Sunday, September 25, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #3

Last Week

Aaron: 14-2
Joe: 11-5

Current Standings

Aaron: 22-10
Joe: 21-11

Jacksonville at Carolina

Aaron: Since the beginning of this month, the Jaguars have had three different starting quarterbacks as rookie Blaine Gabbert was handed the keys to the Canyonero this week. And, if I may liberally lift from the Canyonero commercial: Well, it goes real slow with the hammer down! It's the country-fried truck endorsed by a clown…Canyonero! Twelve yards long, two lanes wide, 65 tons of American pride…Canyonero! Which is to say I expect the Jaguars to neither run fast nor complete a pass longer than 12 yards or 2 lanes. Pick: Carolina

Joe: I still think of this matchup as "the two expansion teams" even though that was at least 15 years ago. Which makes me old? Anyway, it'd be nice if, after two weeks of playing really well, Cam Newton got a win. And I may finally be getting my wish of a legendarily terrible Jaguars team. Pick: Carolina

Houston at New Orleans

Aaron: Doesn't it seem like Houston has started the last few seasons 2-0 only to wake up from their undefeated dream in week three? How are the networks already airing repeats this early into the new fall season? (Now that's how to seamlessly incorporate a timely non-football reference. The only more opportune comment would be something critical about Whitney Cummings. And, I have no idea who that is.) Pick: New Orleans

Joe: I've seen Devery Henderson stat lines that are funnier than Whitney! (Gauntlet picked up.) I'm not exactly ready to forecast New Orleans's whole season yet, but they might be the "good at home, shaky on the road" team. Pick: New Orleans

New England at Buffalo

Aaron: Joe's Bills beat my beloved Raiders last week. During the final few minutes, he and I exchanged frantic tweets as both teams exchanged offensive haymakers while simultaneously abandoning any pretense of defense. In the aftermath, several pro-Bills stories were written that didn't condescendingly juxtapose the team's fortunes with the local economy. It was a great game and I'm rooting for the Bills here, but…. Pick: New England

Joe: I'm so happy about this 2-0 start (shut up, at least it's something) that I don't even think a loss to the Pats here will kill my buzz. Though it'd be nice if this wasn't a total blowout. Pick: New England

Miami at Cleveland

Aaron: You've probably heard that the Dolphins have lost 11 of their last 12 home games, but finished 6-2 on the road in 2010. When the oral history of this statistical anomaly is written by the staff at Grantland, you'll see reasons cited like "it's too humid for the home crowd to will them to victory" and "LeBron James joined the Miami Heat". This, of course, is ridiculous. LeBron James is the reason Cleveland won't win this game. Pick: Miami

Joe: This game will likely not be pretty. And so much hideous orange in the uniforms! Blegh! (Ha ha! Gay dude talking about the sports!) Pick: Miami

Denver at Tennessee

Aaron: After last week's surprising win over the Ravens, Tennessee head coach Mike Munchack declared that his team would be playing a more balanced offense with more passing than in previous years. Honestly, drafting Titans RB Chris Johnson with my first fantasy football pick continues to pay comedic dividends! Pick: Tennessee

Joe: Meanwhile, Denver may have beaten Cincinnati last week, but they didn't win in the gritty, feel-good way they would have if Tim Tebow had started at QB. Look for more boring competence at the position this week. Pick: Denver

N.Y. Giants at Philadelphia

Aaron: In the annual "Michael Vick Injury Pool" I did not have "tackled into his own teammate while still in the pocket". In my defense, "ironically eaten by the mutated feral dogs last seen in I Am Legend" seemed to be a more likely payoff at the time. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: I have never seen a team score more touchdowns while playing poorer on offense than the Giants did on Monday night. The Rams might as well have placed that game underneath a silver dome for the G-men. Picks: Philadelphia

Detroit at Minnesota

Aaron: This game is wearing the familiar musk of Donovan McNabb's Desperation. With their season essentially on the line, is anyone willing to bet the old man has a few tricks left up his sleeve and too much pride to embrace mediocrity? That rationale worked out for Minnesota last year, no? Pick: Detroit

Joe: This game does have that "warning" label on it. Minnesota and McNabb have each individually pulled this "not so fast" thing before. But Detroit just looks like they're capable of scoring more points than the Vikings can match. ANALYSIS! Pick: Detroit

San Francisco at Cincinnati

Aaron: These were the last two MLB stops in Deion Sanders' vagabond baseball career. Now, he's a winged pixie in those DirecTV commercials for the NFL's Sunday Ticket. As career choices go, this is probably worse than his MC Hammer-produced rap album and better than his cameo at the end Celtic Pride. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: Speaking of nostalgia, this was the first Super Bowl I ever remember watching, with Joe Montana's game-winning drive, and Tim Krumrie's legendarily gruesome leg injury. Now, the mantle of this proud rivalry will be picked up by Alex Smith and an incarcerated Cedric Benson. Clear your calendars. Pick: San Francisco

N.Y. Jets at Oakland

Aaron: During my previously referenced in-game Twitter frenzy with Joe last week, I mentioned the worst aspect of the Raiders' loss was that I seemed to be talking myself into the Jason Campbell era. He threw some beautiful passes under pressure and if Oakland can find a short-yardage security blanket at tight end for him…gah! I'm doing it again! They're not there yet and the Raiders defense spectacularly regressed from week one to week two. Pick: NY Jets

Joe: Didn't the Raiders have a short-yardage security-blanket tight end last season that they let get away during the free agent frenzy? I'm sorry, just trying to throw some friendly cold water before you get your heart broken. ...But first, I will pick your Raiders to give the Jets their inevitable "OMG the Jets are soooooo overrated" scare of the season. Pick: Oakland

Kansas City at San Diego

Aaron: As much as I took pleasure in the Chargers pratfall in Foxboro, they're still among the AFC's elite and they're facing a Chiefs team that has clearly closed up shop for 2011 with 15 weeks to go. Looking at the Chargers' schedule, it's clear that I won't get to enjoy another loss like last week until sometime in mid-January. I'm cool with that. Pick: San Diego

Joe: I wouldn't rule out Dexter McCluster pulling a surprise stat bonanza of a season for the Chiefs now that the running game has been ceded to him, but I still don't think that saves KC's poor doomed season. Pick: San Diego

Baltimore at St. Louis

Aaron: Rams RB Steven Jackson is not expected to play, which means another week of relevance for his back-up, Cadillac Anderson. It's just a nickname, but as African-American appellations go, it's the second-best one you'll hear this week. The best? It's clearly Boogaloo Watts – as identified early in the first part of this piece. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: I'll have you know that World B. Free will be filing a grievance about this horrible slight. I think if St. Louis can keep from shooting themselves in the foot, they still have the best chance of winning the embarrassment that is the NFC West. This would be a good place to start, but Baltimore's going to want to right their ship after last week's inexplicable loss. Pick: Baltimore

Green Bay at Chicago

Aaron: This week, ESPN has aired clips from the 1986 Packers v. Bears game in which Chicago quarterback Jim McMahon is bodyslammed to the ground by Packers defensive end Charles Martin, including 2011 interviews with some of the players in that game. I don't see anyone wanting to talk to Jay Cutler for any reason in 25 years. Pick: Chicago

Joe: Come on. By 2036, Grantland will definitely be out of good stories to write oral histories about and will instead focus on An Oral History of Kristin Cavillari's 8th Place Finish on Dancing with the Stars. That'll be all you, Jay! Pick: Green Bay

Arizona at Seattle

Aaron: The inherent problem with parity is that a handful of really good teams and a handful of really bad teams bookend all of the 8-8 teams. Of course, the obvious benefit is playing in the NFC West where you can be a really bad team, an 8-8 team AND a playoff team. Sports socialism works! Pick: Arizona

Joe: Arizona blew it last week, but I am more and more buying into their offense. Kolb-Beanie-Fitz is no Aikman-Emmett-Irvin, but they might be enough to get the job done against Tarvaris-Lynch-whoever-is catching-Seattle's-passes. Pick: Arizona

Atlanta at Tampa Bay

Aaron: In week one, the Falcons were the designated "disappointing" punching bag after losing in Chicago. In week two, they were praised for their determination in a comeback win against the Eagles. This week, they'll get no credit for slogging through thunderstorms, oppressive humidity and at least 50 individual IVs. As a native Californian, I can tell you...I had an IV once. Not fun. Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: Yeah, Atlanta in the out-of-doors does not inspire a whole lot of confidence. But shouldn't Atlanta get credit for being a destination for trashy reality-TV personae rather than a source of them? I think they should? Pick: Atlanta

Pittsburgh at Indianapolis

Aaron: Colts QB reportedly flew to Europe recently and received stem cell treatment on his injured neck. It would appear the "search and rescue" of his career has been called off in favor of a recovery mission. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: God damn it, Ben Roethlisberger, THROW SOME TOUCHDOWNS. Pick: Pittsburgh

Washington at Dallas

Aaron: Looking for a way to erase every bit of positive publicity you received for (belatedly) addressing concussions, NFL? Then, allow Cowboys QB Tony Romo to play with a f*cking punctured lung. Pick: Washington

Joe: Wait, Rex Grossman is on the verge of 3-0 AND they're remaking Footloose?? It's a weird, wild world we're living in. Pick: Washington

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Father and Son San Francisco Travel Diary -- Part II

Part I

Sunday, September 4

After a fitful five hours of sleep, I woke up and fiddled with my smart phone until Jalen was ready to start his day. I shouldn't have been surprised to see him standing behind me as I sat at a desk on the other side of my bed -- at 5:45 AM -- since the first words out of his mouth were, "We're going to the A's game today!" Quickly followed by, "Can we get breakfast?" I peel back the curtain in our room, revealing the city's ubiquitous blanket of fog still shrouding the souls and the sins of the previous evening below. "Let's wait until the sun comes up", I suggest, not wanting to walk around the Thriller video outside with my seven-year-old son.

The rooms at the Westin St. Francis have an "refreshment center" full of assorted salty and sugary snacks. However, in a new twist on the old "if you open this bottle of water, we'll bill $4.00 to your room" racket; the Westin has installed sensors that can somehow tell when, say, a bag of peanuts has been removed from the basket of snacks. Not eaten. Not opened. The room is charged if the bag of peanuts is lifted from the basket. Change your mind? Put it back and you're still charged. When I explained this to Jalen, you'd better believe I used the "don't talk to strangers" urgency in my voice.

About a week before this trip, I put out a social media request for restaurant recommendations – particularly hole-in-the-wall spots that are the antithesis of "touristy". One of my Facebook friends – an absolute sweetheart with the same deep-fried Frankenstein food preferences as me – wrote back with a veritable encyclopedia of San Francisco eating in and around Union Square. For breakfast, I went with the location she described as "hole-in-the-wall goodness" with praise for their crispy hash browns. (I chose this place over the restaurant she celebrated for their 6-8 strip side orders of bacon. I know…risky, right?!)

The streets were still filled with fog which made everything damp…and deadly. Not long after we left our hotel, Jalen tried to sprint ahead of me. He slipped on one of those enormous steel plates embedded in the sidewalk and tried to break his fall by grabbing my scrawny arm. This, in turn, caused me to slip on the steel plate. Jalen fell on his butt, I fell on my back. Sorry, San Francisco. I promise to have our father-and-son slapstick synchronism tightened up before our next visit.

Ten minutes later, we reached the Taylor Street Coffee Shop…and, goodness, it's a hole-in-the-wall. Jalen and I were apparently the first customers of the day and we took seats in the back of the restaurant which, architecturally, was like walking down a long, narrow hallway. The grill is adjacent to the front door – something I can't say I've seen before – and the walls were adorned with kitschy movie posters. I ordered the "meat lover's breakfast" – three sausage links, three strips of bacon, ham and two eggs. I tacked on a side of hash browns to complete my coronary. Jalen went with the pancake. When I asked the server how many were in an order, she replied, "One. But, it's big." She even made the "big" circular pantomime with both of her hands. "I want THAT!", replied a wide-eyed Jalen. This server knows her audience.

Jalen obliterated his pancake not long after its arrival, while I enjoyed my first ever over-medium eggs at breakfast. I've
long opposed runny egg yolks, but with the ham and bacon's saltiness and the more complex seasoning in the sausage it was gooey glory. Sopping up the sun-colored excess from my plate with the hash browns and buttered sourdough toast made me wish I hadn't wasted most of my life ordering eggs "scrambled". What a fool I was.

After breakfast, as we walked back to our hotel, Jalen asked if I could "take a picture for mommy". I'd pulled a pair of toothpicks from a small container next to the cash register and Jalen excitedly wanted Mrs. Bootleg to see him…I dunno…picking his teeth? I suggested to my son that he just leave the toothpick dangling from his mouth, which led to the following conversation:

Jalen: "But, I can't smile if the toothpick is sticking out of my mouth."

Me: "So, don't smile."

Inadvertently, THAT led to this picture -- the most unintentionally awesome shot I'll ever take of my son. I'm hoping my wife OKs it for this year's Christmas cards. Let me know if you want me to license it out for yours.

At 11:30 AM, we boarded the BART train for Oakland to catch the Athletics v. Mariners game. It might've been too small of a sample size to hang the "jinx" label on Jalen, but during the regular season, the A's were 2-5 whenever my son has seen them live – including 0-2 in Oakland. And, yes, I keep track of these things. Before you pass judgment on my parental priorities, know that I was prepared for the aging stadium's trough-style urinals, public beach-equivalent restroom cleanliness and Jalen's predilection for touching everything.

The Athletics were holding their annual breast cancer awareness promotion at the Coliseum and giving away
pink argyle scarves to fans in attendance. The too-prominent "Big O Tires" sponsorship logo still feels like well-intended marketing gone wrong, but it's obviously in furtherance of a great cause. The A's hosted more than 500 breast cancer survivors on the field in an emotional pregame ceremony and throughout the game, women shared their experiences with the disease during interviews that aired on the scoreboard between innings. Oddly, a couple of the interviews caused my allergies to flare up and made my eyes water. Stupid allergies.

Despite some shakiness from our bullpen in the late innings, the Athletics held on to
defeat Seattle, 8-5. For those scoring at home (who are NOT Jalen's mother), Jalen consumed an entire personal Round Table pizza, a chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich, a large bag of popcorn and a churro. After the game, three different women who'd sat in the seats surrounding us approached me and expressed how much they enjoyed watching Jalen's passionate reactions to the action on the field and the way he and I interacted with each other. Honestly, I'm not bragging, but these weren't the first parents (I presume) who've told me this at ballgames. And, let's be honest: sitting through a meandering 3 ½ hour American League game just might be the apex of parenting.

The BART ride back to our hotel was uneventful until the final few moments. As Jalen and I departed the train, a woman came onboard who was breast feeding her child. Now, I have NO problem with this. Really. But, the woman wasn't using any kind of discreet…uh…breast-covering cloth thingie. Not a towel, not her blouse…nothing. And, her breast was [OK...I'm making the "big" circular pantomime with both of my hands]. If Jalen had seen any of this…well, remember Alfre Woodard's
mute son in the Bill Murray comedy Scrooged? I know it was more than 20 years ago, but I'm still too shaken to think up a more recent reference.

It's closing in on six o'clock as we enter the elevator, heading back to our room to find more appropriate clothes before the 60-degree San Francisco summer sun sets and winter arrives for the night. An older couple gets on with us and proceeds to make some "isn't he CUTE?!" conversation with my son. It had already been a long day, so my "eminent embarrassment radar" must've been recalibrating itself. Less than 24 hours earlier, I cracked a joke to Jalen about the private lounge on the top floor of our hotel and how it was for "…people younger than me and older than [my son]." I should've seen this coming:

Jalen (to the older gentleman): "What floor are you on?"

Older Gentleman: "We're on the 30th floor just like you!"

Jalen: "Oh. Well…you can't go to the 32nd floor because that's for younger people. But, you can go to the other floors because those are for old people."

Me: [Head explodes.]

For dinner, I decided on a pizza place called "Victor's". The same friend who recommended breakfast called this spot, "cheap, tasty and good". It was also close by – 0.8 miles away according to my phone. I estimated a 15-20 minute walk. When I presented this to Jalen, he responded, "That's too far to walk for my little legs! Can't we take a taxi?!" Yes, he said, "…for my little legs". I would have expected – and have previously heard – that same complaint from his 4'8" mother, but not from him. Admittedly, I might've been parenting out of spite when I barked back, "Get your jacket. We're walking." (I'm sorry you guys had to see that side of me. But, keep reading. The "Aaron should've listened to Jalen" lesson is right around the corner…)

I've visited New York, lived in Los Angeles and been to several other major American metropolitan locales. I'd be willing to bet that no area transitions from "touristy" to "sketchy" faster than ANY street in San Francisco. Five minutes from our hotel, we're navigating a maze of homelessness, random bags of trash and possibly
The Luniz. There's pizza at the end of this urine-scented journey, so Jalen is walking with purpose and before long we're passing through a more presentable residential area. We're about a half-mile from our hotel and we've passed through three distinct neighborhoods -- just one shy of the shortest walk/most neighborhoods record.

Victor's Pizza is on a street that's dotted with takeout restaurants and under-the-radar watering holes. The atmosphere on our walk had become a mix of live music comingled with barbecue or curry or carne asada. Victor's is a bit of a throwback -- for me -- with its practically pitch-black dining area and eternally burning candles offering negligible light. There were a few other customers inside, but noticeably no kids. And, sure enough,
Million Dollar Birthday Fries were not on the menu.

But, they had pizza! Their sauce had a touch of sweetness from the tomatoes with a fresher flavor than I ever would've expected. Jalen and I kept it simple -- small pepperoni for him, small sausage for me -- and the toppings were quite good. The pepperoni had a bit of bite and a not-at-all oily texture, while the sausage popped with fennel. Best of all was the crust: crispy on the outside with a light smoky char, perfectly chewy consistency on the inside. The service was off-the-charts, as well. Prompt, attentive and my pint glass was never empty.

With two full bellies, we left the restaurant -- but, not before Jalen redoubled his begging for a cab ride back to our hotel. Truth be told, I was absolutely exhausted myself. I weighed the prospects of a 20-minute walk with my increasingly sleepy, already irritable seven-year-old son versus a two-minute taxi ride. Not wanting to get his hopes up, I told Jalen if we see a cab, we can...

"There's one right there!", he shrieked. "TAXI!", he shrieked again.

Monday, September 5

Our flight home from San Francisco departed at 11:55 AM. We took off into a cloudless sky and returned to a surprisingly rainy San Diego 90 minutes later. When we finally pulled up in front of Stately Bootleg Manor, I wanted to tell my son how much I loved him and how much fun I had over the past few days. Instead, Jalen sprinted from my car -- before I could open my mouth -- and into the waiting arms of his mother.

Jalen's little legs had regained their strength.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Father and Son San Francisco Travel Diary -- Part I

Over Labor Day weekend, I flew up to San Francisco with my seven-year-old son Jalen. While Mrs. Bootleg had graciously tolerated -- and tagged along on -- our baseball-centric family vacations for years, it occurred to me that cutting my wife loose was the selfless thing to do. So, I selfishly absconded with the boy for some quality father/son time.

Saturday, September 3

Jalen loves flying. As most of you know, not a fan. Our flight was scheduled to depart San Diego at 2:15 PM and Jalen was absolutely bouncing off the walls at breakfast. For me, the worst part was having to emulate his wide-eyed early-morning enthusiasm while my own stomach spontaneously knotted. Thankfully, watching a season's worth of Oakland Athletics games -- paid for as part of the MLB Extra Innings digital cable package -- has taught me how to feign excitement over something my son loves.

Mrs. Bootleg contributed to the trip in several ways. Most importantly, she used her credit card points to land Jalen and me a two-night hotel stay. From there, she proceeded to pack enough clothes for Jalen to coincide with a six-night stay. My wife's an incurable over-packer and reflexively responds "Just in case" to anyone who'd dare question this psychological, sartorial tic. Crazy people should be required to finish that phrase. Just in case...of what? Random
acts of Gallagher on the streets of San Francisco?

At the airport, I realized I forgot my wedding ring. I'm privileged to not be saddled with one of those accusatory or suspicious spouses -- and it's not like I could pass off the pot-bellied black child with the similarly-shaped head and almost identical baseball team t-shirt as anyone but my son -- but, I send a quick text and admitted to my absentmindedness. In it, I referred to my wedding ring as my "good luck charm" for flights when I'm anxious. My wife's accusatory and suspicious response ("Is that ALL it means to you?") confirmed my faith in superstitions forged out of white gold.

We flew Virgin America to San Francisco. Our flight cost $130 less than it would've on Southwest Airlines. And, unlike Southwest, the cabin was immaculate. Also, passengers select their own seats at the time tickets are purchased. The obvious benefit is peace of mind, but the downside is that Jalen couldn't have his beloved window seat. I only sit in the aisle seats and I'm NOT suffocating in the middle seat, just so my son can intermittently see God's majesty. Before you judge me, know that my comeuppance appears in the next paragraph.

Moments before the doors closed, the final passengers boarded the plane -- among them was the occupant of the window seat in our row. She was wearing a long, off-the-shoulder summer dress and both of her bare arms were covered in sleeves. Uh, not those kind of sleeves.
These kind of sleeves. And, her nose and tongue were pierced. She smiled politely as she squeezed past us and JUST as Jalen asked, "Why does that lady have...", I fell on top of my son's innocent verbal grenade. Literally. "Sorry, Jalen! Daddy's so clumsy sometimes. Hey, why don't YOU take the aisle seat?! That's where big kids sit!" Whew.

Quick question: How did humanity survive 90-minute flights before
satellite televisions were embedded within every headrest?

After we landed in San Francisco, Jalen and I took the BART train from the airport into the city. I asked these questions on Twitter, but I'll put them out here, too: (1) does anyone ever get used to that weird feeling that comes from sitting in a rear-facing seat while the train appears to speed backwards and (2) how do those of you who ride the train everyday not throttle the person playing
Nicki Minaj loud enough to hear through their earbuds? Physiologically, both affect me the same way.

In 2007, I wrote the following after surviving New York City's Grand Central for the first time:

You know what Grand Central needs? More stairs. This is the only place on earth where rolling luggage is a burden, not a blessing. Paraplegics, you've been warned.

Union Square in San Francisco is hereby added to the list. Jalen and I navigated the mass of humanity -- all of whom seemed to be walking in the opposite direction of us -- lugging a single piece of rolling luggage over the cracked, decaying sidewalks that the city's administrative infrastructure forgot. San Francisco will always be my favorite American city, but I'm convinced that all the crowds and inclines have given the city a greater gravitational pull than anywhere else on Earth. It's a working theory. Well, then, tell my quads I'm wrong!

We stayed at the Westin St. Francis. Eventually. At check-in, I'm told our room isn't ready. It's 5:15 PM, which made me think...our room should be ready. The front desk employee excuses herself to "see what she can do". We're meeting some dear friends of mine at 6:00 PM for dinner and I'd like to freshen up and change from my "San Diego" t-shirt (short-sleeved) into my "San Francisco" t-shirt (long-sleeved). My baggy Jordan shorts can -- thankfully -- withstand all climates. The hotel employee is gone for more than five minutes. She returns with a key to a "better" room (her words) on the 30th floor. (Translation: "Here's the same room -- cleaned -- and a few floors higher.") I'm on to you, hotel industry.

Below is the view from our room. Here's something I've never understood: why do people take pictures of the view from their hotel rooms? The splendor of a city's skyline is one of those things that seems impossible to capture on any camera, much less the one built into a cell phone with a window in front of the shot. There's a reason these images always carry the same caveat on the Facebook page in which they appear: "These pictures don't do the view justice." Same applies here, yo.

On the elevator ride back down to the lobby, Jalen tells me, "The 'going-down' elevator makes my penis feel funny." My only regret is that he and I are the only ones on the elevator to hear this.

Jalen and I met up with my friend Vig, his lovely wife and their adorable four-year-old daughter. We walked around the corner to
Max's Cafe for dinner. The decor and concept is an unapologetic knockoff of the east coast delicatessen, but the menu is a gloriously bloated cavalcade of calories. Of course, I started with the "Max-hattan" -- their take on America's manliest cocktail. It was OK. A little too heavy on the vermouth, but I took down two of 'em with dinner which, for me, was "Grandma's Honey Roasted Chicken". The golden salt-and-peppered skin accented the sweet glaze nicely. The meat was moist and absorbed a lot of the exterior flavors. Unfortunately, the mashed potatoes didn't work with the honey and sugar notes from the chicken while the roasted sweet carrots seemed redundant in taste. I could, however, eat the chicken by the box, bucket or any other acceptable urban chicken transport system.

After dinner, Vig and I took the kids to our hotel's top floor. No real reason. They're kids. They like this stuff. As the elevator doors opened, the 32nd floor appeared to be some kind of private bar. A clipboard-carrying attendant rushed over before dismissing us with a sneer perfected from hundreds of dorky families taking their kids to the hotel's top floor. She so wanted us to step off the elevator so she could throw us out, but the doors closed before she could have the satisfaction. When Jalen asked why we didn't get off, I responded with my tongue in my cheek, "That floor is for people younger than me and older than you, son." You'll be surprised to learn that innocuous explanation came back to bite me the very next day.

Jalen didn't fall asleep until after 10:00 PM. I'm usually the one who's perpetually uncomfortable in unfamiliar beds, but here's my son alternating tossing and turning with obvious proclamations ("I can't SLEEP!"). I went to bed right around midnight, but was awakened just after 2:00 my son. As he involuntarily rustled -- and wrestled -- between his sheets, Jalen sat up in bed and let out a momentary moan. To my slightly disoriented soul, in a darkened hotel room, this freaked me OUT. It appeared to be
inspired by this.

Sunrise can't come soon enough.

NEXT: Hole-in-the-wall restaurants, Oakland A's baseball and some inappropriate (very) public breastfeeding...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #2

Last Week

Joe: 10-6
Aaron: 8-8

Oakland at Buffalo

Aaron: The postgame national narrative after the Raiders and Bills both won on the road last week (in two of the toughest venues in the league) was essentially confirmation of the Broncos' and Chiefs' ineptitude. It usually takes another week (and a 2-0 start) for an assuredly mediocre team to capture the "Cinderella" storyline and the cover of Sports Illustrated. Welcome to the ball, Buffalo. Your invitation is valid until you play New England next week. Pick: Buffalo

Joe: It's too bad THAT was the national narrative this week rather than the true story here: Pickery Bowl 2011! Cam vs. Movie Joe! One's beloved team will be showered with praise! The other will be cursed and booed until Homer Simpson's throat is sore! You know. Anyway, I now regret falling asleep at halftime of the Raiders-Broncos game (that thing started LATE, y'all), but my guess is that Darren McFadden provides a second consecutive test for the Bills' maybe-hopefully improved run defense, while the hope is that Air Fitzpatrick and his merry band of tight ends I didn't know were on the team will be able to exploit the Nnamdi-less Raiders defense. Not that I have anything approaching confidence that my raised hopes won't be dashed, but why not ride this era of good feelings while it lasts? Pick: Buffalo

Green Bay at Carolina

Aaron: Partially lost in the hubbub over Cam Newton's 422-yard passing debut for the Panthers was his heretofore unknown ability to raise the dead. But, he brought WR Steve Smith -- whose biochemistry is 75% formaldehyde -- back to life. Keep your eyes peeled for Mushin Muhammad and Rocket Ismail running short routes this Sunday. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Meanwhile, the Packers look absolutely frightening. Best of luck this season, rest of the NFL. Pick: Green Bay

Arizona at Washington

Aaron: When the Redskins win, they'll be 2-0. This will, of course, lead to a handful of journalistically short-sighted pieces on the "genius" of head coach Mike Shanahan. For those of you who aren't football fans, Shanahan's baseball equivalent is Tony LaRussa. In basketball, it's probably Don Nelson. In hockey...I don't know...Mike Keenan? In tennis, it's anyone associated with the Williams sisters (especially I right?). More publicity feeds their limitless egos -- similar to the way negative emotions sustained Vigo the Carpathian in Ghostbusters II. Pick: Washington

Joe: Sometimes I'm left with nothing to do in these write-ups but step back and applaud the sheer population density of references in Cam's blurbs. Anyway, if I trust anything in this world, I trust Rex Grossman and the Redskins to revert to the mean. Pick: Arizona

Baltimore at Tennessee

Aaron: It's the running back I passed on with the fourth pick overall in TWO fantasy drafts (Ray Rice, two touchdowns and almost 150 all-purpose yards in week one) facing the running back I selected instead (Chris Johnson, zero touchdowns, 49 yards total last week). In both drafts. Well played, NFL schedulers. Jerks. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: I'm feeling the Rice Remorse this week too. Baltimore delivered a pretty textbook definition of a statement game last week against the Steelers. Hard to imagine they'll be able to conjure up the same intensity against the beat-by-the-Jags Titans. Still, after the way Ben Roethlisberger was treated by the Ravens D, I do worry about the welfare of my darling Matt Hasselbeck (with Hasselbecks, as with Scientologists, you're allowed to like one). Pick: Baltimore

Seattle at Pittsburgh

Aaron: So, we have a pissed off Steelers team fresh from a four touchdown loss in week one playing at home against a Seahawks squad that didn't look good against the miserable 49ers last week, has to travel three time zones east and will lodge in desolate western Pennsylvania -- where cell phone reception, internet connectivity and Starbucks are all still years away from realization. There may be no survivors in this one. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: Yeah, unless Pittsburgh has just suddenly become terrible without anybody noticing, this one's set up on a tee for them. Pick: Pittsburgh

Jacksonville at N.Y. Jets

Aaron: I didn't watch one minute of last Sunday night's Jets v. Cowboys clash, but from what I read on Twitter, the Jets won the game because Tony Romo is terrible at everything. Using that logic, I'll go ahead and look up the current Jacksonville quarterback and...oh. Well, then. Pick: NY Jets

Joe: Ah, but before that, the Jets were losing because Mark Sanchez is terrible at everything. It was a neck-and-neck race on Twitter as to whose unearned enmity was going to win out. Anyway, another year, another opportunity for my deeply felt conviction that Jacksonville is the worst team in football to be disproven enough that I pick their games wrong about 70% of the time. So excited! Pick: NY Jets

Chicago at New Orleans

Aaron: I wish I could come up with more sturdy reasoning than "the Saints are at home and will have had 10 days rest", but that's all I got. Of course, I'd still pick the Saints if they were on the road and it was the Bears who'd had the extra days off. So, instead, let's go with "Drew Brees can pass the pants off Jay Cutler" as my superficial rationale. Cool? Pick: New Orleans

Joe: "The Saints are at home and will have had 10 days rest" is more than sufficient reasoning as far as I'm concerned. Watching the season opener last Thursday, I got really jealous of a team with Darren Sproles and a quarterback willing to get the ball to him. Pick: New Orleans

Kansas City at Detroit

Aaron: Without fail, there's one team every season that plays well for the first several weeks, but that I consistently pick against in a defiant example of prognostication self-mutilation. I'm still not sold on the Lions, but I'm willing to consider a week-to-week assessment of my contrarian position. Plus, Kansas City looked awful last week, you guys. Pick: Detroit

Joe: Yeah, Week 2 is that demon week where everybody simply assumes that the way things went in Week 1 is the way they'll continue to go. If there's a game this week poised to disprove what we thought we knew and send us into a tailspin of self-doubt and existential despair, it's this one. Then again, the Chiefs GOT THEY ASS WHOOPED BY THE BILLS OF ALL TEAMS. Pick: Detroit

Cleveland at Indianapolis

Aaron: For the past few years, every argument in favor of Peyton Manning winning the MVP award included some variation of "...this is a 2-14 without him...". Well, we're here. Pick: Cleveland

Joe: You know, the analogy could be made comparing the 2011 Colts with the 2008 American financial establishment. Starring Peyton Manning as Lehman Brothers, Jim Caldwell as Hank Paulson, and Kerry Collins as Barack Obama. ...Yeah, feel sorry for Obama now? Pick: Indianapolis

Tampa Bay at Minnesota

Aaron: At this point, does Minnesota have anything to lose by lifting from the Tecmo Super Bowl playbook and running Bo Jackson Adrian Peterson every down? Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: Donovan McNabb couldn't possibly have looked as bad as his stat line from last week suggests, right? There's some kind of advanced football metric that doesn't make it look like Donovan passed away sometime during last season in Washington? Of course, Tampa's Lagarrette Blount turned in an equally incredulously terrible stat line. Let's hope Sunday's game starts off with some public apologies. Pick: Tampa Bay

Dallas at San Francisco

Aaron: Hey, did you know that these two teams met in the NFC Championship game after the 1981 season? Joe Montana led the 49ers to victory with a last-second touchdown pass that became known as "The Catch". You didn't know? Well, don't worry...I'm sure FOX and ESPN will revisit the highlights of that game like a kajillion times before, during and after the 2011 version. Pick: Dallas

Joe: Come on, you don't think we'll get ONE retrospective of Terrell Owens scoring a TD and then running back to midfield to "disrespect" the Dallas star logo? Or those early-'90s Aikman-Young games? Constant cutaways to Deion Sanders, wondering which former team he's pulling for. Come on media. Diversify, man! Pick: Dallas

Cincinnati at Denver

Aaron: One of the bigger storylines to come out of last Monday night's Broncos loss to the Raiders was the loud chanting from small pockets of Broncos fans for Tim Tebow to replace Kyle Orton at quarterback. The media positioned this as an indictment of Orton instead of an abject display of idiocy. Tim Tebow is terrible, Denver. He's the third-string quarterback because he's terrible. Terrible! Stop chanting his name. Pick: Denver

Joe: The Bengals were looking pretty hapless last week until Bruce Gradkowski came in to replace a dinged-up Andy Dalton and sparked a comeback. Naturally, Dalton will be starting in Week 2. Pick: Denver

San Diego at New England

Aaron: Heading into last Monday night, my money-league fantasy team was trailing by almost 40 points with QB Tom Brady and WR Wes Welker yet to play. By the time their game was over, I'd won by more than 20 points. The lesson here, as always: fantasy football anecdotes are boring to everyone except the person telling the tale. Also...Brady! 500+ passing yards! Welker! 99-yard touchdown reception! Fantasy football! Pick: New England

Joe: Hey, I'm with you. Aaron Hernandez's big game almost single-handedly stole the week for me as well. Meantime, can we talk about how annoying it was this week to have to talk about Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison whining about probably the most innocuous Ochocinco tweet ever? As if the Patriots weren't already the Yankees of the NFL, now their ex-players have to police the current roster for violations of the Belichick Way? Ugh. Pick: San Diego

Houston at Miami

Aaron: How often do teams from two of the cities that ruined rap music meet up? I can't be the only one who thinks both cities should be punished by forcing their NFL teams to relocate to areas that gave birth to the genre in the first place. It's an appropriate consequence for the sonic nonsense that passes for hip hop today. Besides, who wouldn't support the "Queens Texans" or the "Money-Earnin' Mount Vernon Dolphins"? Pick: Houston

Joe: This is based on the thinnest of observational evidence but: I don't think Houston is as good as last week's score suggests, and I don't think the Dolphins are quite as bad. Time for NFL parity to work its magic. Pick: Miami

Philadelphia at Atlanta

Aaron: "Michael Vick returns to Atlanta" is the last remaining Michael Vick storyline that had yet to be beaten into the ground. Or thrown into the ceiling. Just doing my part. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: Losing that game to the Bears last week means the Falcons are facing a must-win game in Week 2, as ridiculous as that sounds. Glad to see Atlanta's Matt Ryan hasn't escaped the sports media's thirst for fresh blood for the hype-up, tear-down QB meat grinder. Pick: Atlanta

St. Louis at N.Y. Giants

Aaron: ESPN recently announced a $15 billion deal to keep Monday Night Football through the 2021 season. Think about that during this surefire 16-13 shootout. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: Dear Hakeem Nicks, Steven Jackson, and Sam Bradford: My fantasy football teams are sending out this weekend dedication to y'all. Pick: NY Giants

Thursday, September 8, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #1

And, we're back!

I know that new posts have been few and far between in recent months, so I was glad when my friend Movie Joe Reid sent over this week's games with a resigned "Here We Go Again…" in the subject line. I'm equally pleased that our NFL picks have become one of the favorite features with readers. In recent weeks, I received some very complementary inquiries asking if the Pickery would be returning in 2011. So, thanks for that, you guys.

Last season, Joe bludgeoned me with his prognosticating skills – winning by nine games. This year, I hope to avoid my usual slow start with an emphasis on providing more meticulous analysis in my picks and less hackneyed comedy bits.

New Orleans at Green Bay (Thursday Night)

Aaron: Kid Rock is one of three acts – along with Lady Antebellum and Maroon 5 – who will be performing as part of an overstuffed made-for-NBC concert prior to kickoff. When did Kid Rock become the regularly-available "Celine Dion-on-Oprah" equivalent for nationally televised sporting events and professional wrestling pay-per-views? The only thing more predictable is the home team winning these annual midweek season-opening coronations/victory laps. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: The narrative for Green Bay this offseason (the part that wasn't swallowed up by the lockout) has been that they won the Super Bowl while being pretty well hampered by injuries, and now that they're healthy, everybody had better watch the fuck out. As sports narratives go, it's not about curses or fortitude or karma, so I automatically like it better than most. Not sure what the New Orleans narrative for this season is going to be, other than the record 51st consecutive year of wondering if this is the season that Robert Meachem becomes a viable fantasy football project. You guys! I'm so happy to be talking this nonsense again! So much so that I'm picking against Cam so there's a bit of dramatic tension to start the season. Pick: New Orleans

Pittsburgh at Baltimore

Aaron: Steelers WR Hines Ward was arrested on suspicion of DUI during the offseason. In the immediate aftermath, the Ward story sparked a spirited Twitter spat between Pittsburgh's Ryan Clark and Baltimore's Ray Rice. Back in MY day, feuds were started and finished on the field. Or on large squares of breakdance-able cardboard. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: Another year, another AFC North title decided by two unwatchable slugfests between these two bruising teams. At halftime, look for a ceremony where Ray Rice presents Ben Roethlisberger with a plaque commemorating his officially playing enough football games to make people stop talking about his criminal indiscretions. Pick: Pittsburgh

Detroit at Tampa Bay

Aaron: I'm not buying into the Detroit hype until they can put out a product that starts fast, doesn't break down and rewards me for my loyalty. It's why I drive an Acura and it's why I'm picking the Buccaneers. (Oh, check the archives. I'm entitled to ONE Jay Leno-quality joke per season, you guys.) Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: Have you not watched ANY of those Eminem commercials about the resurgence of Detroit? Pick: Detroit

Philadelphia at St. Louis

Aaron: The Rams field a quietly impressive defense that's capable of chasing down Michael Vick and confounding him all day. A Philadelphia loss will, of course, lead to a week's worth of "Eagles = Miami Heat" and "What's Wrong with the Eagles?" stories by the same media that hyped them to the heavens to begin with. And, let's not forget the inevitable celebratory braying from fans in every other NFC East outpost. After ONE week! Welcome back, NFL! Pick: St. Louis

Joe: I really do like the Rams this season, as I have Sam Bradford on the bench in both my fantasy leagues, just waiting to be able to plug him into my starting lineup and look like a genius for drafting him. But while the Eagles Juggernaut may be overrated, they're certainly not going to be any worse than they were last year. And, St. Louis might take a few weeks to heat up. Pick: Philly

Buffalo at Kansas City

Aaron: I am familiar with the Chiefs because they are one of the archrivals of my favorite team and the AFC West is the default "regional" division for televised games here in San Diego. Everything I know about the Bills -- and the city of Buffalo -- came from's newly-launched sub-site, Grantland. Just this week. Pick: Kansas City

Joe: To give Grantland credit, it IS impressive they were able to find time to write two hit pieces on my hometown in between oral-history features on that one episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry trips Shaq and republishing acclaimed works by deceased authors to glom onto their literary cache. But I kid that vanity project! Anyway, I get the predictions that the Bills could be good enough to be the league's official "Entertaining Bad Team," but I'll be here in full kamikaze mode, hoping for a 2-14 season followed by an Andrew Luck draft pick that probably won't be the salvation of the franchise like I hope it will but hey, gotta believe in something. Pick: Kansas City

Tennessee at Jacksonville

Aaron: Four years ago, the Jaguars released their established -- albeit unspectacular -- starting quarterback (Byron Leftwich) days before the first game of the regular season. They lost to the Titans in week one. Earlier this week, established/unspectacular QB David Garrard was released by the Jags. They'll lose to the Titans in the week one. Pick: Tennessee

Joe: For many years now, I've championed the Jags as the absolute dregs of the NFL. And every year, they manage to grind out a mediocre year and provide endless weeks of frustration as I become chronically unable to predict what weeks they'll show up and what weeks they won't. This season I think they're finally going to put it all together for me. Pick: Tennessee

Indianapolis at Houston

Aaron: After news broke of Peyton Manning's additional neck surgery -- almost assuredly ending his season and possibly his career -- SportsCenter brought a neurosurgeon into their studio, put him on the air and walked through the procedure in a detailed, but easy-to-follow style. When he completed his explanation, one of the anchors asked him if he played fantasy football -- followed by a "Manning's Replacements" fantasy football graphic and the percentage of ESPN leagues in which, say, Donovan McNabb was available. Stay classy, Worldwide Leader in Sports. Pick: Houston

Joe: Seriously. If you were dumb enough to draft Manning in your fantasy league*, you don't deserve ghoulish help like that. Meanwhile, the Texans have become my annual "Team I'm Rooting For to Spite Bill Simmons". Last year, that team was the Jets and they made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game. Houston...will not make it that far. Pick: Houston

* -- Aaron: In my defense, my money league draft was on August 27 and it was believed Manning would play at some point this season. He was still on the board late, so I drafted him as my Tom Brady. THIS is why he's out for the year. Bringing Brady and Manning together collapsed the universe.

Cincinnati at Cleveland

Aaron: Look, I can appreciate the "fresh start" storyline coming out of Cleveland. But, enough already, with Colt McCoy's maturity and the newly-installed 4-3 defense. The Browns' season will hinge on the same thing that's MADE professional football champions since the 1920s -- handing the ball off to their white running back. Pick: Cleveland

Joe: How is it that Cincinnati manages to avoid the rhapsodies of failure that always seem to fall on Buffalo? Because they have a -- GASP -- Major League Baseball team? Come on, MILWAUKEE has one of those. The Bengals are frequently the butt of jokes for their failure on the field, but it never extends to their riverfront metropolis the way it does for other towns. My question is, why? Aren't they constantly one overzealous police action away from ending up burned to cinders in a race riot? Aren't they Ohio's Kentucky? Let's all spend the week workshopping insulting narratives about the city of Cincinnati and meet here on Friday with at least five good ideas, huh? Pick: Cleveland

Atlanta at Chicago

Aaron: The Jay Cutler NFC Championship vitriol immediately crossed over into absurdity ("He should've played hurt!!!" -- Signed, NFL Player watching the playoffs from home) and almost has me rooting for the guy. But, then, I remember that any success Cutler enjoys means less recognition for Chicago's first upper lip-less superstar, Larry Appleton. Y'know, from Perfect Strangers. No, not Balki. That was Bronson Pinchot. The other guy. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: I'm totally with you on the Jay Cutler reverse-bandwagon. Also, this game troubles me. I like Atlanta a lot this season, and I really hope their offense becomes the powerhouse Greatest Show on Turf II that they're saying it will. But I will never not get spooked by an indoor team playing in a city like Chicago. It's a stupid superstition, because it's September, but here we are. Pick: Chicago

N.Y. Giants at Washington

Aaron: In the final game of the 2010 season, Redskins QB Rex Grossman threw for 336 yards -- just three shy of his career-high -- against the Giants. OK, OK...apply whatever caveats you want. Here, I'll start: the Redskins still lost that game, 17-14. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: The offseason may have been severely shortened, but it was just long enough to decimate the Giants defense. It might end up dooming their playoff chances, but if they plan to chug along, beating the bottom half of the league, this is the kind of game they should win. Might take a while for those replacement defenders to gel, though. Pick: Washington

Seattle at San Francisco

Aaron: Any chance we can get a one-season reprieve from the annual "Gasp! A 7-9 record could win the NFC West!" panic that grips the nation from October through December? The Seahawks won the division with that record last year. We survived. And, with new quarterback Tarvaris Jackson behind center, they're clearly shooting for the first-ever six-win playoff berth. We'll survive that, too. Pick: San Francisco

Joe: Fine, I guess I'll have to be the only person in this betting pool with any kind of INTEGRITY, then. Are we all sleeping on the 49ers to be a whole lot better this year, now that Mike Singletary isn't psyching his own players out in the locker room anymore? Couldn't any old goofus guide them to 8-8? ...Oh, right, Alex Smith. One level below goofus. Pick: Seattle

Minnesota at San Diego

Aaron: The signing of Donovan McNabb continues the rich Vikings tradition of propping up old black quarterbacks who are clearly past their prime. Most people don't know that Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham are part of ancient Norse mythology. Yet, it's Thor that's gets the movie deal. Pick: San Diego

Joe: Also Daunte Culpepper, the young black quarterback past his prime. Or Jeff George and Jim McMahon, old white quarterbacks past their prime. Or Brett Favre, the ... you know what I mean. This is the team that started Fran Tarkenton into his early 70s. They like their quarterbacks like America liked its situation comedy in the 1980s. Randy and retirement-aged. Anyway, the Chargers are supposed to be pretty great this year, right? ...Sorry, Cam. Pick: San Diego

Carolina at Arizona

Aaron: Last year, Kevin Kolb began the season at the Eagles #1 QB while the experts predicted his big arm would do big things in Philadelphia. He was injured early in his first start, returned midseason -- averaging 253 yards over five games and then ceded the job to Michael Vick for good. The same experts now doubt Kolb after he was traded to Arizona. Last I checked, Cards WR Larry Fitzgerald was still alive. Pick: Arizona

Joe: Yeah, I tend to agree that Kolb is in a pretty good situation in Arizona -- reduced expectations, better WR1. You’d like to have a better running game to rely on, but overall, I'm kind of bullish on the Cards this year. Meanwhile, the Cam Newton experiment will be interesting, if not necessarily good. Pick: Arizona

Dallas at N.Y. Jets

Aaron: I'm not sold on the Jets, you guys. QB Mark Sanchez has been uneven over his first two seasons, the running game seems awfully reliant on 2010 bust Shonn Greene and Plaxico Burress is considered a viable receiving option. That said, if there was ever a game --against a tragic backdrop of remembrance -- that was going to be won by the home team on a last-second something, it's this one. Pick: NY Jets

Joe: Oooh, Dallas vs. the Jets. The two franchises that are most hated by sports fans/media for the most specious reasons. The Cowboys are bound to benefit from the Our Head Coach Is No Longer Wade Phillips bump, while I think the Jets will probably do better in close games with the confidence of last season's playoff run. Because what that team needs more of is confidence. Seriously, though, are we really going to go through another season of universal Mark Sanchez vitriol for absolutely no reason? Pick: NY Jets

New England at Miami

Aaron: I'm setting the over/under on "Reggie Bush, every down Dolphins running back" at 1.5 games before he's seriously maimed, mutilated, injured or disfigured. Place your bets. Pick: New England

Joe: Ah yes, Reggie Bush. The other guy everybody hates for reasons that seem flimsy (...Kim Kardashian? The fact that he was one of approximately ALL college football players to accept bribes?). Meanwhile, New England signed Albert Haynesworth AND Chad Ochocinco and still seems to be flying well under the radar of offseason controversy. But God help Tom Brady if he's photographed wearing Crocs during Fashion Week. Pick: New England

Oakland at Denver

Aaron: Hearing a lot about how my Raiders scored a combined 98 points in beating the Broncos twice last year. I'm also hearing a lot about the Raiders leaky run defense that finished 29th, 29th, 31st and 31st over the past four years. Knowshon Moreno fantasy know what to do. Pick: Denver

Joe: Once again, I have more faith in the Raiders than Cam does. Denver was a mess last season and despite the coaching upgrade to John Fox, I don't think they pull it together so quickly. Pick: Oakland

Thursday, September 1, 2011

This Sweaty and Unkempt Corpse is Managing YOUR Kids!

My wife took the below picture as I staggered through the front door of Stately Bootleg Manor this past Saturday. It was 95 degrees and from 12:00 PM until 1:30 PM; I'd been immersed in my first organized practice as manager of a Little League baseball team.

Wait...what? You hadn't heard? Well, I guess I need to turn back the lightly-read blog clock about two weeks -- to a time when the look on my visage was much less vacant and I was able to breathe with my mouth closed.

Back on August 13, I signed up my seven-year-old son Jalen for our Little League district's fall season. You might remember that Jalen played last fall and -- after a rough, occasionally
frustrating start -- he rebounded well, holding his own against mostly (slightly) older kids.

According to league rules, Jalen was eligible to move up a level this fall (from "A" to "AA") where the age range shifts from 6-8 to 8-10. Over the summer, he and I spent several Saturdays and/or Sundays practicing with some of the fathers and sons we'd met during our time in Little League. Most of the fathers had sons of their own -- the same age as Jalen -- who were moving up to AA, but I decided to keep Jalen at the A level.

Physically, Jalen's not ready. Emotionally...ditto. Before the start of the new school year, we put Jalen in a two-week baseball camp. When Mrs. Bootleg went to pick up Jalen on the last day, one of the instructors suggested he might be better served to only come half-days..."until he could better accept the inherent failures built within the game". Now, the youth baseball-instruction racket is not an inexpensive endeavor. When any business -- in this economy -- essentially tells you they'd rather NOT take your money...yeah.

On August 16, all of the families on Jalen's fall team received the following e-mail from the league's director that read, in part:

Your team is fortunate enough to have four parents who indicated their willingness to coach this team. However, I'm looking for one parent to come forward and be the manager of the team. This person would serve as my main point of contact for rosters, schedules, equipment, etc.

A few seasons ago, Jalen was stuck with a disinterested Little League manager who couldn't be bothered to hide his contempt for the gig...or the kids. He's the reason why I've coached on every one of my son's teams since then. He's also the reason why I immediately volunteered to be the manager for Jalen's fall squad -- but, with a caveat.

My reply e-mail to the league director inadvertently taught me my first managerial lesson: when it comes to youth sports, if you begin any correspondence with "If you can't find anyone else..."; the search for whatever role you're referencing is OVER and the job is yours. It seems league directors aren't interested in considering multiple candidates...just the first one.

The next day, the director provided me with a list of my players along with parents' names and contact information. He suggested I call each family and formally welcome their kids to the team. So, over my lunch hour, I hastily scrawled down a few talking points and called the parents.

Over the years, I've become extremely ill-at-ease when making phone calls to people I don't know. Perhaps I'm flashing back to my first job out of college (business-to-business cold calling). Perhaps I'm flashing back to my current job (negotiating defense contracts -- often over the phone -- with Government officials who have no use for me and no respect for my profession). And, it didn't help that one of my players on the list included names for his father and stepfather, but just one phone number.

Thankfully, the mother of another player had
this song set to play after I dialed her number, but before she picked up. I got the part with the soothing Lil' Wayne lyrics:

Uh...girl. I turn that thang into a rain forest.
Rain on my head. Call that "brainstorming".
Yeah, this is deep...oh...but, I go deeper.
Make you lose yourself. Finders keepers.

Not surprisingly, now that the team had a manager, a few of the other fathers were quick to offer themselves up as coaches (free from cumbersome responsibilities like making line-ups, lugging equipment and running practices). My favorite request came from the grandfather of one of my players. His e-mail (subject: "My PLEDGE To You") was almost entirely in all caps and featured 300 exclamation points. He ended with "WE'RE IN IT TO WIN IT!!!", which I believe was last used just before the invasion of Normandy.

My friend Smitty smartly suggested I emulate the Florida Marlins
managerial methodology.

On August 19, I attended the league's preseason manager's meeting. No less than three other managers separately needled me about getting sucked in. When I explained that this was a "one time thing", their reactions were (in this order): (1) laughter, (2) "I thought the same thing." and (3) "I'll bet you $20 right now that you're managing again in the spring." Ours is a resigned fraternity, it would seem. I only had one question for the director.

Me: "My player list has someone on it who just turned five in June and has never even played t-ball. This is a mistake, right?"

Director: "Nope. We planned to have a fall t-ball league, but couldn't get enough kids. So, we moved a handful of t-ball players up a level."

Me: "But, this kid's never played t-ball."

Director: "You'll figure something out. We've got to find a way to keep these kids before football and soccer takes them from us."

Obviously, I was annoyed, but it's not like he could tell me the truth ("We already cashed his parents' check.") Besides, if I do say so myself, I've done a decent job of coaching previous players who didn't have much -- or sometimes any -- experience. Sometimes, all it takes is being there for them.

Our first practice was scheduled for Saturday, August 20, but I couldn't be there. I had a long-standing commitment from a few weeks back to attend Stone Brewery's 15th Anniversary Celebration and Invitational Beer Festival. And, it was GLORIOUS!

More than 40 different breweries were represented, featuring over 100 beers. I finally tried Stone's vanilla bean smoked porter and it was totally worth the wait (mildly sweet on both the front and back ends, underlying smokiness that never overpowers). Stone's cherry chocolate stout was equally awesome. I'd bought up every bottle in North San Diego County, but had it on tap for the first time. Bitter, sour...sensational!

Oh, don't look at me like that. There WAS a member of the Cameron Family who coordinated all of the coaches, kids and baseball equipment at the practice I couldn't attend. Yup...Mrs. Bootleg. She did the best she could, but I don't know if I'd invite her back (sample text from her: "No one brought any baseballs.") These are problems an interim manager has to solve on his (or her) own, honey.

Our next scheduled practice was on August 27. This past Father's Day, Mrs. Bootleg bought me a pair of books on
baseball coaching by former Major League players Cal and Billy Ripken. Both books are heavy on the saccharin and condescension, but I find myself pouring over them whenever I have free time. I quoted it so much to my wife, that she finally replied, "You didn't even LIKE Cal Ripken when he played."

True, but his book has an entire "sample practice" that he encourages us to imitate! It fits right into our own 90-minute practice window! Anyone else remember that
20-year-old episode of The Simpsons where Bart is incessantly quoting "three-time soap box derby champ Ronnie Beck"? I'm finding ways to force "19-time All Star Cal Ripken says..." into my family's dinner table conversations, too.

"19-time All Star Cal Ripken says I should keep open lines of communication with all my players' parents."

"No, no...I'll eat it. I guess I don't have a choice. But, I hear 19-time All Star Cal Ripken prefers freshly shaved parmesan cheese on his pasta rather than the grated processed stuff you bought, sweetheart."

"How do you KNOW that 19-time All Star Cal Ripken doesn't have two beers before dinner?"

At practice this past Saturday, I broke the kids up into smaller groups and rotated them through three stations -- as suggested by 19-time All Star Cal Ripken. This kept the kids moving and eliminated a lot of the loitering that seems to be a part of every other kids' baseball practice. We have 12 kids total and I'm pleased to report only two injuries from my first practice: one little boy took a ball off his bicep and on the very first drill (running through first base) I tweaked my back when I broke out of the batter's box and ran up the first base line.

Unlike my player who was hit by the ball, I didn't cry.

Believe it or not, I'm actually glad I volunteered. The structure of our team is almost evenly split between more experienced players and younger boys who, at first glance, seemed willing to learn. The parents have been great, so far, and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't scribbled a few mock batting orders in the margins of my legal pad during the hours when I'm presumably negotiating defense contracts.

Yes, this sweaty and unkempt corpse is managing your kids.

Thanks for the opportunity.