Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Cutting to the (Literal) Chase

I understand that this is only my third post since the sixth anniversary of The Sports Nut Blogs, but much like any child or old friend, I must acknowledge the special day. Happy Seventh Birthday, dearest blog.


Last week, I heard a bit of stirring from the realm of baseball. After all, pitchers and catchers reported last week, with full squads working out as early as this weekend. Yeah, that's all well and good. We're used to that kind of stuff.

But that isn't what I'm writing about right now.

As most of us should know, this is the second full season with Rob Manfred as commissioner of Major League Baseball. Much like any leader before him, we tend to wonder what kind of ideas and suggestions he'll bring to the table. Considering how Bud Selig twisted the game a lot in 25-some-odd years, such as adding the Wild Card and helping birth the implementation of instant replay, he has had a lot expected of him. It's like we're asking the question: "What will the President of the United States do within his first 100 days?" Now that his feet are completely immersed--not just simply wet--in commish matters, we're starting to see a couple of "pitches," so to speak. [This pun was unplanned.]

This little number is causing a ton of commotion all over the sport and in baseball talks around town. If you've been living under a rock, it's a proposed regulation that will alter the rules of a game in extra innings. In my 26 years of life, I have experienced a ton of extra innings games. The longest one I can remember was 20 innings, and at least three position players had to pitch during the game. It was one of those games where I thanked baseball Twitter for helping me out and letting me know what was going on when my MLB feed cut out. While it's considered "free baseball" for all of the fans, it's oftentimes seen as the worst case scenario for any baseball team. It's where strategy really comes into play, especially when your bullpen is on the verge of total burnout. No team wants that, especially if they're smack-dab in the middle of a ten-game road trip, and their next day off isn't for another three days or so. But you have to get that W, right? You have to get it in any way possible.

In the chess-like structure of baseball, there are very few ways that you can curb the course of the game. However, this is what the rule would be:

In an extra inning game, both teams will begin their half of the inning with a runner on second base. This practice continues until there is a definitive winner at the bottom half of the inning.

(wrinkled face)

This honestly sounds like a rule you'd implement in a men's over-50 recreational softball league.

Could you imagine if they had this type of rule during Game 7 of the [Hell Has Frozen Over Because The Cubs Or Indians Could Win The] World Series? It wouldn't have been as fun. Sure, there would be a bit more tension, but it almost feels like you're cheating and rushing everybody out the door (you know what I mean). You may as well say: "Forget it! The game ends in a tie! You had your nine-inning fix!" I'm getting vibes similar to how NHL games would just end in a tie after a short overtime period before the shootout came after the 2004-2005 lockout. It feels exactly like that--forcing a winner.

During the game, it's as if you're putting on training wheels or a completely one-sided handicap on a team if they're not pushing hard enough to win decisively. Plus, this would also leave teams to decide if they want to place their fastest player in scoring position, thus affecting the lineup and fielding in either the bottom half of the inning or the possible next. It's like the flex player rule in softball, but used on a Major League scale in the event that "everybody has to have a role, but they're not going to bat or field."

The main reason for the proposal is that, according to a USA Today article, there is a need to attract the game to a younger audience, as the supposed average age to watch a TV broadcast is over 50. [SOURCE] Where that statistic came from, I'd really like to know. Does that make me 50 in spirit? 

Anyway.

There have been moves over the past few years to pick up the pace of each game, going so far as to giving the pitcher a time limit to set up, communicate with the catcher, and make his stretch. Of course, it's one step forward and two steps back, considering the almighty instant replay rule happens--sometimes more than once in a game--and the communication from New York and the final ruling itself can take anywhere from three to five minutes. You know who else encounters that same problem? The NFL, and with the clock-running tactics and everything else, there is only really 15 minutes of real gameplay within a three-hour broadcast of the game. Okay, there are only three days out of the week when there are games in the NFL as opposed to just about every day for baseball, but still, who's really losing out here?

You can't place the entire blame of pacing on extra innings, either. Sure, there were "record setting numbers" of the amount of extra innings games played during the regular season in 2013, but according to a Chicago Tribune article originally from the Washington Post, out of the 2,428 combined games played during the 2016 season, only 185 of those games went to extras, and 122 of those 185 games went to either ten or eleven innings. [SOURCE] In 2013, that number was 239.

From a CBS Sports article:

"There have been 239 extra-inning games in Major League Baseball so far this season. In 2011, there were 237, which was the previous record-holder. Prior to that, the most games to head to extras in history in a season was 220, which was done in 1986, 1991, 2007 and 2010.So four of the top six extra-inning seasons in history have come in the last seven seasons" (Snyder, 2013).

Okay. I get that. However, there are also thirty teams in the league. Each team plays 180 games. That number is going to climb. However, the numbers have gone down considerably since then, and there shouldn't be any room for worry. To be honest, it sounds like we're chopping off our big toe to save our ailing eyesight.

I got to thinking about this small point, but there probably won't be any significance about this particular matter. While the MLBPA isn't a fan of this proposal, there's a possible chance that the stadium staffs are going to be perfectly fine with this. Granted, I'm not 100% certain if they are granted overtime hours during extra inning games, but I know for a fact that working at the stadium isn't their only gig, and they may have to get up early the next day for their actual job. I don't know--they may not even be granted a say on this matter, because it looks like it will be full steam ahead on this rule.

There really isn't a way to test this outside of the regular season, either. Spring Training games will end in a tie after the ninth inning for obvious reasons, being that it's too early for that crap, and you don't want to tire out the promising new guys. As far as I've researched, I haven't been able to find an exhibition game (the games right before Opening Day at the main ballparks) that has gone beyond nine innings. If this proposal goes through and the extra innings rule is enforced come April, there is going to be some very loud and very obvious backlash from the crowds and maybe even the broadcast crews based on the discretion of their front offices.

As for me, I am heavily against this proposal. This isn't even me speaking from a purist perspective; I'm the type of person that enjoys the designated hitter rule in the American League only and not in both. Putting a runner on second base starting in the tenth inning is an obvious sign that the league wants to rush the game to its end. I can understand why with the pacing, but you can't change your ways and immediately expect your target demographic to come rushing to you. This isn't Grease, where both Danny and Sandy have to completely change who they are to try and be liked by one another and their groups. Stop. Just be who you are and market your younger players and long-standing iron men that are bound to be legends. Geez, how did my generation get sucked into the game? Not the steroid scandal--I mean, of course, the whole Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa thing was awesome, but I'm talking about Ken Griffey, Jr., Tony Gwynn, and Cal Ripken, Jr. Today, you've got guys like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Noah Syndergaard that are bound to be in the Hall Of Fame someday if they stay healthy. Focus on the franchise guys. That will get the younger boys going.

At least...at least I think so.

-- Stephanie

Sunday, February 5, 2017

That Large Game on Sunday: Go Big or Go Home

FADE IN
EXT. SOMEWHERE IN THE STICKS OF NEW JERSEY - MIDDAY
A rustic-colored Toyota comes into view. It pulls off the road slowly to a shoulder and turns off. The Hamsa Hand still swings in the rear-view mirror after a couple of seconds. The figure seated to the left does not move.
Suddenly, the driver-side door opens. Out steps a hooded FIGURE in a bright red winter coat with fur outlining the hood. The Figure pushes the door shut and looks around at the desolate land. Leaning against the vehicle, the Figure reaches into the coat pocket and pulls out a small piece of paper, which reads: "FEBRUARY 21, 2010 -- I CREATED A BLOG SO I COULD GET A JOB AS A SPORTS WRITER SOMEDAY."
The Figure lowers the coat hood, revealing a 26-year-old woman, who is staring deeply at a vacant lot with papers flying all around it. She narrows her eyes.

"I must rebuild."


I'm going to say the dreaded words and pray that I don't get slammed with a royalty fee for using it. I literally can't afford that.

(ahem) The Super Bowl.

It's the one day where everyone tries out their best attempts at indoor grilling, making elaborate dips, drinking as much cheap beer as possible, and most importantly, critiquing the types of advertisements that show up during this Game of Games. Channeling our inner Joel, Crow, and Tom Servo of Mystery Science Theater 3000 has become the norm, and to be honest, it's not a bad thing. It's become a way to bond.

Year in and year out, bathroom breaks are hard to come by, as the masses have been fed with either the catchphrases of the era...



...the most terrifying of...things...



...or super exciting previews for a show (suddenly getting canceled--lol The Good Wife) or a highly-anticipated movie coming out soon.

Over the years, it has become public knowledge about how disgustingly expensive it is to purchase thirty seconds of space for advertisement. Last year, it was reported that it will cost you $5 MILLION for a thirty second advertisement. Yes. Five million. In comes the joke where: "I will probably never see five million dollars in my lifetime, let alone thirty seconds." The only way that Super Bowl coordinators and producers have gotten away with doing this is for two main reasons: One, this is the one championship out of the Big Four that non-sports fans are more likely to watch--aka, "checking out the season finale of 'Sports'"--and two, this is the only sport of the Big Four that has a one-and-done championship final. C'mon, the latter is pure logic, but the one thing that fires up overall ratings are the advertisements that catch the attention of the viewers who don't even follow football. It's a marriage of agendas. Some will walk in, saying, "I want to see the new trailer for (insert movie here--probably Star Wars), so I have to sit and wait," or, "I need a reason to laugh and tweet," or, "OMG LUKE BRYAN'S BUTT IN JEANS. YAAAAS GAGA." Forgive me for typing that last one, but that's pure truth right there. Facebook and Twitter have become existent proof that everyone gets involved to some capacity in Super Bowl shenanigans.

That said... this is a Super Bowl itself for advertisement agencies and companies. Every year, they have to pull out all the stops and literally "go big or go home." We've seen some of the silliest advertisements coming from companies like Doritos, and we've also seen some extreme tearjerkers from companies like Budweiser. Depending on where you live, you'll also get some regional advertisements. In various regions last year, The Church Of Scientology shelled out some pennies to advertise for thirty seconds. Personally, I didn't see it, but according to Twitter at the time, it happened, and of course, I searched it out and found it. You'll also run into instances where companies bought out a bunch of ad space, but they only have one or two commercials to compensate for that. Oh, you know what I mean about the repeat commercials, and how they might not have even been any good to begin with, and how you'll have to either sit through them again or run to the bathroom and do your business in record time in order to not miss anything decent. Good times.

You'll also get the naysayers who claim: "You have all of this money to sponsor and advertise and product-place, and you can't place the money where it matters most?" To be fair, you're going to get those people everywhere, where they say the money should go toward more efficient means such as the education system. Okay, that's true. That's very, very true. The job market is not that great, and people aren't getting paid enough in full-time jobs to survive properly and be loan-free. I get that. But just like a game show, companies are firing their shots to win the biggest impact on the masses. It literally is an escape for viewers, and it's their job to be the more memorable brand. We're watching them do their job. Does that make us lazy? No. That's like saying we're horrible for celebrating Thanksgiving because of tortured turkeys and advertisements mentioning the holiday. Everybody acknowledges Super Bowl Sunday to some capacity, even though they may not particularly partake in it. That's just how today's culture and society is. You know it's there--it's all dependent on how much you ultimately consume. You could be on the outer circle, for all we know, but if you're a Lady Gaga fan, or you just happen to have plans with someone who's throwing a party, into the bullseye of the circle you go!

Advertising during any sporting event is a sport in itself. Sponsors are tacked onto just about any televised event or radio broadcast. It's the necessary evil that we must acknowledge. Oh, Pepsi is the sponsor? Bottles of 3/4 filled Pepsi have to be on the broadcast tables, because they have to be prominent, and it has to look like they've been consumed! The most obvious one for NFL broadcasts are Microsoft Surface Pro tablets being placed on the desks during the halftime and post-game reports and on the field by players to go over previous and future plays. You may be annoyed by it, or you may just blow it off and ignore the fact that the brand is everywhere. You're not a bad person for possibly having either thought toward it, but it isn't hard to ignore the fact that advertising has a pure death grip on the game itself--not just the athletes off of the field.

Seeing it from both ends, it's rather annoying. I'm still a sports fan, and I enjoy watching the game. But it is also irritating to see practices from the field I studied in college. It's white-collar warfare, while you get these pictures on your news feed:

I seriously had to make this myself because every search engine and social media outlet failed me.
Oh well.
It's the world that we live in, but morality, business, and pleasure are becoming way too heavily integrated into our society. We can't enjoy a game without getting flooded with ads. They say that children are exposed to at least 25,000 advertisements per year. Per. Year. [source for statistic] It's a business that has to squeeze in their products, all while shaping it to be pleasurable for adults and create a buzz for them to talk about it with others. I hate to sound like a social justice warrior here, but while advertising for a brand is all well and good, I'm pretty sure that the financial values are a bit ridiculous and that they're definitely not going into the right things. I digress on the matter.

This Sunday, it's going to be big. Not just for the athletes and fans, but for the big businesses and conglomerates. Which side will you be on? Where will you go big?

-- Stephanie

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Saying "Nope" to the "Dope"

The past three months have been pretty crazy. I've written stuff, I was in a short film, and I've networked a ton. I am back with a bunch of knowledge, and a hinkerin' for some sports commentary. Let's have some fun.

You know what's really dope? Being an Olympian.
You know what isn't dope? Doping. Clearly.

The Summer Olympics in Rio are less than three months away, meaning that we will be gifted with two weeks worth of sporting insanity before we know it. (Cue up those tympani, kids.) As a safety precaution by the World Anti-Doping Agency, they have conducted tests on medal winners from the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Games. While many of them passed through without much issue over the course of multiple testing practices, the run of tests conducted on the samples of medalists after the London Games have evidence that could possibly change the face of Rio and future Games to come.

While the names of the athletes and the countries that they represent haven't been released as of yet, a number of reports are pointing to athletes from Russia, as their drug testing and submission practices have been deemed sketchy, allegedly doing somewhat of a "bait-and-switch" technique to ensure passing drug tests. (It's seriously dirty--the fourth link at the end of the post will take you to the source.) Due to the amount of failed drug tests not only from the alleged Russian athletes in question but from other athletes worldwide, investigations have been opened with aid from the IOC, and a whole new can of worms in the world of doping has been opened and dished.

The thing that needs to be noted before I move further with any other opinions and statements is this: There is actually a chance that, by this time next month, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) will make the decision on whether Russia will be allowed to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. This is a big deal. We've seen countries barred from the Games before, but when it's a powerhouse country like Russia (which, well, had it's thing with being a superpower, especially when it was referred to as the USSR, but that's another story) possibly being shut out of the Games, you're going to see a lot more surveillance and a lot more crackdowns. In fact, you might be seeing a heck of a lot more lawsuits stemming from the IAAF's decision.

You tend to wonder what is in the thought processes of these doctors and trainers that administer these supplements to athletes. I'm pretty sure they know what is appropriate and what is, and I'm more than certain that they know the consequences if the athlete fails a drug test. Plus, I don't believe that any sane athlete would want to jeopardize their careers with a big hairy blip such as a failed drug test. Now, note: the list of banned substances for athletes is actually very large. Of course, you have the standard PEDs and steroids, but you also have to remember that marijuana and adderall--even if you've been prescribed this and use it medically--also fall into the category. You have to be straight-up clean of anything that will affect your performance to the point where it enhances your physical ability or even reaction time.
[Which, if I'm understanding this correctly, you won't see someone like USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard failing any drug tests for competitions, since any medication that he takes actually treats and curbs symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Tourette's, and not exponentially enhancing his performance otherwise.]

Whether the PED drug use is intentional in these athletes or not, it has become a ridiculous, widespread issue.  For instance, in an even smaller scale, there have been a number of MLB players who have been slammed with 80-game suspensions this year due to testing positive for a form of anabolic steroid. Are they fully aware of what's going into their system at a given time? Heck, is it even in what they eat? It very well could be that, too, but sometimes it's just rotten luck if you're a meat-eater that consumes products with other "things" being injected into them. Like, there's no filter based on those factors, and the drug-testing policies in professional sports aren't meant to be flimsy. When it comes to something like the Olympics, there are going to be a metric ton of flaming hoops and spike pits and shark tanks abound in order to make sure that every athlete coming through is all-natural and truly the best in what they do.

The sad part about this is, is that this problem can't entirely be curbed. What it boils down to is that sports is a business, and athletes are employees that want to get the best results and get the paycheck they believe they deserve. This also applies to athletic trainers, agents, and the organizations in which they are a part of. This isn't to say that every single athlete, agent, trainer, etc is dishonest or a shyster; but you'll have to admit that there are a lot of apples that spoil the bunch and ruin it for others. There will always be some blip on the radar, whether the doping is intentional or accidental. When I mean accidental, I mean unknowingly eating the substance like steroids in meats or the case of American judoka Nicholas Delpopolo, who stated after his ban from the 2012 Games that he didn't know there was pot baked in what he was eating. I wish I were making that story up. But anyway, there is always a dishonest downside to the honest athletes that train for this four-year event.

There are people that enjoy the athleticism and passion of sports such as myself. But sometimes, we are subjected to the dirty side of it all, because the passion of others may stem from something else that isn't so pure, and suddenly, the athleticism doesn't seem so real. It may not even be dreamlike, either. But still, we push on, and hope to not rely on the fake stuff to be the athlete that kids look up to.

That's a dream we should be working toward.

-- Stephanie

(Here's the stuff I read up on before this post. Enjoy. 1, 2, 3, 4)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Far From A Pick-Six

The path has changed, but the starting point is still the same. In fact, I think they took the ground and turned it into some hipster joint. Oh well.

For the record, this isn't going to be a long, drawn-out post, most especially for the fact that I write one on this same day every year. Why? Because on this day, six years ago, I procrastinated and ended up making the most out of that time. Believe me, sometimes the best magic happens when you're putting something off that you don't care about, like homework for a college class that you end up acing anyway.

Writing has certainly gotten me places. It's gotten exposure from large groups, and it's also given me a bit of credibility in circles after I talk shop. Even though I don't write in here as often as I once did, I still practice what I've preached, and I still take out the time to appreciate something that I once wanted to make a career out of. I also take the time out to impress the living snot out of unsuspecting males in multiple environments. I'm the Sports Nut Ninja, I guess.

The past two years on this blog have been slower than usual, but The Sports Nut Blogs is like a childhood home to me. Whenever there is a topic or a piece that I want to discuss and there isn't a person around that cares to hear, this is where I come. Yes. It's like my own Field Of Dreams. I built it, and I will come here to explore and play the game. I've said it time and time again that I don't do this for the exposure or for the recognition, but if anyone cares to read it I won't mind. I've wrestled the idea in my head a bunch of times that I was going to monetize the blog and go into overdrive and write about everyday events like I originally planned to, but the idea never came to fruition. Why? Because this isn't the purpose. This is my child. I'm not going to sell the child for a couple of cows and a donkey. I'm going to take care of it and nurture it and hope that I can afford to send it to college (that is, if the Internet and world exist in the next twelve years, but whatever).

You get the point though.

If you've been around for a week, a year, five years, or the whole flipping time, thank you. I'm glad you've visited.

Here's to another year of a girl talking sports and impressing the snot out of you. ...Peasant.


-- Stephanie

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Designated Arguments - Sweet and Sour

What does a normal person do in the middle of a blizzard? They write. Duh.

With about a month to go before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in Florida or Arizona, the talk of baseball is getting bigger and bigger, despite the fact that the Super Bowl hasn't even happened yet. Talks of rookies and veterans are taking shape around the bars and taverns, and the futures of team signings hang in the balance.

Most of these conversations are fun to chime in on. However, there is one argument that I (personally) hate to chime in on, and it's this:

The Designated Hitter Rule.

Thanks for the fitting picture, Edvard Munch.

I alluded to this topic in a post about interleague play nearly six years ago, long before the Astros jumped ship to the American League and began the trend of having at least one interleague series going on in the Majors at any point during the regular season; in fact, this piece was one of the first fifteen posts of this blog. After I made a quick trip to the bathroom to throw up upon reading this older piece, I came back to my chair, knowing that I can provide a way better argument this time around, and I can actually avenge my 19-year-old self from attempting to sound logical.
[Here--here's some digital ipecac syrup to get you going.]

I never wanted to touch the topic, to be quite honest, and that was because I knew it would be a total mess from the start. There are a lot of good reasons to adopt it league-wide, and there are not so good reasons to adopt it. Both sides have good points to the point that they practically cancel each other out. Seriously, it's like asking the question of whether you like Coke or Pepsi, or Playstation or XBox, or Democrats or Republicans. You can understand both sides of the story, but if you really had to choose, what would you choose?

This is the reason why I have never talked about this until now. It is that difficult for me to decide.

So this is why I'm going to pull you by the hair and you're going to experience it with me.
We're going to do something here called "Sweet and Sour," instead of plainly calling it "pros and cons." Why? Each argument for and against aren't all exactly bad nor good--they're mostly personal preferences. On that note, let's explore!

Point #1: Uniform rules across both leagues.

Sweet: What you see will be what you get. If you're a total outsider to the sport and watch three games featuring six different teams in a given time period, there's a chance that you're going to experience the designated hitter rule at least once. It won't completely throw you for a loop as to why one game will have the rule and the other won't. When a National League team plays against an American League team, the DH rule will only go into effect if both teams are playing at the ballpark of the American League team. So if the New York Mets played the New York Yankess at Citi Field, there would be no DH rule since the Mets are in the National League; but if they played at Yankee Stadium, the DH rule go into effect.

See, this would be confusing if you didn't know what team was in which league.

Sour: The best gimmick of the Big Four sports in the United States is this particular rule. It's as if there are two different sport countries with two different sports jurisdictions. Having the DH rule remain in the American League keeps a different dimension in the sport as a whole, so when full interleague play had rolled around (especially before the 2013 season--thanks, Houston), you had teams walk in having to adjust and show how well they can maneuver the transition. Of course, not all pitchers are happy with this idea, but that'll be explained in this next point.

Point #2: Pitchers [only] gonna pitch.

Sweet: Sure, pitchers have to have some pretty swift arms to craft a nasty pitch, but just because they have swift arms doesn't mean those same arms are crafty enough to swing at one of those pitches. Not only that, it makes the pitcher more susceptible to being a "victim" at the plate, so to speak, as they have the worry of getting hit by a pitch or getting injured while making a run to a base. When pitchers are as important of a commodity as they are today, you don't want to lose them to freak accidents.

Sour: Sports are all about how versatile you are. Most times, if you're a one-trick pony, you're gonna get figured out fast. In the NFL, linemen have to be able to shift in case of an injury, and rushers have to know the routes in a receiving play. In MLS, plays will make midfielders shift to defensive lines in case if there's an offensive threat. In an extra inning game in the National League and you're low on players, there's a chance you'll have to use your pitchers as hitters. It isn't as common to see a position player as a pitcher in the American League, but it has happened before, and you're putting those guys in danger of injury as well. So why not have the pitchers show more gusto? Plus, not all pitchers hate the idea of having to bat.

Point #3: Extended careers.

Sweet: Frank Thomas. Albert Pujols. David Ortiz. While one of these three mentioned are retired, the other two are in the late thirties into early forties with gas still left in the tank. The retired name mentioned (Thomas) played into his forties. This usually isn't heard of very often, considering that most older names make way for younger guys coming through the system, and that older players are more likely to suffer injury while on the field. However, they get a new lease on life in not having nearly as much high-impact since they are either platooned or given the designated hitter spot. Playing 162 games is usually unheard of, and for a good reason (unless you were Cal Ripken, Jr.). Once age settles in, long seasons tend to take a toll. It preserves the player and keeps him playing to his strengths.

Sour: There are younger guys simply itching to make it to the Majors and step out of the farm system. With a heavy dosage of high-impact play occurring in baseball, and the measures to condition the body for long-term play, it's slowly becoming a quick case of "out with the old, in with the new." Bigger contracts are keeping the older guns in there, but for what? To have promising young players sit in AAA for goodness knows how long? Sure, it's extending careers, but it's keeping younger guys in the minors for so long, only to have them brought up much later to have shorter Major League careers. It's backwards.

Point #4: The sport needs more of an offensive burst.

Sweet: Within the past ten years, we have seen more no-hitters and perfect games thrown than ever before. Is it because of the almost-free out provided by the pitcher in the batting order and the cut of the flow in the offensive lineup? It's possible. With an added utility bat, we could see a lot more strategy and keep games at an even keel and pace.

Sour: No. No it doesn't. The sport is just fine. The score is not supposed to resemble an NFL score, and pitchers also aren't supposed to look like wimps. The game would definitely be unbalanced if it was an all-offensive showdown. Sometimes, the best games are the pitcher's duels, and as I had mentioned in a previous post, the game of baseball is, statistically, a game of failure. There are going to be times when the balance gets thrown one way during a game. It can't be so one-sided all the time.

Point #5: Less lineup drainage.

Sweet: Ah, the infamous double-switch. Once the pitcher comes out, the pinch hitter who swung for him goes on the field and replaces another position player. When that's done, you take out a player who can still hold his own and deliver in the clutch, especially if the game goes much longer than expected. You practically eliminate that with the designated hitter. If there's a position player that needs to be benched in favor of another bat (usually if there's a pitcher that one has seen enough), you can take that chance without worrying that your pitcher needs to be replaced later on in the batting lineup due to pitch count.

Sour: Adding the DH takes away a great amount of the strategy that is needed to be a Major League manager. Sports are much like a game of chess, where you have to predict the other player's moves, all while crafting your own to adjust to possible situations in the future. If you put that giant fence of a DH rule in there, you don't really have much to do strategy for in a game unless if it's between a specific hitter and a pitcher.

__________

Okay, now that this is all out of the way, you're probably wondering what my stance is. With the arguments presented, my stance appears to be about as mysterious as Stephen Hawking's brain.

You see, growing up, I respected the pitchers that had batted, because it gave them a reason to help themselves in case if they gave up a lousy run or two. However, I also saw how the American League pitchers reacted to having to bat during interleague (especially guys like Tim Wakefield) and later watch how awkward they looked at the plate. Since then, I really haven't changed my stance. Having a one-rule difference in each league is what makes the game so unique. You see different forms of strategy in each league, and watching each league come together to do battle separates the men from the boys in the realm of management.

If that type of strategy gets taken away, you take away a specific dimension of the game. Then again, when just about anything changes in a sport, people will be apprehensive until you get immersed into it and finally accept it. That applies to when the DH rule was first implemented in 1973, or when the Wild Card came to be after 1994, or when the Wild Card was expanded to two teams in 2012, or when Instant Replay started its use in the tail-end of 2009. If they spread the DH rule to the National League, I would probably feel uncomfortable with it, because I didn't grow up and watch the Phillies in that format. But, of course, that doesn't mean that I wouldn't accept it after a while.

I would probably just be that one person in my old age going: "When I was your age, the pitcher actually batted!"

If the rule would be put into effect by Rob Manfred, which is looking more likely according to reports, it would definitely get backlash from old-school fans, but more accepting from new-age baseball enthusiasts.
(Proof of reports are here and here.)

As for now, we wait to see how this upcoming season progresses. Who knows? We could be seeing the last of awkward pitchers swinging and missing, and possibly missing Bartolo Colon and Madison Bumgarner swinging for the fences and actually getting it there.

-- Stephanie

(Some of the outline of this was based off of FOX Sports' article: "7 reasons why the NL finally should embrace the DH." Article Referenced is found by clicking here.)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Beyond The Vault: Growing Soccer Trees? Don't Choke The Seeds

Due to the demise of the website The Soccer Desk, I managed to scoop up all but one of the articles I published there. Since one of the three salvaged isn't a 2014 World Cup Preview, I want to place it here for good. For having been written two years ago, this held up pretty well. Good work, Me.

Note: This is one of the longer articles I have ever written (it's over 2,000 words)! I've learned to condense and shrink since then. Enjoy.

Me circa 1998.
I moved a girl off the ball and into lawn chairs placed near the sidelines that night. I was a "straight-up killa' G" back in those days. (Her momentum took her that way. I wasn't that cold.)

(Originally written on January 10, 2014)

In order to get a specific feel for the kind of piece I’m writing, I need you to partake in a little mental scenario with me. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to be Daniel Day-Lewis here. Just take a deep breath and roll with me.

You’re a parent. You have a young child that you practically raised on Cheerios, apple juice, and soccer on Saturday mornings. When he/she reaches a certain age, you decide that it is best that they try the sport that they was immersed in and fell in love with. You sign your child up, and you start playing in the yard with them, preparing them for the exciting months ahead. When you get there, however, you see parents with children coming out of vans and preparing, and it resembles sending your child away to boot camp while the parents are completely oblivious to the impending torture that their children will be subjected to.

This isn’t any old practice; this is a tryout, you think to yourself.

Your child is running in and out of cones, dribbling a ball, and passing it to other children. Balls are shot into a small net, and then other drills are done at stations. You notice that your child isn’t the fastest runner of the bunch; however, the child doesn’t seem to care. Plus, his/her foot isn’t as strong as the others, either. You become worried. What if he/she doesn’t make the team? The heart is there, but is that enough for the coach? A few days pass, and you get a phone call. “Hello n, this is the head coach from the neighborhood soccer team. I regret to inform you that your child has not been chosen to play on the squad this year. We, however, encourage you and your child to support our teams in the games we play in the fall.” You’re heartbroken. What on earth are you going to tell your child? They’re going to ask if they’ll ever be going back to practice soon enough. This is something that makes them happy. You don’t want them to think that they aren’t good enough for a team–he/she is only a child, for goodness’ sake! What do you do?



This, my friends, is the culture that is slowly creeping into American society. We’re experiencing a “survival of the fittest” culture, and to the children who love a sport but may not be as gifted as the next child, they’re getting the short end of the stick. While not every hobby is for everybody, it is always a nice bit of therapy to unwind and do something you love, regardless of how good you are at it compared to others.

In the case of American soccer, the ante has been upped over the past 15 years. In the wake of the successes of the US Women’s National Squad, and the growing popularity of Major League Soccer and US Men’s National Team, there is a drive to get the children started earlier and get them to the top of the game faster than ever before. Compared to the programs held overseas in nations like Spain and Italy, we haven’t held any kind of candle to that in a very long time. While soccer programs in many Universities around the country are keeping the faith, there is a need for more. This is the United States of America, for Pete’s sake. We need to be the best…right?

Many of us in our youth have taken part in recreational sports, whether it was for a neighborhood club or for school. In other regions, you’ll notice that some sports programs are a little rougher around the edges, and they like to “separate the men from the boys,” so to speak. Talent is measured more than drive, and if you can’t ride with ‘em, you might as well ride on home. Where I was born and raised, that wasn’t the case until around the time I was on my way out of high school. Things were pretty smooth until the standards of the recreational leagues were pushed to the limits. Age groups as low as 7-8 were holding tryouts. To me, as a 17-year-old who went through ten years of not experiencing that treatment, it was enough to baffle the most intelligent person. I had played with many people who knew they weren’t the best, but they played because they loved the sport. I’ll even admit that I slowly fell into that category toward the end because I wasn’t the fastest runner—heck, running is my least favorite thing in the whole world. If we had tryouts, what would have become of us? Even though we had loved soccer, would the newfound experience have deterred us from the sport completely?

Sure, we’re human, we’re supposed to experience failure, but when it comes to psychological reinforcing and the idea of “punishment,” where if you can’t do something right, the privilege is taken away completely, what does that do to the child’s mind? It won’t give them much drive to do anything.

You see the best of the best, and you see the ones who love but aren’t the most gifted of the bunch. Could there be a middle ground to this conundrum? We’re the land of opportunity, aren’t we? We need to act like one now. This is where a modest proposal comes into play. If we’re going to instill more love into a sport like soccer, it’s time to spread the wealth around a little more and build a revolution from the ground-up.

It’s time to expand on the sport in the most efficient of ways. Not enough youth may play the sport because of instances such as it being too much money, the necessity of “camps” for whoever wants to be on an elite squad, and the already-filled plates of families in today’s society. If there is a way to get a group of people to unwind for a few nights a week, an organized league could really work out. Bars and taverns do it with softball, and there are groups of guys that have organized basketball leagues—what makes this any different? The personal enrichment is there, and as always, it is a good way to keep sharp on a sport and meet people with your general interests. Let’s admit another point here, too: It’s better than drowning in your sorrows in a bar and finding people that way. Good brain, good liver, good health. I digress. In the case of children, soccer (indoors, at that) could be implemented in after-school programming. Not only would children have a chance to do other activities such as reading and painting and doing homework, they could also find a subliminal way to beat out the daily stressors and build self-esteem. They’ll never know they like and appreciate something until they begin to try it out for themselves.

If the ball is there, they’re going to see what they can do with it, right? This isn’t rocket science; exposure can only lead to curiosity, and that curiosity could lead to hard work and determination, and later appreciation. Plus, even if the parents cannot afford a team or the child “doesn’t play up to expectations,” there is a way for them to express their love of the sport. I’d love to kick around a soccer ball on my break at work. Could you imagine how therapeutic that would be? Plus, it would keep me sharp on a sport I haven’t played with an organized group of people in over six years. Win win, ladies and gentlemen.

There is also the option of beginning a “B-League” for an age group, but not necessarily referring to it as one or as a “reserve team.” If you were politically correct, those references would suffice. It would be something along the lines of a Junior Varsity squad. This practice would still teach the athletes the values and mechanics that they might not be able to pick up on their own if they aren’t on a team or striving to be the best at something they enjoy. The kids will learn from each other and help each other grow and be at their best. No man is an island, and there was never an “I” in team, regardless of what your boneheaded superiors ever said to you. While there may be the athletes that are better at visual learning instead of being more hands-on, every experience is beneficial to keeping the love of the sport from within. We all start from different lands with a universal drive. Keeping that momentum brings out greater appreciation for teammates and other fans that come from all walks of life. Sports bring us closer together, right? Don’t take away that right and tell a child (or even an adult) that he/she isn’t good enough because they don’t do A, B, and C. Winning isn’t everything. That’s rule #1 in the world of sports…well, to me, at least.

Naysayers will throw the rebuttal of: “This whole proposal would lead to us ‘shielding’ our children. They need to ‘man-up’ and learn how to take disappointment because not everyone can do everything.”

First off, those people are the reason why we don’t offer chances to people because they can be cranky people that suck the fun out of something we all enjoy. Lighten up, cranks. Anyway, this wouldn’t be shielding the children at all from trying soccer. If anything, the only way you can “shield” a child is by not giving them the chance to try and play soccer for fear of them not being the absolute best or seeing them possibly get hurt. That, my friends, is what shielding is. You protect something, just like a soccer ball against a striker twice your size throwing their hip into you. The ball has to take a beating sooner or later. Yeah, relevance! Plus, when that shielding occurs, you’re placing a stigma on somebody, giving them the impression (especially at an adult age) that they wasted their time and they should never have bothered taking part in soccer in the first place.

“Why bother? I wasn’t good enough for this. This isn’t for me.” Don’t lie, we’ve all been in that place at some point in our lives, and it hurts like none other. When it comes from a love of sports, it’s the sourest feeling in the world. You can’t ruin the innocence of a child by doing this. They need to explore, regardless of how good they are at something. Take chances, make mistakes, and get a little messy, right?

Finally, on this note, whether one is a child or an adult, everyone deserves a chance to know what works for them or not—no outsider should ever have to make that final decision for them. Nobody likes to be cut off; one would rather go out on one’s own terms. The same philosophy could apply to any sports-related injury as well. If one likes soccer and wants to play, one should have every right to have the resources to hone that love and skill. Just because they “suck at it,” for the lack of a better term, don’t give them the right to not find that out for themselves. If anything, negative comments could either drive or deter a person. Constant negativity could deter that person (and their futures) from ever appreciating or experiencing the world of soccer. Again, we’re talking about a middle ground. Sandwiches are a nice alternative. People want to get better, not get turned away from something because someone says they can’t. Life lessons—we can’t forget them.

With all of this said, the more participation we get from all sides of the country, the wider fan base we get in the long run. The merrier, the more, as it were. When a child plays soccer, the family will often find an outlet to expand on that hobby, and will turn to games on television or YouTube videos to see who they can look up to and model themselves after. I did it, and you probably did it too. Once the fire is fed, there is no stopping the appreciation for soccer in the United States. It all starts with us. While the “elite camps” and higher-level clubs provide the talent, the “Junior Varsity” squads will deepen the fan-scape. It will also make us feel empowered, like we can do anything we put our minds to. That is how we build relationships. That is how we build a unit or fans and appreciation for a sport that is supported and praised all over the world.

Don’t deny our right to try the game; let us love it in our own way.


-- Stephanie

Monday, January 11, 2016

You Get Points For Trying, Don't You?

This whole concept (when it was first "mentioned" by the mass media in August 2015) went in one ear and out the other because I thought the whole story was absolutely foolish. But now that I think about it, this should really be given a bit more attention more than ever. It's gotten pretty nasty out there.


Oh no, I'm kicking this off with a video. (whine whine whine) But if you haven't seen this advertisement, watch it. It will set the tone for this whole thing.


We're definitely going this route. It's either going to make you pull out a lighter and sway it, or it's going to make you rage-quit this read before it even begins.

If you played a sport when you were younger than the age of ten, there was a chance that you would get recognition at the end of the year for being a team player and participating to the best of your ability. That recognition would come in the form of either a medal or a tiny plastic trophy. If you worked really hard and played like a monster, then you were as happy as a clam when you were given your little plastic weapon of pride. (Sidenote: Don't lie--you probably used the thing as a sword at one point or another.)

In August of 2015, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison took his viewpoints on this practice to social media, for his two sons earned awards for participation in the sports they were playing. Some of the things he had mentioned alluded to effort, and that your best isn't always enough. He had wanted the awards to be taken back, as his sons didn't respectfully earn them, and he wants his boys to become men by learning what it truly takes to achieve something like a trophy or a medal.
You can read what he had written in this article here.

At first read, Harrison's words can come off as sounding rather harsh, considering that you never wanna hurt a child's pride for supposedly earning something. On the other hand, reality can be pretty harsh as well. Sometimes you will have a day where, no matter how hard you try to get something done or to accomplish whatever you need to, it isn't enough, or someone just magically happens to outdo you. It sucks, but it happens, and don't deny that something like that has never happened to you. The world isn't out to screw you up, but to be the best at something, it takes more than just blood, sweat, and tears. Heck, it might even take an arm and a leg.

I digress.

These kinds of "awards" are usually pretty appropriate for those who love to play a sport, but aren't simply quite getting it, or they're slower learners and show the great amount of effort each time they play or practice. I can't begin to tell you how many people I had played with in the very beginning who had made this ridiculous improvement as time progressed and became really good to the point where they were making varsity teams in high school. Like, the participation award is seen as recognition that you worked your butt off and you deserve praise for getting as far as you did. Then, that becomes your vehicle to keep moving forward and get even better.

But it isn't always like that...

Why?

The practice of participation awards may be solid and unfortunate proof in regard to the age of entitlement. While one person excels, one who may not perform as well is getting something that wasn't exactly earned. It's like you could slink right through and mess around as much as you want and still "earn" a trophy for being on the team. In society today, it isn't as if most children are doing the bare minimum just to get by--in fact, a lot of them are getting swamped by an errant education system and unnecessary stress--they don't have the quality of "effort earns rewards" instilled in them soon enough. They don't know that hard work gives the greatest rewards (or awards in this case). In fact, it's like a "I know I'm gonna get it anyway, so why bother trying anymore" attitude, and they'll simply plateau without making any sort of push or effort toward getting to where they need to be.

I get it. I seriously do.

If this life were easy, we'd all be millionaires at our physical apex and go through life without a care. I'd have gotten an Oscar by now for every single script I've written in the past four years. And trust me, some of them are baaaaaad. But honestly, we all have to earn what we want, and even though we might be absolutely awful at things we enjoy or have a passion for at first, that's the reason for why we train or practice or place more focus on that particular point. If it brings you happiness, there's no time limit and no limit to our will. Why get an award for wasting time on something you don't care for or won't put energy into? Plus, sports aren't exactly something you can jump right into. They will often take a lot of preparation, knowledge of the rules (don't touch the soccer ball with your hands unless you're the goalkeeper, duh), and some sort of physical conditioning, a.k.a. "knowing your limits."

While there are times and places for casual sports, like a quick game of basketball with your buddies, the mentality from that doesn't always translate well onto a more competitive playing field. Sure, sports are meant to be fun, but training a ton and then displaying your greatness on a professional level is fun as well. Those two examples exemplify two completely different definitions of "fun," but not all fun constitutes the need for you to win an award for just showing up each time. If anything, the award you earn for showing up is that you simply showed up. People who suffer from anxiety or low self-esteem may not even show up at all. That aside, there's more to the game. The rewards and awards from sports aren't always materialistic in nature. They're usually mental, emotional, and physical in the sense of being in better shape and condition.

Showing growth may not be represented by a trophy or a medal, and it might be high-time for kids to see that instead of materialistic entitlement. Actually, adults (most notably the parents) might need that realization too.

Oh, just so you know, these last two sentences above hurt to type out. Why? Because it shows how immature the fields of youth and teenage athletics have become. It's despicably cutthroat in every sense of the term, and the entitlement syndrome hits all age groups addressed like a wrecking ball.

When you "win," you don't always win. You win when you grow or when you accomplish a goal. Too bad everyone wants a big giant cookie for that so the whole world can see it.


-- Stephanie