Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I have been neglecting my duties to the Metblog community, and for that I humbly apologize. My every waking moment for the last month or so was occupied by the critically acclaimed Bloody Bess: A Tale of Piracy and Revenge, which has now closed — and not a moment too soon. Why? Because it is almost that time of the year again. What time, you ask?

Football time.

Now before I get all gushy about the Bears, did you guys know we have a women’s tackle football team here? And did you know that they are awesome? The Chicago Force play the Dallas Diamonds for the Independent Women’s Football League Championship tomorrow night at the Holmgren Athletic Complex at North Park University. Tickets are only fifteen bucks, but as it is the championship game, they will sell out fast.

And of course, the Bears are back in training camp, and the preseason is but a few scant weeks away. The drama this year (like every year) centers on the quarterback position, with Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton competing for the top spot. In this fan’s opinion, you’ve got six in one, half dozen in the other. With Rex you get flashes of brilliance marred by periods of extreme crappitude, while in Kyle you get a fairly consistent meh. Grossman claims to have had the most productive off-season of his career, but time will tell if it pays off. For my money I would stick with Rex as the starter simply for that chance that something amazing might happen. But realistically, it is time for the Bears to look elsewhere.

The other excitement of training camp is always Who Is Holding Out for a Better Contract? This year Brian Urlacher played it classy by showing up for all the scheduled workouts even while his contract was still being negotiated. First-round pick Chris Williams came to terms just in time for training camp, which is always good news. The only hold-out was kick-return genius and mediocre wide receiver Devin Hester, who thinks that his eleven returns for touchdowns in the last two years warrant a raise of some kind (hint: It does). Some have suggested that Hester may be more valuable on the trading block, but I’d hate to lose a guy who, behind Urlacher, has practically become the face of the Bears over the past two seasons. His poor performance at wide receiver is due mostly to his lack of experience (Hester played defense in college), and if he can achieve even a fraction of the magic he’s shown on special teams he will be a force to be reckoned with on offense.

The first game of preseason is Thursday, August 7, against Kansas City. I cannot wait.

Oh, yeah . . . The Cubs and Sox are both still in first place, and I hear we have a couple of hockey teams and a soccer club around here somewhere too.

Ten Reasons To Bike Chicago More

There have been a couple of bicycling tragedies in the last few weeks here in Chicago, with two vibrant young people (one of them a fifth grade teacher) lost. Both stories are very sad, and very sobering reminders that real dangers exist for city folks who ride their bikes.

Where I’m from, suburban/rural Indiana, the worst hazards a cyclist faced were overzealous farm dogs and the occasional stray litter of pigs spilling out into the road. Here in the city, I’ve learned to watch out for cars, and, more specifically, it’s wise to assume that not only do cabbies not see you coming, they’re actually out to get you. I swear that every time I venture out on two wheels, even in broad daylight, there are at least two or three cabbies who pull sharp u-turns directly in my path, sometimes simply stopping right in front of me. Maybe they think my bike is a hovercraft and I can simply fly over the top of their cabs? I’m not sure. The point is: bike defensively, folks.

Now that the safety lecture is over, ten reasons to ride your bike more:

1. It’s free. It’s not $4.00 a gallon to fuel up, and it’s not $1.75 on your CTA card. Granted, at most gas stations it’s a quarter to pump up your tires, but mile for mile, biking is cheaper than any other form of transportation.

2. A wide range of health benefits: you will increase your stamina and boost your muscle power with all that cardio. You’ll also sleep better and enjoy elevated moods. Winter depression begone!

3. No pee smell, like on the CTA.

4. All that cardio will rev up your metabolism, and prompt your body to crave healthier food.

5. You get cool points every time you walk into a party or other social gathering with your helmet in hand. Double cool points if you rode through even the tiniest amount of precipitation. (“Dude, did you ride here in the rain?” Shrug this off casually with a “Yeah, whatever, it’s cool.”)

6. You’ll also score hot points. Exercise is good for your sexual health and with the inevitable few pounds dropped and an increase in your energy, you’ll be hotter and friskier before you know it. This is also an excellent reason to talk your significant other into joining you in biking adventures.

7. Extra snacking privileges – with all those extra calories burned, you’ll be able to get away with a lot more extracurricular eating, on top of all the veggies and fruits you’ll naturally be craving. Last summer I biked like mad and I was the fittest I’ve been in several years, despite treating myself at least once a week to a nutritionally terrible but utterly delicious McDonald’s cheeseburger and Lay’s potato chip snackstravaganza. (That treat is properly eaten with the chips crushed in the sandwich, by the way. Propriety and decorum be damned.)

8. Related note: food eaten while sitting on one’s bike seat are calorically void* — this includes any and all food purchased from mobile ice cream carts.

9. Enjoying the beauty of nature and the city and its inhabitants. The city observed at a biking pace is quite different from zooming along in a car or bus. You notice and appreciate things you hadn’t seen before. I also love biking up and down the Lakeshore Trail, taking in the fresh breeze, and overhearing tidbits of conversation from fellow park-goers. There’s a lot of marvelous diversity among our fellow citizens, and feeling connected to that is a pretty cool thing.

10. Opportunities to make more friends. Affect bullcrap political motivations for biking and pick up more greenies, hipsters, and vegan anarchists, if that’s your thing, pick up hippie chicks and dudes in bike shops and at red lights if you want to go that way, or join organized events like Critical Mass and make thousands of friends at a time.

On that note, please enjoy this video I made chronicling my first Critical Mass ride, in September of 2007. That was a night to remember — five blissful hours in the saddle and not one, but two amazing post-ride dinners. First, there was a fine beefy meal at Tank Noodle (supplemented by BYOB Guinness), and then, after a nearby birthday party, a 2:00 a.m. run to good old Standee’s on Granville, where I ordered grilled cheese with extra pickles and “whatever kind of pie you have.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iQFLXu4TfA[/youtube]

* wishful thinking

Edited to add: this enthusiastic pro-biking post was, indeed, followed up that same day in my offline life by my first real crash, which I wrote about on my personal blog. More of a thump than a crash, and certainly a lesson well-learned: don’t underestimate the might of the Windy City’s wind.

Draft Weekend

The NFL draft was last weekend. If you ever wanted to learn about the subtle intricacies of the game of football, don’t watch the games themselves. Watch ESPN’s live coverage of the draft. A team selects a player, and then you get a breakdown of that player’s strengths and weaknesses. When watching a game it is easy to deduce the pros and cons of the players who actually handle the ball, but the other guys kinda get lost in the messy pile of players in the middle. But watching the draft you learn that that messy pile is not a mess at all, and is instead the result of careful strategy, finding ways to combine the specific skill sets of individual players into one of two goals: Move the ball, or stop the ball.

In this football fan’s humble opinion, the Bears had one of their best draft weekends in recent years. They shored up their aging offensive line, added depth at key defensive positions, and made for some interesting preseason competition at running back and wide receiver. I’m particularly excited about our first-round pick, OT Chris Williams from Vanderbilt. Six-six, 315 pounds, Williams will provide badly needed pass protection from the left side of the line, and will also allow the old left tackle, John Tait, to return to the right side where he has more experience. Given how porous our offensive line was last year, don’t be surprised if Williams gets added to the mix early. He’s smart, disciplined player, which counts for quite a lot at the pro level. I think I’m gonna like this guy.

I’m also very interested in seeing what happens with our 2nd-round pick, RB Matt Forte from Tulane. Forte finished his college career as the second-ranked running back in the country, with 2,127 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns. Coming from Tulane it might be argued that he hasn’t played much against heavy competition, but his impressive display at the NFL scouting combine (this guy ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds!) gave a few more points in his favor. He’s a big guy, more of a down-hill, crash-through-the-line kind of back, rather than a guy who makes quick cuts on the outside, which interests me because that’s pretty much the same description as last year’s starter Cedric Benson. Benson has been pretty much a bust since he held out on his first contract after his own draft. He’s been plagued with injuries, and just hasn’t lived up to the hype. Holding onto Benson while trading Thomas Jones was probably the biggest mistake of last year’s offseason.

There’s been a lot of buzz about the fact that the Bears did not draft a quarterback this year. The Bears have already committed to giving Rex Grossman one last shot at regaining the brilliance he showed flashes of two years ago. I think that’s the right move, especially when you consider that there just weren’t that many stand-out QBs available in the draft this year. I doubt that there is any position in football that has a more difficult transition from college to the professional level, and there are just too many intangibles to accurately assess which players have what it takes make it in the NFL. I think it’s safe to say, however, that if we don’t at least make the first round of playoffs then this will be the last we see of both Grossman and Kyle Orton in Bears jerseys.

There won’t be much more football news until it gets closer to the start of preseason, so we shall just have to content ourselves with the fact that right now both of our baseball teams are still at the top of their respective divisions. (Well, as of last night the Cubs are tied at the top of theirs, but the Sox are 2.5 games up! Awesome!)

Bear Down!

2 In 1st

It was a good weekend for baseball here in Chicago, topped by both the Cubs and White Sox climbing to first place in their respective divisions. Now, it’s only the beginning of a very long season, so let’s not get too excited. Even Cubs manager Lou Pinella was quick to point out that it was to early to pay much attention to the standings. But let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

A couple of highlights from the weekend:

  • The Cubs swept the Pittsburgh Pirates for the second time this season. The twenty-six runs in the last two days are the most scored by the Cubs in consecutive games in five years.
  • Sox DH Jim Thome hit his 512th career home run, moving him to 19th on the all-time home run list — tied with legends Eddie Mathews and Ernie Banks.

I’m starting to get excited about baseball season. This is actually early, for me. Usually I don’t pay attention until June.

Give it a Whirl, Chicago

Recently I tagged along with a large group of friends for a birthday celebration involving the “insanity, grit, and excitement” of WhirlyBall at 1880 West Fullerton Avenue here in Chicago. For around $200 an hour, you can rent a court with your besties, and flit around in little whirring one-seaters that look like lawnmowers on steroids, while scooping madly for an uncooperative little ball.

But be warned — by the time you figure out the one-handed steering and actually wrangle possession of the elusive ball, you realize the goal’s hoop is so sunken and crazily designed that you have about a one-in-a-hundred chance of actually hitting the sweet spot.

Not to mention the fact that the most likely way to score is steaming straight down the court full-speed to the goal, and, since there are no brakes on the Whirlyball cars, crashing head-on into the wall. After seeing that strategy implemented once or twice, I was convinced that my fun would be had cheering and documenting the night’s delights. My chronic neck pain endorsed this decision.

And in case you’re thinking “Well, duh, it’s also a bar, so everyone’s too drunk to play well,” let me assure you that that it is the adrenaline reward associated with Whirlyball that’s powerfully addictive — most of my group let their unattended beers grow warm on the table of the spectators’ lounge rather than miss another chance to play.

Enjoy this brief video clip I put together and remember, Whirlyball isn’t just for rambunctious 30 year olds and Bar Mitzvahs, it’s also the suggested setting for corporate team-building events, which only makes sense. Nothing will help you the trust of your underlings quite like repeatedly ramming into them with amped-up bumper cars and then sharing a basket of conciliatory chicken fingers.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1bJpdDgzN0[/youtube]

kickity kick ball!

It’s kickball season, kids!!!

One of the things at the top of my “things-to-do-as-soon-as-I-move-to-Chicago” list has always been “organize a kickball team”. And guess who’s organizing a kickball team, as we speak?!

Me!

It’s going to be so much fun! All official and stuff with t-shirts and everything! Games start in a few weeks and HEY, we still need members! Interested? Let me know! (We’re playing on the N. side, btw) 

Da Merlot!

Mike Ditka has his own set of wines. One is even named “kick ass red wine”. The rest must be less capable in hand to hand combat since they just have regular wine names.  Had these wines been around earlier it might have completely changed the entire diet of Bill Swerski and the super fans.  Ditka’s wines are probably old news, but it still makes my brain do the super bowl shuffle trying to correlate Iron Mike with a bottle of chardonnay:

Mike Ditka Chardonnay

We Actually Do Have a Decent Sports Team

Baseball season is here appallingly early, as per usual. I personally believe that baseball should not be played when there is a chance of snow falling anywhere in the continental US. If they could just hold off until May, and then maybe get the World Series wrapped up by the end of September, that would be great with me. Otherwise it just distracts from more important things, like football.

Our teams got off to fairly typical starts: The White Sox split their first four games and are floating comfortably in the middle of their division, while the Cubs dove straight into last place. It is, however, only the beginning of the season. I mean, Kerry Wood hasn’t even gone on the DL yet, so there’s time.

Frankly, I’m more interested in Chicago’s Arena Football League franchise, the Rush. With a 4-1 start to the season they’re way ahead in the Central Division. Have you guys watched this game? It amazes me just how different it is from NFL-style American football, while still maintaining the spirit of the game. The confined playing space has its down side: The scoring happens so often that touchdowns stop being impressive — it’s more noteworthy when a team fails to cap a drive with a score. But the flipside is that the smaller field calls for players to display a very different kind of athleticism than the wide-open space of the NFL. Receivers and running backs (or “offensive specialists”) are called on to make more intricate cuts and moves. Quarterbacks have less protection because there are only eight players on the field rather than eleven.

The plays themselves are unlike anything you might have seen, unless maybe you watched the ill-fated XFL. Things like forward motion before the snap, playing kicks off of rebounds, no punting… and most of the players play offense and defense. It’s football like you played with your friends on the street in front of your house when you were eight. Kinda awesome.

For those of you who are interested, Wikipedia has a pretty good article explaining the rules of the game, and you can check out the Chicago Rush website for game times.

Go Figure

A couple of weeks back I posted a brief tale about nearly getting tricked into buying a Marty Booker Bears jersey. Turns out, I apparently missed out on a sweet deal. The Bears announced that Mr. Booker would be returning to the fold after his hiatus in Miami. He is coming back to replace his own replacement, Muhsin Muhammad, who left during free agency to rejoin his original team, the Carolina Panthers.

There is a lesson here, but I’m not sure what it is. Probably has something to do with money.

The Centennial

The baseball season rapidly approaches. Too rapidly, for me; I need a solid month to recover after the Super Bowl every year &#8212 longer, if the Bears made it to the playoffs. But with the Blackhawks and Bulls doing their level best to remain mediocre, the local media is all a-twitter about the upcoming season of America’s Pastime.

Pitchers and catchers reported for spring training yesterday, thus embarking on the 100th season since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series. If right-hander Ryan Dempster is to be believed, this year we shall commemorate the centennial in style.

“I think we are going to win the World Series. I really do,” Dempster said. Bold words, considering Carlos Zambrano said pretty much the same thing at the beginning of last season, but it’s still just as adorable, don’t you think? At least Dempster, who plans to make the transition from closer to starter this season, didn’t prognosticate a Cy Young Award for himself, as Zambrano did a year ago. That would have been silly.

The White Sox had a fairly active off-season, picking up the likes of outfielder Nick Swisher, shortstop Orlando Cabrera, and outfielder Carlos Quentin. The team this year will look very different from the group that won the World Series in 2005, only to miss the playoffs the next two seasons. The team did manage to set a franchise record with 1,149 strikeouts last year. That’s something, right?

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