The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

February 6, 2014

A Lot More Than 12 Men on the Field – The Seahawks Super Bowl Victory Parade

Filed under: Seattle, Sports — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 10:50 pm

In 2012, it was estimated that there are 634,535 people living in the City of Seattle at the time.  Last year, the population of the entire State of Washington was estimated to be 6,971,406 people.  In Downtown Seattle yesterday, it was estimated that a crowd of over 700,000 people had gathered along Fourth Avenue to celebrate what is (currently) an unprecedented event in Seattle:  A Super Bowl championship.  This isn’t the first time that a Seattle team has won a championship (the Sonics won an NBA championship in 1979, and the Seattle Storm have won WNBA championships in 2004 and 2010) but aside from the Seahawks’ previous appearance in Super Bowl XL (and the controversial officiating that some believe adversely impacted the outcome of the game, which has remained a sore spot with Seahawks fans for years,) an NBA Finals appearance for the Sonics in 1996 where they mostly served as the token opponent for one of the Michael Jordan dynasty Bulls championships, and a few promising Mariners seasons that ultimately fizzled out in the ALCS, Seattle hasn’t had much to cheer about in the past decade in terms of sports.  The Mariners have typically been somewhere in the range of mediocre to terrible each year since the 116-win 2001 season, the Sonics are currently tearing up the league from their new home in Oklahoma City (and no, I really can’t hate the Thunder, mostly because Kevin Durant is so much fun to watch when he really gets going,)  and the Seahawks have made the playoffs a few times, but have usually managed to be defeated in dramatic fashion.  In recent years Sounders FC has appeared on the scene and developed a surprisingly loyal fan base, but has yet to have much success in their appearances in the MLS Cup playoffs.  Back in 2004, ESPN did a feature on the 15 most tortured sports cities in America, and Seattle made the list at #7.  Of course this was before they made it to Super Bowl XL in 2006, but the outcome of that particular game didn’t seem to do much to help things any.

Perhaps it is because of that history that so many people (at least double the amount of any of the estimates made prior to the parade) showed up to celebrate the Seahawks’ first ever NFL championship, won in emphatic fashion as the Seahawks blew out the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday.  The parade route stretched along Fourth Avenue between Seattle Center and CenturyLink Field, and people arrived hours ahead of time to claim their spots.  I kind of figured that getting into Downtown was going to be a mess regardless of how many people showed up, but even though the 550 bus from Downtown Bellevue took twice as long as it normally does to get there, I was able to avoid the long lines of people waiting to board the bus by getting on at the first stop at the Bellevue Library.  The bus was completely full by the time it left the Transit Center, and ended up just bypassing almost all of its stops (each of which appeared to have a good 20-30 people waiting) due to lack of space for any more passengers.  I figured that I was going to have to make the trip into Downtown to go to work whether I was attending the parade or not, so I might as well see what all the hubbub was about.  And yes, I’m aware that I’m a really horrible sports fan, but if more than 10% of the entire population of the state is doing it, that probably counts as sufficient peer pressure.

To give you some idea of what kind of crowd came out for this parade in spite of freezing temperatures and semi-apocalyptic traffic, this is roughly half a block’s worth of people, looking northwest from roughly Fourth and Madison.  Now picture every single block of Fourth Avenue from Seattle Center all the way to CenturyLink Field, which was also packed with people (but not full, as some sections were blocked off due to preparations for an RV show going on downstairs.)  In addition to all this, Safeco Field was completely full of people watching the festivities on the big screen.  To get a better idea of just what the crowds looked like, you can find a number of other photos on this post.

And this is the view looking in the other direction.  Basically, any convenient ledge or patio people could watch from was jammed with as many people as would fit on to it.

It took some time for the parade to actually reach the location where I was watching from, but the crowd remained enthusiastic in spite of the delay.  When the parade did finally show up, the first ones in line were some of the team buses carrying a number of team personnel, several of which had managed to open up the emergency exit in the ceiling and get up on top of the buses to wave at the crowd.  Apparently safety is something that happens to Peyton Manning when you screw up the snap on the first play of the game (much to the chagrin of the Vegas bookmakers who presumably had to pay out some longshot bets on that one, I imagine.)

Elsewhere in the safety department (or lack thereof,) Marshawn Lynch decided to take in the parade from the hood of a duck full of Sea Gals where he threw Skittles toward the crowds.  I actually managed to catch a couple of them; I’m not sure if I should save them or try to sell them on eBay.

As the parade passed by, the running backs had the privilege of showing off the Lombardi Trophy.  I’m told that it was passed around between the various team members over the course of the parade, and these guys happened to have it at the time they were passing by.  Every time a group of players went by, the cheering was incredibly loud.  To be perfectly honest, the parade itself wasn’t all that exciting  (I can’t imagine you can put on too much of a show on three days notice) but seeing the sheer number of people who turned out was nothing short of breathtaking.  Seattle’s been waiting a long time (and has suffered through years of mediocrity, anguish and heartbreak) for one of its major sports teams to bring home a championship, and it shows.  Now if only we could get the Mariners to actually do something…

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June 10, 2013

Just Another Sunday on the Couch Watching NASCAR

Filed under: Cars, Sports, Wanderings — Brian Lutz @ 12:19 am

Auto racing has always been one of those things for me that I tend to enjoy watching (and participating in the very limited occasions when I get to do so, mostly in video games and the occasional go-karting outing) but that I’ve never gotten myself particularly involved in.  This comes mostly from my Dad’s tendency to spend Sunday afternoons on the couch watching races while we were growing up, a habit which continues to this day.  Although we got exposed to all sorts of different types of races and different series over the years, it was NASCAR that tended to dominate the Sunday afternoon viewing, mostly because that what was on most of the time.  Over time we did tend to pick a few favorite drivers on the circuit (mostly the Roush drivers, and Mark Martin in particular) but mostly we tended to end up rooting more for certain drivers to lose and/or end up in the wall or in the pits with a blown engine.  Originally Dale Earnhardt was by and large the chosen bete noir in the Lutz household, but he was soon replaced by Jeff Gordon, who then eventually gave way to Jimmie Johnson and the other Hendrick drivers…  Basically whoever happened to be ending up in Victory Lane a lot driving a Chevy.  Needless to say, we ended up disappointed a lot.

As for actually going to the races, I have only been to two of them previously, both at Phoenix in the early Nineties when we still lived in New Mexico.  On one of those occasions, we actually ended up getting our tickets from a member of Dale Earnhardt’s crew who was handing out some of their extras while we were waiting in line to get a ticket for one of my friends who had joined us at the last minute.  We already had tickets, but when we saw that the freebie ticket was in a prime location on the front stretch that was much better than ours in the Turn 3 grandstands, we were able to trade our other tickets for ones in the same location.  Sure enough, Earnhardt won that race, but I don’t think we complained too much about that one.  Since then I’ve been meaning for a while to try to attend another NASCAR race, but the opportunity hasn’t ever really presented itself.  Until now.

Thanks to a surprisingly large number of coincidences, me and my parents just happened to find ourselves in the right place at the right time to get a rather unique opportunity to watch the recent Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway from a condo overlooking the track in turn 1.  First of all, we happened to be in the general vicinity, thanks to my brother’s wedding the day before the race.  Second, we happened to be in Charlotte the day of the race, since my brother’s return flight was there.  Third, my friends were already there with their parents, who own the condo in the first place (my friends’ father has a business that involves working with NASCAR teams on a regular basis,) who extended the invitation for us to join them to watch the race from their condo.   Thanks to their invitation and all the various coincidences that had to happen to get there in the first place, we had the privilege of experiencing a NASCAR race from what just may be the best seats in the house that are not traveling at over 180 miles per hour.  Naturally, I took plenty of photos.  After the jump, a look at some of the sights of a NASCAR race, as seen from on high (and down low.)

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January 24, 2013

People Love it When You Lose, or 47 Reasons Why I’m a Really Horrible Sports Fan

Filed under: Sports — Brian Lutz @ 12:50 am

When it comes to watching and following sports, there seem to be a lot of different ways that somebody can do it.  Most people opt for the traditional approach where they pick a set of teams (usually the local ones) and follow those teams through thick and thin, never wavering (but forever complaining).  Other people prefer the “Fair Weather Fan” approach of jumping on whatever bandwagon happens to be convenient at the present moment, then finding another bandwagon when they get sick of the current one.  Still other people can manage to act (or at least do a pretty convincing job of pretending to act) as disinterested observers, preferring to watch the games as they happen, never bothering to take sides.  As for myself… Well, I’m pretty sure I don’t fit into any of those.  Sure, I grew up in a family where we were always fans of one baseball team or another.  Back when we lived in New Mexico it seemed to be either the Cubs or the Braves, owing mostly to the fact that those were the two teams we could actually watch on TV.  Then when we moved up here the family’s allegiances shifted pretty rapidly to the hometown Mariners.  And for a number of years I managed to follow along (and even made a couple of years worth of largely disastrous attempts at a fantasy baseball team.) but gradually I’ve found that I have just lost interest.

This isn’t to say that I don’t follow sports.  In fact, I find that I spend a fair bit of time on ESPN.com reading various articles about all the major sports and generally keeping up with things.  There’s just one problem:  Most of the time I can’t be bothered to actually watch a single game, to the point that I’d much rather follow most games through the GameCast on the site (basically a glorified scoreboard) than by turning on the TV and actually watching them.  It occurs to me that by taking this approach to sports I’m basically missing the whole entire point, but I never really managed to figure out just why I tend to do this until just this evening I had a sudden realization:  I don’t watch sports so much to support teams that I happen to like as I do to root against teams I don’t like.

And on further consideration, I came to realize that the number of teams that I dislike far exceeds the number of teams that I do like.  For example, this upcoming Super Bowl is, based on the odd personal sports standards I set for myself, totally unwatchable.  I have no particular opinion one way or the other on the Ravens (they seem to be one of those random AFC teams that I don’t bother paying any attention to until they just happen to show up in the Super Bowl for some odd reason,) but for some reason, the 49ers just bug me.  Part of it probably comes from them being rivals to the Seahawks (who I don’t particularly root for, but who I do follow to some extent) and part of it seems to come from the fact that they’re from San Francisco.  The fact that the Giants (A fixture on my personal sports pooh-pooh list for just about as long as I can remember, dating back to when they were a division rival of the Braves several realignments ago) won the World Series a few months ago probably doesn’t help much here.  Either way, I suspect I probably won’t be able to watch the game without being annoyed by something, so I figure I’m probably better off just skipping it and YouTubing whatever commercials happen to be interesting later on.

On the flip side of the coin, even though sports anti-fans such as myself mostly end up putting up with a lot of watching the teams we dislike win (after all, we probably wouldn’t have much reason to dislike them if they weren’t winning everything, usually by outspending pretty much everyone else in the league,) every once in a while we get “treated” to watching one of these teams fall, and fall hard.  In fact, the idea for this Blog post comes largely from reading an article on ESPN about the latest drama coming out of the Los Angeles Lakers clubhouse as they flail their way through what’s turned out to be a disappointing season so far, with potential to turn into a full-scale trainwreck if things get further out of hand than they already are.  During the NFL season, we got to watch the New York Jets as they stumbled their way into a 6-10 season with the vultures of the New York media documenting every minute of it.  And on the baseball side of things, we’ve spent the past five seasons watching the Boston Red Sox go from a World Series win in 2007 to missing the playoffs in 2010,  blowing a 9-game AL wild card lead in less than a month in 2011, and finally culminating in the absolute trainwreck of a 2012 season that ended with a 69-93 last-place finish in the AL east as the team melted down.  (Edit, a year later: And then in 2013 the Red Sox managed to win the World Series again, just to keep everyone guessing…)

Although the Lakers have long held a place on my pooh-pooh list (as a standard big-market team that wins by outspending opponents,) I have never really had a reason to specifically dislike either the Red Sox or the Jets.  Nonetheless, there’s something oddly amusing about watching a team that’s supposed to be going deep into the playoffs ending up as a dysfunctional mess.  When the Lakers picked up Dwight Howard during the offseason there were a number of articles written where people were practically already lining up for their Lakers-Heat NBA Finals tickets, but now halfway through the season we’re watching the Lakers sitting just barely ahead of the cellar-dwellers in the Western Conference with a 17-25 record and holding blamestorming meetings in the clubhouse before the game.  On the other hand, from the minute they hired Bobby Valentine as manager the 2012 Red Sox season was getting turned into a soap opera whether they wanted it or not.  And the Jets, although it wasn’t without its horrendously overblown drama, seems to have been mostly just a simple case of plain old incompetence on pretty much everyone’s part.

Sure, the whole thing gets to be a bit painful to watch if you’re a fan of one of these teams, but for the rest of us, there’s something that’s just oddly amusing about the whole thing.  Therefore, I propose the following:  For the amusement of the sports anti-fans among us, each year there shall be at least one team within the four major sports that will be chosen as the designated trainwreck team.  That team will come from a big market, with lots of overpaid star players, excessively high expectations and inordinately bloodthirsty local media, and subsequently that team will spend their season melting down in the most amusing fashion possible.  If circumstances permit we can probably accommodate multiple meltdown teams across multiple major sports within a single year, but I suspect that three different high-profile team meltdowns (as we’ve had in 2012) plus an entire league having a large-scale meltdown that cancelled half the season is probably an anomaly that is unlikely to be repeated on a regular basis.  Oh, and protracted long-term meltdowns that have been going on for years probably aren’t going to count here (sorry Cubs fans).

Sure it may not come with the thrills of watching an epic battle between two teams on the field or the court (unless someone gets beaned by a fastball at least,) but at least there aren’t as many confusing stats to figure out that way.

March 18, 2010

You’ve Still Gotta Love These Guys

Filed under: Seattle, Sports — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:04 am

 

To be perfectly honest, it’s been quite a while since I’ve really followed baseball as closely as I used to.  Sure, I still keep up with the major happenings in the sport and manage to catch the occasional Mariners game on TV, but for the last few years it’s been rare for me to actively follow the game on a day-to-day basis, or to even know whether the Mariners won or lost their previous game without going and looking it up.  Part of this is because the team just hasn’t been all that exciting to follow over the past few years.  Sure you still have Ichiro and Felix, but beyond that, there haven’t been a lot of big names in the lineup to get excited about.  Last year, with a major front office shakeup, the return of Ken Griffey Jr. to the team he spent the first nine years of his career with, and the management skills of Don Wakamatsu, the M’s managed to seriously overachieve the low expectations that had been set for them following the previous season’s debacle, and even managed to pull off an unexpected winning season, and although it was only good for third in the division, it was a welcome breath of fresh air for Mariners fans who have suffered through a number of disappointing seasons.

It is with the momentum of the past season and some key signings over the offseason (including the resigning of Felix Hernandez to a long-term deal and the addition of Cy Young winner Cliff Lee that the Mariners prepare to return to the field for 2010, and even though I’ve not been following them all that closely over the past few years, for some reason I find myself looking forward to this seas0n more than I have the past few.  I somehow have my doubts that there’s going to be playoffs in the team’s future come October, but somehow I get the feeling this year’s team should be interesting to watch.  I suppose the fact that I am now working within an only somewhat ridiculously implausible foul ball’s distance of Safeco Field helps a bit in this regard.  I don’t know exactly why, but there’s just something about being able to get off work and take a short walk over to the ballpark (according to the pathing tools on Bing maps, my new desk at work is almost exactly a half mile away from home plate at Safeco as the crow flies) that sounds like fun.

Even with the optimism that comes with a new season, there’s always a little bit of nostalgia for Mariners teams gone by.  I’m sure my sisters could write whole books about the memories of the times they spent in section 317 at the Kingdome and their various A-Rod obsessions (needless to say, this was back before he turned into the juiced-up overpaid tabloid fodder he eventually became,) but to me, the most memorable Mariners teams were the late nineties teams with guys like Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer and yes, even  Alex Rodriguez (although we tend not to talk much about him these days) running the show, with a supporting cast including the likes of Joey Cora, Jay Buhner, Mike Blowers, Dan Wilson, Bobby Ayala and Jose Mesa (we don’t talk too much about those two either, to be honest.)  These are the guys who saved baseball in Seattle back in 1995 (these days, it’s a little hard to remember that the moving vans were practically half-packed for a move to Florida after two decades of relentless mediocrity and the 1994 Kingdome roof tile incident and strike.)  Back in those days, it was also quite common to see these guys doing local TV ads, including the one featuring Edgar Martinez that you see above for Eagle Hardware and Garden.  Eagle was a now long departed chain of big box home improvement stores that got bought out by Lowe’s in 1999, and leaves as its only visible legacy the big “More of Everything” signs you still see on a few of their former locations.  Although I’ve never exactly been a big consumer of home improvement paraphernalia, I much preferred the old Eagle stores to the Lowe’s stores that replaced them or the Home Depot stores that served as the competition, and I suspect that these ads may have had something to do with that.  Be sure to click through to find plenty more commercials featuring Edgar, Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson and Randy Johnson in the related videos.  I’m sure any Mariners fan of the late Nineties will recognize these immediately.

While it’s easy to see these types of things through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, I do still have to admit to having something of a soft spot for these late Nineties Mariners teams,  Yes, even more than a decade later you’ve still gotta’ love these guys.

March 2, 2009

Apparently This Year I Bleed Dodger Blue

Filed under: Sports — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:14 am

With the Winter finally beginning to near it’s end (on the calendar at least, if last year’s Spring weather is any indication the weather might be hanging around for a while still,) once again baseball season is off on the horizon  Spring Training has officially begun, and a little more than a month remains before opening day, which will this year be started with a game on April 5th between the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies (I’m sure there are some people in Philadelpha who wondered if they would ever see that happen again in their lifetime) against the Atlanta Braves.  Up here in Seattle, the big baseball news (besides the wholesale replacement of the manager, general manager and most of the coaching staff) is the return of Ken Griffey Jr. to the team where he spent the best years of his career for what many presume may be the final year of his career.  Still, expectations for the Mariners (especially after last year’s 101-loss season, the first for a team with a payroll over $100 million) remain low, and the team is not expected to contend this year, and is widely expected to improve marginally if at all.

Which brings me to the title of this post.  Yesterday, there was a Vanderhoeven family get-together down in Federal Way, where we all did a bunch of yard work at Opa’s house to clean up some of the neglect that had accumulated in the yard and got rid of the old playhouse in the back of the yard (which was disposed of in a standard Vanderhoeven raging inferno after being dismantled.)  As we worked, there was some discussion of the upcoming baseball season, and the low expectations for the Mariners (to say that the members of the Vanderhoeven family are Mariners fans would be something of an understatement.)  As we discussed this, an idea was formed to generate a bit more excitement in what will probably shape up to be another 90-loss season, and at the same time commit an act of wholesale sports bigamy that would probably make Bill Simmons proceed to light himself on fire:  In this scheme, 30 different people chose a team at random out of a hat, and whoever’s team wins this year’s World Series would receive a party in their honor at the end of the season, with the other participants bringing gifts (so in other words it’s basically a pool, with a minor technicality or two thrown in for good measure.)  This means that everyone involved in this has a different team to support this season.

I didn’t stick around to find out which team everyone got, but I did draw a team from the hat, and ended up with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  On one hand, over the years I’ve spent a lot more time rooting against the Dodgers than I have rooting for them.  In fact, I think the only time I ever recall actually rooting for the Dodgers was in the 1988 series when they played against the A’s, which was the year Kirk Gibson hit his famous home run in game 1.  Even though my family’s allegiances at the time were firmly in the Atlanta Braves camp (which also meant that up until 1991, they were also pretty firmly mired in the basement of the National League,) even back then we couldn’t stand the Oakland A’s, a fact which has definitely not changed over the years with the Mariners being in the same division.  In fact, when 1991 rolled around, the Dodgers became the enemy as the NL West pennant race heated up, and was finally decided  with the Braves on top by a game on the last day of the season, which ultimately ended with a hard-fought 7-game loss in the World Series to the Twins.  

Although there is a fairly lengthy history of Dodger-hating in the family, it’s been years since I’ve really followed the National League on more than an occasional basis.  I think if I gave it some thought, I think I might have just the faintest hint of sentimental support left over for the Braves and the Cubs, but I’ve long since learned my lesson on the futility of being a Cubs fan, and the Braves team of today has almost nothing to do with the Braves teams of my childhood (Bobby Cox is still around and Tom Glavine is back this year, but I think that’s about it.)  Of course, this was also back from the days when the Cubs played on WGN and the Braves played on TBS, and with no major league team anywhere near New Mexico before the Rockies arrived in 1993, those were the only two teams we could watch on TV on a regular basis (I think we could sort of occasionally catch AM radio broadcasts of the Astros at night too, but that was just a bit too much work.)  Still, it’s been at least a decade now since I’ve really paid too much attention to the National League, and I don’t think there’s any particular reason (yet) that I would have to dislike the Dodgers, so I guess I’ll go for it and see what happens.  There’s just one problem:  I guess this means that I’ll be forced to formulate an informed, well reasoned opinion on the whole Manny mess going on right now.  Let me get back to you on that one… 

On the other hand, depending on what my work situation looks like in June I’ve been giving a bit of thought to heading down to LA for a long weekend (since airfares are ridiculously cheap right now,) and this might give me an excuse to try to squeeze in a trip to Chavez Ravine for a Dodgers game if I do decide to go.  It looks like there’s even a weekend Mariners versus Dodgers series in LA at the end of the month if I’m looking for a chance to be really conflicted about the whole thing.  I’ll have to see what happens before I make any definite plans though.

Incidentally,  I feel really sorry for whoever it was who ended up with the A’s or the Angels in the drawing.  THAT one is going to be tough to deal with.

November 19, 2008

Not-So-Great Moments in Seattle Sports History

Filed under: History, Sports — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 6:58 pm

As you might be aware, this weekend, the annual Apple Cup game between the University of Washington Huskies and the Washington State University Cougars will be taking place in Pullman.  As one of the storied rivalries in college football, this game often attracts national attention.  This year’s game is no exception, although the attention it is attracting this year is for an entirely different reason than usual.  Going into this year’s Apple cup game, these two rivals have a total of one win between them.  The Huskies go into this game with an 0-10 record, and a lame duck coach. The Cougs are barely any better off right now with a 1-10 record, that one win coming against a lower division school earlier in the season.  At least College Football fans (if there are any left at this point) can take solace in the fact that barring some catastrophe (I wouldn’t discount the possibility at this point) someone is going to have to win the game.  You know it’s getting bad out there when you start hearing the obligatory “How many Cougs/Huskies does it take to change a light bulb” jokes from your own fans. 

In honor of the Apple Cup (not to mention the Seahawks’ current 2-8 record, the Mariner’s 61-101 season in spite of a $116 million payroll and the Sonics skipping town,) I present an article that I came across in a 1977 edition of the Journal American which seems oddly appropriate about now to remind Seattle sports fans that things can always be worse (albeit not by much.)  The Seahawks, at that point in their second season of existence, managed to scrape out a 30-23 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (also a recent expansion team at that point,) but did not appear to win much respect in the process:

"Tampa Bay Outloses Seahawks 30-23", Journal American, October 17 1977

After losing the first four games of the season, this win improved (if you could call it that) the Seahawks’ record to 1-4.  Tampa Bay, on the other hand, had yet to win a single game at this point, having gone 0-14 in their inaugural season, and 0-5 to this point after this game.  Ultimately, the Seahawks would finish with a 5-9 record, and Tampa Bay would manage to win the last two games of the season to end a 28-game losing streak (an NFL record that still stands) for a 2-12 record overall.  How’s that for futility?

March 30, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Filed under: Culture, Sports — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:01 pm

(Programming note:  Posting may be light here for the next week or so, but I plan to write at least one post each day over at buzz.mn while the host of that site is on vacation (it’s not so much guestblogging as usurping, but that’s beside the point.)  This particular article is a crosspost from there.  The rest of my buzz.mn blog entries can be found here.)

Well, I’ve been trying to think Spring, but lately it just doesn’t seem to be working all that well. The picture above shows the scene this morning when I got to church. According to the news, some places in the Puget Sound area got as much as six inches of snow overnight, and there’s been scattered snow throughout the area since Wednesday. I suppose for those of you who live in some frozen wasteland snow in late March probably isn’t all that unusual, but considering the fact that over here getting snow more than two or three times over the course of the Winter is considered abnormally snowy, this seems to be just a tad excessive.

Nonetheless, the calendar says that it’s just about time for the Boys of Summer to take the field for another season of Baseball. Although in recent years I haven’t followed baseball as closely as I used to, in my family Opening Day is practically considered to be a holiday, celebrated with hot dogs and apple pie (NOTE: Due to ongoing criminal investigations, the Cream will not be provided with apple pie this year.) Although rooting for the home team (which around here happens to be the Mariners) seems to be the order of the day, living in the middle of nowhere meant that there really wasn’t a “home team” where I lived, which meant that I had to make do with whoever’s games we could get on cable TV. For many years, this meant the Chicago Cubs, whose games came to us via WGN out of Chicago via the not-so-silver tounged Harry Caray (who I got to meet once at a Spring Training game in Arizona, which the Cubs of course lost.)

Soon faced with the realization that backing the Cubs wasn’t exactly a winning proposition (the ’84 playoffs were probably a good sign of this,) my allegiances eventually shifted toward the Atlanta Braves, whose games played on TBS. Given their frequently dismal record during the late Eighties, expectations were set low, until they suddenly managed to get good in 1991, and pulled off the miraculous worst-to-first comeback and even more improbable playoff win against the Pittsburgh Pirates to reach the World Series in 1991. Although I would later learn to respect both of them as players and people, Kirby Puckett’s game 6 walk-off homer and Jack Morris’ 10-inning shutout in game 7 of the 2001 World Series are both in the top ten of my most traumatic baseball experiences. Although a couple of years later the expansion Colorado Rockies would give us something that would reasonably call a home team, my loyalties remained with the Braves until my family moved up to Seattle, where the Mariners were a cellar-dwelling team at risk of being moved to some random city in Florida. We figured they could use all the help they could get, so we hopped on the bandwagon. And what a ride it would turn out to be.

Then came the 1995 season, when suddenly everything came together, and the Mariners managed to get into the playoffs by winning a one-game tiebreaker with the California Angels, then pulled off an even more improbable comeback from a 0-2 deficit in the Division Series to beat the Yankees before finally losing the ALCS in six games to the Cleveland Indians (who would then go on to lose to the Atlanta Braves in five games. All in all, not a bad year for baseball in our family.)

Although the Mariners didn’t make the World Series (and have not yet done so in their 30 year history) that 1995 run ensured that the Mariners would stay in Seattle, and set the table for the incredible 2001 season, in which the Ms would win 116 games and host the All-Star Game, but lose to the Yankees in five games in the ALCS. Among the highlights of the season that I saw in person were the All-Star Game itself, with Cal Ripken’s home run in his final All-Star appearance (marked today by a plaque in the visitor’s bullpen at Safeco Field,) and the “victory lap” that the team took around the diamond carrying an American flag the day that baseball resumed following the September 11th attacks. Oddly enough, I was working in a concession stand at Safeco Field for that game (something that I would do for anywhere from 5-15 games a year for several years on a volunteer basis, to help raise money for various nonprofit organizations. It was hard work, but it provided plenty of opportunity to be at the ballpark. I can best describe the experience as similar to trying to watch the ballgame through a hole in the fence while serving beer and hotdogs to everyone else crowded around. I must have served thousands of the things, yet surprisingly enough, I still consider the hot dogs at the ballpark to be superior to those you can find just about anywhere else (just don’t ask me to actually pay for one.) This concession standexperience came in handy when I took a trip to Disneyland a couple of years ago, and found that the food prices inside the park almost seemed reasonable in comparison.

Since that 2001 season, the Mariners haven’t given us a whole lot of reasons to celebrate, but nonetheless, there’s nothing to compare to a beautiful summer evening as you watch from the cheap seats as the sun sets over the third base line as the National Pastime plays out on the field in front of you. Sure, my team ends up being down by six runs in the fourth inning more often than I would like, but still, a bad day at the ballpark beats a good day at work anyday. Feel free to share any baseball memories you have here. Even if the Twins did beat the Braves in the ’91 series, we can all agree that we don’t like the Yankees, right?

Oh, and Play Ball.

December 15, 2007

(Not So) Juicy Reading: The Mitchell Report

Filed under: Sports — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 2:44 am

If you follow sports at all, by now you’ve probably heard a lot more than you really care to about the Mitchell Report (Note: the link goes to a PDF of the full report.)  Over the course of the last couple of days, many a barrel of pixels has been spilled over the report and its contents, so I’ll leave the analysis of the contents of the report to the professionals.  Instead, I’d like to take a look at the report itself.  Over the course of the past couple of days, I have managed to read through most of the 409 pages of the report (with the exceptions of the appendices and other administrivia) and only fell asleep once while doing so.  Based on that, I think I can pretty much sum up the whole thing here:

  •  Yeah, steroids are bad for you;
  • This isn’t the first time we’ve had druggies playing baseball;
  • Donald Fehr is still a jerk (a fact that most baseball fans figured out 13 years ago);
  • Those BALCO guys juiced up a bunch of ballplayers;
  • Kirk Radomski juiced up even more of ’em but he got busted, so he named names;
  • Apparently people do actually buy stuff from Internet spammers.  Some of them happen to be baseball players;
  • MLB should probably do something about this.

Of course, we already knew most of this stuff before the report came out.  For a document that’s caused as much uproar as the Mitchell Report has, it sure doesn’t read that way.  The overall appearance of the report itself makes the whole thing look something like an overgrown research paper from a High School English class, and at times, the writing can be a bit sloppy (especially toward the end.)  After beginning with some dryly presented background info on the effects of the various supplements discussed, the current situation and some of the earlier drug and steroid issues,  the report moves into a discussion of each of the players implicated in the BALCO investigation, by Kirk Radomski, and those alleged to have purchased performance enhancing drugs over the Internet.  For what is purported to be one of the most damaging exposs in recent memory, it sure doesn’t read like one.  The report plays it straight as it rattles through the laundry list of Kirk Radomski’s clients, outlining the means by which they were put in touch with him, their purchases and (where available) the checks they wrote to make the purchases.  All in all, you begin to suspect that more scandalous prose has been used in describing trips to the grocery store.  For those people who may not be familiar with the steroids involved, ESPN presents this page describing them.  Unfortunately, the descriptions it provides make it seem to give it more  of a “hey kids!  Look at all the fun you can have with Steroids!” tone than anything, almost as if someone cut-and-pasted it off a steroid users’ FAQ or something similar.

Granted, the subject matter doesn’t exactly lend itself to much embellishment, but this type of thing isn’t going to do much of anything to keep people off the juice.  Sure, there’s a bit of background info at the front of the report that tries to make the point that steroids have bad side effects, but you hear virtually nothing of any ill effects to any of the players who used it, aside from a couple of injuries here and there which may or may not be related to steroid use.  You get the feeling that a couple of strategically placed anecdotes of shrunken genitalia or exploding biceps (Video link, somewhat graphic) would have gone a long way to get the message across, but about the worst thing the report manages to find are steroids being mixed up in bathtubs and sinks on drug raids.  Given the relative lack of sources available to Mr. Mitchell this is understandable, but for all the hyperbole in the press about the “devestating” impact of the report, there’s not really a lot besides a few of the names that came from Kirk Radomski that we didn’t already know.  Incidentally, my picks in the Mitchell Report Juicer Fantasy Draft were all pretty much busts.  Maybe I’ll have better luck with the next scandal…

None of this is intended to trivialize the impact of the Mitchell Report, but as a summary of whatever information the MLBPA wasn’t able to keep out of Mr. Mitchell’s hands, the report works reasonably well, even if it is a bit dry and clunky at times. As an exposé of the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball, it’s OK, but since much of this is hyperbole generated by the assorted punditry, it probably gets more credit than it deserves.  As a work of literature on which to spend your precious reading time, I’d probably suggest looking elsewhere.

September 1, 2007

Big Fish in the PAC 10

Filed under: Culture, Sports — Brian Lutz @ 10:51 pm

It’s that time of year again, when college football returns to the gridiron, reigniting old rivalries both on and off the field.  Around here, the big rivalry is that between the University of Washington and Washington State University, culminating in the Apple Cup game in November.  Of course, some people are getting ready for it a bit early this year:

Big Fish and Little Fish

I don’t really have a preference for one school over the other (although I suspect that if I applied to WSU I’d probably get rejected for being too sober) but the use of identical (albeit reversed role) shirts for the two schools doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.  First of all, you’ve got two sharks and two “little” fish, which just makes it look like each shark is eating the other team’s second string.  And who’s to say those sharks aren’t choking on those smaller fish anyway?  Don’t those look just a bit too big for them to swallow?  What you don’t see is that just out of view of the camera, there’s some SEC powerhouse lurking about, ready to devour both in one gulp at the first opportunity.

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