Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I'm Managing Little League Baseball Again -- An Oral History

"Believe it or not, there was a time when I wanted nothing to do with coaching youth sports. The politics, the parents, the egos and the immaturity. But, after the game, Jack walked right up to me and said, 'Thanks for coaching me this year, I had a lot of fun!' I replied, 'You're welcome, Jack. I had a lot of fun coaching you.' To which, he responded, 'Don't tell the other coaches, but you were my favorite!'" -- That Bootleg Guy...June 3, 2011


"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." -- E-mail from Director of Fall Little League...August 16, 2011


"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." --
TBG...September 1, 2011


"Little League managers are supposed to be patient and paternal. They teach without screaming and paint everything with positivity. I gave it a go and I'm glad that I did." --
TBG...November 13, 2011


Director of Fall League: "I hope you'll consider coming back to manage in the spring, Aaron. I watched a few of your games and you were great with the kids. They looked like they were having a lot of fun playing for you."

Me: "We'll see. I didn't volunteer when I signed Jalen up [for the spring season] last weekend. Managing is a much bigger commitment in the spring." -- November 18, 2011


"Good afternoon. I am the Farm Division Head for our Board of Directors. Currently we have 5 teams confirmed for the Farm Division but only 4 Managers. ME AND THE KIDS NEED YOUR HELP!!! You are all copied on this email as you have indicated an interest in being an Assistant Coach. On Saturday a 5th Farm Division team will be drafted regardless if we have another Manager or Co-Managers confirmed. It would be a shame to have a team of 12 kids without a Manager." -- Mass e-mail...January 17, 2012


"The Farm Division has secured its 5th Manager for the upcoming Spring season. All the best." -- Mass e-mail from (inhale) Farm Division Head for our Board of Directors...January 19, 2012


"Hi, Aaron. I'm calling on behalf of the Farm Division where your son Jalen is scheduled to play this spring. As you know, the player draft is today. Actually, it's about an hour from now. I know it's extremely short notice, but I was wondering if you'd be interested in managing a team this spring. It turns out we're going to have six teams, not five. I need you to call me back right away." -- On my voice mail...January 21, 2012 (approximately 11:30 AM)


"Hi, Aaron. I'm calling on behalf of the Farm Division and to congratulate you on being named manager for the upcoming season! I need you to call me back right away so I can provide you with your roster and practice schedule." – On my voice mail…January 21, 2012 (approximately 2:00 PM)


Me: "So, how did I end up as a manager when I never actually volunteered?"

Farm Division Director: "Well, your name kept coming up when we had the opening earlier in the week and it was pretty much unanimous when we discussed you again today. Keep in mind, we had almost 30 other dads in the league who had coaching experience and we chose you. It's a pretty nice honor."

Me: "…"

Farm Division Director: "Are you still there?" – January 21, 2012 (approximately 2:30 PM)


Farm Division Director: "For what's it worth, I think you've got a pretty good team. I had the first overall pick and chose the best player on the board for you. Unfortunately, the team that has first pick on players has the last pick on team name, so…"

Me: "So, what's our team name?"

Farm Division Director: "You're the A's. Nobody else wanted them." – January 21, 2012


Farm Division Director: "Here's a copy of your team's practice schedule and the entire roster. Every team has 11 players. You'll want to start calling the parents to introduce yourself right away."

Me: [Looks at roster.] "This…isn't my roster."

Farm Division Director: "Are you sure? Oh, my bad. I'll get you the correct roster later today."

(Later that same day…)

Farm Division Director: "Here's the correct roster, Aaron."

Me: [Looks at roster.] "There are only 10 players on it. I thought every team had 11 players."

Farm Division Director: "Are you sure? Oh, wait…60 players…divided by six teams…that IS ten. My bad." -- January 22, 2012


Me: "Hi, my name is Aaron Cameron and I'm calling to welcome your son to the A's team in the Farm Division! I'll be the manager of the…"

Child's Father: "Wait…did you say Farm? My son tried out for the next level up. He shouldn't be in Farm."

Me: "Oh. Well, to be honest, I wasn't part of the player evaluations. I was assigned a team just yesterday. But, I'll be glad to contact the league about…"

Child's Father: "Can you do it, like, now? My son shouldn't be on your team. He's too advanced for your level." – From the first player/parent phone call I made…January 22, 2012


Me: [Reviewing 'Managers' Responsibilities' email.] "Hey, the manager gets to determine the uniform colors. I'm going with white pants,
green jerseys, green undershirts, green belts and green socks."

Mrs. Bootleg: "That's too much green."

Me: "No, it's not. It's the same uniform that the real A's wear."

Mrs. Bootleg: "Why don't you go with yellow undershirts?"

Me: "The real A's don't wear yellow undershirts."

Mrs. Bootleg: "…" – January 23, 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012

2012 NFL Playoff Pickery -- AFC/NFC Championship

Last Week

Joe: 2-2 (1-3 vs. spread)
Aaron: 3-1 (3-1 vs. spread)


Joe: 5-3 (5-3 vs. spread)
Aaron: 5-3 (5-3 vs. spread)

Baltimore at New England (-6.5)

Joe: Let's get it out of the way right now: the Ravens defense is not what it once was. New England's going to be able to score on them. But after all this talk of how pathetic the Ravens' offense looked against the Texans, it should be remembered that Houston's defense is waaaaaaay better than New England's. Look, real talk: I don't want the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I don't want two weeks of the media finding new ways to say the same old shit about Brady and Belichick, inventing brand new hero stories to tell about Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. So if the Ravens could just do me a solid and exploit that weak Pats defense, get Tom Brady to make a few mistakes, maybe knock Welker out of the game at some point, that would really be the best for me personally. I am, however, a pessimist. New England 27, Baltimore 23

Aaron: If the experts are to be believed, then the case for the Patriots is that Joe Flacco is the quarterback of Ravens. And, while I doubt this phenomenon merits a mention within anyone's contrived "gambling manifesto" (sponsored by hindsight!) I do think if your team's key to victory is the debatable competency of the other team's quarterback, then you're setting yourself up for some hubristic sh*t, son. The Patriots' shaky defense was their most frequently reported shortcoming, but there are other cracks within the sanctimonious bunker-that-Belichick-built. The Pats had trouble putting away opponents at times and a potentially close score plays into the Ravens' strength (defense) while negating their weakness (Flacco). And, after Welker got his bell rung in Pittsburgh in late October, the Pats' offense never really regained that over-the-middle passing approach. Have I talked myself into a Ravens' upset in which Flacco does just enough to win and Baltimore's defense makes a late stand? Yup. Baltimore 24, New England 21

NY Giants at San Francisco (-2)

Joe: I will gladly eat crow on underestimating the Giants (and/or overestimating the Packers) last week. That was an incredibly impressive display. And if their defense can shut down an offense as potent as Green Bay's, it's hard to imagine how the 49ers will score much at all. Meanwhile, the Niners deserve to be credited for going blow-for-blow with the Saints in that insane 4th quarter last week. But up until then, they'd been the recipient of some crazy luck and some uncharacteristically bad Drew Brees throws. Not that Eli Manning hasn't been known to lay an egg either, but at some point, he really did stop being the big choker all the Manning-haters wanted him to be. There's a danger I'm picking too much with my heart here, but ... NY Giants 31, San Francisco 20

Aaron: It's been more than 15 years since the 49ers were this relevant this late in January. As someone who vividly remembers their insufferable fanbase throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, I can't say I was rooting for it. Over the past week, the 49ers' win over the Saints has been indelibly stained with "clutch-y" clichés and the never-ending after-party for QB Alex Smith -- who unquestionably played the best game of his mediocre career. But, even as the Saints gifted and re-gifted the 49ers with a multitude of turnovers, the game was in doubt until the final few seconds. I like another close game this week due to the Giants' ferocious defensive front slowing down the 49ers offense and the likelihood that Eli Manning will have a few of his patented "bad Eli" drives. But, as the 49ers have proven in the playoffs, it's the last drive that matters. NY Giants 27, San Francisco 24

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

TMAILBAG: The Waffle Epilogue

Beatríz writes:

I loved your post on the awful chicken and waffles. You mentioned how waffles have returned to your life since Mrs. Bootleg went on an overseas business trip. Wasn't that the same time period in which you invented "bourbon waffles"? I'm certain you tweeted about this, but did I miss the TBG post? I can't find it, if you did.

Also: while it probably doesn't qualify for your "breakfast entree syrupy trinity", you should consider a new category for crepes if you're not already a fan. They kick french toast's ass.

Y'know...I think I've had crepes, like, once. Not too long ago, there was a very brief "crepes craze" here in Southern California that saw several pretentious cafés open and close in less than a calendar year. I presume most of those places became $5.00 cupcake cafés. I'll make an effort to give crepes another try -- especially if they're served

And, I can't claim credit for the bourbon waffles. That delicious creation came courtesy of a dear family friend, who made the following waffle-related suggestion on my Facebook page:

I recommend you make half the batch [of waffle batter] with a fistful of chocolate chips for J and then thin the rest of the batter out with a shot or two of Kentucky Bourbon for yours and have breakfast for dinner while the wife's away the right way!

What? Well, what do YOU use Facebook for?!

She just so happens to be the brains behind this kick-ass baking endeavor so her words carry weight. After my son Jalen annihilated two chocolate chip waffles and half a package of breakfast sausage, I filled a shot glass with Maker's Mark and added it to the remaining batter. I then stirred in some chopped cooked bacon (three strips, if I remember correctly) and let the goodness hit the griddle.

Bacon-bourbon waffles? "Jalen, get daddy the GOOD plate."

Sweet and salty. Smoky, vanilla-y and bourbon-y. The finished product was soo-POIB. ProTip #1: Do yourself a favor and spend the 10 minutes it takes to
make a batch of waffle batter from scratch. ProTip #2: Don't use pre-cooked bacon. I mean you could ignore either rule, but the flavors are much more pronounced without the prepackaged batter-powder and pig parts.

I'm not sure crepes can compare to this, Beatríz.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

TBG Eats: Chicken & Waffles from Urge Gastropub

Current Weight: 171.4 lbs.

If I were to rank the members of the "breakfast entree syrupy trinity", I'd place pancakes first with waffles second and French toast taking third. Over the course of my lifetime, there hasn't been much movement among them. As everyone knows, at the center point of every pancake -- and in strict accordance with the laws of gastronomic geometry -- the soaked-up butter and syrup merge to produce the most perfect bite of pretty much any meal.

But, waffles are finally making some noise within the kitchen at Stately Bootleg Manor.

Sure, they've always had the advantage of those built-in miniature syrup n' butter buckets -- each one's contents remaining undisturbed until its eventual knife-and-fork-fueled evisceration. It's just that, to me, waffles have always been a bit one-dimensional when compared to the pancake. For example, pancakes allow for the kind of porcine opportunities that gave the world pigs-in-a-blanket and
bacon pancakes. Waffles, while delicious, are blocky and boring. This assessment applies to both domestic and Belgian -- sorry, I've never understood the allure of fruit and whipped cream toppings at the breakfast table.

Last month, my wife spent a week overseas on business, so I was tasked with all of the parental responsibilities. I'm told these include -- but are NOT limited to -- feeding our son. By the third night of Mrs. Bootleg's European adventure, the Cameron men were settling for "breakfast-as-dinner". In this case, it was the chocolate chip waffles I've been making for Jalen for the past year or so. Since then, he's asked for them again and again -- along with the super-sized side of sausage I give him.

I thought I'd be experiencing a bit of a waffle-reprieve last weekend when my good friend Thai came down from Long Beach to visit San Diego for the day. When he was finally free, we kicked around some eating/drinking options before agreeing on a relatively new local entry in the trendy gastropub population --

For those who don't know, I live in a section of San Diego known as Rancho Bernardo. We're about 30-40 minutes north of downtown and well east of the ubiquitous beach scene. "RB" -- as it's known -- skews heavy with retirees and the main drag draws down its shade between 8:00 PM and 8:30 PM. (All blue-haired hell broke loose several years ago when a Hooters opened up less than a half-mile from my job.)

So, it was a bit surprising when the young adult-leaning Urge opened. Ironically, it's a bit hidden and tucked between two of RB's older -- in both structure and clientele -- establishments: a regional chain restaurant called Coco's and a wine bar known as The Barrel Room. I visited Urge for the first time last October and I've been back nearly a half-dozen times. The consistent theme in my Urge experiences is that the beers were terrific, but the food...not so much. Not even close, actually.

Thai and I arrived at Urge last Saturday night just before 5:30 PM. The layout of the place has always fascinated me. As you walk in, the proverbial "bar scene" -- stools, long counter, visible beer taps and flat-screen TVs -- is on the right, while the negligibly less noisy (and TV-free) dining area is on the left. The two sides are mostly divided by a wall that kinda-sorta keeps one group from bleeding into the other. Since we envisioned a more leisurely-paced dinner, we opted for the dining side.

Speaking of leisurely, the initial visit from our server took longer than I thought it should, considering the restaurant was roughly half-empty at this point. (By 6:00 PM, it was packed.) After a few more minutes, however, a Karl Strauss "Off the Rails" Red Trolley was in my hand and its smooth toffee and caramel notes were pleasing my palate.

Since Thai and I are cut from the same gluttonous cloth, we both ordered the chicken and waffles and a bowl of their House Cracker Jack as an appetizer. The description of the Cracker Jack hooked me in:

Freshly popped [popcorn] and topped with sweet and spicy house-made caramel, house-cured maple-pork cracklins and pine nuts.

Unfortunately, our appetizer arrived to our table at the same time as the entrees. The server was apologetic and thoughtful enough to offer up an explanation, but this always drives me crazy. Or,
as I wrote in a related non sequitur from a TBG post in September 2010:

I want to enjoy my Southwestern Pizza Fingers or Million Dollar Birthday Fries BEFORE my hobo chicken chili is brought out.

My first few bites of the Cracker Jack -- sweet, but not cloyingly so -- paired well with my beer. I didn't pick up much of the "spicy" from the house-made caramel, but its texture was light and left the glorious saltiness of the bite-sized pork slabs (cracklins) unaffected. After a few handfuls of Cracker Jack, I turned to my entree. Naturally, when I attempted to revisit the appetizer a few minutes later, the caramel had hardened and our bowl of popcorn had become a permanent popcorn ball. What I had was decent, but this really needed more salt so that the popcorn could play off the caramel.

The menu description of the chicken and waffles was equally appetizing:

Buttermilk-fried "Mary's Farm" organic free-range chicken, buttermilk waffles and maple syrup.

And, the end result was equally disappointing. I mean, I've eaten enough soul food-restaurant chicken and waffles to know and appreciate "no frills", but the comically sparse garnish and overall plate presentation left a lot to be desired. The waffles were simple, but acceptable. Good buttermilk flavor with a crisp exterior, although I'd have preferred they were served warmer -- and with butter.

The failure was with the fried chicken. If I Google "buttermilk fried chicken", I get
images like this on my screen. Thick and "wrinkly" battered-skin, golden-brown exterior. The very overcooked version I was served at Urge was coated in meal and fried as if it were catfish. The impenetrable breading is necessary for the delicate flesh of a fish. Chicken is too dense to be leather breaded and bound as it was here.

It was also unbelievably devoid of flavor. No salt, no pepper, no cayenne, no paprika...nothing. Thai and I had to ask for bottles of commercial hot sauce just so we could taste something on the chicken. And, even though I've developed a taste for the dark meat of chicken in recent months, I was surprised that my server didn't offer me a choice or -- if only dark meat is available -- that the menu didn't call this out. I didn't ask when I ordered, but knowing how fiercely loyal the fried chicken segregationists can be to their preferred pigmentation, it's something Urge's servers should consider.

I think I've eaten from a large enough sample size at Urge to simply take a pass on their food going forward. In previous visits, I tried -- among other things -- the Mini Corn Dog Lollipops (nice idea, really greasy and unspectacular execution); the Coconut Porter wings (thin flavorless sauce, overcooked); the Short Rib Sliders (tough meat, overpowering mustard and pickles) and the Urge Grilled Cheese (ten parts bread, one part everything else).

Their beer menu, however, comes with my highest recommendation. Urge claims to serve the largest tap list in San Diego's North County region. Updated daily, it includes several highly-regarded brews from local landmarks like Stone, Pizza Port, Karl Strauss and Green Flash. They offer another 50 or so by the bottle. There's an obvious solution to my reservations with the food at Urge.

Make a right turn when you enter through the front door and order a beer.

Grade (House Cracker Jack): 2 (out of 5)

Grade (Waffles) 2.5 (out of 5)

Grade (Chicken) -5 (out of 5)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

2012 NFL Playoff Pickery -- Divisional Weekend

Last Week

Joe: 3-1 (4-0 vs. spread)
Aaron: 2-2 (2-2 vs. spread)

New Orleans (-3) at San Francisco

Joe: So now I have the added pressure of a 4-0 record against the spread to defend, and this game is just waiting to ruin everything for me, right off the bat. I hate this matchup. New Orleans is clearly the better team, but I still don't fully trust them outdoors on the road (I know this is superstitious hooey, but STILL), and the Niners defense is having one of those seasons where nobody scores against them. Why do I have visions of them grinding this game to a halt? The one silver lining for a Saints victory? Their defense is I think good enough to keep the okay San Fran offense from beating them. But I have zero confidence in this pick (...unless it pans out). New Orleans 24, San Francisco 16

Aaron: Ever since it became evident that the 49ers would secure at least the #2 playoff seed in the NFC (so, like, two or three months ago) I've been excited at the prospect of laying real money against them here. In what I can only assume is an homage to the 20-year anniversary of the release of Tecmo Super Bowl, the Niners have an eight-play offensive playbook for QB Alex Smith. And, hey, it's worked. But, against the game's elite teams, you're going to need more than "I'm going to give it to Gore and everybody block" or "Go long, you guys". I've seen enough stats about the stout San Francisco run defense to convince me this won't be a cakewalk for New Orleans. Conversely, I'd like to introduce you to the Saints passing game. New Orleans 30, San Francisco 28

Denver at New England (-13)

Joe: I will admit that even though I won by taking Denver with the points last week, they won in a manner that I completely didn't expect. Tebow made some pretty sweet looking long throws and the offense pretty much moved down the field at will -- though they struggled scoring from within the 20. And that was against a GOOD defense! As a Patriots-hater, it makes me absolutely giddy to imagine what they might be able to do against New England's sorry defenders. That's not to say that the Pats can't still win in a shootout -- or that Tebow's inaccurate arm could return and doom his team -- but I'm more confident taking the points this week than I was last week. New England 38, Denver 31

Aaron: Patriots fans are said to be as nervous about this game as any ever played during the Belichick/Brady era. Yes, I know it's all part of the hype-driven narrative, but as Joe wrote above -- "Happy learned how to putt!" Tebow learned how to throw. What Tebow hasn't learned, though, is how to win a shootout against a very good offense. During the regular season, the Broncos went into Minnesota and won 35-32 -- against an opponent that started rookie Christian Ponder at quarterback and didn't play All-Pro RB Adrian Peterson who missed the game due to injury. The Patriots have a slightly more accomplished QB and their best player won't be on the sidelines. (Their best player is also their quarterback, but you know what I'm driving at.) New England 40, Denver 21

Houston at Baltimore (-7)

Joe: Houston looked very impressive in beating Cincinnati last week, and if they were the ones playing New England this week, I'd be gleefully picking an upset. Even now, the combination of Arian Foster and a vastly improved defense (can we all agree now that Wade Phillips is a brilliant defensive coordinator who should never be allowed to head coach again?) poses a very real threat to the Ravens. But ultimately, I think the Ravens D will force TJ Yates into the one or two mistakes that will be their downfall. But I like this one well enough to take the points. Baltimore 23, Houston 17

Aaron: Impressive? I guess I was less enamored with Houston beating the #6 seed at home by three touchdowns since they used the tried-and-true Arian Foster formula (step 1: give him the ball). "Impressive" will be if they can do it against a Ravens defense that held Foster to 49 yards rushing when these two teams met back in mid-October. Texans QB TJ Yates has completed 20 passes in a game just once in his six starts and his coaching staff kept the play-calling extremely conservative. That seems to play right into the hands of a Ravens team that unleashes several nationally-televised -- albeit unwatchable -- 17-9 final scores on an unsuspecting public each year. Baltimore 17, Houston 9

NY Giants at Green Bay (-9)

Joe: Oh, Giants fans. That was a great victory last week. You should be proud of your team. And if they can manage to retain Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz next year, you've got a lot to be optimistic about. But I hope you weren't listening to sports talk this week, with all its smoke-blowing about the game earlier this year and how the Giants have the best chance to beat the Packers. This won't end well for you, and it's best that you know it. Green Bay 45, NY Giants 20

Aaron: The Giants' innate ability to play up or down to the level of their competition is absolutely fascinating to me. This is a team that lost twice to the Redskins and dropped two home games against the mediocre Seahawks and Eagles. What's it mean here? Well, I think the Giants won't be run off the field. They're built to go blow for blow with the Packers on offense and even though Green Bay is a more formidable scoring machine, I think New York's defensive front will be the proverbial equalizer. Think I squeezed enough tired sports clichés in there? Here's one more: on a game-winning field goal in overtime...NY Giants 30, Green Bay 27

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The LL Chronicles #12: Meet the Blue Team!

Tryouts for the 2012 Spring Little League season will be held this weekend and my seven-year-old son Jalen will attempt to move up to the 8-to-10-year-old division. I was asked to come back and manage a team after leading Jalen's fall squad to a .667 winning percentage. (Hey, they wouldn't keep score if they DIDN'T want me to incessantly mention it.) I'm taking a wait-and-see approach on my next managerial gig, but thankfully, the memories from this past fall are still fresh in my mind.

Before I blog-embark on another season of "Baseball Jalen" tales, I wanted to revisit my son's fall team and share their individual, uh…scouting reports. As always, don't be fooled by any prickly assessments below. These were a great group of kids that I enjoyed tremendously – for the most part.

Joseph -- Always cheerful and never without an ear-to-ear grin, Joseph fit the "good chemistry/good teammate" cliché perfectly. He never complained when I penciled him in to play the more unpalatable positions and he contributed enough with the glove and the bat to become one of my more indispensible players. Speaking of his bat...late in the season, he ditched his 27-inch stick in favor of a 30-inch model. The three inch difference might seem negligible, but at the plate, it appeared he had traded in his bat for a boat paddle. Eventually, Joseph choked-up enough to completely negate the extra length. This eerily-accurate artist's rendition might better explain the imagery. MLB Equivalent: Placido Polanco

Abhi -- In an early season game, the Blue Team was clinging to a 9-8 lead in the top of the final inning -- two outs and the tying run on third base -- when the opposing batter hit a weak dribbler up the third base line. Abhi, who was playing catcher, ran up the line in pursuit of the ball as the runner on third broke for home plate. Somehow, Abhi scooped up the ball and reached back in time to tag the runner who had just passed him on the base path. An ecstatic Abhi struck a pose similar to this over the fallen, sobbing baserunner.

Abhi might've been too intense for an eight-year-old as he was the one driven to tears after an excruciating loss in which he struck out to end the game. In the dugout, one of my coaches -- an older man with a thick Boston accent -- consoled Abhi (AH-bee), but kept mispronouncing his name as "AY-bee". "My name is ABHI!", he shrieked before storming off. I don't know about Abhi, but the whole scene cheered me up. MLB Equivalent: Ivan (pronounced "eee-VAHN") Rodriguez

Jake -- The left-handed half of my regular 3-4 middle of the order, Jake was never hard to miss. He'd erupt in over-the-top mock excitement whenever I played him at a position he liked (first base) or over-the-top mock disappointment whenever I played him at a position he didn't like (everywhere else). Jake wore blindingly tie-dyed tank tops to every practice and established unbreakable Little League single-season records for flatulence, belches and all other qualifying bodily functions. Before you roll your eyes, keep in mind that the fall season is less than half the length of the spring season. Less than half! MLB Equivalent: Matt Stairs

Nicholas -- The right-handed half of my regular 3-4 middle of the order, Nicholas was the quiet, inconspicuous response to Jake. Built like a baby bull with bright blonde old-school Eminem hair, he could hit a ton. On defense, however, he would've been the first seven-year-old designated hitter if our league allowed it. He shuffled after fly balls as if he were stuck in the mud. He'd bend down for groundballs with a groan, a grimace and what appeared to be an adolescent arthritic hip. In all seriousness, few players made me smile more. (With or without the infamous Nickel Piss anecdote. But, mostly with it.) MLB Equivalent: John Kruk

Garrett -- There weren't many players on my team who tried harder to hit the ball. Unfortunately, there weren't many players on my team who were less successful at it. Garrett picked up a few hits early in the season, but then went into a prolonged hitless slump at the plate that he was never able to shake. My coaches and I tried everything from extra batting practice before games to hitting wiffle balls off a tee behind the dugout during games. I even tried my hand at amateur psychology by ensuring he always hit in front of a pair of five-year-old teammates who'd never played above tee-ball. Nothing seemed to work. Late in one game, he returned to the dugout stone-faced after another strikeout and told me, "Coach, I don't want to hit any more today, but I will if you really need me." Sometimes this game sucks. MLB Equivalent: Darin Erstad

LB -- I never learned what "LB" stood for, but the obvious and, admittedly, laziest guess is "linebacker". He was only five-years-old and couldn't have weighed more than 40 lbs., but he approached the game of baseball with a football player's mentality. He desperately wanted to go behind the plate to catch, but the protective equipment didn't fit him. Instead, over the course of the season, he ended up on the business end of three separate collisions with baserunners elsewhere on the infield. Each time, he'd scrunch his face up -- mightily fighting back tears that never dared to materialize -- and refuse to leave the game.

He was just as passionate on offense. A decent little left-handed hitter, LB never really embraced the inherent ebb and flow of the game's successes and failures. After one at-bat (an RBI groundout) LB walked back to our bench and flung his batting helmet the entire length of the dugout. I took one step towards him, when his mother -- a currently-enlisted U.S. Marine -- left the stands, stormed past me and marched into my dugout to deal with LB. Let's move on. MLB Equivalent: Any adorable, yet terrifying MLB team logo

Harshal -- His dad informed me that Harshal's only previous athletic experience was cricket. This was after the first month of the season, as the little guy didn't join our team until the fourth or fifth game. After he entered the dugout for the first time, he noticed Jalen's high socks and immediately pulled his up over the baggy legs of his ill-fitting baseball pants. The end result was more Jane Fonda than Jackie Robinson. Harshal, by the way, was also hilariously terrified of me. He'd meekly call out to his dad whenever I stepped in his direction and my coaching – delivered to him gently, always on one knee in my best imitation of a paternal tone – bounced right off his frightened face. I'll always remember him for (1) the RBI infield single that scored the go-ahead run against our archrivals and (2) the odd way he'd nod in acknowledgment of something I said – not up and down, but instead side to side. I think you better recognize. MLB Equivalent: David Eckstein

Justin -- My first prima donna! Justin was fundamentally sound on defense, a terrific hitter...and he knew it. He'd stare down any teammate in the vicinity of second base who failed to cover the bag when Justin was readying a throw from shortstop. After the final out, he'd walk right up to me and orally itemize his in-game accomplishments in hopes of securing some recognition in my postgame speech to the kids. And, after our first loss, he loudly proclaimed to no one in particular, "I wish I was still on my spring team. We won the championship." He also lost his cap at some point and absolutely bawled like a baby during the 30 seconds it took for me to reach into the equipment bag and give him another. I thought you should know. MLB Equivalent: Jack Parkman

Jazz -- YES…like the Autobot! Five-year-old Jazz was roughly half the size of Justin with twice the ego, but none of the insufferable attributes. Trust me…the "characteristic mathematics" check out. Jazz wore gold chains around his neck and a single batting glove on his left hand – at all times. His cheering section was easily the largest and loudest (naturally) in the league as every Jazz at-bat was accompanied by a cavalcade of cell phone camera clicks and "Jazz-EE, Jazz-EE" chants. In one game, he tried to stretch a single to very, very shallow centerfield into a double. He was out by 50 feet, but, as I'm sure he'd be the first to admit…he looked good doin' it. MLB Equivalent: Deion Sanders

Jason -- Halfway through the season, Jason settled in as my permanent leadoff hitter – an odd accomplishment when you consider baseball was often the last thing on his mind. On defense, he'd dance around in small circles and carry on animated conversations with the air around him. At the plate, he'd goof off for a few pitches (wearing his batting helmet backwards or using silly, intentionally-twisted batting stances) before whacking another hit. He was completely resistant to my discipline, but during one game, he acted up in the dugout on my wife's watch. Mrs. Bootleg was my de facto bench coach for most of the season and let's just say she got him to sit down. No, I won't explain. MLB Equivalent: Manny Ramirez

Aiden -- He and I got off to a great start when he begged out of our first game after one at-bat. No reason…he just didn't want to play anymore. Later in the season, he ran afoul of my de facto bench coach by scaling the chain-link walls of our dugout before Mrs. Bootleg…"got him to sit down". It wasn't long before I simply shifted my focus to the kids who wanted to be there. What's that you ask? Why didn't I exhibit the same indifferent attitude towards any of the other kids who acted up? It's because the other kids could hit. Have none of you ever watched professional sports and the double-standards that define them? MLB Equivalent: Milton Bradley

Collin -- He always swung the bat with ferocity and his intimidating "game face" -- an omnipresent scowl with one or two missing front teeth -- reminded me of... this guy. (Just in the face! Just in the face!) After the first month of the season, Collin's swing got really long. But, before the strikeouts could pile too high, he took my intricate advice ("Relax, Collin. Nice level swing. Free and easy. See ball, hit ball.") to heart and turned his fortunes around. MLB Equivalent: Dustin Pedroia

After the season, Collin handed me an envelope with a card enclosed that read:

Dear Coach Cameron,

Thank you for being my coach. I had a lot of fun on your team. I think our team played well. I learned to swing level, not like in golf, from you. I hope I can be on your team again.



And, sometimes this game is great.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2012 NFL Playoff Pickery -- Wildcard Weekend

Last Week

Aaron: 12-4
Joe: 10-6

Current Standings

Aaron: 169-87
Joe: 169-87

After 17 weeks and innumerable smarmy barbs, Joe and I tied in this year's NFL Pickery. Tied. For the first time ever. I blew a decent-sized lead early and Joe lost his lead late. Regrettably, I showed no faith in my Oakland Raiders in September and October, while Joe might've had too much trust in Tim Tebow in the regular season's final two weeks. There is, of course, only one contrived way of settling this once and for all. More picks! This time with ambiguous tiebreakers that I haven't thought up yet!

Cincinnati at Houston (-3)

Joe: What a travesty these AFC playoffs are. Three garbage teams and three more with glaringly fatal flaws. And one of them is going to be making the Super Bowl. Anyway, it's not Houston's fault they're garbage. They had garbage thrust upon them with a string of unfortunate injuries. Meanwhile, this Bengals team is probably not as bad as they're being touted to be, the fact is that all nine of their wins came against non-playoff teams and all seven losses came against teams in the playoffs. They've pretty much established their position in the hierarchy. Houston 23, Cincinnati 17

Aaron: I cannot remember the last time two relatively nondescript, narrative-free teams met in the postseason of a professional sport -- outside of Major League Baseball's first-round Division Series or the 16-team socialism program that passes for playoffs in the NBA or NHL. As Joe writes above, there's a good case to be made for why the Bengals should lose this game, but I think their decent run defense is capable slowing down -- not to be confused with shutting down -- all-world Texans RB Arian Foster. This would put the game in the hands of banged-up third-string Houston QB T.J. Yates at some point. Not the most soothing sentence ever written. Cincinnati 21, Houston 20

Detroit at New Orleans (-9.5)

Joe: I am tempted to go against my first instincts on all four games this weekend, because that's how the Wild Card round usually goes for me. But this one ... defense that can't stop anyone versus offense that can't be stopped? Trying not to outsmart myself here. New Orleans 41, Detroit 21

Aaron: The Lions have indeed been playing at an Arena Football level on offense over the past few weeks. But, since their October 30 upset loss to St. Louis' execrable NFL entry, the Saints haven't allowed more than 24 points to an opponent -- including the Falcons (twice), the Giants and (wait for it) the Lions. New Orleans 38, Detroit 14

Atlanta at NY Giants (-3)

Joe: Ugh. This game. I've fully swallowed the party line on the Giants this week -- they're a hidden dragon in the NFC who are getting healthy at the right time and could pose a unique threat to a Green Bay. I've also bought the line on the Falcons -- soft and unable to hang with the big boys (they beat a grand total of two teams with winning records this season). Dome team playing in the frigid cold. The only thing giving me any kind of pause is my utter certainty. When was the last time THAT worked out for me? NY Giants 28, Atlanta 24

Aaron: I've gone back and forth on this game all week. There have been WAY too many references to the Giants' 2007 Super Bowl-winning season in response to the late run of good health that the 2011 team is experiencing. While I'm concerned enough about Eli Manning's time-tested ability to inexplicably wet the bed against bad teams in any given week; the best-kept secret in football might be Falcons QB Matt Ryan and his intermittent disappearing acts against good ones. NY Giants 34, Atlanta 14

Pittsburgh (-8) at Denver

Joe: Oh GOD. This damned game. It's like the universe is conspiring to give me every reason to take Tebow and the points. I've found Pittsburgh to be weaker than they've appeared all season. They lost their running back. Big Ben is injured. They've got other players with altitude sickness or whatever. Isn't this exactly the kind of team Denver could grind down long enough for something stupid to happen? St. Timothy of Gainesville hasn't pulled off anything miraculous in the last few weeks, but the Broncos defense only has to fall on top of an inopportune fumble in the fourth quarter before his halo starts shining again. I can't even stomach making this pick. Pittsburgh 16, Denver 14

Aaron: This seems like one of those games that gamblers will hate themselves for on Monday morning. Throw out last week's 7-points-allowed performance against the Chiefs' laughable offense and it's clear that the Broncos' defense should shoulder a lot of the blame for the team's recent malaise. Tim Tebow was his usual inefficient self in losses to New England and Buffalo -- just without the reachable three-point deficit late in the game. Up until now, I was in agreement with Joe: an ugly, low-scoring game that would, in some way, be impacted by all of Pittsburgh's injuries and trace elements of Tebow mojo. Sometimes, however, an obviously better team beats the ever-lovin' sh*t out of an obviously inferior one. Pittsburgh 31, Denver 0

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #17

Last Week

Aaron: 14-2
Joe: 11-5

Current Standings

Joe: 159-81
Aaron: 157-83

San Francisco at St. Louis

Aaron: The 49ers are still fighting for the #2 playoff seed in the NFC (and accompanying first week bye). I suppose that's enough of a carrot for a contender, but let's give 'em a game against the league's JV team, just to make sure. Pick: San Francisco

Joe: One more dose of empty calories for the Niners to feed on before the playoffs. (Until they get a home game against the Saints which matches up for them better than I would like to admit right now.) Pick: San Francisco

Washington at Philadelphia

Aaron: Three weeks ago, when the Eagles sat at 5-8, I predicted they'd run the table to finish at .500. I expect some variation of that blurb to appear on the back cover of "The Best of Aaron and Joe's NFL Pickery -- 2011 Edition". Look for it in your favorite bookstore alongside all the unsold copies of "Grantland Quarterly". Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: ZIIIING! Anyway, look for the narrative for this game to be a referendum on Andy Reid's coaching career in Philly. Because a decade-long tenure as head coach should absolutely be boiled down to a meaningless game against the worst team in one's division. Pick: Philadelphia

Detroit at Green Bay

Aaron: Most of the Packers' starters are expected to be out of the game by halftime. The Lions, meanwhile, are still fighting for the fifth or sixth NFC playoff seed and -- if the season-long "undisciplined" narrative is to be believed -- seem like the kind of team that would take too much pride in knocking off the Packers' skeleton crew. Pick: Detroit

Joe: You'd have thought the Lions would have been able to exploit the Packers' weak-ish defense on Thanksgiving, but we all saw how that turned out. Still, they do seem to be properly motivated to grab that higher playoff seeding. Detroit at the Giants could be a verrrry interesting Wild Card matchup. Pick: Detroit

Tennessee at Houston

Aaron: The Texans played an extremely conservative offense against the worst team in the league last week and lost. This week, they're likely to rest at least some of their skill players AND face a Titans team that's still in the playoff hunt. Then again, if everyone's fantasy football season is any indication, whichever team has RB Chris Johnson is the one guaranteed to be disappointed, yes? Pick: Tennessee

Joe: There's no reason for me to take the Texans other than the fact that everybody else is taking Tennessee, and there is no way they're good enough to be a unanimous pick. This is the analysis I've been dropping for five seasons, folks. Pick: Houston

Indianapolis at Jacksonville

Aaron: Remember when the Colts rested their starters and lost a chance at an undefeated regular season a few years ago? Ironically enough, if the Colts play hard here and lose their chance to be the worst team in the league, the Monday morning media firestorm could be comparable. Yup. Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: I think the Jags have the edge here even if Indy does try. Pick: Jacksonville

NY Jets at Miami

Aaron: Historically, doesn't EVERY underachieving New York sports team that enters their final game/series of the season fighting for a playoff spot against an inferior team (on paper) lose? I can't be bothered to look it up, so I'll assume it's true. Pick: Miami

Joe: So while the offseason is spent speculating about Rex Ryan's job security, let's hope nobody pays attention to the fact that their run game is garbage and their defense isn't close to as fearsome as it once was. But it's not like they need better players or anything. Pick: NY Jets

Chicago at Minnesota

Aaron: The Adrian Peterson ACL/MCL injury is kind of big story that, strangely, seemed to be under-reported. It's understandable, I suppose. It happened late in a forgettable season for Minnesota -- on Christmas Eve, no less -- and Peterson's immense talent doesn't even have enough wattage to overshadow the team's QB drama in recent years. On the plus side, I didn't see one "What Peterson's Injury Means for Your 2012 Fantasy Football Draft" feature last week, so relatively anonymity has its benefits. Pick: Chicago

Joe: Well it certainly helped deep-six my fantasy championship game, so I, for one, would have appreciated such a feature. Still, Toby Gerhart has been a capable fill-in, and the Vikings manage to hang in pretty much every game. Meanwhile, if you told me the entire Bears team just got prescribed an anti-depressant, I would not be surprised. Pick: Minnesota

Buffalo at New England

Aaron: One of my readers suggested a post that segregated every blurb Joe wrote about his Bills and every one I wrote about my Raiders this season. Not sure which I'd enjoy more: my militant pessimism or Joe's perfect bell curve of optimism. Pick: New England

Joe: Here's all I'm going to say to close out this bummer of a season: if we could somehow manage to pull this game out (talent disparity aside, we're kind of a bad matchup for them this season), sweep the season series, and cost the Pats the #1 seed? I would be very satisfied with that. Pick: New England

Carolina at New Orleans

Aaron: For those seeking closure, I finished second in my fantasy football money league this season. My opponent started three Saints players, including QB Drew Brees -- who used the Monday Night Football stage to break a famous passing record and score a kajillion points. I will now join the rest of you in hating fantasy football anecdotes (until next August). Pick: Carolina

Joe: Ditto for me. Next season, remind me to tell all the fantasy experts to f*ck off and just draft a damned elite QB in the first round. You could do worse for scouting two such QBs than this game. Pick: New Orleans

Tampa Bay at Atlanta

Aaron: The Falcons are playing for playoff seeding and some of the storylines have referenced Tampa Bay's win over Atlanta earlier in the season as if it's some kind of relevant red flag. Spoiler alert: it's not. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: Tampa's crazy bad, y'all. Pick: Atlanta

Baltimore at Cincinnati

Aaron: The Ravens have been incredibly inconsistent on the road this year -- in both victory and defeat. The Bengals, on the other hand, have been consistently awful against top-tier teams -- either at home or on the road. So..something's gotta give. Right? Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: Baltimore might actually manage to nab the #1 seed in the AFC and still have nobody quite buying that they're any good. 2011 football! Pick: Baltimore

Pittsburgh at Cleveland

Aaron: I'd be surprised to see Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (and his wonky ankle) start, but if back-up Charlie Batch struggles -- and if the #2 playoff seed is still in doubt -- I'd expect to see Big Ben heroically limp in for the last-second win. Ben Roethlisberger. Hero. U! S! A! Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: Batch was able to handle last week's game against the Rams well enough. The Browns have a much stingier defense, though, and I do wonder what happens if this is a 10-7 game going into the half. Pick: Pittsburgh

Seattle at Arizona

Aaron: I'm not sure I want to live in a world where two 7-8 NFC West teams aren't playing for the division title on the final weekend of the season. Yet, here we are. Pick: Arizona

Joe: I would rather watch BOTH of these teams in a playoff game next weekend than about half of the teams who will actually play. Pick: Seattle

Kansas City at Denver

Aaron: The easiest path to the playoffs for my Raiders requires the Broncos to lose at home to the Chiefs and their new starting quarterback Kyle Orton -- who was the Broncos starting QB for the first half of the 2011 season. The Chiefs aren't going to roll up 40 points against anyone, so expect another low-scoring affair with the win going to the team whose quarterback is slightly less inept. Pick: Kansas City

Joe: Tebow handed last week's game to the Bills (and just when I needed him for fantasy purposes -- where's Will Shakespeare when you REALLY need him??), but weirdly enough I think that religion thing he's always going on about will actually help him avoid wallowing in a shame spiral and carrying it into this game. No time to wallow when there's glorying God to be done! Pick: Denver

San Diego at Oakland

Aaron: My Raiders could've put this division away at several points earlier in the season. Instead, they wasted back-to-back intradivision opportunities at home (against Kansas City and Denver) and crapped the bed against a beatable Miami team on the road. Even in victory, the Raiders haven't dominated an opponent from beginning to end. I suppose wins are wins, but if this Raiders team trailed late and had to march 80 yards to victory, would you bet on them or against them? Sigh...me, too. Pick: San Diego

Joe: It's a sad way to end the season, but at least you've got a meaningful Week 17 game to pay attention to! ...Okay, okay, but still! Pick: San Diego

Dallas at N.Y. Giants

Aaron: Wow. I was pretty definitive with my earlier comment about "underachieving New York sports teams", huh? I used all caps and everything. Well, then. I might as well go all in. Pick: Dallas

Joe: Dallas might be a sadder team than the Bears at this point. I just want to hug the lot of them. Well, not Jerry Jones. Unless you think it'd kill him? Pick: NY Giants