Monday, July 31, 2006

If Bode Miller Does Something Cool But It's Not On the Internet 5 Minutes Later, Did It Really Happen?

As announced in a number of sources, Bode Miller did indeed play for the Nashua Pride this weekend in front of a capacity crowd at Holman Stadium in Nashua, New Hampshire. He apparently hits like your grandmother, but can that man field! He made a spectacular - dare I say alpine - catch in left field to rob Mike Scanzano of an extra base hit and end the second inning. If there's a manager out there who's willing to use the designated hitter rule on a gimpy-batted left fielder, Bode may have a future in this sport.

And I would love to show you a clip of this catch, but for the life of me I can't find it. Youtube has failed me. Anyone got some Bode-catch for me?

Pete Sampras: The Scottie Pippen of Tennis

What if Scottie Pippen, instead of sitting out the last 1.8 seconds against the Knicks in that playoff series, simply decided not to play in that game at all. What if he said “Screw it, Dude, let’s go bowling,” and never stepped on the court. Neither sitting out of the last 1.8 seconds of a playoff game nor blowing off an entire playoff game is acceptable in sports – not to real athletes and not to fan communities – but sitting out the last 1.8 seconds can be written off as being hotheaded and stupid. Not playing the game at all is just pathetic and shows a lack of cajones. Scottie Pippen did the former. Pete Sampras just did the latter.

Pete Sampras screwed over the Newport Beach Breakers in the World Team Tennis championship match this weekend. After helping the Breakers beat the Springfield Lasers in the wildcard match, Sampras played hooky from the Breakers’ semi-final match against the Sacramento Capitals. He dodged a bullet there, as the Breakers snuck past the Caps, 19-18. Unfortunately, that bullet was apparently shot from a book depository, as it came back and knocked the Breakers out in the championship match. The Philadelphia Freedoms beat the Breakers, 21-14 on Sunday. Sampras didn’t step on the court once.

I don’t know if Sampras’ presence would have been the difference between winning and losing, but at least he should have shown up. What he did shows a complete lack of balls, and I don’t mean the male-only kind. I mean the kind that any competitor has when he or she genuinely wants to be the best and is going all out for it. Whatever stones Sampras had back in his Wimbledon days, well, he must have dropped them on his trip to the WTT. He’s gone Scottie Pippen on us, and the Breakers and the Breakers’ fans are screwed over because of it.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Smirnoff and Sampras - Initial Results from World Team Tennis Championship Weekend

There will be more information and overanalysis of WTT's Championship Weekend in the next couple days, but here are the results from the first two matches (the semi-final between the Philadelphia Freedoms and New York Sportimes is on going):
The Breakers are poised to win the King Cup for the second time in the last three seasons. However, I've gotta wonder about Pete Sampras, who played in the wildcard match, but not in the semi-final game. The Breakers lost Sampras's big event - men's singles - 5-4, and that nearly proved to be a fatal loss in the closely contested match. How much commitment could he possibly have to the league if he's nowhere to be found in his team's biggest match of the year? This is another reason why WTT isn't more popular than it is - even the stars don't care. I'll be curious to see if he plays tomorrow.

And Yakov Smirnoff was a no-show to support his Springfield Lasers. The more I think about it, the more I think Yakov and WTT need each other. This is getting a full column later.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

North American 4 Tournament Update - Calling Out 6 Nations and Tri-Nations

Just a quick update on the North American 4 Tournament, where the Falcons and Canada East have secured berths in Saturday's championship game. The Hawks and Canada West are playing the same day for 3rd place... and perhaps their manhoods, although I'm not entirely sure that's in the tournament bylaws. And if you think that Hawks, Falcons, and two Canadian compass points do not add up to four nations, well me too.

Things to look for in Saturday's games:
  • Blood, teeth and possibly a severed head. This is rugby, live it up.
  • Bill Simmons bothers as much as entertains me, but, like him, I grew up watching wrestling. And I really want one of the 6 Nations or Tri-Nations teams to show up after the championship game and (assuming the Falcons win) start an impromptu intertournament game. I want the announcer to exclaim "Oh my God! It's, it's, it's.... it's the English national rugby team's music!" Let's make it a rivalry. I want to get into heated yellfests with some rugby fans from a country that doesn't have a leaf on their flag. England, New Zealand, France... somebody want to make my day? I know you'd beat our asses at first, but I also bet we'd catch up in a few years.

World Team Tennis Wildcard Match - Like NFL Wildcard Weekend, but Everyone Wears Dorky Shorts

Tonight at 7 pm the World Team Tennis's Championship Weekend begins in Newport Beach, as the Wildcard round of World Team Tennis takes place between the Newport Beach Breakers and the Springfield Lasers. By the way, that's Springfield, Missouri. If you're wondering what the hell Springfield, Missouri is doing with a professional anything, never mind tennis, you're not alone. The winner gets to battle the Sacramento Capitals, the regular season Western Conference champs, on the 29th. The winner goes up against the victor from the match between the Philadelphia Freedoms and the New York Sportimes (Sportimes? That's the worst sports team name I've ever heard, like naming a baseball team "The New York Baseball Players") for supremacy of WTT.

I'd watch the Breakers-Lasers match, but OLN decided that Hunting Adventures, Dream Hunts, Best and Worst of Tred Barta, and Expedition Safari would generate higher ratings. That's a damning indictment of WTT. But it's undeserved. And you can find out how undeserved (at least little) by keeping track of tonight's match through WTT's Livescoring. Some things to watch for:
  • Will the eyebrows of Pete Sampras (who plays for the Breakers) finally conquer the Marginot Line of skin in between them and converge?
  • Is Anastassia Rodionova attractive or not? I can't find a decent picture. Check her out on the Breaker's players page. There's potential, but will she fulfill it? Or as a 24-year Russian female, has she already begun the quick descent from smoking hot young blond to embittered and craggly old babushka?
  • Will Yakov Smirnoff show up courtside? Yakov now owns and performs in his own theater in nearby Branson, Missouri (only 40 miles away) and it would be great to see him travel to support the local team. "In World Team Tennis, tennis players hit the ball. In Soviet Russia, tennis players leave country to escape below average living conditions! HAHAHAHA!"

FSC will keep you updated.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Real Men Only Need One Wheel

In the wake of Unicycling Hockey being named the #2 Obscure Sport by YesButNoButYes, I was thrilled to discover that Unicon XIII, the world championship of unicycling, is happening in Switzerland as I type. From now until August 2nd, you can follow all the events from the tournament’s results page. Check out the schedule so you know when your favorite events are set to begin, including basketball, relay races and (of course) hockey.

If you don’t have a favorite, I recommend the always entertaining downhill competitions. Oh yeah, you read that correctly – down hill unicycling. Check out this video for an idea of what I’m talking about and this site for useful information on the event, as well as some hysterically unironic posed pictures. There are two skill groups – easy and mountain unicycling. I readily acknowledge that the riders in mountain unicycling are more skilled (check out that video), but the easy group has to be a better spectator sport. Just imagine the near fatal accidents waiting to happen. There is a legitimate chance of seeing decapitation, impalement or disembowelment by unicycle. Maybe all three. Name me another sport that can boast that potential. You can’t do it.

Come back to FSC over the next week, as I’m sure there will be plenty of results and information from this fringe sport spectacular.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Pepsi Pro Summer League: The Premature Ejaculation of the Summer Leagues

As the shortest of the four major summer leagues (along with Vegas, Southern California and Rocky Mountain Revue), the Pepsi Pro Summer League has a bit of a premature ejaculatory feeling to it. Like all the fans are just starting to get into it when they collectively say “Wait, that’s it?”

None the less, there is some legitimate basketball talent here. Adam Morrison came to play, as did Marcus Williams (and do NOT come pissing to me about those links going to team stats and not individual stats; this is a problem with the Pepsi Pro that I’ll get to in a minute). Both first round picks came to play, as evidenced by Morrison’s 24.6 points a game and Williams’ 8 assists per game.

(Honestly, that last number is pretty impressive. I can’t wait to see this kid come off the bench for Kidd. Just by giving them a more than competent back-up point guard, he could dramatically improve this team: Kidd’s fresh for the whole year, and even when he doesn’t play the drop off isn’t astronomical. Of course like the Vegas league, these numbers don’t mean anything. Still, I’m excited.)

Before getting into my criticisms, here are a few observations:

  • The Heat played almost all rookies. Of the 15 guys on the roster, 11 were rookies. One of the “veterans” had 2 years experience, but came straight from high school, making him the youngest player on the team. I guess it’s hard to get the motivation to play in July when you’re still drunk off last month’s championship.
  • The Pacers’ team featured Damone Brown from Syracuse and Taylor Coppenrath from Vermont… leading me to hope briefly that they had played against each other in the 2005 NCAA game in which Vermont upset Syracuse, the Big East Champs that year. Alas, Brown graduated in 2001. I bet that would have been an awkward introduction. “Don’t we know each other…?”
  • James Augustine’s Summer League Blog is surprisingly endearing. It doesn’t have the literary or self-indulgent flair of Paul Shirley’s, but it reads like a letter home from camp. Worth checking out.

Now back to the overanalysis.

The big problem here is that the whole league is over so damn fast. Six teams with five games each in five days, that’s it. Don’t get a sandwich during a game, you’ll come back and the whole league will be gone. Poof! If you want to work at Borders Books, you’re orientation is longer than that. Legitimately. I have it on good information that Borders training takes 10 days. I’m not arguing that one should be longer than the other, but what kind of league consumes less time than cashier training?

The whole thing is anticlimactic. There are no money shots, no chances to really appreciate the total experience because there is no total experience. The first and second team listings feel rushed and without excitement. There’s no champion. There’s no MVP. The games are only 40 minutes. And the stats sheets for each team scream half-assed. There wasn’t even enough time or effort to create a simple statistics page for each player. Over too soon and no one seemed to care while it was going on. Good combination for a summer league, fellas.

The Pepsi Pro is a fine establishment, and I like the idea of having some NBA caliber guys playing in a more informal environment, but let’s ditch the pretension. It’s not a league. It’s a camp. The Magic (who organize the event) should play that up. They look a little stupid trying to put a half assed league together while never taking the time and effort for a money shot.

Billie Jean King's Vanity League Playoffs

As we come to the end of July, we also come to one of the most anticipated times of the sports calendar. For the last 26 years - Has it really been that long? I didn't even notice - this time of year has gripped our imaginations and inspired the inner child in each of us. We're reminded of our athlete-heroes growing up, the superstars we looked up to, whose posters decorated our walls, and whose every play we marveled at. I'm of course talking about the World Team Tennis playoffs.

I know what you're thinking - "What the hell are you talking about?" This is a fair question. For a professional league that has been around since 1974 (and without interruption since 1981), the WTT has had surprisingly little impact on our national sport consciousness. But it's been there, in a variety of permutations, attracting some astonishing names. Almost every recognizable tennis player in the last 26 years has played in or been involved with the WTT - Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Martina Hingis, Anna Kournikova (I said recognizable, not good), and Martina Navra..., um, Navra..., eh... Nagonnaworkhereanymore. Plus many more who aren't current players and don't have profiles on the league's website.

The rules are fairly straight forward. Every team has about 5-7 players (I couldn't nail this number down), men and women. Each match between WTT teams consists of five sets where the teams play to 4 points. The sets are men's and women's singles, men's and women's doubles and mixed doubles. Substitutions are allowed by the coaches.

Given how famous but unknown tennis is to many people and how long this league has been around, WTT is fascinating. It gets some TV coverage (mostly from Outdoor Life, although the history section claims ESPN2), and you gotta wonder if there's a die-hard WTT fanbase. What kind of ratings does this sport get? Newspaper coverage? How do the matches themselves break down? Are they entertaining or merely gender-neutral?

FSC will have more about all this as the playoffs start (beginning on July 27), but I think it's hysterical that Billie Jean King is the majority owner of the league and the title cup is the "King Cup." That'd be like David Stern renaming the NBA trophy the Stern Cup, or perhaps redesigning it as a huge pair of gilded cajones and calling them the Stern Balls. Although come to think of it, Stern doesn't own the NBA, so maybe a more accurate analogy is to imagine Isiah Thomas taking the CBA championship, back when he owned the league but before he destroyed it, and renaming it the Zeke Cup.

My point is that this seems like an exercise in vanity on King's part. I wouldn't be surprised if that's one of the reasons the league is still largely unknown. Who wants to watch self-indulgdent tennis?

Monday, July 24, 2006

North America Proves Europe Counts Better

Let's establish one thing - Rugby makes any major American sport look as masculine as My Little Pony. American football players would be winded, bleeding and crying by the end of a normal match. Basketball players would be broken in half. Baseball players would swallow their chew. Rugby players don't go for phantom fouls, flopping, or acting like they're hurt. Unless appendages are actually ripped off - and even then, it depends on the appendage - they're going to play and not delay the game. Long story short: don't mess with rugby players.

And Europe for years has had a near monopoly on rugby. Sure, rugby is popular on American college campuses. But there is no level of rugby in the US to rival the 6 Nations Tournament, in which England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France and Italy put their toughest SOBs on the field each year and pummel each other... while occassionally moving a ball around. The tournament itself dates back to 1871, when it was only played between England and Scotland; the other four were added over the next 80 years. To say it's passionate is an understatement. Rugby fans in those 6 countries during the tournament each year make soccerites look like tepid Arizona Cardinal enthusiasts.

Now, America and Canada are trying to capture that... although in a rather embarrassing way. As mentioned in Recent Fringe Sports Results, the North American Four Tournament is in high gear, with one more day of games before the medal round. And this is great - I'm all for taking cool sports from other countries, adopting them, and then dominating those other countries in what was once their own sport because our pharmaceutical companies can create better illegal performance enhancing drugs than their pharmaceutical companies. It's sports imperialism.

What bothers me is more of a semantics problem. With a name like North American Four, you'd think the tournament would have, you know, four countries, like the US, Canada, Mexico and the Iroquois. But no. The North American Four is really the North American Two. Canada and the US divided their national teams into two teams to make four, with clever names like Canada East and the US Hawks. That seems a little pathetic to me. Like they were desperate to have a bigger tournament, but Mexico and the Iroquois had better things to do, so the Yankees and Canucks decided to shadow box for a while and call it a heavy weight bout.

Seriously, guys - call a spade a spade. Canada + America = 2 nations, not 4. American kids score badly enough in math without broadcasting that fact to the fans whose sport we'll dominate and whose will we'll crush in a few years.

Recent Fringe Sports Results - Join the Exciting Life of Pro Putt-Putt

This is the first in what will be a regular FSC feature, chronicling the outcomes of recent fringe sports events. You'll notice that some of this stuff is a little more dated than the sports results we're used to getting from ESPN. To this I say "Suck it up and quit your pansy whining." The people covering these sports aren't exactly getting paid big bucks from Sports Illustrated. We're lucky they write at all. You'll take your scores when they come in and you'll like it.

Professional Putters Association's Virginia Open - On July 16, 2006, Greg Newport defeated Gilbert Sharpe in a playoff to win the 22nd annual Professional Putters Association's Virginia Open. I'm not sure what's more ridiculous - that they've been doing that putt-putt tournament for 22 years, that it needed to be settled in a freaking playoff, or that the players putt through 108 holes of regulation mini-golf in it. Newport won $300 for first place. Admit it - you're looking at those 3 Benjamins like easy money, aren't you? Go join the tour.

California Rodeo Salinas - Over this past weekend, the fourth stop on the Wrangler Pro Rodeo Summer Tour took place in Salinas, California and apparently one of the prerequisites for winning anything was to be named Chad. Who knew? And if someone wants to explain barrel racing to me, please do so. Why is a 16.16 score better than a 16.23? Someone? Anyone?

North America Four Tournament - The US Falcons earned an improbable come from behind victory against Canada East, 25-24. Wing Brian Barnhard finished an 80 metre try that saw multiple phases spring him free to secure the come back. I didn't understand a damn thing I just wrote.

Make Cornhole America’s Game

Cincinnati is poised to take its place among the great cities of the world. Granted, it already boasts two major sports teams and a Hofbrauhaus, but now it is about to become the home of America’s game, the next great fringe sport to storm the nation – Cornhole. Never heard of it? That’s ok, you’re about to. By the time you finish reading this you’re going to want to thrust yourself into Cornhole with great vigor.

According to legend – and the American Cornhole Association – Cornhole possibly started as early as the 14th century in Germany (that’s odd, I though the Greeks played it too) and was rediscovered about 100 years ago in the hills of Kentucky (although that part makes sense). Currently, it’s very popular on the west side of Cincinnati, although east siders have recently attempted to insert themselves into Cornhole, quite frankly with shitty results.

The ACA is making some solid attempts at organizing Cornhole enthusiasts and fulfilling its purpose of making Cornhole “America’s Game.” It hosts a forum to discuss the sport, offers free membership (which I recommend, I’m a member and it feels good), maintains player rankings, and keeps track of tournaments. The association also maintains an interesting news archive of Cornhole stories, including ones about how the sport is growing around NASCAR races and another one about how the sport has raised money for a family in need of aid. Cornhole to the rescue.

The Cornhole World Championship will be played in Ohio next month, and even though FSC will be unable to attend, I promise you that FSC will penetrate the action and bring all the warm, Cornhole goodness to you.

And the rules, how could I have forgotten. In Cornhole, it’s all about the Cornhole. It’s how you score the most points, but because Cornhole is a little like horseshoes (and some people actually refer to it as soft horseshoes) close counts too. Even if you miss the hole and wipe out on the side, you can still pick up a point. The game is played on a horseshoe pitch, with two teams of two lining up on either side of each other. They toss bean bags filled with corn at inclined boards with a six-inch hole on it, which is obviously where the sport gets its name. If the bag goes in the hole, that’s 3 points. If the bag misses the hole but lands on the board, that’s one point. If the bag doesn’t land on the board or go in the hole, that’s zero points. First team to 21 points wins. See the ACA official rule page for more details.

Cornhole is easy to start and the world championship is just around the corner. Check back here for more details. In the meantime, I recommend that you get one of your friends and start practicing going in the cornhole. Cincinnati’s favorite sport will be spreading soon. You don’t want to miss out on America’s Game.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Musings on Bermuda and the World: Overanalysis of the World Lacrosse Championships

My initial reaction upon compiling the final rankings from the World Lacrosse Championships was that the sixth place team (Japan) should not be 1-6 when the ninth place team (Finland) is 6-1. The analogy that keeps coming to mind is if David Stern forced the Knicks into the playoffs over the Grizzlies. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, but it sure looks that way based purely on record.

However, this is the natural result of grouping the best six teams into one division at the outset of the tournament. It’d be like if the NFL regrouped every year so that the final four teams played in the same division the next season. Now THAT would enforce parity: put the best four teams into NFL Division 1, the next best four teams into NFL Division 2, etc. Seriously, who would win the NFLD1 this season - Pittsburgh, Seattle, Washington, or Denver? Who would have won it last season – New England, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh or Atlanta? Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Tags.

In the World Lacrosse Championships, though, it creates the not-incorrect impression that it’s the US and Canada playing for the title; Australia, the Iroquois and England competing for the bronze; Japan basically guaranteed the sixth spot by virtue of being square in the middle of the world powers and everyone else; and everyone else beating each other up for placement. The Japanese can’t beat the first or second tier powers but they can’t be beaten by anyone else. Check out Pointstreak for their very complete final division standings (reflecting the placing and medal games as well) and the revealing points scored, etc. stats.

Before getting into the rather shocking US loss, let me first address my two favorite teams: Bermuda and the Iroquois.

Although the team started out as little more than a ready made punch- and headline, a little research revealed that there is a very good reason why Bermuda (let’s be honest) sucks at lacrosse: they only started playing three years ago. As of January 2005, there were only 30 players in the island’s organized lacrosse club. One LaxPower forum contributor points out that the sport was brought to the island by North American expats, and another sport from British expats, rugby, grew rapidly in the small country; Bermuda now hosts one of the most competitive rugby tournaments in the world and has a pretty solid team. Look for this team to improve in the 2010 championships.

In contrast, the Iroquois have played lacrosse for hundred of years. They have to be disappointed with their finish this year. Fourth place is not an unrealistic final place for them, or even a bad one, but they were in a position to medal. More than that, going in to the tournament, I bet they thought they could sneak by at least one of the US-Canada double-headed monster. A silver or even gold medal was a reach, but still possible. Unfortunately, as lacrosse grows in popularity internationally, it will be harder and harder for the Iroquois to field teams that are internationally strong. They have a total population of about 75,000 people. Statistically they have fewer world class athletes to draw on from their population than countries like Australia (20 million people) and England (50 million) where lacrosse is becoming more widely played.

Granted, the Iroquois love lacrosse like the English love soccer and Australia loves beating the shit out of people, er, I mean Aussie Rules Football. Even though there are fewer world class athletes, more of them want to play lacrosse. For the time being and for the near future, that should off set the disparity in population. But if lacrosse continues to become more popular across the world, that balancing agent will become moot. After 2010, the Iroquois may be hard pressed to rank as high as 4th again.

Onto the championship game. For the first time in almost three decades, the US lost a match, and it was to the same country they lost the last time – Canada. What does this mean for American lacrosse and the game internationally? Well, contrary to what some people on LaxPower have been insisting, it doesn’t mean that the entire US program needs to be overhauled. The team was great until the very last game… when they played against a very good team on its home turf. And Canadians care about lacrosse too. They cheered and supported the home team the way they should have. They influenced the game and to lose to the Canucks under those circumstances doesn’t require an overhaul of the whole system. This is not USA Basketball circa 2002.

And in fact, this is very good for the sport internationally. The US has been dominant in the World Championships for years, not losing a game since 1978. Competition is good. This result will certainly help lacrosse in Canada, and the idea that the dominant power in the world is vulnerable will help the sport in other countries too. With the championships over and the rankings final, each team has someone to gun for: the US wants to take down Canada, Australia and Iroquois want to move into silver or gold contention, Ireland would love to displace England as the dominant British Isles team, and Bermuda is hoping to beat somebody…. ANYBODY.

Look for this sport to move closer to the center in the next few years and to actually get some major screen time on ESPN in 2010. People should take notice now so they can make fun of the band wagon jumpers in four years. Trust me – it makes you feel smarter than you actually are.

Bermuda Takes One for the World: Final Rankings from World Lacrosse Championships

1. Canada (7-1)
2. US (6-1)
3. Australia (4-4)
4. Iroquois (4-4)
5. England (3-4)
6. Japan (1-6)
7. Ireland (5-2)
8. Germany (4-3)
9. Finland (6-1)
10. Italy (4-3)
11. Scotland (4-2)
12. Netherlands
13. Wales (4-3)
14. Latvia (4-3)
15. Czech Republic (4-3)
16. Denmark (3-4)
17. Spain (3-4)
18. South Korea (1-5)
19. New Zealand (2-4)
20. Hong Kong (0-6)
21. Bermuda (o-5)

Guaranteed Bermuda Free: Final Scores from World Lacrosse Championships

19th Place
New Zealand 9, Hong Kong 6

17th Place
Spain 17, South Korea 14

15th Place
Czech Republic 18, Denmark 1

13th Place
Wales 18, Latvia 2

11th Place
Scotland 15, Netherlands 3

9th Place
Finland 19, Italy 9

7th Place
Ireland 13, Germany 5

5th Place
England 12, Japan 7

Bronze Medal
Australia 21, Iroquois 8 (check the Aussies for Roids!)

Gold Medal
Canada 15, US 10 (Wow, more on this later)

Bermuda Triumphant in Effort for Last Place: Day 7 World Lacrosse Championship Scores

New Zealand 19, Bermuda 6
England 19, Germany 4
Italy 10, Scotland 7
Latvia 5, Denmark 3
Spain 4, Hong Kong 2
United States 13, Australia 10
Finland 10, Netherlands 8
Czech Republic 9, Wales 8 (OT)
Japan 11, Ireland 9
Canada 16, Iroquois 6 (dammit)

See the LaxPower Forum for more details. Come back tomorrow for final scores from the placing games, medal games, and some final comments on the tournament.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bermuda Receives Pity-Bye for Winless Streak: Day 6 World Lacrosse Championship Scores

Australia 21, Irish 5
Wales 17, Spain 9
Netherlands 10, Latvia 4
Iroquois 14, Germany 6
Italy 14, Czech Republic 6
Denmark 9, South Korea 5
Canada 27, Finland 2

Thursday July 20:
TD Waterhouse Stadium
USA vs. Australia, 4 p.m.
Canada vs. Iroquois 7:30 p.m.

Placing Games
TD Waterhouse Stadium
Germany vs. England, 12:30 p.m.

North London Athletic Fields
New Zealand vs. Bermuda, 9 a.m.
Spain vs. Hong Kong, 12:30 p.m.
Latvia vs. Denmark, 12:30 p.m.
Scotland vs. Italy, 12:30 p.m.
Japan vs. Ireland, 4 p.m.
Finland vs. Netherlands, 4 p.m.
Czech Republic vs. Wales, 4 p.m

See the LaxPower Forum for more details.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Top Ten Obscure Sports in the World

There is actually a difference between obscure and fringe, but for the purposes of this column they're close enough. Thanks to YesButNoButYes for compiling the list and Deadspin for pointing me in the right direction. Consider all of these ripe for future columns.

10. World Highland Games - Scots throwing big sticks and rocks.

9. Professional Putt-Putt Tour - I need to get involved in this organization.

8. Surf Lifesaving - Moving closer and close to my idea of paying lifeguards by commission, thereby saving beaches money and improving life guard performance.

7. American Cribbage Congress - Finally, the sport of champion Grandmas.

6. Dog Sledding - FSC covered this while with Sports Media Watch.

6a. BrewSkee-Ball - They stole my idea!

5. World Footbag Association - Competing with Ultimate Frisbee to be the official sport of people who smell like patchouli.

4. Rock Paper Scissors League - One of FSC's friends from college was big into this. He knew about its Korean roots. Seriously. And he probably would have been even more into it had he known about the girls of Rock Paper Scissors.

3. World Adult Kickball Association - For adults who like sports but can't do sports... the grown up game for kids who were picked last in gym class.

2. Unicycle Hockey World Championships - Perhaps the most beautiful thing I've ever heard of.

1. Extreme Ironing World Champsionships - I don't know. It's cool, but there's such a thing as trying too hard.

Mark Cuban Wants You to Exploit Children and Get Rich

I know you think I'm kidding, but read this and get back to me. I'll wait.


For those of you who were too lazy to actually click on the link, Mark Cuban is giving advice on how to get into the minor league basketball game (as an owner; as a player you're on your own - if you're reading this site I'd aim for the lowest possible league). He wants you to own a basketball team and be rich. He also wants you to sign high school kids, "practice the shit" out of them, and then sell their rights to other teams.

Now, I don't mean he wants you to sign 18-year olds. I mean he wants you to sign 14-year olds. Possibly even 10-year olds. As we all know, kids that age are perfectly capable of making rational business decisions. In fact, what with their hormones, this is the height of their rational thinking.

As awful as this sounds, he's got some strong evidence from foreign leagues, where this is the norm, like in France. And as we all know, Americans are lining up to be like France.

I'm a huge proponent of minor league basketball, and even tried to organize my readers into buying an ABA team with me. I would love to see more teams pop up in some of the smallest markets. In fact, consider FSC a resource for getting your own team:

I'm not saying they're giving away these teams, but for 20 bucks, a book of stamps and one year's subscription to Maxim I can get you the rights to the Glendive, Montana market for minor league basketball.

At the same time there has to be some happy middle between setting up Mark Cuban's roundball sweatshop and owning a team that loses money. And of course, I have a recommendation.

As an owner, don't sign 14-year olds. Just DON'T. Not only should no one invest money in a person whose pituitary gland hasn't woken up yet, but it's morally corrupt, and you know that. But establish relationships with parents. Find talented areas for youth basketball and become a community member as you start your team. Make the basketball team like a large family operation. Bring the town and area around the team. Let the kids and families see the games for little to no money, be active in the community, and foster their love of basketball. When you know the kids and the families, THEN start talking with the talented ones about playing pro ball for you.

The kids will be more likely to sign with you, the parents will trust you, and since you know the kids you'll take better care of them than if they were just young punks you signed to a player's contract. They're going to be your punks with a player's contract. And you can take that contract and sell it to larger teams who want your players (like Cuban suggests), but everyone involved will be better off.

Don't take the Cuban Sell Your Soul Approach to making money from minor league ownership. Take the FSC Community Service Approach to making money from minor league ownership.

Bermuda Remasculates Latvia: Day 5 World Lacrosse Championship Scores

USA 21, Japan 2
Czech Republic 19, Netherlands 10
Finland 14, Denmark 4
Ireland 12, Wales 10
Iroquois 12, Australia 10
Scotland 21, Hong Kong 3
South Korea 8, New Zealand 7
Latvia 9, Bermuda 3

For full standings heading into the tournament playoffs, check out Pointstreak. Here's the playoff schedule courtesy of LaxPower:

Wednesday July 19

TD Waterhouse Stadium
Australia vs. Ireland, 12:30 p.m.
Iroquois Nation vs. Germany, 4 p.m.
Canada vs. Finland, 7:30 p.m. (CBC Country Canada)

North London Athletic Fields
Wales vs. Spain, 12:30 p.m.
Latvia vs. Netherlands, 12:30 p.m.
Czech Republic vs. Italy, 4 p.m.
Denmark vs. South Korea, 4 p.m.

Thursday July 20
Semifinals - TD Waterhouse Stadium
USA vs. Winner Australia/Ireland, TBC (4 or 7:30 p.m.)
Winner Canada/Finland vs. Winner Iroquois/Germany Winner (4 or 7:30 p.m.)
If Canada plays, they will play at 7:30 p.m.

Placing Games

TD Waterhouse Stadium
Loser Iroquois/Germany vs. England, 12:30 p.m.

North London Athletic Fields
New Zealand vs. Bermuda, 9 a.m. (I got a good feeling about this one.)
Loser Wales/Spain vs. Hong Kong, 12:30 p.m.
Loser Latvia/Netherlands vs. Winner Denmark/Korea, 12:30 p.m.
Scotland vs. Winner Czech Republic/Italy, 12:30 p.m.
Japan vs. Loser Australia/Ireland, 4 p.m.
Loser Canada/Finland vs. Winner Latvia/Netherlands, 4 p.m.
Loser Czech Republic/Italy vs. Winner Wales/Spain, 4 p.m.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Number 1 Photographic Reason Why Wrestling is a Fringe Sport

Honestly, there's just no way this looks good on TV. How does a sport grow where this seems to happen in every third match? And it's not like this is a recent phenomenon. Check out this picture from 1955:

Tell me this doesn't look like the 1950's college wrestling equivalent of the Paris Hilton sex tape. Go ahead. Say it with a straight face. Still, there's hope for the sport. But I'll get to that in another column. For now, enjoy the unintentional comedy these pictures represent.

Bermuda Masters Playing Dead: Day 4 World Lacrosse Championship Scores

Canada 12, Australia 9
US 21, Iroquois 13 (I'm a little torn)
England 9, Japan 8
Italy 20, Wales 7
Netherlands 15, New Zealand 4
Latvia 7, Denmark 3
Spain 13, Bermuda 9
Ireland 16, Scotland 9
Germany 12, Czech Republic 5

Monday, July 17, 2006

Learn to Speak Japanese with the FSC Diary of the Softball World Cup Championship

Welcome to the FSC Diary of the Softball World Cup Championship between Japan and the US in Oklahoma City. Japan upset the US last year in the championship game. I expect the announcers to talk that up more than a little. As a long time Red Sox fan I expect nothing less. Now let’s go to the tape.

9:01 – First shot of Jennie Finch… way to hold off on the big guns, fellas. She’s not even playing tonight.

9:02 – I guess someone at Frosted Flakes couldn’t find anything else to sponsor.

9:02 – What the hell is that announcer’s name supposed to be? Ko-Ni-Su-Noo-Gai? Is that right? Did someone in the cultural sensitivity department mess up? Damn, I was so distracted by that I didn’t catch their names. Eh. I didn’t care that much anyway.

9:03 – Cat Osterman is pitching. She was the losing pitcher in last year’s final. She’s got good numbers this year, and she looked pretty pissed at being asked about last year’s loss for the 100th time. Not a good combination for the Japanese.

9:05 – Holy shnikies! I just looked up Osterman’s bio. She’s 6’3’’. She’s like the Randy Johnson of softball. All she needs to do is start looking like a carnie.

9:07 – The Japanese 5 hitter, Mishina, is hitting .462. Not bad.

9:08 – Announcers (“Ko-Ni-Eye-Land-Daug?”) just said that the US team has lost to this Japanese team in the last two international finals in which they’ve met. Why is it that the Red Sox and 1918 have inspired an entire genre of sports announcing?

9:10 – Osterman just threw a Rise ball. Did the announcer just make that up? I’ve never heard of that. Are they going to start naming her mistakes? “That’s her Throw the Ball Fifty Feet Away From the Catcher with a Runner on Third pitch. It’s a psychological weapon meant to artificially boost the other team’s moral and self-esteem.”

9:14 – Three up, three down. US up at bat.

9:18 – Caitlin Lowe, lead off hitter, batting .588 with an on-base percentage of .611 Damn. She’s on base with a single.

9:23 – Just to give you an idea of the offensive juggernaut that is the USA softball team - Natasha Watley, the number 2 hitter has 3 triples in 5 World Cup games and gets to base on pitcher’s error. The next batter, Jessica Mendoza, has almost as many RBIs as the whole Japanese team. Six batters in the starting line up are hitting .500 or better, and the team as a whole is hitting .485. Again - Damn.

9:26 – End of the first inning, US 2, Japan 0. The Japanese look like they’re capable of playing some nice defense; Emi Naitoh, their short stop, had a nice juke step to freeze US runners on a ground ball. But they’re making a lot of stupid errors, picking up two in that inning.

9:30 – I’m impressed. I made it to the second inning without thinking of Japanese school girl outfits. The smart bet was before the first pitch was thrown.

9:34 – Middle of the second. Six batters, five strike outs for Osterman. She-Johnson is chucking like 1999 Pedro.

9:41 – End of the 2nd, US 2, Japan 0.

9:44 – Announcers (Koo-koo-mung-ga?) bring up Jennie Finch’s maternity leave. Just thought I’d mention it as randomly as they did.

9:47 – I will say this – the Japanese players yell better than we do. I couldn’t understand them, but it was piercing.

9:51 – She-Johnson struck out the side for the second consecutive inning. Eight total strikeouts, the last seven in a row. I might never be as good at anything as Osterman is at striking out batters in this game.

9:53 – I think the Japanese manager imported her teeth from England.

9:56 – Announcer Koo-whatever: “[Third baseman Crystl] Bustos has the most power in her hands of anyone on the planet.” Somewhere Isiah Thomas is thinking of signing her as a shot blocker to come in off the bench, but not for less than $30 million over 4 years.

9:57 – End of the third. The Japanese pitcher, Yukiko Ueno, is starting to work it. She’s gone scoreless in the last two innings, only allowing one runner on.

10:03 – Announcer Not Koo-whatever: “Cat’s gotta be careful not to be too careful.” What? You can’t do that to the English language and get away with it.

10:04 – She-Johnson just let her first runner on base.

10:05 – Runner on first tried to steal second and got picked off by catcher Stacey Nuveman. Three and a half innings down.

10:10 – Nuveman’s got the first homerun of the game, her first of the World Cup. Nothing like a 220 foot moonshot (that’s the actual distance from plate to wall in the park).

10:15 – Lovieanne Jung has another homerun. US 4, Japan 0. Chicks dig the (sorta) long ball.

10:21 – I meant it about the screaming. You can hear some of the Japanese players over EVERYTHING. I gotta figure there are some 4-year olds in the crowd crying over this.

10:24 – And Naitoh at short might be the loudest of them all.

10:26 – My favorite part of these announcers: Not Koo-whatever translating the supportive screams from the Japanese players. She plays in the Japanese professional softball league (presumably run by the Japanese David Stern) and has picked up enough to know how to get psyched-out.

10:35 – She-Johnson retired the side again, third time in four innings. She must have been wicked pissed off at the Japanese after losing last year. Do you think she gets like this after being cut off in traffic? You know that friend everyone has who becomes a maniac on the road after some mom in a minivan accidentally jumps in front of them on the highway because the four kids in the back are throwing fudgsicles at each other and she didn’t quite realize what she was doing, but now that friend is plotting vehicular vengeance? I bet she’s like that. Think of it this way – would you cut off Randy Johnson in traffic? Same with Osterman.

10:38 – The Japanese pulled Ueno (that sounds like a medical conditioned, a pulled Ueno) and put in Yuko Endo.

10:48 – Sachiko Ito just hit a ball off her foot and didn’t even blink. If A-Rod had done that he’d be limping around, milking it. If A-Rod got into an ultimate death match with any of the girls playing tonight, I’d bet money on the softball player.

10:49 – She-Johnson just walked her first batter, top of the sixth. Still 4-0, USA.

10:54 – Nuveman lets a ball get past her and Japan scores its first run, 4-1, USA. But She-Johnson gets the next batter out on the first pitch. Middle of the 6th.

10:57 – I haven’t mentioned this enough, but these announcers are playing the “We used to be the best until last year, and now we’re back for our crown” angle like crazy all game. If it were a closer game (now 5-1, after a solo homer to start this half of the inning by Andrea Duran), I’m sure they’d be mentioning this a lot more, as in “Can they handle the pressure? Can they get this monkey off their backs?” Do they teach this in sports journalism school? Or maybe it’s a correspondence course.

11:02 – I just learned that first base is “hee-to-choo” in Japanese. Thanks, fellas, I appreciate the insight into the game.

11:03 – I like this Naitoh player – good screamer, lots of intensity and she’s Iceman freezing runners on the bases. She would have made the All-Star team in the NL this year easy.

11:06 – Not Koo-whatever actually just translated English to English from a Japanese player. Just because she has an accent doesn’t mean we can’t understand her when she says “Two outs.”

11:08 – Between the 6th and 7th innings, 5-1, USA. Three outs left for Japan. She-Johnson coming in to finish her work.

11:10 – Wow – this is truly impressive. Two hours in before we see gratuitous shots of half naked frat guys with USA painted on their chests. Way to show restraint ESPN. FSC salutes you.

11:13 – I’m going to hear Naitoh in my sleep tonight.

11:17 – Freaking bizarre ending – bad base running. The last Japanese hitter got to first on an error and then tried to take second, but got caught running. Final score – USA 5, Japan 2.

The USA finished the World Cup 6-0, outscoring their opponents 56-3. Nothing like parity. Congrats to the US Women, and to She-Johnson – Cat Osterman – who pitched a complete game and struck out 11. And congratulations to you, for finishing what became a much longer diary than I ever imagined. I can’t believe I watched an entire softball game when the Sox were playing.

Live Free or Die, Bitches: New Hampshire Sports v. Perceptions of New Hampshire Sports

This just in from Deadspin: Sports are over for the year in New Hampshire. Thanks for the update, fellas. Last one out has to turn off the “Massachusetts Drivers Suck” neon sign.

What? They’re over? It’s July! Just because this week’s NASCAR race at New Hampshire International Speedway is over doesn’t mean that sports in New Hampshire are over.

In as high an opinion as I have of Deadspin, they have just committed a classic sports faux paus, ignoring the sports happenings in the fringes. New Hampshire is like any other fringe market: even though it spends most of the year – i.e., whenever there isn’t a NASCAR race – out of the centers of sports media, there’s still a lot of sports to be had there.

What’s your pleasure? What’s your drug of choice? Football? Baseball? Basketball? Hockey? New Hampshire can fill any prescription.


Manchester is home to the Wolves, the Granite State’s entry into Arena Football 2 and the 2005 Eastern Division champs. I love arena football, and how can you not? It’s essentially full contact Single A baseball. All the sport you love about football combined with all the camp you love about minor league baseball. And any sport with a small venue and a dance team gets an automatic leg up (no pun intended). Seriously, come up and see a Wolves game. I guarantee it’ll be more entertaining than Detroit versus anybody in the NFL this year.

And like every other state in the Union, New Hampshire boasts a lively high school football tournament. How lively? Well, not only is it full of all the pride and purity of great youth sports, but last year my home town’s starting QB got arrested – without probably cause as it turned out – for drunk driving and possession of marijuana HOURS BEFORE A PLAYOFF GAME! If that happened to Carson Palmer or Marcus Vick, we’d still be talking about it. Wait, didn't that happen to Marcus Vick?


There are two quality minor league baseball teams in New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Fishercats in Manchester and the Pride of Nashua. Both have won league championships in the last few years, although the Pride have since left the Atlantic League due to financial mismanagement. They’ve moved to the smaller Can-Am League, and are actually playing well. So well in fact that Bode Miller, who couldn’t be bothered to give a rat’s ass in the Olympics, has decided to grace the franchise with his presence. Tell me that’s not worth the $6 for admission?

The Fishercats can’t boast such celebrities… they just get future major league All-Stars by virtue of being the Blue Jays AA team in the Eastern League, possibly the best minor league in the country. A few years ago you could swing by Stadium (I hate that name… of all the stupid dot com stadiums that survived, why did one of them have to be in my home state?) and see Jonathan Papelbon when the Portland Seadogs (the Red Sox AA team) were in town. Any good players that the Blue Jays accidentally produce in the next few years will play in Manchester, NH before they play in any MLB stadium. And a Fischercats game is way cheaper than the big leagues.


Ok, there’s not much basketball in New Hampshire, although I once tried to get an ABA team there. The state high school tournament is quite good, but it doesn’t inspire the same amount of passion as the football playoffs (except with my dad, who loves any and all high school sports). The inherent problem is that the Granite State produces a lot of shortish white guys with no game (mirror, I’m looking in your direction). It’s ok, though, because I’m setting up for the big finish…


Hockey is big in New Hampshire. Not the NHL, but where hockey is still fun and affordable – the minors and college. The LA Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Monarchs, play in Manchester. Does anyone remember when hockey was really cool to go to in person? The NHL hasn’t had that in a long time, but the AHL has got more of it than Paris Hilton has bedpost notches. Back when the NHL went on strike, the AHL kept playing. Hockey fans in Boston, New York, Chicago and other big media centers had to suck it up while hockey fans in fringe markets like New Hampshire could continue to enjoy their favorite sport.

But even more than the minors, college hockey is the real deal. I’ve written numerous articles on the merits of college hockey – I firmly believe it’s an up and coming sport. In New Hampshire, the UNH Wildcats are the biggest show in town and on ice, both the men and the women. In college, the game is a little slower, you can see all the plays develop and the arenas are smaller so you’re closer to the ice. Plus, the players are legitimately likeable and the sport comes packaged with lots of college rivalries, just as intense as college football or basketball. If you’re lucky enough to get tickets to a Black Bears-Wildcats game, come prepared to yell awful things at a bunch of kids from Maine.

So there’s plenty of sports in New Hampshire year round, and plenty of legitimate fringe sports media like WMUR, the Union Leader and the Nashua Telegraph to cover all of it. Don’t go hating Live-Free-or-Diers. But if none of this floats your boat, if you still think the sports in the fringes of New Hampshire suck, just remember this: there’s another NASCAR race there in September.

Bermuda Generously Boosts Finnish Self-Esteem: Day 3 World Lacrosse Championship Scores

US 13, Canada 12
Australia 16, England 3
Iroquois 13, Japan 11
Italy 20, Hong Kong 0
Latvia 11, Spain 9
Germany 15, Netherlands 9
Scotland 7, Wales 3
Finland 16, Bermuda 3
Czech Republic 20, South Korea 2

See the LaxPower Forum for more details.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Softball to Expand Beyond Jennie Finch Being Hot

I'm kidding, I'm kidding… but admit it, that’s what most people know about softball, Jennie Finch showing up in Page 2’s “Hottest Female Athletes” section.

Last year USA Softball started organizing the World Cup of Softball, to be held every year, to promote the growth of the sport. In some ways, it seems like a desperate attempt to convince the International Olympic Committee to reinstate softball as a legit sport, particularly when you look at the list of competing nations in this year’s World Cup. It’s pretty limited and completely dominated by the US, which always goes over well internationally, they love us.

However, the International Softball Federation (it exists… everything has an international federation – you probably do too, you just don’t know it) paints a slightly different picture. The ISF has a pretty full calendar with lots of events around the world. With all those events, the popularity of the sport might grow, particularly in regions where baseball already has a following, like Asia, South America and the Caribbean.

For example, the ISF is sponsoring their eleventh World Championships in Beijing next month. Other events include the second World University Softball Championship this month (notice the bilingualness of the site), the twentieth Central American and Caribbean Sports Games (note the malfunctionness of the site), and the fifteenth Asian Games (because Qatar is lovely in December).

The sport definitely has some plans to grow in the future, and those plans seem healthy for a fringe sport. Softball is trying to expand its base of fans and isn’t overreaching. A danger for any fringe sport is growing so fast that it can’t develop lasting interest among its recent fans. Fans need to connect with the sport, and if it looks like the sport is barely paying attention to recent fans as it looks for new ones, the recent ones are going to say “This sucks” and go watch something like lacrosse.

Speaking of which, why oh WHY would two fringe sports schedule major events against each other?! It’s hard enough for sports like lacrosse and softball – sports whose popularity is solid among a small portion of fans, but has potential to grow given the circumstances – to reach more fans. It’s even harder to do so when ESPN 2 or 8 or whatever bastard, red-headed ESPN knockoff has to choose to televise one sport or the other. The World Cup of Softball gets air time on ESPN 2 (thank you Jennie Finch’s breasts) but the World Lacrosse Championships is only aired on Canadian Sports TV.

But I digress.

For softball to grow internationally it will have to rise above games in which one team scores ten runs in the first inning, like the US did against China last night, and above one team pasting its first four opponents by a combined score of 43-1, again, like the US has done in this tournament. Look at basketball – as other countries got more competitive, basketball and the NBA got more popular abroad. A major step was taken toward that last year when Japan upset the US in the finals, 3-1.

For softball to grow in this country, a lively international game in which we have the potential to dominate might be necessary. If you look at other female sports that have achieved some popularity in this country – basketball and soccer being the best examples – that was the setting that promoted their growth. Americans love to win and we love to feel like we’ve earned it… which is why victory in World War II felt way more worth it than in the Spanish American War. Maybe legitimate moral justice had something to do with it also, but earning the W ranked up there too.

Of course, sex sells. If the sport wants to grow without an international field of competitors, maybe Jennie Finch and friends should sponsor a car wash. In the meantime, check out the US-Japan rematch on ESPN at 1 pm today in a battle of 4-0 teams.

Bermuda Undefeated in a Bye: Day 2 World Lacrosse Championship Scores

USA 25, England 5
Canada 12, Iroquois 8 (NOOOO!!!!!)
Australia 18, Japan 1
Wales 15, Hong Kong 0
Denmark 16, Spain 11
Czech Republic 23, New Zealand 4
Germany 14, South Korea 4
Ireland 15, Italy 8
Finland 9, Latvia 3

See the LaxPower Forum for more details.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Vegas Summer League: What happens there stays there

There are a lot of people out there who have insisted for years that Vegas needs a pro sports team. The combination of sports, athletes, parties, gambling and strippers make it Eden for professional athletes, their entourages and their fans. Not to mention those people supporting their socially acceptable gambling problems with sports bets.

But for an abbreviated season, Las Vegas is home to professional basketball. It’s not exactly a minor league and it’s not exactly the NBA, it’s the NBA Vegas Summer League. It’s one of several summer leagues the NBA runs that FSC will be reviewing and features an interesting mix of legit NBA players, high draft picks and “Hey, I can beat that guy in HORSE!” guys.

Among the legit players trying to work on their games this summer are Sebastian Telfair, who wants to make a good impression with the Celtics now that Portland has traded him, and Shaun Livingston, who’s probably trying to replicate playing in college. The great thing about these guys is that they are alternately mailing it in and putting up legit numbers. Against some questionable talent (we’ll get there in a minute) Livingston has put up 4 in one game and 17 in another. Telfair can drop 5 or 26, depending on what he had for lunch in Caesar’s or what kind of day he had at the craps table. In the NBA this is understandable. Guys have off nights. In the summer league? That’s crap.

The highly touted rookies aren’t even hit or miss, they’re just “Eh.” Andrea Bargnani, the first pick in the draft, looks pretty good, averaging about 13 points and 4 rebounds. But other than a lanky, 7’ (wink wink, nudge nudge), kinda awkward 20-year old from Italy (is it too early for the nickname “Principessa?”) simply getting some playing time in America, is the Vegas League any good for him? Is it providing him a legit-NBA simulation? Do we learn anything about him as a big league player in Vegas?

And it’s the last group of players – my favorite group – that leads me to conclude that no, we learn nothing about players in the Vegas Summer League. What they do in Vegas doesn’t travel with them to the NBA.

The guys playing at the Y last week, the guys you were beating in shoot arounds… they make the Vegas League entertaining and fun, but they don’t make it a good NBA litmus test. There are guys like Casey Jacobsen, who in the NBA didn’t manage 6 points a game, but is averaging almost three times that in Vegas, solidifying Vegas’s well-earned reputation for keeping the things that happen there. There are also players like Rodney Billups, whose fantastic role as the brother of Chauncey Billups guaranteed his Vegas roster spot. Don’t worry, though, he’s earning it: 1.7 points in 9.3 minutes a game. Hmm, on second thought, that stat line will absolutely follow him to the NBA from Vegas… if he ever makes the big show.

But my favorite dude is Paul Shirley, a forward putting up “Better than that guy at the gym” numbers with the Timberwolves. He has an incredibly self-indulgent basketball diary with ESPN, and you can read all about his Vegas League experience here, here, here, and here. And you should read his past exploits running through the minor leagues of pro basketball. It’s worth it. It’s not that he’s a bad guy, he’s just so thoroughly miserable in a way that’s all his own fault.

The Vegas league is entertaining and rightfully has its proponents. It’s not the same caliber as the NBA, but there’s more talent than minor leagues like the ABA and the D-League. And there are more compelling subplots too. Nobody’s in the ABA because they’re someone’s brother. But don’t expect interesting back stories and talent to translate from Vegas to the NBA. What happens in the Vegas Summer League frequently curls up and dies there, or at least camps out at the craps table.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Bermuda Will Rise Again: Day 1 World Lacrosse Championship Scores

Iroquois 13, England 10
Netherlands 12, South Korea 4
Ireland 19, Hong Kong 4
Finland 16, Spain 11
US 20, Australia 8
Canada 18, Japan 7
Scotland 13, Italy 12 (OT)
Germany 18, New Zealand 3
Denmark 10, Bermuda 6

The LaxPower forum has some more information.

The Religious Experience of Iroquois Lacrosse

Writing about Native Americans and lacrosse… so much potential for litigation inducing humor – libel, slander, political incorrectness, intentional infliction of emotional distress, etc. I’ll try to keep the law suits to a bare minimum.

But I can’t resist writing about the Iroquois (that's their flag in the upper left hand corner). I’m falling in love with this team. Seriously, anyone who isn’t rooting for them in any event – lacrosse, land wars, casinos, etc. – has no sense of justice.

The Iroquois won their first game, 13-10, against the British in this year’s World Lacrosse Championships. Talk about historic irony – the European power that did the most to bring down the Iroquois’s dominance in North America losing to the Iroquois. But that’s the way it should be. The Iroquois invented this game and if there’s any justice they’ll be playing the US (the sport’s dominant power) in the finals. Then get ready for a second helping of historic irony.

The Iroquois – also known as the Six Nations, after the nations that formed the Iroquois Confederacy – call themselves “Haudenosaunee,” or “People of the Longhouse.” I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what the Longhouse is, but I’m sure it kicks ass. (Just kidding – it’s symbolizes how the Six Nations live together as if in one house, a Native American version of “Can’t we all just get along.”) They largely occupied northern New York and Quebec, meaning that lacrosse saved them from being the first baseball fans to ignore the Expos and root for the Mets over the Yankees in order to spite New York City.

The Iroquois have a fascinating history in international sports, the only North American tribe that even competes in international games. The NCAA originally requested that the Iroquois put together a team for exhibition games against Canadian and American national champions. The Iroquois got pasted early on, but rebounded and eventually did so well that in 1990 the International Lacrosse Federation accepted them as a full member nation. Since then they have regularly been in the top five teams in the world. Suck on THAT, England and Spain!

Considering how violent lacrosse can be, it’s surprising that the Iroquois believe that it came to them from the Creator as a way of healing. The game is supposed to restore harmony between the people and the natural world, making it a holistic way of healing the body. Originally the field was very flexible – maybe 100 yards long, maybe 2 miles long. I guess it depended on how your legs were feeling that day. My favorite part, though, is that the game could be played with anywhere between 5 and a thousand players on each side.

One thousand players running around with sticks, knocking each other around over 2 miles? That’s not so much a sport as it is a minor war, right? Wasn’t this the fourth world war Albert Einstein predicted – “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Damn, the Iroquois completely redefined prescient.

The point of this is that playing against the Iroquois in lacrosse is like playing against Catholics in Eucharist. This is religion to them. This is important. We use fringe sports like lacrosse to build community, but in many ways the Iroquois are using lacrosse to rebuild community. It’s clear that they view with great pride their participation as a separate nation in the World Lacrosse Championships, as well they should. It represents their sovereignty and their unity as a people. Lacrosse – a fringe sport to center media but not to them – gives them that.

So it’s only right that they beat the crap out of England. And we should look out, they might be doing the same thing to the United States. But before then, they play Canada on Saturday, and we should all cheer them on to victory against Soviet Canuckistan.

American Sticks and Balls v. Everyone Else’s

The Major League Lacrosse All-Star game was held in Boston last week and I was fortunate enough to have tickets. Under different circumstances that “fortunate” would have been more than a little sarcastic, but this game was damn near sold out. The announced crowd at Nickerson Field was 9,234 people, about capacity for the stadium and the largest crowd there ever.

Of course, let’s take this with a grain of salt. Nickerson Field –where MLL’s Boston Cannons play – was once the home of the Boston University football team. I say once the home because BU axed its football program back in 1997. So a crowd of 9,200 people probably represents a larger crowd than the last five seasons of BU football combined.

Still, let’s not quibble – 9,200 people for a pro lacrosse game is very cool. And while the crowd wasn’t that enthusiastic, it was knowledgeable. Everyone knew lacrosse. The kid behind me was no more than 13 and what does he want to do when he grows up? Be a lacrosse coach. Would that have happened – ever – just a few years ago? And he knew his stuff too – he was explaining the difference between the two point shot in the pros and the lack thereof in the college and high school games. Dude was fringe sports badass.

And it didn’t bother me that the crowd wasn’t that into it – this was an all-star game. Does anyone really get up for an all-star game?

In this case, the pretenses of it being anything but an exhibition game were dropped, as the game pitted the MLL all-stars against the US National team, which is prepping for the World Lacrosse Championships, starting today in London, Canada. I’m gonna discuss that in a little bit, but first I want to say a few things about the all-star game:

  • Most of the US team came from MLL ranks, making this All-Star game more like a “Best v. 2nd Best” game. Predictably, the Best dominated the 2nd Best, taking the game 18-10.
  • Mike Powell from the US team won the freestyle competition, basically a trick shot contest, with a wicked cool move. He did a jump-rope maneuver over his stick, held it behind his back as he flipped forward and then slingshotted the ball into goal. I tried finding a video of it on-line to no avail. If someone’s got it, let me know. In the meantime, Powell’s goal was a little like this kid, except Powell looked less like a tool.
  • I liked that MLL wanted to support breast cancer research, keep it up. But never again in pink helmets. Seriously. Just don’t. It looks dumb.
  • If you’re looking for a diary of the game, check out this one by Andy Corno and Charlie Lonergan.

Ok, having gotten that out of my system, here’s a quick preview of the Lacrosse World Championships.

For starters, in every way that the US does not dominate in soccer, we kick the shit out of nations in lacrosse. Seriously, check it out. We haven’t lost a game in the championships since 1978. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been a few close calls, though. Canada has gotten a little uppity, trying to expand on their hockey and curling dominance. The 1998 final between the two nations was decided by one goal in overtime.

The set up is similar to the World Cup – nations are assigned into divisions and play for position in the tournament. The big differences are that every team moves into the tournament (ranking is based on your division play) and even after teams lose, they keep playing. Every day of the tournament – even the last day – has a full schedule of games.

Other than the US, I recommend rooting for the Iroquois. They invented the game, calling it a medicinal and a “holistic process.” I can’t imagine what the average lifespan of an ordinary Iroquois was back in the day, but if getting beaten with lacrosse sticks is considered medicinal, it probably wasn’t that long. But credit where credit is due – they came up with a fantastic sport. Good going, fellas. Sorry about pillaging your land and people. How about we settle this on the field?

Really, though, I’m hoping for a Bermuda-Iroquois final… if only because that would rank as one of the strangest sports match-ups of all time.

However, that’s probably not going to happen. The tournament is set up so that the winner of the Blue Division – the division with powerhouses Canada and the US – gets a bye, with the second place blue team not having to face that team again until the finals. So unless there’s an upset (Come on Iroquois!), we’re looking at another Canada-US final. I’ll have more on this tournament in future posts, along with analysis of how the Lacrosse World Championships fit into fringe sports.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

“The Can’t Quite Watch the WNBA All-Star Game” Diary of the WNBA All-Star Game

Ok, I tried to tune in on time at the beginning, and I’ve tried paying attention, but it’s hard. The WNBA All-Star game is not exactly “my” game. I am clearly not in the target audience for this event, neither being nor having a daughter between the ages of 10 and 15. It’s easier to get up for other all star events, like Major League Lacrosse’s game or Nathan’s Famous.

Plus some aspects of this sport are just mean. Every time the announcer says “Pass by Bird” or “Shot by Bird” I find myself instinctively looking at the TV and thinking “Larry…?” But no, it’s Sue. It’s all a cruel joke.

I think part of the problem I’m having is that this is the tenth anniversary of the league, and I know nothing about it. This is a trend in fringe sports across the board – an effort to build credibility by trumpeting their own longevity to new fans. “The WNBA is ten years old… Nathan’s Famous has long been the premier eating event of competitive eating.” Like by bathing themselves in tradition of questionable worth, these sports will keep the casual fan coming back for more. I’m not sure that’s the best approach. Appealing to people’s desire to get in on the ground floor of something cool might be a better idea. That’s how fringe sports usually grow.

And crap, the first quarter’s over already. 28-27 East, which apparently is a big deal because they’re 0-6 in this game. Rise above the apathy, John.

Beginning of the second quarter, quote John Whisenant, the western coach: “All these players are nice.” Admittedly, that beats “All these players are out on bail,” which the Trailblazers’ coach ends up saying at least once a season.

This game isn’t that interesting. I’m sorry, I’m really trying here.

It’s halfway through the 2nd quarter and I just figured out the East is wearing white jerseys. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough.

It’s well known that the WNBA continues to exist because the NBA (and particularly David Stern) wills it alive, kind of like Dr. Frankenstein (“Frankenshteen!”) forcing the breath of life into a collection of corpse parts. I heard on the radio that the NBA helps the WNBA to the tune of $12 million a year. Wikipedia has a little more on the league’s finances, including the goal of profitability by 2007. Hmm… that’d be a big turn around in one year.

30 seconds in the half, 9-point East lead…same at half time, 49-40.

All-Decade team presentation at half time. I feel like they’re just trying to build credibility in a slightly artificial way. At the same time, they have been around for ten years. Even with the NBA propping them up, that’s pretty impressive. If tomorrow the NBA built a league around me it wouldn’t be around in two years, never mind ten. And the commemorative glass plates look nice. They’re not guaranteed to increase in value, but all the previous ones have.

Ok, I’m done making fun. I’m also done watching for the most part, but I’ll check back later.

Despite what this article may have indicated to this point, I’m actually in favor of the WNBA, so long as I don’t have to watch it… because someone wants to watch it and should. I was quite serious when I wrote I’m not in the target audience. The WNBA doesn’t exist for me. It exists for my little cousin Lauren (if she didn’t have the Weaver gene she might have been a more appropriate basketball height, but as things are she plays lacrosse) and my friends’ young daughters and possibly my future daughters.

Girls need sports. Every where they turn away from sports there are TV shows, magazines and movies showing them what they should look like, and more often than not what they don’t look like. Girls need sports to show them what they can do, not just what they can look like.

David Stern is a smart guy. Maybe he can turn the WNBA into a profitable entity in the next calendar year. I doubt it. But he is dead on about the importance of the WNBA. It might be the most socially important fringe sport there is.

Last 30 seconds of the game - worst-of-dunking contest. Lotta jumping, not a lotta hops. With the East set to win 98-82, the West begins having a shoot around, seeing who can dunk. Not pretty. Eventually, with 6 seconds left, Michelle Snow manages one – finger tips barely on the rim – becoming the second player in league history to dunk (Lisa Leslie was the first).

I know the dunking should be cool (sort of), but I would rather see the East break triple digits (or better yet, a triple over time game in the NBDL finals). Oh well, I guess chicks dig the dunk-ball.

Monday, July 10, 2006

FSC’s Belated Coverage of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest

Although the way ESPN has been replaying the event you’d think they were MTV and Nathan’s was some sort of music award show featuring Jessica Alba making out with the Pussy Cat Dolls, Lindsay Lohan, the Olsen twins, Rhiannon and (just for good measure) the mom from “There’s Something About Raymond.” I gotta admit, though, I’m impressed by the sheer amount of screen time Bristol is devoting to the great tubed meat sport. The International Federation of Competitive Eating must be pretty thrilled. I can’t wait for the almost inevitable television coverage of Philadelphia’s Wing Bowl.

My favorite part of the event? The ridiculous hyperbolic announcing. My top three:

  • Kobayashi was called the second coming of Babe Ruth and also compared quite favorably to the Celtics and Yankees dynasties
  • Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas is – and I’m not making this up – “the Gloria Steinem of the hot dog eating galaxy.” (I don’t even know what that means.)

And my personal favorite,

If you didn’t know any of those factoids, well, chances are you’re in the majority. But consider yourself educated now… or re-educated, as the sports Maoists like to say.

But there was more to love than announcers who just learned what the word “superlative” means. The introductions of the eaters were fantastic – part wrestling, part All-Star game, everyone got a little love from the commentators and crowd (speaking of which – with an announced 15,000 people attending, there were 60% more people there than at the Major League Lacrosse All Star game in Boston last week). I got to hear about all the records:

  • Asparagus: 6.25 pounds in 10 minutes, Joey Chestnut
  • Tamales: 41 tamales in 12 minutes, ChipBurger Simpson
  • Baked Beans, long course (huh?): 8.4 pounds in 2 minutes, Sonya Thomas
  • Buffet: 5.5 pounds of buffet food (nice detail, fellas) in 12 minutes, Crazy Legs Conti

Ok, enough with the making fun. Let’s shower the respect.

To its credit, ESPN actually did what I always slap sports media around for not doing – treating a fringe sport like a sport. The effort to connect Kobayashi to the greats of other sports was clearly an attempt to elevate competitive eating to the same level as more traditional and popular sports. The announcers were informative, clearly explaining the rules and past competitions to newer viewers. And although they said ridiculous over the top things… well, have you heard a sports broadcast recently? They’re all over the top. Hell, all media is over the top, but that’s another column for another site.

And I think I figured ESPN’s coverage of fringe sports that double as mild freak shows (World’s Strongest Man Competition and Highland Games, I’m looking in your direction): sports with inexpensive TV rights; cheap announcers that are happy to get screen time; massive efforts by those announcers to educate viewers, hoping they will come back to watch more; terrific exaggerated descriptions of the contestants and what they do; and lots of weird camera angles to highlight the weirdness of the sport. Seriously, rewatch Nathan’s Famous any one of the many times it’s rerun and you’ll see all of these facets. Then compare it a strong man airing at 2 am on ESPN 2 and the similarities are eerie.

From ESPN’s point of view, it makes a lot of sense: cheap content that might take off, spawning a large audience for little investment. It’s not the best way for fringe sports to gain a following, but it might work. Look at poker.

Oh, but can we please call a spade a spade – Kobyashi did NOT set a new record with 53.75 dogs eaten in 12 minutes. You don’t eat partial dogs. You eat whole dogs. That 3/4 crap was just to appease the crowd and give the folks watching at home a thrill. This sport is getting too corporate.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Eat This Fringe Media!

(This article was originally published by Sports Media Watch on April 24, 2006.)

Welcome to the zenith of this column, welcome to the height of fringe sports media. When I started this column, in the back of my mind, I think I always knew it would come to this. All of the sports media I’ve written about thus far have been media about legitimate sports. Not many people nationally are paying attention to basketball in Glendive, Montana or hockey in Bemidji, Minnesota, but no one denies that those are, indeed, sports. I’m taking this column to the next level. Today’s column looks at the media coverage of an event that some refer to as “The fastest growing sport in the country” while others refer to it as “Waiting for idiots to choke.” I’m talking about competitive eating.

Let’s begin with the existential question: is it a sport or isn’t it? A quick visit to reveals these possible definitions of “sport” as we want to use it:

1) Physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively

2) An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively

3) An active pastime; recreation

I’m forced to think of it as a sport. It is a physical activity, otherwise how do you explain eating 7 quarter-pound butter sticks in FIVE MINUTES and some of the other records, the International Federation of Competitive Eating keeps track of. (Oh yeah, there’s an organized group. I’ll get to that in a minute). There are rules in the form of mandates and safety standards. As for competition… well, they don’t call it the International Federation of No-One’s-Keeping-Score Eating, do they?

More importantly, media looks at it as a sport, or at least such a highly entertaining contest that media will mimic sports coverage for it. The IFOCE sets media up to do that by maintaining its website like a legitimate sporting organization. They keep track of records, rankings, results, and even have numerous sponsors for their events, the same as golf tournaments and NASCAR races. The site also keeps track of news in the sport, including an overtime match to start off the Nathan’s Famous Circuit in Florida on the fifteenth of April. Crazy Legs Conti, the winner of that match, supposedly left shortly after his victory – and I’m not making this up – to run in the Boston Marathon. Stunning.

This self-inflicted credibility as a sport has paid off to a certain extent. During the height of IFOCE’s season – the summer, around the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on the fourth of July – a lot of media outlets cover the sport. Last year’s winner, Takeru Kobayashi, made Sportscenter and showed up on Page 2 at, as Brian Murphy called him the more dominant in his sport than either Lance Armstrong or Tiger Woods. Really, though, Kobayashi’s greatest media exposure on ESPN was probably the Sportscenter commercial he appeared in last year in which he devoured an entire lunch at the ESPN cafeteria in less than a 30 second commercial.

The sport has also managed to make the big papers. The Washington Post took a look at the science of competitive eating, including one promoter’s witticism “Vomiting is a healthy way [for the body] to say you’ve gone over your limit.” Indeed. And last year at Thanksgiving, the New York Times ran an article, part of which looked at the Thanksgiving Invitational.

The Times also published a review last year of a documentary on Crazy Legs Conti, he of the eating and Boston Marathon fame. The documentary played in Manhattan art houses and was also seen on A&E. While chronicling Conti’s career in competitive eating (“A cross-discipline athlete is what everyone wants to be” he says while practicing butter eating in his apartment), the film also looks at the subculture of IFOCE.

And let’s not forget marketing the athlete, both by the sport does it and the athletes themselves. IFOCE has profiles for all of its top eaters, including Kobayashi, Conti, and Joey Chestnut, the rookie who roared onto the scene last year by placing third in the Nathan’s annual contest and coming in second in a Krystal hamburger qualifier. The winner of that qualifier was Sonya Thomas, the top ranked American eater. She cultivates her nickname, the Black Widow, by using it as part of her website and her signature. It’s an image, a brand, and she’s selling it. It implies a killer instinct, which she seems to have proven by the 27 world titles her site proclaims.

Don’t forget Kobayashi, either, who has branded and marketed himself more thoroughly by dominating the high profile hot dog eating contest (which drew around 10,000 fans last year) and appearing on ESPN. Jon Stewart even knew who he was the other night on the Daily Show.

In fact, the sport of competitive eating made an appearance this week on the Daily Show in the form of Ryan Nerz, author of Eat this Book, a look at a year on the competitive eating circuit. I would be lying if I said that Nerz and Stewart discussed the sport with any level of seriousness, but then again it’s the Daily Show. Having said that, you should take a look at the video on Comedy Central’s Motherload, it’s hysterical. Nerz, to his credit, though, was very knowledgeable and pushed, as much as anyone can on a fictional news show, for the sports credibility as a sport. He brought up and explained why little guys in the sport have an easier time than larger eaters (big guts restrict stomach expansion in the heat of eating battle).

So when you think about and compare coverage, center media takes competitive eating about as seriously as a sport as it does the Iditarod, giving it a fair dose of human interest attention with a smidge of legit coverage. Does this elevate competitive eating to the Iditarod’s level? No, of course not. There’s a huge difference between eating 11 pounds of cheesecake in 9 minutes and traveling more than 1,000 miles by dogsled in less than 2 weeks. But it’s interesting that in center media fringe sports that are so different can get equal attention.