Saturday, September 29, 2012

2012 NFL Pickery -- Week #4

Last Week 

Aaron: 9-7
Joe: 7-9 

Current Standings 

Joe: 27-21
Aaron: 25-23
Cleveland at Baltimore 

Aaron: I read that Time-Warner Cable and the NFL Network had reached a deal to finally bring the channel to MY television -- and presumably to anyone else who's been impacted by the two sides' long-standing impasse, as well.  We still don't have it here in San Diego and judging from this match-up...I'm in no rush.  Pick: Baltimore 

Joe: Yeah, kind of a harsh blessing that THIS will be my first taste of NFL Network football. I guess this game will be the last hurrah for the replacement refs? Maybe at halftime, the Baltimore fans can give them some nice parting gifts. You know, because the refs obviously stole last week's game from the Patriots and handed it to the Ravens. I read it on ESPN Boston! Pick: Baltimore

Minnesota at Detroit 

Aaron: No one is putting Lions QB Matt Stafford in the same category as former Detroit disappointments Scott Mitchell and Joey Harrington, but neither of those guys elevated anyone's expectations with a professional season like Stafford had last year.  So, I'll split the difference and politely implore Stafford to stop playing like perfectly serviceable former Lions QBs like Rodney Peete and Erik Kramer!  Pick: Detroit 

Joe: I'm so mad at this Lions team, I can't even tell you. I'm pretty sure I'm going to start Vikings QB Christian Ponder over banged up (and AWFUL) Lions QB Matthew Stafford, so congratulations on your first big win of the year, Detroit. Pick: Detroit

Seattle at St. Louis 

Aaron: The Seahawks spent a generation in a joint custody arrangement between irrelevance and anonymity, before playing in one of the worst-officiated Super Bowls ever, making the playoffs with a 7-9 record and, of course, last Monday night's..."incident" -- all in the past five years (or so).  They're the better team here, but I'm amused by the thought of the sad-sack St. Louis Rams playing the role of karma-dispenser.  Pick: St. Louis  

Joe: Ugh, NOTHING worse than when Cam takes my upset pick before I can. Nothing! Pick: St. Louis

San Francisco at NY Jets 

Aaron: In the aftermath, no one will care that Jets QB Mark Sanchez went up against a ferocious defense that was hellbent on taking out last week's loss on someone.  I'm not saying there's a LOT of context to consider, but it might be time to realize that Sanchez can't win by himself, Jets fans.  Pick: San Francisco  

Joe: The one good thing about this Jets team and their fans -- at least the fans KNOW they're being asshole when they start to agitate for Tim Tebow. Meanwhile, it was nice to see the Unbeatable Niners bubble burst by the unlikely Vikings, but it's probably too much to hope for two in a row. Pick: San Francisco

San Diego at Kansas City 

Aaron: The only depressing aspect of the Chargers' 27-3 loss to Atlanta last week?  The game was blacked out here in San Diego.  Kansas City has been a house o' horrors for the Chargers in recent years -- last Halloween night, QB Philip Rivers famously fumbled deep in Chiefs' territory on what would've been the game-winning drive -- but, Kansas City's one win (vs. New Orleans) is mathematically more fraudulent than the Chargers' two.  It's math!  Pick: San Diego  

Joe: I kind of love how tightly professional sports talkers cling to their narratives. Norv Turner's Chargers have started slowly so often that nobody seems at all concerned about that drubbing by the Falcons. Oh, they'll figure it out! You gotta trust me, guys: find a running game. Pick: San Diego

Tennessee at Houston 

Aaron: Part of me is hoping the Titans comically mock Houston by wearing throwbacks paying tribute to their short-lived tenure as the "Tennessee Oilers", culminating in a glorious heel turn by Houston Oilers legend Earl  Campbell who -- from his wheelchair -- will interrupt the pregame coin toss, take the microphone and blame the concrete turf of the Astrodome for the physical ruination of his legs.  He'll close with, "You didn't DESERVE the Oilers, Houston.  And, you didn't deserve ME!" [Mic drop]  Pick: Houston 

Joe: First-ever 3-0 start for the Texans! They look legitimately exciting! Isn't it about time for that season-devastating injury to strike? Pick: Houston

Carolina at Atlanta 

Aaron: So...when did we collectively agree to bash Panthers QB Cam Newton for his somber -- albeit melodramatic -- postgame comments after Carolina's loss to the Giants last week?  Sports Illustrated's Peter King even used the reaction of Ravens WR Torrey Smith (whose brother tragically past away last weekend) as a critical comparison to Newton's, holding it up as, what, deserving of a dirge?  Newton is struggling and his biggest fault is caring too much?  'K, got it.  Pick: Atlanta 

Joe: Yeah, it really seems like people were waiting for Cam to struggle a bit so they could haul out those old college grudges. It would be nice to see him really air it out against the Falcons, but Atlanta's defense really does seem much improved. Pick: Atlanta

New England at Buffalo 

Aaron: If we're to believe's most popular online personality, the ending of the Patriots' loss to the Ravens last week was on par with the Green Bay/Seattle game from this past Monday night -- even though the Baltimore field goal looked pretty damn good, after multiple replay looks.  The same guy also believes the Pats could be 3-0, if not for those meddling kids replacement referees.  I'd feel a LOT better about the Bills here if their running backs were 100%.  Pick: New England 

Joe: You and me both. I know better than to get my hopes up for a team that beat two bad teams and lost to one mediocre one, but New England looks about as beatable as they have since the Matt Cassel season. Still ... nah. Pick: New England

Cincinnati at Jacksonville

Aaron: Yeesh.  Well, I like that the Jaguars can run the ball.  And, since the Bengals' run defense has been pretty porous in the early going, let's use the ol' "pick the team who has the best player between 'em" tactic.  Pick: Jacksonville 

Joe: Am I crazy, or do the Bengals look like they could frustrate teams enough to make a run at a wild card this season too? Pick: Cincinnati

Miami at Arizona 

Aaron: Maybe we should hold off on printing playoff tickets until dueling QBs Kevin Kolb and John Skelton can consistently channel the spirits of Kurt Warner and...I can't think of another decent Cardinals QB.  But, here's a fun fact: in 1994, the Cardinals started Steve Beuerlein (7), Jay Schroeder (8) and Jim McMahon (1) at QB...and went 8-8!  Pick: Arizona  

Joe: Can NO ONE remember Neil Lomax?? Anyway, I am a definite believer in that Cardinals defense. But ... but ... 4-0? I can't. Maybe I'm just hoping for a suicide-pool-busting result here, but ... Pick: Miami

Oakland at Denver 

Aaron: I'll take credit for picking the Raiders' upset win last week, even though I missed wildly on the specifics.  RB Darren McFadden has had some huge games against the Broncos over the past few years and Carson Palmer could go off here, but the Raiders are still REALLY weak in the secondary.  Broncos in a shootout and Peyton Manning looks like Peyton Manning in the final two minutes.  Pick: Denver  

Joe: YOU try making sense of these intra-AFC West matchups. Pick: Oakland

Washington at Tampa Bay 

Aaron: The Bucs have been pretty spry in the early going.  The defense looks respectable and the offense -- at least against the Giants, two weeks ago -- looked good.  Redskins QB Robert Griffin III still has some bank from his week #1 performance in New Orleans, but at some point, he's going to have to that again.  Pick: Tampa Bay 

Joe: Tampa's not going to be an easy out for anyone this season, but the Redskins have their backs against the wall, and for the first time in forever, they have a player with the goods to harness that desperation. Pick: Washington

New Orleans at Green Bay  

Aaron: Yes, it was bad call(s) at the end of last Monday night's game. But, the officiating atrocity that was unleashed on the Packers and their fanbase's hokey small-town sense of self-worth was like watching the referees crap on every speech at the Republican National Convention.  Pick: Green Bay 

Joe: Okay, can we talk about how hilarious the State of Emergency SportCenter after last Monday's game was? Everybody adopted that pitched-but-sorrowful tone that is usually reserved for a Munich Olympics-like disaster. "Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized," Steve Young intoned to Mike Tirico. "Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They're gone. The Packers' chances of going 15-1 with no running game and a surprisingly porous offensive line are all gone." Pick: Green Bay

NY Giants at Philadelphia 

Aaron: My friend Tom has a meticulous set of rules for seemingly every intra-division game involving NFC East teams.  I'm assuming "Mike Vick has looked like sh*t this season" is, like, rule number one.  Pick: NY Giants  

Joe: True enough! Plus the Giants look like a team that took seven quarters before they remembered that they're really good. Pick: NY Giants

Chicago at Dallas 

Aaron: Since I'm stealing the prognostication methodology of others, I might as well mention that Joe offered up an interesting "win one, lose one, win one..." idea for the Cowboys' fortunes a few weeks ago.  I mean, I was going to pick Chicago anyway, but now it's more like betrayal.  Pick: Chicago  

Joe: Damn, I thought I'd be able to pick one up here. Pick: Chicago 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The LL Chronicles #22: Hot & Bothered

Last Saturday, my son's fall Little League team played their second game of the season.  First pitch was at high noon.  The temperature was 106 degrees. 

San Diego has had an unusually humid summer (which is to say we've actually had measurable humidity).  And, while I'll stop short of comparing the recent Southern California climate to, say, St. Louis or central Florida, 60% humidity still kinda sucks.  We received a two or three-day reprieve from the steaminess last weekend...only to see it replaced by hot, dry Santa Ana winds -- a good six weeks ahead of their usual inconvenient ETA. 

My kids were expected to play six innings -- possibly up to two-and-a-half hours -- under these conditions.  Through relatively recent personal experience, I could relate.  In August 2007, I spent a few days in Orlando attending a conference at the Disneyworld Convention Center complex.  On my first day, I arrived late and was forced to walk almost 100 yards across the asphalt parking lot while nattily attired in my four-button black suit -- elegantly accentuated with a buttercream-colored dress shirt and black n' butterscotch tie.  It was 9:30 AM and already 930 degrees. 

With that in mind, I loaded up my largest cooler with four dozen small bottles of water and limited the kids to a 30-minute pregame warm-up.  Now, that might sound excessive for eight and nine-year-olds, but you should know that I didn't punish ANY of the kids who made the obvious "Warm ups?  I think we're already warm enough, coach" joke before we started. 

In the bottom of the first inning, we exploded for five runs.  I was coaching third base when my clean-up hitter arrived at the bag, moving from first to third on a single.  His breathing seemed a bit labored and the glassiness in his eyes was a touch shy of terrifying.  The look on his face reminded me of... Robin? 

Me: "Raymond, are you OK?" 

Raymond: "..." 

Me: "Raymond, look at me.  Do you need to come out?" 

Raymond: "..." 

Me: "TIME! Go to the dugout, get some water and take a break.  I'll get a pinch..." 

Jalen: [from the first base dugout] "CAN I PINCH-RUN FOR RAYMOND, DAD?! I'M HYDRATED!"

In the second inning, we scored four more runs and took a 9-0 lead into the top of the third.  I handed the ball to my son Jalen.  We're using the fall season to work on mixing his pitches -- a work-in-progress four-seam fastball and a change-up that he's much more comfortable with.  He recorded an early strikeout with two fastballs and an 0-2 change-up, but walked two batters who moved up to second and third on a wild pitch. 

A second wild pitch scored the first run for our opponents and when our catcher slowly loafed after the ball -- with Jalen racing to cover home plate, squeakily screaming "HOME! HOME! HOME!" -- J lit into him on the field in front of everyone. 

Jalen's tightly-wound intensity is a bit of a mixed bag for me.  On the one hand, he's not the most physically gifted eight-year-old athlete, but he makes up most of the difference with his competitiveness.  After every game, other parents approach me with compliments for my son's textbook sliding technique or his hustle down the first base line or even his failed attempts to fight back tears after an especially tough loss. ("I wish MY kid cared that much!") 

On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of the kids don't care about the game's outcome as much as my son.  There's a time and a place (and an age) for administering verbal beatdowns masked as constructive criticism.  I don't know when or where (or how old) that is, but I'm reasonably sure this isn't it.  I call "time" and slowly exit the dugout.  I'm not happy. I remove my tacky wrap-around sunglasses and dramatically flick the shades slightly skyward.  So that I catch Jalen's eye, yes, I'm channeling the melodramatic effect of Randy "Macho Man" Savage.  (Skip to the 2:40 mark of this clip to see what I mean.)  When I reach the mound, I bend at the waist and look Jalen in the eye: 

Me: "Knock. It. Off.  You CANNOT show up your teammates on the field like that." 

Jalen: "But, we lost the shutout because of..." 

Me: "We're a team, J.  We win as a team, we lose as a team.  Make your pitches, get out of this inning and respect the guys behind you." 

Jalen: "OK. Should I say 'I'm sorry' to Garrett?" 

Me: "After the inning's over." 

Jalen: "Does that run count against my ERA if it was a passed ball and not a wild pitch?" 

Me: "..."

After 3 1/2 innings, we led 14-2.  According to Little League Baseball rules, the game is over if one team leads by 10 or more runs.  And, it was 106 degrees.  After discussing this with the 13-year-old umpire, he visited the opposing dugout and came back with a surprising declaration: 

"The other team wants to keep playing.  There's no 'mercy rule' unless both managers agree." 

I was incredulous.  And, possibly apoplectic -- on the inside.  But, definitely incredulous.  "He really wants to keep playing?", I asked...incredulously.  "Yup", replied the ump. "He said it's a good workout for his kids."  Never mind that two of his kids went home mid-game because of the heat.  He wants a "workout" for the kids who are still standing. 

I'm not entirely proud of how I managed the bottom of the fourth inning -- flashing the "steal" and "double steal" signs to my kids while up by a dozen runs -- but, it was inconceivable that any adult would want to subject children to these climactic conditions by choice.  Of course, I could've been influenced by one of my players (not my son!) who exclaimed, "Let's make 'em wish they gave up!"  The other team waived the white flag after we scored our fifth run of the inning and 19th run of the game. 

Maybe I should look in the mirror before my next Macho Man moment.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

2012 NFL Pickery -- Week #3

Last Week

Joe : 8-8
Aaron: 8-8

Current Standings

Joe: 20-12
Aaron: 16-16 

NY Giants at Carolina

Aaron: I don't watch enough Giants games to know if last weekend's come-from-behind win in Tampa Bay is the first ever one-game/in-game consolidation of "Elite" Eli Manning and his occasionally error-prone split personality. I'm also not sure how the Giants will respond on a short week while still nursing some injuries on offense. I do know I'm 0-2 on midweek predictions, though. Pick: Carolina 

Joe: Hakeem Nicks isn't playing for the Giants, and they reeeeally looked like they should have lost that Tampa game last week. All of these things, plus the home-field-on-a-short-week thing should add up to a Panthers upset. Oh, but what about the transitive property??? New York beat Tampa Bay; Tampa Bay beat Carolina; therefore New York beats Carolina! When does that EVER not work in the NFL?? (Or maybe it's just that the Thursday games are more fun when we pick different teams.) Pick: NY Giants

St. Louis at Chicago
Aaron: Look...I know that Bears QB Jay Cutler the perfect punching bag for a litany of reasons.  But, the "same ol' Cutler" celebrations that broke out across the interwebs during last week's loss to Green Bay is shortsighted even by online standards.  Does his pouty sourpuss really outweigh the NFC Championship game and 7-4 record-before-he-got-hurt-last-year on his resume?  Pick: Chicago

Joe:  You'll have to bear with me, as I'm nursing injuries from being trampled by the stampede of fantasy owners to pick up St. Louis's Danny Amendola. I lost out, so I'll have to console myself with him going 4-37 this week. I like the Rams, actually. But they're still figuring some stuff out, and I think the Bears in Chicago on three extra days' rest will be okay. Pick: Chicago

Buffalo at Cleveland
Aaron: Let's go ahead and set the over/under for the number of national sports columnists who'll use this game as the foundation for a 1,200-word piece on the disappearance of sepia-toned, old-timey Pleasantville America at 2.5.  5.5 if either team plays the Lions later this season.  Pick: Buffalo

Joe: Ugh. I hate road games against teams you *should* beat. I couldn't be happier with what we've seen out of CJ Spiller, but thus far he's the ONLY thing happening on the Bills' offense, and I worry what'll happen when teams figure that out. Pick: Cleveland


Tampa Bay at Dallas


Aaron: Forget the season-opening win against the Giants and last week's loss to the Seahawks. THIS will be the game that tells us what kind of team the Cowboys are.  An eminently beatable opponent at home?  The champion of the NFC East will need to feast on the league's entrails in order to reach the nine wins needed to conquer this division.  Pick: Dallas

Joe: Tampa's been unexpectedly tough thus far, and they should've beaten the Giants last week. But the Cowboys will probably do this win one/lose one/win one thing all season. Pick: Dallas

NY Jets at Miami


Aaron: Dolphins RB Reggie Bush won't benefit from the Raiders benevolent run defense this week.  But, while the Jets are undeniably the better team, I think this one ends up a lot closer when it goes final.  Jets QB Mark Sanchez has been accused of everything else in his tenure, so is there any chance we can get "plays down to the level of his competition" in the mix for next Monday's ESPN First Take?  Pick: NY Jets

Joe: It's weird, the Jets looked SO good in the first quarter against the Steelers and then seemed to just ... stop. Three more quarters this time, guys! Pick: NY Jets


San Francisco at Minnesota
Aaron: I've been indifferent towards the 49ers since Deion Sanders' lone season in San Francisco nearly 20 (!) years ago.  I kinda doubt this season will end with a glorious shellacking of the San Diego Chargers in the Super Bowl, but a few more weeks at this level and I could be talked into the Niners shellacking someone come February.  Pick: San Francisco


Joe: From the way Cris Collinsworth was talking during last week's handling of the Lions, the Niners already HAVE shellacked someone in the Super Bowl come February. I wasn't expecting such prolific butt-kissing from a guy whose career pinnacle was losing to those same 49ers in the Super Bowl. Pick: San Francisco

Kansas City at New Orleans


Aaron: Incompetent Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel went 24-40 while leading the Browns from 2005-08.  He went 2-1 as interim head coach of the Chiefs last year and was rewarded with a three-year contract.  If this isn't discussed during one of next month's presidential debates, I will be very disappointed in you, America.  Pick: New Orleans


Joe: The Bills offense put 35 on the Chiefs last week. Don't embarrass yourself and fall short of that, Drew Brees! Pick: New Orleans

Cincinnati at Washington


Aaron: I'm old enough to remember when the Redskins had one of the largest national followings in all of sports back in the early 1980s.  I dunno if Robert Griffin III will ever approach the organic popularity of Theismann, Riggins, the "Smurfs" and the "Hogs", but I'm a sucker for the electricity that a player like Griffin can inject into a devoted fanbase.  It's finna be loud, Bengals.  Pick: Washington


Joe: Does it have to be the Redskins fans who get to be so injected? They're just so insufferable when they're winning, and for a team that hasn't won much lately, you'd think they'd be out of practice. Slow down, dudes, you're 1-1. Pick: Washington

Detroit at Tennessee


Aaron: Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I'm not ready to place Lions QB Matt Stafford alongside Ben Roethlisberger in the pantheon of great swollen-faced signal-callers just yet.  The 49ers look like a VERY good team, but it also appeared that the Lions offense turned off the urgency and took several plays off in the second half of their loss last week.  The Titans are a VERY bad team, so...  Pick: Detroit


Joe: You think you're in the minority? After these last two weeks of Stafford incompetence. JUST THROW SOME STUPID TOUCHDOWNS, YOU ASS! Pick: Tennessee

Jacksonville at Indianapolis


Aaron: The Jags and Colts both put up 23 points against the Vikings this season while allowing 26 and 20 to Minnesota, respectively.  So...what's it all mean?  It means another week of limited regional TV coverage for all teams involved and that I won't learn the final score until I'm doing my picks for next week.  Pick:Indianapolis


Joe: Andrew Luck, people! This is happening! Pick: Indianapolis

Philadelphia at Arizona


Aaron: Like the rest of you, in lieu of any actual analysis on Cardinals games, I'm looking forward to several more weeks of pithy bitchiness directed towards Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald and his deleterious impact on my fantasy football team's chances.  Pick: Arizona


Joe: 3-0 Arizona Cardinals? I don't think any of us are remotely ready for that. Pick: Philadelphia

Atlanta at San Diego


Aaron: Chargers fans here in San Diego don't wanna hear none of your triflin' mess about how their football team hasn't defeated a team with a win yet.  They're 2-0, so shut your stupid face, HATER!  And, you just can't argue with insight like that, yo.  Pick: Atlanta


Joe: "Hasn't defeated a team with a win yet"? In week 3? That is adorable. First team to learn what a running game is wins. Pick: San Diego

Houston at Denver


Aaron: Safe to say Peyton Manning's right arm is the quickest "dead, resurrected, dead again" storyline in more than 25 years.  The record is still held by the "Dark Awakening" episode of the Generation One Transformers cartoon when Optimus Prime is brought back to life.  OR WAS HE?  No. He dies again in the end. I just told you.  Pick: Houston
Joe: Houston's fed on the league's worst teams to start the season, but Miami has a win so I guess that makes them legit! (Sorry, sorry, but ... man, I like this line of analysis!) Pick: Houston

Pittsburgh at Oakland

Aaron: No rhyme. No reason. I think Oakland wins a low-scoring, ugly affair full of field goals from the infield dirt, incomplete passes and five or six shots of fans fighting in the stands.  Pick: Oakland


Joe: Pittsburgh's kind of asking for it this season. I would LOVE to make this upset pick too, but I am just too much of a chicken. Pick: Pittsburgh

New England at Baltimore


Aaron: The argument for picking the Patriots seems to be "New England will NOT lose two in a row".  This kind of wishcasting conveniently sweeps last week's loss at home to an NFC West team that's not San Francisco under the rug.  That's a LOT of italics, I'm just saying.  Pick: Baltimore


Joe: Baltimore SHOULD have beaten New England in the AFC Championship game last year, and in this world, wrongs are ALWAYS righted. Pick: Baltimore

Green Bay at Seattle

Aaron: One of these weeks, the Packers are going to re-establish their dominance Oz-style.  And, God help whoever's on the receiving end of that shiv.  Pick: Green Bay


Joe: What's the over/under on how long it'll take everyone to figure out if Seattle is any good or not? Week 9? Week 13? Pick: Green Bay

Monday, September 17, 2012

The LL Chronicles #21: "They said it was life-threatening!"

As most of you know, I negotiate and manage contracts for a large defense contractor in San Diego.  My office -- OK, fine...cubicle -- is one of two that sits apart from the dozen or so others in my department.  The professional productivity born from the quiet solitude of this perfectly-acceptable separate-but-equal arrangement is but one benefit for me.  The other is MLB.TV. 

When my Oakland A's are playing a day game during the work week; I'll fire up the "MLB at-bat" app on my Droid, turn down the volume and slide the phone to the farthest corner of my desk -- behind both my computer and business-ubiquitous Dilbert desk calendar.  I can glance over at the game between e-mails or during interminable teleconferences.  And, no one else can see the teeny screen unless he or she is sitting in my chair. 

Two weeks ago, the A's were playing the Angels in the finale of a three-game series.  First pitch was scheduled for 12:35PM, but I could not watch on this Wednesday afternoon.  A large international proposal effort monopolized my time and attention.  Late in the day, I learned through Twitter that A's starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy had left the game after a line drive off the bat of the Angels' Erick Aybar ricocheted off his skull. 

I re-tweeted the link immediately above -- without watching the video -- and followed that up with a tweet of my own.  The next morning, it was announced that McCarthy had surgery to treat an epidural hemorrhage, brain contusion and skull fracture.  I cannot fathom the feelings of McCarthy's family and friends in the immediate aftermath.  But, as the father of an eight-year-old ballplayer, I felt nauseous. 

My son Jalen moved up to the "farm" division of his Little League this past spring.  This would be the first opportunity for the kids to face live pitching.  And, judging from the repeated 6:30 AM thump! thump! thump! wake-up calls of spongy Smushballs being hurled against our living room wall, J really wanted to pitch. 

On the whole, J pitched pretty well.  He ditched his fastball grip early on and threw exclusively change-ups, but still ended up as one of the three most dependable pitchers on our team. 

Early in the spring -- in what was essentially an open tryout for spots in our regular pitching rotation -- I gave several kids the opportunity to pitch during scrimmages.  After one of these informal outings, the mother of one of my players approached me behind the dugout.  "I was so scared watching him pitch", she said of her son.  "I had to hold another mother's hand and close my eyes whenever he threw the ball." 

I'm more than a little embarrassed to admit that my initial reaction was a slight smirk that barely masked what was probably a condescending response.  I might as well have quipped, "Pfft...women."  Funny thing is that I heard variations of this mother's concern from other parents all season long.  At one point, even my wife conceded the unease she feels whenever Jalen pitches. 

It's possible that I was blocking it out.  After all, before the season began, I saw these "heart-shield" protectors on one of the racks at Dick's Sporting Goods.  I'd read tragic stories of Little League pitchers who'd taken direct-hit line drives off the chest and later died.  I got as far as the checkout line before opting to put the heart-protector back on the shelf -- rationalizing it away by reminding myself how rare it is for a pitcher to be hit by a comebacker (with a little misplaced anger at the manufacturers for exploiting a parent's worst nightmare). 

I never gave it a second thought until earlier this month. 

And, my above-linked tweet about not showing the video to my wife and son?  I was serious.  When J came home from school, he didn't mention the A's until around dinner time.  He thought they were playing a night game, so I only told him that we lost earlier in the day, 7-1.  He asked a few follow-up questions ("Who got the loss?", "How'd we score our run?") but, thankfully, eight-year-olds don't require much nuanced context when their favorite team loses.  Besides, J refuses to watch the highlights when the A's lose.  If I'm watching, he'll leave the room. 

Thursday and Friday came and went as the A's flew to Seattle to start a series with the Mariners.  They won the opener, 6-1.  I hopped in the shower on Saturday morning, leaving J to his cartoons.  The thought crossed my mind about 45 seconds before my son all but broke down the bathroom door: 

"Did you hear that Brandon McCarthy got hit in the head with a line drive?! They said it was life-threatening!" 

Thanks, continuous loop of the previous evening's Major League Baseball highlights on the MLB Network!  Just before the recap of the A's victory, an update on McCarthy's condition aired.  The sobering "life-threatening" element meant that I'd have to put on my parenting pants, after all. 

The next day, Jalen was scheduled to pitch in the first game of the fall baseball season.  I used my shower time to rehearse assorted responses to J's likeliest questions in my head.  So, I was prepared when he asked, "Do you think I'll get hit in the head with a line drive?"  Surprisingly, I was unprepared when he asked, "Is Brandon McCarthy going to die?"  I mean, how did I not see that one coming? 

Jalen and I watched the video clip together -- the first time I'd seen it, too -- and I fumbled my way through what I knew and what I didn't know.  The conversation might've took 10 minutes, tops.  I know how this is going to sound, but I took it as a good sign when J wanted to watch the video again ("No, J. Once is enough", I responded.) and then he immediately segued into the impact of losing McCarthy on the A's playoff chances ("He's our ace! How can we replace him?!", he calmly reasoned.) 

Two Sundays ago, under unseasonably humid weather and intermittent drizzle, J pitched the third inning of our fall baseball season opener.  He's still getting the feel of his four-seam fastball grip -- hitting one opposing batter right in the butt -- but didn't give up a run and recorded the final out of the inning by tagging out a runner trying to score from third base on a wild pitch.  Jalen didn't get hit in the head with a line drive.  Brandon McCarthy didn't die.  And, I kept my eyes open the whole time. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

2012 NFL Pickery -- Week #2

Last Week

Joe: 12-4
Aaron: 8-8

Current Standings

Joe: 12-4
Aaron: 8-8

Chicago at Green Bay

Aaron: Last week, the Packers surprisingly lost at home to a team with an efficient quarterback, strong running game and ferocious defense.  It occurs to me that local beat writers may want to save their copy of last Sunday's game and swap out the 49ers names with their positional equivalents on the Bears.  Pick: Chicago 

Joe: I think I'm gonna chalk up last week's Packers sluggishness to Week 1 ... well, sluggishness. The Packers need to solve their running game inefficiencies, like, immediately. It's a testament to how far everybody bought into the "NFL Is a Passing League, Dammit" philosophy that the Pack were named Super Bowl locks with a completely empty backfield. Meanwhile, I'm not going to make a huge deal of me being right about the Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall thing. This week, they can give it a try against a good defense. Pick: Green Bay

Kansas City at Buffalo 

Aaron: Joe's heartbreaking real-time tweets from the first quarter of his beloved Bills' season-opener ended with "Aaaaand, there goes Fred Jackson's knee...". Not Joe-mentioned: WR David Nelson's torn ACL or the Bills' AWOL defense against the Jets. There's still plenty of season left for the Bills to rebuild Joe's hopes before spectacularly dashing them, but they'd better start winning if we're going to enjoy it. Pick: Kansas City 

Joe: I mean, no, it was not fun watching that game last week. But it wasn't like I didn't see it coming. It's tough to figure out what the takeaway is, though: Fitz looked absolutely brutal, but you could talk me into thinking he improved in the second half. The defense was SHOCKINGLY porous and exhibited that classic Bills trait of not being able to make a stop on 3rd down; but gosh, did CJ Spiller look good. I'd be all over KC on the road, but at home ... I think I'm gonna cross my fingers for a bounce-back game. Just don't make Matt Cassel look like Joe Montana, guys. Pick: Buffalo

Oakland at Miami 

Aaron: Well. I suppose there's some honor in establishing a sports precedent when your team's emergency long-snapper has become a national laughingstock.  That obvious narrative obscures the real story from Oakland's season-opening loss, which is: "Try throwing the goddam ball DOWNFIELD, you stupid Raiders!"  Pick:Miami 

Joe: As someone who had Houston in his knockout pool last week, Miami hung around uncomfortably long in the first half last week. I could see them being an exceedingly tough out this season, especially at home. But I think the Raiders bounce back here. After all, they've got the all-important "Aaron Cameron Doesn't Believe In Us" intangible. Pick: Oakland

Baltimore at Philadelphia 

Aaron: Oh, those first week narratives. If I pick the Ravens, I'd be buying into their impressive win against Cincinnati last week AND the Eagles somnambulant effort against Cleveland.  If I pick the Eagles, I'm ignoring all of the above.  Let's go with the one that's less effort for me.  Pick: Philadelphia 

Joe: Yeah, safe to say I wasn't expecting either of those narratives to emerge so dominantly. Week 2 is notoriously frustrating for this kind of thing -- was Week 1 an aberration or a trend? And since I am not in any way equipped to tell, I'm just gonna pick the opposite of Cam. Pick: Baltimore 


Tampa Bay at NY Giants 

Aaron: Wondering if two Super Bowl wins worth of collateral bought the Giants some slack locally after an Opening Night loss to the hated Cowboys.  Me thinks the Bucs will make it all better.  Pick: NY Giants 

Joe: The Giants running game looked seriously problematic last week, and the countdown is on before Victor Cruz's butterfingers become An Issue, but yeah, at home against the Bucs, they should be able to pull it out. Pick: NY Giants

Arizona at New England 

Aaron: Unless Cardinals' WR Larry Fitzgerald and his gargantuan wingspan is assigned to cover either of the Patriots' tyrannosaurus tight ends, it would seem Arizona's defense is ill-equipped for this encounter.  This will give us all more time to cover the juxtaposition of Tom Brady's broken nose and beautiful face FROM EVERY ANGLE.  Pick: New England 

Joe: Did I have a high fever on Sunday, or do I recall Kevin Kolb coming into the game late and "winning" it for the Cardinals? There is nothing that behaves more out of character than a QB coming off the bench. Pick: New England

Houston at Jacksonville 

Aaron: I'd have to think NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would at least listen when and if Jacksonville, Tennessee and Indianapolis decide to secede from the AFC South.  Pick: Houston 

Joe: I still can't trust the idea of a "dominant" Texans team, but if they keep playing these crappy teams from Florida ... okay. Pick: Houston

New Orleans at Carolina 

Aaron: The Saints' defense didn't show up last week and it wasn't an aberration.  They'll have to win a good share of shootouts if they have any hope of playing in January.  And, how can the Arena Football business model possibly fail?  Pick: New Orleans 

Joe: I'd have been all over the upset pick here if Carolina has shown even a little bit of life against Tampa last week. Pick: New Orleans

Cleveland at Cincinnati 

Aaron: I'm looking forward to over-thinking Browns games in November as I attempt to predict the inevitable upset that will be their first win of the season.  Pick: Cincinnati 

Joe: "The world's largest cubic zirconia." "What an eyesore!" That one's for you, Battle of Ohio. Pick: Cincinnati

Minnesota at Indianapolis 

Aaron: Unless the Colts drafted "an entire defense" with their next pick after Andrew Luck this past April...  Also, the impressive return of Vikings RB Adrian Peterson from reconstructive knee surgery just eight months ago is either a flashpoint in the evolution of 21st century sports medicine or accidentally symbolic of the league's reckless, win-at-all-costs culture that trades on a player's health for a few more wins.  Pick: Minnesota 

Joe: I hope somebody is telling Andrew Luck to enjoy this season full of padding his stats and not bearing any responsibility for his team's losses. It's rare and spectacular in this "blame the QB" world of sports media. Pick: Minnesota

Washington at St. Louis 

Aaron: Redskins QB Robert Griffin III isn't the most polished rookie passer, but his athleticism was breathtaking at times in week one.  I suppose no road game is a gimmie for a kid QB, but...the Rams, you guys.  Pick: Washington 

Joe: The Rams looked feistier last week and more like the team I thought could go 8-8 (and challenge for what I thought would be another 9-7 NFC West championship, before I realized the Niners could go 13-3) last year. God help me, though, the Redskins/Griffin look for real. Pick: Washington

Dallas at Seattle 

Aaron: Is it too early for a "let-down game"?  Probably, but I think the Seahawks give the Cowboys for the first half or so.  Unfortunately, Seattle's offensive line issues combined with RB Marshawn Lynch's wonky back combined with the Cowboys stout run know where I'm going with this.  Pick: Dallas 

Joe: Why was everybody so down on the Cowboys anyway, is my question? I know it's fun to hate on Jerry's Boys, but I think it fools us into thinking that "not great" equals "terrible." They're still not great, but Seattle looked ROUGH against a bad team last week. Pick: Dallas

NY Jets at Pittsburgh 

Aaron: New York City's collective crush on Jets QB Mark Sanchez ends here.  Well, for the week, anyway. Pick: Pittsburgh 

Joe: Yeah, I can't imagine the Steelers' defense is as generous as the Bills' was. BUT! I was kind of struck by how much better/more confident Mark Sanchez looks when he's throwing to wide receivers who don't hate him. It's that QB/WR chemistry thing again. Sorry, Santonio Holmes, but Whatshisname and That Guy have supplanted your complaining ass. Pick: NY Jets

Tennessee at San Diego 

Aaron: Look, Chargers fans...if you wanna take pride in a win over a rebuilding Raiders team, have at it. But, one touchdown and three field-position-gifted field goals aren't going to be enough to knock off any of the AFC's legitimate playoff contenders...right, AFC?!  Not so fast, Tennessee.  No one was talking to you.  Pick: San Diego 

Joe: One blowout loss to the Patriots isn't going to rob me of picking the Titans to be a sleeper this year. Chris Johnson starting the season with another deeply troubling ground outing ... that might. Pick: San Diego

Detroit at San Francisco 

Aaron: Looks like the 49ers might've been one of two teams that I grossly underrated coming into this season.  I'm still not sure how QB Alex Smith was both accurate and efficient last week in Green Bay, but here they're home and the Lions ain't the Packers.  Pick: San Francisco 

Denver at Atlanta

Aaron: And, here's the other team that might be better than I thought!  Broncos QB Peyton Manning was nothing short of surgical with his short-to-moderate passing approach last week.  The Falcons have a few more weapons on offense than the Steelers -- the Broncos' week one opponent -- but, Manning looked great against a much better defense than what's in Atlanta.  Pick: Denver 

Joe:  But that Julio Jones, though ... what a guy. Pick: Atlanta