Friday, September 30, 2005

You Want to Know?

I’m going to make this real easy for you.

You want to know how big last night’s Sox win was?
Enormous. Tremendous. Crucial. If the Sox go into this weekend down two, they’re as good as done.

You want to know how big that one game lead is?
Enormous. Tremendous. Crucial. It essentially negates the Home-Field Advantage. Yanks only have to win one to force a one-game 1978-déjà vu playoff—except this time, it’ll be in The Stadium.

Wait for it... wait for it... THERE, WATCH YAZ'S KNEES BUCKLE!

You want to know why the Sox are even still in it?
David. Ortiz.

You want to know who the MVP is?
Whichever guy plays better this weekend.

You want to know which team is going to win this weekend?
Whichever team’s starting pitchers last longer.

You want to know what Fenway is going to be like?
Hostile. Chaotic. Frenzied. Apocalyptic.

You want to know what my liver will look like after this weekend?
It’s already packed up… it was last sighted crossing the Mexican border.

You want to know if there will be a brawl on the field because tensions are so high?
Nope. Too much at stake now. The time for that Bush League crap is over. These guys aren’t here to rumble. They’re here to win.

You want to know who’s under the most pressure?
The Sox. They blew a lead they had for almost the entire season. They need to capture the AL East this year, or last year is just a pleasant memory.

You want to know who has all the motivation?
The Yankees. It’s payback time. They can send the Sox home for October just like they got sent home last year.

You want to know who is going to be the difference maker this weekend?
Derek Jeter. Everyone talks about A-Rod, and Ortiz may be the most clutch player in Baseball, but in a “playoff” scenario, I’m still taking Jeter before either of them. This is his forte. If you think Derek Jeter is a laid back kind of guy who hasn’t thought daily about dropping that 3-0 lead last October, the type of guy who doesn’t hold grudges like that, you have no idea what kind of competitor Derek Jeter is.

You want to know the only difference between these two teams?
Mariano Rivera. That’s it. Both have had unreliable starting pitching, horrible bullpens, record-setting offenses… and the only thing that one team has that the other doesn’t is a proven closer. Mariano. With that said…

You want to know who is going to play the goat at least once this weekend?
Mike Timlin. He’s allowed 56% of inherited runners to score. Sure, he’s been clutch in the postseason before. But pitching the 8th with a 1-run lead is a lot different than pitching the 9th with a 1-run lead. And Mike is about to find that out this weekend.

You want to know who you should keep an eye on?
A-Rod… and Manny. Manny has been in Ortiz’s shadow all season. And I think A-Rod is ready to show the world what’s he’s really made of. He may not get a game-winning hit, but I think both these guys put up tremendous numbers.

You want to know which games will fit into the formula?
The blowout game, the regular game, and the nail-biter… all three go out the window this weekend. This is the playoffs. Normal rules don’t apply.

You want to know if I’ll survive the weekend?
I’m wearing my Yanks jersey into the bleachers tonight, my Rivera shirt to Tequila Rain tomorrow, and I’m breaking out the Old School Mojo Shirt for my trip into the upper echelons of the bleachers tomorrow: Donnie Baseball. So will I survive? Probably not. Along the same lines…

You want to know if there will be riots if the Sox win?
Boston Police are putting a record-setting 876 cops on the street to prevent a repeat of last year’s ALCS violence that left a fan dead (by police force). But one thing is true about Boston fans—they have no idea how to celebrate, and Boston cops have no idea how to handle the crowds. So yes, if the Sox win there will be riots and more people will get hurt.

You want to know how much work I’m getting done today?
Absolutely none whatsoever.

You want to know how much I care if I get fired for that?
I’m probably not going into work on Monday anyway. So that would save me the trouble of calling in sick.

You want to know why this is so critical?
It’s not just about the AL East. The White Sox clinched yesterday. They’re playing Cleveland this weekend. The ChiSox are going to save their best pitchers (and maybe best hitters) for the upcoming playoff series. Cleveland could very well win all three games this weekend. And if they do, they’ll automatically win the wildcard, because there is no scenario where the team that loses this weekend’s series would have a better record than them if that happens.

You want to know if that last statement was true?
I have no friggin idea. Remember, I suck at math. But I think it was.

You want to know what the Yanks need to do to win?
Win two games.

You want to know what the Sox need to do to win?
Sweep. Or win two, and then win the playoff game.

You want to know which outcome would be most surprising?
None. I would not be surprised at any outcome. This weekend, anything is possible. Yanks sweep; Sox sweep; Sox two of three; Yanks two of three; Sox win a one-game playoff; Yanks win a one-game playoff; all games blowouts; all games close; Curt Schilling implodes on the mound spraying guts all over the Fenway Faithful; angels come down from heaven and carry Jeter up to his Father; Damon’s wig falls off when he rounds third trying to score; Randy Johnson gets tossed for throwing a pitch he calls a “dirty-hick spitball”; Ortiz’s shirt flies open to reveal that he’s actually a robot; I mean, I’m ready for anything.

Domo Arigato,
Mr. Roboto.



You want to know how I think this plays out?
Yanks win two. Sox go home.

You want to know what you’re doing this weekend?
You’re watching baseball. And if you’re not, I don’t know you anymore.

You want to know what line sums it up this weekend the best?
I. Live. For. This.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your MVP

With the season winding down, the “Who is this year’s MVP?" debate is going full force. These are the kind of things baseball writers and sports radio announcers love. This is the bullcrap debate material that keeps them employed.

So of course, I’m obsessed with it.

This year, there are two clear candidates for the award in the American League: Red Sox DH David Ortiz and Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez.

As if we needed any more logs to stoke the fire of this rivalry.

(Yes, that last sentence was a blatant excuse to work "logs" and "stoke" into the same line.)

Some will argue for Cleveland’s Travis Hafner, who has been spectacular as of late. But he’s not up there with these guys. He’ll finish third.

Ortiz's and A-Rod's stats are comparable. Where one leads in Category A, the other is the leader in Category B. So let’s put numbers aside and address the bigger discussion.

Two candidates, and coincidentally, the people who decide this thing are strongly divided into two groups:

1.) People who believe that the MVP is the guy who helps his team win the most games
2.) People who believe the MVP is the best overall player in baseball—meaning he needs to play the field as well just to “qualify.”

Which camp am I in? When it comes to New School or Old School, I’m in the Will Farrell/Vince Vaughn/Lesser Wilson category, and very firmly planted in the second group.

Why? It’s simple. I’ll even do it for you in two parts:

1. It’s harder to play the field and hit than just to hit. It takes more energy, more skill, more talent, more mental concentration. And a guy who does both is a better player. Period.

2. Just as you have more chances to help your team win when you play the field, you have more chances to hurt your team when you play the field. Why doesn’t Ortiz play first base? Because he’s a liability. He makes errors. He costs his team runs. A-Rod, on the other hand, is an above average third baseman, and at one point this year he had the longest consecutive errorless streak for any third baseman over the past seven years. Every time a player makes a diving stop down the line and gets the out at first to save a run, hasn’t he done as much as the guy who hits a go-ahead HR? The answer, quite simply, is yes. You can argue all day about which might be harder. But if you don’t agree with that statement, well, you’ve been drinking the punch that Bud and Major League Baseball have been handing out ever since the Sosa-McGuire HR chase that saved baseball.

That's two very simple reasons you can’t win an MVP without playing the field. Fielders with comparable offensive stats deserve it more.

If you need another reason, here’s what Ortiz does while the Red Sox are out in the field: He reviews tape of his previous at-bats. The advantage here can’t be understated. How much higher do you think A-Rod’s stats would be if he had time to do that? Not to take anything away from Ortiz’s natural talent or his grace under pressure, but this could be just as big a reason that Ortiz is so effective in the late innings.

Think about it: while Ortiz is studying for his next at-bat, A-Rod is out there concentrating on the scorching line-drive that’s headed his way.

Ortiz chimed in not too long ago on his candidacy. He said that, if defense is so important, why hasn't a Gold Glove winner who batted .230 ever won MVP? And he's right, that's never happened. Why? Because like Ortiz, that player is only good on one side of the ball.

To me, it’s cut and dry. Ortiz is having the best season at Designated Hitter in the thirty-two years since Major League Baseball instituted the position.

But in those 32 years, a DH has never won the award. And there’s a very good reason why.

If he wins, I won't be surprised, and I won't even be upset. The guy's amazing, a freak of nature. He's certainly deserving.

But A-Rod deserves it more.

****

Like the All-Star game, the Presidency, and anything else that relies on voting, it’s not just about ability. So let’s compare these guys head to head, in the categories that really matter.

Likeability: Everyone hates A-Rod for many reasons, but no one can deny that he’s the best overall player in baseball. Meanwhile, Big Papi is like a big teddy bear. He’s good and he’s likable. EDGE: D.O.T.

Celebrity: A-Rod is one of sport's most recognizable athletes, and along with Jeter, is in the top 10 in marketability. Papi is climbing the list, but he’s not quite there yet. EDGE: A-Rod.

Nickname: It's “Big Papi” vs. “A-Rod”. Though Big Papi is a lot more fun, A-Rod is the most recognizable nickname in sports. It’s a classic, even though it gives most fans a nervous tick. It’s even spawned wannabes, like “K-Rod,” (Francisco Rodriguez) “F-Rod,” (Felix Rodriguez) and, well, “A-Rod” (Andy Roddick). But "I love it when you call me Big Papi..." EDGE: DRAW

Clutch Performer: Seventeen games in which he’s had a home run that’s tied or given the Red Sox the lead, and eight of those in the final two innings. A-Rod is clutch in his own right. But, well, okay, who are we kidding? Thanks for playing, Mr. Rodriguez. MAJOR EDGE: D.O.T.

Athleticism: Both can hit for power. And for a guy his size, Ortiz can run pretty well. But A-Rod is a five-tool guy, and maybe one of the best athletes of our generation. EDGE: A-Rod.

Hot Wife: Swimsuit Issue model vs. average girl off the street. I'd put David's wife's picture up here, but I couldn't even find a flattering one of her. Sorry, no contest. MAJOR EDGE: A-ROD

To make Fridays more interesting, I like to play a little game of chance called, "Surfing the swimsuit photos on SI.com in an office full of women while trying not to get fired for Sexual Harassment."

Team Player: Ortiz is a great guy, never says anything about anyone. A-Rod does the same, but because he’s so damn good and makes so much money, he draws more attention, has more quotes, and therefore, ticks people off more—and makes more enemies. (See Schilling, Curt.) Big Papi hugs his teammates when they play well. And hey, you can always use a hug. EDGE: D.O.T.

So what's the score? 3 to 3. Just like the real debate may turn out, we've got ourselves a tie.

Bill Beard is an independent writer who thinks David Ortiz could have done better. Maybe he should have waited till he got out of Minnesota. Bill can be reached by the women who are undoubtedly going to be offended by this statement at wrbeard@hotmail.com. Unless you're from Minnesota. Then he doesn't want to hear it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Four Games in Four Days (Part II)

Note: This continues from the last post. Scroll down to read it or click on the link at the right.

With two straight Red Sox losses under my belt, I was feeling pretty good on Saturday morning—despite the fact that I could barely get out of bed and my head was pounding from three SoCo & Lime shots we had done the night before, among other things. We were all dragging a bit, but I still had Frank Sinatra in my head from the Yankees win the night before to keep me going. (When the Yanks win, you get Frank singing “New York New York”; when they lose, you get Liza Minelli.) We managed to make it to The Stadium at just about

12:45: Our attempt to arrive early and explore Monument Park is dashed by the security guard who tells us that the park is closed. I joke that we should just go past him, and he looks at us as if to say, “Oooo, I’m shaking in my bright yellow shirt.”

1:05: We’re in our seats, in the middle tier in left field fair territory. But the teams are still warming up. Apparently, this is a 1:20 start. I’m wishing we had known—the gnome who’s hammering a metal beam inside my skull would have probably enjoyed an extra 15 minutes of sleep. Must… get… food…

1:20: I’ve consumed two hot dogs, and am contemplating a third, when the game starts. Schilling v. Chacon. I’ve been looking forward to this game the most—I want to see the Yankees pound Schelling. They cannot do this enough this year to make me happy. “Today’s the blowout game.” In retrospect, I was still right.

Top 1st: Chacon is all over the place. He got the first two batters ugly, and then walked Ortiz, which I’m okay with. But then Manny proves that I do not have power over him and blasts one in nearly the same spot as Posada did. Just like that, 2-0, Sox. Not a good start.

Bot 1: Three up, three down for the Yanks. Schilling looks spot on. My buddy Tim is wearing his Schilling jersey today. About this time, I decide to have my first beer. I’m starting to think I’m going to need it today.

Bot 3: The past two innings were uneventful. Chacon is still wild, but getting outs. Schilling, however, has a no hitter going. Matt Lawton, he of the .122 batting average, reaches base on an error. The catcalls start immediately: “So this is what First Base looks like!” “Where do I run now?” “Soak it up, not gonna be back there any time soon!”

Top 4: Helmet Man leads off with a shot into the Short Porch. 3-0. The ditzy girl in front of us casually remarks, “Didn’t he used to be on the Yankees?” I resist the urge rip her lungs out. Chacon clearly has no control. From our vantage point, we can see directly into both bullpens. Felix Rodriguez and Al Leiter start warming up. Yes, if I was coaching the Yankees, these are precisely the guys I would use to stop a potential blowout. Always the right move, to replace a guy having control problems with two guys that have control problems.

Top 4 still: “DID HE JUST DROP THE &%$%$ BALL? I CAN’T BELIEVE HE JUST DROPPED THE %$%&# BALL! TELL ME HE DID NOT JUST DROP THE $%#$ BALL!” In case you’re wondering, it’s true, Matsui did drop the ball. Should have had Ortiz as an easy out. Instead, he’s on first, Damon scores.

Top 4 still: “A double play ball! Out of the in—WHAT THE CRAP WAS THAT???” Apparently, Robinson Cano knows the person sitting in Section 25, Row 15, because he just threw them the ball. Unfortunately, I think he forgot that the inning was still in progress, and he was in the middle of turning a double play. The Sox score 5 in the inning. I completely misjudged Torre. Bringing in Al Leiter and letting his team go down 8-0 is an obvious attempt to challenge the Yanks batters and light a fire under them. Can’t believe I didn’t see that sooner.

Mid 4: Our view into the bullpens has provided the afternoon with an unexpected twist: Doug Mirabelli has a very big mouth. I’m not sure who started it, but he’s been trading insults with someone in the stands below us ever since the rout started. Now all sorts of fans are joining in. We’ll see how this progresses. Though, if Curt Schilling pitches a no-hitter, I’m going to jump from here anyway. Maybe I can crush Mirabelli in the process.

Bot 4: Luckily, Giambi just took Schilling for a date on the Short Porch, so Doug and I are both spared a grisly demise. 8-1. Let the comeback begin! Right.

Bot 7: The Mirabelli Scenario is playing out full force. Timlin has joined in, and the insults are showering down. A guy from our section stands up and starts screaming insults I can’t print here at the top of his lungs. Of course, we’re all egging him on. He’s about six rows in front of me. As this huge cop walks by me, I know he’s just punched his ticket out of The Stadium for the day. We give him a round of applause.

Top 8: Mirabelli is STILL going at it. Another guy in our section gets tossed after making several gestures to his groinal region, and yelling something that rhymes with “bucket.” Mirabelli has gotten more fans thrown out than he has hits this season. FINALLY, a cop goes over to Mirabelli and tells him to shut it. Probably the loudest cheer Yanks fans gave all day.

Bot 8: Schilling’s gone through 8 full. Tim keeps talking about it. I remind him that I’ve been watching Prison Break, and I’m going to make a shiv out of a deadbolt if he doesn’t keep it down.

I was wearing this same face all day.












End of Game: Mercifully, the Game is over. It was the blowout game, alright, just not how I had hoped. Curt Schilling is vying for a top spot on my “Baseball Players I Despise the Most” list. One more performance like that, and I might have to push him up past Manny into the 3-hole.

4:45 pm: Get back to Alana’s apartment. We were all asleep faster than Ms. Lippy’s kindergarten class. Alana stayed up and watched the documentary on “The Industrial Revolution: The Puppy Who Lost His Way.”

8:00 pm: Hit up a really good Mexican place with Tim, Alana, and a couple of Alana’s friends. A couple of pitchers of Sangria later, the night is rolling. That Sangria is good stuff! Me Hablas Espanol, Bitches!

Midnight: It’s my birthday, officially. First Birthday Shot, SoCo and Lime.

12:10 am: Second Birthday Shot, Jager. (My favorite!)

12:30 am: Third Birthday Shot… unidentified.

1:00 am: Fourth Birthday Shot. I think.

Sometime after 2 am: Vague memory of a Karaoke bar. Sketchiest one on the planet. There’s a couple dirty dancing to a completely inappropriate song, like Brown Eyed Girl. If you took Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey and stuck them in a giant microwave, aged them 30 years, and took away all their dancing skill… yeah, that’s about what they looked like. We get sketched out before we get a chance to sing—but not before Alana accidentally dumps a wax-filled candle all over me. That’s hot.

3:28 am: Illegible note written in notebook. Possibly an Aramaic reference to “Mushroom and sausage pizza.”

4:25 am “THIS IS THE BEST PIZZA I HAVE EVER TASTED IN MY ENTIRE LIFE!”

5:00 am Looking through the Comcast On-Demand movies. Euro-Trip comes up. “THIS IS THE FUNNIEST MOVIE I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE!” We order it.

5:01 am Passed out.

Given the amount of alcohol consumed on Saturday, I woke up Sunday feeling pretty good. Mostly just tired, which is understandable, because I haven’t seen 5 am since Brittney Spears made Christina Aguilera look like a slut, and not the other way around. We made it to the game on time, dragging Alana’s friend Kim with us, because she had the unfortunate luck of passing out at Alana’s place, and we had an extra ticket.

12:50 pm: Have you ever been to one of those stadiums where the upper deck is so inclined, you feel if you lean too far forward, you’re going to tumble off the edge? That’s what The Stadium is like. Instant Vertigo. As soon as we get to our section, I’m reminded of something—I’m afraid of heights.

12:52 pm: Okay, we’re directly behind home plate, and at an elevation equal to Mt. McKinley. The view is great: I can see the game perfectly, and I think that’s the Prudential building off in the distance over there.

1:00 pm: The Yankees give a moment of silence for September 11th. Some idiot, as always, yells out in the middle of it, and completely ruins the moment. Who are these people? Can we start making this a criminal offense? Or worse, can we put the camera on them, and then have some really big guy slap them in the groin? Seriously? Something needs to be done about this.

Top 1: Johnson looks decent. He got Damon and Renteria, but walked Youk before getting Manny to fly out. Ortiz is not in the lineup, which makes me downright giddy. Eight more innings of this, and Johnson will be gift-wrapping me a sweet birthday present. One for him too—his birthday was yesterday. He’s 42.

Bot 1: Giambi takes a floater by Wakefield and puts it just fair along the Short Porch. 1-0 Yanks! I’m keeping a scorecard for this game for the first time in a decade, and I ecstatically shade in the diamond on my score sheet. The only game in the formula left is the Nail-Biter, so I can’t help wondering if this will be enough to win it. Probably not.

End 2: I just put four K’s on the card, two for each pitcher. I have a feeling this is going to be a hell of a game.

End 4: We saw a triple by the “lesser” Crosby for the Yanks, and a single by Youk, but neither team could push the man across. Still 1-0 Yanks through four, and we’re shaping up for our Nail-Biter. In the meantime, I’m still hungover, afraid to walk down the stairs, and the soda man is playing with my head—he refuses to come into our section. I think I’ve been watching him almost as much as the game.

Top 5: Randy Johnson just struck out Captain Caveman with a 99 MPH fastball! This is the Big Unit we’ve been looking for all year! Welcome to the Big Apple, Mr. Johnson!

I bet he could have hit a 99 MPH fastball with that thing.

End 5: I haven’t seen this many Ks in a game since I don’t know when, and not in a Yankees game since Clemens-Pedro a few years back where Trot Nixon won it with a homer. Johnson had two that inning, and Wakefield struck out the side, making the Yanks look foolish. They have never been able to figure him out—but that still doesn’t justify bringing Wake in during extra innings in a 7th game of a Championship Series. If you don’t understand why, look at the scoreboard: He’s losing 1-0 on a Giambi HR. With a Knuckleball, there are two results: Strike out, or Home Run. There is no in between.

End 5: I finally got up this inning and trudged down the stairs—holding the rail the entire time—to get some chicken fingers, fries, and a Commemorative Reservoir-sized soda. Getting down the stairs wasn’t bad—getting back up carrying all that? I don’t want to talk about it.

Middle 7: No Ronan Tynan? On September 11th? Are you serious? I was disappointed with the lack of ceremony for this special a date in NYC, but after four years, I guess New Yorkers are ready to just move on. I can understand that.

End 7: My scorecard looks like a memo from the Clan. K’s all over the place. Johnson has about 108 pitches, but he’s on fire. Gordon is warming up. I’m hoping Torre doesn’t make that mistake. Johnson can throw 120 or 130.

Top 8: Torre makes that mistake. (Later, we’d find out Johnson had a strained calf.) Gordon comes in, immediately gives up a single to Graffanino. Here we go again. Big Mouth Mirabelli grounds into a FC, and as Mueller steps to the plate, Mr. Clutch steps into the On-Deck Circle. The Stadium lets out a collective groan—drowned out by all the Sox fans in attendance who know he’s their only chance.

Top 8 still: Mueller flies out, and we hear it… Hush little baby, don’t say a word… and nevermind that noise you heard… THE STADIUM IS GOING ABSOLUTELY NUTS. Fenway can’t match this decibel level. Mo has about 45,000 people yelling his name and singing along as he trots from the pen. David Ortiz vs. Mariano Rivera, in a 1-0 game with a runner on. What time of year is this again?

Top 8 still: Mariano runs him full. The Stadium is in full voice, there isn’t an ass in a seat. I’ve got my Mo shirt on today, and for the first time ever I’m tempted to rip my shirt off and wave it around like a maniac! LET’S GO MO!!! …. And he walks him – which I am completely okay with. Damon gets up and HITS A BLOOPER DOWN THE LEFT-FIELD LINE THAT DROPS… foul. After the EMTs take the shock pads off my chest, Mo breaks Damon’s bat, and then gets him to ground out to first. THREAT OVER!

Top 9: Yanks couldn’t add insurance in the bottom half, so Giambi's first inning dinger will have to carry the day. I’ll be wearing band-aids on my fingernails tomorrow. Reteria hits a scorcher up the middle—and Mo snags it. One away. Trot hits, grounds out. Two away. The Stadium hasn’t sat down for about two innings, and it’s not about to now. Mo walks Manny – I’m okay with that – but then Millar singles, and Manny – “did someone get that on tape, I think he actually hustled!” – makes it to third. My bladder is about to explode from the soda, my heart has already stopped twice today, my head is pounding from a hangover, and now I’m looking at first and third with two outs. I’m pretty convinced I’m going to die today, 28 years to the day. And Helmet Man steps to the plate.

What do I have to do? Go to Church? Give to the poor? Sell my belongings? I’ll do it, please God just let him get this guy out… okay, you know I don’t mean that crap, but let him get this guy out anyway….

HIGH FASTBALL, SWING AND A MISS, THE YANKEES WIN, TTTHHHHHEEEEEEEEE YANKEES WIN!

If we weren’t 5,000 feet up, and hanging on the edge of a precipice, I might have jumped for joy. We took two of three, exactly what we needed! Happy Birthday to ME! Happy Birthday to ME!


Observations from the past week:
Apologies for taking so long to get up part II. There are weeks when work gets out of control, weeks when you move into an apartment that has no cable jack (and therefore no internet) and weeks when there’s way too much good football on. And then there are weeks where that all happens. So sue me. Will somebody start paying me for this so I can do it full time? Seriously.

As for what happened last night, all I’m going to say is that this is the closest division race has been since 1978 (before they even had divisions). Yes, that year, the year of the Boston Massacre, and the one-game playoff. Bucky “Bleeping” Dent and the Shot that Brought Yaz to His Knees.

If you think I’m going to jinx this thing, you’re crazy.

Bill Beard is an independent writer who knows better. And until someone pays him to jinx it, he’s not about to do that. He can be reached for anti-voodoo lessons at wrbeard@hotmail.com.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Four Games in Four Days (Part I)

It’s not "50 States in 50 Days," but hey, I’m not Peter Gammons either. So live with it.

It’s still a ton of Baseball. More than I’ve ever taken on in person in a given week. Plus, there was the fact that it was my birthday on Sunday – which meant heavy partying all weekend on top of the games, no doubt. I was pretty sure halfway through the weekend I’d be feeling a bit like Dennis Leary’s character on “Rescue Me” – that weird combination of drunk and hungover, unsure about where I was, generally pissed off at the world… but somehow managing to have fun through it all.

So here it is… a somewhat disjointed diary of my weekend. Some is from notes, and other parts are from something we’ll call “loose memory” … in other words, I had probably been drinking when it happened, so the Lines are a little blurred.

It all started on Thursday:

Thursday afternoon: Actually it was 5 games in 4 days, if you count the annual “Executives vs. Associates” Corporate Softball game my company plays during our yearly outing. In this year’s version, the “Indians” beat the “Chiefs” (okay, we get it, you make more money than we do) by a score of 17-4. Because we had about 20 people on the team, I got in for only two innings at the two-bag and only one at bat. My line: 1-1, 1B, 1RBI, 1R, 0 PO.

Thursday, 4:05 pm: Got a text from my buddy Jim asking if I wanted to go to the Sox/LAAASC game that night. Considering I’d been at The Barking Crab (Motto: We Have Crabs – not joking) for about an hour by then - and the tickets were free - I took the offer.

Thursday, 5:35 pm: Still haven’t left the Crab, and I’m supposed to meet Jim at 6:30. Need to go home first to shower, as I smell like the Dallas Cowboy offensive line after running the bases just one time after my hit.

6:00 pm: Bad time to forget that I moved last week. Went to the wrong apartment. Good thing I only moved three blocks away.

6:35 pm: Meet Jim at the Summer Shack for a drink. Not entirely sure how I did that so fast – did a quick check to make sure I put on underwear. Yup, we’re good to go.

7:05 pm: Get into Fenway just as the first pitch is being thrown. Of course, we’re still 15 minutes away from our seats, because I need to use the bathroom and get something to eat – haven’t eaten since lunch, and I’m not about to make that mistake.

Middle of the 2nd Inning: Finally get to our seats, two beers, two hot dogs in hand, and 20 liters of liquid lighter. Here's when I realize I forgot my notepad. (From this point on, all times and events are “approximate.”) Will be the third time this year I see LAAASC play, and I’m eager to make comparisons to how they faced the Yanks.

6th Inning: There won’t be any comparisons… Paul Byrd is pitching the game of his life, and has a two hitter through six, facing one over the minimum. Hasn’t walked a batter. The Sox are losing 1-0, and the Pats game is looming. The plan was to leave sometime during the 7th, but can we leave a 1-0 game? The debate begins.

Top 7: My third trip to the bathroom. I can’t wait till I’m old enough to wear a man-diaper and not be ridiculed for it.

Mid 7: The Angels just made a case for the Pats game by scoring two. We’ve decided to give the Sox one last at bat. Any other night, no way I’m leaving… but tonight is about football season. I’ve been looking forward to football way too much this year. I’ve read one article about how FEMA’s handled New Orleans and about 20 on where the Saints may play their home games. Something is clearly wrong with me. (Jim gets a text… Raiders are up 7-0, breaking a streak of about 200 games or so when the Pats have scored first.)

Bot 7: After Millar doubled, Scott Shields relieved the Byrdman and got Napster, Renteria, and the Department Of Transportation (David OrTiz) to strike out swinging. Two of the best hitters go down, Sox have no chance. We’re out of here. IT’S FOOTBALL SEASON, BABY!

Second Quarter: No idea what time it was, but Moss catches a 30 yard pass from Collins, bobbles it, catches it, pantses Rodney Harrison and struts in for a TD. Half the guys in the bar cheer, because like me, they have Moss on their fantasy team. I want the Pats in this game – Collins lost more games for my Giants than I’m losing brain cells tonight – but if the Raiders are going to score, then that’s how I hope they do it.

Halftime: I make a complete ass of myself, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to print how I did it here. Let’s just say if I needed proof that I should have gone home earlier, I got it, and the people present are going to have lots of fun reminding me of it for a long time. Watched a little of the third quarter, and then packed it in.

That was just Thursday… already almost 1,000 words. Get ready for:

Friday, 1:00 pm: Napster plants his behind in the seat across from me. (See Monday’s Column.)

Friday, 3:35: Land in NYC, almost puke my brains out from the turbulence. Get in cab with Middle-Eastern driver who can barely see over the wheel.

Friday, 3:50:: Get out of cab, almost puke my brains out.

Friday, 6:50: We get to The Stadium. I’m with my friend Alana (NY native), her dad, and my buddy Tim, who took the bus down from Boston for the weekend. He’s a Sox fan. With only a Sox hat on – he was afraid to wear his Schilling jersey – he gets heckled on the train, heckled in the concourses. “Welcome to my life,” I tell him. For once, somebody else is Behind Enemy Lines.

6:58: We get inside The Stadium, and make our way up the steep, paved concrete concourse. Tim is all smiles – I’m reminded that it’s his first time in Yankee Stadium. I can’t help myself: “Welcome to the House that Ruth Built.”

7:00: We head up the tunnel, and as only a sports stadium can do, the field opens up before us. The blue and green swirl of The Stadium looks dazzling under the lights. Tim: “Wow.” Yeah, that about says it. I get chills by association.

7:05: Which game will this be? Every single Sox and Yanks series has the same exact formula: One blowout, one nail-biter, and one average 2 to 4 run baseball game. Never fails. Tonight, we’ve got Biggie Smalls vs. David Wells. “Average baseball game” is my vote.

7:12: Tim: “$8.50 for a beer? What?”
Me: “Yeah, but they’re 20 ounces.”
Tim: “Nice!”
Me: “This is the only time you’ll ever be excited about a $17 dollar round of beers.”

7:44: Tim’s hat has drawn the attention of the 10-year-olds sitting behind us. “We’ll buy you a new hat if you want one.” Start ‘em young!

Bot 2: With the Yanks trailing 3 to 1, Posada hits an absolute BLAST into the visitors bullpen. Arguably one of the longest home runs I’ve seen in person in a long time. The fans break out in their comical chant: Hip Hop Jorge, Ho-o, Hey, Ho-o, Hip Hop Jorge…

Bottom 3: A-Rod hits a solo shot that creeps just into the Short Porch. Tie Game. Hard to tell if we’re looking at the nail-biter or the regular game. We’ll see. In the meantime, we’ve already coughed up enough money for beer to rebuild New Orleans. “Feeling good, Louis? Looking good, William!”

Mid 5: Somehow, we got into a conversation about Brazillian Waxes. Don’t know how, just did. Of course, it got out of hand, and finally, the woman with two teenagers sitting in front of us had to turn around and say, “Do you mind?” We probably ticked her off even more by quoting Old School and saying “Inappropriate! Inappropriate!” about 1,000 times. Meanwhile, her sons are laughing their asses off.

Mid 6: Where would the Yanks be without Aaron Small? Biggie Smalls hasn’t been pretty, and he doesn’t blow anyone away, but the guy gets outs. And hey, I’m not picky. No runs is No runs, and that’s okay with me. Then again, I've got a buzz going, so the following are also okay with me: pizza, hot dogs, that girl four rows below us that probably isn't attractive, anything involving cheese, shelling out $34 for four beers.

End 6: The Yanks just made a bid for the Blowout Game by hanging five on the board. I’m still not entirely sure what happened, but the Sox made two errors on one play. First, Damon booted a ball in the outfield, and then he hit the cut-off man, Renteria, who apparently is excited about football season too, because he tried to spike it like a football. 8-3 Yanks.

Top 7: The Stadium is going nuts. Aaron Small just walked off to a standing "O" of about 43,000 people (every Yanks fan anyway) and tipped his cap. The 28-year old is a career minor leaguer - he must be loving this. His line: 6.1 IN, 9 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K. It may not look impressive, but stats and alcoholics don’t always tell the whole story. (He'll get the "W" later, too.)

Top 7 still: Alan Embree comes in, and I instantly go into a fetal position. And he instantly gets a ground out—wait, make that an error by Cano, and a run scores. Even when Embree does the right thing, it goes wrong. Torre pulls him after one batter, and he may as well have been in a Boston uniform, because it was the mirror opposite of Small’s exit. Gordon quells the threat.

Bot 7: Bob Sheppard, Yankee P.A. announcer: “Now pitching for the Red Sox… (pause) …. (pause) …. (pause) …. Chad …. (pause) … Har … ville.” Chad Harville? Yeah, I would have been confused too.

Top 9: Four run lead. “No Mo Tonight, but I’ll take the win.” Then it rises up over the Bronx skyline, the sweetest song you ever did hear: Hush Little Baby, don’t say a word … and nevermind that noise you heard … Mariano! Turns out he hadn’t worked in about four days. He gets three out of the last four, and we’re out of there with a W! Huge for the Yanks. Need 2 of 3. Got the “regular game” tonight, wonder which of the remaining two tomorrow’s will be?

Writer’s Note: I know I said there would be three columns this week, but did you really believe me? Well, you should have, cause there will be - just not in the manner you were expecting. I want more time on the third one (it's a meaningful one, not my typical sports comedy). And as you can see the second one is already longer than a Dan Brown novel, so I’m divvying it up into two installments. I’ll post the events of the next two games on Friday or Saturday. Sorry to disappoint.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Encounter of the Nappy Kind

He sat down right across from me, and I did a double take.

It was 1:30 p.m. on Friday, and I was in Logan International Airport (Slogan: We Don’t Know Which Terminal is Yours Either). I was catching the 2:00 US Air Shuttle flight to New York for my birthday weekend, a three-day stint of Baseball and NYC bars.

I was exhausted, having gone straight from my corporate outing on Thompson Island in the Boston Harbor directly to the Red Sox game the night before, after my buddy Jim offered me a ticket at the last minute. I hedged – that would make four games in four days. I love baseball, but even I have a limit, both physically and financially.

Then he mentioned it was a free ticket, and really, that’s like saying no to free beer.

On top of the game – a great game pitched by LAAASC’s Paul Byrd shutting out the Sox – we hit up Tequila Rain after the game to watch the second half of the Pats game, where Pretty Boy diced up the horrible Raiders D for 300+ yards. (Don’t get excited… that game was just as much the Raiders D being horrible as it was Tommy playing well.)

So I’m at the gate, half-asleep, essentially staring into space, when a big guy with nappy hair sits down in the seat right across from me.

Manny Ramirez.

My first thought: Holy crap, that’s Manny Ramirez.

My second thought: What the hell is he doing here? Shouldn’t he be in NY? Where is the rest of the team? What time is batting practice? He must be going right to The Stadium.

My third thought: If this plane crashes, I’ll die, but so will Manny.

I’m not sure why I thought that. Maybe because every time I get on a plane I think about death, a thought is as inevitable as me thinking about sex when I see a beautiful woman. Or maybe it’s because I could picture people talking about the day Manny’s plane crashed, and then one of my friends piping in, “Yeah, I knew a guy who was on that plane.”

Not exactly the kind of immortality I dream about.

My fourth thought: Son of a B*tch, I forgot my camera.

After I texted anyone who would care, I sat there watching him, trying to figure out how I could capture this moment. It was quite a sight. Manny was very busy being Manny: signing autographs and chatting with a few airport employees en Espanol, all while listening to his MP3 player and talking on the phone.

I couldn’t help but smile. The guy approaches his life like he approaches baseball. Just takes it all in stride, never gets worked up. His entire life must be a spectacle.

(No, Alana, he doesn’t look as disheveled in person, but his hair is just as nappy and disgusting.)

I managed to steal a marker from one of the autograph seekers and get his John Hancok, a completely illegible grouping of squiggles. (But what do I do with it now? Get a framed picture and put it in there? But then I have to have a picture of the Red Sox player I dislike the most hanging up in my apartment. I don’t think so.)

While I watched Manny be Manny, I also had another thought: I should take the Yankees jersey out of my garment bag and put it on.

I couldn’t help think about my Arroyo Head-Nod Curse, so I only hoped the fact he gave me an autograph would keep him down for the weekend at least.

Of course, the spectacle didn’t last long enough for me to whip out the jersey, as Manny got escorted on the plane before anyone else, the preferential treatment that only mega-stars and politicians get accorded. Maybe the US Air employees did it to save him from the small throng that had gathered, or maybe they did it to have a chance to talk with him themselves.

But after he boarded the plane, I overheard a ticket agent saying he didn’t even say “thank you,” and that he seemed spoiled rotten to her.

But that’s not what I had seen. I had seen Manny being Manny: I’d seen a cheerful guy, chatting away with everyone, signing at least 30 autographs, and wearing that signature Manny smile that irks me and makes me roll my eyes when I see it in the field.

And the strangest thing happened when I heard her say that:

I opened my mouth to defend the guy.

But before the words came out, I checked myself. Maybe I couldn’t bring myself to defend him, my third-least-favorite guy in Baseball (Bonds, Pedro). Or maybe I didn’t think the ticket agent would care.

But the point is: I almost defended him, and for once in my life I thought someone gave Manny less credit than he deserved.

I gave the agent my ticket, boarded the plane, and found my seat. It was a ways away from Manny’s spot in First Class. The flight was miserable. I get motion sickness watching a rollercoaster. The turbulence on the flight wasn’t exactly something from “Lost” but it was above average. And the flight was well over an hour thanks to delays at LaGuardia, and it’s never that long.

When I stepped off the plane, Manny was long gone. I was queasy, so much so that I took a seat in the airport to regain my composure. As I sat there, my lips pursed and trying not to think about the scene with Billy Bob from Varsity Blues (“Thinkin about callin’ up some dinosaurs?”), I took some solace in the thought that somewhere, Manny was probably feeling queasy too.

Maybe he would play like crap because of it. The Yankees are in playoff mode now, and we need every break we can get.

But I was glad Manny hadn’t died in a fiery plane crash.

And not just for selfish reasons.

Observations from Four Games In Four Days:

BREAKING NEWS: As Lines goes to press, the AP is reporting that the New York Yankees would host the tie-breaker if the Yanks and Sox finished the season with the same record. The Yanks won a coin toss to determine the host. Here is more from the AP:

The Yankees, who trailed the Red Sox by three games entering play Monday, end the regular season with three games at Fenway Park from Sept. 30-Oct. 2. If the teams finish with identical records and the wild-card club comes from another division, the Yankees and Red Sox would shift to New York for the tiebreaker game. (ESPN.com)

• I find that amazing, because I wrote this just before I saw that: ”Two of three was what we needed, and it’s what we got. I didn’t think we could sweep, so this was the best possible outcome. Three games back. Did anyone doubt that the division would come down to the last weekend in Boston? As if we needed what could potentially be two Yankees/Sox playoff series in the same year. I’m not sure my liver could stand it.” (I was referring to the regular season, and I didn’t even think about the ramifications of a one-game playoff!)

Did I curse Manny? Let’s see… over the three-game series, here’s his line: 3-11, 1 HR, 2 BB, 2 R, 3 RBI. Essentially right on with what he’s been doing all season. Can’t claim a curse on that, unfortunately.

• As Buster Olney writes in his weekly blog (only for insiders on ESPN.com), if the Yankees fail to make the post-season, it won’t be the fault of Randy Johnson. His performance yesterday (7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 8 K) against the best lineup in baseball was a sign that he’s still among the best in baseball. The Yankees have won 18 of his 30 starts, he’s going to toss around 40 more innings than any other Yankees starter, he’s going to collect his 200th K next start (good for second in the AL), and his run support is only 22nd in the league. I’ve had mixed emotions about him all year, but if he is finally coming back to form, well, now is the time the Yanks need that more than ever.

• After leading the division all year, the Sox could technically be left out in the cold this year come playoff time. If the Yanks take the division, and the Indians keep playing the way they are (7 in a row!) then only one AL East team gets in.

In the “Not that you care” department, but my fantasy team rolled this week despite my best player, Sean Alexander, having only 74 yards and not scoring. Bulger, Moss, and the Pittsburgh D all came up big. I even had 50 points on my bench (Jimmy Smith, I. Bruce) Barring what happens tonight, I could walk away with the highest point total for the week. Which would ironically be exactly what happened last year before Quentin Griffin was exposed for a fraud and William Green grabbed a bottle of Jack and went for a joyride – and I ended up missing the playoffs.

• After what seems like 32 seasons, we finally have an heir apparent to the Simpsons: The Family Guy. I loved this show the first time around, and was ready to call the network when they cancelled it. It’s back, and last night’s season premiere – supposedly not the episode they wanted to air because that one was pulled for offensive material – was better than ever. I’ll be picking up the DVDs… after my bank account recovers from this weekend. Baby Stewie is the new Bart, Peter the new Homer.

An additional benefit to being in NYC this weekend was I got to catch some of the Giants game. Tiki and the rookie Brandon Jacobs both looked good, and may give the G-Men the “Thunder and Lightening” combo that Dayne couldn’t deliver. As for Eli, I’m still not sure he was worth blowing a half-decade’s worth of draft picks on (not sure anyone is) but his play is best categorized as moments of pure brilliance surrounded by periods of sheer terror. And his line shows it: 10/23, 172 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT.

• The Pats are the Pats, Randy Moss is still Randy Moss, Tom Brady is Tom Brady and Kerry Collins is still Kerry Collins. Rare that a game that goes exactly to script can still be so exciting. Probably was just because we were all starving for football, as this is the part of the season where casual baseball fans start asking the die-hards, “How much longer to playoffs??”

• If all goes to plan, you’ll get three columns from me this week to make up for the three week hiatus when you cried yourself to sleep because there was no Lines. This one, a weekend diary, and a special column that I’ve been meaning to write for years but now finally have the hook for.

More observations on NYC and this weekend’s games later this week with the additional columns, but I don’t want to steal any thunder from them so that’s all for now.

“I have… James Woods!”

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Most Wonderful (Sports) Time of the Year

It's finally here.

If you love the deep pass or the goal line stand ... if you jump out of your seat at the sight of a squeeze play or the game-ending HR ... if you chew your fingernails nervously during the two-minute drill or the bottom of the ninth...

This time of year is for you.

On Thursday, Tom Brady and the defending World Champion New England Patriots will kick off the NFL season on National TV against Randy Moss and the “new-look” Raiders.

Thank God, It's Football Season. Hallelujah, rejoice ye good people, Sundays are once again the high holy days.

And on Friday, the Yankees will welcome the Red Sox to the Bronx for a three-game homestand that – even after the tumultuous Yanks season – reeks of playoff preview and a potential ALCS rematch.

Thank God, It's Crunch Time in Baseball. Sing the praises of the playoff atmosphere.

Thursday night marks the beginning of a glorious two-month stretch of football and playoff baseball that has guys glued to ESPN like crack addicts and where the only “watercooler” talk is fantasy football. It's also a time of year that is responsible for the fact that I have been single every November for the last four years.

And what's worse, I couldn't care less. It's worth it. And I'm not even the crazy guy who paints his face and goes shirtless in the New England winter at Foxboro and wears the same pair of “Pats” boxers every Sunday – even if he hasn't done laundry that week.

(Those guys are probably single for other reasons.)

I'm just glad the NCAA tournament is in March, or I might die of starvation because I'd forget to eat. (Which reminds me, there's also college football. There goes every Saturday from now until the second week of January.)

For me, it officially begins as it does for over 15 million men around the country: with my fantasy football draft. A yearly ritual, I meet with nine other young, upstanding professionals – either in person or online – at my buddy Breeze's house in Somerville to stack our fictional teams with the likes of Peyton Manning and LaDanian Tomlinson. It's also an excuse to get trashed on a potent concoction of beer and Male Bonding in the middle of the day for Absolutely No Reason.

Now you begin to see, though I may not be that guy with the painted face, I'm a fool for other reasons - all of which I'm proud to list, thanks very much. However, this time of year does have a very real, very final measuring stick in the financial sense. Most of the year, my expendable income goes to the necessities of life: chicken parm subs; beer; trying to impress girls enough so that they don't dump me in September when I “forget to call” them for weeks at a time. And things of that nature.

But this time of year, my wallet turns into an ATM, spitting out cash at the mere mention of the PIN number: “sports.” There's the final payment on the MLB Extra Innings package; the first payment on the NFL Season Pass; the Monday nights spent at respectable establishments such as Hooters; the Saturdays at the Sports Depot for the Syracuse games with the world's cheesiest Alumni Club; the fantasy football pot (times two); the “pick-em” pools; doling out a month's rent for a chance to see a playoff game at Fenway; and of course, the weekend in NYC to watch all three Yanks and Red Sox games, which is what I'll be up to this weekend.

Literally, thousands of dollars.

When it's all said and done, sports suck up my $20 AJs faster than a beautiful girl in a Montreal strip club. And that's pretty damn fast.

(I know, technically they're not taking American $20 bills, but instead it's that colorful Canadian Monopoly money that has you walking out of there thinking things like, “Did I give the waitress a $500 tip?” and “I have no idea how much I spent just now.” Which is probably a good thing.)

Not that I've ever been to one of those places, I mean. Ahem. Yes. Where was I?

Oh yeah. The thing is: I love it. (Sports, not strip clubs. Of course.)

I may not have my exposed gut blaring under the bright lights on national TV, but I'm really that guy at heart. I've got his enthusiasm, his dedication. My nipples don't have beer icicles dangling from them, but I'm out in the cold in other ways. I'll pay big money for it all. And even more importantly, I'll dedicate large chunks of my time to absorbing it all, catching the games, and searching the web trying to confirm a rumor that Tom Gordon wants out of New York or building a case that Fred Taylor's groin can score 10 touchdowns this year.

When I think of it like that, it's too bad guys across the world didn't dedicate themselves so wholeheartedly to good causes, or volunteer for charitable organizations. The world might be a better place. We might be able to help people like the victims of Katrina, we might be able to stop the spread of aids in Africa, we might be able to feed hungry people in

Oh, sorry, I gotta go, SportsCenter just came on and they're leading with an update on Fred Taylor's groin.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Observations, including usless rants on items other than baseball:

• If you mention Tampa Bay and playoffs in the same sentence, most people will laugh at you. But this year, Tampa Bay is deciding the AL East. With last night's horrible loss, the Yankees have now lost 10 of 14 to the Rays this season. Conversely, the Red Sox have beaten Tampa 12 out of 16 times. If you're wondering where the four games that separate the Sox and Yanks went, I'm sure they're in there somewhere.

• And as this edition "goes to print," the Yanks just avoided another loss with a two-run Jason Giambi blast in the bottom of the 8th to take a one-run lead, and Mariano closed out the 9th.

• Also interesting to note, after the Oakland A's, and until they were swept in four games at Boston, Tampa Bay had the best record in baseball since the All-Star break. Which means... absolutely nothing.

I'm going to call it the "Matsui approach." Remember last year, I think it was game five of the ALCS, Matsui had been carving up the Sox, batting over .500 for the series. Pedro puts one in his ear. Matsui's stoic Japanese demeanor took a Tom Cruise nosedive, and his game goes bye-bye for the rest of the series. My point is: why does no one do this to David Ortiz? My first pitch to him, every time, is up in his face. Not trying to hit him, I'm saying just knock him back, Clemens/Pedro style. This guy crowds the plate almost as bad as Jeter (who is arguably the best-worst?-in the league at it) and he's hit more clutch HRs - including one last night in the bottom of the 9th to beat the LAAASC - than any player in recent memory. Why do teams let him beat them so willingly? Either throw at his head, or walk him. Wouldn't you rather face Manny? I would. And that about says it all.

There have been a lot of questions as to whether or not Lines will live on once the baseball season has gone the way of the dodo and Britney Spears' music career. Well, I'm happy to say that this here little column o' mine will live on. There's plenty of football to talk about, and then we kick off College Basketball in November. Those of you who know me know that March is actually the month I consider The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. So I'll be covering the Giants – my football alliance – and Syracuse hoops, and probably some college football, as well as the Pats, a little fantasy football, probably touch on the antics of Randy Moss in the silver and black, and well, anything at all.

• However, work has been, well, words I won't print here lately, which you may have guessed by the three week hiatus. If I may be especially verbose, managing people sucks.

• As for Boston's NFL team, I have a lot of respect for the Patriots – how can you not? – and they would probably be my favorite team if not for the G-men. There's no rivalry there, so I can say that without getting burnt at the stake. As for the team themselves, my gut tells me we won't be seeing them in the SuperBowl this year. But then again, I don't see anyone else who is better than them, with the possible exception of the Colts. This may be the year Petyon and his crew finally get over the Foxboro hump. Sooner or later every trend has to give. Just ask the Red Sox. I'm not saying it will happen, just saying I wouldn't be surprised if it did.

• As for wunderkid Tom Brady, I think he's a great quarterback, but please don't compare him to Joe Montana. Certainly not yet, and maybe not ever. Brady has the skills, there's no doubt, but his success is 30% Tom Brady and 70% the Pats system. He was a backup to Drew Henson at Michigan, a guy who is now backing up Drew Bledsoe in Dallas, which is just dripping with irony. Tom Brady is the same as every Denver running back over the last 5 or so years: any guy with serviceable skills would be having the same success in the system. It's true for every other player in the Pats system – they can plug anyone in and it doesn't affect the level of play – why does everyone think that Brady is different? Even Brady knows it, which is why we took a lesser contract from the Pats when he could have gotten more in the free agent market. And let's not forget... if not for the foot of Adam Vinateri, Tom Brady is just a guy who's played in three SuperBowls, instead of a two-time SuperBowl MVP.

• Speaking of Fantasy Football, I don't know why you'd care, but here's how my main team shook out after this year's draft. I threw the biggest fantasy rule in the book out the window – always draft two running backs in the first three rounds – and I'm sure it will come back to haunt me when Sean Alexander goes down in week 1 with a torn ACL or gets arrested for a domestic disturbance. But I think with the third pick, I did pretty damn well. Here's how it shook out for my starters, in the order they were drafted. (FYI we draft for a WR/RB position as well): RB Sean Alexander; WR Randy Moss; WR Chad Johnson; TE Antonio Gates; RB Ronnie Brown; RB Kevin Barlow; D Pittsburgh; and much later I took the idiot kicker.

• Of course, I had to draft two TEs, something I am dead set against, because Gates is suspended for Week 1. But I ended up with the #2 Running Back, #1 Wide Receiver, #3 WR, the #2 TE and arguably the #1 D. So you have to be happy with that. As for my bench, well, let's just say the alcohol kicked in around round 9, and they look like a refugee camp from 1999. As a guy who has a history of drafting the “All DNP Team,” aka, guys who get hurt, get suspended for drunk driving, drugs, or beating their wives, a crappy bench is probably not a good thing.