Sports And The City

It was 4-1.

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On Happiness

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I was asked last night, over beers, whether I was happy, on a scale of one to 10.

First of all: A score of 10 is unattainable. For anyone.

Second of all: The question was posed to me shortly after I’d watched the Maple Leafs lose 8-0 to the Boston Bruins. Eight-nothing. Who the fuck loses 8-0? And I watched, for the most part, the whole game; couldn’t turn it off. The Bruins can go to hell. The Leafs can, too, for that matter.

I answered “Six-point-five.” And I think I was being generous. Had the Leafs lost 2-1, I’d have probably answered “Seven.” At least. Eight-nothing’s some bullshit.

No playoffs.

Image credit: Robert Adams, via This Isn’t Happiness. 

Written by Navin Vaswani

March 20th, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Welcome back …

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Below is a post I published at NotGraphs, celebrating the return of Major League Baseball, while also serving as a quasi-Blue Jays preview. Yes, that is a picture of the Cincinnati Reds, above, but it’ll all make sense. Just read. They’re home. They’re finally home.

I went through a boatload of photographs last night from Opening Day. The above, courtesy of the fine folks at The Associated Press, is definitely my favorite. Is there anything better than a walk-off home run on Opening Day, in front of your home crowd? No, there isn’t. I dare you to argue otherwise.

Look at the Reds’ faces. Go, look. The picture is a reminder of why I love baseball. And a reminder of how much I missed baseball over the winter. Nothing brings out the inner child in a Major League Baseball player, or a fan at the game, more than a walk-off home run, and the customary wait at home plate for the man’s man who saved the day.

I draw your attention above to #43, Miguel Cairo. The ageless Miguel Cairo, now in his sixteenth Major League season, with his tenth team. He’s not even looking at Ramon Hernandez. He’s got his eyes on the prize, home plate, for when Hernandez leaps on it. And he’s also making sure Jonny Gomes doesn’t get too close. You see, that’s why Miguel Cairo’s lasted so long in this beautiful game of baseball. He gets it. And, years under his belt, having surely gone through the drill before, the look on Cairo’s face suggests he’s enjoying the walk-off experience for only the first time.

That’s the beauty of Opening Day. Year after year, it feels like the first time. This evening, I’m heading down to the Rogers Centre Skydome to get my Blue Jays on. Opening Night, a tradition like no other. Two years ago, Roy Halladay was on the mound for the good guys. Last April, Shaun Marcum. Tonight, Ricky Romero is the chosen one. And I’m going to sit back in my seat in Section 204, Row 3, Seat 102, and welcome back baseball. With the most open of open arms.

I’m not going to worry that this year’s version of the Toronto Blue Jays are, to these eyes at least, one giant question mark. For one night, I’m not going to worry about Adam Lind’s new position, first base, or whether he might regain his 2009 form at the plate. I’m not going to stress over which Aaron Hill is going to show up; 2009 Hill, good, lovable, 3.9 WAR Hill, or 2010, awful, .291 wOBA Hill. I’m surely not going to wonder whether Edwin Encarnacion, a few days ago Toronto’s 1B/DH, losing a few pounds — he’s in the best shape of his life! — means he’ll now be able to make the throw across the diamond, from third to first. (Miss you, Scott Rolen.) I’m most definitely not going to worry about Brett Cecil’s fastball, or that Brandon Morrow is on the disabled list to start the season, and, who knows, could miss more than the one start he’s scheduled to.

There’s more: I’m not going to wonder if this is the year Travis Snider puts it together; he’s still only 23-years-old. I’m not going to spend tonight wondering if J.P. Arencibia, the Catcher of the Future, is actually the Catcher of the Future. And I’m not going to put any added pressure on Kyle Drabek. He was traded for Roy Halladay. Harry Leroy Halladay III! And, hell no, I’m not going to fret over Jose Bautista, now otherworldly rich, and whether he can do it again.

Nope. Not going to do any of that. Instead, I’m going to sit back with 20 of my friends, play Loonies!, and ring in the John Farrell, and Rajai Davis, era with a tall, smooth, and extremely refreshing can of Bud Light Lime*. Probably two or three of them.

Game one isn’t for worrying. That’s what the other 161 are for. They’re home. Welcome back, Blue Jays. Welcome back, baseball.

* Don’t be a hater.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 1st, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Never in doubt

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I’m a number of light beers into early Sunday morning. Viva White Vegas. So please pardon my lack of prose as I reflect on the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

  • First, and more foremost: Fuck Vancouver’s Green Men. Bodysuits and props? Every game? Shame on CBC for giving those two clowns camera time. They’re just as bad, if not worse, than baseball’s jackass fake umpires. Has fandom stooped so low?
  • The Grabovski, MacArthur, Kulemin line is Toronto’s best. Hands down. It’s the only line that’s remained together all season. So why weren’t the trio out there during the Leafs’ 5-on-3 power play in the first period? Ron?
  • Phil Kessel looked dangerous in the first 20 minutes. His ability to dangle takes my breath away. Every time. I have to remind myself time and time again that he’s only 23 years old. As his career progresses, it’s vital that Kessel gets the coaching necessary to make sure he’s a factor on the ice, as he was on Saturday, every night. On too many nights he’s not. But he’s only 23.
  • Roberto Luongo’s Oscar-worthy performances on the slightest bit of contact are disrespectful to anybody who’s ever played goal. The man’s 6-3, and weighs over 200 pounds. When will he ever show some self-respect?
  • Colby Armstrong’s grown on me, no doubt. But I still can’t figure out why the $9 million thrown Armstrong’s way wasn’t offered to Manny Malhotra, a centre who can kill penalties, win faceoffs, and put up decent numbers. It’s mistakes like Armstrong over Malhotra, obvious to the most casual observer, that make being a fan of this team so hard right now.
  • Jonas Gustavsson looks downright angry all the time. And with good reason. Thanks to J.S. Giguere’s injuries and poor play, Monster’s had every opportunity to be the man. But he’s only been average. Then again, when I think about it, I’d be pretty pissed off all the time if I was in goal for the Maple Leafs, too.
  • On a four-on-one rush in the first period, Armstrong chose to shoot the puck, coming down the right wing. He missed the net, and it resulted in a two-on-one rush the other way, for the Canucks. It was, in a nutshell, Toronto Maple Leafs hockey.
  • Vancouver had no true enforcer in their lineup Saturday night, so why did Colton Orr have to dress for Toronto? Why not Kadri instead of Orr, with Rosehill providing the sandpaper and, if necessary, the fisticuffs?
  • There’s no need for Kadri to be up in the press box, or for Aulie to be back in the minors. What was to be lost — a high draft pick — has already been lost. Let the goddamn kids play.
  • Fredrik Sjostrom is the hardest working man in hockey.
  • Shooting the puck over the glass is a delay of game penalty. But on the penalty kill, Alex Burrows can bury the puck into the boards, blatantly, for as long as he wants with no repercussions. That’s NHL logic for you.
  • Fuck Alex Burrows.
  • Some props to the Canucks; their passing on goal number two was nothing short of sublime. Kessler’s stick taps were a beauty, loud and long, making sure Jeff Tambellini dropped the puck. That shit works.
  • After two periods of play I thought: There’s no way Toronto wins this game. Absolutely none.
  • Until Mikhail Grabovski cut the Vancouver lead in half, and gave me hope. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: How could anyone not like Grabovski? He fought Jason Blake, man. He’s one of us. To his core.
  • Mike Komisarek returned to the lineup, played 10 and a half uninspiring minutes, comically missed the net on a slapshot, and took two dumb penalties. And he’s the guy who took Tomas Kaberle’s “A.” Drink.
  • With just under 10 minutes to go in the third period, down by one goal, Francois Beauchemin, in his own zone, cleared the puck right up the middle, to no one in particular. How will firing Ron Wilson stop insane decision making such as that?
  • Kaberle getting into it with Burrows after a whistle proved that nobody can stand Alex Burrows. All Kaberle knows is love.
  • Is it wrong that when Tim Brent accidentally shot the puck into the Toronto bench, I wanted it to find Ron Wilson’s face? It is wrong. I know. But I can’t help it.
  • I thought Luke Schenn played one of his worst games of the season Saturday night. I blame Komisarek.
  • With three and a half minutes left in the third period, Jeff Tambellini won a battle down low between himself and Beauchemin. It was another reminder that Beauchemin plays far too much, too often. He logged another 26 minutes Saturday night. Once again: I blame Komisarek. Wilson can’t send #8 out there, so he rides Beauchemin.
  • Komisarek is a disease.
  • Another night of being owned on the draw. Either recall Mike Zigomanis, or hire a fucking faceoffs coach. It’s embarrassing.

Let’s be honest: The Leafs never had a chance Saturday night. Toronto needed to win two out of three on their west coast road trip. They didn’t. Of course they didn’t.

And about those in-game “Leafs Suck!” chants from the Vancouver faithful: Haters gonna hate.

Image by Mathew Scott.

Written by Navin Vaswani

December 19th, 2010 at 2:24 am

Buffalo’s Bills

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Let me tell you, there’s no experience quite like it. You haven’t lived until you’ve stood on your seat at a cold and wet Ralph Wilson Stadium, a number of light beers in your system, and belted out “Shout!!!1″ – the Buffalo Bills’ anthem – at the top of your lungs. I did just that on Sunday. I sang like I’d never sing again. Like the Bills might never score again. Like the Bills might never win again. Because, let’s be honest, they probably won’t.

I went to the Bills and Bears game two weeks ago, on November 7th, at the Rogers Centre, where Chicago fans outnumbered Buffalo fans by a wide margin. Where hardly anyone sang “Shout!!!1″ Where it was louder on Buffalo third-down attempts than Chicago third-down attempts. Where everyone, especially the Bears, was far too comfortable under the roof. Home game? Home game my ass.

I know, the timing of my bi-annual visit with friends to Buffalo to watch the Bills was about as ironic as it gets. The Argos were, after all, facing their hated rivals from Hamilton in the CFL’s Eastern Semi-Final. Playoffs. Playoffs!!!1 We probably should have gone to the Hammer. But we chose Buffalo. And who picks Buffalo? Ever? For anything?

But after spending the past two Sundays watching the Bills live and in the flesh, north and south of the border, I learned a valuable lesson: The Bills are Buffalo’s football team. They’ll never be Toronto’s team. We don’t deserve them. Not when our only tailgating option in Toronto is a Budweiser sponsored event where beer isn’t served after 12:30 pm. Are you kidding me?

Look, it’s hardly about the football game. Especially when we’re dealing with the inept Bills. It’s about the experience. It’s about crossing the border at 9 am in your Drew Bledsoe Bills jersey, all the while praying the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer you’re about to hand four passports to got laid the night before. Three of you were born in the Middle East, after all. It’s about celebrating a rare hassle-free entrance into the United States with high-fives, and setting up shop in an Orchard Park parking lot at 10 am. It’s about lighting up the grill; burgers, hot dogs, bacon, and tandoori chicken. Even Caesar salad! It’s about beer. Bud Light and Coors Light, 18 cans for only $20, and drinking far too much, far too early in the morning. It’s about playing three-on-three touch football, and running a flea-flicker to score a touchdown deep in a makeshift end zone. It’s about walking up to Ralph Wilson Stadium, beer in hand, passing police officer after police officer. Most importantly, it’s about being told by my brother to look at a young man, drunk out of his mind, struggling to put on the upper half of his Buzz Lightyear body costume, as he walks up to the gate to enter the building. Unfortunately, Buzz didn’t get in. Not because he was far too inebriated. Because he didn’t have a ticket. I love Buffalo.

Inside, in a seat that costs you a quarter of what it costs to watch the Bills in Toronto, it’s all about making money. Full disclosure: I’ve attended both this year and last year’s Bills regular season games in Toronto for free. I wouldn’t pay. I’m frugal — not cheap — and the prices are absurd. Anyway, back to business. Literally. During the game, it’s about betting $1 bills on each play. Pass? Run? Five yard gain? Three-and-a-half yard gain? First down? Next penalty? Incomplete pass? You name it, you can play it. It’s about taking money from your friends, and even taking money from a couple of strangers in front of you who want in on the action. There’s plenty of dollar bills to go around. I made a killing during the game. Enough for a free $8 beer for my trouble. But I gave it all back at the end of the game, after the Bills weren’t able to cover a spread of 4.5 I generously took bets on. But Buffalo was victorious. That was all that mattered. They will not go 0-16, and make history, again, for all the wrong reasons. Best of all, we got to sing “Shout!!!1″ one last time.

After the game, Bills fans were buoyant. Rightfully so. And I realized what a travesty it would be if the Bills were ever taken away from Buffalo. Lord knows they don’t have much.

“One and eight. Ain’t it great?”

Indeed it is, random Bills fan. Indeed it is.

Image courtesy of comcast.net.

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 16th, 2010 at 2:54 pm