The Best Beards in Baseball

I remember tweeting “It’s a rebuilding year!” all during the entire 2012 baseball season as Bobby Valentine’s Red Sox racked up one of the worst records ever. It became a running joke for myself and a few of my fellow Red Sox fans, but this past week the memories of that dismal record were all but forgotten as the Red Sox beat the Cardinals in 6 games to become 2013 world champs yet again. I’m not sure what felt better, watching Ortiz rack up an amazing .700+ post-season batting average or the fact that the Yankees never even made it to the playoffs. Okay, both felt pretty good.

Throughout the 2013 season, I really thought the Sox were going all the way. They had a confident new manager in John Farrell, exciting fresh faces like Shane Victorino and Jackie Bradley Jr. and after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, a strong determination to win for the city that loved them so very dearly. They started growing out their beards for luck and that silly bit of camaraderie propelled them forward, racking up win after impressive win. Unlike past years when the Red Sox bullpen collapsed mid-season, this time the strength of the pitching roster only increased. The young mid-relief pitcher Uehara gradually found his way to becoming one of the toughest closers this club’s ever put on the mound.

All these threads led the Sox to the 2013 World Series, a post-season match up that did not disappoint. Game 3 saw an incredible ending due to an obstruction call on 3rd base and game 4 ended with a lightening pickoff from Uehara that even Fox’s cameras missed the first time around. All-in-all the 2013 baseball season brought me, and the rest of Boston’s fans, a great deal of happiness. As a boy I used to think I’d never see the Red Sox ever be crowned world champs. Now it’s happened for an amazing third time in ten years and I honestly still can’t believe it. Thanks to Pedroia, Ortiz, Ellsbury, Lester, Victorino and all the rest of those bearded boys for making 2013 a year to remember. Congrats guys, enjoy the celebration!

Why Won’t TV Sports Blackouts Just Die Already?

I live in Greensboro, North Carolina which is located approximately 330 miles from Baltimore Maryland, home of the Baltimore Orioles. I’m so far away from Baltimore in fact that I don’t even receive their local television or radio broadcasts. I don’t know the local sportscasters, the best places to eat or even how to get to Camden Yards. Yet, whenever my beloved Red Sox (or any other team for that matter) plays the Orioles, Major League Baseball blacks out the broadcast for me here in Greensboro. Greensboro. North Carolina.

Since they were first televised in the late 60′s and 70′s, sports such as baseball and football have been subject to broadcast blackout restrictions. Originally designed to get people up off the couch, sell tickets and into the home team’s stadiums, blackouts were designed to help ensure a healthy bottom line for both league owners and those with a stake in local television markets. Stadiums cost millions of dollars to build and back in the day blackouts made sense, but not any longer. In today’s age of interconnectivity, smart phones, place-shifted broadcasts and on-demand programming, fans are fed up with the NFL & MLB’s blackouts.

Making matters worse, each league as their own set of rules and restrictions for how blackouts are applied. The NFL’s “75 mile” rule is fairly straight forward. If all tickets of a home game are not sold out, the broadcast is blacked out for a radius of 75 miles from the stadium. Seems reasonable, but given how few games are actually played in a regulation season of football, having even one or two games blacked out is upsetting to die hard fans. In comparison, Major League Baseball’s blackouts are a veritable rat’s nest of regulations that are so convoluted, even team owners don’t understand them. In Las Vegas for example, no less than 6 baseball teams (Dodgers, A’s, Giants, Padres, Angels, and Diamondbacks) are regularly blacked out from television viewing. Sometimes these blackouts aren’t announced until just minutes before the game. If I loved baseball and lived in Las Vegas, I’d probably have a major heart attack about once a week. Thankfully, hope seems to be on the horizon.

Back in February, the Sports Fans Coalition assembled a petition to the Federal Communication Commission outlining fan’s anger at the NFL’s blackout restrictions. Five Democratic Senators joined the petition and urged the FCC to eliminate the rule arguing that taxpayers have helped pay for stadiums and should not have their home games blacked out. They also added it was “a regulatory backstop to an obnoxious and outdated league policy … At a time of persistently high unemployment, sluggish economic growth, and consumer uncertainty, the sports blackout rule supports blatantly anti-fan, anti-consumer behavior by professional sports leagues.” Well said.

This perspective is especially true today since the bulk of sports revenue now comes not from tickets, but from internet and television. Given this reality, it’s difficult to justify withholding broadcasts from fans willing to pay for it. The petition is now a matter of record and a final decision regarding NFL blackouts is expected soon. One hopeful byproduct of the petition is that the F.C.C. may require Major League Baseball to finally document and explain it’s own complex rules for applying blackout restrictions, something fans and owners have asked for repeatedly. Forcing MLB just to explain the rules may push blackouts over the tipping point and finally put an end to them.

In an age when we can watch our favorite movies and television shows whenever we want, wherever we want (mostly), sports blackouts are a slap in the face of the consumer. Fans have put up with these Orwellian restrictions for years but the increasing popularity of smart phones and tablet computers like the iPad have begun to put enormous pressure on leagues, team owners and even government. Social networking and digital connectivity have made this country, indeed this planet, a very small place where all forms of information can be accessed from anywhere. If the petition filed in February simply forces MLB to explain why I can watch the Red Sox kick the tar out of the Yankees but not the Orioles, I’ll be happy. Personally, I’m hoping the F.C.C. takes the TV blackout rule out back for a trip to the proverbial woodshed. One can dream.

Update: In yet another blow to baseball loving fans everywhere, the U.S. 4th District Court of appeals upheld a ruling preventing Time Warner Cable from offering the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) and its sister station, MASN2, from being added to its cable package in North Carolina. The reasoning the government decided to hang fans out to dry? The Orioles and Nationals have been “so bad” in recent years that no one would want to watch their games anyway. Yeah, never mind that occasionally those teams play OTHER teams like the Yankees or Red Sox, or that as I write this the Orioles are sitting in first place in the AL East. MLB Needs a serious kick in the ass.

Yaz and I

They say kids can be cruel and that’s never more true than when you have an unusual name. Growing up, I knew my parents had named me after my grandfather, Gedeon Oliver Maheux. That being said, it was a little tough for me to appreciate my family heritage when neighborhood kids would call me all manor of strange and hurtful names. At some point in our lives we all get called mean things and if we’re lucky, it ends up building character instead of warping our “fragile little minds”.

But by the time I was seven, I disliked my name so much that when my mom and dad sent me off to 2 weeks of Catholic summer camp, I insisted they register me with my middle name of Paul instead of Gedeon. I had the brilliant idea that I would hide behind my dad’s name to avoid the inevitable onslaught of ridicule that would come with a cabin full of strange, new kids. All our clothes had to have name tags sewn on them for laundry identification, so for two weeks both my clothes and I were known as “Paul Maheux”. The clever charade worked great except that camp councilors thought I was going deaf since they’d call out “Paul!” and I wouldn’t even so much as turn my head in response.

Then when I was eleven years old, my father took me to my first big league baseball game. Living in New Hampshire, naturally it was the Boston Red Sox I saw that fateful day in 1980. Like most children, I can easily remember the first time I emerged from the concession tunnel to see the Green Monster. Although I had played baseball a bit at school, this was the first time I can honestly say I became interested in it. I sat with my father and watched the game unfold in unassuming fashion until a strange man took the field and the place went positively nuts.

Not being familiar with the players or the history of the Red Sox, I couldn’t understand why this scrawny guy was being greeted with such thunderous applause. Who was this man? What had he done to deserve this? Then the PA system blasted his name and quite literally changed my life. The announcer simply said one word as the scoreboard brightly flashed it over and over – “Yaz!”. Every fan in Fenway knew him to be Carl Yastrzemski, the legendary hitter and outfielder that fans lovingly referred to as Yaz. By the time I saw him that night, his profesional career was winding down, but I didn’t know that. All I knew was this man was loved and respected by thousands of people and to top it off he had a strange name, just like me.

After that fateful game, you couldn’t call me Paul if you wanted to. I was proud to be called Gedeon, but my smile grew if you called me simply Ged. I realized that it wasn’t a bad thing to have a unique name, in fact, just the opposite. Try a Google search for “Paul” and then one for “Gedeon” and you’ll know exactly what I mean. As I grew older I wore my name with pride and thanked my parents for setting me apart from the crowd. Today, I wouldn’t have it any other way and I have my family and a player named Yaz to thank for it.

Beijing Takes Home the Gold

I’ll admit that I never really got into the 2004 Athens Olympics. If I watch the games at all, they’re usually the winter variety, but this summer something is different. The Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics have sparked the interest of people across the globe and grabbed hold of me like never before. There are a number of great things being done by the host country, the IOC and NBC’s coverage that have set these games apart from any I can remember. Here’s a list of just some of the things I’ve throughly enjoyed this time around. Bravo Beijing!

The Opening Ceremonies

Right from the start I knew the opening ceremony of the 2008 summer games was going to be something special. I distinctly remember how disappointed I was with the start of the 2004 Athens games and so I almost didn’t tune in this time. Boy, am I glad I did. The artistry, depth and intricacy of the spectacle set the bar far above anything I’ve ever seen. From the huge animated scroll, to the wonderful 2,008 Tai Chi demonstrators all moving in unison, Beijing did the Olympic tradition proud and put on a visual feast that won’t soon be forgotten.

Incredible HD Coverage

The Beijing games are the first Olympics I consider to be truly broadcast in high definition. There are hundreds of hours of HD coverage from NBC and her sister networks and it is simply wonderful. Watching the opening ceremonies, the epic spanning shots of Beijing and the incredible sports action in the pool and on the track in HD cannot be beat. If we can’t be court-side for beach volley ball or high up in the Bird’s Nest for the parade of nations, NBC’s Beijing HD broadcasts have to be the next best thing.

The Design

I love the look of these games. Every single visual aspect of the 2008 Beijing Games has been masterfully designed to evoke emotion, Chinese tradition and technical perfection. From Herzog & De Meuron’s famous “Bird’s Nest” stadium and PTW Architects’ exciting “Water Cube” swimming center, to the elegant design of the wave pattern employed on banners, posters and even the medals themselves, Beijing looks simply stunning. By contrast, London’s designers come off as hacks.

Compelling Athletic Drama

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat are all in play in Beijing. I’ve really enjoyed watching Michael Phelps make Olympic history with his eight gold medals. I’ve also been rooting for the Chinese every chance I get from rowing (they won their first golds!) to women’s beach volley ball, the incredible women’s marathon and beyond. And who could forget Usain Bolt’s incredible and cocky performance in the men’s 100 meter dash? The 2008 Summer Games have been a dream come true for sports fans around the globe, and it isn’t over yet.

The Commercials

Yes, even the ads kick ass. The commercials during the games have put those over-hyped, over-priced train wrecks we see during the Super Bowl to shame. I especially love VISA’s simple, narrated ads with Morgan Freeman and the always inspiring creations of United Airlines. Between the games and the commercials, I can barely break myself away from the TV long enough to grab a snack!

Getting A-Rod’s Goat

This photo from a recent Blue Jays vs Yankees game of clever fans taunting Alex Rodriguez, gets my vote for best photo of the year. About the only thing that would have made it even better is if it had happened at Fenway Park. Click through to see even more photos of A-Rod getting a first-class lesson in marital ethics. Life is good.

Doing the Impossible. Twice.

When the Red Sox won the championship in 2004, I felt a sense of satisfaction that I had never known before. When Boston came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in the ALCS I knew that all things were possible. The World Series against the Cardinals was just icing on the cake, it felt good, but the real “win” was beating the Yankees into a small, bloody pulp. Quite simply, it was every Red Sox fan’s dream, and it felt goooood.

Sunday’s night win against the upstart Colorado Rockies was a completely different animal. After Denver went down in game 3, in their very own stadium, I felt the series was over. Of course anything could have happened so I tried not to become too confident. My fears all melted away as Boston completed an impressive sweep in four games and ran away with their second world championship in four years.

I’d just like to say thanks to Manny, Big Papi, Lowell, Pedroia, Varitek, Ellsbury, Beckett, Papelbon, Francona and all the rest who played one of the best seasons of baseball I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. The summer was filled with ups and downs, nail biting and celebration, and in the end you guys pulled it off once again. My parents and I thank you, as your efforts have given us cause to speak more often and share in the joy of your victories. I wish I was home in New England for the party that is going down. So, from this tiny little part of Red Sox Nation, here in North Carolina, congratulations! Now go and sign Mike Lowell, will you please?

Dustin Pedroia for President!

I’m taking a cue from Dan Cederholm and putting my vote behind the man who should be the American League Rookie of the Year, Dustin Pedroia. The 2007 Red Sox are heading to the World Series against the Colorado Rockies, and it is in no small part thanks to the efforts of this scrappy little guy. To be totally honest, I’d like to nominate the entire darned team, because right now I’d follow them anywhere.

After loosing three straight games to the Cleveland Indians, I really thought the Sox were done for. My faith had been shaken before and I should have learned my lesson, but thankfully guys with names like Lowell, Ellsbury, Youkilis, Beckett and Drew sent me to detention, stepped up and won the ALCS. After the first three games there was so much talk about Manny and Big Pappi and how they had carried the team, even I was starting to think these two sluggers were on their own. How wrong we all were. J.D. Drew’s grand slam in the first inning of game 6 set the tone for the next 18 innings as time after time hitters other than Ramirez and Ortiz drove in the runs. Tonight’s RBI’s by Pedroia, Youkilis and others have cemented the notion that this year’s Red Sox are not a fluke. They are the real deal, working together as a team, and I can’t wait to see what happens against the Rockies.

As a side note, anyone who says that Twitter is useless or “doesn’t get it” should add some friends who follow the same sports team as they do. I’ve found nothing more enjoyable than reading tweets from fellow Red Sox nation fans during these post-season games. It’s not quite as good as actually being in Fenway, but it does allow for shared celebration, commentary and emotional support like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Thanks go out to all those Sox fans tweeting along at home, you’ve been wonderful. Next stop, a little thing called the World Series. Come on down Denver!

UPDATE: Well, he may be too young to take over as President, but this week (11/13/07) Dustin Pedroia was awarded the American League Rookie of the Year. Congratulations Dustin, you really did make a huge difference this year. We’re all proud of you!

Brooms Are Bustin’ Out All Over

Baseball fans seem to be getting their money’s worth this post season. This goes double for devotees of the Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox. All four teams are so far undefeated in post season play, much to the disappointment of Cubs, Phillies, Angels and Yankee fans everywhere. Of all the division playoffs so far, the most surprising has been the Yanks and Indians. I think it is safe to say that few expected the Indians to shut out the Yankees so effectively, but now the series heads back to New York for today’s 6:30pm game. If there is any team in Major League Baseball that won’t go quietly into the night, it’s those damn Yankees. I think Jeeter and company would have actually won game 2 if it hadn’t been for the spectacularly bad catching of Posada along with all those wonderful bugs. I fully expect tonight’s game to be an old fashion brawl with the Yankees emerging as victors. Back in 2001, the Yankees were down 2-0 vs. the Angles and came back to win. Of course I could be wrong. The Yankees, after all, have been known to choke before.

The Red Sox have had a relatively easy go of their division series thus far, but now they head to California. The Angels won the most home games of any team in 2007 and as such are hoping for the momentum they need to beat back Ortiz, Manny and Shilling. After Dice K’s weak performance in game 2, I was actually surprised that the Sox pulled it off, so I’m less confident about a Boston sweep than I should be. I predict the Sox will lose today, then come back in game 4 to take the division. Similarly, I think the Yanks will crush the Indians tonight, but will ultimately lose, probably in game 5 back in Cleveland.

Any way you cut it, this is a great time to be a baseball fan. We’ve seen some fantastic moments so far, and I’m sure there will be much more to come. It was sad to see Chicago get clobbered so badly, I have an understandable affinity for those cursed Cubbies. However, as we said in Boston for over 8 decades, “There’s always next year”. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to get going, my floor needs sweeping.

UPDATE: Seems that the Angel’s record at home during the regular season didn’t amount to squat. The Sox sweep the Angels and head to the ALCS thanks to a ball-busting 9-1 slugfest. God, I love being wrong. Now it falls to the Indians to see if they can sweep A-Rod and Jeeter out of the post season. My gut says the Yanks will still win big tonight.

UPDATE II: The Yanks manage to hold the brooms at bay and come away with a win tonight. Despite the victory, New York was far from perfect. Clemens put in a dismal performance and was taken out in just 3 innings. Was he really worth that $15.6 million dollars? And while we’re at it, what’s up with Steinbrenner threatening Joe Torre with dismissal? Yanks get to the playoffs, but evidently that isn’t good enough. At any rate, another game tomorrow. Should be fun!

UPDATE III: Well, the Yankees avoided the sweep, but they’re still out. Nothing like beating a team in their own park. The best part about the Indians going to the ALCS is that now I don’t have to hear the phrase “Joba Rules” anymore. Thank GOD. Bring on the Tribe!

Oh, Me of Little Faith!

A couple of weeks ago, during a particularly nasty losing streak, I had pretty much given up all hope for my beloved Red Sox of ever making the finals this year. I watched as their 14+ game lead in the A.L. East slowly, but surely dried up. At one point, those damn Yankees managed to pull within 1 game of the lead, and so I had had enough. I brushed Boston aside and tried to focus on other things, all the while keeping one eye on Beantown.

Reverse psychology never worked so well! Tonight, Boston’s win over the Twins combined with the Yankees 9-10 loss to the Orioles in extra innings means that the Sox have won the A.L. East title for the first time since 1995. Just minutes after the Yankees game ended, the A.L. East entry over at Wikipedia was updated with the Red Sox’s achievement. Their win means that the Yankees’ stranglehold on the division is finally over and the Sox’s stunning victory over the Bronx Bombers in 2004 is now “complete”.

I have to hand it to these self-proclaimed “bunch of idiots”, they never gave up. Despite horrendous performances by Eric Gagne, badly timed injuries to Manny and Youklis, and a New York team that seemed at times, unbeatable, the Red Sox have emerged as this year’s champions. The Sox claimed the lead of the division way back on April 18th, and amazingly enough, never gave it back. The entire Red Sox Nation can now look forward to the post-season and take a small, but needed, sigh of relief. Next stop, the playoffs, and this time I promise not to look away!

Brawl in Bean-town the Bronx

If is any greater rivalry in the world of professional sports, I don’t know what it is. For as long as anyone living can remember, the battle between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees has been stuff of legend. This season is no different from any other and this August, the Bronx Bombers are making their usual bid at the championship. There is only one small problem, the Red Sox are 8 games up in the AL East and look to be on a roll.

Tonight marks the start of a decisive 3 game series that could make or break the Yankees chances this year. The Yanks enter the series from a disastrous road trip in which they took only 2 of 6 games. The Detroit Tigers and and Los Angeles Angels beat up on the Yanks to increase their 4 game deficit on the Sox back up to a full 8. Underestimating them of course, would be a mistake so I’m trying to keep my enthusiasm in check as we gear up for what could be the best 3 games of the season. Given the roll they’ve been on, I have no doubts that the Sox will take at least 2 of 3 from Jeter and gang. Because the Yanks will want to show the home town crowd they are anything but push-overs, I predict the Sox will lose the first game tonight, but will sweep the remaining two match ups handily. I’ll update this post, for good or bad, as we go.

There is a little friendly rivalry going on over at Dave Caolo’s blog. Dave’s bet a Yanks fan that the Sox will win 2 of the three and a blogger named Whit named just the reverse. The stake are quite funny, so head on over and check it out. No matter how the series turns out, fans in both camps are in for some great baseball over the next few nights. This is what we live for, so settle in, pop some corn and savor the moment. As long as Gagne doesn’t royally screw up, I have a feeling this is going to be GOOD.

UPDATE: Yanks win game 1 with a score of 5 to 3. So far my prediction is right on the money. Let’s hope it holds for tomorrow. There is a good chance with Clemens taking the mound with his 5-5 record vs Josh Beckett’s 16-5 season. Manny out with back strain, hopefully nothing serious.

UPDATE II: Well, I guess I won’t be quitting my day job to run a psychic hotline anytime soon. The Yanks play mediocre baseball, but the Sox play worse and lose the second game 3 to 4. Yanks move to 6 games back, Manny looks hurt enough that he won’t be playing tomorrow and I see that broom in the corner starring at me. Meanwhile, Dave Caolo is hating life right about now.

UPDATE III: Manny’s back must posses some awful omen demon power or something because the Sox just got swept by the Yanks. If you had asked me to put money down on this series, I would have bet that the Sox would take at least one, if not two. In that case, I’d be out some $$$. I’m not about to jump off a ledge or anything yet, but Francona better figure out just went wrong this week, or we’re in trouble.