Game 4: Up all night

coors_fieldDENVER — Who hates baseball this morning? No, we’re not talking about the game, because there’s no sense in hating the game, nor, in fact, the player. Plus, I hate racism and injustice and that makes baseball seem trite by comparison.

Bear with me people. It’s been a long week.

Anyway, the way Major League Baseball has scheduled these playoff games in the first round has been utterly ridiculous. Night games in Colorado in October on the weekends? Day games in Philadelphia during the work week?

What in the name of the wide world of sports is going on here?

Look, I understand the idea of TV contracts and how TBS and Fox want to have the games on exclusively in order to maximize the number of eyes on the set. But putting the Phillies on TV for a Sunday night game at 10 p.m. is just stupid. It’s especially stupid when there was a four-hour window where TBS showed “Road Trip” instead of baseball because they probably did not want to compete with the NFL games.

Look, I’m not hating on “Road Trip.” In fact, it’s a fine film and is easily some of Tom Green’s best work. That part when the snake chomped on his arm… brilliant!

But logic has to win out at some point. Instead, the MLB TV arm decided to penalize the ball fans in Philadelphia.

Look, baseball fans will watch whenever the games are scheduled. Plus, technology has advanced to a degree where a person can watch an NFL game on a second TV set or on a computer. People have insatiable appetites for sports and have the ability to multitask if need be. That’s what makes it so silly to schedule the games the way MLB and the TV networks have.

It’s not fan or player friendly… it’s just mean.

“When you’re in the playoffs, and you’re in a city where there’s a chance of snow at all, yeah, I think it should be a day game,” Scott Eyre said before Game 3. “But TBS paid a lot of money, so they can dictate when the games are played, and they don’t care about us. I used to not understand, but now that I’m older, I understand more about the business end of it.”

That doesn’t mean anyone likes it.

Here’s your boycott…

So Eagles’ fans got their first taste of a weekend without football following the loss to the Cardinals in the NFC Championship game two Sunday’s ago and it seems as if it didn’t go down too well. Lost and rudderless without the local football team to keep them anchored, the magnitude of the Eagles’ defeat resonated on the Richter scale in these parts.

Undoubtedly the depression felt during that week before the big championship game is an odd phenomenon. One would figure that Eagles fans would be used to it by now considering the team has been in just three Super Bowl/championship games since 1960 and five ever.

The big tease is nothing new from the football team in these parts.

Yet to listen to some folks – the die hards – the interest is gone. If there are no Eagles, there is no football. More interestingly, some have used the word “boycott” in conjunction with this Sunday’s Super Bowl. They won’t watch because seeing the Arizona Cardinals face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the big game is just too much to bear.

Really? Boycott? A football game?

Read the rest of this story

Ready for some football? Really… no?

Most people know that John Chaney was famous for his focus on disciplined approach to coaching basketball at Temple University. In fact, Chaney was such an unrelenting taskmaster that the famous 5 a.m. practice sessions were just the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes, it was told, Chaney would hold practices where he would lecture the team the entire session. His players would just sit there rapt with both fear and wonderment as the coach waxed on about topics that had nothing to do with basketball.

Chaney didn’t have guidelines or rules for his players to follow – he laid down the law. Whatever came out of his mouth was followed to the very last detail… or else. Needless to say, Chaney’s players were not too eager to find out what would happen if they crossed him.

One of Chaney’s laws was that his team was not allowed to talk during the bus ride to the arena before a game. They were supposed to sit quietly and focus on the game and the task at hand. Talking, laughing or other types of socialization were forbidden until the game was over.

Once during the ride to the game a fire broke out on the back of the bus. The story goes that the small blaze burned for a while until the driver finally pulled over to put it out. Yet during the entire fire, Chaney’s sat in stony silence. No one said a word. Even as a fire raged on the team bus, Chaney’s players were so programmed to follow the rules that even the risk of life and limb kept them quiet.

Whether or not such coaching tactics are effective are open to debate and there certainly is no shortage of coaches using such theories. Actually, back in the ninth grade my basketball team followed similar guidelines. For games on the road we were expected to wear ties, a team sweater, a blazer (which we wore to school anyway) and we were not allowed to talk at all, though I imagine the rule would have been waived if a fire broke out.

The idea, of course, was to focus on the game, but the truth is it did nothing more than make traveling to a basketball game feel like a job. Worse, we were a bad team that might have won six games all year. Off the bus we bickered, complained, whined and undermined each other for everything from minutes on the court to shots to spots to set up the offense.

The entire season was miserable.

But the following season at McCaskey High, we didn’t have to be quiet on the bus ride. Instead, we talked, told jokes, laughed and had a great time. We also carried a large boom box on trips that we blasted as part of the pre-game routine. In the days before iPods or even the proliferation of CDs, the boom box was intimidating – that was especially the case when the city kids from McCaskey rolled out to the sticks to play teams around the county.

Better yet, the loose, relaxed atmosphere was perfect for a bunch of kids looking to have fun playing basketball. That year we went 16-1. The following season we won 20 games and went to the District playoffs – we even beat a few “powerhouse” teams during the regular season. The year after that we went to the league championship game, and we never even had to be quiet.

Needless to say, such tactics don’t work with pro athletes. That type of forced asceticism as a motivation ploy is foolhardy for the best one percent of athletes in the world. They are motivated enough already, and when the millions and millions of dollars are factored into the mix, what good is forcing grown men to have a faux intensity?

Why no good at all.

But that doesn’t mean coaches and managers don’t try it. In the case of Charlie Manuel it isn’t so much as a matter of motivation – his players are already intense enough. If you don’t believe that, try talking to Chase Utley for three hours following a loss. Chances are it’s not going to be especially insightful.

Focus, though, is a buzzword that transcends all levels of sports. In the pros team have psychologists to help players keep their heads clear. In baseball, since players spend more time with teammates than their family during the season, cards, golf, video games and movies are omnipresent.

However, sometimes those things are taken away. When Larry Bowa managed the Phillies, players were not allowed to take golf clubs on road trips. Charlie Manuel famously removed the ping pong table from the clubhouse back when he was managing the Indians when he thought his players were too intent on winning at ping pong than baseball.

Otherwise, Manuel is fairly laidback with his players. His reasoning is that preparation is a personal task. With so much at stake for every player in the room, no one is intentionally going to be less than ready for a game.

But sometimes they might need a little extra reminder. Take last Sunday’s doubleheader against the Mets at Shea Stadium, for instance. After taking apart the Mets in the opener to climb within a game of first place, Manuel posted a notice that no televisions in the cramped clubhouse were to be tuned to football.

Even though the opening Sunday of the NFL season was in full swing and the players had a keen interest in the games, Charlie Manuel was not ready for some football… at least not before the nationally televised nightcap against the Mets.

Certainly the Phillies have wiled away the afternoon watching sports on TV before games. During a trip to D.C. a couple years back, players spent the time before batting practice lounging on oversized couches to watch the World Cup matches. Suddenly, the tiny clubhouse at RFK had become the best little sports bar in The District.

Saturday college football also piques the interest of ballplayers, though (obviously) not to the degree as other baseball games. Even the broadcast Little League World Series draws in the viewers in big league clubhouses.

But the prohibition on the NFL last Sunday showed that Manuel meant business. Good-time Charlie was clearly taking the game against the Mets more seriously than the other ones in the series. It was as clear as the black void on the closed down TV set.

Maybe that’s why the Phillies laid a big egg last Sunday night.

Nothing went right for the Phillies following the football ban. Ace Cole Hamels turned in a clunker, the team was sloppy on defense where failed execution and errors led to costly runs and the bats sleepwalked through most of the game. Hell, Manuel even got himself ejected during the first inning.

Maybe he wanted to go back to his office in the clubhouse and catch up on some football.

Bolt smashes World Record… or did he?

I will be posting women’s marathon updates on the Twitter page. Race starts at 7:30 p.m. U.S. Eastern.

Nearly three hours after Tyson Gay had un-triumphantly pulled off one of the biggest Olympic flops since Dan & Dave of the Reebok ads in 1992, and an hour after Usain Bolt ran the fastest a human being as ever run for 100 meters, NBC decided it was a good time to run its first advertisement/feature hyping the 100-meter showdown between Gay and Bolt.

Gay was “quietly fierce” and determined to bring gold home for the ol’ U.S.A. He talked about how his sister had inspired him to run and how he loves to sign autographs for fans because athletic careers are short and one day no one is going to ask.

It was very sweet and, no, that’s not sarcasm. How often do we ever hear about athletes that enjoy all the trappings of their celebrity?

Nevertheless, the Gay-Bolt hype felt a lot like reading last week’s newspaper… or worse. Actually, it felt insulting as if NBC were pretending that we all live in caves that are wired just for cable TV. To NBC, nothing else exists beyond what they beam out for air.

Frankly, it’s a lot like the offerings the Chinese government transmits through its state-run TV networks, which, incidentally, anyone can watch live on the Internet at CCTV. Yeah, that’s right – Americans can watch Chinese television on the Internet, but not NBC.

How does that work?

Actually, it doesn’t. In fact, it’s quite mean. Yeah, it’s mean as if a big monolithic corporation once owned primarily by a group best known for making light bulbs and nuclear bombs were making fun of us. They’re taunting us nanny-nanny-boo-boo style as if they were the big bully on the playground.

But the worst-kept secret behind every bully is that they are insecure. The fear is right there on the surface, lurking around with nervous glances and irrational behavior. Because they can’t reason with the changing media dynamic (much like the majority of the newspaper business, incidentally) they throw punches and force feed things in the same, tired way. Sit still, be quiet and take whatever it is we give you, they say.

It’s mean.

The television is as much an anachronism as a newspaper. Sure, people still watch TV – they numbers bear that out. But people aren’t going to sit down at 8 p.m. because corporations like NBC tell them that’s when the show will be on. It doesn’t work that way anymore.

More importantly, if something occurs and NBC has the ability to air it live, it is their responsibility to do so. If they want to put on a basketball game on the TV because people are tied to their old habits, fine. Do it. But if a basketball game and a big track meet are taking place at the same time, it’s OK to put one on TV and the other on, say, the Internet. It’s OK to do that now. We all seem to understand how the Internet works and fits into the modern household. Let’s just stop pretending that that the message can only be delivered one way when there are many different methods of delivery.

This isn’t just about the Olympics coverage. Oh no. It goes for politics, news and everything else. If the whole world is watching, as they say, I want to know what they are looking at. I want the truth, not the script.

Instead, fans of certain sports are being forced to live in a parallel universe. It’s the bizarro world where what you might know didn’t really happen. It’s like the old “if a tree falls in the woods” bit except it’s more like, “if a guy runs the 100 in 9.69 and NBC doesn’t air it or stream it, did it happen?”

According to The New York Times, The Washington Post, ESPN, CNN, Pravda, Al Jazeera and any other organization in the world that claims to report news, it did. But, you know, they aren’t the rights’ holders. Those people – the people that own air – are letting you watch Chris Paul talk to Craig Sager about basketball.

Yeah, yeah, yeah… I know. It’s the same old argument every four years. Track fans (or fans of rowing, shooting, horse jumping, tae kwon do, etc., etc.) don’t get to see the events they like best. Instead it’s too much hype about Michael Phelps powering through the water from 1,629 different angles – all in high definition. Too much Misty May all sandy and sweaty with all that skin slowly slipping out of that skimpy, tight beach volleyball bikini – in high def. Too much of Bob Costas’ hair, meticulously groomed as if it were the actual Olympic Green – again, in high def.

Bring back the TripleCast. Give us pay-per-view because the Olympics happen once every four years and it’s cheaper to own a TV than travel to China.

But come on. Give us something. Sure, NBC is streaming a lot of events – tons actually. However they only show it if they can’t package it or only after it aired on one of the handful of NBC-owned networks. Things like the track & field card were not only aired on television until at least 12 hours after it occurred, but also not streamed. For instance, the women’s 10,000-meters finals (a big event for track geeks, especially since Shalane Flanagan won bronze) went off at 10:15 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time on Friday, but was not shown in the U.S. until approximately 1 a.m. on Saturday morning.

What, were they trying to get the smallest audience possible?

I get it. Track is not very popular in the U.S. (something I don’t get, but that’s me), but at least give us an option. Charge us $10 to watch a full slate of a specific event. Give us something.

Hell, even throw in the commercials, we’ll take ’em. We’re desperate. Look, we know the reason NBC won’t put certain events on the Internet is because they are afraid of the truth – they are afraid that TV is quickly heading in very much the same direction that newspaper business finds itself. They’re afraid of how good the numbers on the Internet coverage will be. They’re afraid that viewers will make the switch and never come back. The Internet gives just too much portability, responsibility and power to the viewer. Imagine, someone can lug around a laptop or a cell phone or an iPod or a PDA and watch the Olympics. Come on, imagine it.

But oh, no, no, no… not on NBC’s watch. Not if they can help it. Not if they can tell you one thing and show you another.

Plus, the network sold the TV air time. Coke, Visa, McDonalds, AT&T, Budweisser and all of the major sponsors want their shiny, over-produced ads superimposed on Michael Phelps’ Speedo as he swims to another gold medal – in high def. Maybe the execs at the big advertisers are just like their counterparts at the networks in that they are too old for the new demographic. They don’t get this new-fangled techie stuff. Why in their day they had 12 channels and rabbit ears and they liked it that way. They prefer things the way they used to be.

You will watch what they tell you when they tell you…

But not for long.

Writing for free

I was chatting with Palmyra, Pa. and the Wilmington News Journal’s Doug Lesmerises while standing on the field at Citizens Bank Park prior to the Opening Day game between the Phillies and the Washington Nationals. Aside from the normal standing-around-and-waiting banter that is the lifeblood of the baseball writer, I made some sort of crack to Doug about the blog he and the other staff writers keep on the paper’s Web site; I kind of liked the feature and thought it was a good way for the paper to develop a rapport with the readers.

But when added that perhaps Doug should start a blog of his own, he gave me the best answer I had ever heard regarding “real” writers and the trendiest part of the Web:

“Why would I want to write for free?”

You’re damned right, Doug. Thanks.

After that, we went back to tlking about why we hated Opening Day, unlike the touchy-feely, baseball-as-a-metaphor-for-life and time-starts-on-Opening-Day sissies who listen to NPR and read crap like Roger Angell (yeah, that’s right… he sucks!). We hate Opening Day for the same reason a devout church goer dislikes mass on Christmas.

Sure, it’s petty, but whatever. Without writers, TV people would have no idea what to do. And speaking of pettiness, here’s an excerpt from a story I wrote describing the scene on Opening Day:

As an interesting aside, it is kind of funny to note that after Manuel was grilled by the writers for nearly 30 minutes, he walked up the dugout steps for a brief session with the gaggle of TV reporters on hand where he was greeted with smiling faces and innocuous questions like, “Charlie, the sun is shining and it’s a beautiful day. Does opening day ever get old?”

Am I arrogant enough to think I know more than TV reporters and people of that ilk?

Yes.

But then again, I’m the one writing for free.