Archive for the ‘ Sports ’ Category

Big Papi

      1. Yom - Supergood

Adios, Papi. As the Red Sox’ season ended in a sweep by the Orioles, it was a meek exit to one of the best careers, but when the pain subsides and we step back and get some perspective, we will see the incredible impact on the team and the city of Boston. Three World Series victories in nine years is a pretty good run and I don’t think they would claim any of those without him. One of my favorite moments in all of sports watching came in game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, with the Sox facing elimination against the Yankees. After Dave Roberts’ steal and Bill Mueller’s single to drive him home to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th, I was grateful we were still alive but also wary of staying up indefinitely. I watched extra innings with one eye open from bed and vividly remember the warm comfort I received watching Ortiz homer in the 12th to win it. Being down 3-1 in the series shouldn’t afford any relief to a longtime suffering fan, but it somehow felt bigger than just one game and indeed, it was! The very next night, Ortiz hit a walk-off single in the 14th as I watched half-asleep again, and a few nights later the Red Sox completed the most incredible series win in the history of sports on their way to reclaiming the World Series trophy after 86 years. If there is any consolation in this year’s early exit, it is that we will not stand in the way of the Chicago Cubs, who finally seem ready to hoist the trophy again after a 108-year drought. Every fan should get to experience what we did in 2004, and I know there are plenty of people who will appreciate a Cubs win. Fly the W!

 

Looming and Reminiscing Excitement

We are approaching Due Day here, with a baby arrival sometime in the next three weeks. The anticipation is growing while the drama and mystery of when it will begin is becoming more real every day. Alaina is feeling aches and pains that I can not imagine and will soon go through one of the most intense physical human experiences. All I can do is watch helplessly and offer sympathy. She is the bravest hero I know and is doing it all for Love.

Despite the imminent appearance of the newest Taylor, I risked a jaunt out to The Meadowlands to see the Patriots-Giants game on Sunday. I was blessed by a last-minute ticket offer and could not possibly have picked a better game. It was an epic matchup; two teams with a history of amazing championship fights and this contest lived up to the billing, with plenty of long drives and lead changes. In the end, Stephen Gostkowski nailed a 54-yard FG to win by 1 and I was ecstatic and elated. Although my outward celebration was tempered out of respect to the mob of Giants fans surrounding me, I was as thrilled inside as I could possibly be from watching such a savage battle. The Pats are now 9-0 and chasing their ghost…

One day at a time.

From The Place I Am Sitting

On a balcony, overlooking the Calle in Barcelona, I am thoroughly enjoying my amazing European vacation. There is a vibrant street life and I am listening to unfamiliar languages and seeing a larger humanity in a longer time-frame; Ancient Traditions and Relics with Futuristic Thought and Style.

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Two days ago, I found myself at Camp Nou, where local heroes FC Barcelona were taking on Manchester City in a Champions League match. I couldn’t have been further away from the pitch in the 99,000 seat stadium, but it was one of the most exciting sports experiences of my life. It was all about the match; everyone was there to watch the action. After the quick initial fanfare, it was 90 minutes of pure sport. A Competitive Focus and Flow that evades most forms of athletics. The one tiny concession stand only sold hotdogs, didn’t sell beer and was, it seemed, only for tourists; at halftime, the locals pulled out homemade baguette sandwiches. During action, the crowd attention was intense. I had a wonderful running commentary in Catalan next to me, which I am sure was exactly what I was thinking but in a language I don’t understand. At one point, I was chastised by a fan behind me for jumping out of my seat too soon on a Neymar breakaway and my American arsenal of sports cheering was useless: I quickly learned that whistling is reserved for bad or missed calls and the typical two-note taunt that we blast at opposing players is highest praise reserved for the revered one: Messi.

In a Barca 1 – 0 victory, the lone goal was a gorgeous looping volley over the keeper on a perfect 40 yard assist by the Great Lionel Messi. I have seen many great athletes in many sports, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player so obviously on such a different level as everyone else in the game. He controls the ball deftly and makes others miss it comically. He is a wizard.

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The past 48 hours in this city have been exciting and refreshing, and I look forward to another 36 before departing on an overland journey through the Pyrenees to Borde Neuve, France, where we will bask in the stunning vineyard scenery and drink pure wine. I am already reminiscing about the first 96 hours, spent with Great G and Grand in Sydling St. Nicholas, England, with the absolutely incredible Buckland family. This vacation is so unreal and beautiful it seems like a fantasy, but sitting on this balcony overlooking Spanish culture, I know that it is just the lovely life I lead! Of course, no matter where we are, the best aspect of vacation is spending all of my time with Amazing Alaina and Incredible Ivy; I am so blessed to be able to love these two and share their company around the world!

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Snow Blessings

The past two weekends were spent in the abundantly snow-covered Green Mountains of Vermont, getting after some of the best conditions one could hope for; February was one of the best months for snow in the Northeast that I can ever remember. I spent two days at good ol’ Magic Mountain, riding Red Chair and finding pristine stashes of untracked powder everywhere. Saturday was actually the most crowded I’ve ever seen the mountain, and the usually empty lift line involved a 15 minute wait a few times. While I love that place for its desolation, I like to see it selling some tickets and hope that with a few days like that, it can manage to clear the bare-bones-but-not-cheap expenses that it costs to operate the area for the year. Sunday was frigid and back to emptiness with plenty of snow to enjoy, and we brought the whole family and a crew of friends and spent time trading off child-care in the remarkably kid-friendly lodge. While it does offer some of the steepest and most challenging tree skiing in the East, the mountain is perfect for all ages and abilities, with its lone chair servicing a wide variety of terrain and a convenient meeting spot for everyone at the bottom, no matter what run you choose. I also spent a morning skiing “The Backyard” in Chester, hiking up and dropping into some of the deepest powder I have ever experienced; the runs are quick but also some of the sweetest turns I could imagine.

The following weekend was a boys trip to Sugarbush. I am fortunate to have a wife who understands my obsession with the sport and my need for vertical feet when the conditions are calling, so I made the trip North solo at 4am on Saturday and met my Boston buddies on the hill. We skied hard and maximized our time deep in the woods, finding spots we had never discovered with the highlight run being a quick hike off the Heaven’s Gate lift along the Long Trail to an untouched line of pure joy. We were whooping ecstatically with every turn, loving the blissful sensation of effortless carving through the fresh snow.

Despair and Euphoria in an Instant

Unbelievable. I have watched sports for my entire life and have witnessed dramatic victories and crushing defeats and experienced the full spectrum of emotions on every level. I learned about heartbreak early, watching the ’86 Red Sox fall apart in Game 6 with family and friends in my living room, then tasted my first glory with the Patriots’ first Super Bowl victory in 2002 in The Louisiana Superdome with my dad. These epic contests ended on singular plays that are eternally enshrined in Boston sports lore: Bill Buckner’s ground ball whiff and Adam Vinatieri’s boot through the uprights. They were certainly dramatic and instantaneous finishes, but in reality, they both came out of ties: had Buckner managed to corral the grounder and step on 1st, the game would have gone to extra innings and had Vinatieri missed his opportunity, Super Bowl XXXVI would have been decided in overtime.

This is why the ending of Super Bowl XLIX was so beyond anything I have ever experienced. It was a battle from the start and the lead changed several times, with the Seahawks taking a 10-point lead in the third quarter that became a 4-point Patriots lead with 2 minutes left in the game. The last two Patriots’ Super Bowls had eerily similar situations that set up game-winning drives by their opponents, and when Seattle completed a miracle catch at the 5-yard line, the absurd inevitability of deja vu (see Tyree, 2008 and Manningham, 2012) and acceptance of a curse on the team seemed logical. One play later and they were 36 inches from delivering that same backbreaking blow. With three plays to get the ball past the goal line, I put the odds of the Patriots winning the game at less than 1%. It could not have been more certain doom for the Pats, and as I watched with my family in the same living room where I had witnessed the Red Sox collapse 28 years earlier, we were absolutely resigned to defeat. It was hopeless to imagine any other outcome. But then, in a flash of Malcom Butler colliding with Ricardo Lockette and intercepting an ill-conceived pass, the Patriots were Champions once again! In all my years of watching sports, I have never seen the tables turn from defeat to victory in an instant like that: I have seen comebacks and last minute drives and clutch baskets and walk-off home runs, but nothing like a game-stealing goal line interception for the win in the biggest single game in sports. It is almost impossible to comprehend just how significant this play was, but I will never forget jumping up and screaming and hugging my dad and shattering his glass in a moment that ran through the entire spectrum of sports emotion and will happily live with me for eternity.

Like the yin and the yang, there are two sides to this moment. As an invested sports fan, you have to accept that either outcome is a possibility. This compilation of reactions to the play shows our culture’s obsession and deep emotional connection to the game. I have been in both camps and can only enjoy this victory with the knowledge that I will inevitably see the dark and depressing side again. No matter what my teams may suffer in the future, past glories will live forever!

The Patriots Are in the Super Bowl Again!

It has been truly astonishing to witness the consistency of The New England Patriots’ domination. I am inspired by their greatness and feel fortunate to have experienced their ascent from nothing to everything in my lifetime. Of course, I am aware that they will return to nothingness again, likely after Belichick and Brady move on (and not, as it briefly appeared, after the Kansas City game of this season), but in the meantime I will enjoy every meaningful game of this run.

Unfortunately, nobody wants to talk about how great the Patriots are now, about how they are about to play one of the most important games in any dynastic conversation and about how they have raised the standard of superiority in any sport.

All anybody wants to talk about is #deflategate. Five days after their crushing 45-7 destruction of the Indianapolis Colts, I have barely heard a word of analysis from that game and hardly a mention of their upcoming contest with the defending champions in the Super Bowl. The only discussion happening right now is about pounds per square inch, and how the acceptable range (which I never knew but will now never forget is 12.5-13.5 psi) was violated in footballs being used by the Patriots’ offense.

Instead of talking about championships, we are talking about cheating. Instead of marveling at the perennial success of this franchise, we are questioning its honor and integrity. Belichick, a tactical mastermind always pushing the envelope of the game, and Brady, the consummate professional on his way to establishing the greatest Quarterback career in history, are instantly villains in the very game they defined.

So, what happened to alter perception? While my first reaction to this story was admittedly grief and despair, I have made peace with it and even give them credit for creative rule interpretation. With the same amount of journalistic standards I have seen in this coverage and lacking any proof, I present my definitive description for this farce:

Using simple physics that any equipment manager whose main duties involve pumping up the ball for Tom, who openly states his preference for softer footballs, could probably figure out, they are filled with warm, indoor air just before inspection and pass, but as time goes on and the temperature drops, the pressure drops as well (PV = nRT), resulting in a softer ball that Brady underthrows into the hands of D’Qwell Jackson who returns it to The Colts’ sideline as a souvenir, which then is measured by their equipment manager (who may have been tipped off by the Patriots’ previous opponent, The Ravens, who noticed soft balls because they played in even colder temperatures and also intercepted a pass, grumbled about the “kicking” balls’ inflation, and were embarrassed by revolutionary yet fully legal offensive formations for which they were completely unprepared and failed to properly defend) and it is discovered that the balls have below standard psi when tested five hours after they originally passed, so the team getting whooped whips up a media frenzy to attack the greatest, the one they couldn’t beat on the field, as the worst, the one who would defile the integrity of the holy game…

Questions and Answers that I don’t really know:

Q: Have any other game balls used in the history of this sport been outside the allowable 1 psi range?

A: Yes. Obviously.

Q: Has anyone in the history of this sport been penalized even a yard for this infraction?

A: No. If it has ever been detected, it was probably remedied immediately without public knowledge.

Q: Do Belichick and Brady know exactly what is being done to their game balls?

A: Yes. They are the best in their field because they are perfectionists and highly particular about their tools and techniques.

Q: Do they believe they are following the rules set by the league regarding pre-game testing?

A: Yes. As there has never been a previous example of anyone being punished for low psi before, during or after a game, they probably couldn’t even conceive of the ball-capture, test and ignition of media-wildfire scenario. They have suddenly magnified a gray area of the rules that nobody even considered: the effect of atmospheric conditions on game balls.

Q: Do they need to do this to be the most successful sports franchise on the planet?

A: Of course not, and yet it demonstrates exactly why they are so great: They always think outside the box and in between the rules, on offense and defense, in formations and personnel, with scouting and scheming, and to the appropriation of the ideal gas law with respect to a hand gripping a football. This franchise inspires me not because they win more than anyone else, but because they are focused and driven and disciplined and crafty and constantly defying conventional wisdom while revolutionizing the sport. The league is constantly behind the Patriots, rewriting the rules to define their ambiguous loopholes. Does the rulebook state that balls must be inflated at the same temperature the game will be played at? No. Does it state that balls’ pressure must be accurately measured every time they are put in play? No. Should it? No. Are the refs are responsible for ensuring that balls are legal and aren’t they implicitly declaring they are every time they place it on the line of scrimmage? It sure seems like it: if they can’t tell that something is amiss with the central piece of equipment that millions of people are focused on, then isn’t it, for all practical purposes, acceptable? If my theory is correct, did The Patriots tamper with the football? Maybe, depending on how hot their inflation environment was, in a way that possibly seems against the spirit of the rules but not necessarily against the actual rules. Would it be different if the equipment manager were deflating balls with a needle on the sideline after they had been measured and approved by officials? Yes. Is it ethically wrong for them to take advantage of basic atmospheric science to create a ball that softens as temperature drops? Maybe, but in a way that can’t really be corrected without explicit rules on inflating temperature and measurements on every play.

Bill said he has never given a thought to a ball’s legality after it is approved by the refs pregame. Tom says he doesn’t believe he is a cheater. Maybe it is cognitive dissonance and maybe it is the mark of artistic genius, refusing to accept vague boundaries as limits in rules that are revised every year. Either way, they are probably lying when they say they don’t know what happened to the balls, and that is maybe the most painful part of this debacle because there is nothing I despise more than lying, but they are talking to the media, which they have demonstrated, through controlled and tempered responses to all press conferences and a thorough mocking of the weekly injury reports, is just an extension of the game itself, and are playing a sport in which “deception” is key to success and are acting on higher principles of circling the wagons around a team and leaving no man, not even a lowly equipment manager, behind for the media vultures. Those are the guys I want on my team.

And maybe there were no shenanigans whatsoever and this is common in all cold weather games but nobody has ever considered it an issue before the Patriots were “caught”…

After five days of confusion and disappointment worrying about their tarnished reputation, I have accepted it and earned an even deeper appreciation for the greatest dynasty in sports. I am proud to be a Patriots fan and look forward to them winning another Super Bowl and rewriting the record and rule books for years to come.

A Favorite Day

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I had a fun family day today! We went to New Jersey to spend time at Liberty Science Center; Ivy loved the animals there, including tamarins, lizards and neon frogs, and I was excited about the guitar exhibition. Alaina appreciated the Infection Connection for the giant sneezing nose and the “actors” portraying her dad’s job, and we watched a phenomenal performance by a Brazilian student string orchestra, playing sambas, Beatles and James Brown while dancing and jumping out of their seats.

Then we went to Harrison for some playoff soccer! Red Bulls v. Revolution in leg 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals of the MLS Cup. We brought Ivy to a game at Gillette Stadium this Summer and it was awesome; while I would never consider bringing her to a Patriots game at this age (And I’m not sure I completely understand why that is true), soccer provides a great atmosphere for all ages and seems to encourage youth attendance. Today, our busy schedule left her with only a quick nap in the car and after the pre-match techno blast and fireworks, she fell asleep for most of the first half and missed two great goals – and was awake but getting a diaper changed in the 85th minute when Jermaine Jones scored the winner for the visitors. Being a Jersey Girl, Alaina was rooting for the local club and bought Ivy a supporters T-shirt, but I was obviously cheering for New England.

When we got home, we watched the condensed DVR version of the Patriots’ 34-9 dismantling of the Lions and my day was officially in the books as a lifetime favorite day! Good results in great company is unbeatable!

SNOW!

I was born a snow lover, a few weeks before the blizzard of ’78 in Boston, and have always appreciated the convergence of atmospheric phenomena that produces dendrites! Sledding was the earliest form of snow fun and my backyard, with its 15′ vertical drop was more than enough to thrill me through my tiny years. When I outgrew that, I would sled down our back steps off a jump onto the patio. I started skiing when I was 7 and was quickly obsessed, following daily conditions in the Boston Globe Sports Section and memorizing mountain statistics; I drew hundreds of imaginary trail maps and skied every Saturday with the Mass Ski Club forĀ  years. I chose college in Vermont to be near the mountains and bought a season pass every year. Upon graduation, I considered moves to a more permanent ski bum lifestyle in California, Utah and Colorado…

But ended up in New York City.

I have lived here for 12 years and couldn’t be happier. I chose a culture bum lifestyle instead and enjoy the world’s best Arts and Entertainment here. I make sacrifices in personal space and ski access to live here but still get giddy for a good Nor’Easter, of which we have had several this year. I have skied on the sidewalks of Brooklyn when there is ample powder, but haven’t quite found anything steep enough to satisfy my schuss needs… So I bought a hill in Vermont!

I now find myself sacrificing ski days for my daughter and still love the trade-off. I look forward to years of skiing with her in the future. But even with my inconvenient locale and family overtime, I have managed to click in for a few fortuitously-timed days this season. Just after New Years Day, I skied some fresh snow at tiny Mt. Peter in Warwick, NY; top to bottom was under 30 seconds, but most runs were untouched and pure powder. The most recent storm dropped two feet on Southern Vermont and the conditions were spectacular for President’s Day Weekend. Half-days at Okemo, Killington, Magic and the VT Backyard took the edge off my craving for frozen sliding and the prospect of Spring doesn’t scare me as much now as it did a week ago.

I still follow snow reports around the country and get excited when The Pacific Northwest gets dumped on or sad when Tahoe is dry. I have dedicated myself to other life pursuits beyond this passion and have learned to enjoy any time I do spend on the slopes without reservations about its limited nature. I have little control over timing and less over conditions which makes the recreational appreciation greater than any experience in a controlled environment; when my work and family schedule allows, plus a perfect combination of temperature, moisture and pressure drop crystallized water molecules from the sky, I will always enjoy them!

The Boston Red Sox Are 2013 World Series Champions!

The Boston Red Sox bring me great joy. With an amazing redemption from last year’s debacle, they go from laughable losers to World Series Winners! All year long they played with resolve and determination, willing victory from certain defeat, a different teammate stepping up every night to deliver when it mattered. It has been an incredible ride beyond this season that stretches back as far as I have memories; The Red Sox are always part of my life. Through pain and suffering to joy and celebration, I love this team and feel fortunate to have grown up in a geographical location currently conducive to winning Championships (even though I don’t live there now and this was not the case when I did). This group was special in Spring training, but after the Marathon bombing they became bearded Superheroes, called to save a wounded city and embody Boston Strong. They played valiantly and passionately, delivering the ultimate prize of pride. This is a Legendary Team and it is all Ivy has ever known!

Two Months

Time has lost any relative meaning it might have had for me. It is impossible to believe that two months have passed since Ivy was born; it still seems so new and yet hours pass instantly with me doing nothing but holding her and staring in amazement. She is always incredible.

But in many ways my life is the same! Every day I go to work as I did since before the dawn of Ivy! I still have friends that existed before she was ever imagined! And my eternal devotion to the sports teams of my youth has never been deeper! On Sunday I witnessed one of the most memorable days of greatness I have ever seen: After losing several of their key players to injuries, and relinquishing a late lead, The Patriots staged an impossible last minute drive to win and then the Red Sox, perhaps the most redemptive and hirsute bunch ever assembled on a baseball diamond, came back late on a Big Papi Grand Slam and took game 2 of the ALCS.

It would have been enough to watch those legendary sports events, but to spend the weekend with the Strong family in peak foliage Vermont, one day clearing glades at Magic Mountain Volunteer day then two days hiking through our new property with Alaina and Ivy made this one of the finest weekends of my new life.

SJT&IDT