Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Tennis Fantasy: Almagro, Part 2

Current Standing: 28th
My MVP for the Week: Nicolas Almagro (Spain) with $105,500, losing to David Ferrer (Spain) in the final of Abierto Mexicano Telcel

Photo via Tennis Ticket News

Ferrer brought Almagro's 14-match winning streak to an end. What a magnificent Latin American swing for Nicolas: he made the final of all three tournaments he played, winning two titles. This coming week is a Davis Cup week. Ferrer will have his usual #2 singles spot for Spain in their tie with Belgium. Almagro isn't on the starting squad this time, I haven't seen anything regarding the bench. It's an embarrassment of riches for Spain once again. No more fantasy picks until Indian Wells, which kicks off March 10th.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sports Flicks: Bull Durham

Bull Durham is, in my humble opinion, one of the most under-appreciated films of the late 20th century. Oh sure, it enjoys cult-like worship among baseball fans and always does well on all-time best sports movies lists. But I believe run-of-the-mill film buffs should take it more seriously, too. Bull Durham has the one key element which I feel all truly great films must have: fantastic writing.

Image via Antonio Valente. No, really.

Bull Durham (BD) is not merely quotable, though there are surely those who can recite the screenplay line-by-line. The script is almost singable. Susan Sarandon's delivery, especially, is well-attuned to the natural rise and fall of each phrase. Indeed, the story itself is practically an opera libretto. Rivalry over a woman? Mental wit triumphs over brute strength? Confrontation with inner demons? Student vanquishes the master? Rossini would have had fun with this one.

As film heroes go, Crash Davis is one of my all-time favorites. What a fantastic character! He's a good player, just never quite good enough, save for the best 21 days of his life. In the age of expansion, he might indeed have found a home in the Majors. But his loss is our gain, not to mention Annie's and Nuke's. Whenever I watch an athlete with abundant talent but lack of discipline, I can't help thinking s/he could use some Crash Davis-style mentoring. Milos Raonic of Canada, for instance, is tennis's current Nuke Laloosh. In hockey, it's the Capitals' defenseman, Mike Green.

For me, BD is a film which has only improved with age. I first watched it as a teenager and to be honest, didn't really get it. I don't think I watched the movie in its entirety again until my mid-20s. At that point, knowing more about life, more about love and, frankly, more about baseball, the story had much stronger resonance for me. Since then, I have watched it many times, finding something new with nearly every viewing.

My favorite scene is the conference on the mound, as depicted in the image above. Nuke's disastrous interview near the end is a close second. Sadly, I do have a least favorite. The dialogue between Crash and Annie on the porch swing in the end always falls a bit flat for me. I realize you need to have something there. But after a whole film of elegant, clever dialogue, the penultimate sputter is awfully clunky. Sarandon's voice-over monologue at the very end helps to save the scene.

BD perfectly captures the charm of minor league baseball, one of America's most wonderful cultural institutions. Cheap tickets that bring you close to the action: you can't beat that. True, the players aren't as good as their major league counterparts but their flubs remind us of how difficult this game truly is.

The first live baseball game I ever went to was a minor league game: an Omaha Royals game with my grandfather. I won't claim that I was ever very close to my grandfather. He wasn't an easy man to get to know and he died when I was 12. But we did share a love of sports and it was fun going to a game with him. A former semi-pro pitcher himself, he really knew baseball and I learned plenty from him. Max Patkin, Clown Prince of Baseball himself as featured in BD, performed at the game.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Tennis Fantasy: Roddick

Current Standing: 20th
My MVP for the Week: Andy Roddick (USA) with $264,000, defeating Milos Raonic (Canada) in three sets to win the title at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships

Photo via

To be perfectly honest, I've never been an Andy Roddick fan. I know people say that he really is a nice guy and that his foundation work is sincere. But to me, he's always been the loud, arrogant American on the court and I've rarely been able to bring myself to root for him.

Nonetheless, the man has just won his 30th career title and that is certainly worthy of a tip of the hat. Also, he is attached to one very important moment in our family history. We watched him win his only Slam title at the 2003 US Open from the maternity ward just two days after our daughter was born.

Of course Raonic, his vanquished foe in the final, is the big curiosity on the men's tour these days. He has backed up his breakthrough in Melbourne with two final runs over the past two weeks. He won the title in San Jose last week without dropping a set for the whole tournament. Everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon, anointing him the Canadian Sampras. I'm not ready for that - at least not yet. The serve is impressive, to be sure, but I have yet to be convinced that he has either the consistency or the variety to pose a threat to the top players.

I think he could stand to learn a few things from Roddick, actually. The difference in today's match was really just a few really big points. Simply put, Roddick handled those moments better. Experience helped, no doubt. Raonic won't always be the new kid.

I shall close with a video of Roddick's last shot! That was a beauty, not the sort of acrobatics one would normally expect from Andy. Thank you, YouTube!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My Baseball Fantasy: Like Christmas in February

It's a strange time in Vermont. After getting absolutely hammered with snow this year, we had a major thaw yesterday - temperatures suddenly in the 50s. Now back to freezing. All that water turns to ice. Just lovely. It looks like we'll get a bit more snow but not huge amounts, maybe enough to help the traction on our dirt road. We're likely to be stuck in this vicious cycle for at least a month.

February does have its bright sides. In the literal sense, it is the sunniest month in Vermont. We also get a much needed week-and-a-half break from school, beginning today. Particularly nice for me is the opening of fantasy baseball on Yahoo!

I've relaunched last year's league with one highly significant change: by request, we're a head-to-head league now. Yahoo! does a nice job facilitating a relaunch. Invites go automatically to all of the previous year's members. So far, eight of last year's twelve members are back. We're still missing one Mock cousin but I'm pretty sure the other three missing members aren't interested. A smaller league would be fine by me but we do need an even number to draft so hopefully we can find at least one more over the next few weeks.

I am disappointed to find that our bowl pick group is no longer accessible. To me, one of the long-term advantages of such a group is expanding the recruiting pool for fantasy baseball and football. It would be nice to access the e-mail list, at least. I guess Yahoo! doesn't see it that way. Or perhaps they just don't want someone like me to be able to keep bugging people once the bowls are over - maybe not such a bad idea. I could always maintain an e-mail list offline - crazy but it just might work!

Not surprisingly, My Wife is less excited than I about the return of fantasy baseball. Perhaps I will wait to tell her about my (ahem) second league. Encouraged by last year's league win, I've decided to test the waters of Yahoo!'s public leagues. I've signed up for a league that will draft exactly a week before ours. I figure that way, I have the added advantage of a practice run, but with a bit more at stake than in a mock draft. The public league is a rotisserie league. I'm the only one in the league so far. There was one other guy for about a day but then he bailed. Was it something I said? I suppose I could always switch to an auto-draft league if this one doesn't pan out but I'd rather not.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Let's Talk Tennis: February Follow Through

My Tennis Fantasy

Current Standing: 18th
My MVP for the Week: Nicolas Almagro (Spain) with $85,700, defeating Alexandr Dolgopov (Ukraine) in straight sets to win the title at the Brasil Open

Photo via Sports Club

With 8 career titles, Almagro has to be considered one of the world's top clay-court players. This is his fourth career title in Latin America alone. But Almagro has never been one to make much noise at the bigger tournaments. He's been to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros twice but never beyond. He's never been to the final of a Masters tournament, either. I am surprised to find, in fact, that he's never cracked the World Top 10, topping out at #11.

He is 25, considered by many to be the make or break age for a tennis player. It's been years since anyone beyond Nadal has been much of a threat at the big clay court showcases. Federer's the only one even worth mentioning. Every year, Almagro picks up minor titles only to fall short of the big money. Can he break the trend this year?

Golden Squid Update

Jurgen Melzer (Austria) picked up the tenth doubles title of his career this week at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament. It is his third title with partner Philipp Petzschner (Germany). Together, they are the reigning Wimbledon doubles champions. Melzer has paired his rejuvenated singles career with an emergence as one of the world's best in doubles. He currently holds the #8 world ranking on the doubles circuit, higher than he has ever been ranked in singles.

Wimbledon photo via Chadanielle's Blog. Melzer is on the right.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

My Tennis Fantasy: Anderson

Current Standing: 16th
My MVP for the Week: Kevin Anderson (South Africa) with $76,500, defeating Somdev Devvarman (India) in straight sets in the final of the SA Tennis Open

Photo via

Anderson is currently the highest-ranked African tennis player and the only one in the World Top 150. He played college tennis at the University of Illinois. By winning his hometown tournament, the 24-year-old has captured the first ATP title of his career.

Family Adventures: Early February

The snow around here is well past the ridiculous stage at this point. Fortunately, we did get out for some winter fun this weekend. The Green Mountain Club, maintainers of Vermont's Long Trail and, thus, a very important organization in our family, held its annual snowshoe festival this weekend and we went down to Waterbury to join in the fun.

My Wife's writeup of our morning is here:

Snowshoe Short Trail Green Mountain Club HQ

In the evening, a colleague from school had a guys' night at his house as his wife and kids were out of town. I hadn't been on a night out with just guys in years. In fact, I can't remember such an evening since about 1998. It was a particularly silly night to be out on the roads as we got a foot of snow last night, plus lightning. But I took my time in both directions and made it alright.

It was a fun time. We played some table tennis - one of my favorites, though I hadn't played in ages. There's a table at the Tree Farm and I spent many hours of my youth knocking the ball around - definitely a major part of my coming of age in that community. But even up there, people don't play nearly as much as in years past. The table gets plenty of use during potluck suppers but it's been years since I've played a game on it. It was nice to get in a few games last night.

I also played on a Wii for the first time last night. I know, I'm a dinosaur. It took me a bit to get used to the controls but I got reasonably comfortable after a while. I started with golf. I was horrendous in the beginning but birdied the last three holes. 3-point-shooting didn't go so well. Sword fighting brought mixed results. There was some Rock Band at the end of the evening, too.

I don't know about watching the Super Bowl this evening. I'm not a big fan of either team, though I'll admit to being partial to the Packers in tonight's tilt. It would take a lot for me to ever root for the Steelers. I will need to do some shoveling at some point today.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Baseball Funnies: George Carlin

George Carlin was a genius. My Wife claims this encapsulates her feelings about football perfectly. Enjoy...