Questioning the Great Ones

January 14, 2008

An open letter from me to Cal Coach Jeff Tedford and Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane:

Forgive me, o masters of Bay Area sports, for I doubt thee.

First, to his holiness, Jeff Tedford. He who rescued my floundering team from the depths of 1-10 failure. He who brought back our axe from the great Satan, Stanford. He who (so nearly) took Cal football to the Rose Bowl; I find myself questioning your wisdom. At first, the losses seemed acceptable – no team, I thought, could go undefeated this year; so our upset at the hands of Oregon State was tolerable. But then, Cal lost twice more, salvaged a game against Washington State, and faced USC.

As I stood in the wet and cold for hours, watching my favorite team lose, the doubts came to my mind. Why, I though to myself, was Nate Longshore still in the game? Clearly he was hurt and the injury he sustained against Oregon affected his play and probably caused the interception that stopped Cal’s late rally. I doubted, coach Tedford, your abilities to manage the team – if you were too supportive of Longshore or if your style was too conservative.

I know, great Tedford, what you saved us from: the Holmoe era, no bowl games in years, and Stanford control of our axe for an eternity. When I watched my team in 2001, before you came, I could have never imagined playing as the #2 team in the nation in the hunt for the national championship game. But now that I have tasted victory in bowl games, coach Tedford; this failure has made me doubt your abilities as a coach. And as much as I regret this frustration I have with you, coach Tedford, I fear even more my anger with the Oakland A’s general manager.

I stood buy you through thick and thin, Billy Beane. When you traded away Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder for players that weren’t nearly as good, I accepted it as the way of the small-market team. When you didn’t even try to re-sign Miguel Tejada after the 2003 season, I was frustrated but again accepted it. But one week ago, I saw the news that put me over the edge. Marco Scutaro – one of the A’s most clutch and beloved players – was traded for two mediocre Single-A pitchers. Like I said, I’ve been in this position before. But after everything I have seen from the A’s this year, I doubt your abilities as a general manager.

You traded Frank Thomas for Mike Piazza, a player who (even in his prime) couldn’t challenge Frank Thomas’ power. The players that were supposed to lead the team – Rich Harden, Bobby Crosby, and Eric Chavez to name a few – were chronically out of the lineup with injuries. And to cap it all off, the A’s finished the year with a losing record (only one game better than the lowly Texas Rangers).  I know that I can’t blame you, Billy, for everything that has happened this year, but right now I want to. Right now I want to have the old Oakland A’s back and I really want to keep you from making some of the moves that have left me (as a fan and a follower of baseball) scratching my head.

I’m sorry Tedford and Beane for thinking that you have made the wrong decisions. I know that you made the teams I love great and that what has happened this year is not entirely your fault. However, watching my two favorite teams lose has made me ungrateful and frustrated with both of you. Please, Jeff Tedford and Billy Beane, take us back to the way it was.


Bring on the Winter

October 30, 2007

 

So that’s it. The Boston Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies to win the 2007 World Series and another baseball season comes to a close. You’d think that, as such a big fan of the game, I’d be sad to watch the year end, but to tell the truth, I’m glad to see the back of the ’07 season.

           
The year didn’t start well (if you look back to my post on the Oakland A’s off-season from the spring) for Oakland, and just never got on track. As an Athletics fan, I was used to slow starts (I can’t remember the last time the A’s entered June with a winning record), but I was also used to the team rallying in the second half of the season. For weeks after the All Star Break I kept watching A’s games, waiting for the team to catch on to their season plot, start winning games, and come back to take the American League West. I kept waiting, and waiting… and waiting. Then, out of nowhere, it was August and the A’s were still a losing team.

 

This was the year that the A’s stopped “getting good” in the second half. An inexperienced coaching staff and a steady stream of devastating injuries made sure this team didn’t mount their traditional comeback, and it left Oakland fans wondering where it all went wrong. For next season, all that fans can do is hope the A’s stay healthy (which has been a problem for a few years) and pray that they remember how a season is supposed to go in Oakland – start slow, get hot, and fade in the playoffs. 

 

Of course, the playoffs weren’t much better. A string of disappointing early rounds led to possibly the most boring World Series I’ve ever watched. From the time the playoffs started, most of the baseball world knew that the fight for the National League pennant was just teams trying their hardest for the honor of losing to whoever won in the AL. The Boston Red Sox simply demoralized the Colorado Rockies in four games, which were, for anyone other than Sox fans, painful to watch. In the end, I would guess that I watched about four total innings of the World Series, and I think that was plenty.

 

This hasn’t been a great year, for A’s fans or fans of Major League Baseball in general. Thankfully, the Red Sox put a mercifully quick end to this year by sweeping the Rockies, and we can look to 2008 with hope of a better – if not more entertaining – season. Our long national nightmare is over. I’m such a nerd…


My First Win

October 30, 2007

I haven’t seen my teams win very much. Sure, I’ve watched my Oakland A’s advance to the playoffs and, one glorious time, to the American League Championship Series, and I’ve watched my California Golden Bears upset USC and win some minor bowl games. But I still have yet to see my favorite team – in any sport – be crowned champion. That is, until October 21st.

 

The weekend of the 21st hadn’t gone well for me. On Friday night, I was led on by the promise of In-n-Out burger, only to get lost somewhere near Pinole. And on Saturday Cal lost to UCLA – their second loss in a row, after their narrow loss to Oregon State . To add insult to injury, my favorite Formula 1 driver, Kimi Raikkonen, qualified third for the Brazilian Grand Prix – the final race of the season, which he needed to win for a chance at the 2007 title.

 

Then came Sunday. I set my alarm for the un-Godly hour of 8:30 in the morning so that I could see the Brazil race. Two hours later, I was cheering my head off and celebrating not only Kimi Raikkonen’s first championship, but the first time I had seen one of my teams win the top title.

 

Formula 1 fans will know that, as a Ferrari fan, I should know a lot about winning at the top level. From 2000 to 2004, Michael Schumacher cruised to victory for the Ferrari team, an era of domination the sport had never seen before. But I haven’t been watching F1 that long. I only began my obsession with it in 2006, when Schumacher and Ferrari narrowly lost to Fernando Alonso and his Renault team, the second straight year that the Spaniard won.

 

So in the final laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix, with Kimi Raikkonen leading and his rivals far behind, I was more nervous than I had ever been about a sporting event. I knew that in order for Kimi to win the title and complete his amazing comeback this season, he needed something he’d never had – luck. Raikkonen not only had to win, but rivals Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton had to finish far enough behind (3rd and 7th, respectively) for Kimi to win the championship. And that’s just what happened.

 

So when Kimi took the lead as the laps wound down, I could feel the first win coming. And when Raikkonen crossed the line to win his first championship, I am not ashamed to admit that I went crazy. I clapped, cheered, shouted, and sang along to the Finnish national anthem (a tune I thought I didn’t know). All of this for a motor race happening a continent away. But it was my first championship, so I feel my actions were justified – you can’t hold a fan to how he reacts when his team wins at the highest level. So, congratulations and thanks to Kimi Raikkonen, 2007 Driver’s Champion, and Scuderia Ferrari, 2007 Constructor’s Champions.


Collie

October 4, 2007

A while back, I was about half-way through a blog entry about why I wasn’t happy with Formula 1. I planned to finish it up, include some details about the spy scandal, and then post it. Then came the news.

 

I received a text message from a friend that morning, telling me that one of my favorite racing drivers, Colin McRae, was dead. My initial feeling was disbelief, but soon it sunk in that the finest rally driver there ever was had been killed. He died in a helicopter crash along with his son and two family friends.

 

Let me preface this by saying that I rarely got to see Colin race. He joined the World Rally Championship five years before I was born, and won the WRC title in 1995, when I was all of four years old. My only time watching Colin live was at the 2006 Rally Turkey (when he was standing in for a hurt driver Sebastien Loeb) and the 2006 and 2007 X Games Rallies. But from just one moment of one event, I knew that Colin was a true champion.

 

Coming into the final stadium Super-Special stage in the 2006 Rally X Games, Colin was right on the tail of leader Travis Pastrana. By the time he entered the final jump and turns of the stage, he was almost two seconds in front of Pastrana, and was well on his way to the gold medal. But when he landed his car at the end of the jump, it dug into the ground and rolled. In true Collie fashion, though, the next second he was on all four wheels. Colin was back to racing, coming around the corner for second place.

 

That was the spirit I always admired and loved about Colin McRae. No matter what, he always fought for the win with every fiber of his body, and wouldn’t settle for anything less. Colin had the drive to fight for every bit of speed. He was also a hero to many, including me. That’s what has made his death so hard.

 

He may have just been a racing driver who made his name 6,000 miles away from where I am, and a person I never met, but I looked up to Colin McRae. Motorsports will never be the same without him, and I send my condolences to his family and all of the people who, like me, continue to be inspired by Colin.

 

Rest in peace, Collie.


College Football Anticipation

August 16, 2007

This is a hard time of year for me. As a high-school student, I’m praying for time to slow down so that I can enjoy the last moments of summer before school starts up again. But then again, while I watch ESPN reports on college training camps and tear through team and conference previews online, I can’t wait for Saturday, September 1st at 8:00. That’s when the University of California’s 2007 season starts. At home. Against Tennessee.

One year after their season-opening 35-18 embarrassment at the hands of the Volunteers, Cal now takes on the SEC powerhouse at home. This one’s gonna be good.

The Tennessee game opens a very exciting year for Cal. Their tough schedule sees the Golden Bears take on Oregon (in Eugene) and USC, four years removed from Cal’s stunning upset of the Trojans in 2003.

Cal’s season isn’t the only thing that has me way more excited than I should be. College Football makes the fall fun. During the week I spend five days in school staring out of the window, pleading for the bell to ring and release me. Saturdays are my day. I choose to wake myself up early (which, on a Saturday, means 9:00am) so I can sit on my couch and watch college football for about twelve hours.

My day starts with the East Coast and Midwest games. Since I have about ten channels that have college football games, I spend my mornings bouncing around from the SEC to the Big Ten to the ACC. By noon, if I’m not going to a Cal game at Memorial Stadium, I’m watching the Big 12 and Pac Ten. Once it’s evening, I take in the “Game of the Night,” which generally lasts until 9:00pm. By the end of the day I will probably have seen a part of at least a dozen games.

For me, there’s no better way to spend a Saturday in the fall, and that’s why I’m thinking this September might not be so bad. Cal comes into the year with a ton of promise, the Pac 10 promises to be one of the best conferences in football, and USC’s coming to Berkeley. And not only is the local football season shaping up nicely, other conferences across the country have a ton of promise.

In the Big Ten, three teams – Michigan, Wisconsin (my 2nd favorite team), and Ohio State – could take the conference championship. The SEC is, as always, an exciting conference. LSU and Florida are #2 and #3 in the USA Today Poll and Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas are all in the Top 25 as well.

A new college football season is upon us. Thursday, August 30th sees the first teams take the field. From that point until the bowl games end in January, this college football season promises to hold plenty of excitement.

I’m already singing Cal’s fight songs in my head…


Watching History I’d Rather Not See

July 20, 2007

It’s a beautiful summer day at Wrigley Field. The thunderstorms that soaked the area the night before are nowhere to be found, and Barry Bonds steps up to the plate in the second inning to a chorus of boos. It was a great day: the Cubs were leading 4-0 (and would go on to win the game 9-8), I was seeing my first game from inside the “friendly confines,” and I was emphatically jeering my least favorite player in baseball.

Then Barry had to ruin it by blasting the first pitch he saw for his 752nd career home run.

I knew it, pitcher Ted Lilly knew it, and the 40,000 other people at Wrigley knew it the second Bonds swung his bat. The ball sailed out of park and onto North Sheffield Avenue putting him one home run closer to Hank Aaron’s all-time record of 755.

And as he rounded the bases, I booed.

In the seventh inning, he did it again, this time with a three-run shot that barely cleared the ivy-covered walls of the Wrigley outfield for number 753. Again, I booed.

As you may be able to tell by now, I’m not a big fan of Barry Bonds. I think he’s a part of a steroid trend that is ruining baseball, and I’m more excited about Bonds being indicted for perjury than I am about him passing Aaron’s record. So, watching Barry’s steroid-inflated head (it’s grown a full hat size since 1998) round the bases (again) while booing my head off (again), I was conflicted.

Yes, Bonds is in my mind the worst thing to happen to baseball in a very long time, and yes, I can’t stand him. But I had just seen two impressive home runs (one literally out of the ballpark, the other into a stiff Chicago wind) to put a player within two homers of what many writes call the most hallowed records in sports.

How was I supposed to feel? Should I be angry I had seen a ‘roid-raging jerk (I doubt stronger language would be allowed) bring himself closer to a record? Or should I save my ticket, game program, and hot dog wrapper to sell on eBay, and be excited to have seen the home runs?

I’ve since decided to do both. I still can’t stand Barry Bonds and I’m still waiting for people (i.e. federal prosecutors and grand juries) to confirm he lied under oath about taking steroids. Then again, I got to see a fantastic ballgame at the best stadium in the baseball, not to mention a couple of extraordinary home runs by a person on his way to breaking the all-time record.

Even if that person is a steroid-pumping, fan-hating, under-oath-to-a-grand-jury-lying cheater.


Best. Lunch. Ever.

July 11, 2007

As the title might imply, I just had the best meal of my life. It was a cheeseburger (thin patties of beef that had been sitting under heat lamps, a cold bun, and a slice of rubbery American cheese), some cookies (which were actually pretty good), and a cup of root beer, all served at a Northwestern University cafeteria. What made this lunch so great was not the food – which was awful – but the company. Michael Wilbon, co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption was there. Sitting at the same table as me. Talking about sports.

You see, right now I’m at a journalism camp (which, by the way, doesn’t look very impressive when you write it down…) at Northwestern. One of the people on my floor happens to be a friend of Mr. Wilbon and got him to come to this camp on Thursday. For an hour and a half, he talked to the group about reporting and his views on the future of journalism. Then he had lunch with us. Awesome.

In the week leading up to Wilbon’s visit, all of the sports fans (in this case, that means all of the guys) were going crazy. It’s Michael Wilbon! From Pardon the Interruption! The night before, we were all giddy with anticipation. We even made little masks with his face on them, like the ones PTI uses for their segment, Role Play. Needless to say, we were a bit excited.

But one of the coolest parts of the day (and this was a pretty cool day) was right after the lecture. Standing in the lobby of Northwestern’s McCormick Tribune Forum, the guest of honor realized he had a text message. “Looks like we’re going to be neighbors in Scottsdale” the message said. It was coming from Grant Hill, who was letting Mike know he signed with the Phoenix Suns.

Honestly, how cool is that? Before 99% of the sports world knew about what happened, we found out because the man gets text messages from Grant Hill.

For the next hour, he sat around a big table in Hinman Hall’s cafeteria, taking questions and shaking hands with the twenty guys gathered around him. Through this conversation I learned that Mike has had dinner with Barry Bonds, that Barry doesn’t like Hank Aaron (“It’s complicated”), and that, despite being on ESPN almost daily, Michael Wilbon is afraid to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at Wrigley Field.

What an awesome day.