Friday, May 30, 2008

State of Lacrosse

I wanted this post to be about how great the state of Maryland is at lacrosse. We had five local teams in the tournament of 16: Hopkins, Maryland, Navy, Loyola, and UMBC. We had a team that upset higher ranked teams in the first round. (Navy over UNC) And we even had a team beat top ranked Duke to make it to the finals. (Hopkins) All of this led to a final match-up, not of the top two ranked teams, but of two most accomplished teams. Hopkins and Syracuse both had nine national championships heading into the final game. And the obvious end for this story was Johns Hopkins winning and declaring themselves a true lacrosse dynasty by winning three times in the last four years and holding the record for the most national championships

But alas, it was not to be. Instead, Hopkins got outplayed. It was actually hard to watch. Syracuse out ran, out shot and out scored them. Every once in a while Hopkins would rally and the hope would well up. Maybe they would finally start playing the way they had on their eight game run to the championship game. But then Syracuse would come back harder and beat them back down.

Now I'm not a lacrosse expert. I grew up in Maryland, so I have basic knowledge about the game. Mostly I know that lacrosse players tend to be hot and think they're hot shit. (Lacrosse does keep them in great shape, but I like to stick to runners.) I don't pay much attention to the sport until the tournament. And then mostly just because I like to cheer on University of Maryland in all sports. And because last year the finals were in Baltimore and since Hopkins was able to beat Duke and crush their Cinderella story last year in the finals it was fun. (Yes, I'll admit it, I always want Duke to lose, be it in basketball, lacrosse or synchronized swimming.) But this year the finals were in Foxborough.

Again, I'm not expert. But I'd be willing to bet that most people in Massachusetts have never seen a lacrosse game. Why did the finals move from Baltimore, home to one of the most storied lacrosse teams and several tournament participants. Apparently, Cornell wanted the finals to be closer to them. Unfortunately for them, they lost to a Ohio State in the first round. Now, who knows if the Hopkins-Syracuse game would have turned out differently if the game was played in Hopkins home city. Maybe it would have given them that extra edge they needed to bring home their 10th title, maybe not.

Maybe its unfair to have the championships in the same place every year. But really, with almost a third of the teams coming from that state, shouldn't the NCAA be catering to the place that has arguably the most fans. Shouldn't the championships be held in a place where kids grow up with fiddlesticks in hand? Shouldn't they be at a place where every bar in the area has the lacrosse finals on at least half of their TVs. No one would suggest moving the finals to Ohio because Ohio state made it this year, so why New England. Bring the finals back to their home. Bring them back to Baltimore, or at least Maryland.

Maybe, I'm a little biased and just want them to be close to where I am. And sure, I might just want the Maryland teams to have a better chance of winning in the final rounds. And its possible, I just enjoy having the city overrun with eye candy for a long weekend. But whatever, what fan doesn't want this. I wanted my happy ending for Hopkins. And now, I'll have to wait until next year for them to tie the record again. (unless of court Maryland wins, which would be even better) But personal feelings aside, Maryland is the home of the most lacrosse power houses, bring the finals back.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Seize the Day

Two nights ago the Orioles crushed the Yankees 12-2. They embarrassed Mike Mussina forced him off the mound after just two outs. It's the kind of game where things came together and as a fan you just have to smile.

Later on, while talking to someone about the game, he predicted the Yankees would punish us the next night by a similar score. And I guess he was right. The Orioles lost 8-0.

But thats not the point.

Fans shouldn't be focusing on the next game we might lose. We should be savoring the moments when we win. Especially the big wins like this one. Have O's fans really become so pessamistic that we cannot enjoy a great game without wondering when the other shoe is going to drop. If we keep waiting for the Orioles to implode how can we enjoy the way they are playing now.

I admit, before the season started I thought the O's would struggle to win 50 games. It looks like I was wrong. And I'm happy about it. I'm no longer waiting for my prediction to come true. So what if this batch of youngsters and unheard of players are playing over their heads. We've had so little to celebrate the last 10 years it appears we have forgotten how to take pleasure in winning.

Stop waiting for the "inevitable collapse," if it happens, it happens. But that doesn't mean the level of play right now is bad. We were told this years team was starting to look towards the future. But for right now stop looking ahead. Start looking at now. Don't worry about the standings or the power ranking. Just go to the games and cheer and be happy when the O's win.

We don't know what tomorrow will bring. And time and time again even "experts" predictions have been wrong. Who out there predicted that mid-May the Rays would be this good or the Yankees would be 8 games out of first in last place. So just stop with the predictions.

I know this team has given us a lot of heartbreaks. O's fans have invested a lot of love in this team and have been repeatedly spurned these last 10 years. I know that pessimism is a defense mechanism to avoid getting hurt again. But just stop it. Stop with the what ifs and start enjoying now. Don't think about a collapse and don't think about the playoffs. Don't think about playing above their talent and don't think about finishing above .500.

If a fan can't enjoy a good beating of the perpertual bully, the Yankees, without worrying about a black eye tomorrow then why bother even watching. The joy of the game has been lost. Stop predicting, start enjoying, because however the season ends, right now it's good, solid, and fun baseball.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Blue Collar Jewel

This Saturday is one of my favorite days in sports. Its the day that people from up and down the East Coast come to celebrate horse racing not with big hats and seer sucker suits, but with 30 packs of cheap beer and bikini tops. Yes, this wonderful event is the Preakness, the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

Every year, two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, people flock to Pimlico Race Track in Baltimore to see if this year the Derby winner will win again and set up a possible Triple Crown winner. This year Big Brown looks poised to blow away the competition and barring tragedy go onto win the Belmont Stakes in three weeks.

But what really makes the Preakness special is the people on the infield. This is not a high class event reserved for celebrities and red carpets. This is pure Baltimore. We take this high stakes horse race and make it accessible for everyone. You would expect nothing less from a city that celebrates stringing lights from our Washington Monument. The Preakness is an event that people return to year after year. This will be my fourth one. There's something about drinking beer in the sun all day surrounded by tons of other people while occasionally betting on the races and running into people you haven't seen in years thats just irresistible.

Several times I have said I would not go back. That 8 hours of drinking in is just too much for me. That sitting in the crowds is too overwhelming. Or that sitting in the sun for that long is just too draining. But every year some friend suggests that we go and I find myself weakening to the idea. Before I know what's happened I've bought tickets and then I'm waiting in line with beer in hand.

This is the kind of celebration that horse racing should embrace to bring back younger fans. While I know many people who have Derby Day parties, I don't know that many people who actually go to the Derby. However, the Preakness is brimming with a young potential fan base. Horse racing knows it has to change to remain a viable industry. Most people can't even name all three Triple Crown races and would be hard pressed to name a fourth high stakes race. The industry is dying and combined with the recent tragic deaths of Eight Belles and Barbaro, the sport is only looking worse.

There have been several proposals for encouraging the industry. The first big one in Maryland is slots. Yes, they will solve all the problems according the the proponents. They create revenue and will lure people back to the tracks. But racing already has gambling, so is more gambling really the answer. Maybe something fundamental in racing needs to change to bring back the audience.

Another idea that seems to be floating around recently is changing the schedule so that there is more time in between the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. Horses almost never run races so close together anymore. And some say this is responsible for the lack of a recent Triple Crown winner despite several horses winning the Derby and Preakness. While this idea has many upsides, I don't really think it will help racing that much. Yes, it will probably prevent some of the injuries to the horses. And that should be the reason to make the change, not to save racing. But I don't think spacing out the races is going to create any more enthusiasm for racing, even if it does yield more Triple Crown winners. Most people don't know that horses generally don't run races that close together anymore, so I can't imagine the change would make much difference. However, a change in schedule would show that racing is willing to make changes and good faith efforts to adapt as the sport changes.

I think racing is missing out on something. Once a year they pack the track for a giant party full of young potential fans. But this chance is not capitalized on. There are no ads anywhere I remember for other future races. Even just giving a coupon for a free beer at Pimlico any day after the Preakness would probably draw a few people back. And getting them to come back once on a non Preakness day might be enough to get them excited about watching races. Other than the Preakness infield celebration, there does not seem to be any sort of appeal to young people. But if the sport wants to survive its got to start trying to appeal to us. Maybe its not so much the sport that has to change, but the atmosphere at the track. It has to do something, and getting 121,000 people at the track should be the time to start showing off these plans and changes.

If something doesn't happen soon, the Preakness might be bound for another track. And that would be a great loss for the sport, for Maryland racing, and for anyone who has ever enjoyed the infield. The upper class atmosphere might work for the Derby, but here in Baltimore, they need to make the sport feel more accessible, not more elite. And an image change can do more good than a few slot machines.

Friday, May 9, 2008

10 Reasons to Watch Hockey

Living in Philly for the past few years has taught me a few things. First, I learned that riding public transportation is the best confidence boost ever. Seriously ladies, ride the subway and see how many sketchy guys hit on you. It's not a great place to meet guys or get dates but as for confidence it does wonders.

The second thing I have learned is that hockey is really fun to watch. Growing up in Baltimore hockey was not really a big sport. I never really paid much attention to it. But Philly is obsessed with hockey. And in kind of a scary way, their playoff slogan is "Vengeance Now." So I thought I'd give it a try (to avoid any scary encounters) and it turns out that it is really fun to watch. So here's a quick list of reasons to give hockey a try. By the way I support the Capitals, they're closer to Baltimore. Plus they have Ovechkin. (See reason 4.)

10. HDTV: Now you can actually see the puck which makes watching the game more fun and more enjoyable and plus, its much easier to figure out what's going on.

9. The Post Goal Celebrations: Men on skates jumping and piling on top of one another. Falling, cheering, stick-waving, screaming. Even if you are not a fan you can't help but get a little excited at their enthusiasm.

8. Playoff timing: March Madness is just ending and baseball season is just starting. The playoffs are the perfect thing to get excited about. I'm not that into the NBA, but if you are then you probably have to admit, you can never have too many playoff games to watch.

7. Fights: Everyone likes a good fight. What other sport expects fights every game. Plus its on skates. Come on, two guys with big sticks fighting on ice skates. I shouldn't have to sell this one too hard.

6. Power Plays: One team is playing a man down and the other team has a way better chance of scoring. It's like being in the red zone with the team on defense missing a key player. Everything gets more intense in this two minutes.

5. Playoff Beards: During the playoffs, the players don't shave and grow "playoff beards." Its a great mix of ridiculous superstition and tradition. Plus, guys with beards are hot.

4. Alexander Ovechkin: He's young, he's exciting, he plays with incredible passion, and scores a lot of goals. Seriously, if you're going to watch one game it should be a Capitals game to see this kid skate. (He'll be with the Caps for while since he signed a long, ridiculously lucrative contract.)

3. The Hits: Watching guys on skates slam each other into the boards is fun and exciting. And its legal in this sport. These guys are tough.

2. The Speed: These guys are going full force the whole time. A goal could come at almost any time and the team that wears out first is usually the one hanging their heads at the end of the night.

1.The Skill: Sprinting on skates with a small object that you are trying to score while other guys are hitting them and knocking them around. And somehow they still manage to pass, skate, and score. It's just impressive.

This sport is fast, its physical, it takes a hell of a lot of skill, what else could you want from a sport. So give it a try. Take a chance and watch some hockey. Its the playoffs now, what better time to start. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait till next season to see Alex the Great.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Letter to O's Fans

Dear O's Fans:

I am a lifetime Orioles fan. I was born and raised just a few blocks from Camden Yards(albeit, it wasn't there when I was born) and I understand the pain that you have all been going to. This team and I have a lot of good memories, and you probably do too. So I'll share a few of mine to remind you of some of the good times.

I remember going to Memorial Stadium with my Dad as a girl and remember sitting in the bleachers and cheering on Cal Ripken, Mike Mussina, Brady Anderson, and others with everyone else. I remember Camden Yards opening and the All Star Game celebration. I remember the night I was there and saw Chris Hoiles hit a grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a full count, still the coolest thing I've ever seen in sports. I was there when Cal tied the streak and watching the lights of the cameras go off forever. I love Uncle Teddy's pretzels. And now I love going to Pickles or Sliders before the game to hang out with friends.

And I remember the bad times too. I remember the pain when Jeffery Maier stole that home run during the "96 playoffs. But most off all I know the pain we have suffered through for 10 losing seasons. Asking friends if the O's won and getting the response "They were up by 5 in the 9th, so I really don't know." The ten losing seasons, and the crushed hope a few years ago in '05 when we collapsed after the All Star game. I remember the blown saves and the feeling that even when we were doing well that the other shoe was always about to drop.

But think of all the memories, a lifetime of memories. So now I'm pleading to all you die hard O's fans out there ---COME BACK!!!!

I know its hard to have faith with the prince of darkness's minion running the team. (Lets be honest, if he really was the devil then we'd probably have had a winning season more recently) I know that the O's have bungled through the last ten years with bad decisions and bad records. I mean signing Albert Belle or Sammy Sosa or Bobby Bonilla way past their prime for way too much money. I know we haven't invested in good pitching and have squandered any prospects. I know Angelos has alienated all of us. But that doesn't mean we should give up on the team. Especially not this team.

For the first time in years there is hope again. We have a lot of young prospects including Adam Jones. We are making smart trades to get these young players. I mean Tejada was traded at his peak value, right before the Mitchell Report and this age scandal. And Bedard has been injured for most of this season, yes its only early May, but still. You have to think so far we've got the better end. These players are playing their hearts out, some would say above their heads, but isn't that something we should support. I mean even Daniel Cabrera seems to have turned a corner and become the dominant pitcher we all hoped he could be.

So please O's fans, come back to Camden Yards, support our team again and believe in the Orioles Magic. Show them we really are the best fans in baseball. That we'll be there through the hard times so that we can enjoy the good times even more. This is a team full of memories for all of us. So give them another chance to do right by us. Their trying desperately to change their ways. And after so much time and so many good memories don't we owe them that much. And if not for them do it for the city and for us. We are a great fan base and we should stand by and cheer our team. Lets go back to being the best fans in baseball.

See you at the Yard,