Friday, April 30, 2010

West Ham U.S.A.

Yes, I've created yet another blog. This one is for West Ham United supporters who live in the US. It even has a clever name: West Ham U.S.A.

Check it out when you get a chance, and let me know what you think--either here or there.

Come on you Irons!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Movin' On with the Bruins--Again

In the words of the legendary Jack Edwards: "Snowball 1, Hell 0." Tonight, it was Boston Bruins 4, Buffalo Sabres 3. Six games, series won, at least four more meaningful games to come. I'm happy, but I'm not sure that I can handle this. 

These underdog Bruins have now advanced as far as last season's vaunted team did. And they've done it with grit and guts and passion against a pretty good opponent, whereas last season's team rolled over sorry Montreal almost without breaking a sweat. Where this team was for most of the regular season, I don't know. And I also don't care. If they're peaking right now, so be it. Now is the prefect time.

The Boston Bruins drive me crazy. I want to maintain an emotional distance from them. I don't want to get too wrapped up in them because they always disappoint in the end--and they will this season, too. I know they will. But I love the Bruins and have for almost 20 years now, and I can't keep that emotional distance. They won't let me.

Along with BC hockey and, to a lesser extent, the Celtics, the Bruins carry me through the long, depressing New England winter, and my ultimate sports fantasy at this point--aside from seeing TCU win a national championship in football or West Ham win the Premiership--is seeing the Boston Bruins drink from the Stanley Cup. Heck, if I'm totally honest, the Stanley Cup fantasy might be No. 1 right now. It might have been for a while.

I know that it won't happen. I can't pretend that it will. But just as I was trying to slip to the back of the Bruins bandwagon, this team pushed me right back to the front, where I've been since 1993. In April 1999, I sat at Fenway Park watching Pedro Martinez beat the Yankees. At some point during the game, the PA announcer at Fenway reported that the Bruins had lost to the Sabres in Game 6 of their playoff series, thereby surrendering the series altogether. (If nothing else, the B's got some measure of revenge for that tonight--and with a former Sabre, Miroslav Satan, playing a key role in the series.)

I sat in Fenway heartbroken, even though I knew it was coming. It reminded me of the time in high school when a girl I had a crush on--a girl who was never, ever going to date me--brought another guy to a football game. It was totally normal, completely expected...and devastating. Sometimes rational thinking just can't overcome emotion. That's where I am with the Boston Bruins right now. I'm hooked--again. (I always was, really.) And when the B's do finally lose a playoff series and end their season, I'll be crestfallen--again. But, for now, they're still alive...and I'm still riding the emotional roller coaster, even if I'm not all that hopeful. Go B's!

Athletica 1-1 Breakers: Haven't We Seen This Before?

Note: This entry also runs on Boston Breakers Report.

By Lee Pender

Baseball great and noted wordsmith Yogi Berra might have described today's St. Louis Athletica vs. Boston Breakers clash with one of his most famous quotes: "It's deja vu all over again." Once again, the rain came. Once again, Boston opened the scoring. And once again, the Breakers were undone by a goal that originated from a free kick. Boston did, however, manage to nab a point away from home.

On what looked on Fox Soccer Channel like a wet, windy afternoon in St. Louis, the Boston Breakers drew with St. Louis Athletica, 1-1, in a match that eerily resembled the 1-1 draw in Boston's home opener versus Philadelphia. The Breakers drew first blood only to have their opponent equalize just six minutes later--exactly as it happened against the Independence.

This time, Kasey Moore recorded her first goal as a Breaker, a strike that originated from a corner by Kristine Lilly. Lilly's corner, which came from the left-hand side of St. Louis goalkeeper Hope Solo, trickled into the penalty area, and potent Boston striker Kelly Smith trotted to meet it. Smith, though, playing the decoy, chose to let the ball sneak by her, and Moore slammed it home with a fierce shot across goal and into the corner of Solo's net.

Again, though, the Breakers' lead was short-lived. In the 27th minute, Athletica's Aya Miyama won a free kick just outside the penalty area to the right-hand side of Boston goalkeeper Ashley Phillips. Miyama sent her kick across the penalty area, and then chaos ensued in Boston's back line. Tina Ellertson of St. Louis headed the ball from Phillips's left-hand side directly to the face of the goal. From there, the ball pinballed and ended up on the head of Carolyn Blank, who nodded it home. The goal and the general set-piece confusion in Boston's defense strongly resembled last week's equalizer by the Independence. Clearly, the Breakers will be working this week in training on defending free kicks.

The rest of the match took place without much significant action, and two teams that were battling for first place fell into a tie for second in the league table. Boston now finds itself level on points (five) with its last two opponents, Philadelphia and St. Louis, while FC Gold Pride and Sky Blue FC top the table with six points each.

Again this week, inclement weather dampened the attacks for both teams. As predicted, Boston did run with three strikers--Smith, Fabiana and Lauren Cheney--up front. But it was midfielder Liz Bogus--not Chioma Igwe, as the team had suggested on Friday--who took a seat for this match and didn't see the pitch. Nevertheless, Boston's attacking strategy melted in the rain at Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park in Fenton, Missouri, as did much of the play in this waterlogged game contested in front of what appeared to be a small--if dedicated--St. Louis crowd.

The Breakers will return to action on Saturday, May 1, at home to the Chicago Red Stars. Game time will be 6pm at Harvard Stadium.

Lee Pender and Steven Apostolov are co-authors of Boston Breakers Report.  

Bleacher Report Is Driving Me Crazy

I'm not going to make a long thing out of this, but I'm having massive problems getting Bleacher Report to import posts from the Boston Breakers Report blog. So, for the time being, I'm going to run BBR content both on the Boston Breakers Report site and here on

If you're wondering why I'm babbling on about Bleacher Report, check out the item I posted on the Breakers Blog recently. I'm sure everything will work out fine (and the contributing writer who has been working with me over the last week or so has been fantastic), but thus far Bleacher Report won't allow me to write directly to its site and also won't import the BBR blog--or, at least, successfully keep it imported. It's rejecting the blog altogether now. It is, however, accepting (for now) content, so I'm going to cross the streams and run BBR stuff here so that it'll also run on Bleacher Report. Ugh.

Bleacher Report's content is great. Its interface for writers? Well, it could use a bit of work.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Don't Start Believin'

Jack Edwards is a national treasure. Well, he's a New England treasure, in any case. The Bruins' easily excitable, overtly biased and ridiculously dramatic play-by-play announcer is like none other in sports. The call he made when the Bruins clinched a playoff berth made my eyes misty. Calling Jack Edwards enthusiastic would be like calling Wayne Gretzky half-decent. Jack is a legend, and we're fortunate to have him here.

How he has any vocal cords left after tonight, I have no idea. The B's pulled out a spectacular victory, scoring twice in the third period to erase a 2-0 deficit vs. Buffalo and then getting the game-winning goal from Miroslav Satan in double-overtime. The New Garden was rocking like the old one, and Edwards rose above the den of noise to trumpet Satan's "golden goal" (can you tell that Jack used to call the soccer World Cup?), which gave the B's a 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series. (Sorry, I couldn't find a video of Jack's call from tonight. Trust me, though; it was epic.) One more win, and the B's move on to...

What, exactly? A date with Washington, by far the best team in the NHL this year? A date with Pittsburgh, the defending Stanley Cup champion and the team that has (arguably) the best player in the NHL in Sidney Crosby? Or maybe a shot at New Jersey, a team that always gives Boston trouble? As I've said here before, this can't end well. It never does with the Bruins--and I'm definitely not taking the Buffalo series for granted, despite the 3-1 lead. One loss in Buffalo in Game 5 (probable) followed by a bad game at home (entirely possible), and...

You see where I'm going with this. And the worst part is that if the Bruins do get past the Sabres (and I certainly hope that they do), we lose Jack (as far as I know) for the rest of the playoffs. If memory (from last season) serves, Versus takes over all broadcasts starting in the second round of the playoffs, meaning New England Sports Network will be the Red Sox channel until the fall, and Jack Edwards will have his vocal cords on ice for the summer. A playoff series loss and no Jack? That would be a double-bummer. And it's kind of likely to happen. (I could be wrong here, though--last season's Game 7 overtime loss to Carolina in the second-round series was so traumatic that I honestly can't remember which network aired it. I'm still trying to block out the memory of it altogether.)

So, at this point, all I can do is have fun with what this Bruins team--which lost 10 straight games at one point this season--is doing and ride this playoff train as far as it will go. It's one of my great sports fantasies to see the Bruins lift the Stanley Cup, and it'll likely continue to be just a fantasy after this season. For now, though, I've got Jack, a 3-1 Bruins series lead and a 12-pack of Narragansett in the fridge. I'm not believing, but I am enjoying this--for the time being. Go B's!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Arrested Development Movie Not Dead Yet

With The Wire, All in the Family, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm (essentially two versions of one show), The Simpsons, Big Love, WKRP in Cincinnati (still my personal favorite), M*A*S*H and a bunch of other classics dotting the resplendent history of American television, it might be a stretch to say that Arrested Development is the best TV show of all time, at least among those produced on these shores.

But it isn't a stretch. I've watched a little TV in my time--I had a set in my bedroom when I was six--and I can say with all the objectivity I can muster that Arrested Development is the best TV show I've ever seen. (It's still not my favorite--that honor will always belong to WKRP--but it is the best.) The fact that it got the axe after just three seasons and 53 episodes almost cements its legend; it never got stale, never tried too hard and never betrayed its ridiculously quirky premise.

The incredible cast, the writing, the wit, the characters, the cameos--if you haven't seen the show, it'll be hard to understand what I'm talking about. Let me just say this: Even though Arrested Development (yes, that was an Amazon ad in that link...more on that in another post later on) was very much a serial in which every episode tied heavily into the ones that came before and after it, individual episodes of the show now rerunning on the Independent Film Channel are eminently re-watchable. Try watching a single episode of, say, The Sopranos at random--it's all out of context without being part of the greater story of the series, and the single episode isn't really all that entertaining. But Arrested Development works every time, regardless of the episode or the context.

So, with all of that on the record, I felt compelled to express my delight in reading today that the long-rumored Arrested Development movie might still be clinging to life. (It even has an IMDB entry, for what it's worth.) Granted, I'd rather see a return of the TV show, but that's highly unlikely to happen, especially given the fact that that many members of the cast have gone on to do movies and achieve enhanced stardom. Plus, I don't know that a return to TV for Arrested Development could possibly live up to my expectations for it. A movie probably won't, either, but it would be better than what we have now--reruns. Excellent reruns, but reruns nonetheless. Here's hoping that those good folks in Hollywood can get a movie together and give Arrested Development the proper send-off it deserves. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Boston Breakers Report and WPS

The Boston Breakers, the local Women's Professional Soccer team, has granted my friend, Steven, and me press access for the 2010 season. (Thank you very much, Breakers staff. We look forward to working with you.)

Anyway, we're going to try to shop some stories around about the Breakers to press outlets of all sorts, but we don't want to see our efforts go unread in case the local press doesn't end up having much interest in women's soccer (which, so far, it hasn't). So, we've set up Boston Breakers Report, our very own blog on the Breakers. (Please be patient with the link; if it's not functioning yet, it will soon.) The team opened its season with a win in Washington last weekend, and we'll be at the home opener this Sunday.

Most sports fans probably don't realize that we have here in the US the best women's soccer league in the world with virtually all of the world's greatest players playing in it. Unlike in men's soccer, where our league and our national team trail rivals from Europe, South America and probably Africa by quite a distance, the US boasts one of the best women's national teams in the world and has hands-down the best women's league on the globe.

If you're nonplussed at the thought of women's sports in general, give women's soccer a try. It's fast and physical, and the players have tremendous skills. The athletic gender gap that is frankly so evident in sports such as basketball and hockey is much, much less evident--hardly noticeable, really--in soccer. The Breakers open their season this Sunday at 6 pm at Harvard Stadium vs. Philadelphia. Steven and I will be there covering the game. Come on out and give the WPS a try.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Goodbye, Texas Stadium

I didn't get to Texas Stadium often when I was growing up outside of Dallas. In fact, I've probably been there fewer than 10 times. Still, I do have some fond memories of the stadium that came down today in a massive implosion.

Back in 1982, I saw my first (and still only!) live NFL game there, a Dallas loss to Pittsburgh. Sometime before that--I think in 1980 or '81--I saw my first pro soccer game there, a 1-0 win for the Dallas Tornado over the California Surf in the old North American Soccer League. And in 1988, when the Midlothian Panthers, my high school's football team, made the playoffs and managed to advance a round or two, I marched in the band on the Texas Stadium turf. (The football team lost 37-0 to Denison, but it was still fun to see Texas Stadium from the field.)

There was also a great U2 concert in 1992 and an awful Eagles (the band, not the football team) show in 1994. Plus, there were seemingly endless Sunday nights of highlights on the local news after Cowboy games, with those peculiar sideline camera angles that local stations had and that the big networks couldn't reproduce.

Texas Stadium wasn't in great shape, although the despicable Jerry Jones probably could have renovated it rather than fleecing the taxpayers of Arlington (who, to be fair, voted for the tax increase that paid for the stadium...) to build his new palace. Watching the Cowboys play in their new place just puts more emotional distance between me and the team I grew up loving. I'm not shedding a tear over Texas Stadium or anything, but watching it come down put a real exclamation point on the changes--both positive and negative--that the Cowboys have undergone since Jerry took over more than 20 years ago.

And I did kind of hate to see the old place come down because, for me, it was the last link between the modern Cowboys and their predecessors--the teams of Landry, Staubach, Dorsett, "Too Tall" Jones and Randy White that I remember so fondly from childhood. But Coach Landry passed away some years ago, and as Rick Pitino might have said, Tony Dorsett isn't walking through that door...not only because he'd be "old and gray" (in Rick's infamous words) but also because there's no door to walk through anymore. Texas Stadium is gone. A little part of my childhood is gone.

Living in a place that rarely changes all that much makes me all the more sensitive to the fact that Texas is a dynamic place where things change--sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse--all the time. That's another post altogether, but it's odd to me to think that my cousin's kids down in Dallas won't really know anything about Texas Stadium. I guess I'll just have to tell them about it someday.

Two out of Three Ain't Bad...But Three out of Three is Better

I had a fantastic time at my friend's 40th birthday party tonight, so I'm going to keep this fairly short. I don't have much energy left for blogging.

Still, I can't go to bed without celebrating the BC Eagles hockey team and the national championship it won tonight in emphatic fashion over Wisconsin. BC thrashed the Badgers 5-0 to take its fourth national title and second in three seasons. This is an especially  meaningful championship to me, as the 2009-2010 Eagles represent the first team I've really been able to follow (by actually going to games) all the way to a championship. It has been an honor and a pleasure to watch the explosive, exciting Eagles all season, and I'm thrilled that they've taken the title. I'm going to do everything I can to be there when BC raises the championship banner next season.

But the good news doesn't stop there. The Bruins--as doomed as they might be in the long run--did manage to clinch a playoff spot today and therefore extend the meaningful hockey season for me by at least four more games. After a tough, injury-filled, mostly disappointing season, the Bruins came together in the last few weeks to at least have an outside shot at winning the Stanley Cup. As always, I'll be with them as they set off on their playoff adventure--long may it last.

The best news of all, though, is that West Ham took a pretty big step toward avoiding relegation today with a 1-0 home win over Sunderland. We're far from safe, and the next match brings an away fixture to Liverpool, one we haven't won since 1964. But the performances of the last couple of weeks have been reassuring, and there's renewed hope that West Ham will be a Premiership club again next season. Then again, with West Ham, you never know... For this week, though, there are happy thoughts all around. And a pretty big--if premature--sigh of relief.

Unfortunately, the Kansas City Royals couldn't complete the quadruple; they lost decisively to the Red Sox today. But, hey, I'm not complaining. A Bruins playoff clincher, a BC hockey national title and a huge West Ham win all in one beautiful Saturday, capped off by a fantastic party? That's just plain good living. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Frozen Final and a Reason to Party

I have to admit that I'm excited about this. BC clobbered Miami University tonight to advance to the NCAA hockey tournament final. The Eagles, as they have quite often recently, actually got better as the game went on, racking up four third-period goals in a 7-1 win over a team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation for much of the season.

And now BC moves on to play Wisconsin, a team with which I am not at all familiar. I do know, though, that Wisconsin beat BC to win the national championship back in 2006. That won't matter much to this season's players on either team, though. I also know that Wisconsin was a No. 1 seed in this year's tournament, as was BC, and that Wisconsin is a traditional college-hockey power. So, there won't be any Cinderella story here. It'll be powerhouse vs. powerhouse, with six-time national champion Wisconsin taking on a BC program that has won three national championships and participated in 22 Frozen Fours, and will be playing in its 10th title game.

I'll be at a friend's 40th birthday party on Saturday night, and I'll be very glad to be there. I'm really looking forward to it, actually. I probably wouldn't miss, say, a TCU BCS bowl for a party (in fact, I'd be at the game), but I'll happily skip the hockey title game to celebrate with friends. Still, I'll probably DVR the BC game, and I'll probably sneak a peak or two at the score on my phone during the party--with appropriate subtlety, of course. This team could be the first championship team I've ever really been able to follow. There's a lot to that for me. Plus, I'm a genuine BC hockey fan now, and the husband of an alumna. I've got some emotional investment here. Let's hope it pays off. Go Eagles!

Oh, by the way, my friend who is celebrating his 40th birthday is a Michigan native and a big fan of Detroit sports. The NCAA final this year is taking place in...Detroit. My friend also has a law degree from BC (although he's not a BC fan at all). Good luck? We'll see...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Great Moments in Sports I Don't Like All that Much

With West Ham having taken a baby step toward avoiding relegation today and with the Bruins fighting for the privilege of losing in the first round of the playoffs, I don't have anywhere near enough emotional energy to deal with what are relative trivialities in my world--college basketball and baseball.

College basketball, in particular, I haven't watched with any regularity since...well, since college, and even then I didn't find it all that interesting. (In Texas, fans only brag about their favorite college basketball teams if their schools' football teams aren't any good. Basketball is a poor backup for football. It's not even close to being equal in terms of importance--and that's as it should be.) The last time I watched college basketball with any real interest, there was neither a shot clock nor a three-point line in the game. We're going back a ways here, folks. Needless to say, college basketball is just not my thing.

Baseball I like better, but it's a long slog of a season, and the fact is that it's an awful TV sport, no matter how many Bostonians glue themselves to NESN for 162 Red Sox games per season during the only time of the year when the weather in New England has any chance of being beautiful (as it was today). I do like the atmosphere of a ballgame, and I've had a certain affinity here and there for particular baseball players through the years--Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Robin Yount, Gary Carter, Buddy Bell, David Ortiz, George Brett. (We'll get to George again later.) But the game itself is too esoteric and full of numbers for me. It's too much of a mathematician's game.

I'm not ashamed to say that I like brute-force sports (which, incidentally, can also be very complex)--in no particular order, (American) football, hockey and rugby are three of my four favorite sports; the other is soccer, which is more subtle in its brutality than the other three but can nonetheless actually end up getting pretty rough (both on and off the pitch, famously). I sometimes find myself watching a basketball or baseball game with friends or family and yelling, "Hit him! Just tackle him!" to a room full of stunned and frightened faces. Old habits die hard. In fact, they really never die at all.

However, I have derived pleasure from the lesser sports in my pantheon over the years, and it's with that in mind that I offer two Great Moments in Sports I Don't Like All that Much. The first, in recognition of tomorrow night's NCAA final (which I won't be watching--the Bruins are playing Washington) comes from college basketball. The second comes from baseball, in honor of today being Major League Baseball's opening day.

Back in 1986, TCU was in a crisis. The football team was on probation, which is a story so complex and infuriating that I don't want to get into it now, although I've mentioned it in this blog before. The 1985 season had been awful, and everybody knew, even at the time, that there was more misery yet to come. Horned Frog fans were, therefore, reduced to suffering the humiliation of getting excited about basketball.

But get excited they did, cheering for a team coached by Jim Killingsworth that took on the name "Killer Frogs" and made it stick. In February 1986, TCU was battling an old, powerful, much larger nemesis--Texas--for the Southwest Conference title. At the time, TCU hadn't beaten Texas in football since 1967 and wouldn't have a realistic chance of beating the Longhorns again for years. (The football victory finally came in 1992--one of two games TCU won that season. But I digress.) Basketball success is never a substitute for football glory, but it was, in the mid-1980s, the last refuge of the desperate Frog fan.

Texas came into Fort Worth essentially tied for the conference lead with TCU. The game--broadcast on the great old Raycom Sports Network; I remember watching it live--was low-scoring and close, as many games were back then. Texas, however, had taken a one-point lead with five seconds to play, when Jamie Dixon, now basketball coach at the University of Pittsburgh, took an inbound pass...and my favorite basketball moment of all time followed:

What you just saw was joy, relief, hope, even some revenge all pouring onto the floor at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. It's still probably the most thrilling spontaneous outburst I've ever seen from a sports crowd. No TCU fan who was alive at the time will ever forget The Shot. In classic TCU fashion, we did win the regular-season SWC title in 1986...but we lost in the conference tournament and got unfairly passed over for the NCAA Tournament.

In 1987, TCU came back with an even better team, won the regular-season title again and lost in the tournament again--but that year, the Frogs managed to make the NCAA tourney. The Frogs won a first-round game and then got jobbed out of a victory in the second round, losing to Notre Dame on a ridiculous, outrageous, borderline-unbelievable, last-second foul call that went against (if memory serves) Jamie Dixon. Alas, it's been mostly downhill for TCU basketball since then. But, hey, our football program is great now. So, who cares about basketball?

Now, on to baseball. My favorite baseball moment of all time should probably be the New York Mets--a team I've loved since I was a young kid--winning the 1986 (what a year!) World Series, or at least pulling off that famous miracle comeback to beat the Red Sox in Game 6. And both moments are right up there among my all-time favorites. But living in Boston and learning more over the years about some of the, uh, characters on that Mets team have dimmed my view of '86 just a tad.

Plus, as I mentioned earlier, baseball for me has always been almost as much about my favorite players as it has been about my favorite teams. And all the time I was growing up, there was no player I loved more than George Brett. (He's one of the reasons I'm a Royals fan today.) George Brett's career spanned from the year I was born (1973) all the way into the fall of my sophomore year in college (1993). For me, he embodied everything an athlete should be--he was tough; he came through in the clutch and more than anything else he really, really, really cared about the game and about winning. He never slacked or took a day off, unlike a lot of (even very good) baseball players.

I remember idolizing Brett as early as 1980, when the Royals broke through and beat the Yankees in the playoffs and went to the World Series (only to lose to the Phillies). As my dad would say, I thought the guy hung the moon. So, when the most famous incident of his career happened, I was already a fan. And after that incident, I was a fan for life.

Most baseball fans, even younger ones, know about the Pine Tar Home Run. If you don't know about it, the video below will explain everything pretty well. When the umpire in that famous Royals-Yankees game took Brett's game-winning homer away because Brett allegedly had too much pine tar on his bat, Brett came charging out of the Kansas City dugout. I can honestly say that I had never seen a man that angry before in my young life and still haven't seen one that mad since.

Over the years, I have related many times to George Brett's moment of spontaneous rage. I have felt his sense of fury at injustice and his desire to tear somebody's head off. Fortunately, I've generally--the occasional moment in a rugby match notwithstanding--resisted the temptation to attack somebody physically. I'm not at all a violent person. But that explosive desire to stand up for myself when I feel as though I've been wronged? Well, I probably don't have enough of it, actually, but when I do feel and act upon it I think of George Brett coming out of that dugout. And that's who I become, even if it's only via e-mail.

Brett remains an inspiration to me because of how much he cared about one game in the middle of a 162-game season. It mattered to him. Big time. I want to care at least that much about a lot of things in my life every day, without exception--and I hope and think that I do. And he inspires me because he had the courage--the fury--to stand up for himself. Plus, in the end, he won! The American League eventually reversed the game umpire's decision (again, watch the video if you've never heard of this), and Brett's home run counted. A few weeks later, the Yanks and Royals finished the 9th inning, with the Royals taking the victory. Beautiful. And here's the reaction that moves me to this day, still the greatest moment in baseball history for me:

So, there you go--Great Moments in Sports I Don't Like All that Much. Enjoy March Madness and baseball's opening week. I'll be obsessing over West Ham and the Bruins.