchuk and the Devils have a deal in principle, but New Jersey, short on cap space, is working hard to move a contract to make room for Kovy longterm. This would seem the most likely scenario, and many are wondering just what Devil will be the odd man out when all is said and done.

Of course, if Kovy hops to Russia or picks another team entirely, all of that hypothesizing becomes moot quickly. Like most hockey fans, I will be watching this closely, if for no other reason than because acquiring Kovalchuk turns the Devils from a contender to make a playoff run into an early favorite to reach the Finals in 2011. However, more than anything, I'd just like to know where he's going before every team in the League gets linked to him. Frankly, that doesn't seem far off.

Somewhere, I get the feeling, Ilya Kovalchuk and Lebron James are watching all of us scurry around like chickens with our heads cut off with beers in their hands.

Well, Ilya probably has vodka.