Friday, December 31, 2010

On the Road: The Shaw Shuffle

As has been our tradition of late, we made the train trip down to DC for a few days after Christmas. Miraculously, we managed to avoid the huge snowstorm in New Jersey on the 26th to make it through virtually without incident.

As noted in an earlier post, I find myself at a point where I want to redefine my relationship with the city I grew up near. Our Girl is suddenly no longer interested in sightseeing, preferring to find adventures with Grandma around the Kalorama neighborhood. But Washington is a fascinating city and despite having grown up nearby, I don't feel I know the town as well as I should. And so, I intend to plan more purposeful explorations for future visits.

No matter what cable news would have you believe about the political scene, African-America is far and away the predominant cultural force in the nation's capital. And yet, just as in many other cities in the United States, Euro-Americans and Afro-Americans live, for the most part, in entirely separate communities. However, Shaw, the heart of DC's Afro-American community, is only a few blocks away from my parents' neighborhood. Duke Ellington was Shaw's most famous native son, born on T Street. On Wednesday, our last full day in Washington, I planned a "city hike" to Shaw, following the "Shaw Shuffle" walking tour set out in the Lonely Planet (3rd edition) guide to Washington. Despite their proximity, my parents had never explored Shaw either so it was a good opportunity for all of us to know the city better.

First stop was lunch at Ben's Chili Bowl, a DC institution. My father was the only one among us who had ever been before. I had the chili burger and a strawberry shake - both excellent. The walls are covered with photos of celebrities on site, ranging from Hillary Clinton to Bill Cosby. In all, we managed a hearty meal for five for just over $30 - not bad at all. We arrived before noon - a good choice. On the walk home, we tried to stop for a shake for Our Girl but the line already went out to the curb. (Don't feel too sad for her. She was perfectly happy with the ice cream and chocolate sauce she got back at my parents' place.) Ben's proved to be the highlight of the tour for me.

Unfortunately, we did not make it all the way through the tour. People, mainly Our Girl, had run out of steam by the time we got to Dunbar Theatre, stop #11 out of 15 on the Lonely Planet tour. We'll have to tackle the rest another time. We never were able to find the African American Civil War Museum which seems to have moved locations a couple of times. We'll make a separate trip for that one at some point, too.

The walk back to Kalorama proved fruitful as we discovered Hana Japanese Market at 17th and U Streets. I love Japanese grocery stores, as they tend to be the only places in the US which carry the sorts of products one can find at any corner convenience store in Japan: Pocky sticks and green tea ice cream as well as a much wider than normal range of sembe crackers and noodle products.

As long as I'm plugging restaurants and other local businesses, my parents took us to the wonderful Himalayan Heritage Restaurant for dinner our last night in town. It is one of their favorites, serving authentic Nepalese and Indian cuisine.

As for future city tours, I hope we'll do the rest of the Shaw tour sometime. Also, my father has offered to show me where the Spanish Steps are down near Embassy Row. They're definitely not where Lonely Planet says they are! Beyond that, I think further exploration of the area around Kalorama would be great. I'll see how much of the city I can explore without getting on the subway.

On the Coffee Table: Mark St. Amant

One of my Christmas presents from my mother-in-law was Committed: Confessions of a Fantasy Football Junkie by Mark St. Amant. The book is a funny and engaging read about the author's own quest to win his league's title. Predictably, the book has also inspired introspection of my own fantasy sports obsession and my place within the hobby.

I am pleased to say that in reading St. Amant's book, I have been assured that there is no shortage of people who take fantasy football a lot more seriously than I do. Furthermore, the two leagues of which I proudly call myself a member are pretty low-key despite occasional bravado. St. Amant writes of how fantasy football has brought more fans to the NFL itself and I can certainly say that is the case for me. As I wrote last year, I gradually lost interest in professional football after the first Joe Gibbs Era in Washington. The fantasy game brought me back last year and I'm quite confident that I've watched more football in the past two years than I had in the previous ten. My Wife isn't too happy about that but she is, in fact, the one who encouraged me to try it. More on that later.

In one sense, I can't help feeling St. Amant's disapproval in that I am definitely MORE a fan of the fantasy game than I am of real football. As I have written, I have discovered this season that I care more about my fantasy team winning than I do about the Redskins winning. I feel differently about baseball. I can watch an Orioles game and completely forget about all fantasy implications. That said, 25+ years from now, will I remember my fantasy baseball title this year with the same fondness as I have for the Skins first Super Bowl win? Not a chance. It's been a long time since my NFL team was any good. I might feel differently if they were. Then again, the Orioles have been bad for longer and that doesn't seem to be an issue. Hmm...

While I feel that in general, I am less obsessed with fantasy sports than St. Amant or others whom he describes in his book, I must confess to an anxiety dream that I had the other night. I was trying to draft a baseball team and could not for the life of me bring up my lists of middle infielders - very frustrating!

I do disagree with St. Amant on two points. He is not a fan of over-emphasis on defense in fantasy football whereas I feel that the inclusion of IDPs in the college league this year has only enhanced my enjoyment of both the fantasy game and the NFL. He also is very dismissive of Yahoo! leagues. While I'll admit that I have no basis for comparison, they've certainly worked for me. As I've written before, I don't think the hobby would have been nearly as much fun for me before it became primarily web-based.

Committed is at its best when St. Amant writes about fantasy football widows and his own long-suffering wife Celia in particular. My Wife hates football with an intense passion and, out of consideration for her, I do make an effort to limit my own game-watching. The fact that she tends to go to bed early makes for a nice compromise. There are plenty of night games in the NFL and more often than not, the fantasy results for the week come down to what happens on Sunday and Monday nights. So, I manage to get my fix without annoying her too much. Worse for her than the games, though, is the pregame shows, which I need to watch all too frequently for game-time injury reports. Perhaps I should sort out a better system for that next year.

My Football Fantasy: 2010 Season Review

It was another fun year in fantasy football for me, if not a particularly successful one. In fact, despite more extensive preparation, I did worse than last year. As I've said in previous posts, I should probably take a lesson from my baseball success. My strategy for baseball this past season was a very simple, self-devised one and it carried me to the championship. Depending on how it works for me this year, I might be willing to share it. The first step will be to see how it works out for the head-to-head format we have planned for this year in baseball. If that succeeds, I hope to be able to adapt it to football as well.

Season MVP

Player: Frank Gore
Position: Running Back
Team: San Francisco 49ers
Season Stats: 203 rushing attempts for 853 yards and 3 touchdowns, 46 receptions for 452 yards and 2 touchdowns and 2 lost fumbles

Image via

For the second year in a row, a 49er was my best player (tight end Vernon Davis in last year's campaign). Gore was my first draft pick in both leagues and he was a very dependable back until going down with a broken hip in Week 12. When he got hurt, he pretty much took my playoff hopes in the Vermont league with him, though I'm fairly confident his own disappointment exceeded mine. He was well on his way to another 1,000 yard rushing season with five more games to play. His numbers were still pretty darn good for an 11-game season.

League Comparison

The most significant differences between my two leagues are in the rosters:

1) The college league uses IDPs (Individual Defensive Players) whereas the Vermont league does not. I like having them for the very simple reason that they led me to watch defenses with far greater interest this year. One cool thing about IDPs is that the most dependable players are inside linebackers and safeties, not exactly the most glamorous positions on a defense. In both cases, their job is to finish plays, i.e. make loads of tackles. They don't get the sacks that other positions rack up, nor as many interceptions as the corner backs. They are the workhorses upon which every team depends and they deserve the attention that fantasy football brings to them.

One odd thing about having IDPs is that you typically root against their teams. After all, if the team's offense is on the field, it limits the points your IDPs can accumulate. With team defenses, the opposite is true, as points against play a more significant role in scoring.

2) The college league bench is very skimpy: 4 spots for 12 starters. The Vermont league had the Yahoo! default: 6 spots for 9 starters. Clearly, learning to manage the short bench will be key to future success against my fellow alums.

Commissioner Notes

There wasn't too much griping in the football league amongst the Vermonters - in fact, none. However, in my own opinion, the draft could use some improvement for next year. An unfortunate portion of our league auto-drafted this year. In hindsight, scheduling the draft for the first week of school in a league including several teachers may not have been the best plan. I think I'll schedule for the previous week next year, assuming they'll have me back. The draft, even if it's online, is the most important social event of the fantasy football season so it's worth getting it right.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Football Fantasy: Irrelevant Dominance

College League: Squid wins, 111.24-50.95 (11th place finish)
Vermont League: Squid wins, 138.52-62.68 (9th place)
My MVP: Josh Freeman (Quarterback, Buccaneers) with 21 completions for 237 yards, 5 passing touchdowns, 2 sacks and 4 rushing attempts for 23 yards

Oh sure, everything comes together for my team right when it matters the least. I was the Greatest Fantasy Victor in both leagues. Where was this kind of luck three weeks ago?!!! Big excitement looms in the college league. Husband (last year's commish) and wife (Wild Turkey) face off in the championship this weekend. Their current projected points are within one point of each other! I hope all tensions will have cooled by the time we see them over MLK weekend.

Freeman had a great game but in truth, he's been a pretty solid quarterback for me ever since I added him to my college league squad mid-season - not spectacular, but dependable. Will he ever be a superstar-level QB in the NFL? Maybe, maybe not. But he could be good enough for the Bucs to build up the team at other positions

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bowl Season: Looking at the Big Picture

If things continue as they have, Hawaii will be the first Vegas odds favorite to lose this bowl season (they're currently down by 20 in the 3rd quarter against Tulsa). I must admit I've had a poor first week. I've only picked two games correctly: Northern Illinois in the Humanitarian Bowl and Boise State in the MAACO Bowl. Hawaii was my pick in tonight's game. If the current result holds, I'll be firmly in last place.

However, I did learn last year that one must look at the big picture with the bowl season. The real number to watch is not points scored but possible points, based on what we've scored thus far plus what confident points are still available going forward. Looking at matters in that light, a Hawaii loss is not such a horrible thing for me. As they were a heavy favorite coming into the game, a few in my group staked much higher points on the game than I did. If Hawaii loses, I'll be in 6th place out of 10 in possible points. If they somehow come back and win, I'll be in 8th place. All else being equal, I'd rather be right about the pick but there is a silver lining.

Tulsa's still up 48-28 at the end of the 3rd.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Football Fantasy: The Journeyman

College League: Squid loses, 81.18-66.18 (will play in the 11th place game next week)
Vermont League: Squid loses, 83.36-77.50 (will play in the 9th place game)
My MVP: Jon Kitna (Quarterback, Cowboys) with 305 yards passing and 2 touchdowns plus 11 yards rushing

Photo via Bleacher Reporter

Just one week to go for me in each league. I was within range in the Vermont league going into the Sunday night game. A bigger game from Danny Woodhead (running back, Patriots) would have done it for me but no such luck. In the Iowa league, it was already over for me after the Sunday games. My opponent had the lead with Julius Peppers (defensive end, Bears) still to go on Monday night.

Even though he had his great game at the expense of my team, the Redskins, it's hard not to love the Jon Kitna story. For starters, he is one of very few players in the league who is older than I am. The guy played at an NAIA college, went undrafted in 1996, played in Europe for a year and has since put together a 14-season NFL career. He's spent most of that time in the relative NFL backwaters of Seattle, Cincinnati and Detroit. Tony Romo goes down with an injury and here Kitna is playing lights-out football for the league's most glamorous franchise.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bowl Season: A Day for the Favorites

A new bowl season is upon us, and once again I am in a pick'em league. Our group is bigger this year: up to ten from six last year. I brought a couple of my own friends from outside the usual Mock & Cousins circle: one Tree Farm friend and one high school pal. Hopefully, I can improve on last year's last place finish.

Sadly, I'm off to a slow start: just one for three on the day, assuming Troy manages to hold on to its current 41-14 third quarter lead. It has not been a good day for upsets. All three games were/are heavily tilted towards the Vegas favorites. I was right about Northern Illinois but lost with UTEP and, thus far, Ohio. Fortunately, my confidence point risk has been low: just six points today out of a potential 630. So, there is plenty of room for growth.

48-14, Troy leads. 6:36 to go in the third.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Football Fantasy: Not Quite the Spoiler

College League: Squid wins, 74.98-72.23 (4-10 overall)
Vermont League: bye week
My MVP: Adrian Wilson (Safety) who had a great game (11 solo tackles and 1 pass defended) for my team defense, the Arizona Cardinals (13 points allowed, 3 interceptions and 3 fumble recoveries)

Photo via Cardinals Gab

My victory this week was not enough to pull me up out of the league cellar. I still finish the regular season in last place. And so, it's on to the consolation playoffs. I almost got to play spoiler to my opponent, Special Dinner, but he ended up scoring enough points to finish just ahead of Roppongi Moose, the seventh place team. SD makes the playoffs, RM is the top seed for the consolation bracket.

I feel for the Houston Texans this morning. Their Monday night game against the Ravens was almost a classic. Coming back from 21 points down to force overtime was impressive. The interception touchdown to end the game was a horrible let down. At the very least, they deserved a more dignified defeat.

Consolation semis in the Vermont league this week. I will face Mock's stepfather. Mock lost in the championship quarterfinals but The Breeders won.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Army-Navy 2010

Inspired by John Feinstein, I watched the Army-Navy football game today for the first time in ages. Unfortunately, it wasn't much of a game. Navy beat Army for the ninth time in a row. But on a day when a new chapter is added to the Cam Newton story, a tale that exemplifies everything that's wrong with college athletics, it's good to be reminded that the service academies embody everything that is right about them. It's been a great football year for the military academies, too. For the first time ever, Air Force, Army and Navy are all going to bowl games. As a Marylander, I am partial to Navy. Annapolis is one of my favorite towns in the whole world.

Image via World Latest News

Earlier this year, I read Feinstein's book The Last Amateurs, an account of basketball in the Patriot League, of which Army and Navy are both members. The schools in the league are all academics-first programs, highly unusual in Division I basketball, to say the least. They are the only two schools in the league which also play FBS-level football. Feinstein also wrote a book about the academies' football rivalry: A Civil War. I haven't read that one yet but it's on my to-read list.

Life at the military academies is brutal and unforgiving and the football players are spared exactly none of it. To be sure, these young men are of a different quality from those at other top-flight athletic programs. For starters, even athletes have to have good grades to gain admission. Then they must survive a system designed to drive away the timid. And, of course, there's the military commitment at the end, the trade off for the federal government footing the bill: not exactly the ideal arrangement for anyone with NFL aspirations.

In light of this, how can one help but admire these sensible people? Not only are they sacrificing the comforts they would enjoy as student-athletes elsewhere in order to serve the greater good. They have also chosen a path which will assure them of gainful employment at the end of four years, showing far more foresight than most college students, athletes or no.

Of course, the Army-Navy game is about a lot more than football. Just today, while out Christmas shopping, I overheard a conversation between two veterans about how people's attitudes towards the military have changed during their lifetimes. One, from the Vietnam era, spoke of how people used to spit on them when they came home. The other, a generation younger, spoke of how people near his base in Kentucky would pay for your gas if they knew you were in the service. I've certainly experienced that change in my own life.

Despite going to high school in Bethesda, Maryland, home to the Naval Hospital, I didn't know a lot of active military personnel growing up - certainly not many with combat experience. As it was the post-Vietnam era, there was still general mistrust of the military and in my youthful idealism, I certainly didn't give it much thought as a career path. There was one Marines recruiter who called several times during my senior year of high school. I finally had to tell him that as a scrawny, non-conforming pacifist, I probably wasn't his man.

But I did have one childhood friend who went to Annapolis. We'd had many political arguments over the years but the discussions left the realm of the abstract once he entered the academy. To say his college experience was different from mine is an absurd understatement. The philosophical conflicts came up within him, even writing to me once that he hoped he'd never actually have to kill anyone - sobering, to be sure. But he stuck it out, eventually becoming a helicopter pilot. While I was a carefree bachelor in Japan, he was flying humanitarian aid missions in Kosovo. From an actual e-mail to me at the time: "we're unarmed. I hope they know that!"

Now, as a teacher in a small town, I know quite a lot of students with parents in the military. Many have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and I can attest to the fact that stress on the families is very real. Tragically, some in the community have been killed in action. Needless to say, my own feelings about the military have changed quite a lot over the years as a result.

It's a good time of year to be thinking about those currently serving. As we all endure the stress of the holidays, we should keep in mind those who are far from home serving our country in circumstances few of us can fathom. I leave you with a song written during the Second World War for those serving abroad:

Sports Flicks: The Tenth Inning

Thank goodness for DVR! Through it's magic, I was able to finish Ken Burns's The Tenth Inning last night. The new documentary picks up approximately where his epic masterwork Baseball left off: the early 1990s.

Image via GetGlue

Burns did a reasonably good job of choosing material on which to focus but some of it is puzzling. First-ballot Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, for instance, barely warrants mention. The powerhouse Toronto Blue Jays of the early '90s are briefly glazed over in favor of the Braves and Yankees dynasties which followed.

At first, I was puzzled by the fact that a lengthy intro of Barry Bonds was followed immediately by a very brief feature on Ken Griffey, Jr. But over the rest of the documentary, I came to understand why. The story of Bonds is very much the story of the era and Burns does a nice job of exhibiting that, coming back to Bonds as the other themes of turn-of-the-century baseball unfold.

Photo via

I teared up again watching the Red Sox finally winning the World Series in '04. As previously discussed, while I live deep in the heart of Red Sox Nation, I've never been able to fully embrace the team. They do, after all, inhabit the same division as my Orioles. But I was very happy for them, and all of my friends and neighbors, when they finally won. Now that they've emerged as a power of the age, I can safely go back to detesting them.

I feel that Burns's treatment of the steroids issue is very fair. I have long felt that the steroids story has become merely a player witch hunt, mostly ignoring the fact that the commissioner, the union, the owners, management and, indeed, journalists themselves played a complicit role in the scandal. Burns does a nice job of holding everyone's feet to the fire.

Photo via Farther off the Wall

The new documentary deserves high praise for including a healthy dose of Costas. Among sportscasters, I believe that Bob Costas is in a class by himself. He is easily the most articulate commentator in the business. NBC could send him out to cover a craps game in the back alley and he would bring respect and dignity to the assignment. For all of the enthusiasm he brings to every sport, Costas is first and foremost a baseball man. When discussing his favorite game, his eyes light up and he becomes the proverbial kid in the candy store. Plus, Costas was right about steroids - long before anyone else was ready to make a story out of it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Football Fantasy: Out of the Running

College League: Squid loses, 83.44-57.17 (3-10 overall)
Vermont League: Squid loses, 98.12-94.80 (6-7)
My MVP: LeSean McCoy (Running Back, Eagles) with 44 yards rushing, 1 rushing touchdown, 86 yards receiving and 1 receiving touchdown.

Photo via Bleed Green

The regular season is over for the Vermont league. I'm out of the playoffs but I will be the top seed for the consolation round. I suppose that's something. We have one more week to go before the playoffs in the college league. I am the cellar dweller and can only play to salvage pride at this point. Nowhere to go but up!

And so, rather than thinking about what I did differently between the two leagues, I should be thinking about how I approached the baseball season. For football this year, I did a lot of research on strategies and it got me nowhere. For baseball, I invented my own strategy and won the title. Perhaps I will see how I can adapt it to football next year.

McCoy has had an awesome year. Unfortunately, I haven't always reaped the benefit. If there's one thing I did right this season, it was drafting RBs in the Vermont league. I came out of the draft with Frank Gore (49ers), Pierre Thomas (Saints), McCoy, Felix Jones (Cowboys) and Darren McFadden (Raiders). I've had some trouble with injuries and some underwhelming results from Jones but ultimately, I was strong enough at the position that I was able to trade McFadden away without hurting myself. The downside, however, was that I haven't always been able to start McCoy and he's had some very big games this season. So it goes.

I get this week off in the Vermont league. I await the winner of a matchup between Mock's brother and their stepfather. Meanwhile, college bowls are right around the corner.

Monday, December 6, 2010

On the Coffee Table: Steve Brewer

I just finished End Run: A Drew Gavin Mystery by Steve Brewer. Mystery is not usually my genre but I really enjoyed this one. It definitely kept me guessing, too. I thought I had it figured out but was wrong. I realized the truth at the same point that the protagonist, Drew Gavin, did.

Image via PaperBack Swap

I picked this book up, along with Olympian by Peter L. Dixon, from a free book exchange shelf at the Tree Farm this past summer. While Olympian was underwhelming, End Run was good fun. Character development, in particular, was much stronger with this one. You don't learn too much, even about Drew, at once and you get glimpses of little quirks here and there: his love for '50s rock'n'roll, his disdain for baseball and so on. I really grew to care about the characters and how the story ended for each of them became important to me.

Gavin is a sportswriter by trade who inadvertently gets caught up in a murder case. He is himself a former college football player and the story centers around a plan to bring an NBA franchise to Albuquerque. The dangers of sports gambling are also integral to the narrative.

I was a big mystery fan as a kid. I liked Encyclopedia Brown a lot, but my favorite series was The Three Investigators. The genre hasn't held as much interest for me as an adult. I've dabbled: a little Agatha Christie here, a bit of Nero Wolfe there. But End Run has me thinking that perhaps I should read more. My Wife is a big mystery fan so we have plenty of them around the house. Sigh... Too many books, too little time.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Baseball Funnies: Who's on First?

Baseball has served as artistic inspiration in several media but has had perhaps its most significant impact on the world of comedy. Abbott & Costello's "Who's on First?" is arguably THE masterpiece of sketch comedy. We recently showed it to our daughter for the first time and, although I'm not sure how well she followed the whole joke, she genuinely enjoyed the basic wordplay at its heart. "I Don't Know - Third Base!" was a running gag at our house for a week afterward.

I can't tell you much about the routine's history beyond what you can learn from the Wikipedia entry. I love the fact that there was once a board game based on the sketch! I know I first learned about it from a friend in high school who went on to an acting career in New York.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Football Fantasy: Broken Hip

College League: Squid loses, 74.27-64.48 (3-9 overall)
Vermont League: Squid loses, 69.50-61.18 (6-6)
My MVP: Miles Austin (Wide Receiver, Cowboys) with 1 rushing attempt for 60 yards and 1 touchdown, 3 receptions for 25 yards and 1 solo tackle

Photo via NFL Spin Zone

It feels wrong to pity myself over Frank Gore's broken hip. The 49er running back is, no doubt, in great pain and is probably far more disappointed than I that his season is over. But the fact of the matter is that victory was within my grasp in both leagues. In fact, if you add his points for the game to those of his replacement, Brian Westbrook (not really fair, I know), I'd have won in both. Oh well.

The situation is pretty dire in the college league. Even with two games left on our schedule, the best I can finish is 9th out of 12. I might be able to salvage some pride in the consolation playoffs but that's it.

In the Vermont league, it's pretty simple: I have to win this week and the guy currently in 6th place has to lose. I could potentially finish in a three-way tie for fifth with a win but both of the other two guys have a lot more overall points than I do. So, here's hoping!

It was another good game for Austin, despite the Cowboys' loss - just the way I like it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sports Flicks: Baseball

Inspired by Mock's recent comment, I finally finished Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns last night. I first started watching a couple summers ago, checking the DVDs out of the public library. The Tenth Inning is currently saved on the DVR list but I haven't watched yet.

Image via Sittin' in the Catbird Seat

The epic documentary is masterful, per usual for Mr. Burns. A lot of the stories presented are well-known to even the casual fan but plenty are not. Personally, I am particularly intrigued by both the 19th century game and the Negro Leagues. The highlight of the series, for me, was the Jackie Robinson story. I also really enjoyed The Eighth Inning which covers the '60s. Any montage featuring both Jimi Hendrix and Sandy Koufax is alright by me.

Photo via World Changers

As it turns out, there was never really a pure game. In the midst of our current grumblings over steroids and 10-figure salaries, there seems a yearning for the good old days. But there were always problems in big league ball: violence, cheating, gambling, racism, exploitation, drugs, alcohol, you name it. The game was never free of sin and likely never will be. There have been eras when the powers within baseball were better at sweeping the problems under the rug but they were still there.

Baseball is difficult to watch as an Orioles fan. The features on Earl Weaver, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson serve to remind that my team was, for a decent period, the greatest franchise in the game. The story of the 1979 World Series is particularly bittersweet now as both participants - Orioles and Pirates - have since endured so many terrible seasons. I do realize my troubles are nothing compared to the frustrations of Cubs or Indians fans. The cycle of success and failure is part of the game, too, I suppose.

Photo via Baltimore Orioles

Ken Burns has reassured me about the current balance of power in baseball. He reminded me that between 1978 and 1987, ten different teams won the World Series over ten years (Yankees, Pirates, Phillies, Dodgers, Cardinals, Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Mets, Twins): the longest such streak in the game. We have actually had six different champs over the past six years (White Sox, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Yankees, Giants) - not too bad. In fact, nine different teams have won over the past eleven seasons. Perhaps there is greater parity than I have realized.

Despite all of the myriad problems over the decades, baseball has ample fuel for its great pride. Ken Burns has done a great service to the game with his film chronicle. I look forward to watching the next installment.

Friday, November 26, 2010

On the Coffee Table: Peter L. Dixon

I just finished The Olympian, a novel by Peter L. Dixon. The book chronicles the adventures of Winter Wolf, a fictional Olympic swimmer at the 1932 Games in Los Angeles. His event, the 1,000 meter freestyle, was the author's invention as well, though there are many real-life characters who make cameos: William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies and Johnny Weissmuller, among others.

Swimming is really only a small part of the book. In essence, the narrative is a whirlwind tour of 1930s coastal California. It is a fun read, but I have to say that character development is rather clunky. Dixon is at his best when writing about the water, not surprising from a man who has written highly-acclaimed non-fiction books about surfing. His love for the ocean is abundantly clear and the elegance with which he writes about boating, diving, swimming and lifeguarding stands in contrast with the otherwise obvious narrative. His characters are like-able, but not particularly nuanced, nor are the relationships between them.

Here's one for Mock: one of the real-life cameos is Buster Crabbe, a genuine '32 Olympic gold medalist. In his Hollywood career that followed, he is the only actor to have played Tarzan, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, the top three comic book characters of the 1930s, according to Wikipedia.

Photo via Michael May's Adventureblog

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Let's Talk Baseball: End-of-the-Year Awards

The Josh Hamilton story just got a little better today as he won the American League MVP award for 2010. He was also, apparently, a candidate for Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. (It's going to be Phil Jackson. You heard it here first.) Hamilton was my MVP for my fantasy team so I am very pleased.

Photo via

Hamilton was one of three of my fantasy stalwarts to win Silver Sluggers awards. Ryan Zimmerman (3B, Nationals) and Brian McCann (C, Braves) were also honored with that distinction.

Zimmerman photo via Midwest Sports Fans

McCann photo via Ghost of Moonlight Graham

Heath Bell (Padres), another of my guys, was awarded Delivery of the Year as the top relief pitcher.

Photo via Cubbies Crib

My Football Fantasy: The Stampede

College League: Squid loses, 82.45-60.99 (3-8 overall)
Vermont League: Squid loses, 95.54-88.62 (6-5)
My MVP: Matt Ryan (Quarterback, Falcons) with 253 yards passing, 2 passing touchdown, 1 two-point conversion and 8 yards rushing

Photo via

Completely out of the blue, I was overrun by the Buffalo Bills this week. I was confident of a win against fellow blogger Marc (Marc Whitman's Blog) but he had two Bills on his roster who both had very good games against the Bengals. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had 316 yards passing, 4 passing touchdowns, 2 interceptions and 11 yards rushing. 3 of his 4 touchdown passes went to wide receiver Steve Johnson who accounted for 137 total receiving yards.

We're hitting the regular season home stretch. It's nearly curtains for me in the college league. I'm three games out of the playoffs with three more to play. The situation is much happier in the Vermont league. I am still in sixth place and, despite my loss, made up some ground on points against the fifth place team. As the race tightens, I'm starting to pay more attention to what's going on in the other matchups. Mock clinched a playoff spot this week. So did my dear college friends who were our last-minute twelfth member in both leagues. I shall call them the Breeders as they just had their third baby daughter this fall.

As disappointing as the week was, I sure can't complain about my starting quarterback in the Vermont league. It was another great week for Matt Ryan.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Commissioner

As previously written, I serve as commissioner for my Vermont-based fantasy football league and was also commissioner for the group's baseball league this summer. It is a role I take very seriously. I humbly offer a few thoughts on what I feel are important considerations for an effective commissioner. I hope any readers might share their own thoughts in the comments section.

1. A commissioner must be fair. This is, of course, obvious. But it's not always easy. First of all, as a playing member of the league, you must consider all league members as equal partners, self included. All rules and decision must affect everyone equally.

2. A commissioner should open the league as early as possible. From now on, I intend to open leagues as soon as they become available on Yahoo, even if it means ultimately passing on the commissionership (-hood? -ness?) to someone else. Starting early affords plenty of time to invite players and change league parameters as needed.

3. A commissioner should have a process for rule changes once the league is opened. Parameters must be set as soon as the league is launched. Site default settings or rules from previous seasons would be the obvious place to start. However, that is not to say that all is then set in stone. But you also can't go making changes every time someone complains. Otherwise, you'll go crazy and, more importantly, risk being unfair. I figure if two people make the same suggestion, or one expresses agreement with the suggestion of another, it amounts to a motion and a second. Then you can safely put the matter to a vote and majority rules. Some things cannot be changed once the season starts but one should bear in mind such changes for future seasons.

4. A commissioner should hold a postmortem towards but not after the end of the season (which I suppose technically makes it a quasimortem). A league is its own focus group and I think it's important to sound everyone out on what went well and what needs fixing in order to plan for future seasons. You should do it while people are still checking the league site regularly and before they get on with their lives once the season's over. In this case, I'm not sure majority rule is the best way to go. Over the long-term, not all votes are equal. Keeping the regulars happy takes precedence. With Mock's leagues, for instance, he and his cousins are the most important voters.


That's all I've got so far. I may add others in time. Again, please don't be shy with suggestions.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Football Fantasy: Friendly Fire

College League: Squid loses, 71.60-65.48 (3-7 overall record)
Vermont League: Squid wins, 109.44-105.84 (6-4)
My MVP: Matt Ryan (Quarterback, Falcons) with 316 passing yards, 1 passing touchdown and 5 rushing yards

Photo via BC's View from the Cheap Seats

Both of my Week 10 opponents are highly important people in my life. Mock, my opponent in the Vermont league, is my valued friend, colleague and fellow blogger (Stay on target...). We shall call my college league opponent The Best Man as he performed that role in our wedding. My Wife and I each had a best man and a maid of honor. The Best Man was hers. In fact, I would never have met My Wife if he hadn't been friends with her first.

Once again, the scores were close in both leagues with everything coming down to Monday night. I had no one left in the college league whereas The Best Man had Ryan Torain (RB) and London Fletcher (LB) - two Redskins. Torain was a non-factor but Fletcher was a beast: 9 solo tackles plus 4 assisted tackles, more than enough to cement The Best Man's victory.

Mock may take a while to forgive me for my late comeback in our matchup. I was nine points behind heading into Monday night. I had LeSean McCoy (RB, Eagles). He had Santana Moss (WR, Redskins). As you may have heard, Eagles QB Michael Vick had the game of his life and McCoy was one of many fantasy beneficiaries. Moss? Not so much. Squid wins.

My week started off quite well in the Vermont league with Matt Ryan's performance on Thursday. I'd completely forgotten that there was a Thursday night game (it feels like there are more every year) and that I had my starting quarterback going. He had the best game of his young career, taking down the mighty Ravens and cementing Atlanta's place atop the current NFC standings. Matt Ryan is credited on Wikipedia with creating the game folleyball for NFL Play 60.

My record in the college league now stands at 3-7. Last week's loss became a win after the stats were adjusted for the week - lucky me! I am still two games out of the playoffs and still have a chance at a .500 regular season record, but no better. My situation in the Vermont league is much better. I am now in playoff position and I'm very happy with the current state of my team. 109 points is a great weekly score, win or lose.

As discussed previously, fantasy sports can play wicked games with your rooting interests. All else being equal, the Redskins are my favorite NFL team and the Eagles are one of their most bitter rivals. But it was hard not to root for Philadelphia last night. The writing was on the wall early in the college league so I didn't have much of a chance to root against London Fletcher. And really, how can you root against any middle linebacker: among the more thankless yet vital positions in football? But I really wanted a big game from McCoy (nothing personal, Mock) and it's difficult to root for a lead running back and not for his team.

And so, it appears that I care more about my fantasy team than I do about the Skins. I'm only a little surprised by this revelation. After all, I've suspected all along that I prefer fantasy football to the real thing. Not so with baseball, I found this summer. However, I might feel differently in a head-to-head baseball league. I'll find out next year.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Football Fantasy: The Mike Williams Society

College League: Squid loses, 66.20-64.46 (2-7 overall record)
Vermont League: Squid wins, 73.50-71.66 (5-4)
My MVP: Mike Williams (Wide Receiver, Buccaneers) with 89 receiving yards and 1 touchdown

Photo via Hawk Fantasy Sports

Things are definitely heading in opposite directions for me in my two leagues. I'm still in seventh place in the Vermont league, only points behind the sixth team for the last playoff spot. In the college league, I can now only manage a .500 record at best for the season. It could happen.

Squeakers in both leagues for me this week. In both cases, it came down to Monday night, my having a slight lead with no players left. Both of my opponents had one Steeler to play: Hines Ward (WR) in the college league, Heath Miller (TE) in the Vermont league. Neither had a great game but Ward scored a touchdown which was enough to ensure my opponent the win.

I have two wide receivers named Mike Williams on my Vermont roster. The other plays for Seattle but I didn't start him this week. The Tampa Bay Williams is a rookie making a pretty decent splash in his first year.

Monday, November 8, 2010

On the Coffee Table: Doris Kearns Goodwin

Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir by Doris Kearns Goodwin is the celebrated historian's account of suburban life in the 1950s. The title comes from the motto of the baseball team she grew up with: the Brooklyn Dodgers. She does a very nice job of interweaving the story of the team with the story of her own coming of age.

Photo via Taki's Magazine

It's dangerous to call anything unique. As soon as you find something similar, uniqueness is lost. But I think it's fair to say the experience of Dodger fans of the '40s and '50s is unique in American sports. They witnessed the arrival of Jackie Robinson in 1947, perhaps the greatest of all sports stories of the 20th century. They were on the losing end of baseball's most famous home run: Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951. They won the World Series after decades of disappointment in 1955. Finally, they were on the business end of perhaps sports' greatest heartbreak when the beloved team left town for Southern California in 1957, robbing the borough of its only major professional sports franchise. Predictably, Goodwin's retelling of the team's story is expertly conveyed.

Photo via Baseball Forum

And yet, baseball is but a single thread in the book's fabric. Goodwin's portrayal of life in the '50s goes far beyond the love of her favorite team. As readers, we are welcomed into her family's home. We wander her neighborhood, meet her friends and visit the butcher shop. We follow her to her first confession and grow to admire her favorite teachers. We join in her outrage over McCarthyism. In short, it is a warm and intimate account of growing up during interesting times.

Goodwin is a serious person. She has written eloquently on serious matters. And yet, she reminds us that even in the midst of our personal struggles and the grander sweep of political history, our passions are important. For her, the love of a baseball team links her to the stories of her childhood just as surely as the teams I followed in my youth link me to mine. Sports are part of our mythology as a society. While the score of last night's game is not as important as the latest unemployment numbers, it is still important in its way.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Football Fantasy: A Double-Edged Sword

College League: Squid loses, 93.71-75.76 (2-6 overall record)
Vermont League: Squid wins, 83.70-78.52 (4-4)
My MVP: Larry Fitzgerald (Wide Receiver, Cardinals) with 72 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns

Photo via NFL Gridiron Gab

Obviously, I'm much happier with the way things are going in the Vermont league than in the college one. If the trend continues, I'll need to give a lot of thought to how I've managed things differently in the two leagues. There haven't been a lot of differences, but enough to warrant consideration. In the Vermont league, I'm currently in 7th place, just under 21 points behind the 6th place team for the final playoff spot. In the college league, I'm still 2 games out of the playoffs.

Fitzgerald was a double-edged sword for me this week. I had him in the Vermont league but my opponent had him in the college league. Plus, in the college league, he gets credit for his tackle. It's been a turbulent year for the Cardinal offense with their quarterback situation but Fitzgerald's big game this week reminds me why I drafted him.

November Baseball: Happy for the Giants

As much as I would have preferred the Rangers to win, I can't deny that it's pretty exciting for a team to win its first World Series in 56 years. 5 games is pretty decisive, too. The Gaints are certainly worthy champions.

Bold Proposal

We had just one day of November baseball and, fortunately, it was in a southern climate. November baseball would still exist in my bold proposal universe but with a twist. The major league title would be just the beginning for the Giants. From here, we would move on to a real World Series, a tournament to include not only the United States/Canada champion but also the champions from other great baseball nations: Cuba (Industriales are this year's champion), Japan (Japan Series currently being contested by the Chunichi Dragons and Chiba Lotte Marines), South Korea (SK Wyverns), etc. The teams could gather in one city with a domed stadium (Tokyo, New Orleans) or a balmy November climate (suddenly, no NFL teams in LA becomes an advantage) and play a round-robin tournament to determine a true world champion.

Checking in with the Orioles

The next adventure on the baseball calendar is free agent signings. The conventional wisdom with the Birds is that they need a veteran pitcher to mentor their young staff and a power hitter or two for the 3- and/or 4-spots in the lineup. Here are The Baltimore Sun's thoughts on the best targets for the O's.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Let's Talk Tennis: Who Is the Greatest?

A big thank you to Adrian Robertson for sending me the following link: It is an interactive tool at which compares the credentials of 23 male tennis players of the modern era to determine who, in fact, is the greatest of all time. Only those players who have won at least one major and been ranked World #1 are included. Thus, Rod Laver is excluded. He retired before the ATP rankings existed.

Five criteria are considered, I'm assuming in equal measure: weeks at #1, majors won, overall titles, career win/loss record and head-to-head record. With pull down menus, one can pit any two players against one another (John Newcombe vs. Rafael Nadal, for instance) with any or all of the above criteria and see who comes out on top (Nadal in the Newcombe match). I'm not sure all five measures can truly be considered equal but I will accept that each is objective.

Going through all of the match ups - and yes, I went through all of them - Federer comes out on top, beating everyone. No big surprise there. Sampras is second, losing only to Fed. Again, no shock.

Photo via

The interest begins with the rankings from 3 to 6: Lendl, Connors, McEnroe and Borg. Picking Lendl over Jimbo and Johnny Mac is no stretch. Ivan's head-to-head record against each is decisive: 22-13 versus Connors and 21-15 versus McEnroe. The much bigger surprise is that all three rate above Borg. In the more subjective discussions of historical tennis prowess, Borg nearly always falls in just behind Fed, Sampras and Laver, though Lendl has his supporters (myself included). As it turns out, though, Lendl, Connors and McEnroe all hold significant edges over Borg in both total career titles and weeks with the top ranking.

No one gets shut out. In fact, of all the 23, no one has fewer than two wins against the others. Juan Carlos Ferrero tops both Carlos Moya and Patrick Rafter. Moya beats both Rafter and Marat Safin. There are a few surprise results along the way: Safin over Boris Becker, for example. In this case, the fact that Safin won their only head-to-head match is critical. Take away that one match and the tables turn.

The youngest on the list is Nadal and he is likely the only one with a chance to improve his credentials significantly. He ranks just behind Borg at #7. At present, he trails Bjorn by two majors, 21 career titles and 51 weeks at #1. I'm assuming the stats will update automatically but I'll check in on Monday to be sure.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Football Fantasy: A Close Shave

College League: Squid loses, 75.89-75.67 (2-5 overall record)
Vermont League: Squid wins, 89.68-74.06 (3-4)
My MVP: Chad Ochocinco (Wide Receiver, Bengals) with 108 receiving yards and 1 touchdown

Photo via Media Zombies

My matchup in the college league was particularly exciting, as reflected in the score. I went into the Monday night game 16.8 points behind but with three players still to go, whereas my opponent (aka Special Dinner) had none. I needed only mediocre games from three Cowboys: Miles Austin (Wide Receiver), Felix Jones (Running Back) and Bradie James (Linebacker). James held up his end of the deal with a great game: 6 solo tackles, 3 assisted tackles, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery. Austin and Jones? Not so much. Alas, I fell just short.

I am now two games out of the playoffs in the college league - not too good but I'm trying to stay positive. I feel a lot better about the Vermont league. I now have the same win-loss record as the sixth-place team but am behind in total points.

Ochocinco is my first return honoree in this space. I did have him in both leagues but, unfortunately, just let him go this week in the college one. Don't second-guess decisions, don't second-guess decisions...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

October Baseball: The Stage Is Set

On the one side, we have the Texas Rangers, a team that has never won the World Series in its 49 previous seasons. In fact, they'd never even won a postseason series before this year. On the other, we have the San Francisco Giants, a team that hasn't won the World Series since before the Rangers even existed as a franchise, since they made their home in New York and their star center fielder Willie Mays made the defensive play of the century. In short, it should be a great series and long-suffering fans will get to celebrate in one city or another.

This is no small matter in either city. Of all metro areas which host franchises for all four major professional leagues, the San Francisco Bay Area and Dallas-Fort Worth Area have the longest title droughts. The 49ers won the last title in the Bay Area with the 1994 Super Bowl. The Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999, the last major title for the Dallas-Fort Worth sports community.

I'm sticking with the Rangers for the World Series. I am particularly pleased by Josh Hamilton's MVP performance in the American League Championship Series. To be completely honest, I'm naturally biased towards whichever team takes out the Yankees.

The Long Trail Project: Prospect Rock Redux

We closed the hiking season in the same place where we started it: Prospect Rock. Above is the spectacular view from the top. Below is the link to My Wife's post on the subject:

Hike #7 - Prospect Rock Redux

If you have an interest in knitting projects, she also has a recent post on that subject:

Other Life List Items: Knit a Sweater

In addition to yesterday's hike, I went on a long walk in our neighborhood yesterday, my first in a while. Walking is nice in the fall: cooler and no bugs. I happily watched a hairy woodpecker for quite a while. I'm looking forward to putting up the bird feeders soon: November 1st.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Men with Brooms: Quitting Time

So, where is the show headed at this point? Are we in for a prolonged romantic chase between Gary and April? Will it be a Seinfeldesque show about nothing?

Three episodes in, I can say that there is almost certainly a psychology major on the writing staff. Last week's primary storyline vaguely followed a stages of grief track and this week's focused on addiction issues. What's next? Dream analysis?

The characters and their relationships are starting to come into sharper focus but I'd say there's still work to do. Unfortunately, I don't find Gary particularly likable. He is portrayed as both insecure and manipulative - not inspiring qualities for a leading man. Matt actually comes across much better in this week's "Diet Pop Withdrawal" saga. Not that likability is everything. If Mad Men has proven anything, it's that one can build a compelling show around utterly detestable characters. But Don Draper, Sam Malone and other flawed leading men like them occasionally have heroic moments which preserve them in our esteem enough to care about what happens to them. I have yet to see that in Gary. Plus, he really only has developed relationships with two of the other characters: April and Matt.

The female characters could use some development as well. Despite her female lead status, we don't know a whole lot about April yet. She's an accountant. She's from Edmonton. She's addicted to caffeine. I think more interactions with the other female characters would help to develop her more. Furthermore, Tannis and Rani are portrayed as little more than nags.

I am more comfortable with where the other three characters seem to have settled. Matt is the goofy yet dependable confidant. Pramesh is the lovable nerd. Bill is the dumb slob.

I was pleased to see more curling in this episode. Pramesh, ice shy from his fall in the "Yurk!" story with Bill, is replaced for the game by Stevie, performed by Benjamin Beauchemin who definitely has a Daniel Radcliffe quality to him. I would have to say, however, that Gary's shoddy treatment of Stevie before he got his diet pop fix fell short of the Spirit of Curling.

Canadian English lesson: it seems they say pop in Canada rather than soda. Or at least they do in Winnipeg, where the show is filmed. I suppose it's not surprising that midwestern Canada would have some of the same lingo as the midwestern US.

The Link

Episode 3 - Quitting Time (viewable only in Canada)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Football Fantasy: Individual Defensive Players

College League: Squid loses, 79.52-65.65 (2-4 overall record)
Vermont League: Squid loses, 95.00-66.04 (2-4)
My MVP: E.J. Henderson (Linebacker, Vikings) with 2 interceptions, 2 passes defended, 4 solo tackles and 5 assisted tackles

Photo via Vikings Gab

My opponent in the college league this week shall go by the name of Wild Turkey. She is the wife of last year's commissioner or, just as accurately, last year's commissioner is Wild Turkey's husband. I consider both of them to be among my favorite people in the whole world and it is my good fortune, as well as theirs, that they are married and we get to see them as a package deal. As I wrote in a post last year, they introduced me to My Wife. 'Nuff said.

My overall records in both leagues are somewhat discouraging. However, I am still just one game out of a playoff spot in both cases so I am not losing hope yet. I'm feeling optimistic about the upcoming weekend.

E.J. Henderson is my second individual defensive player (IDP) to be featured in this space. He is also my first Maryland Terrapin of the season. I really like having IDPs on the fantasy roster. The IDPs in our college league are not position-specific but I am already giving thought to other arrangements for future leagues. One could have a full roster league with 2 DEs, 1 DT, 3 LBs, 2 CBs, 2 Ss and one flex on defense plus 1 QB, 1 RB, 2 WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB/WR flex, 1 RB/WR/TE flex and 1 K on offense: 19 total starters. Or why not a defense-only league, completely turning the fantasy football concept on its head?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Favorite Athlete: Soccer, Year 1

Our Girl's soccer season is over. The final record: 2 wins, 3 draws, 1 loss. Officially, it was a winning season. Good job, kids! They're still in the everyone-gets-a-trophy stage. Here it is:

I did ask if she wants to play again and she says she wants to play every year. I figure it's worth doing for as long as she continues to enjoy it. One parent tried to recruit her for hockey this winter. I'm not too sure about that one. It would be kind of cool to have a hockey-playing daughter but she just hasn't expressed much interest in the idea.

The big excitement for Our Girl this weekend was her personal makeover: a new, very cute haircut and (drum roll) getting her ears pierced. While my natural inclination is to discourage her from attaching too much importance to physical appearance, particularly her own, I do recognize that it's a big deal for a girl to start making her own decisions on such matters. Both of this weekend's big changes were her idea and the results are quite lovely.

Right after she got the ears done, she was admiring herself in the mirror as "True Colors" came on the sound system. Proud Papa just about lost it right there in the middle of Claire's. Fortunately for me, we were on our way out of the store.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October Baseball: Go, Rangers!

With the Reds out of the playoffs, I am in search of a new rooting interest. Fortunately, I didn't have to look very far. Rangers all the way!

Not many will expect Texas to stand a chance at taking out the Bronx Bombers but I say all the more reason to pull for them. As everyone who followed the last round knows, the Rangers had never before won so much as a postseason series, let alone a league pennant. 49 years is plenty long enough to wait.

It would also be wonderful to see the story of Josh Hamilton's season last just a little bit longer. The team's ginger ale tribute to him after the ALDS win was just way cool. He did not have the best series at the plate: 2 for 18, a .111 batting average. Boy, it would be great to watch him and his teammates take out the mighty Yanks!

Men with Brooms: Death of the Birth Tree

First, a Canadian English lesson...

A twoney is a two-dollar coin.

One advantage of an ensemble cast is the fact that within a 22-minute show, it is possible to have 2 or more relatively simple story lines going on at once. It also provides an opportunity to group characters in different configurations in order to develop one-to-one relationships.

The primary storyline in "Death of the Birth Tree" is a character-development tale for the protagonist - standard stuff for a second episode. In this week's story, Gary must come to terms with the fact that various symbols of his youth are vanishing one by one, particularly a tree in the front yard of his childhood home. This sense of loss inspires great sympathy in new love interest, April. I have to admit that I was a little worried at first that the story would follow the use-sympathy-to-gain-personal-advantage angle to the end. That's a plot straight out of Situation Comedy Writing for Dummies. The chosen path was less predictable and I like that.

The second storyline to be introduced was the "Luck Sponge" tale between Tannis and Alex. This story wasn't as well-developed as the rest of the show (more on that in a bit) but I suspect it served mostly to establish a secondary love-interest possibility for the series.

The third storyline was the most fun: "Smugglers Kablam" as played out by Pramesh and Bill. This is not unusual for sit-coms. Go back and watch Friends now that you know how Ross/Rachel and Monica/Chandler ultimately work out. You know what were the funniest stories on that show? The Phoebe and Joey stories - almost invariably.

The story between Pramesh and Bill this time is a great one - the cool guy and the nerd find common ground over a ridiculously complicated board game. My first laugh of the episode was Pramesh's complaint that the Mouse Trap game set at the club contained only a real mouse trap. I love epic board games and was admittedly a sucker for this one. I didn't clock it but I'm guessing that in the end, this third story got more air time than the "Luck Sponge" saga. No doubt, it was an editing decision after filming but I'd say a great one. I hinted at this last week: Pramesh has that certain something. If there's a second season, I'll bet he gets a more prominent role.

Rani got short shrift in this episode, playing only supporting roles in two of the stories: Matt's confidant in Luck Sponge and twist-provider for Smugglers Kablam. Seven's an awkward number for an ensemble cast, I think. Most don't go above six and there's good reason for that. Let's hope she gets a more prominent story role in the near future.

I have a complaint about this episode: no curling! Yes, the club provides the main setting but I'm looking for more. It looks like the boys will be back on the ice next week.

The Links

Episode 2: Death of the Birth Tree (viewable only in Canada)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Football Fantasy: Time to Worry?

College League: Squid loses, 92.76-66.62 (2-3 overall record)
Vermont League: Squid loses, 120.52-65.08 (2-3)
My MVP: Miles Austin (Wide Receiver, Cowboys) with 9 receptions for 166 yards and 1 touchdown, 1 rush attempt for 4 yards and 1 solo tackle

Photo by crazylilsportslady

On the one hand, I now have a losing record in both leagues. On the other hand, I'm only one game out of a playoff spot in each. I'm not ready to panic just yet but wins this week sure would make me feel better.

An important part of being a Redskins fan is, of course, hating the Cowboys. I do. But there's no denying that Austin is one of the great stories in the NFL right now. He went undrafted in 2006 but has risen to elite status among league receivers in a very short time. As his fantasy football owner (college league), I am grateful for the big game he had this weekend. As a Skins fan, I'm glad Dallas lost anyway.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday Update: Youth Soccer and So Long, Reds

Family Adventures: Soccer

Our Girl's team won its game yesterday, 1-0. I missed my chance at coaching last week as Wednesday's practice was canceled due to rain. I have to admit to being somewhat relieved. I'm sure I'll get another chance at some point.

Our Girl certainly enjoys playing but I have noticed that she tends to shy away from the ball when the crowd closes in around her. I asked her about it after the game and she admitted that she gets nervous. I reassured her that it should be easier as she gets older - kids won't clump around the ball quite as much. I have a sneaking suspicion that I may have been the same way. I never took the I-have-to-be-the-one-to-get-to-the-ball-first approach to soccer. Maybe that's why I liked playing goalie. Just keep the other team from scoring: I was comfortable with that mindset.

One moment really made me proud of her. At one point, she fell down - a genuine face plant. But she didn't hesitate for even a moment to jump back up and keep running. She didn't even do that little kid thing of looking around to see if anyone had seen her fall. I figure that's an attitude that will serve her well in life, whether she sticks with soccer or not.

One more week to go - practice Wednesday, last game on Sunday.

Bold Proposal

The Reds are out of the playoffs so the bold proposal shall live to see another year. I expect that whoever comes out of the Rangers-Rays series will become my new rooting interest for the playoffs.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Men with Brooms: Pilot

Photo via TV, eh?

Let me begin by saying that I believe the TV show works better than the film did, much as I expected. I think the 22-minute format is better suited for the concept. As I said in my review of the film, I felt that the story was trying to be too many things at once. The show, at least with one episode to judge thus far, seems to have settled on a more basic idea: quirky romantic comedy with a bit of curling thrown in for extra quirk. Start simple, then build. That's the path to success for every sitcom ever that was any good.

All shows take a while to find themselves. It takes time to establish characters, relationships, story lines and so forth. The first episode of Cheers ("Give Me a Ring Sometime") is just about as tidy as one could possibly hope for a half-hour show to be and yet even it is rough around the edges compared to later installments. In the MwB pilot, we meet all of the principals: the four members of the rink (all male), their main supporters (all female) and the narrator, Paul Gross, who also makes an on-screen cameo reprising his role from the film. The men are all rather clumsy and insecure whereas the women are more capable - not to mention far more attractive. As is often the case in a show's premier, a budding romance is introduced between protagonist Gary (played by Brendan Gall) and new-to-town April (Siobhan Murphy - I love the name Siobhan). So far, pretty standard stuff.

The show is genuinely funny, always a good sign for a situation comedy. My first out-loud guffaw came as Gary's ex lit up a blow torch. I watched the show twice and actually found it funnier the second time - definitely a positive.

I will be very interested to see to what extent curling plays a meaningful role in the show. In "Pilot," it provides a context for a first date. The club provides the primary setting. The men's interest and the women's indifference helps to establish the tension in their relationships. Right off the bat, there's an attempt to cast the game as metaphor for life. The writers have found clever and subtle ways to acquaint the uninitiated with the rules, culture and jargon of the game. In particular, I'll be watching for how well the show lives up to The Spirit of Curling...


I find the fact that the rink decides to throw the game in the "meatspiel" a bit disappointing - falling a bit short of The Spirit. However, I really like the fact that the rink that beat them shared some of the spoils - very much in The Spirit. Net zero - the jury's still out.


Generally, I am encouraged by the show's first offering. The concept has promise. The writing is good but as yet uneven, not unlike the film. That is certainly not unusual for a pilot and I hope future installments will flow better. The acting is generally strong, though someone needs to tell Aliyah O'Brien (the stunning actress who plays Tannis) that she could stand to speak a bit more slowly. Anand Rajaram (Pramesh) seems destined to become a fan favorite. His performance in "Pilot" is a little over the top but he obviously has show-stealing capability and could ultimately become the face of the show, I think.

The Links

Episode 1 - Pilot (only accessible in Canada)

Some of the CBC extras are accessible State-side:

Webisode 1 - The Crushers

Episode 2 promo - Death of the Birth Tree

Episode 1 Trivia (I scored 10/10)