Monday, February 11, 2013

Why I Root For: Manchester United

Okay, so I'm just gonna knock out this one real quick, because there honestly aren't a lot of people who care about this sport stateside. But those that do feel very passionate about it, which is cool. I'm speaking of football, or as we Americans refer to it, soccer.

I'm serious. Quick. Name the first three things that come to mind when you hear the word "soccer"

1) Pele, because everyone knows who Pele is.

2) That dude with the big frizzy orange fro.

3) That chick who ripped her shirt off after winning some supposedly important game.

NOTE: If you're actually a fan, then this likely doesn't apply to you. But you probably still thought of #3.

Anyway, as a youth I actually played soccer for about two weeks before I got kicked in the shins a few too many times and decided it wasn't for me. I love my father, but that was one thing I feel in hindsight he let me off the hook waaaaaay too easy. I wish I'd stuck with it. The game was fun, and the orange slices and Capri Suns were always a nice perk.

So granted for most of my life I didn't give two craps about the sport, but like most people on the planet I sure enjoyed watching the World Cup Finals. Still didn't really care, but it was fun.

It seems that nobody in the U.S. cares about it until the World Cup rolls around. There was 2002 when the U.S. squad upset heavily favored Portugal and that was a big deal. That is until the guy announcing the game for ESPN (I'm speaking of Jack "Ass" Edwards) tried to secure his place in the Great Sports Announcers Hall of Fame by exclaiming in self-important fashion, as time was winding down (or up, in soccer) and the U.S. team was headed toward a major upset, "mine eyes have seen the glory!" and I just wanted to slam my head against the wall because he ruined this great victory saying something so stupid. I imagine he had that one planned out in case he ever got to call a big game, thinking his line was worthy of such beauties as "do you believe in miracles?" and "I don't believe what I just saw!" Soccer actually took a step back that day because of him.

NOTE: Edwards now does play-by-play for the NHL Boston Bruins on NESN, so he gets to annoy me any time my Senators play them.

Noted columnist Dave Berry once wrote about soccer, and I'm paraphrasing, that it was lame because it's played on a field the size of Kansas and that 90% of the games end in a 0-0 tie. 

But I digress. Soccer is honestly a second-tier sport with me. I don't have the passion about it as I do for hockey, baseball or football. But it's fun to watch and I truly do enjoy it. But it has to be English Premiere League, not that weird experimental MLS, which I just cannot get into. (though I do root for the Colorado Rapids)  Major League Soccer is to the EPL what single-A baseball is to Major League Baseball. Just a whole other level of competition.

So as for how I came to root for Manchester United, it was during the summer of 1988 when I even first became aware of English football. A friend of mine was watching it at his house one morning, and out of curiosity I watched with him. I don't remember who was playing, but I asked him one question: Does Manchester have a team?

Now, why is this important to me? At that time I was well down the path of earning my alternative musical education. After growing up on a steady diet of Top 40 and classic rock, I started to become a fan of the band New Order, and as a result of that, Joy Division. (to this day, two of my favorite bands) But at that time, it was a full-on obsession for our little group of friends as we all liked those bands. And as they hailed from Manchester, it was natural that I would ask that particular question. Hell, I didn't know anything about England in a geographic sense other than London. But at that time it was Manchester that was important. So again, I asked the question: Does Manchester have a team?

His response was that indeed they did. Manchester United. As a follow-up I asked if they were any good. He said yeah, they were alright. So in the summer of 1988 I decided that I was going to root for Manchester United.

Of course, pre-internet there was no way I was getting any information about Manchester United results or anything. In fact, it didn't even become an issue until I met a girl who would become my girlfriend for a period, and she revealed herself to be a fan of what was by the 1990s referred to as the English Premiere League. I told her that I was a fan of Manchester United and her response was something like a prolonged fit of retching noises. She said that liking them was similar to liking the Yankees. In fact, she said they were the Yankees of the soccer world. Everybody hated Manchester United because of it, and now that I think about it I may have been accused of being a bandwagoner. Once I told her my story and claimed that I had no knowledge of their money and success, I guess that made it okay. Her team was Arsenal, so they became the arch-enemy. It didn't help that they wore jerseys with Sega Dreamcast as the sponsor, as I was a big fan of that video game system. However, it did help that ManU routinely kicked Arsenal's arse. (see what I did there?)

Even though that girl is no longer a part of my life I still dislike Arsenal just out of habit. Manchester United has won seven Premiere League titles since I started following them and are well on their way to another one this season. It's a brief and silly story, but it's mine.

As for the gear, I own three ManU jerseys. One black Ruud Van Nistelrooy #10 (Vodafone), a green goaltenders jersey, blank (Vodafone) and a red Ronaldo #7 (AIG). I don't have a current sponsor jersey but am working on it.

I do have one very important New Era cap. I busted my ass trying to find this cap, and was finally able to secure two after seeing it available on ManU's official shop site. Yes, I had to buy two. I knew I'd never see one again, and so far that has been the case.

Perhaps the rarest cap in my collection.

I'm always on the hunt for another one, maybe another style, but for the time being I'm pretty happy with this cap. When I wear it out I usually get a comment or two. I'm pretty proud of it.

I watched Manchester United blank Everton this morning two-nil as they pulled out to a 12 point lead with 12 games remaining. Not bad for a team that in all honesty I started following almost at random. I'm just glad Joy Division was from Manchester. Lucky with that one. My friend could have answered my question in 1988 by saying Manchester City. Yes, they are the defending champions, by backing into it, but not the same thing.

And also the Gallagher brothers like City. That's reason enough not to root for them. Glory Glory Man United!!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Bakersfield: An Appreciation

There was a time when I routinely traversed the Southern California landscape, attending dozens of minor league baseball games. These were mostly centered around my home based out of various locations in the High Desert. I'd typically attend High Desert Mavericks games, which were the most local, followed by games in Rancho Cucamonga and San Bernardino. In the mid-90s I also attended the occasional game in Lake Elsinore (which was the team I rooted for at that time) and Riverside. These were all Southern Division teams in the California League. Being that the Northern Division teams were based in Modesto, Visalia, San Jose and Stockton, it wasn't likely I was going to make that trip without looking into booking a room at the Motel 6 first. However, in 1995 I got the brilliant idea that Bakersfield was only two hours away. I could pull that off. I'd seen the Bakersfield Dodgers a couple of times, but never had I seen the newly minted Blaze. So after consulting the schedule to see when the Storm were visiting, I took a ride up CA-58.

So what did I know about Bakersfield? Well, growing up in the desert burg of Barstow and living particularly close to California State Highway 58, I was very familiar with the name, because there were signs all around that looked something like this:

Middle of nowhere

The sign my school bus drove by every day stated that Kramer Junction was 29 miles west, Boron was 69 miles west, and Bakersfield was a mind-numbing 129 miles west of Barstow down CA-58. That would take approximately two hours driving at 60 miles an hour. (I was a math nerd as a kid) It wasn't until a friend of mine in high school stole his parents' car that we decided on a whim to travel to Bakersfield. After my friend made an ill-timed passing attempt almost killing us in a head-on collision just west of Kramer Junction, I vaguely recall hitting up a mall and purchasing a cassette single by Nu Shooz. (don't ask, it was 1988 and we had limited funds) It would be seven more years before I head down that highway again.

So I thought I had some pictures of the day I saw the Blaze/Storm game in 1995, but I don't. I remember being impressed with the facade of Historic Sam Lynn Ballpark, which had murals of some past Dodgers greats who had apparently graced the field at one point. I recall not being impressed with the ballpark itself, which after spending my time at games played in brand new ballparks seemed ancient. I do remember being able to get a seat right next to the Storm dugout, which was pretty cool.

$5 for that seat? What a bargain!

I don't even really recall being impressed by the fact that the ballpark is literally backwards, as in the sun sets over the outfield wall. More on that later. As I write this now, 18 years later, what I recall most was that there were 65 people present in the stands (yes, I counted) and an announced attendance of just over 500. Unreal considering I was used to 3-4 thousand a game at the other parks I attended around that time. Lake Elsinore would routinely seat 6000 plus! And while the trip was fun, and it's always great to see a game no matter where its played, I honestly saw no reason to ever go back.

However, the next time I did go back was in 2003 and by this point my cap collecting had begun in earnest. I still saw no need to get a Blaze cap. I was more into taking photographs of various stadiums I visited. And while this time I did take note of the extra large batters eye, and the tall trees that line the outfield wall in order to reduce the sunlight blasting directly into the faces of the batters, it was something else that stood out to me on this trip.

When I would take photos around the ballparks, I tried to get a shot from every conceivable angle, culminating with a shot taken from right behind home plate. In every stadium I've done this, there had never been an issue. Until Bakersfield. Apparently it is against the rules to take pictures during the game or something. I was informed of this in a rather curt fashion by an older gentleman who threatened to have me removed from the game if I did it again. Here is the offending photo:

Breaking the law! Breaking the law!
Anyway, this gives you an idea of what the stadium looks like. And honestly, it's a really charming ballpark. I've come to really appreciate places like this, where you can just sit, relax and enjoy a game around people who really care about enjoying the game. That is when you're not being harassed by the camera cops!

View from the right field bleachers. Before the game, so no trouble.

A few years later I attended another game in Bakersfield and the Blaze were wearing these awesome stars & stripes jerseys that they were auctioning off after the game. They had replaced the original Blaze logo with one that was kinda different. The most apt description I've heard to this day is flaming marijuana leaf, but who knows. I left that night with the new cap, already lamenting that I had never gotten the previous cap.

This is what minor league baseball is all about.

Here is a view from the left field side.

Aluminum bleachers gone, replaced by a big tent.

Of course, I had to get the classic shot.

Successfully evaded the Photo Police!

I have not been back to Bakersfield since. I did have the mirrored B cap stolen in a targeted burglary (along with 31 others) though I did manage to get it replaced. Good thing because not long after that the Blaze changed logos again, and this time they hit a home run (no pun intended) in my opinion. A solid black cap with a black script B lined in orange and white. One of the classiest caps in all of minor league baseball. And it wasn't until recently that I did manage to acquire the original Blaze cap, thanks to Benjamin Christensen (@Shakabrodie on Twitter) who tipped me off on its availability. So here now is my complete Bakersfield Blaze New Era cap collection.

Love all three of these caps.

So the first one was worn between 1995-2004. I always felt it was kinda dull, which is likely why I ignored it. Of course, once it became defunct, it was the most awesome cap ever and I was an idiot for not picking one up. As of two weeks ago, problem solved.

The middle one is easily the most controversial. What the heck is that supposed to be, anyway? I think it would have worked better without the mirrored B, but what do I know? I did end up with a jersey from this era.

#19 on the back, of course.

Here's a picture of a Blaze player from a game I attended in 2006 in San Bernardino, showing off the road unis.

Paid attendance: 65. Just kidding. It was a 10am weekday game.

I was seated right next to the Blaze dugout and I got this cool shot of their batting helmet.

So there you go. My personal history of Bakersfield. My understanding is that the team is planning on opening the 2014 season in a new stadium, so if you are in the area and have never been, check out Historic Sam Lynn Ballpark. You'll be glad you did.

Just watch the cameras.

Oh yeah, Buck Owens via Dwight Yoakam. "Streets Of Bakersfield," baby!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Recent Acquisition: EA Sports Snapback Cap

I have to be delicate in this post.

It's not that I'm upset or anything, but the story of a recent acquisition involves my employment and a representative of a well known video game developer.

Every year my company sends its management team (of which I am a member) to a convention where we get to see presentations from all of the major video game developers. In short, it's pretty awesome. Sort of like our own little E3. It's usually held in September, but the last couple of years it's been in late August during the week of Madden launch. I always preorder the latest Madden game and last year was no different. Except that this year my company, in conjunction with EA Sports ran a promotion where if you picked up your reserved copy of Madden within the first 24 hours you got a code to get a free New Era EA Sports snapback cap, just pay shipping. Well, of course I'm interested, except I'm in Texas. So I figure I'll go talk to a rep from EA Sports to see what recourse, if any, I have. After their presentation I headed down to speak to the facilitator, explained my dilemma, even showed him a picture of my office just to prove I was serious about getting this cap. He was impressed and suggested I speak to an associate of his who was in another part of the room. So I gave the same speech and demonstration to this guy, who was also impressed, and he gives me his email address and says to email him right then so he'd have mine. He said after the conference he'd email me a couple of codes so I could take advantage of the offer. Sweet, I thought. I'm going to get this cap!

So a couple of weeks pass and I hear nothing. So I send this guy a very polite email, reiterating my interest. No response. A few weeks later, another polite email and still no response. I have to be honest here, stuff like that pisses me off. If this didn't involve my company I'd totally be using this guy's name, but I won't. As a consumer, I think blowing someone off like that is rude. I would never treat a customer with such disrespect.

But I digress. Months pass and thoughts about this cap fade, until I start seeing various social media postings about how the cap, after months of waiting had finally arrived. My good friend and fellow cap collector Matt Aballi was one who blogged about it, and in essence started my quest to find this cap. It didn't take long to find one on eBay, but I had to pay $20 for it instead of the $4.99 shipping cost or whatever it was. And though I'm no lover of snapback caps, I'm actually rather impressed with it.

Not a fan of snapbacks, but this is a nice exclusive.

Nice embroidery.

Under the visor. Very cool.
Again, I prefer fitteds, but this one is pretty impressive. Love the chalkboard on the underside of the visor. A lot of recent exclusives have started utilizing this part of the cap, and of the ones I've seen this one is the coolest. I don't know when I'll wear it. Snapbacks tend to have high crowns and look appropriate for commandeering a locomotive in my opinion. Maybe while doing yardwork or something. But regardless it has earned a spot on the wall.