August 23, 2008

R.I.P. Lemontree

Broke into the old apartment.
This is where we used to live
- Barenaked Ladies

So I made one last trip to the house I grew up in today for one final box of diplomas and certificates. The house where I went to sleep nearly every day from coming home from the hospital in 1980 through leaving for college in 1998, the house where I spent summers and winters during college before finally moving out for good senior year of college in 2001, the house where I fell asleep listening to Jon Miller broadcast Orioles games on WTOP 1500 AM and Ken Beatrice on Sportscall on WMAL 630 AM, and the house where I learned to play and love sports. The house where my trophies (mostly participation) lined the desk, where my baseball cards filled boxes and binders in the basement, and where where the Baltimore Orioles and Florida Marlins pennants were on the bedroom wall. The trophies and pennants have all gone to the dump. The swim ribbons are being held on to, as are the baseball cards.

My parents have moved to a beautiful new community in northern Howard County, on a golf course, full of people in their upper 50s, where every weekend there is a wine and cheese party or a pool party or something fun going on. My parents are fleeing the confines of Eastern Montgomery County, and a neighborhood that isn't our own anymore. A neighborhood where all of the neighbors I grew up alongside have long gone, aside from a few stalwarts who bought when the homes where new in the mid-1960s and who will likely die there. Yet a neighborhood, and a home, that for whatever happens, will still be the place that I grew up, and the place where my memories linger.

This post will be for all of our readers, who, while happy for their parents for moving on to bigger and better places, experience the melancholy of knowing they won't play catch with their own kids in the same driveway where they themselves played catch. This post will be for all of our readers who have had to say goodbye to something that's really only a very small piece of land, not even a third of an acre, but that looms larger than life in our own minds.

But this post will also be for the new occupants of that home, even though I know that they will never read this. The home will be occupied by a mother, a father, and their three children (2 boys and a girl), who are moving into their first-ever single family home, with their first-ever yard. I think as a going away gift to Lemontree, and as a welcoming gift to the soon-to-be-occupants who by this time next weekend will live there, I should give them the ground rules of Lemontree, gleaned from 21 years of experience of tee-ball, whiffle ball, baseball, basketball, street hockey, ping-pong, football, sledding, tennis, and everything else.

- If you're standing on this side of the yard (see above), and it clears the fence, it's a ground rule double. It has to make it past the patio next door for it to be a home run.

- If it goes over the fence to the right, the neighbors still probably haven't mellowed out about you invading their yard for a ball. Just wait until they mow their lawn and the next day you'll find all your baseballs, tennis balls, and everything else, lining the ground at the foot of the fence.

- If you're playing catch in the driveway, make sure that the taller person stands at the garage door. And know that the garage door is stronger than it looks... it's taken baseballs off a bat and still hasn't cracked.

- Oddly, that same garage door makes really loud echoes throughout the entire house when you try to hit a tennis ball off it. So save the groundstroke practice for the wall at West Fairland Park.

- That fence in the backyard... it won't even survive a hard hit from a tennis ball, let alone a baseball. Unless you want a shard of wood roughly as sharp as a prison shiv, avoid hitting that fence with anything other than a whiffle ball.

- If your dad is throwing you pop flies across the street, the ball has to clear the third power line for it to be a "real pop fly." Anything lower and you reserve the right to yell at him to throw it higher.

- Standing at the top of the driveway and having your dad go into a catcher's stance in the middle of the street will approximate the feel of being on a pitcher's mound. But remember, your dad isn't wearing a cup.

- Any ball that goes into the street will inevitably roll down towards the sewer if you don't take off after it. You have about 20 seconds after it hits the street to catch up to it. But that ball gains speed as it gets closer to the sewer, so watch out.

- When you play ping-pong in the basement (you can thank us for leaving the table later), if the ball goes behind the washing machine, don't even bother trying to get it. Just grab a new one. Someday you'll replace that washing machine and find 19 years worth of ping-pong balls there.

- When you feel the need to imitate Art Monk (although by now you'll probably be imitating Santana Moss), make sure that you stand up the street and your dad stands down the street. Otherwise you'll run that fade pattern and be blinded by the sun.

- Come winter when you want to go sledding on the biggest, baddest hill in all of Eastern Montgomery County, make sure that you get a sled with steering on it and don't just go down on one of those tobaggan-type things. If you don't make the 15-degree righthand turn, you will drop straight down 10 feet into the dry creek bed. I've seen it happen.

- Come winter also, you can only hope you get the same ice storm that we had in 1993 when two inches of freezing rain made the entire front yard like an ice rink (the ice was actually over the grass and clear, just like rink ice). This will be fun for you and your street hockey stick and your puck. It will not be fun for your dog.

- The record for fastest trip around "the square" aboard a bike is just under four minutes, done by yours truly, on a single-speed Huffy. I don't think you'll beat that. The gauntlet has been thrown down.

- When you're standing on the patio, know that there did used to be a nine foot basketball hoop at the edge furthest out from the door. If you stood at the fence and shot it, that was a three-pointer. If you really wanted to imitate M.J., you'd do a fadeaway and fall backwards into the rhododendron bush.

Broke into the old apartment
Tore the phone out of the wall
Only memories, fading memories
Blending into dull tableaux
I want them back

So what are some of the groundrules for where you grew up? Everybody has them. You'll be amazed how quickly they come back to you.

The Red Jersey Isn't For All QBs

What's wrong with the picture below?

No, not just "he's still in the league", or "there aren't any Steelers hanging from his shoulders". Why is Kyle "The Eternal Rookie" Boller wearing a red jersey in practice? Boller's amazingly enduring career has also been really consistent. He consistently makes strong confident throws early in games, he consistently fumbles every time he's hit from behind and he consistently throws ridiculous interceptions after the first turnover because he's so scared of being hit from behind again and losing the ball. Seriously, that's his whole career.

Is that really a guy you want avoiding contact in practice? If anything, they should start Ed Reed 25 yards behind Boller in the backfield and just let him come clean on every play. If he survives it, he might just be usable. If he doesn't, he has no purpose in the NFL anyway.

August 21, 2008

Rhythmic Gymnastics is Not a Sport

There are plenty of odd sports in the Olympics. From team handball to pistol shooting to race walking to trampoline, people can argue about whether or not certain sports belong in the Olympics. But there is one "sport" that stands out like a sore thumb. Rhythmic gymnastics is not a sport and shouldn't be in the Olympics.

Some kind of weird S&M fetish? No, an Olympic 'sport'

Rhythmic gymnastics is competed in both an individual all-around and group competition. Each event consists of scores totaled across several apparatuses. Basically, the gymnasts are scored on how well they dance with a ribbon, a hoop, clubs, or a rope.

Since when is hula hoop an Olympic sport?

We can disagree about the validity of other sports with judging and whether certain sports are "real," but I think everyone can get behind the idea that rhythmic gymnastics is not really a sport.

Go for the gold, Dog!

Basically, this is Randy Jackson's "America's Best Dance Crew," but the winner gets an Olympic gold medal. In four years, rhythmic gymnastics will be an event at the London Olympics, but baseball and softball will not.

Possibly the worst thing about rhythmic gymnastics is that by having the word "gymnastics" in the title, it forces all the Olympic websites to refer to real gymnastics as "artistic gymnastics" which sounds like a totally fake sport. It's insulting to the athletes who compete in real gymnastics to associate them with the dancers who compete in rhythmic gymnastics.

Take this nonsense out of the Olympics and put it back on "Dancing With the Stars" where it belongs.

Bolt's Accomplishments Watered Down (Pun Intended)

Usain Bolt has broken his own 100M sprint record (with an untied shoe and a pull-up finish) as well as Michael Johnson's 200M record in this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. So much for the smog (and a slight headwind) slowing down the runners.

Normally, this would be a monumental accomplishment. But, thanks to Michael Phelps and the Speedo LZR, world records have become meaningless in these Olympics. Records in the pool and falling left and right, as new swimsuit technology has allowed swimmers to trim nearly whole seconds off of each 100M length. This is wholly unfair to Bolt.

Most fans pay little or no attention to swimming, gymnastics and track and field except for every four years when the Olympics are held. We only know what the folks on the television tell us. Rather than downplay the smashing of swimming records for the first week of the games, Rowdy Gaines and others screamed and applauded the amazing performances by Phelps and others. They often glossed over the fact that sometimes racers, especially at longer distances, broke the world record without even reaching the medal podium.

blahblahblah The real hero of the Beijing Games - Speedo LZR

Then we went to the track, where records are much hardier, and we didn't blink when records fell. People who are part of the track community, or ran track in high school or college, are stupified by Bolt's amazing accomplishments. Casual fans wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, Bolt only has two gold medals. So what if he's the fastest man in the world, Phelps has eight. Of course, there is no backstroke, butterfly, or breaststroke in track, so Bolt has won just about everything he could win. Even the 400M, which has always occupied that weird middle-distance status, is a totally different race than the sprints.

If you need perspective on Bolt's accomplishments, look at the Track and Field world records as they existed prior to Beijing. Many of the records are over a decade old. Many of the sprint records are younger, but this is understandable as the margins between victory and defeat are measured in the hundreths of seconds. Improvements in shoe, stadium, apparel and track engineering are going to have the greatest effect on the shaving those times. Even then, the records last for years and are only marginally broken.

Usain Bolt has arguably made the most important and impressive contribution to these games, but thanks to Michael Phelps he'll probably be best remembered for being a bit of a showboat.

August 18, 2008

Two Steps Back

Today, Ralph Friedgen announced that Jordan Steffy will be under center when the Terps take the field against Delaware on August 30.

I'm so despondent now about the Delaware game, I've turned to mocking Delaware's busted-ass sorority girls for solace.

So the Terps will take the starting job away from Chris Turner, who led the team to a comeback win against Rutgers, a victory over Matt Ryan-led top-10 Boston College, and a shutout over NC State to seal up a bowl bid, the Terps' first trip back to a bowl after two seasons shut out of it. They give the ball back to Jordan Steffy who pretty much gave away last season with an interception against Wake Forest that was returned 101 yards for a touchdown and brought the Deacons back into the game.

Look, I was super excited when Steffy came here. I lobbied like hell for him to get the job over Joel Statham. The kid has insane raw abilities, and supposedly is the best quarterback in practice.

But as Iverson says, "you talkin' bout PRACTICE." The problem with Steffy is that he gets the ultimate deer-in-headlights look on the field. He rushes his decisions, does not have nearly enough accuracy to hit our receivers deep, and although he has speed, doesn't decide to tuck the ball and run until it's too late.

Chris Turner supposedly does not practice well. But he has a cannon for an arm, something we really could have enjoyed with Heyward-Bey running down the sidelines on a deep flag pattern. He has brass balls and ice cold blood running through his veins. He earned the respect of his teammates. And he's got way better accuracy, something you can't underestimate the importance of when running a west coast offense.

Steffy's career numbers: 14 games played, 5 games started, completed 58.2% of his passes, two touchdowns, six interceptions.

Turner's career numbers: 11 games played, 8 games started, completed 63.5% of his passes, seven touchdowns, seven interceptions.

Terp fans... did Fridge make the right decision? This blogger says no. But methinks this was not Fridge's decision. This has the fingerprints of James Franklin on it trying to make his stamp on the program.

Immature Olympic Photos of the Day #3

This covers the Friday-Monday time frame. At some point, I may grow out of this, but until then, here are your Immature Olympic Photos for the day.

Ewwwww, stinky

Ride 'em, cowboy!

I know, I know, homosexuality isn't funny

This can't possibly be an Olympic sport.

I'd think that having 4 arms would be a big advantage in wrestling, but not track.

Titty twister!

Ummm, I think the other side goes up

Wow, I thought the Chinese gymnasts were being blatant about violating the age restrictions, but this is ridiculous.

Alicia Sacramone Was Robbed

Or, as Bela Karolyi said, it was a "leep-ov" (rip-off). In last night's women's vault finals, Alicia Sacramone had a chance at redemption. After falling twice in the team competition and possibly costing the US a gold medal, Sacramone had an opportunity to win individual gold on the vault.

She had the bad luck to draw the first slot, meaning that she had to vault before all the other competitors. Her vaults were good, but not great. Alicia started with lower difficulty values than some of the other favorites, so her lower execution scores could really hurt. Luckily, Cheng Fei of China, one of the favorites for gold, landed on her knees on her second vault.

That looked to be the break Sacramone needed to sneak into a medal, but somehow Fei managed to score a 15.050 on a vault where she didn't even land on her feet. Combined with the first vault (which was really good), this pushed her average above Alicia's, effectively killing the American's medal hopes.

So here's the question: how can someone who totally bombs one of her vaults finish ahead of someone who does two good vaults? I know the difficulty scores can skew the results, but it's ridiculous that Fei could score a 15 when she didn't even land the vault.

The NBC announcers seemed confused at the scoring, and Karolyi was very vocal about what he thought was a judging error. Sacramone got robbed of her chance to walk away from the Olympics with an individual medal. Why is the judging in Olympic sports always so crappy?

August 17, 2008

Patriots Commemorate Failure

When I first read that Bob Kraft and the Patriots had produced rings commemorating their 18-1 season in 2008, I thought it was brilliant. What better to motivate the players than a monument to their epic failure to win a championship despite having probably the most dominant regular season team of all time?

Sadly, that's not how the Patriots are using it. According to the Boston Globe, the rings say "16-0 -- perfect season" on one side and "18-1 AFC Champions" on the other. Taken together, the two sides only lead to one conclusion: epic failure. The Patriots, through Bob Kraft, seem to be celebrating the fourth best season in team history. They'll also be unveiling a banner. No word yet on whether the Franklin Mint will be producing any collectible plates.

Raise the AFC Champions banner if you want, but don't treat last season like anything was accomplished. The 2008 season was the epitome of disappointment for the Patriots. It would be like the original Dream Team getting beaten at the buzzer by Croatia in the gold medal game in 1992. Use the failure to motivate, if you feel that's best, but don't pretend anyone in the Patriots camp is proud of what happened last season. Things just don't feel right in New England this year. I smell a hangover.