Sports And The City

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The Sports Section

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It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.

– Jerry Seinfeld

I read Saturday’s sports section. The Toronto Star’s. The actual, physical sports section of the Saturday Star. Of the newspaper. I touched it. It was in my hands. I read the whole thing. I can’t remember the last time I did that. It’d been a while. I read the news online, exclusively, like a normal person. Every day. I’m one of those people. I have to, for work. Actually, I read everything online. Books, too. I didn’t pay for The Star. Fuck no. I’d never do that. I read it at Second Cup. Well, outside Second Cup. Saturday was a beautiful day in Toronto. Welcome, September.

It was underwhelming, the Star’s sports section. I’m a bit sorry to say so. But it was. Full disclosure: I’m mostly a reader of The Globe and Mail. Sports, news, everything. I grew up reading the Star, though, it was the newspaper my father had delivered to our front door, the newspaper he read, so I like to check in every once in a while. (I’m not a fan of The Star’s website; it’s too damn busy.)

On the front page, above the fold, baseball columnist Richard Griffin had a piece breaking down MLB’s wild-card race. I like Griffin, but it was a pros/cons/prediction “column” about nine teams and what their chances are down the stretch. It was nothing great; hardly Griffin’s finest hour. He calls for the Rays and Tigers to meet in the AL wild-card one-off, and likes the Braves and Dodgers in the NL, because of course you were wondering.

The rest of the front page: A feature about Chris Williams, the “CFL’s most exciting player,” by Bob Mitchell. Now, I have no idea who Chris Williams is, had never heard of him before, and don’t know what position he plays, or what team he plays for. I’m about as casual a football fan as can be. The Buffalo Bills have my heart, and I try to get down to one game in Buffalo a season, before it gets unGodly cold down there, mostly to get wasted on a Sunday afternoon, because that doesn’t get to happen enough, but I don’t fuck with the CFL. I passed on the Williams piece.

On page two, Mr. Griffin had a gamer on Friday night’s 2-1 Blue Jays’ victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Standard, with quotes from Tony Lovullo praising Moises Sierra, the star of the night, about some of the extra outfielding work Sierra’s been putting in, and quotes from Brandon Morrow, and Ricky Romero about Morrow. Nothing terribly exciting. Like I said, I’ll read Griffin more often than not. Not those crazy-long “Bullpen” blog posts he writes — who’s got the time?  – but his other stuff, sure. I may not like everything Griffin writes, but he’s a pro. And he uses that Drunk Jays Fans-inspired avatar on Twitter, which I still like to give him credit for.

The rest of page two: A local high-school football story, which I didn’t even think about reading. Life’s too short.

Page three: A column by Dave Perkins on the plight of Ontario’s racehorse breeders. I told myself I wasn’t going to read it, but then went back and did. I owe Perkins that much, don’t I? The column did nothing to change my stance on the issue: While I’m sorry for all those whose jobs are at risk now that the Ontario government is getting out of the horse racing business, the bottom line is that I don’t want the Ontario government involved in the horse racing business.

The rest of page three was devoted to the 2012 Paralympic Games, with articles from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press. Hours later, I can’t tell you what the CP story was about, but the AP piece was about a survivor of the 7/7 attacks in London — she lost both her legs — competing in the games. In volleyball, no less. You have to read the human interest stories. Too much of the news is bullshit to not read the human interest stories.

Pages four and five, save for a three-inch wide CP story on the left side of page four about NHL labour talks having been “recessed,” which I did not read, having already learned the details on Friday, were a huge Kevin McGran spread about which NHL teams made the best moves in the offseason — “Summertime Stanley Cup.” I didn’t read it. It was, like the Griffin piece on the front page, another team-by-team round-up. Far too broad. When I read the newspaper, I want specific. And I want, for the most part, a Toronto focus. I could care less about McGran’s take on the Carolina Hurricanes’ summer, or the Jordan Eberle contract. The NHL season isn’t going to even start on time, and I’m supposed to want to read an offseason round-up? Well, I don’t. I don’t even want to read about the goddamned lockout. The NHL can simply go away until they figure their shit out. I’d rather read a Cathal Kelly column, about whatever the hell he wants to write about. At least that’s original content.

On page six, I didn’t read an AP article about the U.S. Open, and didn’t read notes about golf, Bob Uecker’s statue, and the CFL. On page seven was a full-page scoreboard, with standings and results from the major professional sports. Who the hell actually uses that page? All that information is available on our phones.

So, in short, I read about a third of The Star’s sports section, and came away thinking, “This is why newspapers are dying.” I wouldn’t pay. I don’t pay. Not for that.

You know what I would have liked to read in the sports section of a Toronto newspaper? (Which isn’t the same as what I’d pay for, just so we’re on the same page — pardon the awful pun.) Something like this from Leafs Nation, about Nikolai Kulemin’s immediate future, and the fact that his agent said he would have asked for a one-year, $3 million deal in arbitration, if contract talks had gone there. Or @DrewGROF‘s piece about Steve Delabar, whose “stuff” — his splitter, mostly — has people talking. Or FanGraphs’ look at Carlos Villanueva, his changeup in particular (with a graph, duh, FanGraphs). The newspapers, as evidenced by this Star piece about Villanueva, and this Star piece about Jose Bautista and Sam Fuld, remain far too interested in getting me quotes from baseball players, even though we all know baseball players don’t say a damn thing when they talk.

I like what the National Post is doing — I’ve seen some PITCHf/x graphs and WPA graphs on their website over the past few months. They’re trying. Although I still don’t understand why John Lott doesn’t post his minor-league round-up, which he tweets, on the Post’s website. Hell, do both. And, again, as a reader of The Globe and Mail, I’m a bit surprised they haven’t created a Blue Jays-specific blog yet, like they did in creating James Mirtle’s Leafs Beat. The Globe gets it — Toronto drives traffic. With the Blue Jays the only baseball game in town, and in the bloody country, and interest in their happenings only increasing online — especially online — a Blue Jays-only web-first blog at The Globe seems to only makes sense. To me, at least. But what the fuck do I know.

Well, one thing, maybe: The sports section seems very much like what it used to be. And that’s the problem, isn’t it?

Written by Navin Vaswani

September 2nd, 2012 at 3:23 am

NotGraphs: Photo: How to Propose at a Baseball Game

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What you’ll find below is another friendly reminder of the hard-hitting baseball journalism I regularly drop over at NotGraphs. Now, I’m assuming the ladies in the photograph below are Canadian, from somewhere in beautiful British Columbia, part of the contingent that takes over Seattle’s Safeco Field when the Blue Jays are in town. Represent.

As if you or I needed another reason to love Canadian women.

It’s the glitter, the extra effort, that really makes the signs, and the proposal. (Click on the image to embiggen.) Make no mistake about it: Those ladies are gritty. Forget that get down on one knee, emotional stuff. Stand up and yell. Loud and proud.

And I’ve got to give it up to the gal on the left. On her feet, Mike’s Hard Lemonade in her left hand, sign in her right. She knows, like I do, that there’s never a good time to put down your drink. As for wanting to be Jose Bautista’s HR Queen, get in line.

Well done, ladies.

And if you — denizens of NotGraphs — need me, I’ll be out back singing O Canada, eh.

That would be a Getty Image, via the fine folks at daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 15th, 2011 at 12:45 pm

The habit of believing

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I’m reading Gary Taubes’ “Why We Get Fat.” Carbohydrates, my friends, are the devil. Have you seen Travis Snider?  The Meats Don’t Clash diet works.

Anyway, I came across a quote in the book by Umberto Eco, Italian all-around smarty-pants, which Taubes uses to help expose the flaws in the widely accepted calories-in/calories-out paradigm. It’s fantastic. Fucking fantastic. Witness:

I believe that you can reach the point where there is no longer any difference between developing the habit of pretending to believe and developing the habit of believing.”

I had to put the book down. Actually, I read the quote again, twice, and then put the book down.

That’s me. That’s my fandom. Of the Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Bills, Toronto FC, and Toronto Raptors. Of every awful team I support. There’s nothing really rational about supporting those teams. Then again, there’s nothing really rational about sports; rationale doesn’t factor into rooting for a specific team, or player.

I’m sure Kansas City Royals fans, and Pittsburgh Pirates fans, and even Calgary Flames fans, can relate to that quote. Why, year after year, do we go on? Why do we stick around, after all the abuse? The answer’s in the quote: we believe. It’s no longer a habit of pretending to believe, as Eco says. We actually believe. That this year, whichever year it is, is actually the year. Even though it’s probably not.

The Maple Leafs last took part in a playoff game thousands of days ago, in 2004. Literally thousands of days ago. Two-thousand-something days. I don’t remember the actual number, but the CBC was kind enough to point it out last Saturday, during the final Leafs/Habs tilt until October. I don’t even want to begin to think about how many more thousands of days it’s been for the Blue Jays. Almost two decades. Yet every April, I find myself thinking, “Wow, I haven’t been this excited about the Blue Jays since, well, last year.” I say the same thing about the Maple Leafs in October.

In years prior, I’ve still been bout it bout it for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Nothing better than the first round, and playoff overtime, I’ve always said myself. Wednesday night, as the playoffs began, and Vancouver welcomed Chicago, and the Rangers and Capitals treated folks to overtime, I watched baseball. Dodgers and Giants, from San Francisco, with Vin Scully in the booth.

I don’t know what that means, exactly, but I know something’s changed. I chose baseball. It’s definitely got something to do with listening to Scully, something I haven’t done enough of in my life. He’s absolutely brilliant in the booth, a one-man team. But another part of me simply isn’t interested in the playoffs if the Leafs aren’t involved. I don’t care anymore. I’ll be watching tonight, Montreal and Boston, but that’s only because I’ve got to live-blog the game for The Score. Pay me to watch it, and I’ll do it. Gladly, of course. But between hockey I’m not emotionally invested in, even though it’s intense and awesome hockey for the most beautiful trophy in professional sports, and Scully’s baseball poetry, I chose the legendary Dodgers broadcaster. And I’d do it again.

Back to the quote: the believing is exhausting. But I guess, in the end, the believing is also what makes it worthwhile.

Image courtesy The Best Part.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 14th, 2011 at 1:25 pm

First world problems

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As the remarkable unfolds in Egypt, with incredible journalism coming daily from the streets of Cairo, we’re reminded, once more, that sports are nothing. They’re absolutely, completely and utterly meaningless. Nothing but a diversion.

While Egyptians throw rocks, finally demanding some of what we consider to be the most basic of human rights, I’m mostly worried about Jonas Gustavsson’s mental health, now that he’s been sent to the AHL. How’s Jonas doing?

The Ack breaks it down quite reasonably: Yeah, baseball’s only a game, but when you’ve got no real grievances to air, it’s a pretty big deal that pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training in less than two weeks. Who’ll be the closer? Which of the kids — Gose, Lawrie, Thames, d’Arnaud, or Stewart — will shine? What will John Farrell’s lineups look like? Can Jose Bautista do it again?

Friday night, I wasn’t out on the streets demanding the end of authoritarian rule. I just wanted the Raptors to end their 13-game losing streak. And they did. DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson — The Young Gunz — shot a combined 70% from the floor, on 26-for-37 shooting. Jose Calderon dropped 19 dimes, tying his own club record. For all the garbage Calderon’s been through as a Raptor, he’s always left it all on the floor. Pure class.

I might have all the democracy I can get my hands on, but that doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine. Andrea Bargnani’s taller than Minnesota’s Kevin Love. I Googled it. Proof that rebounding isn’t all height. I wish Bargnani had more Love in him, obviously.

Bottom line: The streak’s over. Until the next one begins. Time to focus on what’s next, on what matters: Can James Reimer beat the Buffalo Sabres? In Buffalo? It’s not the long-term future of my country I’m worried about; only the instability — years! — between the pipes for the Maple Leafs.

Life is crazy.

Image courtesy Getty’s Peter Macdiarmid, via Foreign Policy.

Written by Navin Vaswani

February 5th, 2011 at 3:42 am

Posted in Reflection

Tagged with

Change is good

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The banner’s gone. It brought us nothing but bad luck. Turns out it was, in fact, cursed. Who knew?

Here’s to new beginnings.

Image courtesy Fuck Yeah Toronto!

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 15th, 2010 at 10:49 am