For the fan in enemy territory

Monday, January 26, 2015

All Star Games: Three Ways the NFL and NHL got it Wrong

This past weekend, the National Football League and the National Hockey League held their annual All Star Games. In years passed, these were great events to not just witness on television, but experience in person. This year? Not so much.

In an effort to increase viewership, both sports made their yearly superstar extravaganza more like fantasy sports to connect with fans better and capitalize on the fantasy craze that has swept through sports in recent years.

While, in principle, this sounds like a good idea, in practice, it has been a flop. While there are several reasons, three stand out most to me. teammates on opposite sides, players coaching and/or choosing teams and not paying proper respect to the host team.

First is the issues of teammates opposing one another. In the NFL "Pro Bowl", Jordy Nelson scored a TD for his team. An opposing linebacker ran up to him to celebrate it. Sound odd? Normally it would be. In this case, that opposing defender was his Green Bay Packers teammate Clay Matthews. It's understandable that as a teammate, Matthews would be excited for Nelson.

After all, they fight, scratch and claw their way through a grinding NFL season for 16 games. They've been on the same side of the battle lines for several seasons. When they celebrated together on Sunday, however, they were not teammates. It showed just how seriously the players took that game.

In the hockey All Star Game, players from common teams would refuse to hit or check one another, which opened up the scoring lanes and made the game an defensive joke.  If the players in either scenario don't take it seriously, why should the fans? If the fans don't, why watch it? This is a smaller part of the bigger issue that the sports have with this game.

The issue is trying to make what is nothing more than an exhibition into something that everyone involved can be passionate about. In football and hockey, they take away the ability to be physical in their respective All Star games. They take away the nature of the sport itself. As opposed to baseball or basketball where All Star games have been known to be a bit feisty.

In particular, baseball. Don't believe me? Just ask Pete Rose and Ray Fosse. In 1970, they collided at the plate to decide the game winning run. Rose scored and Fosse was never the same player.

While the evidence of danger of injury is possible when allowing the games to be played like any other game, the lackadaisical and nonchalant way that the players approach these games is an even bigger risk for the leagues to allow and the sport itself could suffer as a result. While this sounds like an alarmist position, it's not outside the realm of possibility. It's not probable, but it is possible.

Secondly, is the issue of players coaching and/or choosing teams. This is not the most awful thing to happen to sports, but it's not that great either. Players choose friends over teammates or teammates over a more talented player. Either way it creates an issue in the locker room that doesn't need to exist. An issue that may not come out immediately, but will be part of a later grudge for certain.

This happens more in hockey than in football, but football has its own issue. Former players coaching. While it seems on the surface to make the experience more fun and intriguing with former players interacting with current ones and also taking part of the trash talking from sideline to sideline, it adds fuel to the fire and creates more of an environment open to chaos.

Isn't the job of a coach to be the one that keeps order? To keep a sense of integrity and respect for the game? How is that done when the coaches are laughing it up and barking sarcasm at one another? There is no illusion of respect for the game or the sport. If they show no respect for it, why should fans believe they care about? Again, if they don't care, why should the fans?

Finally, there is the point of paying proper respect to the hosting city. In the football "game" neither team acknowledged the city with the uniforms or names. They didn't try to show any type of appreciation to the area for hosting them.

If they did, it was very difficult to see and the average fan must have blinked and missed it. The ugly uniforms were the same color scheme on both sides. Neither one had to do with the host team. Only the broadcasters mentioned the city or local fan base,

In the hockey "game" the teams were named after the "captains".  One captain was a player from the host city's team. That's really about the extent of respect paid to the community there. Again, if it wasn't for the broadcasters talking about the local team and asking the players about the fans there, they would not have even been given any attention for their efforts.

Again, we can turn to baseball for a good example of how to do this. In baseball, the teams uniform designs are based on the local team that is hosting the game. The logos for the game are based on the city or team hosting. They have a parade of All Stars in the host city before the events even begin.

These are all a great way that the sport embraces the city and vice versa. There is a certain sense of paying homage to your host that the NFL and NHL missed out on this year (and have for many years). Let's hope they improve this as seasons go on.

In closing, the All Star Game is not the spectacle it once was. In any sport. With technology advancing, the greatest players are just a finger touch away in the palm of our hands and out living rooms. We don't have to go to the game anymore to see the best play the best.

We can see what every great athlete is capable of just by googling their name. There is a personal aspect of being an athlete that is commonly lost today as a result. With that said, however, it is still a showcase of the very best that each sport has to offer.

It should be done right and it isn't. Perhaps that is why no one watches anymore.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

NYFSJ Valentine's Edition IV: Love It or Hate It

This is the day that retail stores wait for since the moment the Christmas rush ends. It's Valentine's Day. The annual tradition of expressing your love for your significant other or admired-from-afar other.  While this day has been a celebration of all things love, here at NYFSJ, it has become an annual state of the union address for the New York sports landscape.

In last year's installment, I mentioned that, as a whole, New York sports is continuing to have a bright future. While I was correct for that statement the year before, some teams have taken a step backwards. This can only mean one thing: get ready for some hate to go with all that feeling of love.

1) Love or hate the New York Jets last season? HATE. The Jets began last season with a QB controversy. They traded for Tim Tebow and were hoping his skills would boot the offense. It didn't. To be fair, they had multiple injuries in key positions. The offense and defense took massive hits.

The final standings cost the GM his job. With a new GM, the team will be looking to put that season behind them. To do so, they have to be healthy and they have to have an identity on both sides of the ball. They must establish the run to open up the pass for a pocket passer like Mark Sanchez.

Above all, they have to stop the drama. Stop trash talking. Stop making boasts and claims. That comes from the top and goes all the way down to the players. There has to be a change in their mentality. If not, we may see a return of their 2012 rather than a return of their 2010.

2) Love or hate the New York Yankees this coming season? LOVE. After faltering in the playoffs last season, the Yankees are getting healthy and feel rejuvenated for another season and hopeful playoff run. Joe Girardi has stated they can win 95 games and go to the World Series.

You have to like a manager that shows confidence like that, but titles are not won in quotes or on paper. As the saying goes, "that's why you play the game". With Mariano Rivera back and a healthy C.C. Sabathia, the pitching staff and bullpen should be solid.

The addition of Kevin Youkilis should boost the offense even more despite the loss of A-Rod.  All things considered, Girardi could end up being right, but the season has to play out before we'll see.

3) Love or hate the New York Knicks playoff chances? LOVE. The Knicks added several veterans this past offseason. The most prominent of them has been Jason Kidd. The group of Kidd, Chandler, STAT and Mello have gelled very well. They currently lead their division by 2.5 games with a 32-18 record.

Carmelo Anthony is averaging 29 points a game and is an MVP candidate with half of the season still to play. They should run away with a playoff spot and most likely the division. The main question is whether or not they can make a deep run.

The key is they have to get hot at the right time. That is something they were unable to do last season. If they do, they have the right mix of veterans to get by any team. If not, they could face another brick wall in the Miami Heat in June.

4) Love or hate the New York Rangers playoff chances? LOVE. Like the Knicks, the Rangers have added veteran talent that has become instrumental to their success. Rick Nash has added a much needed presence for captain Ryan Callahan to feed off of.

They have several names that can step up at any time to put this team on their shoulders: Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards the a fore mentioned Callahan and Nash, just to name a few. They currently are third in their division with a 7-5 record in a strike-shortened season despite being last in scoring in the division.

They have hung in there with defense. They have only scored four power play goals, but have killed 82.7% of opponent power play opportunities. With the offense still struggling from time to time, their success will stem from the goal tending. As King Henry goes, so the Rangers go.

The key for a solid performance in the playoffs from Lundqvist is giving him rest throughout the season. To do so, they have to trust back up goalie Marty Biron. So far that has not been the case. If his play gets better and the defense continues, they can look for a return to the Conference Championship Finals and, perhaps, the Stanley Cup Finals.

5) Love or hate the New York Mets this coming season? LOVE. Despite the common fan opinions, I was in favor of the Mets trading Dickey this offseason for the right deal. That's exactly what they got; the right deal.

With a catcher, a catching prospect, a pitching prospect and an outfield prospect all in the mix, trading a Cy Young winner that throws the most unpredictable pitch in baseball was a smart move. After all, what were the chances of his repeating or building on that 2012 performance?

I like the addition of Marcum to the rotation. He brings a veteran presence for younger players like Jon Niese and Matt Harvey to learn from his example on a daily basis. Johan Santana and Dillon Gee are returning healthy and should make their mark on the season. Should one falter, Zack Wheeler is waiting in the wings for his MLB debut.

The main issues for the Mets are in the outfield and the bullpen. The starting outfield is admittedly not too good, but they have potential. Between Baxter, Duda, Nieuwenhuis and Cowgill, they should be better than expected. They are young and still learning. Baxter and Cowgill could use their opportunities in platoons to be really good.

Duda could improve and show his form again with a healthy wrist. Captain Kirk could build on the potential he showed last season and improve into the type of outfielder the Mets think he could be. In addition, they have Matt Den Dekker waiting in the wings and chomping at the bit to have his chance at the Major League level.

The bullpen added experience in Brandon Lyon. With Frankie Frank on the mend, he should shoulder the load at the back end of games with Bobby Parnell. Josh Edgin and Tim Byrdak will show increases in their production. All in all the bullpen should be stronger.

The team is expected to finish in fourth place in a very tough division. I will go out on a limb here though. With an extra wildcard open and an aging Phillies team, it is possible they could fight for second with Atlanta and make a run for the postseason. Whether they make it or not is to be determined, but I believe they will be better than expected.

6) Love or hate the New York Giants last season? HATE. This was a season to forget if you are a New York Giants fan. With hurricane recoveries, comforting families of shooting victims and blow out losses, all the team can do is move on.

They have to build on their youth. There is a new champion in Baltimore and the Giants failed to make the playoffs. They have to learn from this. The issue was inconsistency of intensity. I mention the off the field events because they were tremendous factors in spoiling that intensity.

How can a team get hyped up for a game all week,  then have to have moments of silence right before the game starts and then get hyped up again? It is impossible. Football is a game of raw emotion. Players use the emotions they are feeling to pour it into their play on the field. With that said, the emotions just weren't where they needed to be to win games.

With the off season upon them, they have several free agents they need to re-sign, but they have cut ties with a few big names already. Whether names like Osi Umneyiora and Ahmad Bradshaw will come back is yet to be determined, but the team has several needs to fill.

Most pressing of these needs is the secondary. The defense can only rely on the pass rush so much. The secondary has to buy them time as much as they need to buy the secondary time. The defense can get back to being strong, but in a division that has all explosive passing teams, the Giants need to properly adjust.

The three safety sets they use have been effective, but the cornerback position is weak at best. They have to address this in the draft since they really don't have cap room for a dominant presence via free agency.

The offense is not as questionable. The receivers are set and Manning has a great rapport with them. The running attack has potential balance and that should open up the play action passing.

With a good draft, a good off season of re-signing players and adding the right mixture of veterans with youth, the Giants should be back and better next season.

Overall, the canvas of sports in New York is blank. As the would be artists, the above mentioned teams have their chances in 2013 to paint a masterpiece. It all comes down to health and finding the right mix at the right times. These teams are all capable of doing just that. Love them or hate them they're our teams.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

New York Mets: Why Their First No Hitter Could Have Been a Deal with the Devil

The day was June 1, 2012. The New York Mets had their ace, Johan Santana, on the pitcher's mound for a home game against the St Louis Cardinals. The result was the unthinkable: a no hitter for the New York Mets.

This is a team that is celebrating more than 50 years in the sport of professional baseball and were just one of two teams to never have had a no hitter in their franchise. They were synonymous with quality pitching in that span. Names like Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, just to name a few. This is a team that never accomplished that feat. In all that time, they accumulated 37 one hitters. They never made it to the promised land.

How much of a coincidence is it, then, that in their 51st season, after 50 full years without one, they finally got the monkey off their backs? What price did they pay, however?  The team seems to have signed off on a deal with the baseball gods to earn this accomplishment. In exchange for it, they had to suffer some blows, though.

For one thing, since that epic performance in June, Johan Santana has had a miserable time. He's posted a 3-5 record and has given up four or more runs five times in the eight starts after the events on June 1st. He was placed on the disable list after his July 20th start and has yet to make any rehab news.

Next, in the wake of that game, Major League Baseball has changed its rules to include foul balls down the line as being a reviewable play for instant replay. In the 6th inning of that game, former Mets great Carlos Beltran smoked a ball down the third base line that the umpires called foul.

Even as a Mets fan, I can't deny that it was fair. The video evidence is overwhelming. If this scenario were to come up next season, the Mets would not have a no hitter. It seems that the team caught an enormous break.

Finally, they have dropped to 19-29 since that game. That's 10 games under the .500 mark. This is a team that was fighting for first place and, at one time, was seven games over the .500 mark. Their playoff chances are dwindling and morale is dropping faster than tickets sales. But at least they have a no hitter.

Sometimes the baseball gods are merciful, sometimes they are merciless. The Mets seemed to have done something to get on their bad side for a time. After the electric debut of Matt Harvey the other night, however, the gods seem to be a little happier with the New York Mets. Let's see how long that lasts.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New York Mets: It's Not a Marathon, It's a Season of Sprints

The baseball season is finally in full swing. After eleven games, the New York Mets are 7-4. Before they lost to the Atlanta Braves for the first time this season tonight, they had started 7-3. Four of the eight times this team has started with that record, they have made the playoffs.

While the 2012 rendition of the Metropolitans are not projected to be nearly close to contenders, still, it's an encouraging sign. The team seems to be playing well and the future is bright. That's not evident if you were to listen to fans, though. When the team wins, they are "awesome" and "unstoppable".

When they lose, the teas "sucks" and are "losers". There has to be a happy medium between being "unstoppable" and being "losers". The truth is that it's a very long season. While many people compare the 162 game schedule in a baseball season to a marathon, it's more like a series of sprints.

In a marathon, a runner gets bursts of energy throughout the competition and pulls ahead of those around him or her. Then, just as quickly, they pull back into the pack when they lose steam. In a similar way, when a team gets on a roll, they do so for a stretch of several games. They can ride that hot play through ten games or so.

A marathon, then, can be viewed as a series of sprints or smaller stretches. Therefore, it can be argued that the season can also be broken into a series of sprints or about sixteen ten-game stretches. That could be packaged into four forty game stretches hat total 160 games overall. It would be easier to call them quarters (though it may confuse people since we're talking about baseball and not football or basketball).

The overall point is that it's a very, very long season. By the previous measure, we're only 1/4 into the first quarter of it. They have 15/16 of the season left. If fans spend the season riding the extremely fanatic roller coaster, they'll be exhausted by July.

If they hang on every game like it's the biggest game of the year, they will be sadly disappointed more often than not. If the team wins, wonderful. It doesn't mean they are the best team in the league. It doesn't mean they are en route to the World Series. It just means they won one game out of 162.

If they lose, it doesn't mean they are the worst team ever assembled in the history of the sport. It just means that they let one slip away. The sun will still rise in the next morning. Life goes on. Fans have to realize this. They need to stop overreacting to every win or loss.

The term "fans" comes from the word "fanatics". It's no coincidence that some take this to heart. In the end, cheering for your team, and this Mets team in particular, is all about perspective. They are 7-4 with another 151 games to go. Let's try to pace ourselves folks. We have a long way to go.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gary Carter: Losing the Kid Means Losing our Innocence

On Thursday February 16, 2012, the world of sports lost a legend and the society lost an example. Gary Carter was more than an athlete. He was a role model and he understood that. When he joined the New York Mets in 1985, he was already an established player in baseball.

He had been a five time All-star with the Montreal Expos. He was unhappy with the direction of the team and when management began their fire sale, he was one of the casualties. What was Montreal's loss was New York's gain. He, along with Keith Hernandez, were the veteran leaders of those 1985 and 1986 Mets teams. It was Carter who had big hit after big hit to win games or extend rallies.

This is not uncommon knowledge to the average Mets fan. What may be more surprising is how he was respected by his teammates for his straight-line lifestyle. While the younger players partied and brawled, ridiculing him all the while for not participating in the wild side of  the team, he was happy to be a recluse on the road and a home body all other times.

He was a man that didn't smoke, do drugs, do steroids, didn't drink really, attended church faithfully and loved his family, fans and his life.  Boring to the core as far as journalists were concerned for the sake of creating headlines.

He was a public relations dream. A man that played hard every second of every game, embraced the game, the fans, the organization and the team while living a clean life off the field and being a positive example and face of the team in his spare time.

Gary Carter represents something different for every fan. To the Red Sox fan, he was the man that never gave up in the 1986 World Series and they wish he had. To the Yankees fan, he was the example of what they wanted their players to be like: clutch and leaving it all on the field.

To the average baseball fan, he was an example of how to play the game of life as well as the one on the diamond. To the average Mets fan, he was a symbol of what was once a great time for the franchise. To me, however, he was a little more personal. Let me explain.

I began watching sports as a child living in southern New Jersey. In my area at the time there was one team that played on TV during the summer, the Phillies. On cable, there was the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs.

When I was first discovering baseball, cable was still an unexplored medium. It was expensive and rarely found in the average home. My family finally gave in and invested in it.

The first time I watched Channel 9 WWOR I saw a team wearing blue and playing in a blue stadium. I was immediately interested as blue was my favorite color. I fell in love with the team when those guys in blue won on a walk-off hit.

As I grew into being a fan, I chose a favorite player, like we all do. I noticed a player playing the game with enthusiasm and a passion that was unequaled. I wanted to cheer for that guy. It was Gary Carter.

As time passed by, I began to realize it is better to cheer for the name on the front of the shirt and not on the back of it. Players inevitably leave and so Carter did as well.

When I made the choice to stay loyal to my team, I symbolically made a vow to be devoted through good and bad times, through great players and terrible ones, through prospect flops and prospect trades and everything else this team can throw at me. The team has tested that faithfulness for the next 25 years. Still, the lessons I learned from that day stay with me even now.

Gary Carter meant was baseball to me. He was everything I wanted to be and proof that it was possible to attain. He was a man that was the standard of integrity and character. The things that are seldom honored or celebrated these days.

Society would rather embrace the mistake-ridden celebrities and drama-filled empty vessels on reality shows. Who will fly a flag at half staff for Carter? Who will stand up and say THIS is what our children should strive to be?

In this time of chaos, selfish indulgence and preoccupation, the life of Gary Carter is a reminder of what once was. It hearkens me back to a time when the world was still new. When everything was still before and all things were possible. Now with the stained glass tainted by the graffiti of life, it is hard to recall that little boy that once looked upon life with such optimism and promise.

While I am certain life is still filled with promise in the right circumstances, I am older and wiser now. As are we all. Losing Kid Carter today is a loss of the kid in all of us. We will no longer be able to draw from the well of our memories and be comforted by the fact that all of our heroes of that better day are still among us.

That day is gone. Gone,but not forgotten. Like Gary Cater.