Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Football Fantasy: Many Happy Returns

College League: Squid wins 87.15-79.84 (2-1 overall record)
Vermont League: Squid loses 128.94-93.94 (2-1)
My MVP: Leon Washington (Running Back, Seahawks) with 253 return yards, 2 kickoff return touchdowns and 1 rushing attempt for 0 yards

Photo via KOMOnews.com

That 35-point beat down which I took in the Vermont League was our league-high margin for the week. Ouch! Otherwise, I'm pretty happy to be heading into the bye weeks at 2-1 in both leagues.

Leon Washington had the game of his life on Sunday. He is the first Seahawk in team history to record two kickoff return touchdowns in a single game. Given that the final margin of victory was only seven points, Washington deserves a major portion of the credit for Seattle's big-time upset over the Chargers.

Pattern or coincidence? Washington is my third MVP in a row who is a Florida native. Washington is from Jacksonville. Frank Gore is from Coconut Grove. Chad Ochocinco is from Miami. Washington is new to the Northwest, having spent his first four NFL seasons with the Jets. He's also brand new to my fantasy team (college league). I just picked him up this week to help out with upcoming bye weeks. Little did I know the boost he would bring!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Baseball Fantasy: The End Game

Week: September 19-25
Current Standing: 1st out of 12
My Player of the Week: Rickie Weeks (Second Baseman, Brewers) with 1 home run, 3 RBI, 9 runs and a .462 batting average

It's coming down to the wire. My lead isn't by much: 3.5 points. Experience has shown that can easily be wiped out in 24 hours. I am always grateful for another strong week from my starting second baseman.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Family Adventures: Harvest Market

This weekend is Harvest Market weekend in our little town, by far the biggest to-do of the year. Imagine a yard sale times 30 and you'll start to get the idea. Add in fried dough, cider donuts, a fife and drum corps and campaigning local politicians and you're there. The town's population easily triples in one day. It is the place to see and be seen for the whole family.

Once fall hits, it's pretty much always hunting season for one critter or another in Vermont. If we're to continue hiking, as we hope to do, we all need bright orange stuff to stand out in the woods (we'll probably stay home once deer season, aka Amateur Hour, begins). As such, I was thrilled to find a bright orange cap on sale for a quarter. Rather than bother with a bag, I just put it right on my head.

My Wife kept making comments that I should always wear it no matter where we go so she can always find me. Nonetheless, I did not realize just how brightly orange the cap was until we walked back to the car and I saw my reflection in car windows. When we got home, she joked that we could get rid of Our Girl's night light. I asked if she'd been embarrassed to be seen with me wearing it around the market. She diplomatically changed the subject.

Follow Up: Mini Golf Variations

I should clarify my earlier post, in which I suggested a sort of speed golf for our next mini golf outing. Mock expressed concern that whomever putted last would be playing alone. That wasn't what I meant at all. Instead, the 3 or 4 who finished first would form their own splinter group and move onto the next hole rather than waiting. I'm just looking for a way to speed things up by a means more creative than just splitting into smaller groups right off.

Naturally, there are many suggestions for mini golf variations on the Internet. Check out Mini Golf, Variations on a Theme.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Future: Baseball

Following up on my earlier post inquiring about the biggest differences between sports now and sports 30 years ago and what they'll be like 30 years hence...

Let's start with baseball. As Mock pointed out, the game on the field really hasn't changed all that much. It will be interesting, however, to see where technology leads us. Will computers be calling balls and strikes 30 years from now? The technology exists. But is it really preferable to human judgment? Could it potentially create more problems than it solves?

Off the field, I think the biggest difference between baseball in 1980 and in 2010 is the improved power position of the players. We've had two long player strikes in the past 30 years and their impact has been great. Salaries are, of course, significantly higher but it goes beyond that. Free agency plays a much larger role in the game today. The top players also now make a higher percentage of their income through endorsements. Projecting to the future, I'm not sure how much further the players' position can improve. If anything, I think the league is more likely to look for ways to level the playing field and player freedom could be severely curtailed.

Major League teams now have more international players than they did 30 years ago, particularly from Asia. The seeds, of course, had already been planted. Japan, in particular, had already been baseball crazy for decades. It is the Japanese, in fact, who have become more liberal in letting their players get away rather than the Majors becoming more accepting. Perhaps the next country to look toward is Cuba. How will the inevitable political changes of that country impact its many talented baseball players and their Major League prospects?

I think the global game has a lot of potential. I'd love to see ESPN launch a world sports channel: soccer, rugby, cricket, Aussie rules, hurling, etc. The NFL is completely delusional about its sport taking off in Europe but baseball, basketball and hockey all thrive in foreign leagues. I, for one, would love the chance to see my Yokohama BayStars on American television.

Of course, more than anything else in the sports world, improved telecommunications technology has changed everything in the past 30 years. In 1980, ESPN was in its infancy. Who would have thought that local sports cable was on its way, as well? Tickets to games are certainly more expensive but on television, the game is more accessible than ever.

And, of course, there's the Internet. Social networking sites, in particular, have forever changed the relationship between celebrities and those who adore (or detest) them. Who was more accessible to fans, Reggie Jackson and his contemporaries or Alex Rodriguez and his? Five years ago, I would have said the former. Now, I'm not so sure. I hardly need the press to follow Federer and Nadal anymore since they're both facebook virtuosi. All of the top women's tennis players seem to be avid tweeters. I haven't seen this as much with baseball players (team sport - not surprising) but that will change, I'm sure. Unfortunately, I think the line between fan and stalker will become increasingly blurred in the coming years.

The biggest changes, as they have been in the past 30 years, are likely to be completely unforeseen. Of course, one could always argue that the more things change the more they stay the same. Go back and read articles regarding the cocaine concerns of the '70s and '80s, then read articles about the steroid issue now. Same controversies, different drugs.

Checking in with the Orioles: A New Hope

Buck Showalter, where have you been all these years?

Photo via Bronx Baseball Daily

It's a great time to be an Orioles fan. We don't get to say that very often. Since Showalter took over as manager, the Birds are reborn. It's almost as if they'd been playing a little prank on everyone over the first four months of the season. It turns out they've been a great team all along, fully capable of winning a series or five against their terrifying division brethren.

The O's just wrapped up a three-game series in Boston, taking two out of three from the Sox. After only winning two games out of 18 against Boston last year, they actually managed to even the season series at nine. Playing Boston means I get to watch them on NESN, of course. I also get to give Mock some mild ribbing when my team wins 9-1 as they did on Tuesday.

I must say, Red Sox Nation is pretty subdued at the moment. While the Sox have not yet been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the writing's been on the wall for quite a while now. They are chasing two very good teams who don't seem inclined towards charity. Of course, the Yankees fans around here are delighted. The Sox-Yanks rivalry is at the core of the sports culture in northwest Vermont and students ask me all time which I prefer. When I tell them I'm an Orioles fan, it really throws them off. Desperate to know where I fit on their spectrum, they'll ask "But if you had to choose, which do you like better?" (For the record, the Sox - but they're only marginally less evil.)

With only ten games to go, what glimpse can the end of this season give into the possibilities of the next? Who would have thought that Baltimore's year was even remotely salvageable two months ago? I had my doubts as to whether or not they'd win a third of their games and here they are flirting with .400. There's no escaping the division cellar at this point but it's a decent bet they won't finish as the worst in the Majors, or even the American League. They seemed a lock for that not long ago. Are they really as good as they've looked for the past several weeks or is it all a mirage?

All I can say for now is this: Mr. Angelos, for the love of Brooks, Cal and Eddie, please don't screw this up.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Football Fantasy: Feast or Famine

College League: Squid loses, 114.15-76.72 (1-1 overall record)
Vermont League: Squid wins, 102.34-52.46 (2-0)
My MVP: Frank Gore (Running Back, 49ers) with 20 rush attempts for 112 yards and 1 touchdown and 7 receptions for 56 yards and 1 touchdown

Photo via Midwest Sports Fans

It was a very strange week, as you can see from the scores above. Each week, Yahoo! designates a Toyota Greatest Fantasy Victor for the league. In my Vermont league, I was on the winning end. In my college league, I was on the losing end. I can definitely say that losing feels bad more than winning feels good.

Gore was a monster against the Saints, albeit in a losing effort. He is one of what seems like dozens of University of Miami tailbacks who have made it big in the NFL. That had to have been a frustrating loss for the Niners - for the defense, especially, who were magnificent. One can see that with a more dynamic offense (i.e., one that goes beyond Gore and tight end Vernon Davis), San Fran could be a dangerous team - but not yet. The Saints have to be happy, though. The defending champs begin the season with two ugly wins, but wins nonetheless. They'll lose Reggie Bush for a while, but that's not as devestating as it would be for most teams. In a Drew Brees-led offense, everybody eats.

I'll wait until the end of baseball season for a more complete discussion of fantasy football vs. fantasy baseball. But for now, the biggest difference for me is that fantasy football encourages me to watch more games than fantasy baseball does. In fact, I can watch an Orioles game and completely forget that Nick Markakis is on my fantasy team. I can think of a couple of reasons for this. First, my love for baseball as a sport exceeds my love for football. As such, I'd rather watch teams I care about than players in whom I have an interest. Also, I think there's something about the head-to-head nature of a typical football fantasy league that makes individual games more vital. Our baseball league is a rotisserie league, the most common setup. I think it better suits the nature of the baseball season but it does make individual games less important. If one were to do a head-to-head league in baseball, that Sunday night game might take on a significance similar to the Monday night game in football.

Bold Proposal: 150-Game Season

The Yankees, and several other teams, played their 150th game of the season yesterday. My bold proposal season would end at 150 games. It is not because I dislike the long baseball season - though I do think the prospect of November baseball in New England and the upper midwest is highly questionable. It's more that I would love to see baseball have a genuinely balanced schedule. If there are 16 first division teams as there are in my alternate universe, they would each play each other 10 times over the course of a 150-game season.

At this point, the top eight teams in the first division would enter the playoffs, seeded according to the standings. Relegation to the second division would happen at this point, as well. The second division could actually have a slightly longer regular season. In a 14-team league, each team could play each of the others 12 times, allowing for a 156-game season.

For the purposes of my experiment, I shall use the real world 162-game season standings. Otherwise, things get way too confusing.

Bear in mind, I'm not really opposed to November baseball. I just think it should look differently. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Family Adventures: Last Weekend Before Equinox

It's definitely starting to feel like fall. We went apple picking this weekend, at least the lazy person's version. We bought a couple of bags of apples, then sat in Adirondack chairs sipping hot cider and eating donuts. We're all in cold recovery mode so actually picking them off the trees seemed a bit too ambitious.

Our Girl and I watched a little college football over lunch on Saturday and she asked if there was any soccer on. I was tickled pink that she asked but a little disappointed to tell her that there wasn't any on at that moment. Maybe we'll try to catch some English and Spanish league games on the weekends. But I did point out that we could go watch games at the local high school sometime. She seemed game for the idea.

Our Girl's soccer team had a 1-1 draw today. At one point, one of her teammates fell and accidentally touched the ball with his hand. The refs didn't see it. My Wife looked at me and said, "Hand ball."

I replied, "He burned the rock." It was a reference to Men with Brooms from last night. She laughed. At least the movie supplied us with a joke.

Our Girl and I practiced some in the backyard, too. I tried to offer some pointers in terms of stealing the ball and, conversely, protecting it. She improved a lot just in a couple of days. It's nice that she's doing something where I have a little bit to offer in terms of helping her. I'm not much use to her in the dance studio.

Follow Up: Mini Golf

I agree with Mock's daughter. The speed golf on the back nine was the most fun during our round. Our group was a little on the large side at seven. It wasn't really a problem at first as we were the first ones on the course but there was definitely more pressure to move things along as other groups arrived.

So, I have had some ideas for next time. For example, we could all play the first hole together but people would move on to the next as soon as they finished, not waiting for the rest of the group. It would be nice to maintain groups so no one's golfing alone but it would help to speed things along.

My Baseball Fantasy: Hot in the Home Stretch

Week: September 12-18
Current Standing: 1st out of 12
My Player of the Week: Roy Oswalt (Starting Pitcher, Phillies) with 2 wins, 13 strikeouts, an 0.60 ERA and an 0.80 WHIP

Oswalt is leading the charge as the Phillies blitzkrieg their way through September. I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the week, or at least the Friday night, that Shin-Soo Choo (Right Fielder, Indians) had. Choo, one of my few remaining original draft picks, has performed pretty well for me all season but I haven't given him much recognition. If not for the week Oswalt had, he would have been the easy choice this time. On Friday night, he hit three homers with 7 RBI against the Royals.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sports Flicks: Men with Brooms

My Wife loves me. Of this, I am quite certain.

Image via UNO PARK

As I have written before, the 2002 Canadian film Men with Brooms has been adapted into a television series to air this season on CBC. As a novice curling fan, I am greatly intrigued. I must confess, however, that I had never actually watched the film before tonight. With My Wife's blessing, I bumped it to the top of the Netflix queue so I could watch it before the series starts. She even watched the film with me, bless her heart. The TV series is scheduled to begin Monday, October 4th, 8:30 pm eastern time.

It is, predictably, a highly quirky film. We'll start with the positives...

- It is a very affectionate view of the sport and does a nice job of explaining the basics to the uninitiated.
- The soundtrack is pretty good, including a wonderful rendition of the Canadian folk song "Land of the Silver Birch."
- There are some pretty funny moments - not roll on the floor funny but pretty funny.
- I love the wandering herd of beavers. I'm fairly certain that beavers don't travel in packs and at least the ones in Vermont don't typically wander into town. They clearly have deep symbolic importance within the story. What that importance is, I could not for the life of me tell you.
- I like the main character's name: Cutter. I'm working under the assumption that it was inspired by the Cutters in Breaking Away (a far superior film, of course).
- The film is well cast. I am especially impressed with the casting of Michelle Noldin and Molly Parker as sisters. They're not related but they could pass.

Image via Folio

However, there are problems...

- While the intentions are good, the film doesn't hang together very well. Is it a comedy? Is it a romance? Drama? Inspiring sports movie? what? Not that a decent film can't contain elements of all but this one's spread too thin, not really achieving any of its intended ends satisfactorily.
- The cast is good but maybe needed to sink their teeth into something a bit more substantial.
- I admire anyone who writes, directs and stars in a film but I found Paul Gross uninspiring.

In the final analysis, I'll probably give it a 3 on Netflix, but if I were allowed decimals, it would be about a 2.8. I'm glad I watched it but I'm not sure I'd go so far as to recommend it to someone else.

But that's the film. I think there is room for a decent TV series in there. Telling the story in 23-minute chunks might be just the sort of limitation that Men with Brooms needs. Apparently, the show involves all new characters. Gross's on-screen role is limited to narration and occasional guest appearances reprising his character from the film.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What Will Your Favorite Sport Be Like in 30 Years?

Inspired by The Punch by John Feinstein, an open question for all:

How is your favorite sport different from what it was like 30 years ago?

Now, the obvious follow up...

Project forward. How will your favorite sport, and the sports world, be different 30 years from now?

On the Coffee Table: The Punch

In 1977, the Lakers' Kermit Washington punched the Rockets' Rudy Tomjanovich during an NBA game. He hit him so hard that he nearly killed him. To be sure, Mr. Washington did not intend to hurt Mr. Tomjanovich as badly as he did but there is no denying that the lives of both men and their sport would never be quite the same.

Photo from USA Today

In 2002, John Feinstein wrote a book entitled
The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever. (He's a professional writer and I'm not so I won't make too much fuss about the serial comma.) In the introduction, Feinstein tells the story of convincing Tomjanovich to cooperate for the story. Rudy T agreed, he later revealed to the author, because he felt he could trust Feinstein to "tell the story properly (p. xv)." I believe that he did.

Make no mistake, Feinstein's descriptions of the incident and aftermath are quite graphic. I readily admit that I don't have much of a stomach for such things. For instance, I have never actually watched the Joe Theismann leg-break video, even though I sure remember that it was all the talk at school the next day. I haven't watched the punch video either and am certain I won't - ever.

Rudy Tomjanovich Photo via NBA.com

But the book really is about so much more. Both of these men have been haunted by the incident ever since. The punch is in paragraph one of Kermit Washington's wikipedia entry. A Google search for either man turns up both the punch video and a photo of Rudy T in his protective mask near the top of the list. And yet, Feinstein does a wonderful job of showcasing the lives that went far beyond that brief, horrible moment. Neither man is portrayed as a saint but both are revealed to be decent men, devoted to their sport of choice before the NBA became the megastar-studded showcase it is today.

Kermit Washington Photo via The Starting Five

But really, what's most interesting to me in reading the book is the constant revelation of how different things were 30+ years ago, in the sports world in general and the NBA in particular. 1977 was, after all, 7 years BMJ (Before Michael Jordan). The exposure of the league at the time was, frankly, a joke with CBS airing the league finals on tape-delay. In today's NBA economics, a five-time All-Star (Rudy) with a six-figure salary is unfathomable.

It was pre-ESPN, of course, too. When I started following sports in the early '80s, the morning paper was the most comprehensive source of immediate information readily available. Even a box score from a West Coast game such as the Lakers-Rockets tilt would have been a day late. At one point, George Michael, he of Sports Machine
and not of Wham, launched a dial-up sports info number for the DC area similar to the one you would call for the time or weather. But even for that, you'd just get a recorded listing of scores. Now, a punch in an NBA game would be on SportsCenter highlights even before the final buzzer. The news and the YouTube video would be passed along over facebook and twitter and die-hard fans in the Philippines would be well-versed experts on the incident within 15 minutes.

All of which leads me to wonder how much things will change in the next 30 years. How will the sports world be different when my daughter is my age?

Anyway, it's a great book, even if your stomach for blood is as weak as mine.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Football Fantasy: A New Season

College League: Squid wins, 92.35-63.99
Vermont League: Squid wins, 75.64-70.18
My MVP: Chad Ochocinco (Wide Receiver, Bengals) with 12 receptions, 159 yards and 1 touchdown

Photo via Bengals Gab

In case you haven't heard, the NFL is back in session. Far more importantly, that means that fantasy football is back. I'm in two leagues this year: the same league I was in last year with my college friends and also a league with Mock and company. A quick compare and contrast...

- 12 teams in both leagues, substantially fewer than the 18 we had in the college league last year
- Both had live online drafts.
- I have four of the same players on my team in both leagues: Frank Gore, Pierre Thomas, Chad Ochocinco and Felix Jones.
- In both leagues, we were scrambling at the last minute to find a 12th member. Interestingly, it was the same people who bailed us out for both: a husband-and-wife team I know from college.

- I am the commissioner for the Vermont league and I just used the Yahoo! default settings except for the trade review provision - we don't have one. There are some other significant differences with the college league.
- The rosters are quite different. The Vermont league has 3 WRs and 2 RBs whereas the college league has 2 of each plus a W/R flex.
- The college league roster includes 3 individual defensive players (IDPs) in addition to the team defense. The Vermont league roster has a team defense but no IDPs.
- Perhaps the most significant difference of all is the size of the bench. The Vermont league has 6 bench spots to support 9 starting positions. The college league has a meager 4 bench spots for 12 starting positions.

I can't complain about starting with a win in both leagues. The fact that I've got Ochocinco in both certainly didn't hurt. While the man may indeed be a parody of himself, one can't deny that he's quite a football player. Having Terrell Owens on the opposite side and a suspension-avoiding Cedric Benson running out of the backfield should be great for Hachi Go's numbers. Apparently, Japanese is his next name change choice. Why not German: Acht Funf? Funf is easily my favorite German word.

Monday, September 13, 2010

US Open Day 15: Let the New Debate Begin

Curtain Call

Player: Novak Djokovic
Nation: Serbia
Age: 23
Current Ranking: 2
Notable Conquest: Roger Federer (2nd seed, Switzerland)
Tour Page
Player Website
Today's Result: loss to Rafael Nadal (1st, Spain) in four sets

Photo from The Age

Before we move on to the obvious, let's give Novak his due. The win over Federer was huge. It's been easy to forget about the Djoker over the past few years with the rise of Murray and del Potro. With the Fed win, he puts himself firmly back in the conversation. I know it's four months away but why not? I say Djokovic takes Aussie in 2011.

Well, the greatest of all time debate just got a lot more interesting. Rafa now has 9 majors in total, the career Golden Slam (including an Olympic gold medal), a great career in Davis Cup and he's all of 24. He's three titles ahead of Federer's pace. He has strong career records against his best contemporaries. Yes, he's still seven behind Federer's slam total and one does still worry about long-term wear and tear but who, exactly, is going to slow him down at this point? His match tonight was a masterpiece. Who's even in the same league right now?

A colleague stopped by my classroom this morning and asked if I thought Federer is washed up. I still say no. I say he plays two more years and as long as he keeps entering tournaments, he'll be a threat to win them. His days as top dog are over, though. Nadal left no doubt of that tonight.

My Tennis Fantasy

My men's bracket was just awful. I finished in the top 95% in the Tennis Channel Racquet Bracket, aka the bottom 5%. Maybe I'll just go with the dartboard method next time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Family Adventures: Mid-September

Autumn is coming. The leaves on the maples are beginning to go slightly pale, a sign that they're getting ready to turn. School has begun for both Our Girl and me, too. It's also a time of year when weekends tend to book up quickly without much effort. I think it's a matter of everyone wanting to get out and do things before the weather gets cold.

Our Girl has also just turned seven, the age of reason. Life has gotten busier. Last year, we had her in dance class and one session of skating lessons. She's still in ballet and we plan on doing skating again but we've also added soccer now. She's in an after-school art program one day a week as well. I swear, it's not our intention to over-schedule her. It just kind of happens.

As I have written before, dance was her first love. As we were first looking to get her involved in activities, I really wanted her to have at least one athletic activity and one artistic one. The great thing about dance is that it satisfies both. Over the long-term, I do worry about the body issues. I knew a lot of dancers growing up and was not impressed by the toll on their self image once they hit puberty. Our Girl is a wisp of a thing now but that can change. We're in our third year with a wonderful teacher now and I don't worry about it so much with her. But I've said all along that if anyone ever tells her she needs to watch her weight, we're finished. We had her in two classes last year: ballet and tap. It was a bit much, especially with both on Saturday, but her teacher used the magic word to encourage her to join the second one: scholarship. Who can say no to someone who wants to teach their kid something for free?

The art program, fortunately, isn't really adding much to the overall schedule. We need after-school care four days a week anyway so the art curriculum is a bonus. I'm glad that she'll be spending time around people who know what they're doing. To be sure, she'll exceed our own abilities in the visual arts pretty quickly. Her handwriting's already nicer than mine.

Her soccer team had its first game today. It's a riot watching 6-7 year-olds play. The swarm follows the ball around the field, some trying to make things happen, some clearly not sure what to do at all. They lost 2-0. Our Girl said she had a good time. I'll reserve judgement as to her lasting interest until the end of the season.

We also went mini golfing with Mock and his family this weekend. It had been years since I'd gone and it was Our Girl's first time ever. There were seven of us in all: four adults, three kids. It was good fun and Our Girl did quite well, especially on the back nine. She had some frustrating moments but when it was over, she said she'd like to try it again sometime.

US Open Day 14: Score One for Melbourne

Curtain Call

Player: Yulia Putintseva
Nation: Russia
Age: 15
Current Ranking: 795
Notable Conquests: Timea Babos (junior 2nd seed, Hungary) and Monica Puig (5th, Puerto Rico)
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Daria Gavrilova (1st, Russia) in straight sets

Three matches did finish today before the rains washed out the rest: both junior singles finals and the women's wheelchair singles final. Young Putintseva is definitely making her mark. She made the semis of the juniors draw at Wimbledon this summer.

So, for the second year in a row, the US Open men's final is delayed until Monday due to rain. You know, I've been thinking all year about which of the four tennis majors is my favorite. Wimbledon has the tradition and the England summer coincides nicely with my teacher's work calendar. But I'm not a big fan of everyone wearing white. The French is fun, too, and certainly more colorful than Wimbledon in many ways. But the Australian and US Opens have two huge advantages over the other two: they are played on the more democratic hard courts and they have lights for night tennis.

So, which is better? Aussie is at the beginning of the season and everyone's in pretty good shape. Everyone's pretty worn down by the time they get to Flushing but New York is where all of the season narratives reach conclusion. But today clinches it for me. The greatest of the four tennis slams is...

The Australian Open. Why? It has not just one but two stadiums with retractable roofs. As such, play shall always go on, no matter the weather. Bad time zone and inconvenient time of year for me? Well, that's really my problem, isn't it? The fact of the matter is, of the four majors, the Australian is best prepared for the 21st century. Good on ya, mates!

My Baseball Fantasy: A Very Stingy Closer

Week: September 5-11
Current Standing: 2nd out of 12
My Player of the Week: Heath Bell (Relief Pitcher, Padres) with 3 saves, 7 strikeouts, a 0.00 ERA and an 0.27 WHIP

Neither I nor the Padres could have asked for much more from Mr. Bell this week. Over three appearances, he allowed no runs, no hits and only one walk. Just three weeks left to go! I'm half a point out of first. Let's go, boys!

US Open Day 13: Twice the Bridesmaid

Curtain Call

Player: Vera Zvonareva
Nation: Russia
Age: 25
Current Ranking: 8
Notable Conquest: Caroline Wozniacki (1st seed, Denmark)
Tour Page
Player Website
Today's Result: loss to Kim Clijsters (2nd, Belgium) in straight sets

Photo via Telegraph

No doubt, Zvonareva is pretty disappointed today. 6-2, 6-1 has got to be hard to take. But major kudos for showing that Wimbledon was no fluke. Reaching two consecutive slam finals is no small accomplishment. Maybe she can get over the hump in Melbourne. And now, for the second time this tournament, I have a player repeating in this space.

My Tennis Fantasy

Clijsters was my pick to win so I can't complain too much. I can't deny, however, that a Vera versus Venus final would have been great for the alliteration alone. For Tennis Channel's Racquet Bracket, I finished in the top 50%.

My men's bracket is now kaput with Fed going down in the semis. Is Nadal-Djokovic the next best thing to Nadal-Federer? I don't know. It won't inspire the same simultaneously-rooting-for-both-players mentality for me. For some reason, I find it unusually satisfying to watch Nadal beat up on Djokovic and Murray. He is everything they are not and they both need reminding (I have come to find Murray a bit more sympathetic over the past year).

Friday, September 10, 2010

US Open Day 12: Venus

Curtain Call

Player: Venus Williams
Nation: USA
Age: 30
Current Ranking: 4
Tour Page
Player Website
Today's Result: loss to Kim Clijsters (2nd seed, Belgium) in three sets

Miss Williams, of course, requires no introduction. If she's not the most famous female athlete in the world, she's a close second to her younger sister. Venus has won the US Open twice but it's been nine years since her last title. In fact, this represents her best slam result away from Wimbledon in three years. Unfortunately, with Serena out with an injury, the sisters were unable to defend their doubles title together. Venus played only singles this year.

Photo via bestweekever.tv

Thursday, September 9, 2010

US Open Day 11: Wawrinka

Curtain Call

Player: Stanislas Wawrinka
Nation: Switzerland
Age: 25
Current Ranking: 27
Notable Conquests: Andy Murray (4th seed, UK) and Sam Querrey (20th, USA)
Tour Page
Player Website
Today's Result: loss to Mikhail Youzhny (12th, Russia) in five sets

Photo: Guardian

Prior to this tournament, casual fans might only have known Wawrinka as Roger Federer's gold medal-winning doubles partner at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In truth, he's a very solid, if unspectacular, pro. His backhand is one of the very best in the sport. He even has one career singles victory over Fed...against five losses.

But in the US Open, he has been the giant killer in taking out Murray (apparently a personal friend) and Querrey. It was disappointing to see him run out of steam against Youzhny tonight. Nonetheless, his quarterfinal run is his career best for a slam.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

US Open Day 10: Kanepi, Again

Curtain Call

Player: Kaia Kanepi
Nation: Estonia
Age: 25
Current Ranking: 32
Notable Conquests: Jelena Jankovic (4th seed, Serbia) and Yanina Wickmayer (15th, Belgium)
Today's Result: loss to Vera Zvonareva (7th, Russia) in straight sets

This represents a first for me. This is my first time featuring a player in this space in two consecutive slams. Both times, it was an easy choice. It's been another marvelous event for this Estonian on the rise. Her win against Wickmayer was particularly impressive. She lost the first set 6-0, then came back to win. That takes some gumption. Well done. The ranking will get another hefty boost.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

US Open Day 9: Stosur

Curtain Call

Player: Samantha Stosur
Nation: Australia
Age: 26
Current Ranking: 6
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Kim Clijsters (2nd seed, Belgium) in three sets

Photo from Telegraph

It's been a tumultuous summer for Stosur, to be sure. She had a stupendous Roland Garros, only to lose to Italian Francesca Schiavone, aka Cinderella Story of the Year, in the final. Then she crashes out of Wimbledon in the first round. Her showing in the US Open has been outstanding. She played up to her seed and lost to the defending champion. Previously, she'd never made it past the 2nd round in Flushing. One hopes that for her, and for her country, she can make another deep run in Melbourne come January.

Stosur is also one of the world's best doubles players. She is a two-time slam champion in women's doubles and also a two-time champ in mixed doubles. Interestingly, she did not enter either doubles draw in New York, presumably to help her chances in singles.

All Part of My Fantasy

Speaking of the glass-slippered one, Francesca Schiavone matched her career-best finish at the US Open by also reaching the quarters. Alas, she has fallen to Venus Williams and as a result, my women's bracket is on its last legs. The only player left who can help me is Clijsters. She is my champion pick but, as the second seed and defending champion, it seems likely to assume that loads of other people have picked her, too.

Monday, September 6, 2010

US Open Day 8: Gasquet

Curtain Call

Player: Richard Gasquet
Nation: France
Age: 24
Current Rank: 38
Notable Conquest: Nikolay Davydenko (6th seed, Russia)
Tour Page
Player Website
Today's Result: loss to Gael Monfils (17th, France) in straight sets

Gasquet is, without a doubt, one of the most puzzling players on the ATP tour. He is 15 days younger than Nadal and when Rafa was first starting to make a splash, expectations for Gasquet were pretty high as well. His talent is immense and he was seen as the leader of a star-studded French generation.

Obviously, things haven't worked out according to plan. Gasquet still has plenty of game but has developed a reputation as a temperamental player, thoroughly capable of beating himself in a given match. There have also been injury problems and an unfortunate, and eventually lifted, drug suspension.

Nonetheless, there have been patches of brilliance and he has certainly established himself as a dangerous opponent on any surface. One gets the sense that if he were to get hot for two weeks, winning a major is not beyond the realm of possibility. But not this year.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Jurgen Melzer (Curtain Call, Roland Garros Day 13) -
Without question, it's been a great summer for Melzer. For the third major in a row, he has turned in a career best finish, this time the fourth round. Once again, it's Fed who takes him out. Melzer is 29. There's likely a lot more of his career behind him than in front of him. One hopes he'll look back on his season with pride.

My Tennis Fantasy

With Kuznetsova going down, I've lost one of my finalists. In fact, now both of my semifinalists in the top half of the women's draw are done. I now have all hopes riding on Clijsters and Schiavone.

Like I said yesterday, my men's bracket is pretty well shot but Federer at least held up his end today. Perhaps he'll help me salvage a little pride.

US Open Day 7: More Than Just a Super Model

Curtain Call

Player: Ana Ivanovic
Nation: Serbia
Age: 22
Current Ranking: 40
Notable Conquest: Jie Zheng (21st seed, China)
Tour Page
Player Website
Today's Result: loss to Kim Clijsters (2nd, Belgium) in straight sets

Ivanovic had a great tournament. The fourth round is her best slam finish in over a year. There has, of course, long been concern that her highly lucrative career beyond the tennis court has been a distraction from her game. Ivanovic, however, is no empty shell. Unlike Anna Kournikova, she has, in fact, won a few singles titles in her career. She's still young enough that winning a slam someday is not such a crazy idea. But, alas, she was no match for Clijsters today.

Naturally, New York Times coverage of the US Open is extensive. Be sure to check out their tennis blog for the event: Straight Sets. In particular, I must credit My Wife for bringing a piece on doubles to my attention: Open House, Day 7: Why Don't Doubles-Loving Fans Watch Live Doubles?

My Tennis Fantasy

Alas, Sam Stosur has brought my suicide pool run to a screeching halt. I had Elena Dementieva for the day and it wasn't to be. I'm still proud of my showing, having made it to the last 40 out of 300+ entrants.

So, it's time to check in with my brackets. I took a bludgeoning blow on the men's side yesterday: Nalbandian, my champion, is done. I can't be too broken up. I knew that he was a long shot going into it. Federer, my other finalist remains. Unfortunately, he's also my last remaining semifinalist with both Andys out. Better luck next time, Squid.

With the women, I'm doing much better. Of my semifinalists, only Martinez Sanchez is done and both finalists are still alive.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My Baseball Fantasy: The Man in the Alloy Mask

Week: August 29-September 4
Current Standing: 1st out of 12
My Player of the Week: Brian McCann (Catcher, Braves) with 3 home runs, 3 RBI, 5 runs and a .529 batting average

I have not shown due appreciation for my starting catcher this season. He wasn't cheap: fourth-round draft pick. But he has been the second-best catcher in fantasy world this season, behind only Joe Mauer. I didn't get any direct benefit for his MVP performance at the All-Star Game but it speaks of his quality nonetheless.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

US Open Day 6: Dominguez Lino

Curtain Call

Player: Lourdes Dominguez Lino
Nation: Spain
Age: 29
Current Ranking: 148
Notable Conquest: Yaroslava Shvedova (30th seed, Kazakhstan)
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Dominika Cibulkova (Slovakia) in straight sets

She got tuned today 6-1, 6-0 (bacon and egg) but in reaching the third round, this veteran qualifier has attained her best ever US Open result. Her career-high ranking is #40.

My Tennis Fantasy

Amazingly, the suicide pool train is still rolling. I picked Caroline Wozniacki today and she took care of business, doing her own bacon-and-egg job on Yung-Jan Chan. I've definitely taken some long-term risks in that I've already picked the #1 and #3 seeds. I'll be completely sunk by a Wozniacki-Williams final. But I'd still consider myself lucky to get to that point.

Friday, September 3, 2010

US Open Day 5: Minella

Curtain Call

Player: Mandy Minella
Nation: Luxembourg
Age: 24
Current Ranking: 185
Notable Conquest: Tsvetana Pironkova (32nd seed, Bulgaria)
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Venus Williams (3rd, USA) in straight sets

Minella was dazzled into submission by Venus and her far too sparkly dress this evening. But to go through qualifying to reach your first slam main draw at 24 is a very big deal. Add to that beating Pironkova, a semifinalist at Wimbledon but a few weeks ago and playing a living legend under the lights on Arthur Ashe, and Minella's got an awfully good story to tell the grandchildren.

My Tennis Fantasy

Ana Ivanovic carried my banner successfully today in the suicide pool, taking out Virginie Razzano in straight sets. I could go back and check but I'm pretty sure this is my first time making it to the weekend in one of these. I'm starting to get a little nervous!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

US Open Day 4: Paszek

Curtain Call

Player: Tamira Paszek
Nation: Austria
Age: 19
Current Ranking: 196
Notable Conquest: Lucie Safarova (26th seed, Czech Republic)
Today's Result: loss to Yung-Jan Chan (Chinese Taipei) in straight sets

Paszek is another 19-year-old qualifier. She did not make it to the main draw last year so the second round certainly counts as an improvement. However, she has experienced slam success before. At 16, she made it to the fourth round at both Wimbledon and the US Open. Though Austrian-born, Paszek claims family lineage from Chile, India and Tanzania.

My Tennis Fantasy

Yanina Wickmayer was my suicide pool pick for the day and she came through with a straight-set victory over Julia Goerges.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

US Open Day 3: Marino

Curtain Call

Player: Rebecca Marino
Nation: Canada
Age: 19
Current Ranking: 179
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Venus Williams (3rd seed, USA) in straight sets

Marino went through qualifying to reach her first slam main draw. There is certainly no shame in losing to a two-time champion. She is young. The future is bright.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Tobias Kamke (Curtain Call, Roland Garros Day 4) - This is Kamke's first appearance in the US Open main draw and he was able to skip qualifying altogether. Hopefully, his ranking will continue its upward trend through the fall.

My Tennis Fantasy

Venus Williams was my suicide pool pick for the day. Her victory over Marino sees me through. There is obvious risk in picking such a strong player this early but I don't see Venus going much further.

Let's Talk Baseball: Bold Proposal August Standings

Following are the current standings (as of 9/1/10, morning EDT) for my bold proposal for baseball realignment. The basic idea is two divisions, upper and lower, determined by last year's final standings. The bottom three of the First Division are relegated for next year. The top two of the Second are promoted, along with the winner of a playoff between the next four.

First Division

1. Yankees (unchanged from July)
2. Rays (unchanged)
3. Braves (+1)
4. Twins (+3)
5. Rangers (-2)
5. Red Sox (+1)
5. Phillies (-4)
8. Giants (-3)
9. Cardinals (-2)
10. Rockies (unchanged)
11.Dodgers (-1)
12. Marlins (unchanged)
13. Tigers (unchanged)
14. Angels (unchanged)
15. Cubs (unchanged)
16. Mariners (unchanged)

Second Division

1. Reds (+2)
2. Padres (-1)
3. White Sox (-1)
4. Blue Jays (unchanged)
5. A's (+1)
6. Mets (-1)
7. Brewers (unchanged)
8. Astros (+1)
9. Nationals (-1)
10. Royals (unchanged)
11. Diamondbacks (+1)
12. Indians (-1)
13. Orioles (+1)
14. Pirates (-1)

Biggest rise: Twins

Greatest fall: Phillies

Naturally, the big excitement for me is seeing Baltimore out of the league cellar. Interesting, too, that this month, the first division is the more static of the two: the opposite of last month.

We still have two real-world division leaders in the second division: Reds and Padres. As I've said before, I'll consider the experiment a failure if one of my second division teams wins the World Series.

My Baseball Fantasy: August Player of the Month

Month: August 2-31
Player: Josh Hamilton
Position: Left Fielder/Center Fielder
Team: Texas Rangers
Stats: 8 home runs, 22 RBI, 24 runs, 1 stolen base and a .356 batting average

Photo from sharps.net