Super Boring 51? Maybe.

Once again, I got caught up listening to a sports talk radio show out of Philadelphia on my way home from work tonight. Like it has been for much of the last week and a half, the Super Bowl was the topic of conversation. The question posed to the listeners today was “Is this the least-hyped, most boring Super Bowl ever?” Seems silly when you consider the fact football is the most popular sport in America and the NFL basically owns three days of the week for five months a year. But then I got to thinking: do I care about this Super Bowl less than previous Super Bowls? Could it be?

The answer is, begrudgingly, yes.

Perhaps I am on football overload, or perhaps I am just sick and friggin’ tired  of the Patriots, but I can safely say that I am less excited about this Super Bowl than I have been about any Super Bowl since I stopped watching the event just for the commercials. As I thought about this, I began to come up with a few reasons why this Super Bowl just doesn’t have the excitement of Super Bowls past…

1) It’s the Patriots. Again.

Aren’t y’all just sick of the Pats? I know I am. I mean, except for the first four weeks when Tom Brady was suspended, we all knew it was gonna be the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The rest of the AFC was just that weak. We could pretend for a few weeks that the Steelers or the Chiefs, maybe even the Raiders could upend them, but really, we knew Tom Brady and Co. were going to be in the Super Bowl. We just knew it.

2) The media really only covered, like, two football teams plus Colin Kaepernick all year.

…And yes, one of those teams was the Pats. I watched a ton of ESPN and FS1 this year and honestly, the media seemed to only talk about the Pats and the Cowboys. Lord, can you imagine the circus we would have if Dem Boyzzzzz and the Pats were in the Super Bowl? It would be insane. Like, ESPN would probably cease to function and Skip Bayless would be even more intolerable than usual. See, the problem is that the sports media focused so heavily on those two teams that every other team flew under the radar. For example, most people didn’t know the Chiefs were really good this year. Heck, most people didn’t know the Falcons were good! Not only that, but Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protests got way more media attention than we thought it would (not that it was necessarily a bad thing). The media was so focused on the Pats, Dem Boyzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, and Colin Kaepernick, we never got to see how good some of the other NFC teams were (I say only NFC teams because let’s be real: the AFC sucked hard this year).

3) The election.

Nothing takes the joy out of the football season like a contentious, ridiculous, rancorous election. Seriously, I had a hard time focusing on how miserable my Arizona Cardinals were because I was too busy languishing over comments about sexually assaulting woman and banning entire religious groups from entering our country. Unlike the World Series, which offered us a wonderful break from the vile, rape-y rhetoric courtesy of our soon-to-be-elected president, the Super Bowl has not offered us a respite. In fact, even the sports talk shows are talking about Trump because the athletes are talking about Trump (you know, except Brady. Yeah, I went there.). Donald Trump’s executive orders (and the subsequent protests) have dominated the news in such a way that the Super Bowl has become an afterthought. Leave it to The Donald to ruin the Super Bowl.

4) LeBron 

This might sound crazy, I know. You can’t blame LeBron James for the lack of Super Bowl hype, but sports shows are endlessly covering the LeBron vs Charles Barkley feud. If LeBron stopped complaining, there would be more time to cover the Super Bowl. Not that LeBron needs to stop complaining, but he could hold off until Monday.

5) Pitchers and catcher report in exactly two weeks!!!!!!!!!!

BASEBALL IS ALMSOT BACK AND I CAN HARDLY CONTAIN MYSELF.

 

I’m sure there are other reasons this year’s Super Bowl is not as exciting as years past, but these were the big five that I could come up with. I’m still looking forward to the game, and I will watch it gleefully, but this year is so different. It’s a shame that I can’t be as excited about this year’s Super Bowl. It will still be a big day and it should be a great game, but gosh darn it, I wish I was a little more enthusiastic.

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Super Bowl 51: The Patriots vs…Roger Goodell?

As I was driving into work the other morning, I was listening to a sports talk radio show broadcasted out of Philadelphia. Instead of talking Philly sports as usual, they were discussing the upcoming Super Bowl match up between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots. I was hardly paying attention, mostly because I was dreading going into work (a cold and lack of sleep will do that to you) and daydreaming about going back to bed. I pulled into my parking spot and was just about to turn off my car when one of the hosts said “Do you think the Patriots are preparing to play the Falcons or are they playing Goodell? I mean, the whole year it’s been ‘Brady vs Goodell’. Are we finally gonna see this play out?”

Had I not been running late for work, I would have listened to what the other commentators had to say. That idea really stuck in my mind all day: Are the Pats playing the Falcons on February 5th or are they playing to get back at Roger Goodell?

After Patriots QB Tom Brady served his four game suspension for the whole Deflategate saga, it seemed as though The Tom Brady Revenge Tour started. Really, with one of the easiest schedules in the NFL and with the future Hall-of-Famer QB at the helm, it is easy to see how some might think Brady and Co. went on a “revenge tour”. In reality, they just played like they usually do. The whole time, though, you knew they were playing with a little extra fire in hopes of giving Goodell the ultimate middle finger: a Super Bowl championship. The whole media world is waiting for that awkward moment when Goodell has the hand the Super Bowl MVP trophy to Tom Brady. It’s every New Englander’s wet dream.

It all sounds well and good, but we are forgetting about something and that something is the Atlanta Falcons.

In all of the “Brady vs Goodell” hubbub, the poor Falcons are not getting a whole lot of love, which is a darn shame. The Falcons have had one of the best offenses, if not THE best offense, in the NFL. And their defense, mind you, is nothing to scoff at. Matt Ryan has had an MVP-caliber season and should be the MVP this year. I’m sorry, but as good as Brady has been, he missed four games. Matt Ryan did not miss four games and he has played lights-out football all year. With Ryan at the helm, Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu at WR, and Devonte Freeman at RB, the Falcons offense has been nearly unstoppable this season.

The Falcons have passed every test this year. Unlike last year, they stayed hot all season. They did not collapse like everyone thought they would. Everyone was waiting for a collapse similar to what we saw in 2015, but it never happened. In the playoffs alone, they tore through the “Legion of Boom” and blew out the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round. Not only that, but they throttled the hottest team in football (the Packers) and the hottest quarterback in football (Aaron Rodgers) in the NFC Championship game. The way they picked apart the red-hot Green Bay Packers left little doubt that the Falcons are a force to be reckoned with.

And yet no one is talking about them.

Look, I understand why everyone is talking about Brady vs Goodell. Deflategate was a big deal (whether it should have been or not) and people want to see the big, bad Commissioner brought to his knees by the handsome, talented Tom Brady. People want to see the man with the ultimate power submit to the man he unjustly punished. They want to see “The Man” lose.

But New England isn’t playing against Roger Goodell. They are playing a damn good Falcons squad who would love nothing more than to end The Tom Brady Revenge Tour in a spectacular fashion. It would be foolish for the media, fans of the Patriots, Pats owner Robert Kraft (who, after the AFC Championship game, delivered a seemingly inebriated speech that subtilely egged on the Brady vs Goodell narrative), and even the Patriots themselves to forget who they are ACTUALLY playing.

If the Patriots are distracted, even for a moment, you better believe this Falcons squad will tear them apart.

It’s going to be up to Tom Brady to stop the Falcons. In a way, it will be a final test for him after two tumultuous years, but he can’t let the distractions of sticking it to Roger Goodell damage his focus. If the match up between the Patriots and Goodell creates even a minor distraction to the Patriots players, they will lose and they will lose in an embarrassing manor. All year the Patriots have been assumed the winners of the fifty-first Super Bowl, but people are forgetting that they will have to prove themselves against a very good Atlanta Falcons team.

This isn’t the Patriots vs Roger Goodell. This is the Patriots vs the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons will be ready, but will the Patriots be ready for the Falcons?

Johnny Comeback?

I’ve made it clear before and I will say it again: I kinda like Johnny Manziel.

I know, I know, I’m deeply ashamed, but what can I say? Call me a sucker for bad boys, but I like the players who shake up the status quo a little bit. I loved it when he started using the “money” gestures during his Texas A&M days and I appriciated how outspoken he was about the unfairness of the NCAA system. I liked that he had a little bit of swagger and I was excited to see how he was going to translate that to the National Football League.

We all know how that turned out.

Alcohol, parties, models, violence, probably drugs, and many bad choices have led Manziel down the path of unemployment and a one-way ticket to football purgatory. He became a headline grabber for all the wrong reasons. His former girlfriend has a restraining order against him. For much of 2016, he looked sickly and ill. He became a lesson you tell the high schoolers who are aspiring to be college or pro athletes: “See Johnny? Don’t be like Johnny”.

Near the end of 2016, athletes and advisors began reaching out to him, most notably Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Quality human beings instead of groupies began to offer him advice, council, and probably a few reality checks along the way. On January 20th, Manziel sent a letter to ESPN, saying that he was sober, wanted to make a comeback in the NFL, and that being clean felt great. He wrote “I refuse to let my entire life of sports from the age of 4 be squandered by partying. I just got sick of it. One day I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror and realized I could really help people in the position I’m in. I love sports, I love football and when you take something away from yourself you realize it the hard way. The happiness from doing it sober has been ASTRONOMICAL. Beyond my wildest imagination and once that continued other good things started happening in my life and it just clicked.”  (thank you EPSN.com for the quote!) He also noted how he wants just one team to take a chance of him, to invite him to workout – anything, really. Later on in the day, it was discovered that an independent football league offered Manziel an invite to play, an offer that was extended to other players, such as Ray Rice and Vince Young. The “Spring League”, as it is being called, is not affiliated with the NFL, but you can bet that NFL scouts will be there.

The only problem I have with all of this is that we have heard this from Manziel before. We thought he turned things around when he entered rehab back in 2015 after his rookie campaign ended. We thought we would see a change after he was released by the Cleveland Browns in 2016. I have heard this song and dance from him for years and frankly, I’m tired of it. Would I like to see him create a comeback story worthy of an ESPN 30 For 30? Darn tootin’ I would! But first, I want to make sure Johnny Manziel is the healthiest, happiest, soberest man he can possibly be. I want him to be serious this time. I want to believe that he can do this.

And what team would want to take on that kind of risk? It would be a publicity nightmare for sure – who thinks the savage world of sports media would be kind to any team that even gave Manziel a workout? Could he even still play? And if he can play, will it be the level of play we saw at Texas A&M or will it be more similar to what we saw with the Cleveland Browns? There are so many questions that will more than likely go unanswered.

If (and it’s a big “if”) Manziel is able to somehow come back into the game of football, he would have to be with a team with a zero tolerance policy for stupidity. For example, he needs a team like the Arizona Cardinals, who cut Michael Floyd one day after he was arrested for Extreme DUI. They’ve taken in risky players (Tyrann Mathieu, anyone?) and forced them to prove that they can be playmakers without being distractions. I’m not saying the Cardinals are the only team who would be structured enough for Manziel or should even take a chance on him, but he would have to have an environment like theirs. He would have to be a team where the coaches, management, AND players keep him accountable. Also, he’d probably need a babysitter. Like, maybe a nun or something.

I’d love to see Johnny Football back to doing Johnny Football things. But more than that, I want to see Johnny Manziel healthy and sober. I want to see him commit to being a better man. I want him to make me proud, and I want him to want to make people proud. I want him to prove himself off the field before he even thinks about proving himself on the field.

I want Johnny Manziel to have that 3o For 30 – worthy comeback, but first, he needs to prove that he can be a better human. Being a good human is far better and far more important than being a good football player. And being a good, sober human being is the best thing Johnny Manziel can possibly be.

A Few Changes…

Hey friends!

I know many of you reading this are frequent visitors and you have probably noticed something very different about my blog: it’s no longer affiliated with Major League Baseball. I was really upset when WordPress e-mailed me a few days ago and let me know that MLB was terminating their relationship with WordPress. I loved being able to blog as an MLB affiliate and have a baseball-centric blog!

However, now that I am being forced to change my formatting, I think that perhaps I can alter my blog a little bit, too. While I will still focus heavily on baseball, I’ve decided that I will also begin writing about other sports. I am a huge sports junkie (ESPN is literally on as I’m typing this), so my interests do not only lie on the baseball diamond.

So, starting now, I will begin writing about more sports, more teams, and more players. I’ll still keep the tone and length of posts the same and I will be better at posting more often. 2016 was a crazy busy year, so hopefully now that things have settled down I can start posting more. I am also planning on starting up a photography blog (my other passion) where I can showcase my work and garner interest from my peers.

Thanks for sticking with me and being patient! Hopefully I can still write posts that are engaging, entertaining, and make you think!

America Needs Game 7

2016, to be blunt, has been a terrible, awful, no good, very bad year.

Between the venomous rancor of the 2016 election, the death of prominent figures like Prince and David Bowie, mass shootings and hate crimes, pictures of bloody children in Aleppo, and my own personal hardships, 2016 is a year I think we would all like to collectively flush down the toilet. Even in baseball, 2016 was a year marred by tragedy when the brightest young star, Jose Fernandez, died in a boating accident.

But!

As it turns out, the baseball gods have had a special treat up their sleeves. They waited until late October to bring it out, but they have blessed us with a World Series between two ball clubs who haven’t hoisted a banner in a combined nearly 170 years. The baseball gods have blessed us with a match-up between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, two teams who know loss and heartbreak perhaps more than any other MLB team.

The Cubs are the lovable losers, a team who haven’t won a World Series since 1908, although I guarantee you Cub fans don’t need to be reminded of that. Only a few seasons removed from 100 losses, the Cubs have used their young talent and veteran pitching to ascend up the baseball ladder. Now, they are a 100+ game-winning team and have given their city optimism about this ball club that it hasn’t had in years.

The Indians come from Cleveland, formerly the most title-starved city in the country. Until LeBron and Company won the NBA title earlier this year, it had been over fifty years since Cleveland saw a championship. The Indians are hoping they can make 2016 The Year of Cleveland. The Indians have been the underdogs the entire postseason, and they have done nothing but prove critics wrong.

No matter who wins, a city will either be uplifted beyond words or crushed beyond belief.

No matter who wins, we get to see some of the best young starters play on the biggest stage.

No matter who wins, the fans get to see some of the best baseball we have seen all year.

No matter who wins, sports fans get to escape from the world for a few more hours.

Tomorrow, we have to go back to nothing but election rhetoric. We have to bear witness to more slandering of women, minorities, Muslims, and more. We have to go back to our jobs. We have to go back to facing our fears, obstacles, and trials. We have to go to back to hearing ESPN talk endless about Tom Brady and Steph Curry. We have to go back to hearing about those goddamn Dallas Cowboys.

But tomorrow, we also get to start dreaming about whether our team will be at the World Series next year. We will slowly start to get our optimism for our teams back.

But, for tonight, let’s escape one more time into the comforting arms of the 2016 World Series.

Let’s embrace what is left of the World Series that America needs. We don’t deserve it, but gosh darn it we need it.

 

José

I knew as soon as I saw the news of José Fernández’s death that I needed to write a post about the kind of player and person he was. It’s been nearly five days and I am just now able to gather my thoughts well enough to write some semblance of a blog post. I still can’t read anything about José without crying; my eyes have been running like a leaky faucet the last few days. I hope I can get through writing this without crying, but knowing me, I probably won’t.

Let me start by saying that José was one of my favorite pitchers to watch. Every time he took the mound, I watched in awe of how well he was able to master his craft. At 24 (my age, astonishingly), he was able to command the mound in ways many veterans could not. A game against José usually meant a loss and the Marlins knew that when he was on the bump, he would give absolutely everything he had to give them a chance to win.

But he gave more to baseball than just a filthy curveball and a nearly unhittable fastball. His legacy will be how much joy he brought to the game. Ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, his accomplishments on the mound will be footnotes. The pure joy and childlike enthusiasm he exuded was unmatched and what should be remembered about him. He reminded everyone how magical baseball was. Watching José watch his teammates play baseball reminded me of why I liked to watch baseball. I was reminded of the absolute joy I got whenever I could see a game in person. Watching José watch baseball was like looking through a window into the innocence of my childhood, the happiness that was untainted by the evils of the baseball world (the knowledge of PEDs, over-priced tickets, lack of diversity, etc). José reminded me to watch baseball through glittering eyes.

Not only was he a joyous person, he was a good person. Three times he tried to defect from Cuba, and three times he failed. On his fourth attempt, he successfully made it to Mexico, only after saving a woman who went overboard. José jumped into the water to save this woman without realizing the woman he was saving was his mother. He poured himself into baseball upon arriving in America and forced himself to master the English language. When he would give interviews, you’d think he had been speaking English his entire life. He devoted time and money to charities in Miami. He made so many large-scale impacts on society, but he also made impacts on people on an individual level. He would ask kids for their autographs. He would talk to people in the stands. He made sure every fan he interacted with felt welcomed.

José Fernández was a living embodiment of the American Dream. Many could argue that the American Dream is the figment of a Willy Loman-esque imagination, but José proved that the allusive and often proverbial “American Dream” could be achieved. Hard work, skill, luck, and persistence were enough to catapult him to superstardom. His handsome face, infectious smile, affable personality, generosity, candor, and work ethic were what endeared him to millions of fans across the country. His story was the story of thousands of Cuban immigrants – the hard work it takes to make it in America, coupled with the passion and desire to make life better for their families is a story that every person, immigrant or not, can relate to.

The death of José Fernández leaves a gaping hole in the fabric of the baseball community. But beyond that, his death leaves a gaping hole in the communities he impacted. I cannot imagine how devastated the Cuban community must be. I’m a white girl in New Jersey and I am devastated by his death. I cannot imagine being a Cuban in Miami right now. I can’t.

Oh Lord here come the tears.

Stars don’t burn forever and often, the brightest stars lose their shine and fade away. Life is cruel and merciless in that it reminds us sometimes stars die before they’ve had a chance to shine their brightest. I think José Fernández died before we saw how brightly he could shine. He leaves behind a legacy of joy, happiness, courage, strength, and resilience. But more than that, he left behind his family. He left behind an unborn baby girl. He left millions of fans who didn’t even know him, but we felt like did.

Unfairly, with a twist of terrible irony, he was taken away from this world on a boat. It was a boat that gave him the freedom so many of us take for granted. It was on a boat that he was able to escape Cuba and begin his new life in America. Tragically, it was on a boat in Miami where his life ended. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. He was supposed to have a Hall of Fame career, get his number retired, and live a long life. Now, his career is going to be full of “what could have been” moments. His number will never be worn by a Marlin again, but not because of his accomplishments. He will never get to see the world beyond 24 years of age.

I’d like to think that José is in heaven, lobbing fastballs at Babe Ruth and grinning at him when he strikes him out. José is clearly up there watching baseball, as evidence by Dee Gordon’s homerun on the day after José’s death. Or the grand slam by his childhood friend, Aledmys Diaz’s, coming a day after the St. Louis Cardinal’s infielder flew to Miami to be with José’s family.

Gordon’s homerun was especially poignant – he took his first pitch in the right-handed batter’s box as a homage to his late friend, and then he barreled his first homerun of the season deep into the right field seats. He ran around the bases and collapsed into the arms of his teammates, sobbing, all of them with José’s number 16 on their backs. Gordon hit one of the greatest homeruns baseball has ever seen, and it reminds us all of how magical this game really is.

José Fernández saw the magic that has always existed in baseball.

May we never forget to see the magic.

 

Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez

Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez announced his retirement from baseball today.

I streamed his press-conference at work Sunday and had to explain to a customer why I was crying as I watched. He was unfazed because to him, seeing A-Rod hang up his cleats after 22 years is not reason enough to cry. Maybe I was just overly tired, maybe I was just caught up in the moment, but watching Alex tear up with acknowledgment of his career in pinstripes ending and seeing him cry as he spoke about his daughters made me all kinds of weepy.

I have always been in awe of the career Alex has put together. I remember seeing highlights of his as a little girl and always hearing his name during broadcasts. I remember hearing about his massive contracts and his famous girlfriends. I remember when he went to the Yankees, a team I had yet to become a fan of. He became the ultimate villain: talented, charming, blithe, controversial, well-paid, selfish. He was the man you hated unless he was on your team, and even then, some who loved the Yankees didn’t care for him. I remember the sadness and disappointment I felt when I heard his name surface in the Biogenesis reports and I remember the anger I felt when he was suspended for a year. The anger was directed towards MLB, who in my mind, went on a witch hunt – a sort of last hurrah for Bud Selig and a way to make up for not doing anything during the Steroid Era of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Most importantly, I remember the joy of watching Alex humbling himself and having a resurgent 2015 season, showing the world a glimpse of the man he strives to be.

But once you peel back the layers of who Alex is, you see a man who was blessed with a God-Given talent to hit a baseball. You see a man who had enormous expectations placed on him at a young age and you see a man who lived up to those expectations and then some. You also see a man burdened by those expectations and the compulsive need to please everyone. You see a fragile ego that often needed boosting by women, luxury, and yes, PEDs. You see a man who clubbed more grand slams than anyone in history. You see a man who came four home runs shy of 700. You see a man who has 2,084 RBIs and 3,114 hits. You see a man with 10 Silver Slugger awards, 3 MVP awards, 2 gold gloves, and 1 World Series ring. You see someone who put up some of the greatest numbers in baseball history, but still felt the need to use PEDs. But, perhaps most importantly, you see a man who is an excellent father to two beautiful girls and a man who is trying his hardest to become a better person.

There are so many players that I idolize, but Alex might be one of my favorites because he is human. And by that I mean he has never been a cookie-cutter baseball player and you never knew what you were going to hear when he opened his mouth. His ups and downs were something everyone could relate to, even if it was not on such a grand scale. His hubris and his allowance of fans to see behind the baseball curtain these last few years invited you to take a fresh look at a man so many had already painted in a certain light. His story of a second chance is something every person knows well because everyone, at some point in their lives, has needed a second chance. The story of Alex Rodriguez is not something that can be neatly folded into a box and tied up with a ribbon; his story and his career are far more complex. The story of  Derek Jeter’s career, for example, can be put into a small paragraph, but the story of Alex’s career is longer than a Stephen King novel.

The haters have already come out in full force, saying that Alex should be denied a spot in the Hall of Fame. They say his accomplishments should come with an asterisk. But I can’t help but wonder why so many people think they are on a moral high-horse. He never killed another human. He never physically hurt someone (other than in bench-clearing brawls). He’s never hurt a woman. He took PEDs. That’s his biggest baseball transgression. But here’s the thing: PEDs don’t allow you to have the God-given talent Alex has. PEDs don’t make you universally liked by all of the teammates who have played with you. PEDs don’t make you give considerable time and money to charity. PEDs don’t make you a good father. I know that not everyone will admire and idolize Alex the way that I do, but I do ask that they at least acknowledge that he is one of the greatest players who ever played the game. He was, and will always be, one of the greats whether you like him or not. And yes, he 100% belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Alex Rodriguez will leave a long, complicated legacy. He will be remembered in as many ways as you can count. I will remember him as a brilliant, if flawed, baseball prodigy. I will remember him as someone who gave everything he had to the game he loved and as someone who will continue to give to the game as he gets older. He says he was always meant to be a teacher and I can’t wait to watch him tutor the younger generation of players. I will remember him as the anti-hero we all needed in our lives, and as the man whose redemption story is one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness.

At his press conference this morning his said poignantly, “I do want to be remembered as someone who was madly in love with the game of baseball, someone who loves it at every level. Someone who loves to learn it, play it, teach it, coach it. And also, I’m going to be hopefully remembered as someone who tripped and fell a lot, but someone that kept getting up.”

Thank you, Alex, for everything you’ve given to baseball. Thank you for the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thank you for showing everyone that it’s okay to trip and fall, as long as you get back up. Thank you for 22 great years and for allowing a girl from Arizona to grow up with you. I don’t know what I will do without you playing baseball, but I do know that I can’t wait for whatever you do next.

#BaeRodForever