Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review of Community Season 5-Part 2

"Geothermal Escapism"
Another campus-wide contest that out the worst in everyone.  In the last episode, Troy received Pierce’s inheritance on the condition that he sail his yacht around the world.  As a send-off, Abed organizes a campus-wide game of “Hot Lava” to send him off.  He puts up a valuable comic to the last person standing.  Chaos ensues. 

Umm.  Yeah.  You’re thinking what I’m thinking.  They went to the well once too often.  The Waterworld-ish homage was kinda amusing though.  What did work here was the ending where Troy says goodbye to everyone.  There was some genuine sadness there.  The sadness would continue for the rest of the season.     

"Analysis of Cork-Based Networking"
Annie’s effort to put up a new bulletin board in the cafeteria runs smack into Greendale’s maintenance bureaucracy.  There was a radio show in the 80’s called Visit New Grimston Anyway.  It might be thought of an Ur-Community prototype: eccentric cast, wacky situations, a few emotional, dramatic moments. This episode somewhat reminds me of the first episode of New Grimston, where the new employee, Neil, joins the city government.  He spends the entire first episode trying to get the window in his office open and running smack into the maintenance bureaucracy.  I wish I could link to something here, but the show may be gone forever and unremembered.         

Briefly, it seemed like the show could still work without Pierce and Troy.  Hickey could work as the cranky old man.  Rachel, as Abed’s girlfriend, could fill in for Troy.  They weren’t bad characters or performances.  They just don’t fit on the show.  Hickey is too damn depressing to be funny.  Rachel is adorable, but Abed having a normal girlfriend, defeats his character’s zeitgeist.  Having Abed sort of “grow up” (for whatever that’s worth), I get, from a narrative standpoint.  From a sitcom standpoint, it’s poison.  Save the well-adjusted Abed for the last episode of the series to put a bow on it.  In the meantime, keep going with the wacky.  This show has its dramatic and poignant moments, but they only work because of comedy.  The characters won’t work in a quasi-drama.     

I totally missed the news ticker message upon my original viewing.  Troy has apparently been captured by pirates.  Cool.  Unfortunately, that’s all we hear about it. 

"Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality"
It seems like this episode and the next should have come after Troy’s departure, with the Bulletin Board one coming after them.  I can guess why they were shown out-of-order, if that’s the case.  In spite of the provocative title, this episode was just terribly depressing.  Given that the show would be off for a couple of weeks for the Olympics, if they’d left off with this unhappy episode, no casual viewer would have returned.  This one shouldn’t have been made, but I get the impression there was a personal message here, but who cares?

I’m not even going to bother with even a two-sentence plot summary, because there wasn’t one.  If you wanted to miss Troy, this was the episode to wallow in it.  Possibly the most heartbreaking moment of the series: Abed, alone in the study room, glancing over at Troy’s empty chair. 

"App Development and Condiments"
Another campus-wide contest brings out the worst in everyone. 

Stop me if you’ve heard that recently.  At least it’s a different premise in that it’s essentially a popularity contest.

Greendale tries out a new social media app that allows people to rate each other.  What could go wrong?  This should have been a great concept episode, but it fell flat as it felt way too rushed in story development.  Our dystopian social media future seems ripe for parody, especially when combined with other cinematic visions.  Britta and Shirley took center stage interacting with Jeff here, but unfortunately their characters have been so diminished this season, they just couldn’t carry it.  Britta and Jeff couldn’t even really work up any sparks together.  However, mad props for putting Leonard in a Sandman outfit. 

"VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing"
Another episode where we’re missing Troy.  Annie and Abed are having a contest to see whether her brother or his girlfriend moves in with them.  It just didn’t work at all, especially in that depressing little apartment (which is used again as the main set in the next episode).  Worse, the subplot could have made for a great episode by itself.  The rest of the group comes across something valuable and tries to fence it and end up turning on each other.  Unfortunately, this really would have required Pierce to do properly.  Now that this homage has been used, it can only be used again as an obvious retread.  Speaking of which…

"Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons"
Jeff: “Abed, you’re not helping.”
Abed: “I’d be a pretty bad Dungeon Master if I was.”

What game of D&D has there ever been where the DM made all of the die rolls?  Hell, I wouldn’t trust myself in that situation, much less any group of players.  Well, just to be fair, I do sort of get why Abed is doing all of the die rolling.  It’s to move the plot along a bit quicker, rather than having everyone roll and then respond.  Their D&D is a bit like Inspector Spacetime.  It’s not really much of a Doctor Who parody, but that’s not really the point of it.  Unlike that last time, at least they made the game look fun.

Hickey and the group are playing the game so that he can bond with his d*ckish son.  That’s an unpromising premise.  Maybe I’m too hard on this episode because I’m a player.  I didn’t like the first one either (except for the part where Annie describes seducing the elf maid).  This wasn’t a bad episode, just disappointing.

It’s a pity this episode wasn’t coordinated more with the release of 5th edition.  (Abed is holding the playtest book at the end.)  Let’s say someone, who knew nothing about the game, was inspired to give it a try because of this episode.  What would they get?  4th edition is the only thing available in the stores and the newest version online.  If you wanted the rulebooks that were used in the two D&D episodes, you’d have to find out that they were older editions and could only get them off of a website.  Would you want an older edition?  “What’s the difference between editions?” a noob might ask.  “Do I really need miniatures?  They didn’t use them on the show.”  And so on.

This is turning into an RPG post, but screw it.  Dungeons & Dragons as a pencil and paper RPG has really got an uphill climb at this point.  It has a bad reputation in the media.  Not demonic influence mind you, there’s a dozen popular, critically acclaimed cable shows that have that.  What I mean is that only socially-maladjusted weirdoes play this game.  Moreover, for the price of one of the new books, you could get a computer game that simulates the experience.  For that matter, you’ll need several books, and you’ll have to do all of the work yourself in order to enjoy the game. 


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review of Community Season 5-Part 1

I’ll be the first to admit that I was late to this party.  I hadn’t heard of Community until Season Four, when a bunch of fanboys on nerd websites started bitching about it.  I didn’t start watching it until it went into syndication, right before Season Five started.  The first episode I watched was Accounting for Lawyers. I had no idea about the setting or any character knowledge and yet, was completely floored.  I sat there watching with my mouth open the entire time.  I was in the act of laughing, but the jokes were so rapid fire, I was afraid to start doing so that I might miss something.  Then the next episode came on right after, Basic Rocket Science, rifting off of one of my favorite movies, The Right Stuff.  

Suddenly I had a new favorite show, which I talked about incessantly.  I was able to get a co-worker to watch with me one night.  He started laughing immediately, with only slightly more show knowledge than I started with.  While he’s only watched a couple more episodes, he’s still occasionally quoting from what he’s seen. 

I have little qualifications to review this show.  I’m not a long-time fan.  I still haven’t seen every episode (working on it).  I thought Season Four was funny.  I really don’t get the animus against it.  Yeah, the show’s creator, Dan Harmon, wasn’t there, but so what?  It was still good.  Are you a fan of the show, or Harmon?  Well, he’s back for Season Five at everyone’s request.  One would be tempted to map out the show and its characters as has been done with Hideaki Anno and his anime show, Evangelion.  (Anno is Shinji.  Rei is the audience.  Etc.)  Abed is Dan.  The “Save Greendale” storyline is Dan trying to “save” the show after Season Four.     

If the Season Four was the “Gas Leak” year, Season Five is the “Suicide Watch” year.  The show’s return has been mostly joyless and depressing.  Chevy Chase’s departure should, theoretically, have not hurt the show.  And yet, the will-reading episode, where it was like he was there, was probably the best episode of the season.  The inherently depressing Hickey, more of less replaced him. 

Troy’s leaving was going to hurt, but we had no idea badly.  Watching some older episodes, I had the epiphany that Troy was my favorite character.  Donald Glover had a unique ability to take even the dumbest lines and make them hysterical.  Troy and Abed worked so well together, but Troy had enough depth that he could carry stories by himself (unlike Abed).  

Chang was brought back, unfortunately, as an evil mastermind (okay, perhaps an oxymoronically dimwitted one) reduced to a strange annoyance.  The flimsy concept of the study group was replaced with the “Save Greendale” committee.  I could see Jeff somehow ironically (or karmically) ending up back at the college as a teacher.  The rest of the cast, especially Chang, coming back was a real stretch.  What should have been an opportunity to clean house and start over with a new concept, just got recycled and shoehorned into the same old thing, but with missing pieces.       

In my mind, the main problem with this show is that somewhat poor name.  Whatever relevant connotations it has in relation to the show, it’s weak and vague.  Worse, it’s been paired up with the equally badly named, Parks and Rec, forming an hour-long block of inherent disinterest.  At least it has this going for it.  Everyone who sees this show for the first time, immediately says the same thing, “Hey, it’s that guy from The Soup.”  Even I, a guy who doesn’t watch The Soup, recognized Joel Mchale as such.  He is the show, thankfully he’s pretty good in it. 

At least things started off well.  Jeff and group leave Greendale and find themselves to be total failures outside it.  In the process of blaming the school, Jeff is drafted as a new teacher.  The group re-enrolls and forms the “Save Greendale” committee.  It’s a flimsy premise, but could have worked.  At least it made more sense than the Study Group.    

"Introduction to Teaching"
Here we see Jeff getting off to a shaky start as a slacker teacher, but pulling it together by the end of the show, as he demonstrates that he does have some knowledge worth passing along.  Unfortunately, this is all we get to see as Jeff as a teacher. 

Is anyone else intrigued by this story potential?  You’d think this would be a wide-open opportunity to at least have an episode with a new study group of characters in his class that has a totally different perspective on the “Greendale Seven.”  From a geek angle, it could mirror the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Lower Decks.”  Regardless of missed chances, this episode’s enjoyment squarely rests on an insane Abed doing a flat-out nuts Nicolas Cage impersonation for 30 seconds.    

"Basic Intergluteal Numismatics"
For sheer mood, this one is also a winner.  Jeff and Annie continue their off-and-on flirtation in the context of a police procedural-like search for the “Ass-Crack Bandit.”  It’s clever as heck and a total spoof of any number of serial killer movies.  Unfortunately, in what would set the tone for the rest of the season, news of Pierce’s death suddenly intrudes at the end.  It’s almost like they were afraid to let the audience enjoy an entire episode.          
"Cooperative Polygraphy"
This was it.  This was the last great episode of Community.  It was a total “Bottle” episode, highlighted by the group at each other’s throats, as usual.  Somehow, no matter how many times it’s done, this setup works for the show.  It was so poignant because this would be the last time they could really do it correctly.  This was the reading of Pierce’s will to the group as they are all hooked up to a polygraph.  Troy was still in cast, and while Pierce was gone, he was certainly there in spirit.  From here, everything goes downhill. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bullfighting Report

Yes, really.  I flipped around the stations after the Charlie Brown special on Sunday night and ran into a live bullfight on a Juarez station.  Live.  In all my years of watching Mexican television, I have NEVER seen this. 

I came in at the end of one bout.  The bull was, well, kinda small.  He spent most of his time trying to run away from the matador.  For his part, the matador did at least finish things very cleanly with a sword thrust and the bull died immediately.

I got to see the entirety of the next bout.  The matador was interviewed beforehand.  (The bull declined.)  For the beginning of the fight, the bullfighter sat on his knees in front of the bull chute, holding his cape out in front of him.  Oh My God!  A large, angry bull suddenly burst out and the matador barely dodged him.  This is a larger bull.  I’ve seen bigger, but I would not be comfortable in an enclosed space with this bull. 

The matador was able dance around him for a while, tiring him, before the lancer came out on an armored horse.  The bull got the worst of this engagement.  If you think a cape isn’t a lot of protection against a charging bull, try a pair of small javelins.  The matador managed to jab two sets of these into the bull’s shoulders.  The matador returned with a cape, and while the bull was in the act of dying, he was more dangerous.  The bullfighter got a little too close and was trampled briefly.  The TV coverage gave several replays of this.   

Here was the greatest act of courage, in my opinion.  The matador was not injured, but went back to face the bull.  He returned with a sword for the final act and drove it hilt deep between the beast’s shoulders.  This did not finish him off.  It got him good and angry.  The matador went at him with three more swords, nearly getting gored each time.  Finally, the bull laid down, beaten.  Another matador finished him with a dagger to the back of the head.    

Strangely, I didn’t feel sorry for the bull.  The average domesticated bull goes down with a shot to the head, never seeing it coming.  The fighting bull is not leaving the ring alive, but at least has a chance to die well, perhaps even taking out a tormentor or two.  “Sometimes the bull wins,” as they say.  Given the anger they display, if you could ask them, this is probably how they’d want to go. 

For the bullfighter, it’s an act of courage, bordering on insanity.  I read a Sports Illustrated article once, profiling a matador.  The list of this man’s injuries was chilling.  He'd broken nearly every bone in his body and had had even testicles torn out.  No one accuses a matador of doing what they do because they hate bulls.  Like a big game hunter, they respect their opponent.  Likewise, the audience respects the bull too.  They admire the matador’s courage and skill.  They know the bull is doomed, but very capable of ensuring a tragic end for the bullfighter.  It’s not a sport, it’s actual life and death.

I suppose I won’t sound very enlightened to say that I’d watch this again given the opportunity.  Not for the blood or potential death (that’s what UFC is for), but there was a certain brave artistry to it.  Don’t feel bad for the bull.  If he didn’t enter the ring, he was surely going to be slaughtered at some point anyway.  Certainly the bullfighter has the advantage in the ring, but it’s not like he’s going in with a gun.  There’s no subtlety of hunting either.  The combatants can see one another clearly.  If the matador wants cover, he has to run for it.  This wasn’t just interesting, it was thought-provoking.  Somehow, the hyperboles of other sports are probably going to ring a little hollow with me for a while.

Here's a view of the stadium.

The image is from this blog, by a person who clearly knows more about this sport than I do.  It's from a couple of years ago.  There are many other pictures there.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sports Journal 4-20-14

[I’m taking another week off from RPG’s, though there will be more coming.  Tomorrow’s post will be about a sport that I never thought I’d be covering.  After that, I’m reviewing Community Season 5 for the rest of the week.]

NBC scheduled three playoff games over the weekend which I caught.  The Saturday afternoon one between the Blues and the Blackhawks was particularly good.  The Blues got a literal last-second goal to end the first period and a goal with six seconds left in regulation to tie it, winning in OT 4-3.  If you put it to me, I’ll admit that this game was probably better than any given baseball game that day. 

That said, I’ve only been watching Saturday afternoon baseball for like over 20 years.  Props to NBC for making the most of a non-golf tournament weekend where the network competition had vacated the field.  Some temporarily scheduled hockey is no substitute though.  Meanwhile, I don’t know about your Fox affiliate, but mine shows crappy movies in these situations.  Really crappy.  I don’t think I’ve ever watched a weekend afternoon movie on their station.  They’re fairly recent movies (within 10 years) that have stars in them you know, but movies that you’d never pay full ride to see in a theater, if you’ve even heard of them.  Then they showed King of Queens (no complaint there) and some informercials.  You can’t tell me, baseball was getting worse ratings than this crap (and please don’t tell me if it was).

As long as hockey is the topic, I’d like to praise the NHL for moment.  They’ve made some rules changes that have really helped the game.  First, no substitutions on Icing calls.  I know that seems minor, but it is a God-send to the viewers.  Teams used to Ice the puck all the time to change lines, and it just killed the rhythm of the game.  Next, moving the Blue lines back helped the offense and offside calls.  Going to the 4 on 4 OT and Shoot-out were also great ideas.  Anything to avoid a tie.  I also appreciate the lack of constant commercial interruption, unlike other sports (ahem NASCAR).

I’d like to offer a few suggestions though.  Work on those camera angles.  Vary them up a little.  It’ll make the rink advertising on the other side more valuable.  A single, panning camera sort of works for basketball because it’s a much small playing surface.  With hockey, you’re missing too much.  I swear that most of the games I’ve watched have gone into Overtime.  If that’s representative, it defeats the purpose of calling it Overtime.  How about going 4 on 4 if it’s ever tied in the Third Period?  Finally, and this should be obvious, no more labor problems.  You NHL guys are lucky that people love hockey so much, because you really should be out of business.

I’ll probably keep watching the occasional fight, but I’m not commenting on them anymore, unless I get a decent show.  I watched Fox’s UFC Saturday night fight.  (Yeah, they can put this on, but not baseball).  I saw my first women’s bout.  Bottom line, it just doesn’t appeal to me.  Admittedly, a couple of the women do, but that doesn’t mean I want to see them hitting each other.  This wasn’t worse fight I’ve seen, and it was a bit different than a men’s match, but not to my preference.  I don’t know who the target audience is for women’s fighting.  I don’t think it appeals to most men.  Women, who are fight fans, want to watch the guys too. 

The main bout started off excellently.  You didn’t just hear how hard these guys were hitting each other, you felt it.  Seconds after they mentioned the favorite in the fight had never been pinned, he was pinned.  Unfortunately, the challenger clearly won the first three rounds of the five round match, and the two combatants essentially stopped fighting to win.  The loser was too winded after the first round to attack (he was literally looking up at the clock waiting for the fight to end), and the winner just played it safe.  I’m deliberately not using the names of the fighters in a show of deliberate disrespect, the same they showed to the audience.  Neither of them had ever fought for a full five rounds, and that was obvious.   

Speaking of deliberate disrespect, I also watched a boxing match between Bernard Hopkins and some Asian-looking fellow named Shumenov, from a country whose flag I couldn’t identify (the broadcast was in Spanish).  Hopkins was clearly taking the bout very seriously as he came out wearing a little green alien mask.  He also stuck his tongue out during the match, wound up his fist like Popeye once, and generally taunted his way through the fight.  The other guy shouted out every time he threw a punch.  Seems like a bit of a tell there.  And they went at it like that for 12 rounds.  The judges’ decision. . . AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!  (Deep breath.)  AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!  I’ve just wasted my night watching another boxing match without a decisive win!  Hopkins really shouldn’t have been acting like an ass.  He only won on a split decision.

It was a little sparse this weekend.  I wasn’t getting good reception to listen to the Rangers games.  I did hear the Chihuahuas get creamed Sunday afternoon, 11-4.  The highlight of the game was veteran outfielder, Jeff Francoeur, getting his first pitching experience.  He pitched a 1-2-3 8th inning, smiling the entire time.

Meanwhile, the good people of El Paso have been repeatedly assured that the stadium will be ready next week for its debut.  Tim even reported that the Chihuahua’s opponents for the home opener are excited about being there.  Work is continuing around the clock.  Speaking of which, the large clock that was on Insights children’s museum that they dynamited to put the stadium, has been re-installed on the stadium.  Isn’t that nice? 

I saw a news report where the police are concerned that they’re going to have to pull officers off their regular patrols to provide security at the stadium on game nights.  You know, booting cars at expired meters, setting up DWI checkpoints next to the stadium, handing out a bunch of traffic tickets, you know, lucrative security.  So the good union workers are getting plenty of overtime working on the stadium and so will the police, along with another tax referendum being set up to pay for more officers.

I question the parking situation downtown, now that I know more about it.  For fans, clearly the park and ride bus service from various parts of town, seems like the best deal for $3.  A parking garage or lot would be the next best, but it doesn’t look like there’s much in the area.  I also suspect those are mostly reserved, and not for regular fans.  The last resort would be the 1800 newly installed parking meters.  They say you’ll get 4 hours for $10, but you’ll have to parallel park in the street and trust the meter and keep an eye on the clock.

I thought local entertainment businesses downtown were supposed to benefit from the games being there though.  If you’re taking the bus or parked at a meter, you’re not sticking around downtown after the game (not that you’d want to anyway).  They should blown up a few more buildings in the area to put up some more parking garages.  Of course, if they get lousy fan support after the first week, parking won’t matter that much. 

The best baseball game I saw was the animated feature, Charlie Brown’s All-Stars.  This one was either the second or third Peanuts cartoon special, so it’s really old (though the print for the broadcast was crystal clear).  I’ve never seen it.  Given how big a fan I am, that means it’s probably been decades since it’s been broadcast. 

This was Old School Peanuts.  They were cheerfully cruel to old Charlie Brown in this.  It was also really funny, and there was a sweet ending for it.  I recognized the old comic strips they used as a basis for the story.  It was tightly focused on baseball and was stitched together well.  Definitely watch this if you get the chance.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Baseball Journal 4-15-14 Meet Chico

[Odd week.  Not sure what's coming up next week.  I'll get back to RPG stuff at some point.  I can't believe how much I wrote last Sunday night about sports.]

The El Paso Chihuahuas introduced their new mascot today.

It’s a guy in a dog suit. 

I know that’s obvious, but I’m disappointed.  I was hoping for actual Chihuahuas.  I was looking forward to seeing a small herd of little trained dogs running the bases for the seventh inning stretch to the theme song from Beverly Hills Chihuahua.  (Sorry I can’t link to it here.  Look it up on Youtube.)  You could have contests where people picked their favorite.  You could get these dogs from the shelter and then offer them up for adoption to the fans.  But instead, it’s just a guy in a suit like every other team’s mascot.  (I hope the marketing department was already smart enough to figure out that they need to hook up with the Animal Shelter for some promotions, at least.)        

What happens when the Chihuahuas eventually change their name?  What happens to Chico?  Maybe he can go fight Godzilla in his next movie.

On to actual baseball, I got to more or less hear the full game Monday night.    The dogs are still in Tucson playing the Reno Aces.  My questions from last time have been mostly answered.  The crowds have been small, but seemed to be fairly enthusiastic for their former home team, along with a few fans from El Paso

Since I was listening at work, I could not give the game my undivided attention, but at least I got to hear that eventful bottom of the third.  Voice of the dogs (the dog trainer? the dog whisperer? the handler? the breeder?), Tim Hagerty, got to show off all of his baseball broadcasting skills here and displayed that he really does know his stuff.  While Aces manager, Phil Nevin, was arguing a fair/foul call, Tim was able to correctly articulate the rule governing the situation.

Phil got some more quality time with umps that inning as Cameron Maybin of the dogs, perhaps forgetting the number of outs, walked away from occupying first.  Thankfully the pitcher had called time before that, so Maybin was allowed back on the field, to the opposing manager’s chagrin.  The dogs would go on to score four runs in the inning, though during one of the scores the PA starting inexplicably playing music during the play.     

While I’ve heard of several of the players on these teams, imagine my surprise that I’d actually seen one of them play in the majors.  The only major league game I’ve been to was on September 11, 1999.  There the Diamondbacks blanked the Phillies 4-0.  Randy Wolf was the Phillies pitcher that day and the Reno Aces pitcher today.  Over the years, I’ve run into Wolf playing in other games and always remember having seen him and have been amazed by his longevity.  Tim related some of his career.  I suppose it would have been impossible to not talk about him.  God bless you Randy.

Nevin would argue with umps again later, no doubt endearing himself to them.  Tim would show off his rule book and trivia skills by talking about how a pitcher could get a save by pitching for three innings and finishing the game, regardless of the score.  The example he gave involved an extremely lopsided game.  I had to look this one up.  As per the rule book, the qualifying pitcher must “effectively” pitch for those three innings, leaving some room for interpretation.  Dogs win 5-3.

Meanwhile in the big leagues, suddenly a cacophony has started over their new Instant Replay challenge system.  This was completely unanticipated.  Apparently the Red Sox were jobbed on a clearly blown replay call, thus initiating the crisis.  If this had happened to 27 other teams in the league (obviously not including the Yankees and Dodgers), it would have been an amusing sidebar. 

What did anybody really expect?  The NFL has been doing this for years and still routinely screws up reviewed calls.  The excuse for them at least is that their games are all fixed.  I don’t know if there’s enough betting action on individual, regular season baseball games for that to be a factor here, so the MLB doesn’t have any real excuse. 

Well, start immediately tinkering with system.  That’s worked really well for NASCAR and their “Chase” rules.  I’d like a system that doesn’t involve any manager challenges, which will used for pure gamesmanship purposes in the playoffs, and just fixes the obvious blown calls and perhaps questionable plays directly effecting scoring.  (No more Jeffery Maier.)  It’s too much to ask for apparently.     


The Chihuahuas meet their new arch-nemesis, the Albuquerque Isotopes, for the first time.  According to Tim, Albuquerque fans and people around and on the team, already hate the little dogs.  From a typing standpoint, let me tell you, I’m already sick of “Chihuahuas” and “Albuquerque.”  I don’t know how much longer I can keep this blog topic up. 

I used to have an Albuquerque Dukes pennant from back when I lived there as a child.  The Dukes were a great team (and easy to type too).  Generations of Dodgers went through the Duke City, and they were a great tradition.  New fans may wonder why they’re called the Isotopes, a name which is, thanks to the Chihuahuas, now only the second dumbest name in the PCL.  Whatever you think of it, at least there’s a story behind it.  On an episode of The Simpsons, their city of Springfield lost their beloved Isotopes to Albuquerque.  When Albuquerque lost their franchise and acquired another Triple A team, the opportunity was too ironic to pass up.

My listening was sporadic while at work.  I learned that they use a humidor for the baseballs because of the high altitude (the thin air makes the baseballs more jumpy).  This had no discernable effect on tonight’s game, 11-6 ‘Topes, which included several home runs.  I don’t know what the attendance was, but they sounded numerous, loud, and enthusiastic. 

Tim had to break out the rulebook again on a play that sent a ball into one of the dugouts.  He did not question the umpire’s interpretation, but rather their view of events.  Given that it would have involved an early run for the dogs, it was important.  Replay?  Meh.  Don’t get me started on that again. 


Once again I was able to listen to about the whole game between the dogs and the Isotopes.  This joust was strangely something of a pitching duel compared to last night.  The Isotopes would prevail 3-1.  Swirling winds may have tempered the bats.  I got the impression the weather may have been a bit threatening (I could be wrong), but the patrons were not dampened in spirits or attendance from what I could hear, particularly one girl, who in the 9th, screamed on every pitch.  She must have had a decidedly personal interest in the outcome.

“Do you mind if I tell you a story?” Tim is so polite calling the game.  I got busy and missed the subsequent story, but I did hear him talk about interviewing Tommy Lasorda.  He also related the Simpsons’ angle to the Isotopes’ name and that there are statues of the cartoon characters around the stadium.  I also learned that Bryan Cranston, star of Breaking Bad, was also a big fan of the team when they were shooting in Albuquerque.   

I didn’t hear the call of the end of last night’s game.  I did not know that dog’s infielder, Jake Lemmerman, came in and pitched an inning.  He gave up one run, which wasn’t bad for a guy throwing a “Dancing Vulcan” offspeed pitch that looked like a knuckle ball.  And I forgot to mention my new favorite name, Albuquerque Isotopes player, Chili Buss.  

[I've tagged previous Chihuahua posts with a label, so you just click on that and see where I begged them not to pick that name a year ago.]

Thursday, April 17, 2014

NASCAR Journal Darlington 4-12-14

I’ve suddenly remembered that I haven’t blogged about NASCAR since Daytona.  I did keep some notes, but nothing that materialized into a post.  So, let’s catch up here a little with some random observations.

Fox Sports took my advice about the race ticker.  Thanks.  Unfortunately, that’s the last nice thing I’m going to say about them in this post.

Danica, when not good enough to win or finish well, makes sure to wreck to get airtime for her sponsors.  You watch.  I’m right.

Full house in Darlington.  Great crowd in CaliforniaBristol, terrible crowd.  What?  Lesson, good races and good weather attract fans.  Somewhere between the repave, bad economics around Bristol, and changing race dates has really hurt attendance at one of NASCAR’s show tracks.  Something must be done!   

Two of the coolest looking cars I’ve seen so far are Kyle Larson’s Clorox car from Phoenix and Ricky Stenhouse’s Zest car at Las Vegas.  I feel silly writing this, but at the same time, wouldn’t be too proud to own little die-casts of them. 

NBC is eagerly anticipating taking over NASCAR coverage from ESPN next year.  They’re even doing a NASCAR show now.  From a personal standpoint, I’m looking forward to their coverage too.  Kelli Stavast will be part of their crew.  Need I say more?  (Running gag.  Just go with it.)

Up to date now.  The biggest news in NASCAR should probably be the emergence of Chase Elliot, Bill Elliot’s son, in the Nationwide series.  He’s won two in a row, including Darlington, not a rookie friendly track.  More on this story as it develops.

After Daytona, two of the best races have been Fontana and Darlington.  These are two races that the drivers are fighting the track more than each other.  Is my memory faulty or didn’t Fontana used to be a terrible race?  The degraded track surface there is tearing up tires the way that the old Darlington surface used to.  Darlington itself is still hard on the tires, but harder on the drivers.  The competition was mainly between the drivers and the Darlington walls.  There were no winners in the conflict, only survivors. 

Kevin Harvick would make the least mistakes and take the victory.  I went back and read a Darlington blog from 2009.  I was shocked.  There, Jimmie Johnson started in the back, worked his way to the front and finished second, which is exactly what happened here in 2014. 

There was a full house in Darlington.  It was the only way to see the race.  They say fans are staying home so that they can watch sporting events on their big screen TV’s from the comfort of their own homes.  This makes sense for NFL attendance, but the theory breaks down with NASCAR given how bad the TV coverage is.  Nothing like spending good money on a TV so you can watch commercials while the race is going on.  Don’t worry, if there’s any significant action during the break, they’ll show it on replay.  Given the amount of commercial time, this statistically very likely.  NASCAR is a bit like PBS.  The constant pledge breaks tend to destroy the value of the content.

TV Coverage-wise, this had to have been one of the worst races of the season, including the rain delays.  Every time they went to commercial, which was frequently, they came back under caution, they’d show pit stops and replay the crash, and then go back to commercial.  Thankfully, they’d come back in time for the restart (a couple of years ago, they weren’t). 

I predict eventually coverage will consist of this: they’ll show the first lap full screen, the next nine laps in a small window, then three hours of commercials with a one minute race update every five minutes, then the last ten laps full screen (not including Green, White, Checkers restarts).  Wait, that wasn’t much of a prediction.  It’s what we’re basically getting now.  Since I’ve actually seen races with limited to no commercial interruption (the way God intended), I can’t put up with this mockery of race coverage.  As soon as somebody can explain to me how they can broadcast 45 God**** minutes (plus extra time) of Angola vs. Poland in a World Cup match uninterrupted, but can’t show 15 ****ing minutes of a NASCAR race without going to commercial, twice, I’ll stop complaining.  

I’m imagining Fox Sports showing that Bradley/Paciquiao fight.  “You don’t need to show all three minutes of a round.  We could jam in a minute of commercials.  The audience probably won’t miss anything.”  Joe Buck could call the fight and demand replays on every hit, wondering if it was a legal hit.  Tim McCarver could come out of retirement and complain that the fighters aren’t hitting each other where he tells them to.  Larry McReynolds could provide between rounds commentary as the fighters get filled up on their Gatorade Fight Fuel and several other branded products.  (McReynolds only function in NASCAR broadcasts is to remind everyone of the tire and fuel sponsors.  He could be replaced by an mp3 file, played on cue.)  Daryl Waltrip could provide the clich├ęs and license out the return of Digger, the canvas gopher.    

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sports Journal 4-13-14

It’s been a Scarlett Johansson sort of weekend.  I saw her in two movies on Saturday.  (No, this isn’t a sports take.  I’m getting to it.  Be patient.)  There she was with an English accent in The Other Boleyn Girl with Natalie Portman.  David Morrissey and Eric Bana were also in this, along with a blink-and-you’ll miss him Benedict Cumberbatch.  I’d like to say I enjoyed it, but it’s Henry the VIII and Anne Boleyn.  You know how it’s going to end.

More surprisingly but probably not coincidentally, I later saw her with her Captain America: the Winter Soldier (now playing in theaters) co-star, Chris Evans in the MTV produced The Perfect Score.  This movie must be about ten years old, but you can already see them practicing for their future parts.  Evans, the leader of these high school Avengers as they scam to steal the SAT test answers, at one point rallies them in a very inspirational manner.  (Though he has a very un-Captain America like moment when he leaves somebody behind that gets caught during the heist.)  Scarlett as a gothy, punk school girl, after his speech, imagines herself (I’m not making this up) clad in black leather, performing wire-fu and taking out a bunch of security guards single-handed.  Destiny.  The film was okay, I think, since I was flipping back and forth between this and the fight.          

They make a lot of the “Original Six” teams whenever they’re playing each other for some reason.  With the broadcast schedule, by and large, it’s the “Exclusive Eight,” whom they mix and match together all season for the NBC national game, ignoring the other 22 teams entirely.  I guess with the morning timing of these broadcasts, they are limited to East Coast games, but since they’re not doing regional broadcasts, it might be nice to see a few more good teams, maybe some western teams. 

The Sunday game was a 3-0 blanking of the Blues by the Red Wings, but the Saturday game was pretty good.  Very late in the third period, the Flyers took the lead, but moments later, the Penguins scored and tied it, sending the game to overtime, where the Flyers would win it on a soft goal.  What made it great was the full team brawl that took place at the end of regulation.  This how every hockey match should end. 

On Saturday, Fox Sports 1 had a double header of action.  Yes, you guessed it!  One of the games was Yankees vs. Red Sox.  If they could get both teams to play an actual double header every Saturday, they’d do it.  No, I still don’t have an upper tier cable package to watch these games.  No, I’m not paying to watch Yankees vs. Red Sox every other week, much less a premium, and much less listen to Joe Buck’s histrionic play calling and demanding replays on every close play.  Without even having seen a game that Bucks’s called this year, I know that’s what he’s doing.  That’s how tedious and predictable he is.   

On Sunday, I invited my dad over so he could watch the Masters, so I missed listening to most of the Rangers and Chihuahuas’ games on the radio.  Has any son ever made a greater sacrifice?  (I also bought dinner.)  From what I could tell lately, the Rangers have forgotten which end of the bat to hold.  Every team goes into an offensive slump sometimes, but they’re playing the freaking Astros!  At least they won, by the minimum, 1-0. 

The El Paso Chihuahuas, meanwhile, were continuing their “home” series in Tucson, playing the Reno Aces.  Yes, that’s a little confusing.  I don’t know what the baseball situation is in Tucson since El Paso enticed away their team, but this seems like a cruel taunt to baseball fans there.  “Hey, the stadium we bought for your team isn’t ready yet.  Mind if we use yours for a few more games?  It’s not like anybody else is using it.”  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to listen to the last few games.  I’m sure these questions have been answered. 

Tim Hagerty was joined in the booth by Mark Miller, whom I really can’t tell you anything about, since I wasn’t able to listen much.  I do hope he’ll be there for other home games at least.  The dogs lost 6-4, but apparently did have some El Paso fans in attendance for this faux home game.  Tim mentioned they had a cheering section of two Little League teams who made the trip to see them.  That’s cool.