On the dawn of my first night as a Pittsburgh Pirates column writer, the omens were anything but good. It was raining, I was exhausted from finals, and the stadium was bound to be empty with the Penguins playing game 7 of their playoff series the same night.
Around 5:45 p.m., while doing everything I could do to prepare for my Spanish final the next day, the clouds broke and the rained stopped and things took a turn for the better.
As I left my house, I went to Oakland’s best new restaurant – Black Bean – grabbed a Cuban sandwich, ate in Mike’s car on the way down to the stadium, and blasted Ground Up for the entire trip. I was in a great mood and the night was getting pretty gorgeous. It was just the beginning.
After taking a great walk across the Roberto Clemente Bridge to the Pirates stadium, I immediately needed to accept my rookie status and start asking questions. “Where is the press door?” was my first. After talking to a couple security guards, I found the very private and very guarded entrance for the media members in the back of the stadium.
After running into my first walking-talkie-bearing security guard, I had to give my name. He turned to a table that was holding three press passes left (I was a little late for media, arriving around 6:30). My name was there, and my pass was sweet.
“Where are you trying to go?”
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “Never covered a game at this ballpark, so I was going to ask you the same thing.” He took at look at my pass, smiled, and said “well you have clubhouse access, press box access, and field access. You can go anywhere you want.”
My first reaction? “Hell yeah.”
Realizing I had some time, I told him I’d go down to the clubhouse first to check things out – this is where I’d be getting my postgame quotes. After heading through some double doors, I ran into the second line of security. Glancing at my press pass, I was redundantly told I could go anywhere I want. This time, though, it was indicated I could even go to the visiting clubhouse.
The Pirates opponent tonight? The defending champs, the San Francisco Giants. So, no offense Pirates fans, I headed in their direction first. As I came down the tunnel, before getting to the clubhouse, out came the champs.
First in line, and in the batting order, was Aaron Rowand.
“How you doin Aaron?” I said, as casually as I could.
“Good, thanks,” he gave me with a head nod.
Next was Pat the Bat Burrell, who everyone knows will always be a Phillie.
“Good luck tonight, Pat,” I said calmly. “Thanks,” he answered.
Well, that was cool. Now I figured I’d wander as far as I could go. After walking through the tunnel, I saw a door that said field entrance. Well, they said I could go anywhere.
Pushing through the double doors, I came out to a set of bleachers that essentially lies right on the left field dirt. It was cool, great view, but it wasn’t the field access I thought the sign implied and with the opening pitch coming I was ready to head up to the press box. After heading back, walking through the tunnel, I came to a set of doors that I harmlessly entered beforehand just minutes ago. Locked.
This is the kind of thing you run into when you’re in an arena you’ve never been to and have a curiosity that can hurt you. After roaming around for about 10 minutes, trying different doors and different stairs, I finally realized I was locked out and caved by asking for help.
After showing my pass and explaining I was new to the park, I was swiped through and let back into the tunnel. Now, I retraced my steps and headed back to the media entrance, up the ushered elevator, and onto the press level.
When you come off the elevator, the first thing you see is a big sign that in bright red letters reads:
THIS IS AN ACTIVE PRESS BOX. IF YOU DO NOT HAVE APPROPRIATE PASS YOU ARE PROHIBITED FROM THIS AREA.
As I strode through the hallway, pretending I knew exactly what I was doing, I turned the corner to an absolutely beautiful site.
Five rows of tables, outlets, TVs (big, flat-screen, HD TVs), comfy chairs, all facing a huge glass wall looking out onto the PNC Park field and looking over the Pittsburgh skyline. The windows were open, letting in a perfect breeze. I’m handed packets of statistics, standings, player profiles, and of course a sheet explaining how to acquire internet access. I sit down at one of the long, marble tables, plug in my computer, log onto the internet, and soak up the view.
Now, of course, I’m hungry. So, once again, I decide I’ll roam around a bit (about 15 minutes until game-time) and get to know my surroundings.
As I come around behind the tables, I see a guy dressed in a suit with an earpiece and walkie-talkie. He looks like he knows what he’s doing. “Where is the nearest place to get a drink?” I ask. “Down the hall to your left,” he tells me.
As I turn the corner, I follow a hallway – glass windows on my right, closed doors to mysterious rooms facing the field on my left. As I begin reading the signs on the door, I start to realize how “in” I really am.
“Visiting Radio,” “Scoreboard Control,” “Scoreboard Video,” “Visiting GM,” – wait, what? Visiting GM??? I stand at the door, momentarily, actually considering if it’s a good idea to walk in or not. Probably not. I keep going. Behind the “Spanish Radio” door you can hear the booming thick accents of the Spanish commentators. The last door reads “104.7 FM,” home of Pittsburgh Pirates radio.
When I get to the end of the hallway, I find what I’m looking for: Free drinks and free food. It’s a beautiful place, this press box. I grab as much as I can carry and head back to my seat. As I sit down, the national anthem begins. I stand up, soak up the view one more time, and then hear a voice come over speakers I couldn’t find in the press box.
“Game time temperature: 71 degrees. Game time start: 7pm.”
As things kick off, the Pirates come out strong. Before I knew it, the sun had set and the beautiful city lights of Pittsburgh were shining and the Pirates were winning!
With some good defense and some smart small ball, they went up on the board first with an RBI single and basically cruised from there to a 2-0 win. In fact, Pedro Alvarez even made an outstanding over the dugout catch in the 4th inning that ended up on Sportscenter’s top plays.
Late in the game, though, there was a moment of “uh oh, here comes a Pirates collapse.”
In the top of the 9th, the Pirates reliever let two men on and almost blew the lead before forcing a ground out to 2nd that lead to a double play. It was a good night, and I’d like to think of myself as a good omen for the Pirates win over the defending champs. Hopefully, they keep it up.
After the game, I followed the media crowd back down to the club house and listened to the first few minutes of the post-game press conferences. However, in typical Pittsburgh fashion, everyone was up and leaving after one reporter mentioned the Penguins being down in the 3rd period of game seven against Tampa Bay.
Being intrigued myself, I took off early and headed for the car. By the time I got home, a rare Pittsburgh event had taken place: the Pirates won on the same night the Penguins lost.
In perhaps the most mentally challenging sport in the world, finding some consistency can never be undervalued.
When Tiger Woods left golf on his self-imposed 5 month hiatus, he was in no state of mind to compete at the top of his game. Now, with the talks of his sex addiction and off-course troubles dissipating, it seems the less people are talking the better he is playing.
This Sunday, at the Masters, the viewing audience saw a few things that looked familiar:
1) Tiger Woods unleashing one of his thunderous fist pumps after hitting an eagle to leave him shooting a 31 on the front nine (that's really good).
2) Woods twice held a share of the lead on Sunday
3) He came into a Sunday morning seemingly out of it, and almost - almost, came back for an epic victory.
Tiger's late-tournament presence is huge for both his confidence and the fear of his competitors. We're not talking about some Burger King sponsored 9-hole tournament, this is the Masters. This is the tournament where golfers have become notorious for burning, throwing out, compounding and breaking their clubs after four days of excruciatingly tough holes send them one stop short of psychiatric care.
And with Charl Schwartzel's win, golf has now seen 10 different players win the last 10 majors. The truth is, we need Tiger back. We want him back. He is still the only man in the world who can dominate in a way that brings in sports fans of all kind, and I'm here to tell you: the old Tiger is right around the corner.
The truth is, he did the tough stuff right and the easy stuff wrong. Which, in my opinion, is a good sign. He hit eight of his first eight greens on Sunday. Yet, he was left 3-putting some of the easiest holes on the course. Maybe all the divorce talk is still getting to his putting, but Tiger is slowly and surely shaking off whatever cob webs or mental blocks he had, and he is getting closer and closer to ending his 17-month winless streak. He is still only 4 major championships away from Jack Nicklaus.
And, when he does finally get that all elusive win (which will be soon), how will America react? Will his shiny 1st place trophy or a good post-victory interview draw forgiveness from the country that has put his personal life through a paper shredder? I'd be willing to bet that when golf's most exhilarating player gets his swag back with a 1st place finish, golf's popularity will have a significant and non-coincidental explosion.
Personally, I've never stopped cheering for the guy.
Every now and then, you read something in the news that just makes you wonder what this world is coming to. This week, a man named Peter Moore made a decision that caught some headlines which left me scratching my head.
Moore, who is the president of the gaming company EA Sports, announced that the premier football video game, Madden 2012, will be making some changes to next year’s edition. The changed settings will prevent players from re-entering games after suffering a concussion.
Yup, Madden is joining the anti-concussion regime and things are starting to get a little ridiculous.
No more picking Michael Vick in the 6th round of your fantasy draft just so you can run a five wide out QB sneak 80 times a game and bring him back in even if he gets hurt. Now, if Vick goes down with a concussion – he is done. According to ESPN.com, Moore said that it was “wrong” when the game would allow concussed players to return to the field in the following quarter.
Even the games namesake, John Madden, came out in support of Moore’s decision.
"Concussions are such a big thing, it has to be a big thing in the video game," Madden told The New York Times in a telephone interview. "It starts with young kids -- they start in video games. I think the osmosis is if you get a concussion, that's a serious thing and you shouldn't play. Or leading with the head that you want to eliminate. We want that message to be strong."
I won’t even comment on the fact that Madden can hardly articulate a coherent sentence, but who does EA Sports really think they are helping?
As another part of the effort, the game’s announcers, Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth, will discuss the dangers of concussions when a player is sent to the bench with a head injury.
What’s next EA? Are you going to take all of your Fight Night Champion games off the shelves because it teaches kids to throw a nice left hook? Are you going to disallow people from turning penalties off in NHL 2012 so I can’t send Alex Ovechkin through the glass every time he tries to clear the puck? Will there be no blood in this year’s EA Sports MMA video game?
This is about as pointless as watching Jersey Shore to see if tonight’s Sammi and Ronnie argument is really going to end things. It’s like buying tickets to a B.o.B. concert thinking it’ll actually take up more than an hour of your night.
I mean, seriously, you think kids are out there buying madden so they can see nice clean hits? If anyone in the world is playing Madden to learn good tackling form, they probably won’t be making a football team anytime soon. Newsflash: I play madden so I can decapitate all the players who I’ll never get a chance to actually inflict real physical pain upon.
I play Madden because I’m a Redskins fan, and since they won’t win another game within my lifetime I feel a little bit better when I’m destroying the Packers 72-3 and Donovan McNabb has 800 passing yards and Clinton Portis can still find the end zone. But most of all, I play Madden for that special moment when I can unleash that hit stick on my roommate right when he’s on the verge of thinking he might finally bring down the champ (that’s me).
If Madden and Moore really believe that they are making some noble movement forward to change the mindset of kids, they should take a step back and look at what sporting video games are doing for people in the first place.
Realistically, Madden 2012 will be played by three groups of people: the sport junkies that love to finish their night or have a study break with some football video games, the players who are actually in the game and love playing with themselves (pun intended), and the group of kids who won’t go outside for the first three months they own the game because playing fantasy football and being good is way more fun than getting real exercise and looking dumb.
If John Madden and Peter Moore want to teach kids about good tackling form, maybe they should take their 2012 game off the shelves completely and encourage kids to spend a year outside actually playing football or even trying out for their school’s team. With the looming NFL strike, this could be the year to do it.
This whole thing reminds me of all of the movements against violent video games which have dominated the shelves at Best Buy for the last decade. Parents say games like Grand Theft Auto are teaching kids violence is okay, that it shows them how to use a gun or encourages them to bring a gun to school.
Here’s a thought: If your kid thinks bringing Grand Theft Auto habits into real life is “okay” because he’s been playing the game so much, he’s either stupid or insane. Or both.
The saddest part about the ordeal is that this decision will receive praise and support from players unions and NFL owners alike. It’s just one more reminder of everyone’s constant self interest and the growing divide between players, ownership and fans that is reaching an all-time high.
So, if players can’t hit each other in real life, can’t get hurt in the video games, can’t even settle for a multi-million dollar contract and refuse to put a team on the field, what exactly are we paying these guys for?
If you think you can answer that question, you can find me in front of my PS2. I’ll be playing NFL Blitz.