The Sports Exchange - weekdays from 4-5pm
Even though the weather doesn't feel like it we are just DAYS away from the start of another baseball season. If you are a Twins fan, you know the feeling of coming off of a 96 loss season. Last season was not one to be optimistic about at all, going into this season for me the only hope is that Mauer stays behind the plate this season and that Justin Morneau can stay healthy. That is a very good 1-2 punch in a lineup and they need to keep those guys on the diamond as much as possible. Speaking of Diamond the kind of season the Twins have could rely on their pitching staff and how well Scott Diamond pitches, if he can stay healthy that is. Playing in a division that includes the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox does not give you a whole lot of room for error, and this Twins roster at the beginning of the season seems like there is plenty of error.
If you follow the Milwaukee Brewers they are coming off a season where they looked by the end of the season they could possibly make a playoff run only to come up short in the end. The started last season with the Ryan Braun controversy and him winning his appeal of a 50 game suspension, they had signed Aramis Ramirez and had high hopes for Mat Gamel to fill in for the loss of Prince Fielder, add that with Zack Grienke in the starting rotation and John Axford bringing his closing streak to the table and it seemed like the Brewers would be alright. For the most part they were, but they still came up short.
Going into this season Axford's streak is long gone, Grienke is playing anywhere that will pay him the most. Gamel is still hurt, and Ramirez didn't come close to living up to expectations. The only thing that did stick around is the controversy surrounding Ryan Braun. They are not being as "loud" about it this time but there are new stories about 3-5 times a week about the possibility of Braun being suspended after they found his name on a list. You add that with the unknown of the young pitching staff and there are plenty of reasons for doubt about this season.
With all of the negative I just said let me leave you with this. It may or may not be a run for the World Series for the Twins and the Brewers, but a wise man once said it is about the journey not the destination. And this journey consists of playing catch in the backyard while Bob Uecker is firing off one liners and the smell of brats on the grill are in the background. It is tailgating in the parking lot before AND AFTER the game, it is high fiving complete strangers just because they are wearing the same shirt that you are. it is fireworks on a Wednesday night just because they beat the rival. It is that feeling you get in the back of your neck when the music starts playing and you catch a glimpse of the closer coming out of the bullpen. It is the joy and agony of looking at the standings and seeing where your team ranks in the playoff standings. This is only to name a few things, everyone has memories of seasons past that are special memories to just them. If you ask me, World Series or not the journey is MUCH more important than the destination.
One of the best parts of parenting is being able to show your kids new things, and do things with them that they never thought would be possible. I have an 8 year old son who loves hockey, he isn't the best hockey player but it is his passion. I can rarely have a conversation with him where something about hockey doesn't come up. My choice of teams are "unique" to say the least. I grew up a North Stars fan myself and when they left Minnesota I gave up on hockey I wrote it off completely and followed other sports instead. About 12 years ago I was living in Columbus, Ohio working at a high school I had a good friend there that had season tickets to the Blue Jackets. The first time he asked me if I wanted to go along I didn't know what to think about it, even though I followed the North Stars I never got to see them in person, I had never been to an NHL game and since they left I wasn't very interested in hockey. I decided to go anyway, going to a Blue Jackets game was the first NHL game I had ever been too, it was far from the last and I was hooked.
I don't exactly know how it ends up happening but I am sure it has something to do with the first 8 years of his life I would have a Blue Jackets game on whenever they are on TV here (which is about 2 or 3 times a season) but my son is a die hard Blue Jackets fan too. With the only stadium reasonably close to here being in St. Paul there are not many chances you get to go and watch "your team". This year was different on Tuesday night the Blue Jackets were playing the Wild for the only time this season, when my co-worker had a couple of tickets available I knew I had to jump at the chance to go. There was a lot of excitement in the planning of going to this game. When I went and got my son he was all ready to go wearing his Rick Nash jersey, and I was wearing mine. The trip to the game had many conversations mostly about his upcoming game this weekend and him asking me questions about some of the hockey greats before his time.
When we got to the stadium and walked through the hall to get inside his face was bright red, I can't imagine the thoughts that he had to be thinking. When we finally got inside the gates and started walking around the first thing he wanted to do was check out our seats. We were sitting right in the lower level in row 4, we were able to walk right up the the glass. The seats were perfect. Once the players came out on the ice it was very beneficial that we seemed to be the only 2 Blue Jackets fans in the stadium because we walked right up and watched our team go through the warm ups. Once the game started the Blue Jackets got down early 2-0 and at the first intermission all that I was hoping for was at least 1 goal that we would be able to cheer for. During the intermission we walked to the top of the stairs and standing in front of me was a lady that was also wearing a Blue Jackets jersey, I am pretty sure we were the only 4 (including her daughter) Blue Jackets fans in the building. It turned out she was the sister of the head coach who is from Minnesota.
The Blue Jackets made a comeback, it was at one point tied 2-2 before the Wild scored the game winning goal in the 3rd period. The people sitting around us treated us very well, I felt as though the respected the fact that there were loyal enough fans to support a team that has had so little success. Once we finally made the drive home the conversation again was about nothing but hockey, he was telling me about the kind of sticks the players were using and the pads the goalies were wearing, hoping 1 day that can be him out there on the ice. Going to a first game is a moment a kid never forgets............turns out neither does a parent.
It is a rough time of year, It's cold out there is still snow in the forecast and there is still plenty of winter left. The "holiday season" is in the rearview mirror and after Saturday night the football season for all practical purposes is as well. Overall it was an excellent season I have a lot of memories from this season, I remember the beginning of the season feeling like the Vikings didn't have a chance because I didn't feel like they improved much. I was wrong, way wrong. I even got to go to a couple games this season and watch them play in person. I think deep down I really thought this was the year for the Bears, I don't know why I have been on the Jay Cutler bandwagon but just because he isn't flashy and happy enough for everyone in my eyes does not make him a bad guy or a bad quarterback. I thought with their additions they would be the team winning the division this season, turns out they didn't even make the playoffs. The packers were the "sexy" pick this season coming off the 15-1 season a year ago and not making any major changes other than using an entire draft to bring in defensive players a lot of the experts had the packers picked to go to the super bowl this season. While they fell short of the super bowl that doesn't mean they had a bad season.
Looking ahead already to next season, seeing that this season isn't even completely over yet it is hard to tell. It is the depressing time of the season because all you hear about and all you know is about the players that are probably leaving. It looks like Greg Jennings will be gone for sure, Donald Driver has probably played his last game as a packer, and Jermichael Finley seems to have finally worn out his welcome in Green Bay. The part we don't know about though is the additions to the team, and for the most part we won't know what they do for months yet, so we are stuck with the loss to the 49ERS and losing these key players. The only positive about this time of year is that there is 2 weeks of football left before it leaves us for the spring and summer.
Not all is lost though, the bucks are playing good basketball, they are currently the 8th seed with the NBA season just short of being half over. They have very little wiggle room but they do have a 4 game lead on the next team that could knock them out of that seed. The badger basketball team certainly is not as good this season as they have been in the past and with the big ten being possibly the best conference in college basketball that is not a good combo for bucky fans. They did have a huge game on Saturday afternoon when they drilled a ranked Illinois team, and I am guessing tournament time they will get in the big dance, that is what it's all about. And finally the NHL is coming back this weekend, not sure what kind of following the NHL has around here, but I know that as much as I want to ignore it and am angry about the lockout this weekend there is going to be as much hockey on my TV as I can find. And if winter sports aren't your thing, pitchers and catchers report in 27 days. The seasons are changing.
It's the mecca, titletown, the holy grail, it's the beginning of the NFL. Living in Wisconsin it is a place that you have to visit at least once even if you aren't a die hard packer fan that walks around shirtless in January.
In 1996 I was a senior in high school. At Westby we had some great teachers and it wasn't just about teaching us about what you can learn in a book. The man that ran the computer lab Robert Kerska every year took students to Lambeau Field to take in a packer game, he had 4 seats he usually took another teacher and 2 students along.
I remember him asking me questions about Lambeau Field weeks in advance, I had seen the pictures of my other classmates there watching Barry Sanders and taking on teams like the bears. I never thought much of it, not even in the back of my head did I ever have even a thought that I would maybe be selected to go to that packer viking game. It was usually a reward for the students that were hard workers and got good grades the good kids that were the leaders of the class. I didn't remember him taking any jokester class clowns along before. The week before the game he gave me an envelope and I felt like the kid in the movie A Christmas Story when he got his orphan annie decoder ring. I didn't think it was possible, but I had the envelope, so it had to be.
I remember it like it was yesterday, some things you just don't ever forget. Robert Kerska being a die hard packer fan took along fellow teacher Dennis Smalley, he is a die hard viking fan, he also took Mike Brudos (some of you may remember him from his basketball career at Viterbo) who was a die hard packer fan, and of course me. About a half an hour from the stadium I decided to put on my viking horns in the car, I realized REAL fast that there was not a ton of viking fans that were driving along side of us. We got to Lambeau Field it was the middle of December and for some reason it was cold but warm (not shirtless warm though.....THAT is crazy) the vikings got out to an early lead with a deep pass to Cris Carter for a touchdown, after that the packers scored early and often hammering the vikings 38-10. After the game the whole crowd still stood there after the players had already shook hands, and I was thinking my gosh enough already you drilled us lets go home. Couldn't leave until Reggie was done with the post-game prayer though, heck even wearing my viking horns that day I could respect that.
17 years down the road and it is time to make the trip again, this time will be different I will be on a bus this time, and we will be tailgating before the game. I can barely remember what the stadium looked like either inside or out, but I do remember the laughs and good times. I think maybe like the game itself, going to the game isn't so much the actual game, but those who are with you when you are at the game. I am sure this time will not be like that last, but isn't making new memories what life is all about anyways?
I have hated throwing around the word "hero" when talking about an athlete for a long time now. To me the term hero should be saved for those that truly are heroes, like those that put themselves in danger so others don't have to. Athletes are for the most part just big kids in my eyes, they get to play a kids game and make an obscene amount of money doing it. I have no problem with what they make doing what they do and I have a lot of respect for the talent they have and the discipline and hard work they do to keep themselves in playing shape and form, but to me that does not make them heroes at all.
What happened last Friday has changed my perspective on a lot of things, I have always pulled for players like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Terrell Owens, and others with questionable character purely because of their athletic ability and the success that they have on the field. Last Friday changed that. After what happened last Friday there has been a player for the New York Giants that has kind of been singled out, because he was the "hero" of one of the kids that lost their lives in the school shooting.
Victor Cruz is a modern day Rudy Ruetteger. I will never forget the first game I watched him play, it was a preseason football game, he was wearing the number 3 because the Giants didn't have any other receiver numbers available. He went to high school in New Jersey, and played college football at UMASS, hardly a football powerhouse. He was undrafted but the Giants gave him a shot, and in that first preseason game he looked like the best player on the field, and I don't just mean against the 2nd string. They ended up giving him a roster spot in 2 years, he has made the pro bowl and has a super bowl ring. He has done more in 2 years than a lot of players do in their whole career.
After the school shooting the friends and family of one of the kids took to twitter to try to get a hold of Victor Cruz and let him know that he was the hero of one of the kids that died, the family was even going to bury their son in a Cruz jersey. I can't imagine the thoughts that had to be going through Cruz's mind, a guy that 2 years ago was a player that shouldn't have even made an NFL roster to now being the hero of a little boy who was killed. Victor Cruz did the right thing, he got in contact with the family and he went and mourned the loss of their child with them, I am sure that it didn't make them hurt any less but the point was that he did whatever he could. It was a situation that was thrown in his face, he wasn't looking for free publicity or to be the "hero", it just turned out that at the end of the day, he was the hero.