Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All-Star game blog

Once again, home field avantage in the World Series is on the line tonight, nd the National League is long overdue for a win. Also, since the Braves are four games up in the East, this game means a little something more to them tonight than it has in the past. And with five guys in Anaheim (four eligible to play) hopefully they will play a key part in the outcome. I really wish Jason Heyward was playing in this game, but I am glad he is thinking about the team first. Braves are going to need him healthy in the second half.

Friday, July 9, 2010

I quit cold turkey -- and I've never been happier

It was 12 years ago that I simply walked away.

I was as passionate of a fan as they come. It started with the Rockets being my hometown team and eventually I gravitated to a team that fit my personality – Indiana.

The Pacers had the flash that I loved with Reggie Miller, but they were also the underdog and I love an underdog. Always the team up against more history and a better story. It was first the Celtics, and then the Knicks and finally the Bulls. There was always a sexier team for the NBA to have move on in the playoffs.

From 1993 to 1998, during the playoffs I wore my Reggie Miller jersey religiously on game day. It didn’t matter where I was, if the Pacers were playing, I had that jersey on. If the Pacers lost, I was crushed. I was in high school and my friends were going out every night during the summer. I was usually there as well, unless the Pacers had lost that day – or the day before in some cases.

I even wore my jersey underneath my gown on the day of my senior baccalaureate. The Pacers and Knicks were playing Game 7 that day of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. People were wondering if I would even go. I did, but the jersey was right there with me. Afterwards, everyone went to a senior party. I went home, put in the tape and started watching.

I even opened up my speech at graduation with an update on the Rockets-Spurs Western Conference Finals. There was no doubt I was a fan.

The Pacers were always a victim of circumstance. There was always a better team for the League to play in the Finals. The NBA needed New York in 1994. They needed to have Shaq and Orlando in the finals in 1995, after all, Houston-Indiana wasn’t going to draw the ratings the league needed.

But it was 1998 that delivered the final crushing blow to me. The Pacers met the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan had already announced he was “retiring” at the end of the season, so this was his “last” run. Anyone who watched that series knows the Pacers outplayed the Bulls. But with Utah waiting in the finals, and the need for Jordan to go out on top, the Bulls were handed a ticket to a sixth title. The Pacers were the better team, but the Bulls were in the finals – again.

I woke up the morning after Game 7 and said I was done. I was interning at the Baytown Sun that summer and wrote a column writing off the NBA. No one believed me. Why would they? I was the biggest fan most people knew. I was going to get over it.

“When the Pacers are in the playoffs next year and you are on the couch jumping and screaming I am going to get this column out,” my dad said with a knowing smile.

I was simply overreacting like I did following a handful of other losses by the Cowboys, Braves, Nittany Lions and of course the Pacers. But to their surprise, and to an extent mine, I never came back. I think it helped the NBA had a lockout and cancelled a good chunk of the next season. Once again at the end of the year, the Pacers were screwed and once again, it was a move the League needed to happen. The Spurs were already in the Finals, and the League needed a story following the lockout – it needed the Knicks. I don’t remember watching any of that series. I was working in a newsroom that didn’t have a TV, and I didn’t go out of my way to watch. It ended as I expected it to.

The 2000 season was no different. The Pacers finally made the finals, but Kobe and Shaq were the story. The duo was looking to bring glory back to LA. It was pretty obvious who was going to win that one. The only game of that series I saw was the last one, in a pool hall in Baytown. I was there with a friend who talked me into playing in a darts tournament. I lost early – he went to the finals. So I had a pitcher of Shiner and the Pacers on the only TV in the bar. I watched, emotionless. The game ended, the Lakers won the title, and I truly didn’t care. I was done with the NBA.

I have watched just twice since. A year later in 2001, my wife bought us tickets to see the Pacers play in Houston. She said I would regret never seeing Reggie Miller play in person. She was right. I would have regretted it and I am glad I did it. The only other time I went to a game was when I was in San Antonio for the NCAA Regional and I got free tickets, as luck would have it, to see the Pacers. I honestly nearly fell asleep during the game. I really would have been better off staying in the hotel doing nothing.

I have moved on, and have been so much happier for it. I feel like I had my eyes opened at an early age and I am grateful for it. I hear people talking about the NBA and just wonder why they haven’t seen it yet. I see the statues on Facebook during the playoffs, and I actually feel pity for these people who still follow David Stern’s puppet show. They have not had come to the realization yet that I did in 1998.

I am sure I am not alone in this. I have friends who, over the years, have moved away from the NBA. I am sure there are people who have a specific moment that they stopped watching – the lockout, the Malice in the Palace, ect. Something turned them off.

I think the way the LeBron James decided to handle his free agency, and maybe more importantly, the way ESPN has decided to cover it, may be bringing more people to the other side. I saw an ESPN analyst during the day today say he thought this was great for the NBA. “When is the last time we were talking about the NBA this deep into the summer?” he asked. I certainly don’t have the pulse of the nation on this, and I am sure I look at it a little different than most. But I can’t imagine this fiasco will bring more fans to the table. I am sure there are some LeBron fans who will shift allegiances. The Heat will probably show a boost in ticket sales, jersey sales, ect. But when you are talking about the league as a whole, I have to think more people will walk away tonight.

I once thought that being a sports fan meant I had to be an NBA fan. Believe me when I say this, if you do decide to walk away, you will be much happier for it. There are plenty of sports out there to fill the void. Don’t worry right now about what you will do in June when the playoffs are on. Just step away, and trust me, the rest will work itself out.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The best sports day of the year -- and I didn't see any of it

A week ago Wednesday was a sports fans dream. The US pulled off a thrilling victory over Algeria to advance to the knockout round of the World Cup, Isner and Mahut played an incredible 118 games of the fifth set at Wimbledon and TCU rallied in the 8th with a grand slam to beat Florida State in an elimination game at the College World Series.

It was a day that was set up perfectly with the US game going in the morning, Isner-Mahut lasting for the better part of the afternoon, and TCU capping thing off at the end of the night. It was great day to be at home on the couch or even in the office watching on the laptop. As someone who loves sports theater, this was a day tailored for me -- a constant flow of nail-biting dramatic sports moments playing out on TV from morning to night, with very little overlap. Unfortunately, I saw none of it.

I spent that Wednesday in the car for 19 hours driving home from Omaha. The only images of the day we got to see were briefly during lunch at Eskimo Joe’s in Stillwater.

We were relegated to ESPN Radio coverage and satellite radio broadcasts of the games. People say they won’t forget watching Landon Donovan score the game-winning goal against Algeria. I have been told stories of how they reacted to the goal. The cheers you could hear in the office from everyone watching on laptops. The scenes captured on Youtube of the celebrations across the world. I was on the Kansas Turnpike.

We were going old school with this one, kind of. There wasn’t even a radio station in Kansas broadcasting the game, so we were going with the iPhone app and hoping the 3G coverage stretched the to middle of nowhere (had one little glitch in the 80th minute). Even if we wanted to stop somewhere for a quick break to catch the finish, there was no where to go. We were somewhere between Topeka and Hell and there just aren’t a lot of sports bars you can pop into on that stretch of road.

When we decided a year ago to make a trip to Rosenblatt Stadium and the College World Series, I knew I was doing it during a World Cup year. Ideally I would have picked another year to go to Omaha, but this was the final year at Rosenblatt – it was now or never. I was willing to take the risk.

We made the hotel reservations and decided we were doing the first four days at the CWS – eight games in four days, we were going to get the most bang for our buck. Shortly after booking the rooms, the World Cup draw came out. The England match was going to be no problem to watch. It was on Saturday, several days before we left. However, the last two games of the group stage were on the two driving days. I had hoped the last game wouldn’t matter. Unfortunately, it was a do or die for the Americans, and all I had to get me through it was the sounds of JP Dellecamera and Tommy Smyth.

The drive was excruciating. With every elevation in Delecambre’s voice Brian and I leaned closer to the radio as if we were going to get a look at the action. It looked like the World Cup run was going to end in the group stage for the US. The worst part was there were still 12 more hours of driving ahead. It would have been a much longer day had that game finished 0-0.When Landon Donavon scored it was pure elation. I’m really not sure how I kept the car on the road.

We listened to all the post match analysis, interviews and opinions. It wasn’t long that we started hear the first reports of what was going on at Wimbledon. Isner and Mahut were in the fifth set tied at 25. “Wait what? Did you just say 25 all in the fifth?”

It didn’t sound real. Most of the talk on the radio was about the US match. But between the brief updates as well as posts on Facebook and Twitter we were able to keep up. 30 all, 35 all, 40 all. This can’t keep going can it? 45 all. Are they going to get to 50? 55 all, 56 all, 57 all, 58 all and finally 59. Match was suspended at 59. From the time we left Omaha to the time we were stopping for lunch in Stillwater, Isner and Mahut had been on the court.

We were passing through Norman and listened to Clemson finish off Oklahoma in the College World Series. It was the conclusion of the game we were watching at Rosenblatt the night before. As we were driving through Dallas we decided to check out the TCU-Florida State game. For about 15 minutes we were able to pick up the TCU broadcast on the campus radio station and then it was gone. FSU had gone up big and we didn’t worry about it after that.

Somewhere south of Dallas, we checked the score and TCU was starting to put something together. We had the Rangers game on and that was getting out of hand, so we decided to see if there was a satellite station with the College World Series on. We found the game and 10 seconds later – PING! The Horned Frogs had just connected for a grand slam to take the lead after trailing 8-2.

We watched the first eight games of the College World Series – it was game No. 9 that produced the first dramatic come-from-behind victory of the final season at Rosenblatt. That is how our day was going.

We had been on the road for about 15 hours, listened to a dramatic World Cup match that will have non-soccer fans talking for years, listened for updates on a tennis match that was defying all reason and logic and heard Rosenblatt make a noise we didn’t hear in four days there.

The rest of the drive was left reflecting what had happened that day, and how we had seen none of it. A week or so later, I have a different look at things. The trip to Rosenblatt was a dream trip that will never happen again, and while I didn’t get to see the drama of that day unfold, I have a feeling because of the circumstances, I will never forget were I was the day the US stunned Algeria, the day Isner and Mahut played tennis all day with no result and the day TCU electrified the crowd at Rosenblatt for one of the final times.