Tuesday, June 29, 2010

a few book reviews

As a teacher, I tend to read a lot during the summer since I have more free time. I've read about 8 books so far this month and noticed four of them were about sports. So I figured I'd give quick reviews.

Pistol Pete: Heir to a Dream by Pete Maravich and Darrel Campbell

Maravich is my favorite basketball player, rivaled only by Jordan. (Put these two on a team together in NBA Live '96 and see what happens!) This book was written right before Maravich died, but was completed after his father's death. It is definitely an interesting time for him as his life sort of finally makes sense to him at the end. Very sad at times. I definitely want to get my hands on one of the newer biographies that have come out recently.


SEC Basketball History & Tradition by Chris Warner

This is not exactly very well-written. There are misspellings and it is not organized very well at all. But the research and information is undeniably good. Great read for someone who grew up as a fan of an SEC school. It was fun reading about my favorite players from when I was younger (Shaq, Chris Jackson, Allan Houston, Billy McCaffery), the older guys I missed out on watching (Maravich, Barkley, Rupp), and then tons of people I'd never heard of. Afterword with Dale Brown brings it up a point.


Juiced by Jose Canseco

I've been wanting to read this for years, but libraries don't seem to carry it. Found it used for .75 cents last week and read it in a day. Hilarious stuff. It's everything you expect from this book, although some will be disappointed in the lack of committed finger-pointing. He says a lot of "this guy HAS to be using steroids" and not as much "I injected him myself" as we were led to believe. It's really about how he studied steroids to the point that he believed he knew how to not only increase performance on the field but to also improve quality of life! And you have to at least admire his passion. Wedge tells me there is a sequel, so now a new quest begins. I also need to check out the A&E documentary Last Shot.

7/10 (for entertainment value)

The Big Field by Mike Lupica

I am a huge Mike Lupica fan. I think he is an excellent sports journalist and his young adult books are always really good. I've had them on my summer reading lists for my students for the last 5 years or so. His stories are always about kids who are underdogs and, of course, how they overcome adversity. But his characters are believable and kids and adults can both relate. From a teacher's perspective, Lupica does not always do a good enough job integrating strong female characters. In fact, there are none in this story outside of a mother. That part is kind of unrealistic to me. But his stories are always good. If you haven't read his stuff before and are interested in young adult lit, I recommend Heat, Travel Team, and this book to start with.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

My Grab Bag Story

So we have a new site! And a new contributor in Andy (yes, the SpeedGeek himself)! And a returning member in Deuce? Maybe?

I like the new name. Andy told us a story about his experience with baseball card grab bags (maybe he can tell it here) and I had a similar story. When I was a kid living in New Orleans, my dad would sometimes take us on crazy road trips. If they involved watching music or sports, I was down. But sometimes we'd just go to random towns. Boring, right? So the first time he took us 90 minutes away to Ponchatoula, LA, my brothers and I were dreading it.

When we arrived in Ponchatoula and began to go into all of these antique stores on their main street, we thought things couldn't get any worse. Until we entered the single greatest antiques store ever found by a baseball card nerd. The guy who owned this store sold his antiques and did really well. But he usually hung out in the back room of his store, which was an amazing little card shop! He had such a huge supply of cards stashed into this small "store" about the size of my living room. We figured we'd at least found a place to hide until it was time to head back home to civilization. But then we found out about his prices...

This was the early- to mid-90s. Beckett was the Bible, right? Right. Everyone knows that. Well, this guy started his prices at HALF of Beckett. Think about that for a second. Think of all the cards you collected and the ones you paid a certain dollar amount for. Now imagine paying half of that. As a 13-year-old, it was like winning the lottery. If we were more enterprising children (or had less of a conscience) we'd have come home from the many trips we eventually begged to take there, carrying bagfuls of cards to sell to our friends for twice what we paid for them. The guy asked us not to do that though, so we never did. He was just happy to help kids have fun in a hobby that was quickly becoming an adults-only pastime.

And the grab bags? They were all marked $1 and labeled by sport. You would get at least $5 Beckett value in each bag (with special bags containing bigger scores, of course) in addition to one unopened pack! It didn't matter if it was 1987 Topps or 1993 Score or whatever it was! An unopened pack to a kid or teenager is like gold, especially for $1. Some grab bags had better packs, obviously, and you could get a 1989 Upper Deck or 1984 Donruss, for example.

At this time, we were mainly into the NBA and usually went to the basketball packs. We ended up with more Shaqs and Jordans than our friends even knew existed. We'd have so many extras we'd give them away like candy to our friends.

"What? You're giving me a Dan Majerle rookie card? Beckett says this is worth $5!"

"Dude, we have 23 of them in that one shoebox alone."

Seriously, we would save up $10 or $20 each and beg to go to Ponchatoula and spend all of our money on grab bags. The guy who owned the store knew then what we all know today: 99.9% of those cards from the 80s and 90s are financially worthless. But what it did for young sports fans and collectors is immeasurable.

Years later, even after that guy closed his store, I found myself bringing my own family to Ponchatoula, which also happens to be like the strawberry capital of the universe. No one sells cards there anymore, as far as I know, but I'll never forget that antiques store and those grab bags.

So Grab Bag Sports it is...

Unfortunately for me, the launch of this site comes at a pretty low point for me as a sports fan. The Cubs are so terrible and aren't even fun to watch anymore. I still do it, but it isn't fun. I usually put it on while I'm working these days. Or trying to fall asleep. Meanwhile, I'm hearing the Hornets not exactly refusing to listen to offers for Chris Paul. That would be a serious blow, possibly the nail in the coffin, as far as my interest in the NBA goes these days. (The Hornets need him and so does that city and its kids... if you trade him right now, personally, I'm done.) There's also a College World Series going on without LSU, which is always sort of sad.

So, maybe the Cubs will do something exciting soon? If not, there's always Saints stuff coming up! Either way, I'm looking forward to the new site and I think Allen has done a great job. Get ready for more nonsense from me soon.

Furious Wedge Becomes Grab Bag Sports

Roughly three years ago, after a good 6 years spent writing separately about anything and everything, my good friend Mike and I decided to open up a new collaborative avenue, specifically to talk sports... or at least of all things, find a place to bitch about the Bowl Championship Series.

It was a very on the fly decision (one we never really expected others to find, let alone read) and when Blogger asked me for a name to type in, Mike just took two of our numerous obscure online handles/screennames (my 'SandWedge' and his 'Ron Furious') and smashed them together... I believe it went something like:

Me: "So what should we call this thing?"
Mike: "hrmm..."
Mike: "How about, Furious Wedge.... hah, thats just nonsense"
Me: "Seems perfect"

And alas, that's really the entire story of how SandWedge and Ron Furious became Furious Wedge. Maybe one day we'll explain the nicknames. While I know we'll both still complain about the BCS (because it still sucks), but quite a few things have changed, most notably; neither of us live in New Orleans anymore. We've gone from a few posts about football to covering just about every sport that gets any kind of mainstream coverage. There was a time when only I contributed because Mike was just a tad little busy with a new baby.

Then there was the start of our now annual Blogathon, an event conceived almost as well as our name: "hey do you think we could actually live blog the entire Daytona 24 race?" The event had over 20 different guest bloggers posting in a 2 day period with Mario Kart and chat rooms, ridiculous, but so perfect. There have been a few attempted additions to the staff to no permanent avail, and there's been times when I've talked almost primarily IndyCar Series. I still find it almost ridiculous our site is hit regularly by people in more than 30 states and 20 countries.

The one thing we know for sure at this point is that we are at our best without much in the way of rules, but more in the line of...well... humor. We've never been a place to just republish the news with a link; and we don't generally take much of this stuff TOO seriously, at least not as much as we analyze or make fun of said news. To date, the only hiccup we've found is with our nonsensical name; quite a many people think of me as a single person called "Furious Wedge," due to my own fault in creating a twitter account with that name; or we just get too many blank stares when trying to cover events in person as a member of the media.

We plan to continue to do the same thing we've always done, only with a little change of scenery, and a much anticipated addition to the cast. We're glad to welcome in the awesome Andy "SpeedGeek" Miller, and also welcoming back Ryan "Deuce" McLaughlin who, I kid you not, took a leave of absence because he couldn't get internet at his new house due to being too rural!?

So knowing that we were getting this band together provided a good time for a renaming; only we needed something that would accurately portray this random selection of sports talk, and what better than the infamous bag of random mysteries. Are you going to get a rookie Ken Griffey Jr. baseball card, or even that Billy Ripken card with the curse word on it, or add to your collection of Oil Can Boyd? (my apologies to any of our readers who have never had the joy of collecting baseball cards).

And with that, I'll just say, as always, thanks for reading this nonsense :)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Midst of a Sports Hangover

If sports were alcohol, I’ve been partying for 3 weeks straight, and today I find myself waking up with a headache and trying to compose my memories about what exactly happened. I’m not even sure if hangover is the right word considering I’m, figuratively, still having some drinks with the World Cup and College World Series still in full swing and now Wimbledon has started up and already has a few upsets and near upsets to go with day 1.

So apparently its the blowing of Vuvuzelas as the reason so many Americans can’t get into soccer now. Yet Joe Theisman, Dennis Miller, Joe Morgan, Todd Harris, Thunder Sticks, loud booming sound systems and TV timeouts have never prevented them from watching any of the other popular American sports? At least vuvuzelas are consistent, after 5 minutes you don’t really notice them, just white noise. Can’t say the same for Marty Reid. But even with that conclusion, I do agree the World Cup could most definitely make a few changes to better the sport; however I disagree they should do anything to make the sport work for Americans (more scoring). Here are the only 2 things they need to do:

1) Stoppage time no longer a secret. We can all agree that the nonstop clock/action is part of what makes soccer great, but it presents the stoppage time conundrum. It’s simple; you assign a clock operator, just the same as in basketball, American football and hockey. Whenever there is a stop in play we can watch an official secondary clock adding up time; then when the game time hits 45 and 90 minutes we watch the stoppage clock count down to 0. And just like that we get added excitement of final seconds and accountability, instead of injuries taking up 10 minutes of game time and getting only 2 minutes of stoppage time.

2a) You go down for an injury; you have to sit out for a few minutes. I think we can all agree diving is easily soccer’s BIGGEST problem. It’s easy; if you go down grabbing at a body part then you must sit out for at least 2 minutes of game time. If the medical team has to come out and cart you off the field, it goes up to 5 minutes. And just like that people stop faking injuries.

2b) All diving is subject to post-game review and penalties. So Ronaldo wants to fall down even when guys don’t hit him, and manages to fool the ref… fine that’s his prerogative, and not always the ref’s fault depending on his angle. But for now on, post game video is reviewable and for each 100% certain dive a player takes, they must sit out 20 minutes of the next game, they dive two times, they’re gone for almost a half; maybe next time they’ll think twice about pretending someone snapped their tibia by breathing on them, only to get up and sprint down the field after they realize no one is giving them any attention.

As with three weeks of partying, some of the thoughts may be delayed or hazy but, I do remember a question for one Mr. Barnhart. I’m pretty sure there’s a good chance I remember you let a car with metal coil hanging off go around the track in green flag conditions over 200 mph. I don’t believe you’ve yet addressed why you didn’t immediately go to yellow flag conditions, especially considering how short ago Felipe Massa was almost killed by shedding parts from another car… but even better, can you let us know why you allowed a team with such disregard for its fellow competitors to continue to race?

NEVER over-celebrate before winning a championship. It seems simple, you know, like say... not doing a full team dog-pile because your team made it to the halfway point of the playoffs... yeah that’s totally the kind of thing not worth of a dogpile, doing so may result in breaking your wrist and not being able to play the other half of the playoffs.

I can’t be certain I’m remembering this last one fully, but I think if your husband wins the Indy 500, laws of physics no longer apply to you, feel free to run down pit lane barefoot while cars come at you doing 60 mph. 

Thank you Dustin Johnson. You started your final round of the U.S. Open with a Triple Bogey, Double Bogey and regular ole Bogey, and even managed to fit in 5 more bogeys into your game all the while managing to only finish 5 strokes off the lead. You sir, give myself and every other scratch golfer out there hope.

Can we make a new rule banning Helio Castroneves from the front row of race starts? It’s pretty clear he has no intention of ever following proper race starting procedure, but I guess neither does race control.

NBA, I could swear when we all started this partying you were a good month into your playoffs... but that just can’t be right… I totally remember you just crowned your champion last week which would mean your playoffs took over two months to complete… Please tell me I have that wrong.

Don’t worry if you started further back and finished better than your competition… Rookie of the Year is only a title… a title that comes with a cash prize…

I’m starting to have drawbacks already, is it time to for ABC to cover an IndyCar race again because I don’t feel challenged by Versus, I need someone to mess up more in the magnitude of like: telling me you think the race leader is suddenly in 15th place because you still don’t know the paint schemes of the cars; something which Marty Reid pulled off so flawlessly during the final 30 laps of the Indy 500.

I swear I’m not making the following up. During the coverage of the Brazil-North Korea World Cup match, Mike Tirico told us that Kim Jong-Il talks with the team’s coach Kim Jong-Hun on a regular basis about game strategy… and yet that wasn’t the weirdest part… apparently he does so: "using mobile phones that are not visible to the naked eye."

NFL, we know a lot of people think you’re great, we also know that you think incredibly high of yourself, but you need to learn something from your half-brother NASCAR. More is not always better.

I wanted to note that I’ve bashed the heck out of IndyCar for their generally unexplained refusal to accept SMI’s deal 2 years ago for Las Vegas and New Hampshire... and as such I should return the favor when I think Randy Bernard is on some kind of roll, they’ve announced engine basics, ICONIC decision is about a month away; and best yet, Baltimore and New Hampshire just got added so here is an honest applause from me. However, there is one place where I think he needs to recheck his math. So the Indy 500 is going to start earlier, that’s nice, but it doesn’t take a mathematician to understand that Indiana changed how it observes Daylight Savings time, which means 12 Noon is the time it should move to, not 11am.

Am I the only one who finds it just a little silly in college football that the Big-12 now has ten teams and the Big-10 now has twelve teams??

Lastly; The one record I generally never thought I would see broken? Whether or not each incident was entirely their fault, remembering and re-checking with my online sources, in 2002 between Eddie Cheever Jr. and Tomas Scheckter the Red Bull Cheever Racing team smushed up roughly 12 cars in one season (give or take a few as its hard to confirm practice crashes online). By my other unofficial count, KV Racing Technology just hit 13 this weekend…

Now of course you would think KV has an additional driver advantage to the Cheever team of 2002, but keep in mind Cheever did employ both Scheckter and Buddy Rice for two races (one of which Tomas won), which brought their total opportunities in 2002 to 32. (15 races that year x 2 drivers + 2 bonus races with both Scheckter and Rice).

What KV has done is bested Red Bull Cheever's mark needing only 28 chances (3 drivers x 9 races + 1 for Paul Tracy at Indy) no asterisks is needed next to this record. Paul Dalbey from PlanetIRL estimates the count is actually 16 smashes for KV, I'm not even sure what it says for KV Racing that we're not sure if they've officially torn up 13 or 16 cars so far this year, either way the record is as good as theirs. There are nine races still to go, how high can the mark be set? I guess more importantly, do you think they get frequent buyer discounts from Dallara by now?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Awesome Sports Weekend Ensues

You may have noticed a little lag in posting in the last 2 weeks here, but unlike the fine people running BP, we're not going to hide and make excuses... ok maybe excuses. Alas I can report it has nothing to do with us disappearing; but actually has to do with us working behind the scenes on a new site as well as some soon to be announced changes (for the better).

Even that isn't taking all the time, to be fair its just a monumental time for sports right now; we don't have an IndyCar race this weekend but we're loaded with World Cup games, NCAA baseball Super Regionals, NBA finals (if you like that sorta thing... Ron), Formula One's return to Canada, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and tons more.

Right now you'll find all of us doing plenty tweeting out there if you need your Furious Wedge fix; just think of it as some kind of cone device that we put over the massive outflow (or spill, if you will) of not posting. So lets get some stuff in here real quick.

Firstly, let me give a little shout out to Pat and all our other readers out there in England. You guys are great, we love you all, which is why its a shame U.S.A. is going to beat you in a little over an hour.

Seriously though, the World Cup (along with any other international competition) is my biggest drug, always consumes my sporting life. I'm waking up at 6am, on a Saturday!! today so I could watch South Korea pull an awesome upset, but not in upset fashion over Greece, more like "oh by the way we're kicking your ass" fashion.

Then Argentina plays some of the most aggressive first 45 minutes I've seen, seriously with all their hair and aggressiveness I bet they were even hitting on the Nigerian player's wives at the half. Nigeria looked good in the 2nd half but that wasn't enough, and I'll just say this about yesterday's matches... Mexico should be ahead in Pool B as the only winner right now.

So if World Cup is the addiction, the NCAA baseball playoffs has to be that crazy ass night you remember only when you wake up in the morning, just think "The Hangover." I L-O-V-E the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, if not just for the great university name and mascot, but every game they play is every piece of drama you can. Its almost like they have a checklist as they go in a game: pitchers duel for a few innings, check; grand slam, check; wild pitch scoring a winning run, check; controversy with coaches getting tossed, check; diving catches to save innings, check; extra innings, check; amazing game saving plays, check, a guy throwing a complete game and then throwing relief 1 night later, check... and that was just their first weekend.

Right now they're down 4-2 to South Carolina in a game that already includes 2 innings with bases loaded, one with walking a run in, another with a 2 run home run, a sliding/tripping out at first base and now somehow we've started another pitchers duel... This is going to be so hard once England/USA starts, my brain might just explode.

At least SPEED here is stupid enough that they cut the 24 Hours of Le Mans off the TV for NASCAR practice. That bears repeating, SPEED, a channel dedicating, allegedly, to showcasing cars and motorsports, is turning off the world's premier sports car race and showcase of technology, so that they can instead put on hours of box-cars using 30 year old technology run tests to see if they have any leaks... At least SPEED got a little sense in that they are continuing Le Mans online for Free, now if we could only get them to somehow do 24 straight hours of live coverage for Daytona 24... or at the least, not ban teams from doing live updates during races.

Apparently there's some NBA league out there, but I'm sure Ron can tell you more about that; I can tell you D.C. is all up in a frenzy over Stephen Strasburg.. and how can you not be? Kid (and I use that term because he is) threw ridiculous stuff, has many major pitches and all of them are the extremes of their kind. High 90 fastball, curve that drops 3 feet, change up that goes 20 mph slower than the fastball with no tip to when its coming... I now have a few Nats tickets to go check this out in person, surely something that melt my face like that scene in Indiana Jones.

Oh yeah and Boise State finally realized they need to go to the Mountain West, and Nebraska joins the Big 10.... which means the Big 10 now has 12 teams.... and the Big 12 now has 10 teams... You can't make that up. Now what are the odds Louisiana Tech finally comes to the conclusion they are nowhere close to "West" and get out of the WEC joining the SEC opposite Texas A&M???

So with all this and more going on, I need to get back to this, see you on twitter, and look out for some big announcements for Furious Wedge very soon. In all seriousness to all you World Cup fans, may everyone be safe, may none of the 300 players who fall down grabbing at legs actually be hurt, and may the best teams win...USA!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Send Mike Conway a Get-Well Card

(props to Pressdog for alerting me to this)

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has offered to deliver your get-well e-wishes and old-school mail and cards directly to Mike Conway.

Click HERE to use the contact form on the DRR Web site to send Mike an e-message.

Or snail mail your best wishes to:

Mike Conway
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
4501 West 99th Street
Carmel, IN 46032

Reports as of today are that Mike is in good spirits and is expected to make a full recovery from leg and vertebra fractures. Really hope to see him back in the Dad's Root Beer car soon; he was simply 6 turns away from a podium and equaling his best finish in the series, I for one am anxious to see his great momentum back on the track.

Get well soon Mike!