Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Personal Sports Fan History

A little history about me as a sports fan.

So long as I can remember, I have liked baseball. Not loved, that didn't come until later. But I enjoyed watching the Yankee and Met games when they were on TV, and my grandfather even took me to a few at Shea. Baseball was my first sporting love.

I didn't even know what football was the first time I saw it. I do surprisingly clearly remember seeing a member of the Dallas Cowboys running across the field and wondering aloud "is this baseball?" (I had to be about 4 or 5, and had never seen a football game in my life). I didn't really grow to love football until well into my teens.

Basketball, I started watching in my teens, when the Lakers and Celtics were just beginning to give way to the Pistons and Bulls as the dominant franchises.

Hockey I didn't even really truly understand and appreciate until I started playing NHL '92 on my Sega Genesis.

My team loyalty is not built on simple geography.

I liked the Yankees better than the Mets, but it had nothing to do with knowledge of the game, it had to do with team colors and other arbitrary factors. Once I truly came to the age where I began to appreciate the game (right about the time of the '83 season), I developed better reasons for following certain teams. As kids, we had exposure to cable TV, so I was able to watch games from different markets, getting more exposure to teams from other cities. A trip to Michigan for our cousin's wedding (and a souvenir Tigers hat) left me wanting to see more of the Tigers, and their trip to the World Series gave me a decent fill of them.

I watched whenever I could, trying to learn the teams and players and gain an understanding of the rules of the game (which my unsuccessful exposure to little league never gave me for some reason). The first World Series I ever watched with intense interest was the 1986 Mets Miracle against the Red Sox. My brother and I watched game six in our living room. It was fantastic. My grandfather went to Met games religiously, so much so that many people in his life (me included) assumed he was a die hard Met fan. It wasn't until I was rehearsing his eulogy that my cousin told me Pop was actually a die hard Yankees fan who just went to Shea because it was cheaper and closer. That made me sad that I never knew that about him, as it was he who began my association with, and love of, the game. He had played since he was just a boy, and baseball was a huge part of his life. It was this love that drew me to it. It was the predominance of Yankee fans in my circle of friends, and the fact that many of them were kinda douchey about it, that drove me away from the Yankees.

I started following different players whom I admired. My brother got me watching Oakland Athletic games, and Mark McGwire rapidly became my favorite player (so much so that my jersey number for most of my playing days was 25). By extension, I became a fan of the A's for a brief period. I also liked the Giants, because they had a decent collection of players (Matt Williams, Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, Robby Thompson) and my brother and I would often replay the 1989 World Series on my Nintendo's RBI Baseball with me playing as the Giants and Tommy playing as the Canseco lead Athletics.

But it was during that time that I took notice of another team that had a collection of players that I admired. Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Ozzie Guillen, Lance Johnson, Dan Pasqua, Carlton Fisk, Ivan Calderon, Blackjack McDowell, Bobby Thigpen (and his 57 saves)... I rapidly grew enchanted with watching the Chicago White Sox, which was by far not a very popular choice. By the time Robin Ventura hit a line drive down the first base line against Toronto down 3-2 late in game six of the 1993 ALCS with me literally teetering on the edge of my seat, it was too late for me. I was hooked. The ball hooked foul, Ventura struck out, the Sox ended up losing the series, and I never looked back. This was my team.

My brother likened me to a caged animal pacing it's confines the night of Wednesday, October 26, 2005. When Juan Uribe sizzled a frozen rope of a throw over to Paul Konerko for the final out, it was my baseball Nirvana.

Football is easy: I was a huge fan of the Steelers mystique from the 70s that was all over the TV every time I watched anything involving the NFL. There wasn't any one person in my life who influenced me in football. My fondest wish was that somehow, my favorite player Barry Sanders would be traded to Steel City, and I could be undivided in my loyalty. I tried to be a Lions fan for a while, and Barry mercifully ended that with his sudden retirement. I am, to this day, a big Steelers fan (Roethlisberger, not so much. What the fuck were you thinking, Ben?)

Hockey is the only sport that some people guess my loyalty because it's the only local team I root for: The New York Islanders. I can trace my love of that team back to NHL 92 (and I think somewhere inside I was feeling pressured to like at least ONE local team). I didn't really "get" the game until my great friend Bill Scurry schooled me on it. He is truly a student of the game, and he taught me much of what I know today about the sport. (Seeing my White Sox hat in calculus class, Bill's first words to me in college were "are you a Blackhawks fan?" The unholy union continues to this day.)

I enjoyed watching the Lakers led by Magic Johnson, and that's really the only sport where I picked a franchise right away and stuck with it for the most part. My favorite player of all time was Shaquille O'Neal, and I of course began to follow the Magic as well. I eventually got my fondest basketball wish when he was signed by the Lakers, and I watched him bring them to glory three times. When he and Kobe Bryant began to fued, I was one of the hugest "drop Kobe" proponents you could find. The Lakers chose poorly, and kept the rapist, letting the man known as Big Aristotle go to the Heat. I followed them for a while, enjoyed another championship, and then followed the Suns when he went there. I was excited to see him traded to the Cavaliers, thinking this was another one in the bag with a guy like LeBron leading him, but alas, the Celtics were the better team.

I have never really forgiven the Lakers for choosing Bryant over Shaq, but my loyalty to the team was still there. But as I am watching this year's finals, I am torn. Between Bryant and Ron "Too Stupid to Live" Artest, the Lakers are currently a refuge for the two players in the NBA that I hate the most. I was actually rooting for the Magic in the finals last season. Dwight Howard reminds me of a young Shaq with his dominant defense, and his improved offense this season makes me think he could be my new favorite player once Shaq Daddy calls it quits. But what is a Lakers fan to do when the face of your franchise is one you'd like to bash in with a parking meter? I find myself hating other Lakers by association. What the Hell is a Vujačić?!?

It's all very complicated. The Lakers are disappointing me, even as they are on the verge of winning a second consecutive title. The Steelers have the NFL's newest asshat leading them on the field. The Islanders... shit, I couldn't even name one of them, Hockey has lost a lot of steam with me since the strike of 04-05.

But baseball? I don't care how bush league AJ Pierzynski is (and he is). I don't care how obnoxious Ozzie Guillen is (and he REALLY is). I don't care how big a homer the Hawk Harrelson is (oh, LORDY). In baseball, my loyalty is as simple as Black and White.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Hat Trick

O.K., so anyone who knows me well knows about my long standing love affair with my second home. Southampton College, by and large, is responsible for me being the man I am today (the good parts, not the bitter, broken man working for the bank has made me). During my coaching days, I was given a truckload of free clothes as part of the uniform, many items of which I still wear proudly to this day.

The one thing Southampton College Athletics ever failed to provide me with was a hat that didn't look like something made in the back room of a t-shirt shop by some minimum wage slug with cheetos dust permanently caked under his fingernails. The one hat they did give me was one of those adjustable ones with the buckle and strap. Not even a snap adjuster. This was more like the type of hat a weekend tourist might buy whilst shopping the better stores in town. It was not an athlete's hat.

Unacceptable. As my head is rather large, I have a hard time finding fitted caps that fit. I had long detested the adjustable snap caps, and I liked the buckle adjustables even less. I made it my mission to find a hat that was not only comfortable, but was something I could wear while coaching and not have it appear out of place.

Walking into Lids in Smithaven Mall was like climbing down into the Well of Souls to find the Ark of the Covenant. Or, more accurately, it was like going into that room with all the Holy Grails scattered about. There were hundreds of hats, but none of them looked fit, and none of them were proper for my team needs.

Then I found it.

Penn State's simple S logo could easily be a stand-in for the lack of a proper Southampton logo. The color was a PERFECT match for our school colors, Blue and White (it was missing the Yellow, but I wasn't complaining). It was a Flex-fit™, which, for the uninitiated, means it had an elastic band in the edge. It could STRETCH! Perfect for my oversized noggin. It was relatively cheap, although I would have paid a bundle for it.

That hat has been in my possession for the better part of a decade. It was stretched just right to fit. I wore it not only while coaching, but also while playing. I bought the hat washing frame to keep it in shape. I wore it everywhere it was appropriate, and a few places it wasn't. I even slept in it a couple of times (well, passed out, more appropriately). That hat accompanied me overseas! It has seen more countries than many of my relatives!

It is not in the best of shape. It is permanently stained from all the sweat it has strained through it over the years. It has a tiny frayed spot on the right side of the brim from me taking it off and putting it on so many times, as well as tugging on the brim to adjust it during games. It has a dark smear under the brim that for the life of me I have no idea what it is, it may be pine tar, it may be tobacco, it may be a beetle, and it won't ever come out. But GODS how I love that hat.

Did I mention I was fond of the hat?

It has been missing for weeks. I have been despondent. I have been forced to wear my not quite right fitting red MD hat (Mudd Devils, my former team). I have torn my entire room and jeep apart looking for it. I have searched the entire house. Nothing.

Until today.

It was sitting on the floor, next to the couch, between the couch and the fax machine desk, on top of an old glass chess board. It looked as if it had been sitting there in plain sight the whole time. Which isn't possible, considering that I have looked everywhere for it.

I think it is more likely that whomever took the hat (at this point, I've narrowed the suspects down to the President of BP, the North Koreans, or Benito Mussolini) crept in the house while I slept and slid it down along side the couch. Or a dimensional vortex had opened up and sucked my hat in, and the subsequent return vortex redeposited it weeks later once the alien scientists on the other end were done studying it. Or it became detached from the time stream, and reappeared just this morning.

All that matters is, I have my baby back.

Rejoice, world!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Philadelphia Phucksticks

The Stanley Cup Finals are finally interesting again!

I will admit, as an Islander fan, I was generally unfamiliar with what I saw after the regular season. Apparently, if your team has enough points, you get to play extra games! (are you sufficiently shamed by my mockery of your ineptness yet, Islanders? Let's get that shit done next season, 'kay?) I will admit that I was rooting for the San Jose Sharks, as my ex is a tremendous Sharks fan (and I am still a tremendous fan of my ex). They got beat by the Chicago Blackhawks, ending their run. So who to root for now?

ANYONE but the Flyers. This pack of miscreants is already down 2-0 to the Blackhawks in the finals, and not exactly winning the hearts and minds of hockey fans outside of Philadelphia. Let us first examine an example of their gross stupidity:

Daniel Carcillo, Left Winger, Philadelphia Flyers

Carcillo, his team trailing the series 1-0, managed to weasel his way into the lineup despite being a scratch in his past three games. Halfway through the first period, he tried to lay a hit on the Blackhawks' Tomas Kopecky, who simply turned the other cheek... and let Carcillo sail on by, right into the face of Carcillo's unsuspecting teammate, the Jeff Carter. Check the video out:

Carcillo is the diminutive shit stain skating his ass off to build up some momentum in an attempt to hit someone nowhere near the puck. Not that there is much wrong with that, there was a lot of it going on on both sides, apparently. But hey, Ass Clown: make sure your own man isn't skating into the target zone when you throw your talentless, classless munchkin frame at it. Line of the night goes to Blackhawk Adam Burish, spoken to Carcillo as both players leaned over the boards to exchange barbs from the bench: ""Thats the first good hit you've had all year."

Now, we take a look at their rabid, unadulterated, unprofessional bush-league spite:

Chris Pronger, Defenseman, Philadelphia Flyers

Pronger has, at the end of each of the first two games, made a point of tracking down the puck (which might be considered somewhat valuable, not to mention the enormous sentimental value it might have to the Blackhawks, who haven't won a cup since 1961) and filching it off the ice like a petulant child. When he was questioned by reporters after the game as to where the puck was, Pronger replied "in the garbage, where it belongs."

You low-class douchenozzle. It's obvious why Philadelphia has gained the reputation as one of the worst sports cities in the United States. Their fans boo injured players, or cheer them inappropriately, like when former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin suffered a neck injury in a game against Philly. The fans cheered when they realized he was injured, and again when they brought out a stretcher. A Philly fan once shot a flare gun into the stands at an Eagles game. The Eagles have a judge who holds court during games to dispense justice over these degenerate asshats. Eagles fans attacked broadcasters with snowballs. They attacked Santa Claus, for Christ's sake. They throw food, pour beer, and pelt people with just about anything they can get their little cheesesteak-grease-coated hands on if that person dares to cheer for another team. Phillies fans threw batteries at a visiting J.D. Drew for refusing to play for them out of the draft. And check out THIS sterling ambassador of Philadelphia sports fans!

So now it appears that the Flyers are joining their fans wallowing in the muck like the swine they are. The Phuckers have won game 3 against the Blackhawks tonight, and I haven't seen the replays yet, so I have idea if Pronger was wearing a diaper or not, or if Carcillo knee-capped his own goalie. But we'll keep you updated.