Friday, August 21, 2009

Athletes Are Human Too....

We buy a ticket to a sporting event. We walk through the turnstile and grab a hot dog and beverage and mosey to our seats. We watch our favorite players on our favorite teams take the field/ice/court. We laugh with our buddies. We tell stories to our kids. We are the humans, and the athletes on the field are larger than life to us. But when they step off the field; when they take the uniform off; when they (pardon the cliche) put their pants on one leg at a time - they are just as human as we are. Sure, their autograph may be worth hundreds, even thousands of dollars, where ours isn't worth the paper we sign, but they have human emotions just like we do. They have the same joys we do (albeit, slightly more extravagant) and they feel the same pains.

Yesterday, we were once again reminded of the human side of athletes. Washington Capitals goalie, Jose Theodore lost his 2-month old son. No details have been released, but really, do we need any? Are we that morbid of a society? All I could think about, as a father myself was, what must the family be thinking? How can they overcome such a tragedy? I'll get to go home from work tonight and give my son a kiss. And tomorrow night and the night after that and every night I can imagine from here till the end of time. Theodore does not have that luxury anymore. And his pain is not magically lessened because he is an athlete and makes millions of dollars. His pain and grief are just as great as mine would be. Or yours would be, in the same situation.

For years we watched in awe of what Mike Tyson could do inside a boxing ring. Then we laughed and mocked him when he became a human paraya. He started biting ears, raping women and had seemingly lost all his marbles. But then, earlier this year, he lost his 4-year old daughter. Suddenly, his shenanigans didn't seem so funny anymore. No matter how big and tough he was, no matter what his life's transgressions were or are, nobody deserved to feel the pain he must have felt when his little girl died. Whatever wrongs he did, to lose his child had to make even a tough guy like Tyson crumble worse than any opponent he destroyed in the ring.

Most athletes don't mourn publicly. And they shouldn't. It's a private moment for them to share with family and loved ones. They need the support of family and friends in times of grief, no different than you or I. But sometimes, we are reminded publicly that when an athlete loses someone, it has a very adverse effect on them. In February, 2004, one of the greatest baseball relief pitchers of the 1980s and early 1990s, Jeff Reardon, lost his son to a drug overdose. Like most people, Reardon mourned. But his mourning led him down a dark path. First, Reardon did little more than sit in a dark room with the shades closed. Then, almost two years after his son's death, Reardon was arrested and charged with armed robbery. He was found not-guilty by reason of insanity. What guilt must this poor man have felt to go into such a deep depression following the loss of his son?

Guilt. Depression. Remorse. Sadness. Pain. All emotions felt by such big, strong athletes. All emotions that you and I feel, too. Larger than life? Sure - when they are hitting a baseball, catching a touchdown, scoring a goal or slam dunking a basketball. But off the field, they are just as human. Imagine this - you are at work one day and your boss calls you in to tell you he has bad news. He tells you that he just got off the phone with the police and unfortunately your spouse has been found dead. Now, assuming you had nothing to do with it, how would you react? Well, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Scott Schoeneweis had to deal with that very reality this year 30 minutes before a game vs. the Florida Marlins. His 14-year old daughter had found his wife dead in their home. The fact that Schoeneweis can throw a ball over 90-mph or that he makes around a million dollars a year does not lessen his pain. He has to deal with the pain just like you and I do. He has to go comfort his teenage daughter and call his in-laws and try to be as supportive as possible. All this, while dealing with his own sadness.

Athlete is just their job title. The rest of the time, they are just a wealthier, probably more in shape version of you and me. Athletes cry too.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

September = Sports Fans' Mecca

In 11 days, we will turn the calendars to September. Summer is over. The kids are back in school. And we have a lot of fall holidays on the horizon. But before we celebrate these glorious holidays with our family and friends, we have to get through the best sports month of the year. It's 30 days of heaven for a sports fan. All 4 major team sports have something going on in September.

The pennant races heat up in baseball. Six division winners and two wild card spots are up for grabs. And this season, it appears that 15 or 16 teams will still be fighting for these 8 spots the final month of the season. And for the teams that are not fighting for a playoff berth, we get to see September call-ups. The kids who have fought so hard all year in the minors for their crack at the big club. And some of them will impress enough to earn a spot on the roster next year. This is not only important for the player and fans of that team, but for us fantasy owners too, to figure out who next year's sleepers are.

The NFL season kicks off. And the nice thing about September this year is no bye weeks. That's right, all 32 teams will play every weekend in September, starting September 10. There is nothing quite like waking up on a Sunday morning with a hang over, popping a couple of Tylenol, and then firing up the grill. And then, sitting on your ass from 1:00 - 11:30 watching 15 different games. Of course, you have to watch all 15 games, because you're probably in 6 different fantasy leagues, so in each and every game, there is a player on either your team or one of your opponents' teams. And then of course, there's your favorite team, and you can't miss that game.....unless of course Indianapolis is driving on the other channel and you have Peyton Manning.

College football gets underway in September. Granted, we don't usually get our best match ups in September. We have to sift through the University of Florida vs. Charleston Southern (incidentally, Vegas just released the spreads and UF is a 73-point favorite. I mean why even play the game? When the Gators win, it will be like they just won the Special Olympics, so really, what's the point?). But if you can make it through a few out of conference cupcake snoozers, this September does offer up Miami - Florida State, Oklahoma State - Georgia, and USC - Ohio State. And of course, there is always some out of nowhere upset that makes us laugh, unless you went to Michigan, of course. Plus, September is always fun in college football because you can argue over the validity or ridiculousness of pre-season polls.

The NBA and NHL are in pre-season mode, the NHL actually playing pre-season games and the NBA practicing (except for Allen Iverson, of course). With the anticipation of both season's nearing, fantasy hockey and basketball leagues start popping up and it's time to study up on these players, while making sure you drafted the right football team and checking out MLB's September call ups for potential 2010 sleepers. But since players switch teams so frequently in the NBA and NHL, September is a great month to figure out who went where and laugh when you are reminded that Marian Hossa really did sign a 12-year contract.

September has something for all sports fans. It's the best sports month of the year. It's like the anti-February, where football is over, pitchers and catchers haven't reported yet, and basketball and hockey are in snooze mode until the playoffs (unless you are the Florida Panthers, sitting in 10th place and scratching for that 8th seed in the East you know you're just not going to get). All February really does for the sports fan is remind him/her that they need to get their sweetheart something nice for Valentine's Day.

Ahh, September, you're only 11 days away....

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Things I loathe....

President Obama's Health Care plan has caused a lot of raucous on both sides of the political aisle. I know where I stand on it. But where I stand should not matter to you. Where any journalist stands should be of little consequence to you. Where any member of the Hollywood elite stands on it should not matter, nor should the opinions of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill Maher or Keith Olbermann. But yet each of these guys, and others spout their mouths like you should give a damn what they say. Don't. Get the facts yourselves and formulate your own opinions based on what you believe. Talking heads like these guys giving off their opinions as if they were gospel is just one of the many things I loathe these days. Here is a list of some of the others...

Announcers who use the term "professional hitter" to describe a particular Major League Baseball player. What? Are the others saving their amateur status for the Olympics?

The term "re-aggravate" an injury. To aggravate the injury is to re-injure. To re-aggravate it is to re-re-injure it.

People who dislike our President solely because of the color of his skin.

People who support our President solely because of the color of his skin.

Joe Morgan as an announcer

"Homer" announcers. I'm looking right at you Tommy Hutton, Hawk Harrelson and Michael Kay.

Leashes for kids. If you wanted a dog, get a dog. Don't treat your kids like they are your pets.

The hypocrisy of fans to not forgive Michael Vick but turn the other cheek when it comes to Leonard Little and Donte' Stallworth. So a dog's life is worth more than a human's life is now?

Brett Favre.

The bias with which ESPN covers sports.

The fact that I still don't get the MLB Network.

Bud Selig, David Stern, Gary Bettman and Roger Goodell.

The fact that athletes and entertainers get agents AND unions. How many people do these men and women need protecting their interests? I'm going to go out on a limb and say none of these people are getting mistreated. And while we're at it.....

Unions in general. They were great around the turn of the century....the turn of the 19th to 20th century. Unions serve little purpose anymore except as another form of taxation on employees.

Reality TV.

And finally.....Scott Boras.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why I Love Baseball So Damned Much....

I get asked all the time - "why do you love baseball?" "What's so great about it?" "It's a boring sport, how can you sit through a whole game?" All of those questions were answered in one game, on a sunny, New York Saturday afternoon.

Back in June, I planned a little father-son trip to the Big Apple this past weekend. As part of my son's first ever visit to NYC, I wanted to take him to a ballgame. So, I checked both the Yankees and Mets schedules. The Yankees were on a road trip on the left coast, but the Mets were home, in their new, gorgeous ballpark. Perfect. I'll take him to Citi Field. When I found out the Mets were hosting the Giants, it made it even better, since Los Gigantes are the team I have been a die hard fan of, for over 30 years. As the trip and game grew closer, I began to check the Giants and Mets pitching rotations, respectively. I was counting every 5th day to try to figure out what pitching match up I'd get to see. And when Saturday rolled around, I had a dream pitching match up - Matt Cain vs. Johan Santana. I'm an old fashioned baseball fan. I don't like 11-10 games that feature 7 home runs. There's no strategy in that. It's just wait for the long ball and whichever team hits more, wins. To me, that's a home run derby, not a baseball game. So, when I saw that it was going to be Cain v. Santana, I was stoked. The two of them have a combined ERA that is less than some teams. And the game didn't disappoint.

The game had a little bit of everything. It reminded me what was so great about this game....not that I ever forget. Both pitchers looked unhittable for the first three innings. It just had that feeling that the game was going to be close throughout and very tense. Then came the 4th inning. Cain hit David Wright in the head with an 0-2 fastball. And it was Cain who became a little unravelled at that point. He clearly did not intend to hit Wright, and seeing him lying there clearly messed with Cain's head. He lost his focus and his control that inning and the Mets capitalized and took a 1-0 lead. That lead held until the 6th inning, when the Giants bats finally woke up against Santana. And, thanks to some very nice clutch hitting by the Giants, they took a 3-1 lead. Again, the game featured a bit of everything - including some retaliation for the Mets for David Wright. In the 7th inning, with Santana's pitch count rising, he decided to attempt to exact some revenge on the Giants' best hitter, Pablo Sandoval. Unfortunately, he missed, and two pitches later, Sandoval homered off him. And that is the beauty of baseball done right. Retaliation for your best hitter getting hit in the head with a 94 mph fastball is ok. It's part of the game. But the best way for the hitter to exact his revenge is NOT to charge the mound (see Youkilis, Kevin). It's to hit a home run off the pitcher and get your team another run. And that's what Sandoval did.

The Giants bullpen managed to blow the lead. But give the Mets credit. They had some timely hitting, and did it all without a home run. Just good, solid, situational hitting. They tied the game at 4 on a sacrifice fly and an amazing slide into home. These are the little things that make the game great. A tie score. A tense game. And good, solid, fundamental baseball. The game went extra innings. In the 10th inning, Bengie Molina came to bat for the Giants. I turned to my brother and said to him that the Mets would be better off pitching around Molina and dealing with another hitter. See, Francisco Rodriguez was pitching for the Mets at the time. Molina had caught Rodriguez in Anaheim for 4 seasons and was likely to know his tendencies very well. I had thought, if anyone on the Giants would be able to handle Rodriguez, it would be Molina. And Molina homered. And the Giants won 5-4. Little strategic things like that are what make baseball so great. Something seemingly so minuscule as a former relationship between pitcher and catcher can change the outcome of a game.

On this one bright, sunny, New York Saturday afternoon, I got to share a wonderful baseball game with my son and my brother (and his girlfriend). The game featured great pitching, timely hitting, good fundamental baseball, some tense moments between the two teams, a blown lead, extra innings, and ultimately the team I was cheering so hard for winning on a home run hit by a guy who probably should have been pitched around. It was a great game and a picture perfect day. Well, except for the little Korean girl sitting in front of me...but that's a story for another time.

Monday, August 17, 2009

An Honest Fantasy Football Column...

My first fantasy football draft of the 2009 season is this Saturday. I have another on Monday and my last one is next Thursday. For you keeping score at home, I am doing three leagues this year. I have sifted through countless magazines and read tons of articles in preparation for my drafts. The thing about my three drafts is, in all three leagues, the scoring is different, the rules are different and the rosters are different. Adrian Peterson is still going number one, no matter what the rules are. For the most part, Larry Fitzgerald and Drew Brees are your number one wide receiver and quarterback, respectively. These are givens, just like not drafting a kicker before the next to last round and not trying to be a hero before the 10th round. I am not here to regurgitate facts you already know or tell you who are the best players at each position are. Because, depending on how your league scores, and whether or not you are in a keeper league, or if it is an auction league and so on and so on, I can't tell you who are the most valuable players in your particular league. What I can try to do is help you with certain strategies and players that often get overlooked or are flat out sleepers. A few questions first, before we get to my sleepers and overlooked players, though...

Who's #2?

You have the second pick in your draft. Who do you draft? Well, first of all, if you are playing with a novice that had the first pick and didn't select Adrian Peterson, you say that name as fast as you possibly can. For the other 99% of leagues, after Peterson goes, I have read from some experts everyone's name from Maurice Jones-Drew to Steven Jackson to Chris Johnson to even non-progressive owners who are still stuck on LaDanian Tomlinson. These are all nice choices, but none of them are the second best running back in the league. Given the offense he plays in, his home run ability and the fact that he doesn't have another running back stealing his goal line carries, Michael Turner is my clear number 2 on the board.

What number first round draft pick DON'T you want?

That's easy this year - number 8. The first seven picks in your league, in no particular order should be - Peterson, Turner, Matt Forte, Jones-Drew, Jackson, Gore and Tomlinson. If any of them are sitting there are #8, scoop them up, smile and move on. Otherwise, you have a minor dilemma. And this is where the above mentioned 'what kind of scoring does your league play with' comes into play. The most logical, safe pick here is Larry Fitzgerald. And then, when you see Kurt Warner go down in a heap in week one, your first round draft pick is now catching passes from Matt Leinart. If you are in a league that slants towards quarterbacks, then Drew Brees is a solid pick here. Just don't panic and feel like you need to reach for a running back here. If you get Brees or Fitzgerald, you now have the number one player at his position to go along with your mid level running back in round two. So, instead of reaching for Chris Johnson, DeAngelo Williams or Brandon Jacobs....who are all losing carries to other running backs, you'll wind up with Brian Westbrook or Clinton Portis and you'll already have a number 1 wide receiver or quarterback in your pocket.

When do I start drafting my sleepers?
Draft school 101 - never try to be a hero before round 10 (adjust this for number of teams in your league and number of rounds in your draft - this theory is based on a standard 12-team league, 16 round draft, non-keeper league). 90% of leagues are won by the guy who drafted "boring" for 9-10 rounds of his draft. One out of ten times, the guy who reached for Marques Colston in the 6th round as a rookie, gets lucky and wins the league. But more often then not, it's the guy who drafted Colston in the 11th (still a steal his rookie year) but had Reggie Wayne, Tomlinson and Tom Brady -and that's why he won. Sleepers are fun late in the draft. They are low risk-high reward then. One year, I had to work late and missed my live online draft, so the computer-generated list was how my team got drafted. That season, I made it to the championship game. Why? Because the computer doesn't take chances, it just goes off the previous season's numbers. It doesn't reach for a Knowshown Moreno 3 rounds too early.

Is Laverneous Coles a sleeper this year?
No. But he is on a list of what I call "underappreciated players" who will go later than they should. I will unveil this list in a few minutes. There are several players who are overvalued and undervalued every year. This year's number one overvalued player across the board will be Matt Ryan. He was a much heralded rookie last year who did great things for the Falcons and should have another very nice season this year. And for all the hype, Ryan threw 16 TDs last season. That's exactly 1 TD per game. And...he threw 11 INTs (if you're in a league that penalizes for INTs). A 16-11 TD ratio is very pedestrian for a guy who will probably go 5 rounds too early. Watch- in your drafts, someone will believe the hype and draft him as their starting QB. He's a wonderful QB for the Falcons offense. For fantasy offenses, he's no more than a bye week filler.

Ok, without any further ado, I present this season's sleepers, by position.

Tom Brandstater - you and I would be considered sleepers if we were third on the depth chart behind Kyle Orton and Chris Simms.
Alex Smith - The 49ers aren't quitting on him and neither am I. Not sure who's gong to win the job out of camp, but Smith will be given every opportunity to win it and I think he can excel under Singletary.

Running Back
Glen Coffee - Already moved to number 2 on the 49ers depth chart. Gore has exactly zero knee cartilage left. At the very least, if you draft Gore, you need your morning Coffee.
Tim Hightower - Beanie Wells couldn't stay healthy at Ohio State and he's supposed to stay healthy in the NFL? If your league is TD-heavy, Hightower gets the goal line carries even if Wells is healthy.
Fred Jackson - Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first three games of the season. And even when he's not suspended, Jackson is a better receiver and gets his fair share of the carries.
Cedric Benson - Remember him? He's resurfaced as the man in Cincy.
Jerome Harrison - Just trust me on this one.
Correll Buckhalter - Moreno injured already + Denver O-Line = 1,000 yards
Donald Brown - Joseph Addai is this generation's Eddie George. Wearing down way too early.
Jamaal Charles - the starting RB in KC is Larry Johnson. That about sums it up.
Ahmad Bradshaw - Just became wind AND fire in New Jersey.
LeSean McCoy - I love Brian Westbrook. But he is in the trainer's office too much.
Mewelde Moore - in TD heavy leagues, he's more valuable than Pitt's starter, Willie Parker
Earnest Graham - No QB + No other real options = Graham is this year's "where did he come from" fantasy stud.

Wide Receivers
Josh Morgan - No Michael Crabtree. No Brandon Jones. If Alex Smith is going to be a sleeper, somebody in San Fran has to catch his passes.
Patrick Crayton - thank you T.O. for leaving Dallas
Mike Walker - nursing an injury now. Scoop him up late and be amazed when his numbers are better than Torry Holt's in Jacksonville this year
Laurent Robinson - Donnie Avery's out. So someone's gotta catch balls in St Louis, right?
Nate Washington - love, love, love him in Tennessee this year

Tight Ends
Visanthe Shiancoe - don't like Minnesota's WRs and I don't like their QBs arm strength (either of them). And even if Favre does play here, he loves his TEs.
Zach Miller - no real reason. Just a hunch.
John Carlson - Hasselbeck can't fling it 70 yards anymore. Carlson is a nice big target in the red zone.

Underappreciated Guys that will go too late
Laverneous Coles
Dwayne Bowe
Vincent Jackson
Antonio Bryant
Owen Daniels
....and my favorite - Aaron Rodgers. In at least a dozen leagues this year, Matt Ryan (and his 16 TDs) will go before Rodgers (and his 29 TDs). Hype is an ugly mistress.

And there you have it, not a column to help you win your league. But an honest, strategic look at fantasy players. If you have specific questions, please email me your league scoring rules and details about your league and I will be happy to help.....unless you are in my league. Then, draft Stephen Gostkowski first.