Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Yeah, I know nobody cares about my fantasy team (or fantasy league!) but I'm still going to Squawk about it!


The first annual SIAC Fantasy Football League.


Me wearing my commissioner's hat. I'd like to think
I look like an old-school rapper with the hat!
There are three kinds of fantasy football players -- the hardcore, the moderate, and the neophytes. Kind of like the people in my running club. And sometimes, these worlds collide. This is a Squawk about what happens when they do.

I am at the back of the pack when it comes to running (although I do enjoy the heck out of it, and have lost 52.5 pounds so far doing so!) But I am pretty good at fantasy sports.And I wanted to do something with my running club, the Staten Island Athletic Club, that showed I was actually semi-competent at something! (Squawker Jon read this blog entry before it was published and said that his neck was hurting from reading all of this navel-gazing. So sue me!)

Anyhow, I somehow was able to form the first-ever fantasy football league with our running club members.

So we had our fantasy football draft Monday night at the Pepperjack Grill on Staten Island, the same place that hosts our monthly meetings. (Incidentally, my team's name is "My Balls Are Perfect," as per that legendary Daily News back page about Tom Brady.)

As commissioner, I wanted to make sure we got to 10 people, so I talked my compadre and fellow blogger Josh into joining our league. This, even though he knew nothing about fantasy football. Since he was only doing it because we needed 10 teams, his team name is "The 10th Guy." I promised to help make this as easy as possible for him, and explained beforehand how fantasy football worked.

Josh was new to the world of fantasy football,
but he proved to be a quick study -- especially
when it came to trash talking!
One of my selling points in getting people to join the league was that we would have lots of trash talk at the draft. That started right from the beginning, with Rob, who had the first pick in the draft, bringing it, making me want to give him the "most insufferable" award right away!. He may have failed in his first pick (Aaron Rodgers, really?) but he did bring it when it came to throwing shade, as the kids say! He also bought shots for the group (with ulterior motives, perhaps?) so I have to give him credit for that.

There were lots of characters in the draft room. Chris was very entertaining and animated during the draft. Margaret and Jazmine quietly made some good picks. Corey and Stephanie did as well. Josh picked up the game -- and how to trash talk! Mark, our club president, was a real hoot, as usual. (Although going for Gronk for the second pick wouldn't have been my choice! I think Mark is now obligated to name his team something with Gronk's name in it, like Honky Tonk Badonka Gronk or something!)

Charlotte complained that I kept on stealing the players she wanted to choose! Frank had a friend drafting for him remotely, which made us crack jokes about a robot making the picks.

Everybody seemed to have a good time!
As for myself, I brought a fedora to wear to the evening whenever I needed to put my commissioner's hat on. (Get it?) I also wore my burnt orange University of Texas Vince Young #10 football jersey.

It didn't take long before I got in trouble with the crew. Josh had to go out to his car to get his phone charger cord, and he was going to miss his second pick -- 12th overall in the draft, after picking Jamaal Charles with the 9th pick. So I went to his phone and picked Dez Bryant for him, causing the room to erupt in "I call shenanigans" cries. Oh, well!

I had a pretty good draft going -- Adrian Peterson fell into my lap, even though I was the No. 5 team --- with Demaryius Thomas in the second round, Randall Cobb in the third, and Russell Wilson in the fourth -- when my computer froze. I blame Windows 10. I didn't exactly handle it well; I think I screamed "Nooooo!" more than once and cursed a whole lot. So much for that semi-competent thing!

My reaction to my computer freezing up.
In the meantime, the NFL.com autodraft picked me Latavius Murray, Joique Bell, and Dwayne Allen. What a nightmare! I was beside myself over this debacle! It took several rounds for me to get back on track and I ended up having to conduct the rest of the draft from my iPhone app. I also got mocked for this as well, of course!

But I, of course, did some trash talk as well, sassing the Mets fans in the room and saying that at least this fantasy football team would give them something to do when the Mets collapsed again in September. Oh, snap!

At the end of the evening, we posed for a group photo, and everybody thanked me and said they had a great time. So the night was a big success! Now it's on to the season!

And this afternoon, I was bored, so I came up with funny team names, based on the players on the respective teams. Here they are:

Charlotte: Luck Be a Lacy Tonight

Chris: Cruz Control

Corey/Stephanie:  Don't Luck With Me

Frank: Bad, Bad, Antonio Brown

Jazmine: Saved by Le'Veon Bell

Josh: The Walking Dez 

Lisa: Eat, Drink and Demaryius

Margaret: My Favorite Marshawn

Mark: The Big Gronkowski

Rob: Golden Tate Bridge

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Isn't it time for Brian (Fredo) Cashman to grow the bleep up?

Last October, after the Yankees announced that Brian (Fredo) Cashman would be coming back as general manager, I made a conscious choice that I had to pull back on my "Cashman must go" narrative in Subway Squawkers. Not only was my anti-Cashman rhetoric futile, but all of the negativity was getting me down. Since then, I have made a conscious choice to have more positive things in this blog, and have expanded what I write about to include things like running and music and TV.

That being said, I feel like I have to say something about S.L. Price's recent Sports Illustrated profile on Brian Cashman. Let's start with the title: "Brian Cashman: The Yankees' GM is an iconic and fearless figure." Iconic? Puh-lease. Derek Jeter is iconic. Mickey Mantle was iconic. Joe DiMaggio was iconic. Brian Cashman is a middle-aged schlub with a perpetual midlife crisis.

He famously told Alex Rodriguez to "shut the f*** up." Maybe it's time for Cashman to grow the f*** up?"

Here are some of the most notable tidbits in the story.

Cashman apologized in the piece for telling Alex Rodriguez in 2013 to shut the bleep up:
"I blew my top," Cashman says one Saturday last month in his office at Yankee Stadium. “I got calls from managers, general managers, agents, players. They were all, ‘I’ve been wanting to say that, good for you.’ But I was embarrassed. I conduct myself, for the most part, at a much higher standard than that."
Notice how he made sure to point out how many phone calls he got supporting him at the same time he is supposedly apologizing!

In recounting this event, Cashman also calls himself a "prankster" as he throws a paper snapper at the wall. He then tells the reporter, "I got a fart machine out in the hallway." Good grief.

The article also talks about how he sets off a fart machine on his keychain to prank unsuspecting fans. He also hands shock pens to scouts and once made a fake transaction in 2006 to prank Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine, where he claimed that the Mets had drafted Dellin Betances.

You know what I always say? Leave the comedy to the trained professionals? Would be nice if Cashman could heed that advice. Because he is about as funny as a root canal.

The article also talks about Cashman's perpetual midlife crisis:
Every so often, on his lunch hour, Cashman will pedal his five-gear bike along the West Side Highway, six miles down past 42nd Street and back north again. He nearly got crushed once: Somebody ran a stop sign near Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. He doesn’t wear a helmet. “Adrenaline junkie,” Cashman says, and taken with the skydiving and high-rise scaling and the rogue f-bomb and everything else, it’s easy to assume a cliché. “I tease him: ‘You’re too young for a midlife crisis,’ ” says Yankees president Randy Levine. “I call it living,” Cashman says.
First of all, Cashman is my age -- 48. We are both in midlife!

Second, you are not an "adrenaline junkie" if you ride a bike without a helmet, especially in Manhattan. You are a moron. And it is not "living" to be so reckless; it is just reckless.

In 1985, a guy I went to high school with got hit by a car when he was on his bicycle (this was back in the days before bicycle helmets.) He was a bright young man until his head injury, he nearly died, and he was never the same. It was a true tragedy

So to hear a grown-ass man like Cashman, let alone somebody in the position of authority that he is in, blithely ignore the risks of riding a bicycle without a helmet makes me sick. Grow up already!

* * *

On another note, I did have to agree with Cashman's response to Derek Jeter here:
Cashman calls Jeter “the greatest player I will have ever had,” but often admitted impatience with Jeter’s divalike tendencies. He likes being one of the few to tell the Captain no. During one of their last face-to-face meetings, in 2010, Jeter asked Cashman, “Who would you rather have playing shortstop this year than me?” “Do you really want me to answer that?” Cashman said. Told to go ahead, Cashman instantly named the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki and was ready to list a few more. Wiser heads stepped in, but not before Cashman could say, “We’re not paying extra money for popularity. We’re paying for performance.”
I actually supported Cashman's stance that time. That being said, the Yankees did pay extra for Jeter in his last year, and kept him at shortstop and at No. 2 in the lineup when his performance didn't merit it. Why didn't the reporter ask Cashman why that happened, and why they paid for popularity!

Price also writes about how Cashman has never won Executive of the Year:
"Despite winning an average 96 games a year and missing the playoffs just three times, Cashman has never won that award and most likely never will."
Oh, please. Why should he? One ring in 15 years, folks, with the highest payroll in baseball most of those years.

Cashman didn't do much at the trading deadline, of course, but A-Rod gets the blame for that, according to this article:
In mid-July, Cashman stopped A-Rod in the stadium parking lot. “We need anything?” Cashman asked. Not much, was the reply. If his slugger’s mouthings have irked Cashman in the past, no one questions Rodriguez’s baseball smarts. “I asked only because I know that he might have something to give. If it’s a good idea, I don’t care where it comes from,” Cashman says. He shrugs."
Price continues (emphasis added):
Hal Steinbrenner considers any season out of the playoffs “embarrassing,” and if the Yankees lose the division, Cashman’s inaction at the deadline will not be forgotten. But whatever happens from here on out, it can’t really alter Cashman’s reputation. “I don’t have to prove myself anywhere,” he says.
To which I say, that's precisely the problem with keeping Cashman on! Oy.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

On stealing like an artist and Andy Warhol's more than fifteen minutes of fame

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” -- Andy Warhol


"If I have to live in fear, my ideas will slowly slip away/If I have to live in fear, I'm afraid my life will slip away." -- Lou Reed and John Cale, "Slip Away (A Warning)"

Here is Part 2 of my Squawk about my Pittsburgh trip. (Here is a link to Part 1.)

I thought a lot about creativity on my trip to Pittsburgh. And while "creativity" and "Pittsburgh" may seem more than a little oxymoronic, there is a connection. Bear with me here.

First: ever read a book that gets you so fired up you want to get going on the rest of your life right then and there? That is how I felt when I read Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative on the 8 1/2 hour Greyhound bus ride to Pittsburgh Wednesday night.

Given that I live by myself, and don't have family obligations involving a spouse or children, you would think it would be easy enough to have time and space to be creative. But it recently occurred to me that the siren sound of the Internet can be a distraction, as can TV and other assorted shenanigans.

So when I took the bus to and from Pittsburgh, I had time and space to do nothing but read and write. I started by reading Steal Like an Artist. It is a short book -- 160 pages. I was able to read it in just a few hours on the bus to Pittsburgh, and then reread it. I was so excited about it, I breathlessly sent a note to a fellow writer to pick up this book as soon as possible to inspire his own writing!

The book is all about how to get creative work done. I ended up incorporating some of the ideas from the book during my trip, and worked on a non-Squawker writing project of my own on the bus ride back! So it turns out the book was well worth reading!

My last stop in my trip to Pittsburgh was the Andy Warhol Museum, located on the North Shore right near PNC Park. The Warhol, as they call it, is the biggest museum in the country devoted to one artist. Andrew Warhola (he dropped the “a” as soon as he started as an artist) was born and raised in Pittsburgh.

Given that Warhol was so identified with New York City, you might wonder why this museum is in Pittsburgh. But I think it actually works, given that he is a quintessential American artist.
He also had more of a heartland sensibility than you might think. It was fitting that after Faith Night, I went to see an art by a man inspired by his religion. While it wasn’t well-known during his life that Warhol was a devout Catholic, he was a believer. He went to church at least several times a week and volunteered in a church-run soup kitchen. His funeral was at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and he is buried in a Byzantine Catholic cemetery just outside of Pittsburgh. He lived his faith, in his own quirky way.

The museum is on Sandusky Street, of all places. (An aside: I thought Jerry Sandusky was the biggest celebrity monster in history, But now between Bill Cosby, Aaron Hernandez and Jared Fogle, he now has some competition! Good grief.)

The front desk person at the museum said that the best way to see the Andy Warhol Museum is to take the elevator to the seventh floor and work your way down. To which I add, an even better way to see the museum is to listen to Velvet Underground members Lou Reed and John Cale’s concept album “Songs for Drella,” which tells the story of Warhol’s life, as I did when visiting the museum. Click here to hear the album for yourself.

Drella – combining Dracula and Cinderalla – was a nickname Warhol had, but didn’t particularly like. Reed and Cale were Warhol’s protégés in the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, the 60s happening that featured the Velvet Underground. And Warhol designed their banana album cover!

But “Songs for Drella” is an honest tribute album. Warhol isn’t perfect, but neither are Reed and Cale, as they recount in their lyrics.

Seeing Warhol’s childhood pictures when listening to Lou Reed sing “Smalltown” really worked for me, especially with lines like this. “When you're growing up in a small town/Bad skin, bad eyes - gay and fatty/People look at you funny/When you're in a small town” and “I hate being odd in a small town/If they stare let them stare in New York City.”

So did seeing the Pop Art Warhol works of Elvis Presley, Jackie Kennedy and Natalie Wood while listening to the lyrics of “Work.” Which talk about how Warhol felt that “the most important thing is work. In the most memorable part of the song, Warhol chastises Lou Reed for not doing the work:
No matter what I did it never seemed enough/He said I was lazy, I said I was young/He said, "How many songs did you write?/"I'd written zero, I'd lied and said, "Ten.""You won't be young forever/You should have written fifteen"/It’s work.”
What the museum does is show that Warhol was a true artist, and not just a wacky personality. The Factory -- his studio and his system – may have had others involved with creating the art, but the vision was all Warhol’s. He was an authentic multimedia artist, working in everything from drawing to painting to music to film.

The Warhol also has a variety of interactive exhibits. You can make your own screen test, as Warhol filmed as art. You can go down to the lower level and go to The Factory and make your own art. There is a room with those Warhol-designed floating silver pillows of air. There is even a Warhol kids’ section in the museum.

In addition to the art and the interactivity, the museum also has some information about Warhol the person. In a really cruel irony, he was initially pronounced dead after Valerie Solanas shot him, and suffered severe injuries that affected his quality of life for the rest of his days. But he really died at the age of just 58 after a routine gall bladder surgery, thanks to some awful medical care. (Lou Reed blames Solanas for Warhol’s death, too; the gall bladder issues Warhol had were due to the shooting.)

I could identify with Warhol in a lot of ways – especially feeling different and being seriously ill during our childhoods (he had St. Vitus’ Dance; I had encephalitis.) As I know from personal experience, going through that when you are young is something that affects you for the rest of your life.

Like me, Warhol also spent a number of years in advertising. He was so successful, he was making $70,000 a year – in the 1950s! Heck, I wish I were that successful now!

My favorite things at the Warhol were seeing the celebrity portraits, which have everyone from Mao to Mick Jagger, and to check out all the Velvet Underground-related stuff and hearing their music. There is also an exhibit devoted to Warhol's work on the "Sticky Fingers" cover (the one with a zipper.) You learn more about Warhol’s life in a film shown on the first floor. “Fifteen Minutes” is actually a nearly 30-minute look at Warhol’s life and times, as well as his art. I wish I had seen the film before touring the museum, though, as I would have paid extra attention to some things.

I would have liked to learn more about Warhol’s personal life, especially his love life. Did he have a great love? The most the museum gets into such topics is the note that even fellow gay painters thought he was flamboyant! 

I also wanted to know what the deal was with Andy's hair! What made him adopt that fright wig look? I asked one of the museum employees, and he didn't know the answer. Bummer.

It is also pretty clear to me, given the Warhol "time capsules" -- hundreds of boxes with his collectibles -- that he was a hoarder. (But I guess if you are rich and have enough room for your stuff, you are just eccentric!)

Towards the end of his life, Warhol was known more for being a celebrity than his art.  As Lou Reed puts it “Hello It’s Me,” the last song on “Songs for Drella,” that “your Diaries are not a worthy epitaph.” Fortunately, that has changed, with Warhol's genius getting the attention it deserves.

The museum does give Warhol more than that infamous 15 minutes of fame. And the work endures. He wanted to be rich and famous and have his work matter. He got all three. And visiting the museum dedicated to him inspired me very much. Now I want to get my own fifteen minutes of fame!

On Andrew McCutchen, faith, and seeing PNC Park, the most beautiful park in America

The view from the PNC Park press box.
There is something exhilarating about going on a mission that most of the people in your world won't know about until it is over. That is what happened to me this week, when I went to Pittsburgh to interview Andrew McCutchen, the superstar center fielder for the Pirates, for Guideposts magazine.

This interview had been a goal of mine that I had been working toward for months, but it all came together very quickly in the last week. I didn't want to jinx anything, so I only told a few people about my trip before it happened! I even stayed off yakking on Facebook during the trip so I didn't reveal anything.

Me on the field during batting practice.
Plus, I kind of liked the idea of being a woman of mystery, if only for a few days!

Anyhow, I spoke to McCutchen for an hour early Thursday afternoon before the team's Faith Night game. Now, I can't say exactly what Cutch, as he is commonly known, told me in our interview -- you will have to read the Guideposts article when it comes out for that -- but I will say this: he is a very intelligent and well-spoken man motivated by his faith.

The schedule date of the interview was no coincidence. Faith Night is an annual event that the Pirates do, in which McCutchen and other players, coaches, and manager Clint Hurdle speak about their religious convictions. (More on that later down in the Squawk!) And McCutchen wanted me to see what the event was like.

So let me get started with Part 1 of my trip report. I also went to the Andy Warhol Museum, and to the two Pittsburgh inclines, but I will be saving the full recap of those things for a future Squawk:

Consol Energy Center. And a hockey statue.
Pittsburgh is very big on statues!
Wednesday, August 19

I rook an 8 1/2 hour Greyhound bus ride to Pittsburgh. The bus was surprisingly comfortable -- much more so than flying is these days. We had two stops -- one in Philadelphia (that bus station is a complete dump!) and one at a nice rest area in Sliding Rock somewhere in the middle of nowhere. And unlike in the Twilight Zone episode "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?," the bus drivers do not count to make sure everybody is on board before leaving the rest stop!
The Cambria's hotel lobby.

I read a lot on my Kindle during the ride, including reading Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon -- twice! I was very excited by what the author had to say, and have already incorporated some of his ideas to foster creativity into my current life.

At around 12:30 a.m., I arrived in Pittsburgh. I had gotten a Priceline deal for the Cambria Inn and Suites in downtown Pittsburgh. The hotel was supposed to be only four blocks away from the bus station. However, the GPS map function on my iPhone went awry and sent me on a wild goose chase around downtown Pittsburgh!

The view from the bed in my hotel room.
Finally, after over a mile of walking around in the middle of the night with my wheeled suitcase and my backpack, I looked for signs for the Consol Energy Center (my hotel was next door.) Finally, I found the hotel and went into my room, which was pretty plush. However, the air conditioning wasn't working, and the room was 78 degrees! (I can't sleep in such a hot temperature; I prefer a very cool room.)

So I called the front desk and complained, and said that they needed to put me in another room. At this point, it was 1:30 a.m., and by the time they could get the AC working, half the night would be over!

The view from my hotel room.
They found me another room, but then the entry card didn't work, and the replacement card didn't work, either. Finally, at about two in the morning, I got into my room. It was worth the wait. It turned out that the second hotel room even nicer than the first -- it had three rooms instead of two, with a big bedroom, a nice living room area, and a huge bathroom, with two separate shower heads.

The hotel room was bigger than my apartment, and I do not have a tiny apartment! The king-size bed was amazing, and I have a luxury Duxiana bed at home, so I have high standards! Even the view out the window was much better. I didn't get to spend much time in the room other than sleeping, but the room was the nicest I have ever stayed in!

Thursday, August 20

What Heinz Field looked like during my run.
My training for the Staten Island Half-Marathon in October didn't stop because I was out of town. I got up on an overcast Thursday morning and ran around downtown Pittsburgh, then over the Roberto Clemente Bridge and along the river on the North Shore, past PNC Park and Heinz Field. Then I turned around and ran in the other direction and back to the hotel, putting in a total of six miles.

After that, I headed back to the hotel and got ready for my interview with McCutchen at PNC Field. I have known John Fuller, McCutchen's marketing and publicity person, via social media for several years, but this was the first time we have met in real life. John is a great guy and the best in the business at what he does, IMHO! We met outside PNC Field and he escorted me in via the media entrance. Then we went into a lounge area, where I would be interviewing McCutchen.

The lounge area where the interview took place.
I notice sometimes when hearing interviewers that they get so focused on rattling off a list of questions that they miss following up on interesting things that their subject says. So while I did have a written list of questions for McCutchen, I ended up never looking at the list. Instead, thanks to all the research I had done on him, I had the questions in my head, and did followups based on what he said. He is a very good interview; no cliches, just sincere explanations of the role faith plays in his life.

After the interview, John brought me on the field to check out batting practice. What an awesome feeling to be on the field and see the players at work! I walked around a lot, just soaking in the great atmosphere, and even got to go in the Pirates' dugout.

Seeing batting practice was awesome!
When Squawker Jon did a baseball stadium road trip a few years ago, he said that PNC Park was his favorite. He was right; I think it is the most beautiful park in baseball.

Yankee go home? Oh, no! 
After batting practice -- I stayed on the field long enough not just to see the Pirates but also the San Francisco Giants, who were playing Pittsburgh that night -- I got to have dinner in the press dining hall. And it was one of the best meals I have ever had in a ballpark! For just $10, I had pan-seared sage-rubbed chicken breast, barbecue pork loin with peach chutney, roasted corn in a thyme cream sauce, and a spring mix salad. Oh, and soft-serve chocolate ice cream for dessert. No wonder so many sportswriters are overweight. If I were a beat writer, I would end up being 300 pounds!

I got to watch the game from the press box, which was another first-time thrill for me. The view from there is exquisite. And because you are higher up, you can see the rolling hills of Pittsburgh, as well as the bridges and skyscrapers. Amazing.

They also have snacks for reporters in the press box, as well as complimentary soda and coffee. And tons of printed information for members of the media, with pretty much anything you would need to know about each team. Next time you hear somebody on a broadcast rattle off some statistic or tidbit, chances are they got the information from one of these reports.

PNC Park is exquisite.
You know the saying "no cheering in the press box"? It is true -- and enforced! I saw two men -- one of them wearing a Pirates jersey -- in the press box. At one point, when the Pirates scored, they started cheering. About a minute later, they were told to leave!

The atmosphere for the game was pretty electric -- it was a sellout crowd, thanks to it being Faith Night. It was also Military Night, so the Pirates wore camouflage uniforms.

After the game, I went into the stands to watch Faith Night, but then John Fuller was able to get me onto the field and into the visitors' dugout, where the players' wives watching, to see the players' talking up close

Andrew McCutchen (l.) and other Pirates players
during Faith Night.
McCutchen, Clint Hurdle, Sean Rodriguez, Charlie Morton, Joakim Soria, Chris Stewart, Pedro Alvarez, Travis Ishikawa and others were among the Pirates talking about their faith. They all had different stories about what their beliefs meant to their lives, and the stories were very moving.

About 12,000 Pirates fans stayed for Faith Night. I don't want to get preachy here, but the event was really well done, and gave fans a look at players in a different light, showing how they have worries and concerns just like the rest of us.

After Faith Night, I headed back on the Roberto Clemente Bridge back to my hotel and called it a night after a spectacular day.

Click here for Part 2 of my Squawk.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Yoenis Cespedes over Carlos Gomez looks even better now

No wonder the autographed photos of Wilmer Flores crying have sold out.  If that trade had gone through, and Met fans had realized what they would have missed out on, we would all have been crying.

After last night's three-homer game, Yoenis Cespedes now has five homers, 15 RBI, 13 runs and a .316 batting average in 79 at bats as a Met.

Since going to the Astros after his trade to the Mets fell through, Carlos Gomez is hitting .192 with one homer, 4 RBI and 6 runs in 73 at bats

After remaining with the Mets instead of getting traded, Flores has actually outhit Gomez in August, batting .294 with one homer, 5 RBI and 8 runs in 51 at bats, and that does not include his walkoff homer in July in his first game after the trade that wasn't. (Autographed photos of the walkoff are also being sold.)

With Cespedes, the Mets have opened up a five-game lead over Washington, though the collapsing Nationals have to get some credit for that.

Even with Gomez' struggles, the Astros have to be happy about the trade as of today, since throw-in Mike Fiers pitched a no-hitter last night against the Dodgers.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On A-Rod's grand slam, Katy Perry's 'Roar,' my Tuesday track night, and how 'I'll show you' is a valid motivator

Doesn't A-Rod look like he's roaring after
hitting his grand slam?
I am exhausted now from running as fast as I ever had in my life tonight with my Tuesday night speed work as part of my half-marathon training. I am also exhausted from screaming my head off when Alex Rodriguez hit a grand slam to win the game tonight for the Yankees! Good thing my landlords are Yankee fans!

I have to say that the redemption of A-Rod is my very favorite baseball-related storyline this year. I wrote in my Washington Post article with that The Redemption of A-Rod title (shameless self-promotion alert):
We want our role models to be perfect, especially for our children’s sake. But what can flawless, contour-free statues — the marble creatures on pedestals — really teach us about overcoming adversity? The reality is that most of us have more A-Rod in us than we do Jeter. No. 2 is cool but boring; No. 13 is the one who, after decades of trying, finally bested his demons — the flawed human who dug his own grave, then climbed out of it.
Outside the #13 luxury suite at
Yankee Stadium last week.
I really am inspired by Alex. Both of us hit rock bottom, in our own ways. (When I look back at photos at my heaviest, I can't believe I let myself go that much.) Both of us didn't exactly have a slew of people believing in us at our lowest points. Both of us faced the snickers and the derision of those who laughed at us, whether openly or behind our backs.  But both of us crawled our way back, and are much better off now in life than where we were last year. As Drake would say, "Started from the bottom/Now we're here." (Actually, he raps, "now we here," but the proofreader/copy editor in me can't abide by that!)

Look, I have tried to stay positive throughout my fitness journey -- I have lost 50 pounds so far, and am trying to do the right things each day. And when it comes down to it, not only do I have people in my cheering corner, but my efforts have also turned some of the doubters into supporters.

However, I have to admit that there is more than a little "I'll show you" spirit in me, especially when I run!

Katy Perry's song "Roar" is reportedly
about Russell Brand, who reportedly told her via
 a text message that he wanted a divorce!
I noticed that tonight at my running club's weekly speed work session at the track. I am usually pretty incoherent when running quickly (yes, I know Squawker Jon will say I am incoherent much of the time!), but tonight I focused on one idea: "I'll show you" -- not really directed at one person or thing, but to the universe.

So as I ran around the track, I kept on playing Katy Perry's "Roar" on my iPhone, one of my go-to "I'll show them all" songs! Some of my favorite phrases in the song are the following (emphasis added to my favorite parts):
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agree politely
I guess that I forgot I had a choice
I let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything
You held me down, but I got up
Already brushing off the dust 
You hear my voice, you hear that sound
Like thunder gonna shake the ground
You held me down, but I got up
Get ready 'cause I've had enough
I see it all, I see it now

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
'Cause I am a champion and you're gonna hear me roar.'
So anyhow, tonight I ran my fastest-ever times. (Granted, we are talking 10+-minute mile speeds, but given that two years ago, I couldn't even walk faster than 16:30 a mile, this is huge progress for yours truly.) That's at least partly because I channeled my anger at the universe into my running.

I wonder if Alex channeled his own anger at the universe into his plate appearance tonight, in which, after going 1-for-27 and not hitting a home run since his birthday last month, he hit his 25th career grand slam to win the game for the Yankees. Not bad for the "unclutch" Rodriguez, eh?

* * *

I have recently started writing down my vision for myself, to help manifest it in the universe. (It sounds New Agey, but I don't care!)

My vision for A-Rod and the Yankees is that they win title #28 this year, beating the Mets in a Subway Series (good for the Squawkers, remember!) and that A-Rod is the World Series MVP. Part of my vision for myself is that I finish my October half-marathon in less than three hours, and that I am in striking distance of my goal weight at that point.

I also am throwing out to the universe my desire to interview Alex (whether on or off the record) after the year is over. I really would like to know more about how he got off the proverbial mat when he appeared to be down for the count. Dare to dream!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Shocker! I actually liked seeing an NYCFC soccer game at Yankee Stadium

Me standing in front of our suite's seating area before the game.
One of the cool things about my day job in advertising is that we sometimes get some great perks. Over the past year, I have gotten to see a number of games from luxury suites: the Mets at Citi Field, the Nets at Barclays Center, and now the New York City Football Club (NYCFC) at Yankee Stadium. Thursday night, I saw NYCFC beat D.C. United, 3-1. And guess what? I actually enjoyed watching the game! (Yes, I am surprised as you are!)

When I was a kid, I went to a few New York Cosmos games, but that was the extent of my soccer fandom. Frankly, as an adult, seeing the games on TV, like the World Cup, were very boring. Oh, and that vuvuzela sound was extremely annoying!

So I didn't expect to be entertained by this soccer game. I initially went so I could 1) see what the Yankees' luxury suites were like, and 2) check out the food! The actual game itself was a distant third.

Some of the food featured in the suite. And condiments!
Michael Kay would not be pleased!
The food was not quite Legends Suite levels (no shrimp or prime rib or Frank Pellegrino cooking, the way Squawker Jon and I once experienced in the Legends section!) but it was pretty decent. I particularly enjoyed the chicken strips, which had a remoulade-type sauce with them, and the carmelized onion dip. Oh, and a variety of beers, including Goose Island, were included!

And the pre-game ceremony was epic. Whoever plans this for NYCFC deserves a raise -- or a promotion to doing it for the Yankees! They had members of the NYPD and FDNY stand in full dress uniforms, across from each other in a ceremonial line, and the hometown players ran through these lines. When the players came out, they each had a kid with them (not sure who the kids were -- if they were local soccer players or family members or what -- but it was still cute.)
The game was surprisingly entertainning!

Xavier High School's JROTC presented the colors before the game. Then an actual LIVE SINGER performed the National Anthem (Angel Reda from "Chicago") -- imagine that concept!

NYCFC has marching-band style music with a modern twist, courtesy of City Beats. They were really entertaining to hear during the game, and they had a huge crowd gathered around them when they performed outside the stadium after the game. It was high-energy music that was more entertaining than what you usually hear at the ballpark.

The game was pretty compelling -- had actual scoring and movement and excitement! I found myself paying attention to the action much more than I expected to. It did make me chuckle, though, to hear NYCFC captain David Villa being serenade with a chant of his name that sounded an awful lot like "DER-EK JE-TER"!

The crowd of 28,000 was pretty intense and noisy -- arguably just as noisy, if not more, than a typical Yankee game!

Look who's here in the suite! A-Rod!
(And me with shaggy bangs! I got a trim
 the next day after seeing this pic!)
Since this was my first time at the suite level at Yankee Stadium, I made sure to soak it all in and pay attention to detail. Yankee Stadium's luxury suites are individually numbered, and have pictures related to the uniform number of the players who wore that number. For example, Suite 7 had a ton of Mickey Mantle photos outside (and presumably inside.) We were in Suite 17, and there was a plaque at the entrance listing everybody who wore that uniform number.

I also made it a point to sashay down to Suite 13, to see if they had any A-Rod stuff. To my surprise, they had multiple pictures outside the suite of him. This, even though the anti-A-Rod New York Daily News provided the photos outside and inside the suites! Heck, A-Rod was even featured inside our suite, which shocked me!

I walked the entire length of the hallways to see what Yankee pix were up. I wonder when they added the A-Rod stuff (I am pretty sure that he wasn't featured in the suite we were in until this summer!) but he is pretty well-represented.

A photo of Derek Jeter from the suite -- I thought this was
 one of the best-ever pix of him!
You know who doesn't seem to be represented at all? Graig Nettles! He wasn't even pictured outside the No. 9 suite. I wonder what the story is with him and the Yankees. Pretty much every major player of his era has gotten recognition in Monument Park except for him!

One of the best things with the photo displays is the way they have multiple photos to represent the same event. The best was seeing multiple action shots of Chris Chambliss' reaction to his 1976 pennant-winning homer!

Back to the game. It indeed was entertaining and got me my sports fix! I also have to say I really like the length of soccer games as opposed to baseball. It was only about two hours or so long, which is great! It is rare I am able to get home to Staten Island by 11 p.m. after going to Yankee Stadium for a night game, so that was a refreshing change.

And that was with staying after the game a little to see how they started to get it back to baseball-playing shape -- we saw them remove some of the grass from the infield. One of my cohorts from work -- a UK soccer fan -- said that the players were tripping on the parts of the pitch that covered the infield. It defiintely looked a little uneven!

Anyhow, if you want to have a fun evening checking out a sporting event, I actually recommend taking in an NYCFC game!

I had such an epic adventure at Summer Streets Saturday that I even had a corporate sponsor for my day!

Ever see one of those apocalyptic movies or TV shows (Stephen King's "The Stand" comes to mind) in which New York City has been abandoned, and people are able to roam freely at will, committing all sorts of shenanigans and mayhem? That's what I felt like yesterday, as I ran and walked the entire length of Summer Streets -- and back! What a rush!

For three Saturdays in August, the city closes down close to seven miles of streets, from Park Avenue at East 72nd Street to Duane and Centre Streets, close to the Brooklyn Bridge. There are rest stops along the way featuring food, water, and entertainment. Oh, and the whole thing is free!

So I got up early Saturday morning so that I could frolic and cavort along the route. (And really, the fact that I would do so is a huge change for me, given that I spent most of my life as a couch potato!) Just goes to show one of my adages: never say never, whether it's A-Rod completely changing his reputation or me completely changing my fitness level.(Although there is no word yet as to whether   Squawker Jon will hold a special day for yours truly, the way Alex is getting!)

All of that is a very long intro (and I can hear Squawker Jon tapping his toe, imploring me to get to the point already!) about my adventure at Summer Streets yesterday. I have included pictures below. Sorry, I'm not exactly Margaret Bourke-White when it comes to photography (or even my running club cohort and fellow writer Josh, who does a much better job than I could ever hope to do when it comes to illustrating a story with pictures!)

Anyhow, I took the express bus into Manhattan and started traversing the route at Duane Street and Centre Street. I even had a corporate sponsor for my day! Earlier this summer, the sunscreen brand Bullfrog sent me a press release about something baseball-related with their product. I responded to the email. Long story short, they ended up sending me a bottle of Bullfrog Water Armor Sport Quik Gel Sunscreen, a tube of their Sport Quik Stik, and their lip balm, and they asked me to write about using their products. I used them for my day, and they all worked great. Even though I spent over four hours in the sun, the sunscreen worked well without having to reapply it! Good stuff!

Foley Square's beach scene


The first thing I saw was the Foley Square rest stop. It had a whole beach theme, with sand, beach chairs, and palm trees. Vita Coco sponsored the area and gave out tons of their coconut water drinks, which was very refreshing. There was also a massive slide at the rest area, but you had to make reservations ahead of time for that.


The Slide the City attraction.

I then started my run. The whole thing was a huge adrenaline rush. Sure, I have been on city streets before in road races, like Central Park West for the Oakley 10K and the streets of Harlem for the Percy Sutton Run. But running Lafayette Street and Park Avenue was way cooler! Not only did we get to see a variety of neighborhoods and sights, but you really feel like you're getting away with something by participating! Bicyclists hewed to the left on the streets, and runners to the right. Combine that with great music on my iPod Classic, from the Grateful Dead to N.W.A. to Katy Perry, and I felt on top of the world.

The Summer Streets scene in lower Manhattan

I ran much of the route, with some walk breaks, and I took a break about halfway through the route and visited the rest area at Park Avenue and 25th Street. They had more coconut drinks, Applegate Hot Dogs (long line, but they were no great shakes), and two cheese stands -- Cabot and Daiya. Cheese is one of my all-time favorite foods, so I had to indulge. Who'da thunk it: Cabot Cheese is world's better than the Daiya non-dairy cheese! Shocking, I know!

After this, we got to my very favorite part of City Streets -- Grand Central Terminal. We got to run where cars normally go, and we couldn't help but feel like we were conquering heroes or something! This photo doesn't really do the scene justice, but it was such a head rush!


Running around the upper level of Grand Central
 Terminal was awesome!

Last year, Squawker Jon and I walked Summer Streets last year from 14th to 46th Street, and Grand Central was one of our favorite things. The other fave thing was walking through the Park Avenue Tunnel, which seemed spooky and otherworldly. Unfortunately, the tunnel wasn't included this year as part of Summer Streets. I hope they bring it back next year!

After passing Grand Central, I ran fairly hard (for me, that is!) from there to 72nd Street.  Getting to run up Park Avenue and passing the many luxury apartment buildings was such a head rush, and pushed me past my limits. I am training for a half-marathon, and was supposed to do either a three-mile fun run or an easy five-mile run. on Saturday. Somehow, I ended up running much more than I should have (not sure of the exact number of miles, due to walk breaks, but it was a lot!)



I turned around at the end of the route and headed back. The big challenge was to see if I could complete traveling on it by 1 p.m., when the roads would again be open to traffic. So I really pushed myself to get through.

One thing I noticed was this: when I ran my first half-marathon this April, I was so tired after mile 9 that I basically walked/staggered for the last few miles. Yesterday, I was still tired for the last few miles, but I was able to run or jog it instead of walking. Progress!

On the way back, I stopped for water several times at stands the city set up for filling water bottles, but I otherwise kept on moving until I got back to Foley Square right at 1 p.m., grabbed a peach and mango Vita Coco, and lounged in one of the beach chairs set up. After relaxing a little, I headed back home to Staten Island and was very pleased with myself for traversing the entire length of City Streets -- and back!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Double shocker: Yankees beat the Blue Jays, and the "unmarketable" A-Rod is getting a special day!

A-Rod and CC hug it out after Alex's 3000th hit.
Well, that was a pretty exciting -- and exhausting -- day in Yankeeland! First, even I, the author of "The Redemption of A-Rod," was positively stunned when I heard that the Yankees were going to honor Alex Rodriguez with a special day for his 3000th hit. I don't seem to remember even Derek Jeter getting such a day for his own 3000th hit, so that makes this news even more amazing.

This is the most shocking turnaround in reputation since Santa asked Rudolph to guide the sleigh on Christmas Eve!

Brian Cashman claimed to the Daily News that it's "not a surprise" that the team would honor Rodriguez this way. Child, please. Talk about revisionist history!

Cashman also said (emphasis added):
“I think it certainly shows how far he’s come, how far we’ve come,” Cashman said. “Mistakes can happen, and you can move past it over time. What he has accomplished on the field is pretty special. You can’t argue with the amount of hits he’s put together over the course of his career. It’s an amazing accomplishment.”
My jaw is on the floor, it has dropped so far! "You can't argue with the amount of hits" A-Rod has put together? Um, the Yankees *did* argue just that when they refused to pay him $6 million for him reaching the 660-homer milestone! Or are we in some alternate universe where homers don't count as hits?

And even I am flabbergasted that Cashman would describe repeated PED use as merely "mistakes."

The cynic in me initially thought that the A-Rod 3000-hit day is just meant to sell tickets and garner buzz on the first NFL Sunday of the year. But it is before a critical game against the Blue Jays, so that should be worth selling tickets on its own.

At any rate, the very idea that this day could be meant to sell tickets and create buzz belies the notion that Rodriguez is unmarketable. I can't see how the Yankees can refuse to pay A-Rod's next home run milestone after marketing this.

When I was at the Yankees-Red Sox game on August 4, they showed clips of Alex's 500th and 600th homers, which were on that same day. I also noticed when I was at the ballpark Thursday night for an NYCFC soccer game (more on that in a future Squawk!) how many photos of Rodriguez are in the luxury suite area, something that I doubt was the case last year or even at the beginning of the season!

Did the team simply finally wake up and notice that Alex is their most popular player by far these days?  Or is there some behind-the-scenes story that we don't know about? Is this day a quid pro quo in exchange for A-Rod's charitable settlement with the team over the milestone money?

It just goes to show how quickly a person's reputation can change! We see people's reputation sink very quickly (Bill Cosby, I'm looking at you) but we don't often see somebody have their reputation rehabilitated so quickly!

* * *



A shot of my TV screen after Miller got the save.
Last night's game was gut-wrenching, but ultimately satisfying. It was the most important win of the year, and felt like a playoff game!

We finally got to see the clutch Carlos Beltran -- the one who had such great postseason numbers with the Astros -- step up, with that awesome pinch-hit home run! It is is best moment as a Yankee, by far, so far.

And I am still emotionally exhausted from that epic 12 pitch at-bat between Troy Tulowitzki and Andrew Miller. Given how shaky Miller has been looking as of late -- and last night -- I didn't think that was going to end well.Miller Time didn't look to go down easy at first. But they still won. Whew!

Now the Yankees are back in first place, where they belong. Let's hope they can stay there today!




Friday, August 14, 2015

Sports hate: Our friends at Monstah Mash make mincemeat of the Blue Jays, the Yankees, and me!

I see so much bad writing every day on the Internet that I make it a point to praise those people I know who are good writers I especially appreciate those who are genuinely hilarious, like my friends at Monstah Mash, the Red Sox fan site. Nick Piccione, one of the lead writers there, had a really funny rant today in an article entitled "An Open Letter to the New York Yankees." Lots of great lines in this piece!

He starts with a sports hate rant, talking about how now that Boston is out of contention,he has fired up "the hate train." Here he describes his full-throttle sports hate:
Every year I get to pick some players, managers, and teams that I get to root against. The Cardinals are my keeper team. They’re in the lineup every year. Keep calling yourselves “the best fans in the country” as your football team leaves for LA you giant collective of asshats. The rest of the roster fills out as follows: David Price (Hall of Fame tool), Joe Maddon (for spawning David Price #unforgivable), David Price again (Seriously, I hate this guy), Buck Showalter (the only manager almost as overrated as Maddon) and the Toronto Blue Jays round out the hate squad.
I tip my hat to Nick for all of this, because I am writing this squawk while watching David Price and the Blue Jays shut down the Yankees for much of Friday's game, before finally wearing out in the eighth. I hate you, David Price!

About those Blue Jays: surprisingly for a Red Sox fan, Nick has invested a lot in hating Toronto this year!:
Look, I take a lot of pride in my hate. My hate makes me happy. You can call it moronic or oxymoronic or sociopathic or whatever, but it’s true. And I’ve invested the vast majority of this season’s hate index towards the Toronto Blue Jays. I think they’re wildly overrated, and that they’re gonna get their doors blown off as soon as they run into any team with a good pitching staff.
I agree that sports hate is an underrated emotion, and it also makes me happy! (And really, hate can be an underrated emotion -- when I am pushing through a road race, I'd like to think I am always thinking warm and fuzzy thoughts, but sometimes when I am running, I am thinking "I'll show you!")

After all, I call myself a New York City football fan, rooting for both the Jets and the Giants, but let's face it -- I hate the Patriots more than I love those teams! New England is just so hateable! Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Gronk, Aaron Hernandez....what is there to like? Hate, hate, hate! I hate them all!

But here's the thing. Because of his sports hate for Toronto, Nick was rooting for the Yankees (!) to win the division. Now he's peeved that the Yanks have blown what looked to be a secure lead. Me too, Nick! Maybe you jinxed them!

I also get a shoutout in the column (emphasis added):
Even the locals are turning against your sham of a team now. My bestest friend on the internet Lisa Swan over at Scrubway Squawkers is so miffed by you baboons that she’s been forced to write about how much the music at your ballpark sucks. As a man who is well versed in that art of the hate-filled rant, I can say factually that if you’ve been reduced to spitting fire about the jingles in between innings, you are so ripsh!t about your team that literally anything can set you off into a pants-pooping fury.
That is actually true! (Well, not the pants-pooping fury part, but the part about me being positively peeved!) Squawker Jon gave me a hard time over that piece, saying I needed to write another article about the Yankees getting humiliated by the Blue Jays. But there is only so much fury I can safely spew, but I think I've got it going again. So step it up, Yankees, or a hate-filled rant will be very necessary!