Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Rivalry Renewed

You're right Pittsburgh media outlets, Alex Ovechkin is a monster.  A menace to society. Deport his sorry ass for the blatant act of violence committed against poor, helpless Penguins defenseman Kris Letang last week. I'll grant you Ovechkin's stick work probably should have been called  a penalty, though the hyperbole coming out of Pittsburgh was a bit much.  But I don't mind the trash talk.  In fact, I love it.  I love that America's Top Douche, Chris Kunitz, retaliated by cross-checking Ovechkin after the next whistle. I loved it even more when an undaunted Ovie laughed in his face. Because all this can only mean one thing: this is a rivalry reborn. 

For too long, the Caps-Pens rivalry, once a pressure cooker ready to boil over at any second, has been set to a tepid simmer.  Six years without a playoff meeting has cooled the hatred built upon  passionate playoff matchups.  During that span, Ovie's game went MIA for a bit as did Sidney Crosby's ability to stay healthy enough to be in the lineup.  A once proud rivalry has taken a back seat to others.  Since 2009, these teams, which are more alike than Pens fans probably like to admit, have been stuck in neutral.  The young teams, once expected to duke it out for dynasty status, have been passed by the Kings and Hawks as the  top teams and top rivalry in the sport.  The Caps-Pens regular season matchups though always hyped, are often more network bluster than actual substance.

Then something happened last week.  There was snarl.  There were huge hits.  There were chops and chips and facewashes after every whistle.  For maybe the first time since the New Patrick Metropolitan Division was formed, a Caps-Pens game had some real juice to it.    And I watched with glee.  You see, as a young hockey fan, I suckled at the teat of this rivalry.  The first Caps game I attended was against the Penguins.  Mine is a hockey fandom burnished by the vicious rivalries of the old Patrick Division-battles with the hated Pens, the filthy Rangers and the despicable Flyers.  My buddies and I practically swung from the rafters of the Capital Centre, cheering our hockey heroes and disparaging the enemy.  We bore witness to so many formative moments in that barn: penalty filled games stopped to scrape the blood from the ice, chants of "Barass-hole, Barass-hole", games that featured more fights in the seats than on the rink, hand-written signs questioning both the length of Ron Hextall's, uh,  goalie stick and the sexual prowess of his sister.  We drank it all in and learned.  Then we carried on the proud traditions and created a few of our own along the way: talking shit with visiting fans, sneaking in airplane bottles of liquor to supplement our colas, tackling each other as the siren wailed after another Capital goal.  Sorry, but the likes of Columbus and Florida don't feed the rage quite like a good ol' Patrick Division showdown.  Make special "Blue Jackets Suck" t-shirts for the game? Nope.  But "Flyers Suck" was a different story.  We witnessed playoff victories and bitter playoff disappointments. Many of those defeats, admittedly, at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  That is why last Tuesday's game was so fun to watch.  It conjured so many wonderful memories.  The game was also an important step in the Caps-Pens history.  It was a beacon of hope, a symbol of things to come, a sign of a rivalry re-ignited.  

Last Tuesday's game was also an important step in the development of this current Caps team.  The Capitals, long in search of an identity, may be coming together.  The nastiness of the game didn't seem to bother the Caps.  They seem tougher than before.  Perhaps they can shed their reputation for softness.  Outside of goalie Braden Holtby's stellar play it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for their climb in the Eastern Conference standings.  But a tougher attitude and being harder to play against seem to be at the top of the list.  Why?  Is it Brooks Orpik's leadership?  Is it Barry Trotz's coaching style?  Is Alex Ovechkin maturing into the all-around player he could have always been?  I don't know.  What I do know is that when the Penguins got dirty with cross checks and sucker punches last week, the Caps didn't blink.  Players that shy away from the rough stuff were in the mix.   To paraphrase the announcer in the movie Slapshot, "The fans are standing up to them!  The security guards are standing up to them!  The peanut vendors are standing up to them! By God, even Eric Fehr is standing up to them!"  An identity forged of toughness, togetherness and offensive firepower could make the Capitals formidable down the stretch.  

Which brings us to tomorrow night's rematch in Washington.  The Pens have cheap shots to answer for.  The Caps have home ice to defend.  Pittsburgh is likely surly as the Caps have had their number so far this year.  Washington can pass Pittsburgh in the standings with the victory.  There is a lot at stake.  A possible bloodbath in the making that can continue the shenanigans from last week and lay the groundwork for a possible matchup later in this Spring.   I hope somebody pulls a Reg Dunlop and pays the ambulance driver to take a few pre-game laps up and down F-street ringing the siren to stoke the bloodlust  of the fans coming to enjoy the rivalry.  A rivalry renewed.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Elf Has Left The Building.

Despite my previous run-ins with Santa, I still love the magic of Christmas.  I do, however, despise lying to my kid to perpetuate the magic and myth.  You know the questions that dominate the holiday season- Is Santa real?, Is that guy in the mall really Santa's helper?, How does Santa fly all over the world in one night?, Daddy, are you really going to eat all those chocolate covered cherries?  I love the joy my daughter, Grace, finds in Christmas.  From opening the advent calendar to setting out reindeer food to wide-eyed excitement at seeing what Santa delivered, I hope it lasts a few more years.  It is the lying I hate.  But lie I did when Grace recently found her Elf on the Shelf packed away in the drawer of the nightstand.

In case you are unfamiliar with the Elf on the Shelf, allow me to explain this plague.  The Elf is a creepy inanimate doll with weird follow-you-across-the room eyes that visits your home daily during December to keep tabs on your child, reporting naughty or nice behavior back to Santa when he or she makes his or her nightly flight back to the North Pole.  When the Elf returns to your home each morning, it lands in a different perch where it waits to be found by the child. "Ambitious" parents create a fun, perhaps mischievous, scene each day such as the Elf shitting out peppermint candy poops into the toilet or spilling cereal all across the breakfast table. (Oh, those pesky elves!)  Less ambitious parents simply hope they remember to move the elf to a new hiding spot before their child wakes.  Is the Elf on the Shelf a delightful family tradition or a shameful extension of bribing our kids to behave by telling them that Santa is watching?  Is it fanciful holiday fun or a grim lesson to our children that Big Brother is always watching?  You make the call.  All I know is there were several mornings I had to sprint out of bed to toss our elf, Katie, into a new hiding spot as Grace was waking.  There was at least one morning I had to make an excuse (for which there are entire websites dedicated to assisting you in creating your lie) as to why Katie was hiding in the same spot as the day before.  You would think this would have left me prepared when Grace found Katie packed away.

On the afternoon I almost ruined Christmas, I had left Grace upstairs in my bedroom watching tv on our tablet while I cooked dinner.  I was downstairs only a few minutes when I heard a mournful wail.  "Daaaaaady!"  I headed for the stairs thinking something was truly wrong.  "Daaaaady, why is she in there?  Why is she in this box?"  I turned the corner into the dining room to see Grace standing perfectly still, sadly looking at her elf smushed in the box she holds in her hands.  Suddenly frozen with panic, my first thought was to chastise Grace for snooping in our nightstand.  Then I realized now was not the time to chastise, now was the time for damage control.  For I had not only stupidly packed the elf away in the box it was purchased in, but I had packed other important things in the box such as Grace's Christmas list, older letters to Santa and the note she left with Santa's cookies this year.  All things, along with Katie the Elf, that should currently be hanging out at the North Pole.  Grace unleashed a flood of legitimate questions.  "Why is Katie here instead of the North Pole?"  "How come Santa doesn't have my letters?"  "Has Katie lost her magic?"  "Is she even real?"  All I could think to myself was, Oh, shit.

As I stood there stammering, trying to formulate a response, I could see Grace's wheels turning.  I could see the puzzle pieces clicking into place. The Elf Truth would lead, eventually, to the Santa Truth which would lead to the My Wife Is Going To Kick My Ass Truth.  The jig was up. If I didn't act fast, my family's Christmas magic would be lost forever.  Stay calm, Bryan.  You can do this.  Fortunately, my Dad Reflexes, innately reserved for moments like these, kicked in.  I made up some bull about Katie missing Grace so much that Katie  secretly flew back to be near her.  Katie had to stay hidden because she would be in big trouble if Santa found out she had left the North Pole.  I think she's buying it! Emboldened, I pressed on.  I explained that Katie must keep something like a case file on Grace; that she is in charge of keeping all of Grace's documents with her even when she travels.  That was why Grace's letters were in the box. Yes, bore her with details of elfin bureaucracy!  I told Grace to say goodbye to her elf because surely Katie would have to fly back to a better hiding place the North Pole that night.  Grace's face softened.  Her look shifted from confusion to skeptical acceptance.  The crisis had been averted, at least temporarily.  I felt bad for lying, but order was restored.  I'm just glad Grace hadn't peeked in the other nightstand drawer.  That would have required a whole other level of explanation.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Bantha Fodder

Disney made movie news yesterday by revealing the official title of Star Wars Episode VII.  I'm not sure what to think about the title, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but at least it was neat news for fans.  I'm pleased to announce that we here at That's No Moon Galactic Headquarters have discovered another scoop from a galaxy far, far away that may interest fans.  J.J. Abrams has kept a tight lid on the entire project, but we have inside sources (Many Bothans died to bring us this information.) that have revealed to us the title sequence and "crawl" that will open Episode VII.  Picture these giant yellow words floating into space as John Williams' title theme crescendos:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
         (Sponsored by Folger's)

Emboldened by the droid nuptials of C-3PO and R2-D2, a union made possible by the New Republic lifting its ban on gay marriage, Han Solo makes a deathbed revelation that his relationship with his hetero-life partner, Chewbacca, has actually been a forty year love affair.

A devastated Princess Leia, fearing Wookie syphilis and a life without her scruffy looking nerf herder, flees Tatooine and dabbles in the dark side.*  Her fear leads to anger, her anger leads to hate, blah, blah, blah.  With revenge on her mind, she grows powerful and begins construction on, you guessed it, yet another Death Star.

Luke, having a "bad feeling about this", chases after the fleeing Leia.  However, he is marooned when his X-Wing Flight 815 crashes on a deserted island.  Here he communes with Jedi ghosts, including a young and old version of his father, Anakin, and a time-traveling Dr. Spock.  He is left to ponder if he is alive or in purgatory, and just how he can save the galaxy...

*No, that does not mean Lando.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Czar Me!

Put me in Coach, I'm ready to play!  Mr. President, I volunteer to be America's Ebola Czar.  I know you've got a guy, but instead of a political operative you need somebody that has really seen some nasty stuff.  My friends and regular readers (Hey, stop laughing.  I have a few.) may be scratching their heads, wondering why I would volunteer.  After all, my germophobia, previously documented here and here, is one of my defining characteristics.

Think about it, though, who would be more prone to overreacting vigilant than I would?  I've been giving hand washing clinics to my family for years.  Avoiding the bodily fluids of strangers has been my life's work.  I think port-o-potties are the devil.  I'm the guy that begs his hockey teammates not use his water bottle. (And if you do, Please, please, no lips.)  I once boiled my silverware because I did not think it was clean enough. (That is 100% true, by the way.) I believe public restrooms should be visited less frequently than the moon. Have you even seen my Pinterest board, "Fifty Ways to Decorate Your Hazmat Suit"?  Why not share my knowledge with the world?

Lest my readers think my motives for throwing my surgical mask in the ring are completely altruistic, let me remind you how selfish I can be.  You see, I figure the Ebola Czar has one of the best Bubbles.  I'm guessing the probable order is President, Vice President, apparent national treasure Derek Jeter, then the Ebola Czar.  When the shit really goes down, I bet my family and I would get space in the bunker.  And access to weapons-grade military soap.  Not to mention, as Ebola Czar, I would probably be working closely with drug manufacturers.  Maybe then I would get a chance to meet the blonde babe in that Viagra commercial that pops up between every televised inning of postseason baseball.  (Seriously, isn't that commercial a bit much?  I have a lot of other avenues to watch soft-core porn.  Were implicit scenes of guys working with wood or women taming stallions not good enough?  Now we need this woman basically promising me that if I throw the blue pill down she will throw her blue dress off?  Just get back in your mountain-top bathtubs and caution me about four hour erections, please.)

So, Mr. President, I humbly submit my resume for Ebola Czar.  May I make one further request?  Can we change the name of the position?  This czar thing has gotten a little out of hand.  The number of czars in government today is only exceeded by the number of blue-ribbon commissions created to study things.  Maybe we could empanel a commission to consider a new name.  I suggest Captain Ebola, the Hyperbolic Ebolic, or my personal favorite, the Ebolic Avenger.  Thanks for your time.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

2014 > ALCS

 The Orioles 2014 season may have ended with thud, but that does not erase what was a terrific season.  It was easy to fall in love with this roster of mostly no-name cinderellas as they routinely overcame adversity, produced comeback wins and rekindled a little Orioles Magic.  It was a surprise season, as most baseball "experts" pegged them to finish third or fourth in the AL East.  Fans should be grateful the team advanced as far as it did; it far exceeded most expectations.

The ALCS result is a little hard to swallow because of the way the games played out, but also because a chance to get to the World Series slipped through their fingers.  You never know how many chances a team has to get that close.  As for the ALCS itself, I don't want to see any Bucklash against the manager.  Don't buy into the conventional media hype that has the "Genius" Buck Showalter being outmanaged by the "Dimwit" Ned Yost.  The games were exceptionally tight; the Royals just made a few more plays in the clutch.  And if I could hand the ball to Herrera, Davis and Holland in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, I believe I could make a run at the pennant, too.  Buck should be Manager of the Year  and Dan Duquette should be Executive of the Year.  They cobbled together a lineup that overcame injuries to All-Stars and kept getting better as the season progressed.  Duquette stole Nelson Cruz for $8 million.  He added pieces from the scrap heap to help out when Matt Weiters and Manny Machado were lost to injury.  De Aza, Paredes, Kelly Johnson and Caleb Joseph -  no Murderers' Row, but contributors to winning the division.  The emergence of Zach Britton to anchor a bullpen that Buck masterfully orchestrated.  And who had Steve Pearce stepping in with 21 homers in place of the suspended (and sub-.200) Adderall Kid?  Nobody, that's who.  The clock struck midnight when the team ran into the Kansas City Buzzsaws Royals.  However, just because the Royals are out-magicing everybody this postseason doesn't mean the O's are a bunch of pumpkins.  Sometimes you just get beat.

The O's go home and the Royals move on.  I do not root for the team that beats my team in the playoffs.  I know some fans who cheer the victor so they can say their team lost to the eventual champion.  That's garbage.  After a hard fought series, I usually have grown to dislike the opponent and want to see them go down hard.  For a time, I thought it might be different this year.  Before the ALCS, I thought I might root for the Royals if they won; they were a great underdog story and play an exciting style of baseball.  Not now. Besides the awesome Lorenzo Cain, screw those guys.  I hope somebody wipes the smug smirk and Ming the Merciless eyebrows right off of Eric Hosmer's face.  Jarrod "You know you are only a fast pinch runner, right?" Dyson should shut up.  And Jeremy Guthrie is the worst. I wasn't offended by his stupid shirt; I was offended by his unnecessary apology.  Go full-on d-bag and own that.  Finally, can we all please stop pretending that the 2014 Royals invented this station-to-station, speed kills, defense wins brand of baseball?  Sure, they executed the fundamentals and made Small Ball big.  You know who else does that exceptionally well?  The San Francisco Giants, the Royals' likely World Series opponent.  Good luck.

The Kansas City Royals may leave me disappointed this morning, but they can't change the big picture.  They can't take away a season of baseball that started with watching the Opening Day telecast with Grace in my lap and a  Natty Boh in my hand.  They can't take away game updates from my mom, who rarely missed a game and fired me texts while I was working and couldn't watch.  The Royals can't take away Grace begging to go to Camden Yards all summer or wanting to wear her orange when I wore mine.  They can't erase the shared experience of discussing the Birds with strangers on the street that see your hat or jersey as an invitation to chat up the home team.  No, the Royals can't take away any of that.

Nor can the Kansas City Royals take away Game 2 of the ALDS.  My first playoff game, which I  joyfully documented earlier this month, was more than the game.  It was spending quality time with my father-in-law, my brother-in-law and my cousin.  It was seeing the excitement in my father-in-law as he attended his first postseason game, too.  It was cold beer and laughter.  It was wrong turns and parking problems, jokes and questionable driving.  It was the community of baseball and it was a gift I will cherish.  Even if the Orioles had not won, it would have been a memory to treasure.  But they did win and we got to smile and clap and cheer our heads off.  So, I will not fret about the ALCS.  Instead, this moment, captured on video by a stranger outside the stadium and sent to me by a friend and huge Orioles fan, will be how I remember a Magical 2014 season.

Delmon Young's Game Winning Double From A Block Away

Monday, October 06, 2014

Orange You Glad You Got Tickets?

Last Friday, through good fortune and the generosity of my cousin, I scored free tickets to Game Two of the American League Divisional Series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.  It was a day nearly forty years in the making; this was the first Orioles playoff game I had ever attended.  To say it was the greatest game I have ever seen in person would be a gross understatement.  I was having a blast win or lose, but the dramatic way in which the Orioles delivered their fans a victory made the day that much sweeter.  Camden Yards has long been one of my "happy places", yet I learned that she shines even brighter in the postseason.  Many wonderful things about the ballpark are amplified by the playoffs.  So much orange- shirts and jerseys and rally towels furiously waving.  Impossibly green grass.  Ice cold batting practice beers before noon.  The most enthusiastic National Anthem "O" I have ever heard.  Baseball stadiums, when full and loud, are communities unto themselves, an intoxicating blend of nostalgia and civic pride.  That feeling was never more evident than during the eighth inning Friday afternoon.

The prelude to the eighth inning was pretty good, the game score notwithstanding.  Nick Markakis opened the scoring with a two-run homer that allowed us to cheer twice, once when it went out and once again when the homer was confirmed by replay review.  The Tigers battered Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen, but Kevin Gausman relieved and held the humming Tigers offense in check.  Two defensive gems kept the game close.  Ryan Flaherty channeled his inner Brooks Robinson making a diving stab of a Miguel Cabrera grounder, starting a 5-4-3 double play aided by Johnathan Schoop's smooth pivot at second base.  Schoop later showed off his arm again when he took Adam Jones' relay throw and gunned down Cabrera at home keeping the Tigers' lead at 6-3.  That was a huge run saved, helping make the eighth inning rally possible.  As I said, the first 7 1/2 innings were just prelude.  It was the bottom of the eighth that cemented why I love baseball.

Entering the bottom of the eighth, the Orioles trailed 6-3.  The fans, boisterous all afternoon and buoyed by a season full of late-inning rallies, remained faithful.  Perhaps a bit more pensive than earlier, but no less faithful.  Grown men donned rally caps and rearranged their seats to change the luck.  Fans cheered and chanted, driven not by a Jumbotron ridiculously imploring them to "Make Some Noise", but by pure joy and a determination to play a part in the game's outcome.  When Tiger relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain, looking more mascot than major leaguer with his caveman beard and burly physique, took the mound to start the eighth the crowd went wild.  Chamberlain had been part of the Tiger bullpen meltdown in Game One.  We hoped for more of the same in Game Two.  In a bold move that I am still not sure if I love or hate, Joba answered our mocking cheers with a sarcastic doff of his cap.  His smugness would not last long, however.  With one out, Chamberlain plunked Adam Jones and the rally was alive.

Baseball's detractors lament that games take too long, that the game bogs down as each pitch is delayed by batters adjusting their batting gloves or pitchers stepping off the mound to gather themselves.  I say it is within these delays that the game's beauty resides.  Not burdened by a countdown clock, the game can breathe.  These precious moments between pitches allow suspense to build.  The game stills but the crowd does not.  On this Friday afternoon,  the buildup to each pitch had the fans clapping and yelling.  Baseball is such a game of failure that these hopeful cheers are not usually rewarded.  Frenzied anticipation is often doused by a strikeout or rally-killing double play. In Game Two, though, the Orioles answered with line-drive base hits.

After at-bats by Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce, each a mini-drama unfolding within the larger narrative, resulted in two singles and a run, Chamberlain was yanked.  With the Orioles now down only two runs, the fans waved towels and screamed during the the warmup throws of reliever Joakim Soria.  It's the buildup, you see.  After J.J. Hardy coaxed a walk to load the bases, Delmon Young came to the plate.  Perhaps Mr. Young doesn't enjoy suspense and anticipation as much as I do because he drilled Soria's first pitch into left field.  When the ball landed in fair territory Camden Yards erupted.  When J.J. Hardy eluded the catcher's tag, sliding home with the go-ahead run, the roar somehow got louder.  I have been to a lot of games and concerts -NFL games, NBA games, NHL playoff games- and with the exception of forty stock cars blowing past at 180 mph, I have never been ANYWHERE as loud as Camden Yards when Hardy crossed the plate.

The aforementioned grown men wept as they stared blissfully at their rally caps.  The upper deck literally shook with joy.  High fives were slapped with folks that were strangers just innings earlier.  Unbelievably, a baby  near us slept through the chaos, rocked to sleep by a little Orioles Magic and a team that won't quit.  No one sat down as Zach Britton blew away the Tigers in the top of the ninth to secure the win.  No one wanted to leave the bleachers, to end the shared experience.  Postseason baseball, timeless and sometimes epic, was finally something I had experienced in person.  


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kindergarten Cop

It is always cool when your kid jumps out of bed in the morning merrily singing "Today is a special day!" over and over again.  It's even cooler when she is excited because she is proud to be spending the day with you.  The truth is she was a little more enthusiastic about today than I was.  She has been counting the days for weeks.  I, though, was a little nervous.  For today was my debut as Kindergarten Classroom Parent Helper. It's a little like the old saying, "It's better to be thought a fool, than open your mouth and remove all doubt."  It's better to be thought a bumbling dad, than show up and remove all doubt.  I took solace in the fact that Grace was so excited.  I sometimes forget to look at our relationship from her perspective.  I'm glad she sees me as a hero; I don't see myself that way. It would be wise for parents to remember how large we loom in our kids' worldview and act accordingly.  Besides, in the not-so-distant future she won't want to be seen within a six mile radius of me; I better enjoy it while I can. 

You may ask why I would be nervous, after all, I helped in Pre-K class and on field trips.  Well, this class has twice as many kids that I would be assisting in wrangling.  And the tiny chairs.  There is nary a chair in that building that will hold an ass my size.  Thirdly, there is the snack time pressure.  My food choices judged by thirty-two watchful eyeballs?  I imagine snack time going something like this:

Carrots? Carrots?  Let me get this straight.  You could have brought in any food in the world, something dripping with high fructose corn syrup or covered in funfetti, and you brought us carrots?!

(Weakly): But I have Nilla Wafers, too.

Oh, don't even get me started about cookies without chips, icing or a creamy filling.  You just don't get it, do you buddy?  A word to the wise- a mom brought Fig Newtons in the other morning and no one has seen her since. 
Then the pint-sized mob would raise their tiny pitchforks...

Snacks aside, relating to five-year-olds should be right in my wheelhouse, but you never know. I figure if I dole out a few high fives, pretend to confuse cows and giraffes, and make a well-timed timed joke about a quacking elephant I'll be golden.  Kindergartners love silly humor and Corny is my middle name.  I did not want Grace to feel compelled to explain away her dopey father.  (Which, ultimately, she did.  After some dumb joke, she sighed, looked around the table meeting each of her classmates eyes and calmly said, "It's okay.  He does that.  He kids around a lot.")  To sum up my mission: bring a decent snack and don't embarrass Grace by being an idiot. 

Then last night something magical happened.  I read an article that took away all the pressure of being classroom helper.  Because there is no way I could be as terrible at it as the mom who took vagina shaped cookies to her second grader's class.  That's right, she baked and iced cookies to look like Hoo-has.  Lady bits. The old Velvet Glove.  It would not shock me if the article is a hoax, but let's for a moment assume it is true.  Beyond the juvenile questions about flavor or if all the cookies are the same on the inside, I've got questions.  Starting with, What the hell was she thinking?  How awful must it be to be her kid?  Is her name Mulva?  Does she sell them by the dozen?  Like on the internet?  I'm, uh, asking for a friend.

Thanks, lady, you made my morning easier.  With my G-rated snack in one paw and Grace's little hand in the other, I was able to confidently walk into school ready for action.