Saturday, October 31, 2015

October: Such A Great Sports Month in North America, It's Scary


Aside from the fact that the greatest person alive was born in this month (I was going to say it was me, but for the sake of sports, let's say it's Mike Ditka or something), the month of October is the most insane month ever. You've got candy, horror movies, pumpkin-spiced everything, cooler weather (in most regions), foliage, and the fear of impending Christmas commercials. But not only do you have all of that stuff, you just happen to have all of the Big Four (and the stepchild MLS) playing at the same time. While two of the five sports are ending, another two are beginning, and the fifth is nearing the midway point. If you're a sports fan, you have no excuse to not be watching sports in some way.

(I actually took this picture!)
The sports you see throughout the month have their own representation, and you may have been familiar with these sightings already.

Shall we take a look at what we've got?

The Baby in the Cute Halloween Costume: NCAA Football Season
Ah, this is the time of year when you have a ton of college students dedicating their weekends to look absolutely goofy and have a reason to party. This is also the time of year when there are alumni of 25 years pulling their college gear out of mothballs to cheer on their alma mater. Due to the fast pace of the game, and the young men fighting for possible draft spots for the NFL, you can never go wrong with heartbreaks and excitement. Plus, it's one of the few things that commercialism hasn't destroyed...yet.

The Kid with the Eccentric, Hand-made Costume from Something that People Don't Get the Reference from: MLS
If there is a game (or the ending of a game) that will show you how ridiculously exciting the tail-end of the MLS season is, this is it from Thursday night. While there has been a bigger following of soccer in the United States, it will often be overshadowed by the ones above it. Regardless, this is a playoff series that you don't want to miss. I wrote about MLS' struggles for attention before. You can read it here.

The REALLY Loud Infant, or, the One Kid at Lunch that Throws Out Their Trash Yelling, "KOBE!": NBA
Although preseason exists for this sport as well as another, fists (or elbows, for that matter) don't really start flying until the last week of the month. Closet basketball fans come out wearing their worn-out Jordans and shootin' hoops while saying they can nail threes better than Stephen Curry. Not to mention that the debate of who is better between LeBron and Jordan starts firing up again as if it didn't skip a single beat. Despite possible overshadowing by their college counterparts in the month of March, the stage is theirs for several months to come, so October is a rather cool coming out party for the men on the hardwood.

The College Kid Worried About Academic Probation, or, The One ALWAYS Wearing the Scarf and Matching Furry Boots: NHL
Unlike the sport above, the NHL comes crashing into main play in the beginning of October. While there is a preseason that lasts about two weeks or so, it doesn't really matter (especially if you're ESPN). However, once it starts, it certainly starts. With the new and improved Overtime rules (3v3...that's right), the game really makes you want your heart to jump out. Oh, and because of the ice and cooler conditions, that's a perfect excuse for boots and scarf weather. See? I brought it back around.

The Disgruntled Barfly Who Just Raked His Entire Lawn This Morning, or, the Kid Running to the TV with a Bowl of Cereal to Watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Saturday Morning: NFL
We've been around for a little while, and though we may be tired and weary from the week's duties, we always have that one day to hang back in our fatigue or just get "totally hype" to sit in front of the television set for a couple of hours [for example, I was "totally hype" watching the The Joy of Painting marathon on Twitch for the past few days]. Since most Divisional matchups are gone for a little while, we've gotten the tougher pieces out of the way, but October is but a reminder that it's not how you start, it's really how you finish. Start gathering your strength again.

That One Person at a Party that Gets Their Second Wind and JUST WON'T QUIT, or, the Sophisticated Person at Your Job that Started Annoying You Three Weeks Ago: MLB
Ah, October baseball. If you didn't watch any of the 3,000 or so games that have been broadcast since April, then I guess now's the best time to do that. Sure, it seems like it goes on forever, and there may be some [batflip] fireworks in the process, but don't worry, it'll pass, and you'll start to miss the memories soon enough. On second thought, Joe Buck still carries over. So there's that second one.


Imagine having the choice of watching either sport at your disposal. This is the October of a sports fan in North America.

While we're going into the unpredictable November, we always have this month to eternally worship if pumpkins aren't quite for you. Sure, I get birthday cake too, so it's another reason for me to love it, but there are times to be proud to be a fan. We've enjoyed the memories, and we've enjoyed the numerous choices that have been had.

Now, go watch your episodes of The Walking Dead or something. I'm gonna continue watching sports.

-- Stephanie

(Oh, and Happy Halloween to you sillies.)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

NFL: Not Feeling Logic, A Divine Comedy (Sort Of)

It isn't very often that sports make me want to put my head through a wall. However, the world of mass media makes me want to do that every time I look at it or hear it. It's a cruel world that I live in. Go ahead, take the red pill and read.

Warning: There are probably going to be times where you shouldn't take me seriously. I'm going to throw a lot of unnecessary jokes in here, but it's being done to drive at my point. Warning over.


My main forte is acting and writing. By default, I study and critique a lot of different approaches and styles that are presented in a character and the environment. A lot of my training comes from--you guessed it--watching sports. Selling a product takes a lot a bit of acting sometimes, especially if you're trying to sell your cause. However, the product I am about to mention here has become this ugly-looking Brundlefly that got seemingly worse. Maybe some people other than myself just like to watch the world burn...?

The effects of sports-related products and their shenanigans have been a slow burn. In fact, I remember writing a piece about how ESPN was truly becoming a juggernaut in college sports and were becoming an influence in alignment, among other decisions. You can read this gem from four years ago here (and realize that I've become a better writer...somehow).

Since then, I've become older and a heck of a lot wiser about brands and products. The deeper you go into believing in a brand, the less likely you will see how ridiculous and silly it can be. When you're knee deep, it doesn't seem so staged. Admittedly, for a while, I had stopped watching sports shows. Even more, I've stopped watching the news altogether. The more and more I see it, it's almost like getting sucked into another matrix. As the great Kenny Rogers once sang: "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run." Go ahead, you can keep on singing as I explain. After a while, you just have to say, "no mas," and run the heck away from all of this. Why? There is only so much in life that you can afford to take seriously.

Sports have their own media outlet of sorts, as the general public needs to know what is going on with their favorite teams and players around the league. However, certain body parts in this creature like to get pimples and ingrown hairs more often than not.

And this is the part where I mention the NFL.

Already known as the "No Fun League" by jocks and nerds around the world, thinking that they're funny and all, the NFL has slowly but surely become yet another interactive game of Chess for Dummies. I only say the "for Dummies" part because not everybody knows how to play chess. Anyway, as the NFL season unfolds, the drama and the staging keeps unfolding more and more like a spoiled onion, and it has become, fun to watch.

In general, the NFL has become a conglomerate all its own. You're either in or you're out. In the church of sports, American football takes up about five or six whole rows, while the other sports take up a couple of seats apiece. It also sits with its legs spread wide open while scratching the belly with one hand and stuffing the other hand in its pants much like Al Bundy before it.

Roughness and similes/metaphors aside, the magic of the NFL doesn't seem real at all now. It doesn't seem like the times of old where dudes are walking around with missing teeth and playing in sub-zero temperatures constantly. It looks more like a Hollywood film with each time you turn on a game. It has become a farce in of itself. The more you become a part of the drama and discussion, the further down the rabbit hole you fall.

Below are five main points on why I don't bother taking the NFL seriously anymore.

1) The commentary teams will always bring nonsensical business up.

Joe Buck aside (because America seems to love him so), you will constantly have to hear about lingering issues among players on and off the field. Some of them may have even happened five or six years ago, but we still have to hear about it. It's like they find it to be reverse psychology, or that everybody watching the sport at the time and is unfamiliar with the team has to be reminded of moot points that have nothing to do with what's happening down on the field. That, or these things are so incredibly important and crucial for the survival of the human race. Here are some brief examples:

Example 1: "[Insert team name here] has a vicious secondary, and the Giants' #1 receiver Victor Cruz may be a target due to a tender knee stemming from a season-ending injury from last year."
My response: That was last year. Plus, if his knee wasn't up to form, he wouldn't be playing.

Example 2: "Kirk Cousins, starting for the injured RG3..."
My response: As far as America is concerned, this is RG3 now. Anyway, this response always applies for someone replacing someone else. We could easily use this argument for Brandon Weeden replacing Tony Romo.

Example 3: "The rookie Jameis Winston [or Marcus Mariota]..."
My response: He's new and fresh, okay. But if he's playing like a seasoned veteran, there is no need. This also applies when a "mistake" is made. Even Jason Pierre-Paul makes mistakes, and he's a five-year vet with two Super Bowl rings. (For the record, I honestly wasn't referring to his fireworks accident.)

Example 4: "Sam Bradford has sustained two torn ACLs in consecutive seasons..."
My response: How long ago did these injuries occur? Is he walking? Excuse me while I groan.

Example 5: Obvious observation is obvious.
My response: Is your name Cris Collinsworth? But really--when an outsider sees an obvious catch or a clear holding call and can comprehend what happened, there is no need to explain it unless the player were catching a hot dog in mid-air or holding an adorable puppy that appeared out of thin air.

As you can tell, commentary can be rather irritating. In fact, not all games are meant to be filled with constant commentary. If you listen to radio broadcasts, you'll hear the crowd filling in the dead air. Why not on TV, too?

2) The ongoing wars (and meltdowns) between FanDuel and Draft Kings.

For those who don't follow sports at all--well, wait, why are you reading this then?--FanDuel and Draft Kings are a super-duper Readers' Digest version of fantasy leagues that most will join for an entire season. Instead of sticking by for an entire season, you pay a subscription, and at whatever point in a season, you can take part in a one-day draft, and you will earn money based on your successes. Of course, in the world of business, while you always need a competitor, the fantasy town isn't big enough for the two of them.

But the kicker is this: employees of either fantasy sports company have been creating accounts on their competitors' sites and have been using the information gathered from their own home base to win the cash and prizes. This, my friends, is a classic example of "the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer." It's like a bunch of kindergarten kids fighting over the scented Crayola crayons while you're in your own corner watching them as you color with your piece-of-crap RoseArt crayons. While the idea of the one-day drafts was fresh in the beginning, it's starting to take the shape of the "get rich quick" schemes, and the ones in charge of it are breaking it. Plus, it's getting rather annoying to know that they have enough money to run a 30-second spot at least three times during each commercial break.

[Note: They don't just cover football. They cover every sport as far as I know.]

3) ESPN and FOX Sports Network

I really don't need to say much more about this. To give you a decent visual of what ESPN and FSN does to NFL-related stories throughout the day, here is a really old YouTube video of a guy making Chinese noodles. I understand that people don't exactly watch the networks for 24 hours straight, but when it's the NFL, games are weekly, and things can often be repeated. It's a ton of ad nauseam and there isn't enough syrup of ipecac in the world to calm it down.

[And at last check, they still don't care much about hockey. Maybe that'll be another post someday.]

4) Obvious characterization of sports analysts.

Speaking of the sports networks above, we've got this to add onto the torture rack. Of course, sports networks are often seen as the male or sports-loving female's version of The View or The Wendy Williams Show, and I totally get that. However, some of the gushing love and bias that some analysts may have for specific players/teams can get rather nauseating. I'm looking at you, Skip Bayless. Oftentimes, these acts blur the lines between "fair and balanced" ethics and being totally hokey, and this leads to the offender to be just enough of an imp to aggravate the opposition to the point where they will turn full-blown hater all over social media. I've seen it before, and truthfully... It's a practice that is always in place for people to agree/disagree and have an opinion upon, but it's borderline fake and comical nowadays. Do we need more reasons to love Tom Brady and the heart of Tony Romo? Not really.

[Although, in reality, if you ignore them, they'll go away. But who listens to the rational one over here?]

5) Troubles with disciplinary measures and passive aggression.

You bet I'm going here. During the facepalm festival known as "Deflate-Gate," suspensions and fines were thrown on Tom Brady and other staff members of the New England Patriots, and the opinions of football fans and non-fans alike split the nation faster than the Coke/Pepsi wars. Numerous appeals and court cases later, Brady's four-game suspension was lifted, and he was able to start Week 1 against the Steelers. Usually, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, aka "The Most Powerful Man in Sports," attends the larger games of the season, including the kickoff to the regular season. However, he was nowhere to be found at Gillette Stadium, resulting in "Where is Roger" chants coming from the faithful around the stadium. Was he running scared? That is uncertain. However, a lot of people believed that he shied away from attempting to keep the suspension in place.

Plus, there are a lot of critics who find that more needs to be done in regard to players who have had run-ins with the law, especially when involved in domestic abuse charges. While this stuff isn't foreign to other sports, it's higher in nutritional value in the mass media's eyes, and a lot of these transgressions fall on Goodell in the end. The constant controversies that surround the NFL with fair playing practices and criminal charges have been frequent over the past five seasons or so, and it's almost become a soap opera that refuses to be canceled because Goodell won't make it so. Don't get me wrong, he's put on the man-pants before, but reactions of those around him as well as the fans have almost made him appear gun-shy.


Call me crazy, but after writing this piece (and reading it for errors), I feel like my life as a sports fan is a lie because it's slowly become a stage of corporate entertainment. Could you imagine if this existed in the days of Ancient Rome? [It sorta did, as far as blood money, but I digress.] Just think--there'd be some one-day draft for the rich people, and after a couple of giant scrolls displayed at ground level advertising some sort of male-enhancement herb provided by the Roman god Eros, the gladiators would try to kill each other, all while the Emperor sits above and checks the status of suspended gladiators that were supposed to be eaten by lions that week because they cheated somehow or got out and attacked women and children in the process. Like, things were still a show back then, but there wasn't an overdose of consumerism and the need to feed drama going on. Not even the Ancient Greeks had all of that business going on in their plays; they just acted because it was the thing to do.

It seems like it isn't so much about the game anymore, but the presentation of it and the constant need to keep people on the edge of their seats of anticipation.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

-- Stephanie

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The MLB Postseason Slant for 2015 - Playoff Droughts are for Wusses

That awkward moment when the last post I published on here was the write-up for the midpoint of the MLB season. Uhhhhhhhhh I've been busy with other writing ventures. That's all I can say here. But that doesn't matter anymore. I AM HERE TO WRITE ABOUT OCTOBER BASEBALL, BLAST IT ALL!!

And it is finally the greatest time of year again.

Over the course of the week, we have seen playoff races go absolutely berserk, managers get fired, guys getting choked out, and champagne being shot everywhere. Who knows what the next three weeks will be chock-full of?

2015 MLB Postseason

Just like last year, the previous year's World Series champs are nowhere to be seen. While the San Francisco Giants made a good run, they were stopped dead by another team vying for revenge. One thing you're going to notice is that most of these teams really made the most out of the trade deadlines and nailed some great deals. Because of that, we're seeing giants of another form rise all throughout the league. It's gonna be a hot October for sure. Shall we begin?

National League Contenders

New York Mets (90-72) - This team has a lot of younger talent, and they're driven for power and success. Guys like Wright and mid-season gem pickup Cespedes have been here before and can easily balance out both nerves and uncertainly. At face value, their starting rotation is going to be a tough one to beat, and they're going to use every trick possible to keep the party going. Considering where they were in July, and how they were dueling with Washington, we're seeing a team getting hot, and you know what that means...
(Last time they were in the Postseason? 2006, and I still think Carlos Beltran is standing where the plate was at Shea Stadium waiting for a good one to swing at... Nevermind--you'll see why.)

St. Louis Cardinals (100-62) - Every time I do this, I truly ask if there's ever any doubt that I won't be writing about the Cardinals here. Well, as it seems, that's never going to happen. This team as a whole is like a ninja. They pelt you with either really hard shots or a bunch of Chinese stars (aka "small ball"), and then their bullpen is just like "NOPE." As usual, these guys are going to be rough to get past. Luckily for them, their future opponent will be extremely familiar...
(Last time they were in the Postseason? lol I'm not even going to bother here.)

Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70) - As expected, these guys get on base and they threaten by ways of speed and smarts, unlike most car chases you'll see in LA. In any case, these guys have been groomed for the stage, but it's a matter of whether the pitching is actually going to show up this time around. Heck, it's a running gag at this point for Clayton Kershaw. Maybe the others will pick up the slack? We'll have to wait and see.
(Last time they were in the Postseason? Last year, but their middle infielders were involved in their beatings in back-to-back NLCS appearances in 2008 and 2009. Take good care of Rollins and Utley, guys. I'm still crying on the inside over it.)

[Wild Card] Pittsburgh Pirates (98-64) - What you see right now is what you're going to get. That isn't to say that the Bucs are a one-trick pony, but they've been following the same formula for quite some time, and they follow it to a T. If they want to advance, it's up to the pitching to stop oncomers in their tracks. Are we doing it for AJ this year? Sure. Why not?
(Last time they were in the Postseason? Last year, and that was a heartbreaker and a half.)
[Wild Card 2] Chicago Cubs (97-65) - I have to say this now--THE BACK TO THE FUTURE PROPHECY CONTINUES. *ahem* Anyway, this team is no joke. Remember the "sleeping giants" comment from last year? Look at this. Boom, awake. After many years of rebuilding and such, we've finally got a lineup that's ready to roll along with a fearsome rotation. Prepare for a slugfest on Wednesday. [Will we see a pitch get Schwarber'd?]
(Last time they were in the Postseason? 2008--But let's be honest, it always seems like ages with these guys.)

American League Contenders

Toronto Blue Jays (93-69) - If there was one team that totally hit it big during the trade window, it was these guys. They're totally not the same team from the first half, and they don't want you to remember that kind of stuff. They come through in the clutch with guys like Donaldson, Pillar, and good 'ole Joey Bats, they have enough power and speed to make the plays. Canada's got a chance to show that baseball still matters up there, eh?
(Last time they were in the Postseason? 1993, when Joe Carter destroyed a ball low and inside and they went back-to-back in titles.)

Kansas City Royals (95-67) - They obviously have unfinished business.The lineup looks even more consistent and synchronized, and even more so, they have the capability to totally pound you late in the game and not think twice. Guys like Hosmer, Cain, Morales, and Moose are in top form as they were before, but now, they have the swagger that'll give them that extra boost toward the World Series. Even the pitching looks more stellar after the acquisition of Johnny Cueto. Simply put, I feel sorry for a lot of other teams right now.
[And if I could see more Paul Rudd, I'd be cool with that.]
(Last time--Oh, nevermind... I still think about that ninth inning, by the way. I almost lost everything inside of me that night. For real.)

Texas Rangers (88-74) - Excuse me while I put my eyeballs back in their sockets. Here's another team that is a totally different one from the first half, and admittedly, they did not look the least bit stable or healthy at first, but once people came back and after minor league [blood] sacrifices were made, they truly showed that they had the tools to get where they needed to be. They were never a lousy team to begin with--they just had to wait a little while, is all. (Hey, Cole Hamels.)
(Last time they were in the Postseason? 2010, and most media outlets make it sound like they haven't been there since 1910. I wish I were joking.)

[Wild Card] New York Yankees (87-75) - Yeah, dude. They're back. They tripped and fell a little bit on the way, but they kept their composure the entire time. This team had a bit of "rebuilding" of their own, so it isn't entirely right to say that A-Rod was the sole reason the Yankees are playing well enough. Of course, we've got an "older-looking" team here yet again, but age almost always means wisdom.
(Last time they were in the Postseason? 2012--Yes, it's ACTUALLY BEEN that long. Oh...HI, CARLOS BELTRAN!)
[Wild Card 2] Houston Astros (86-76) - If you can still believe it, I'm still screaming like Schwartz' mother over here. This almost didn't happen, but this is a big sign that this team is willing to fight and capitalize on mistakes. Youth and inexperience may be a bit of a factor here, but many of these guys have to remember how they got there and why. Small ball might not be their main go-to, but if they don't want to face disappointment, they might have to channel that to move forward.
(Last time they were in the Postseason? 2005, when Craig Biggio and Roy Oswalt ruled the field, and Jeff Bagwell was on his way out.)



NL MVP - Bryce Harper (Washington Nationals) - This was a bit of a no-brainer, considering that he was a huge driving force on the team for the entire season. At the ripe young age of 23 and putting up the best numbers of his career thus far, he's a definite shoo-in for the award.
Next Best Choice: Joey Votto (Cincinnati Reds)

NL Cy Young - Zack Greinke (Los Angeles Dodgers) - Now, hear me out on this one, okay? Record and ERA may be a big factor in determining the winner of this prestigious pitching award, but one thing that needs to be taken into account as well is consistency. Greinke has brought that the entire year and hasn't screwed up very much at all. How many consecutive scoreless innings did he have? Exactly.
Next Best Choice: Jake Arrieta (Chicago Cubs)

NL Rookie of the Year - Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs) - If you don't think he's deserving, you're a silly, silly person. He's shown consistency the entire year, and while he didn't burst out of the starting gate like most rookies did this year, he's been the iron man of fielding and hitting. That's good enough for me.
Next Best Choice: Matt Duffy (San Francisco Giants)

AL MVP - Josh Donaldson (Toronto Blue Jays) - This is definitely the closest AL MVP race I've ever covered. Both choices here have stellar and clutch offenses with little to distinguish the two. However, what it might come down to is how they have helped in getting the team to the Postseason. I hate saying that, but that's usually the final nail in the coffin.
Next Best Choice: Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)

AL Cy Young - Dallas Keuchel (Houston Astros) - Stats-wise, he's got this in the bag. He's been tops almost the entire year, and he hasn't showed any signs of letting up.  I'd be more than surprised if this award doesn't have his name scribbled all over it by now.
Next Best Choice: David Price (Tampa Bay Rays)

AL Rookie of the Year - Francisco Lindor (Cleveland Indians) - If we're looking for the most solid, all-around performer, it's this guy. Not only can he master the small ball, he can flash the leather and get runs in. The lack of Postseason shouldn't really hurt his chances much at all.
Next Best Choice: Carlos Correa (Houston Astros)


Another season is done, and now I am forced to resort to playing MLB The Show on my PS3. Sure, I can watch other sports, but baseball is a special one for me, like it is with a lot of you who follow the sport. We'll all find a way to get by. Enjoy this October. After that, see y'all in February.

-- Stephanie