Monthly Archives: February 2011

It’s Starting to Feel Like Baseball Season

Padres' and Mariners' spring home in Peoria, AZ - taken on my cross-country trip to to California in November of 2009

It’s unseasonably cold and damp out here in Los Angeles, but somehow that makes it feel like baseball season is around the corner. Having lived on the East Coast up until late 2009, this is the type of weather I am used to in mid-February. This is the weather that makes spring training sites in Florida and Arizona feel like millions of miles away, but at the same time lets you know those chilly, dreary April days at the ballpark — in the Northeast anyway — are getting close.

While my transition from football to baseball has clearly gone into effect, I am not one of those fans who gets goose bumps from the now-cliched phrase, “pitchers and catchers.” Pitchers and catchers reporting to their teams’ spring training camps serves as the official start of the baseball season for some. For me, it’s one big tease. At the same time, knowing the players are starting to toss the ball around down south gets me thinking about baseball again; about how the Mets can avoid a bad season, and ditto for my fantasy team.

For sports fans like me, who put baseball and football at the top of their lists, there isn’t a whole lot going on right now. As a Knicks fan, I am enjoying their new-found success this season, but the playoffs are still two months away. I love college basketball, but the fact that my favorite team and alma mater, the UMass Minutemen, have floundered since a good start has tempered my excitement for the time being. So why not start thinking about baseball? Why not have some of those bar stool conversations about whether the Yankees or Red Sox win the AL East? or listen to your wife gloat about her Phillies?

For some reason, in baseball more than the other sports, every team thinks it has a chance when it arrives at spring training. At least that’s what you hear anyway. It’s strange how that philosophy seems to go along with baseball, since it’s the only one of the four major sports without a salary cap. I guess people in Pittsburgh and Kansas City don’t think their teams have a chance when spring comes. The notion of every team starting at 0-0 and being on equal footing before Opening Day might not be rooted in reality, but it has its merits; did anyone think the Tampa Bay Rays would be American League Champs in February of 2008?

While the time frame of the baseball season is actually shorter than that of basketball or hockey, it feels longer. In much of the country, the season begins with a nip in the air. It takes us through spring and into early summer. In July and August, we take the game with us to the beach or sweat through the heat and sometimes humidity at the ballpark. In September, baseball fights with football season for attention, and less kids show up for games, as the words “school night” re-enter their vocabularies. The playoffs in October take us right back to where we started, bundled up in everything from sweatshirts to winter coats.

Right now we’re in the exploratory stages of the 2011 baseball season, and even in typically warm and sunny LA, it’s a little cold and breezy.

It’s starting to feel like baseball season.


Super Bowl XLV Thoughts: A Bad Rendition of the Anthem, A Good Game, and an Overrated Stadium

My predicted score of Packers 27, Steelers 21 didn’t quite happen, but I’ll give myself a pat on the back for nailing the margin of victory. Anyone who claims he predicted 31-25 is a liar by the way.

All in all, Super Bowl XLV was another good one. Certainly not a classic, but anytime a Super Bowl comes down to a potential game-winning drive with less than two minutes remaining, it will be considered a memorable one. That now makes eight straight Super Bowls in which the games ranged from decent to outstanding. This is a far cry from a mostly dull run in the 1990s.

Looking a little deeper into my prediction from last week, the game wasn’t decided by anything fluky like a safety or blocked kick. However, you can say the fumble by Rashard Mendenhall and the ensuing Packers’ touchdown are what turned the game. Even though the Steelers answered right back with a touchdown plus a two-point conversion to get the game back to a three-point deficit, their huge momentum swing was thwarted just long enough for the Packers to regain their footing and their swagger offensively. In the end, despite having a crack at it with nearly two minutes left, the Steelers had too big a hill to climb.

The game itself gets an A- from me. The second half was about as good as it gets, but the first half woes of the Steelers keep this from being a truly great Super Bowl.

As for some of the peripherals, there weren’t many positives.

I’ll be blunt. Christina Aguilera was awful. Botching one line of the Star Spangled Banner, while embarrassing, didn’t even bother me all that much. It was the fact that she attempted to turn a two-hundred year old American classic (they don’t call it an anthem for nothing!) into her next radio single that irked me. It’s been going on for years now, but artistic freedom with the Anthem has gone way too far. I’m all for Christina singing it with passion and giving it some of her own personal touch, but contorting certain notes of the song to the point where I forgot what I was even listening to is not acceptable. If we want to hear your vocal range in all its glory, we’ll see you in concert—if you’re even still touring!

The Black Eyed Peas at halftime made me feel old. I didn’t see the appeal. Most of the songs sounded familiar, but didn’t bring up any emotions one way or the other. I enjoyed seeing Slash make a cameo, though I am sure Axl Rose spit up his beer after seeing Fergie give a karaoke-quality performance of “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Despite the fact that the performance didn’t do much for me, I understand the NFL and FOX shifting over to a pop act after years of legendary/AARP rockers like The Who, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, and Bruce Springsteen. I’m hoping for Metallica next year, but I doubt I’ll get my wish.

I really didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the commercials, so I’d be foolish to give a review. On the whole, as the Super Bowls have gotten better in recent years, the commercials have seemingly declined—but I’ll take that trade.

While I’m being a bit negative…can NFL analysts and broadcasters stop fawning over Cowboys Stadium? It’s huge, it’s state of the art, has every modern amenity you can imagine; I get all that. But it’s a football stadium, not a luxury hotel. It’s a hunk of steel with astroturf on its floor, if you want to get down to it. Football is rough, gritty game. To talk about the aesthetic beauty of Jerry Jones’ “palace” just doesn’t jibe with that. So this place hosted a Super Bowl, but what else has taken place there? 400 fans were turned away from the big game because the NFL didn’t get the OK for a chunk of temporary seats; six people were injured by falling ice in the week leading up to the game; the movie theater screen that covers nearly the entire field has had a punt hit it; and a worker died during construction of this massive stadium. I’m not placing any blame on any one person or groups of people for those things, but let’s settle down before we consider this thing the NFL’s version of Disney World.

Despite some of my complaints, it was an enjoyable late afternoon watching Super Bowl XLV while scarfing down a double-double and fries from In-N-Out Burger.


An Obligatory Super Bowl XLV Pick

As promised last week, here is my prediction for the Super Bowl. Rather than pretend to know what I’m talking about as far as things like blitz pickups, eight-man fronts, snap counts, and pass protection go—I do some of that on the weekly radio show—here is a simple prediction based mostly on what I’ve seen from the two teams and also what my gut feeling is:

Packers 27, Steelers 21

This might be the first time in a while where I have basically zero confidence in a Super Bowl pick. I really don’t see much of a talent differential in these two teams. I think the Packers might be slightly better based on what I’ve watched in the playoffs, but then again you can’t underestimate the fact that the Steelers have been here twice before within the last six years while the Packers are new to the party.

So I’m going with the eye test a bit for this pick. This is probably poor reasoning because it isn’t necessarily the Steelers’ style to obliterate teams. They win ugly, but more often than not they win. The Packers have been playing nearly perfect football since Week 16 of the regular season and while they haven’t blown every team out since then, I never really felt they were ever seriously challenged in any of the last five games. Throw in the fact that Vegas likes them—a little bit anyway (2.5-point favorites in most books)—and that’s good enough for me.

I usually have actual football reasons for picking Super Bowl winners. I felt pretty confident in picking the Saints last year. Even though they were underdogs I actually thought they were a superior team to the Colts. It’s much too close to call this time around. I have a sneaking feeling that something out of the ordinary will decide this game; maybe a blocked punt, a safety, a bad call and the coach is out of challenges.

After all the analysis before last year’s Super Bowl, the two biggest plays were an onside kick following halftime and a rare Peyton Manning interception that turned into a touchdown. No one could have predicted those events, and in a game that on paper appears to be an even match, it might take something just as strange to decide this Super Bowl.

And though I have no particular reason to be confident in my pick, I was 53-36-1 in picks against the spread that we did on the show this season (including playoffs). Entertainment purposes only of course.

As much as I’d like to be right, I’m just hoping this game is as good as advertised. The Super Bowl has been on a pretty good run in the last decade, and this one may need to tide us over for two years if there is no 2011 season.


FullCountPitch Has Relaunched

Courtesy of FullCountPitch, LLC

I’m proud to say that FullCountPitch Magazine relaunched this morning after taking a four-month hiatus.

I had the privilege of writing for the site in the final month of its previous incarnation. I am once again part of the staff of writers for the current version.

The e-magazine is the brainchild of Gary Armida, the company’s president. The FullCountPitch of today includes a staff of 10 writers. The group comes from a variety of backgrounds: some have written professionally; some have broadcasting experience; some are stat geeks. The common thread, of course, is our collective love for baseball. Individually, we all offer something unique, and hopefully our readers will feel they’ve learned something new when they’re finished with our articles. As a whole, FullCountPitch.com will be a place where baseball fans can get insights, opinions, and well-researched articles that they cannot otherwise find.

While I certainly enjoy doing my own thing when it comes to writing—this site is a case in point—I am thrilled to be part of a talented, diverse group of guys.

My first article comes out on Thursday, but two stories have already hit the site as part of today’s relaunch.