Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Rah Rah Rah

August 19, 2009

It is a rare day that this blog ventures into the realm of sports, but this is one of those days.  The two sports teams that I closely follow, and actually cared about, are the Detroit Tigers and the Hamilton Tiger Cats.  In the time I have been a fan of those two teams they have combined to have 8 winning seasons a handful of playoff appearances and 1 championship.  Considering I’ve been following them for a combined 35 years, this record is far from impressive.

There are people who become fans of whatever teams are successful when they are young. In fact there is a proliferation of 49ers, Lakers, Cowboys, Bulls, and Yankees fans among people my age.  But I was always a contrarian.   I picked the Tiger Cats because they are our local team, and the Tigers because they were playing the Jays one day and I wanted to cheer for the other team.  A strange thing happens when you cheer for teams that perpetually lose.  Eventually you come to expect the worst all of the time.  Bill Simmons has written and spoken at length about this phenomenon, and I agree with his assessment that bad teams lead to paranoid fans.

There is another segment of that fan population.  These are the people, like myself, who remain eternally optimistic, and always believe their team will finally find a way to pull it off.  For me, this continuous hope paid off with a 1999 Grey Cup victory, and to a lesser degre, the Tigers appearance in the 2006 World Series. Just thinking they would make is so soon after the 119 loss season was considered a bit extreme.

Perhaps I just don’t care enough about the results to get worked up or paranoid about my favourite teams.  It takes a certain level of investment to take losses to heart.  I don’t regularly attend either team’s games, though I do watch some games on television, or follow them on the internet. The truth is I expect sorts to provide a positive counterpoint to the more awful parts of our world.  If I want to be pessimistic or sad I focus on the many negative issues  and what can be done about them.  I expect sports to entertain me, and provide an occasional lift.  I don’t want to spend anytime being upset about a tough loss. I hope that my favourite teams will succeed because that is the best possible outcome, and the only one that will truly affect me.

Every River That I Try To Cross

May 20, 2009

Just because I’m losing doesn’t mean I’m lost.

Coldplay

Lost!

The internet is an amazing invention.  I don’t think the reasons need to be listed here. Regardless I have yet another site for you to peruse.  If you are like me and love trivia, you will enjoy sporcle.  It is loaded with those fun “how many of “insert thing” can you name?”  I’ve done Olympic host cities, tried to name the most populous cities in Canada and even went after U.S. Presidents without military service. Some of this are very challenging, and I’ve only managed to ace one test, name the MLB teams, a gimmie if there ever was one.  If you go to this site, you may lose an hour of your life.

I have quoted that Coldplay song again today.  It’s Wednesday for me, which means I am 3 days away from the 2009 Reach Forth Basketball Playoffs.  While recreational adult sports aren’t that serious, and I’m not one of those people who takes it too seriously, I do appreciate the fun and pressure that comes with any kind of playoff in sports.  My team finished in last place this season, so for us there is literally nothing on the line. For the other teams there is, of course, not much more.  Yet I am compelled by the underdog status we have going forward.  Our collection of young players (average age of my team is likely around 28) has struggled to find a groove all season.  The playoffs offer us an opportunity to change our fortunes completely with three measley little wins.  I imagine that the other teams will view our team as an easy out. We have been competitive in most games but have had some really awful weeks where we were shorthanded and lacked motivation.  This weekend will be different.

I am reminded of the words of another master songwriter, Tom Petty:

Well I know what’s right, I got just one line, in a world that kees on pushing me around, I’m gonna stand my ground and I won’t back down…You can stand me up at the gates of hell, and I won’t back down.

Although the outcome of this weekend will make little lasting impact on my life, for a few hours that basketball court will be the most important part of my world.  The 6 people I have shared this season (and for most of them last as well) will be my family, and all that will matter is putting our best effort forward.  We will forget about everything that’s happened before and know that as the last place team we have nothing to lose.  That kind of redemption is rare in life, but regular in sport. Perhaps that is why we love them so much.  It’s certainly the reason I enjoy every cheesy sports movies.  I can see Shane Falco throw the winning touchdown in The Replacements a dozen times and still feel that twinge in my heart.  Maybe my team will rise to the occasion this weekend, maybe we will win it all,maybe we won’t last a game.  Regardless it will be a thrilling ride as we get lost in the moment.

A Sliding Double

May 15, 2009

I’ve slowly been tempting you with poems over the last little while. Since I am off to a Blue Jays-Yankees game this evening I thought I’d leave you with this:

Victoria Park

You could hardly believe that I was here
60 years later
A patch of dirt and a grassy hill
Were the last connection between us
You were taller and with a heavier bat
Cleared the fence
The gathered fans
And the trees beyond
I was lucky if the ball dropped in
For a single or a sliding double
I imagine you were as light on your feet
And that while I snagged line drives
Before they could touch the earth
You would twirl your arm
And snap your wrist
To say goodnight to another pretender
A big hitter
The grandstand is empty today
But I’ve seen the pictures
When ladies
Gentleman
And suit wearing children
Crammed together
To catch a game
Many people still pass by
Through 7 innings
But they are focused on the road
Or their dogs
Or the sunset in the distance
In the top of the 6th
I let my mind wander
To a different time in space
When you stood out on that mound
And destroyed their dreams
With speed and movement
Clever spins
Crooked breaks
Until a snap of the wrist
Accompanied by a furious swing
Restores my attention

I Make The Dough And You Get The Glory

May 14, 2009

The news media in Canada, and in particular my hometown of Hamilton, has been buzzing about the possibility of an NHL team moving into our Copps Coliseum.  This very blog has featured my argument in favour of moving more teams to Canada.  On Tuesday word leaked, or was announced, that Jim Balsille would invest $30 million to improve the arena in downtown Hamilton.  That is great news for HECFI.  He also announced that he will seek government support to pay the additional $120 million or so needed to fully upgrade that facility.  It is at this point that I depart the “let’s bring a team to Hamilton” train.  I support infrastructure investment when it will demonstrably improve our community.  Highways, roads, parks, hospitals, housing, shelters, utilities, and even cultural institutions are some examples of prudent government investment.  I am also in favour of putting more money into eliminating poverty in our country, which has been at an unacceptable level for over 30 years. Our health care system has issues, and according to a recent Hamilton Spectator series, childhood mental illnesses are dangerously underfunded.  I could make a list of 50 other programs, services, or projects that should get $130 million of government money before Copps Coliseum.  Politicians like the good publicity of large scale projects like arena improvements, but all too often they end up as loses on the ledger book, and fail to provide the expected boost.  The argument that having an NHL team will somehow spur on the Hamilton economy is, based on all available research into this topic, a fantasy.  I am in favour of moving a hockey team into this city if it is fully supported by private money. Jim Balsille is a very wealthy man and since he seems to want a team in his own backyard, he should pay for that privilege.  Local hockey fans will have to pay for the joy of seeing his team in action, we should not have to pay to improve the arena for his use.  Save taxpayer money for cash strapped services that improve the quality of life for Hamiltonians, Ontarians and Canadians.

Hockey Night In Dreamland

May 11, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are in full swing, and the IIHF World Hockey Championship has just ended.  Some would argue this is the best part of the hockey year.  In honour of that I offer you another interesting National Film Board of Canada short.  This 2008 animated flick was created by Iriz Pääbo a director who admits she knows very little about the sport. She relied on Eric Nesterenko to fill in the gaps, yet managed to create a very abstract treatment.  Hockey is already a bit of an unusual sport, in that it involves skates, sticks, and allows fighting.  This film takes the sport in a surreal direction.The sound is familiar yet abstract, with distorted commentary and the regular ebbs and flows of a knowledgeable crowd.  The action captures the fluid and explosive essence of hockey. Perhaps this HA’Aki is hockey through the eyes of a child or a dreamer.

He Hit The Post!

April 29, 2009

You said you didn’t give a **** about hockey and I never saw someone say that before. You held my hand as we walked home the long way you were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr.

The Tragically Hip

Fireworks

In honour of the second round of the NHL playoffs, which are about to begin, I have a few thoughts about the future of hockey in Canada. I thank you in advance for indulging this diversion from my usual fare.

The internet has been a wonderful resource for modern history.  This blog regularly features National Film Board films from the online archive, and media institutions such as Time magazine have made their collections available to the world.  For awhile the CBC has offered a great deal of material in their own digital archive.  While looking around, I came across a feature on the departure of Candian professional teams.   The  Jets (now Coyotes), and Nordiques (now Avalanche), are the two most recent examples.  On the site you can find radio and television reports about the WHA, and the loss of both teams.  There is also information about the Oilers troubles, and bitterness of the Colorado Avalanche’s Stanley Cup title that came one year after the team abandoned Quebec.

It is very strange to me that Canada has only 6 NHL teams (out of 30) when it is the leading hotbed of hockey internationally.  Junior hockey does well in many small communities, but people in this country have shown that they won’t support professional hockey that is second rate (see the AHL for example).  The most recent story on this topic concerned a meeting of interested Toronto investors with NHL VP Bill Daly. They want to place a team in Vaughn, Ontario.  A great many commentators believe that a second team could thrive in southern Ontario based on the population base and the passion for hockey.  Of course, the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t fans of that idea since this is their major market (though the team is popular in many other parts of the country thanks to their dominance of Hockey Night in Canada).  With the NHL, among other sports leagues,  likely facing economic difficulties in the coming years, it makes sense to examine alternative ideas for the league.  This leads me to one question: How many teams could Canada realistically support? Here’s a list of the 6 NHL teams, their 2009 per game attendance (% of capacity), and the population of their cities (2006 Census):

Calgary, 19,289 (100%), 1,079,310
Edmonton, 16,839 (100%), 1,034,945
Montreal, 21,273 (100%), 3,635,571
Ottawa, 18,949 (105%), 1,168,788
Toronto, 19,312 (102.7%),  5,113,149
Vancouver, 18,630 (101%), 2,116,581

That list demonstrates that the Canadian franchises are quite successful at the gate, and that a city needs to be able to provide 16000-20000 fans per game to fit in this group.  That Toronto total includes Mississauga and the rest of the main GTA (but not Hamilton-Burlington).  These are the 6 largest metropolitan areas in the country. I think a very convincing argument could be made for another team in Toronto, maybe in the aforementioned Mississauga (668,549).  Here are the next 7 largest metro areas along with the two major Saskatchewan cities just for fun:

Quebec City, 715,515
Winnipeg, 694,668
Hamilton, 692,911
London, 457,720
Kitchener, 451,235
St. Catherines-Niagara, 390,317
Halifax, 372,858
Saskatoon, 233,923
Regina, 194,971

On the surface the drop off is pretty steep from 6-7 and beyond.  Returns to Winnipeg and Quebec have been floated several times.  Both Quebec City and Winnipeg lost their franchises due in part to financial difficulties.  Those problems occured in the old NHL when cost certainty was a dream. With the new financial model in the league it is much more likely that a team in a smaller market, with a strong fan base, would be able to thrive. Before the lockout Edmonton, and Calgary were struggling with rising salaries, yet they are now among the most successful franchises in the league. A new league model means reexamining the potential for the NHL in Canada.

If we accept that teams in smaller Canadian markets would be more successful now, then Winnipeg and Quebec are obvious considerations.  When Jim Balsille began accepting down payments on season’s tickets in Hamilton (part of a failed attempt to buy the Nashville Predators) 10000 people signed up.  There are very many people in southern Ontario who aren’t Maple Leafs fans.  Some like the Canadiens, some the Senators, and many follow teams from all over the league.  People living in Hamilton, London, KW, and Niagara don’t share their identity with the city of Toronto even if they are nearby.  I absolutely believe that a second team in one of those communities would find a fan base.  Obviously, there are many large issues to be sorted out before that happens, like an arena, satisfying the Leafs and Sabres, figuring out where the team would come from (relocation or expansion) and finding solid ownership (I hear RIM is sort of successful), but the idea is workable.  Putting teams in the four communities I’ve mentioned (Mississauga/Vaughn, Winnipeg, Quebec City, and Hamilton/KW/London) would bring the Canadian portion of the league to 10 teams.  I can also stretch my imagination to include teams in Halifax and Saskatchewan (they whole-heartedly support the Riders, why not a hockey team?), which gives us 12 Canadian and likely 18 American teams.  Doesn’t that reflect the identity of hockey in North America a bit better?

I understand that this will probably never happen, but I think fans of the game should continue to make our preferences known. The NHL has, at times, actually listened to what its fans and critics have to say about the game.  I believe that at least 2 of the cities I’ve mentioned will have teams in the next 10 years.  The forces just seem to be moving that way.  Here’s my theoretical NHL, for fun. Oddly, I kept the top 21 teams in attendance and three other random teams from the bottom 9 based on history and geography.  You could definitely argue which ones belong, and if any of the ones I’ve included could be relocated elsewhere.

Thanks for bearing with my diversion.

Eastern Conference

Buffalo Sabres
Carolina Hurricanes
Halifax
Hamilton
Mississauga
Montreal Canadiens
New Jersey
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Ottawa Senators
Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins
Quebec Nordiques
Toronto Maple Leafs
Washington Capitals

Western Conference

Anaheim Ducks
Calgary Flames
Chicago Blackhawks
Colorado Avalanche
Columbus Blue Jackets
Dallas Stars
Detroit Red Wings
Edmonton Oilers
LA Kings
Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks
Saskatchewan
St. Louis Blues
Vancouver Canucks
Winnipeg Jets

Shhhhhhhh! I’m Trying To Cheer!

March 17, 2009

Thanks to a shipping error I am now currently overstocked on wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men, and I am passing the savings on to you!!

Al Harrington

Al Harrington’s Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man Emporium and Warehouse (Family Guy)

A new podcast dealing with the same topic as this post is available over there–>.

Here is an article that touches my life in several ways.  First, my grandmother is from Nottingham, so I have some ancestry connections.

More importantly this idea of creating atmosphere with phony fans is absolutely funny, not only because of the absurdness of the idea, but also because you’d be hard pressed to find a difference between blow up dolls and many fans at North American sporting events.  Now I will admit that I tend to be among the more restrained people at a game.  I will cheer for my favourite teams and stand up after a good play. I will get louder to spur on the defence, and when I was younger I’d even yell out the odd taunt.  What shocks me, and many observers, is the lack of knoweldgeable cheering among fans.  In most professional sports, large sound systems and screaming announcers dominate the crowd. On the surface there is nothing inherently wrong with this.  After all, arena builders spend hundreds of thousands of dollars outfitting their buildings with the best equipment and they should make use of it.  Awhile ago I wrote about using small sports leagues to help people reconnect to their communities.  A professional sports team develops their own community among their supporters.  In the past most teams drew their in stadium supporters from a wide swath of society.  Without advanced sound systems the crowd was forced to make noise and create home field advantage all on their own. It was also necessary for fans to understand the dynamics of the game they were watching and cheer at appropriate times. The most often cited example of this is when a crowd gets loud for their defence at a football game, and then quieter for the offence.  There are many subtler examples of this phenomenon but the anecdotal evidence demonstrates that crowds are either less interested in the games they are watching, or have been programmed to follow the music. Thus the crowd is more disjointed, quieter, and much less cohesive.  I won’t try to name the various types of fans you’ll find but they range from businessperson out with clients to drunk twentysomething to lifelong diehard to family.

One other aspect of this change is arena architecture.  Bill Simmons of ESPN has written about state of the art (SOTA) stadiums/arenas.  He argues that they are built to exclude the ordinary fan in favour of higher paying customers.  The consequence is a crowd experience that is, in his opinion, lacking in passion and intensity.

The final element in this mixture is television.  For the average fan, who may be feeling the effects of a failing economy and ticket prices that have been sky rocketing in recent years, watching games from home is an attractive alternative to attending them live.  I think this is a spiraling situation. As more fans stay home from games because the experience isn’t as fun, the crowds get less passionate and enthusiastic, meaning fewer people see the value in attending the games live.  At some point the major leagues will need to increase the revenue they get from tv (which is already quite substantial) if gate revenues begin to drop. Perhaps at that point inflatable crowds will be the norm.

Take Me Out To The Ball Game, No More

March 11, 2009

Well the World Baseball Classic is over for me.  I mentioned in a post the other day that I was interested in it, but that was only to a point.  The Canadian team gave up 6 runs in each of two games and have already been eliminated from the competition.  At this point I am not at all interested in who wins.  That might make me a terrible baseball fan, but that is the reality of the situation.

I was wondering about the reaction of the Canadian media to this failure.  I didn’t expect much of an uproar, and with the Briar, NHL GM meetings, March Madness, and even spring training dominating the sports world in this country, there seems to be little room for discussing Canada’s performance.  When the National Hockey team failed at the World Juniors and later at the Olmypics the entire nation seemed to scream for answers.  Canada has been a middle of the road baseball nation for a long time, despite having a fairly well developed little league and amateur system.  I suppose it is hard to compete with warmer places like California or the Caribbean where baseball season can run year round.  I am not qualified to find the problems with Canada’s baseball program, but pitching was certainly a major factor at the WBC.

The fact is Canada can’t be a baseball super power until it is more widely embraced by young athletes.  I don’t think that even can happen with all the other sports options out there. The fact is as long as hockey dominates our nation other sports will be forced to take the best athletes they can get (many of whom are world class)

A podcast is coming in the next day or so, in the meantime enjoy this lovely video from last year:

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Maple Syrup???

March 8, 2009

O Canada Our Home And Native Land!

The almost entirely meaningless World Baseball Classic is underway, and Canada’s schedule kicked off yesterday with a game against the U.S. in Toronto.  The game will already be decided when this post goes up. I am writing it during the first inning with the score already 1-0 for Canada.  So there is some hope for the home side.  Baseball season always begins with a lot of fanfare for those who love the game. Even though we are 7 months from the World Series, and the WBC is in many ways a less than stellar exercise (I happen to love international baseball), the boys of summer have arrived.

A lot of people don’t understand why anyone likes baseball. They find it long and boring. I can’t argue against that because if you don’t already like baseball you might never.  I will say though that if you are a patriotic sort of person the WBC is your chance to get excited about the sport.  Although you’ve already missed Canada vs. the U.S., there will be more Canadian games, including the possibility of a rematch or two with those Americans. Give it a shot, I think you’ll find that the most pastoral of games is for you.

Why do I love baseball? Well for one I started playing when I was 4 and didn’t stop until after my 23rd birthday, so it’s been a major part of my life. I will probably play many more times before I die.  It’s a game where individual performance is paramount.  No one can help you succeed out on the field.  A great receiver can make a mediocre QB better, a great PG elevates the game of their teammates, and a strong centre will help his/her wings score a lot of goals, but in baseball your teammates aren’t really going to affect your performance.  In the same way a player can’t be saved by schemes or plays.  For example, Steve Nash’s game was elevated by playing in the seven seconds or less offence.  The batter stands at the plate alone, with only himself to control his performance.  Other than during ball in play situations, when fielders must cover their positions, baseball is a one on one game.  Baseball is not necessarily better than other sports, but this unique feature of the game sets it apart from others.  People often write about team chemistry, but unlike in more team oriented sports, I don’t think it’s that big of a factor in baseball.  I played on a team with some people I couldn’t stand, but I still had a great season.  Once you are at the plate, on the mound, or in the field, it’s just you and the ball.

It’s also hard to deny that the opportunity for individual glory is an attractive part of the game.  A dominant pitching performance is beautiful to watch, and there is nothing more exciting than a sliding triple.  Nevermind the joy that comes from a walk off home run.  In baseball there can be a sudden death style finish every single game, no matter what the score is going into the ninth inning.  As has been written many times before baseball games are open ended. Without a clock an inning they can last indefinitely, meaning no lead is safe until every out is recorded.  Baseball is a game of hope.

Hopefully I will be able to add a note to tomorrow’s post that Mike Johnson (who just K’d two Americans in the first inning) pulled off another big win over the U.S..

The Unassisted Play

February 13, 2009

My post yesterday proved to be quite popular yesterday thanks in large part to a mention on truehoop, arguably the number 1 source for daily NBA information on the web.  So thanks to Henry Abbott for that (and whoever tipped him off).  I want to do a quick follow up today to clarify and expand some points (also because I am preparing for a job interview so my mind is already going 100kph).  As I see it my idea of a semi pro/amateur regional basketball (or other sport) league rests on a few key conclusions.  They are:

1. That people naturally enjoy live sporting events because of the excitement and passion that is created.

2. That people generally love the city they live in more than other nearby ones, if only because they are inherently competitive

3. That local talent is more sympathetic than talent from elsewhere.

4. That although the level of play would be below that of any professional league, the low price point would overcome the talent deficiency.

5. That talent could come from those high school players who couldn’t go to college or university, and players who had used up their eligibility or were done school.

6. That civic leaders would openly support the idea of community building.

7. That national sport organizations would like the potential for grass roots development through academies, tournaments and coaching opportunities.

8. That families could find affordable entertainment that their children can relate to.

9. That by limiting player expenses, travel costs, and partnering with local government running a franchise is feasible with minimal sponsorship.

10. That by utilizing alternative media and the internet the league can be highly accesible to its fanbase.

11. That the owners are committed to growing the game and the community.

I don’t think these are unreasonable propositions.  This discussion is going to continue on a new blog I’m launching called The Unassisted Play. It will be a place for me to share lots of sports related thoughts and hopefully generate some discussion.  It will also allow me to focus The Alder Fork on the main topics it has always been about while scratching my sports itch. The Alder Fork will go on as usual.