Deadspin, I hardly Knew Ye

It was about a month ago that I read on the pages of deadspin.com how corporate assholes had destroyed Sports Illustrated. There are no more journalists at that respected institution, and actually not even any more photographers. Three months ago Sports Illustrated broke a huge story about an athlete, rape, and intimidation. It was a careful, researched piece of journalism.

That will never happen again at SI. The new corporate masters want clickbait but no actual content. Many staffers — the ones involved with journalism or, ironically, illustrating sports — were let go.

One of the journalistic institutions that railed most loudly about the corporate machine silencing the voices of writers was Deadspin. They seriously do not pull their punches there. They will tell you exactly why your favorite team sucks (technically they are a sports outlet), but they will also tell you why mainstream journalists are so lost when covering a man-child president — looking for a plan when there is none, looking for a policy when the man in charge is incapable of formulating one.

But now Deadspin has fallen to the same corporate bullshit. Their media owners tried to impose a mandate that they only cover sports, and the social issues that were directly related, but to stay away from pop culture and politics in particular. The deputy editor said no, and was fired. Much of the staff quit in response.

This is not small.

Over at ESPN, there has been a slow, quiet purge of columnists who dare talk about race and gender inequality in the context of sports. Although management says they have “clarified” their rules about only talking about politics and race when it is directly germane to sports, it’s pretty much impossible to say that Jemele Hill crossed some invisible line. Her essays were always in the context of sport. But that wasn’t what the ESPN bosses really wanted, no matter what they said. The didn’t want anyone rocking the boat.

Deadspin, if you squint at the name just right, looks like it might have been born to mock ESPN. And up until this week, it was a fearless voice. Boat-rockers one and all. But in the last couple of days, in the wake of mass resignations, many recent “political” articles have been replaced by straight-up sports stories. Three years after Colin Kaepernick took a knee, even the “renegade” media outlets have been coerced to the idea that somehow that athlete’s protest was not related to sports — even if it was a protest about something that touched athletes and their communities directly.

To the writers who quit Deadspin, who have put their livelihoods at risk for a matter of principle: I have an underutilized little server in a bunker outside Las Vegas, Nevada. If you want to fire up Rebornspin, I’ll host you no charge.

2

A Few are Making a Stand

A few days ago I was reading an article by Bill Barnwell over at ESPN. Barnwell writes long, data-driven articles about sports (mostly football), and he has the ability to make what is often very dry subject material interesting. In this case, he caught my attention for something that wasn’t there.

This article was something like Blah Blah Blah NFL’s 10 Worst Teams. What he said about each team doesn’t matter for this episode; what matters is the list itself.

10. Denver Broncos
9. Detroit Lions
8. Buffalo Bills
7. Oakland Raiders
6. Washington
5. New York Giants
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. Cincinnati Bengals
2. Miami Dolphins
1. Arizona Cardinals

Don’t see it? Look at number 6 again.

When I noticed that, I dared hope for a moment that ESPN had decided as a powerful media company to simply not use an offensive racial slur on their site.

Nope. The r-word is still all over the place. But at least Bill Barnwell has made the choice to never utter it. If enough of his colleagues do as well, maybe something will change.

Baseball is Back, and maybe even the Padres

Spring is here, a new baseball season is starting, and I find myself oddly excited for this year. I really haven’t paid much attention to baseball the last few years. I’m not excited because of the teams nearby, but because of the perennially-awful San Diego Padres, who were once, long ago, my home team. It’s even possible they’ll be good this year.

Already they’ve won two in a row to start the year. You wouldn’t think much of that if you rooted for any other team, but the Padres haven’t managed that feat since 2011.

They also signed a big-name free agent, Manny Machado, who will be making gobs and gobs of money for the next ten years. This sort of move is not characteristic for them. But while there is plenty of conversation about Machado, it’s Fernando Tatís, who has now played in exactly two major league games, that is getting all the buzz.

Part of that buzz is because Padres management is managing his contract incorrectly. “Incorrect” in this case means not dicking over the player by keeping him in the minors an extra year, to squeeze an extra prime year out of his contract. Essentially The Padres are giving up a year of 27-year-old Tatís for a year of 22-year-old Tatís (numbers may not be exact, but the idea is there)*. Tatís will have another peak-years season to offer when he’s negotiating his next contract. The decision could cost the Padres tens of millions of dollars, and reap the player a similar amount, if he lives up to his potential.

From a bean-counting standpoint, the Padres are being dumb, and bean-counters run baseball. Yet the Padres, with some encouragement from veteran players like Machado, have decided to forego the contract shenanigans and start trying to be good NOW. As a side effect, the players sound pretty happy down there, as do the fans.

On a side note, with a potential lockout or player strike looming, this is a gesture by Padres management that other teams are probably not going to be happy about. But the Padres seem to be intent on making the pie bigger, rather than squabbling over who gets which slice. I have to say I like that.

One reason for the decision to bring up the rookies may be that the Padres are the only major-sport team still in San Diego. Now that there is no football team, the Padres may be making a play for the hearts and minds of sports fans looking for a new team to pull for. They may have a chance to make the pie quite a bit larger down there.

I say rookies, plural, because tonight another kid will make his major-league debut on the mound. If he looks sharp, my optimism will be compounded.

Anyway, I feel pretty good about this year. Right now they are playing the San Francisco Giants —a pretty bad team (they pinch-hit for a corner outfielder on opening day) — and it’s a long year, so the real test will come later. The Giants have an exciting prospect of their own, but it has been explained to the fans here that it would be crazy to bring him up now, and lose a prime year at the end of his contract. Because that’s how baseball works.

Except, right now, in San Diego.

___

* this is wrong. My point is quintuplufied by the actual math. See the comments.

1

Checking Out the Sharks’ next Opponent

While working on, well, work, I’ve got the Nashville-Winnipeg game on. It’s been a pretty good game. Gritty but not dirty, some good skating, each team making the other pay for mistakes. Hockey.

The winner of this game will play the Sharks, after San Jose despoils Cinderella.

I’m not sure who I’m rooting for. On the one hand, Winnipeg may be the most miserable sports city, and as a former resident of San Diego I have to feel for people whose teams always lose the way San Diego teams do, but who also don’t live in San Diego. That would really suck.

But Nashville fans have a song for everything. Seems like every tape-to-tape pass has the fans singing the “Nashville Tape-to-Tape song.” And the whole damn arena sings. It might be the best fan experience in North American sports. (Don’t tell Las Vegas, because dang they’re building an awesome fan experience in the way only Las Vegas can.) Nashville is the hockey arena I’d most like to visit for a game.

On the other hand, I’m more afraid of Nashville. This might be naive; Winnipeg is really good this year. But Nashville has been a problem for a long time now.

On the other hand…

There are an infinite number of hands. I’m enjoying a good hockey game, and both these teams deserve to be here. Either will be a challenge for the Sharks. Either will make for a fun series.

____

A few thoughts about the Sharks/Knights series currently under way:

One of the great things about being a fan of a team is having rivals. I hate the Ducks and I HATE the Kings. Then there’s fuckin’ Buffalo, a hapless team that somehow keeps beating the Sharks (although now we have their best player). Las Vegas is new; they have no historic slights to fume over. I volunteer my team to be the team the Las Vegas Knights fans learn to hate. Step 1: Knock them out of the playoffs.

I call the Las Vegas Franchise the “Las Vegas Knights”. It is a far better name than the official title: the “Vegas Golden Knights”. “Las Vegas Knights” speaks to the character of the town itself; it echoes the allure of being there. It sounds like the title to a novel — or a memoir — or a song — or… It sounds like Las Vegas. Eventually the Las Vegas franchise will fix their name.

Talk about home ice advantage — whoo boy that city knows how to put on a show. To build the drama before the opening game of this series, they had a really cool lighting effect that made it look like a huge shark was swimming under the ice. Of course in their show the shark was eventually slain, but San Jose should seriously steal that effect.

While I think you would be hard-pressed to find a resident of the Las Vegas metropolitan area who agrees with me, there is supposed to be hardship when a team is first getting started. Without that hardship you can’t have fans who can say “I was with the team back when…” It’s the lean times that scar a true fan. (Scars are cool, right?)

I kind of feel sorry for the Raiders, trying to move football into a rabid hockey town.

3

Going All-Out for the Finals

We’ve applied a lot of science to ritual cannibalism in this house, trust me. It started a few seasons ago when we had roast duck for dinner on the first night of the season when the Sharks hosted the Anaheim Ducks. The duck didn’t turn out as well as it might have, and the Sharks lost. In the ensuing seasons, the duck has been ever-more delicious, and the Sharks have won the season opener against the rival Ducks by ever-more comfortable margins. Last year, after stuffing the duck with orange quarters, we shut them out. Orange county, you see.

The science of ritual cannibalism is, therefore, irrefutable. We eat the duck, we beat the Ducks.

This year, as the home team has progressed through the playoffs, we (and by ‘we’ I mostly mean the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas) have explored the proper dishes required to vanquish ever-more-fearsome foes. For Nashville, whose fans throw catfish onto the ice, we ate catfish.

St. Louis was a little trickier: They are the Blues. How do you eat a musical style? We went with the color, which is slightly less tricky. We started with (yummy) Blueberry Crumble, but of course that didn’t work: we took their crumble, leaving them steadfast. We switched to a (delicious) blue cheese sauce on pork chops and never looked back.

Of course, there’s plenty of other Fan Science at work as well. Official Sweetie’s old-school Sharks t-shirt is banned from the living room at game time. When things aren’t going well, a glass of Canadian Whiskey will reverse our fortunes. The list goes on.

Pittsburgh has proven to be our greatest challenge yet. You don’t just pop down to Costco and grab a family-size tray of frozen penguin. Happily there are gummy penguins, and where there’s a will there’s a sauce.

For game one it was chicken (a flightless bird) with penguin sauce, and while it was most tasty, it was not effective. The Sharks started the game poorly, and though things stabilized after I turned to the whiskey it was too late. A heartbreak goal in the waning minutes sent our boys back to their hotel with heads bowed.

The menu for game two: Game hen with penguin sauce, with black and white rice. Really, really, tasty. Another close game; the whiskey brought the team back but they gave up a goal in overtime and were down in the series 2-0. Either game could have tilted the other direction, and while the Penguins seemed to be in charge much of the time they weren’t scoring very much. It wouldn’t take much to turn things around.

More research was required.

Thank goodness for the Internet. Sidney Crosby, the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins and a darn good hockey player, is a man of ritual. On game day, he always has a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Aha! we had found the chink in his armor.

And speaking of science, pork chops are a proven winner. Forget the symbolism of the flightless birds; go with what works!

For game three tonight, we pulled out all the stops for victory. Pork chops grilled outdoors with a peanut butter and jelly and melted penguin sauce. Do not cringe, my friends, it was absolutely delicious. The char from the barbecue added the perfect bitter note to work with the sweet/salty sauce. Rice and grilled green beans rounded out the meal. I wore the black t-shirt, not the gray one. Canadian Whiskey, as always, stood at the ready.

We found out not long before game time that one of the Sharks’ best young players would not be playing due to injury. Tomaš Hertl had hit the iron frame of the net three times in the game two heartbreak; had any one of those three shouts bounced the other direction the Sharks could well have won. It was going to be up to the pork chops to make up for the critical loss for San Jose.

It was a nail-biter, I have to tell you, but in the end the good guys prevailed, scoring in overtime after steadily looking more confident all game. Joonas Donskoi, or “Donkey” as we call him, slipped a shot past the Pen’s excellent net minder as the home crowd made enough noise to be heard in space.

As we celebrated at home the Official Sweetie said, “I hope we have more pork chops.”

1

It Feels Different this Year

I’m a hockey fan, and if you insist that I be more specific I will tell you that I’m a fan of the local NHL franchise, the San Jose Sharks. Almost every year this team makes it to the playoffs. Almost every year they exit early.

Which is mostly just math. Half the teams in the playoffs are eliminated in the first round. By the end of the second round, only four remain. So MOST of the teams that make the playoffs go home early. But you do that too many years in a row, you get a reputation. Even if you go home because of a bizarre bounce in an overtime that shouldn’t have happened except the ref blew a call with 33 seconds to go in regulation.

Right now San Jose is skating agains St. Louis in a titan battle of saints in which God must be careful not to take sides. Like Joseph, Louis has earned a reputation for early exits. One of the two will reach the finals.

Three games in, it’s pretty easy to see that my team is the better of the two. Nashville took it to San Jose a couple of times in the previous round, but the Sharks answered by playing really good hockey. That good hockey has carried into the semifinal round with the Blues.

The Blues deserve to be here. They are a very good team, and they beat powerhouse Dallas fair and square. They beat the Stars by beating on them, and getting under their skin, and making Dallas do stupid things. They came out against the Sharks with the same strategy — and it failed utterly. A dude friggin’ pulled Joe Thornton’s beard and the Sharks laughed it off and scored on the power play. The Sharks, under the leadership of captain Joe Pavelski, just don’t take the bait.

Last game, Newt Gingrich Ken Hitchcock pulled his bullies and agitators and tried to match the Sharks with speed and skill. For a while, it seemed to be working. But nobody plays Sharks hockey better than the Sharks do.

And there’s the thing. Some time around the start of 2016 Joe Thornton started backchecking with energy and the rest of the team stepped up and Burns stopped making stupidly overoptimistic passes and it feels different this year. This isn’t a team getting by, it’s a team offering both an unstoppable offense and a disciplined defense (3 shutouts in the last 4 playoff games) and exposing no weaknesses to exploit. A team like that can laugh when an agitator on the other side tries to lure them into mistakes. Even people on the East Coast are waking up to what a good team this is.

It feels different this year. The Sharks aren’t looking for answers, they aren’t looking for the weakness of the other team. They’re playing their game, and they’re doing it well. It’s up to their opponents to solve the Sharks, and so far none has. Man, it’s been fun to watch.

It’s sports, and anything can happen. I felt confident two years ago when the Sharks went up 3-0 on the Kings only to choke away the playoffs. But this year the Sharks handled the Kings pretty easily, and while Nashville gave them a run for their money the way the Sharks emerged from that series has carried over.

What’s different this year? Maybe the most important thing is the C on Pavelski’s sweater. But don’t forget Wardo, and Donkey, and Jones. Don’t forget old man Zubrus making the fourth line a disciplined unit and a legitimate threat. Hertl’s lovely slap shot to open the scoring last night is now a rarity; under the new management the Czech kid is expected to be a complete player, not just a sniper but a stout defender and a guy willing to mix it up down near the goal. He has embraced the role and thrives on the chaos around the net. “Now I go to net, get rebound and score. Is better.”

The team knows: this is their chance. The older players, Thornton and Marleau in particular, know that time is running out, and this year they’re playing like their legacies are on the line. The new kids are hungry, and skilled, but they are inheriting discipline from the old-timers. It really is a joy to watch. At this time they are still six wins from their first championship, but no matter what happens I thank the Sharks for making it different this year.

1

John Scott, NHL All-Star

John Scott plays hockey. He’s a lunch-pail, blue-collar player who works hard to stay in the league. He’s been called a dying breed, or an old-schooler, but those are just soft words to disguise what he does so well. He’s an enforcer. He’s a peacekeeper. He keeps the peace by making it absolutely clear that he will destroy anyone who violates the peace. He was on the team I support last year, and it’s funny how many fights didn’t happen when John Scott came on the ice.

But if it’s fisticuffs you want, John Scott is your bloke.

CZ6qWnSXEAAOYnsThere are thugs around the league that everyone hates. Raffi Torres, technically a member of my favorite team, comes to mind. People hate Raffi, and for good reason. But people don’t hate John Scott. He’s a bruiser, a puncher, but not a dirty player. If you don’t violate John Scott’s peace, you need not fear.

Not only do hockey fans not hate John Scott, they like him so much that this year they elected him to the all-star game. Part of it is a joke, of course, the fans punking the league. But they’d never punk the league with Raffi Torres. He’s an asshole. They punked the league with someone they liked. I’m sure many people in San Jose hopped on the John Scott bandwagon, even though he doesn’t play here anymore.

The NHL did not handle the situation gracefully. They tried to bury him, to shuffle him out of the lineup, and to apply personal pressure to get him to step down. Scott readily acknowledges that he is not the most skilled player in the NHL, but when the league began dicking him over to knock him out of the game, he pushed back, in a low-key, John Scott sort of way. Because that’s who he is; that’s always been his game. Play by the rules, there’s no problem. Step over the line, and he will guide you back, gently, at first.

Fans howled. Whether they were his supporters before or not, the NHL brass was trying to nullify their vote. He will be playing in the all-star game.

Then the other all-star players voted, and he has a C on his sweater. Team captain. John Fuckin’ Scott, team captain in the all-star game. The players, at least, remembered who really pays their checks, and they don’t mind punking their employers now and then to boot. You can read a feel-good piece about it (twins any minute now!) over at espn (also the source of the above image).

And now I’ll probably watch at least some of that horrible game, just to hear the arena get loud when Scott steps onto the ice. The game is suddenly interesting, at least for a few minutes. Final victory: NHL.

1

Whither the Sports Columnist?

ESPN.com has completely gone to hell; si.com’s not much better. Grantland has ceased to be. Where does one go to read sports journalism any more? Does it even exist?

The Wrong Way to Celebrate a Goal

I’m at a bar where mariachi is playing and the TV is showing sports. Sports in this case is the most popular sport in the world, the version of football that involves both foot and ball.

It’s a listless game, for the most part; I hadn’t even realized the game had started — players were just milling about. Then I noticed the clock was ticking. I went back to my writing.

I looked up again when the guy watching the TV to my right turned up the volume. “GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLL!” There were celebrations and then the guy who scored the goal ran to the sidelines and began furiously unlacing his shoes. A flunky ran up with a new neon-green pair, and the player put them on with a great show of urgency.

While the clock was ticking. The other team waited for him to finish. Perhaps they had to, it looked like he was on the wrong side of the center line. If he was stopping the game by being offside, it seems to me it was a yellow card offense. If not, I say let the guy change his jock for all I care, but his team’s going to have to play without him while he promotes his own agenda. If the clock’s ticking, the ball should be moving.

And what about the rest of the team? This guy was busy immortalizing his own damn wardrobe (and no doubt profiting from it), with no recognition that a whole bunch of other guys worked to create that moment.

While this example was particularly awful, don’t think for a moment it doesn’t happen in other sports. American football even has rules to limit celebrations. But honestly, I have no problem with guys throwing a brief party after they accomplish something. I do have a problem with a player delaying the game to profit personally.

If if turns out he auctions his shoes to support an orphanage, then I will suddenly applaud the opposing team for supporting his philanthropy by not putting the ball in play. I’m not optimistic.

Venus’ Last Stand

For a couple of years she beat her little sister, but now Serena gets all the big wins. Time is separating the two, now Venus is “only” the 23rd top player in the world. Tonight’s match may be the last meaningful showdown between the sisters.

First set: Serena.

Second set: Venus — decisively.

Third set: still early, leaning Serena. I’m kind of pulling for big sister Venus. I gotta think it will matter around the table at Thanksgiving.

1

Damn Right I Throw Like a Girl

Once, in a bar, I watched a young woman throw darts. “You play third base,” I said to the complete stranger.

She turned to me, surprised. (I was also a little surprised, because somehow I had spoken to an attractive stranger.) “Second base,” she said.

I was surprised in turn. Her delivery of the dart was pure infield, but with a shoulder motion that meant velocity was rewarded – but not to the degree of the big outfield throws. I think on God’s team she would have played third. She would not have been on God’s darts team.

My throw, when my arm is working right, is a lot like hers. (Though I can CRUSH her at darts. Totally different throw.) A short, low-shoulder whip, but with enough extension to send the ball a long way. Made for third base. Not that big-circle outfielder throw, or that tight second-base throw where you also have to give the first baseman a look at the pill before you chuck it her way.

Like the French are to cheese, we in America are to the overhand throw. Nowhere else is it so dissected, so analyzed, so understood. And nowhere else will you find the medical knowledge to deal with injuries to the shoulder. We live in the nation of the overhand throw. Baseball, football, even basketball, somehow on this continent we decided that it was OK to use the appendage best-suited for moving a ball to move a ball in sports.

On this continent, when you say someone throws like a girl, you are comparing them to a group where many throw way better than you do. Around here, there are a lot of girls who can seriously bring it. So let’s get this right.

When you want to disparage someone’s ability to chuck something, the correct phrase is “Throws like a European.” Have you seen those guys? Shit, it’s like they haven’t even realized they have elbows.

3

Remembering a Great

Watching sports silently, I just saw an ad for the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in the triple crown of horse racing.

It got me to thinking about a horse I knew as a kid. Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby in record time, and the buzz began. This was one ridiculously fast horse. I really wasn’t aware of how special that was at the time.

But the three races of the triple crown are different. A horse great at one distance may not do so well at another. The Preakness is a sprint, while the Belmont is a grind. The races favor different horses.

Unless that horse is Secretariat. Forty years and a bit later, Secretariat still holds the records for all three races. I remember watching those races on TV, the first time I ever gave a hang about horse racing, and I remember a horse flying around the course, leaving the pack far behind. In the Belmont, only four other horses even bothered to run against him. The track did not accept “show” bets. One horse kept up for a while, but the tremendous machine put down the fastest 1.5 miles in history of the sport and won by 31 lengths.

It appeared, to a kid watching, almost effortless. The horse just flew, while the rest of the field slogged along somewhere behind. The way he ran, it was like he was barely touching the ground.

I’m not sure, but I think the Belmont was his last race. There was nothing left to prove, an no track wants a race where the outcome is not in doubt. Secretariat broke the game. Nobody asked the horse if he wanted to keep running. Of course, they never asked if he wanted to run in the first place. But, man, that kid could fly. I have to think he enjoyed it.

A few years later I saw a “where are they now” feature and Secretariat was mentioned. I saw a clip of the majestic chestnut romping around in a field, a beautiful horse, still sleek, still fast, still carrying the love of speed, running just because he could. That’s a good retirement.

What Next, Billy?

I just read that Bill Simmons and ESPN are parting ways. Grantland, the property Bill built with ESPN’s money, stays with ESPN.

I don’t expect that many of the regular readers here much care about this event, and that’s probably healthy. But Simmons is a talented writer, good enough that he created a space for himself and built an audience that trusts him. He simply loves sports, and every word he writes reinforces that. He is so good he even makes pro basketball sound interesting.

He writes as a fan, not as a journalist. He talks about those terrible gut-punch losses that fans of a team remember for generations, and when you read his words you remember your own gut-punch moments and you feel connected to something larger. He writes about the love of the guys wearing the right uniforms. He writes about being a father and about beloved dogs. He’ll take his daughter to a hockey game, but the scene in the stands at an NFL game… no way.

After a few years at ESPN he created Grantland, self-described as a sports and pop-culture site. He assembled a range of writers and critics unified by talent, and pretty much nothing else. Television, perhaps, is the one thing that binds them, with a gambling outlier. And music. And movies. And cetera.

As a fan, Bill called the commissioner of the NFL a lying sack of shit. ESPN gives the NFL a lot of money each year for the right to broadcast some of the games. This creates tension. ESPN has to choose: Do they give voice to the knee-jerk fan, or do they respect the hand that feeds them? I was not in the room, and I could be totally wrong, but I suspect money was secondary in the negotiations for the new contract between Simmons and ESPN. Simmons wants tenure. He wants an immunity from the consequences of what he says that ESPN simply cannot give.

No doubt Simmons will create a new megaphone to shout through. No doubt he will attract some of the best young writers out there to balance his histrionics. I’ll be tuning in. But he’ll also be more exposed to the consequences of his fan-jerks than he has been in a long time. It’s going to be interesting to see how this pans out. But he’s a passionate and eloquent writer, so on principle alone I’m behind him.

1

Pulling for the Flames Now

I’ve always enjoyed hockey; it’s a game where something is always happening, scoring is a significant event, and the clock keeps ticking even when you wish it wouldn’t. Growing up in the coccyx of the rocky mountains in northern New Mexico, there wasn’t a lot of media coverage of the sport (this was before Colorado had a team), but it was fun to watch when it presented itself.

A brief aside: When I was growing up there was hockey right there in my town, at the local outdoor ice rink. It never even occurred to me that I could participate. I didn’t know anyone who did. I wonder if the hockey environment there has changed in the intervening years.

The first time I formed a loyalty to a team was on my Homeless Tour, when I was passing through Canmore, Canada. The Calgary Flames were in the finals, one win from the Stanley Cup. I got to the bar section of the Boston Pizza just in time to grab the last seat at the bar, behind the taps, and I proceeded to have a Seminal Sports Experience. It started when the whole place went quiet out of respect for the United States national anthem. Then came ‘O Canada’ and the whole damn bar belted it out. Things just got better from there.

The Flames lost, but the fans I met that day were awesome on every level. I became a Calgary fan, but even more I became a fan of Calgary’s fans.

Cut to late nights in the darkness, lying on the Curiously Uncomfortable Couch in my little flat in Prague, listening to radio calls via the Internet. The Flames’ play-by-play announcer was mesmerizing; in my book only the Blackhawks’ announcer was in the same league. Good times.

In the ensuing years I’ve come to be a Sharks fan. It’s the first time I’ve had a local hockey team to root for. I still harbor some loyalty to the Flames, and especially to the fans up there, but the Sharks are my team. So it goes.

I have also grown a hatred for the Los Angeles Kings. Thugs and morons, and if the league is crooked, they are crooked in the new-biggest-market’s favor. Not sure how many season-ending knee-on-knee ‘accidents’ have to happen before someone looks a little closer.

The season is winding down, and the Sharks are out of the playoffs. It’s the end of the third-longest playoff streak in major sports. That makes me sad. The Kings, the current champions, are on the bubble with two games to go. It will either be them or… the Calgary Flames.

Nobody thought the Flames had a chance this year. They’re rebuilding. A lot of kids with talent, but it takes time and experience to make a contender. But here they are, on the brink of making the playoffs. If they get in, Los Angeles doesn’t. It’s that simple.

The Kings have two games left. Tomorrow they play the Flames. Then on Saturday they play the Sharks. Words cannot describe the joy I will feel if the Sharks kill the Kings and put the lads from Calgary into the playoffs.

And this is sports. You love your guys. You hate the filthy bastards who have personally wronged you. You struggle when one of your guys winds up playing with the filthy bastards. But there’s a little more. There are the great fans you meet, people who love their team but aren’t assholes about it. We call those people ‘Flames fans’.

If I were so freakin’ rich that I solved the world’s fresh water problems and had money left over, I’d make an offer for the Flames, just to be part of that thing they have going on up there.

3

An Inspirational Leader

Friday at my group’s morning status meeting we spent a lot more time talking about the odds and ends of life than about actual work. One of the topics: what sports my boss’s newborn son would participate in. The Official Boss of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas believes her son’s reckless and pain-oblivious behavior makes him a good candidate for hockey. That gladdened my heart.

I don’t think I brought up martial arts, but I did have something to contribute on the subject.

Before I get to the specific advice I dispensed (at no charge), I’d like to point out that martial arts are an excellent choice for a kid. Way better than gymnastics, especially for girls. Why get them started on something they will have to abandon when they weigh more than 100 pounds? Better to get them into a good dojo and learn confidence and skills they can take to the grave. I think black belts would look fantastic on grandmas and grandpas alike.

But the phrase ‘good dojo’ brings me to my specific advice. On my Wednesday morning route I pass a fitness/martial art studio. Jiu Jitsu is mentioned in one of their signs. In the gray light of early dawn the lights of the studio spill out into the street. This week as I passed I looked in and saw a collection of young students doing exercises on the floor, all clad in their white robe-thingies. Seated next to the mat on a folding chair was the instructor. He was slouched down, his arms folded across his nearly-horizontal chest.

Wow. My first thought was how disrespectful this was to his students, then I thought about how disrespectful it was to his dojo, and to his discipline. Martial arts have a strong spiritual element; training is focussed on the mind as much as it is on the body. At least when it’s done right. Thinking about it now, I think an instructor has two options: Stand over the students, attentive and engaged, and correct their form, or do the exercises with them. The dude may as well have been smoking crack in front of his impressionable charges.

So my concrete advice to my boss was simply, “don’t let a dude like that teach your kid.” I think that message can be applied in a much wider context.

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