Friday, October 31, 2014

Wacky, wild, weird, wonderful, woeful: What a week it was!

It's been an interesting week, to say the least ...

Losing With ... Um ... Style?

My old-man softball team, which won the regular-season fall title, lost in the second round of the postseason tournament. It wasn't your run-of-the-mill defeat.

After a hit by our opponent early in the game, our shortstop took the relay and tried to throw the runner out at third, but our third baseman wasn't on the bag. Our shortstop yelled at our third baseman, who took umbrage and yelled back. The two moved closer to each other and jawed for a couple of minutes while players from both teams watched in bemusement. After the inning, the third baseman walked off the field, said, "I've had enough of this shit," and left the ballpark. Amazing.

We didn't play well and trailed 18-10 going into the bottom of the sixth. But we rallied gamely, scoring 5 runs that inning, giving up one run in the top of the seventh and scoring 3 in the bottom of the seventh to pull within 19-18. We had the bases loaded and two outs. Our batter scratched out an infield hit to tie the game, but our runner at second tried to come all the way around to score and was called out on a very close play at the plate. The umpire's emphatic call led to much whining (and more than a little cussing).

So the game went into extra innings ... and we lost. On the final play, our baserunner went into second standing up and made contact with the opposing second baseman. Tempers flared and much shouting ensued. Shortly thereafter, our left fielder -- who earlier in the season had almost brawled with our first baseman -- somehow got into it with the umpire. The two were wrestling like a couple of ancient polar bears; in the process, our left fielder pulled the umpire's shirt over his head, hockey-style.

Yep, we're a bunch of codgers but we still have fire in our ever-expanding bellies!

Losing With Consistency

The Panthers, my adopted team, pulled off the rare feet of losing twice at home within 5 days. In so doing, they went from having a fairly commanding lead in the NFL's worst division to having little chance to repeat as NFC South champs.

The Panthers have never had back-to-back winning seasons. Yes, that's never as in NEVER EVER. And it certainly looks like the streak will continue. The team's decision to go cheap in the defensive backfield, at wide receiver and on the offensive line has created too many weaknesses to overcome.

As is usually the case in sports, a team gets what it deserves.

Love The Ump!

I had an assignment at one field and then had to hustle to a completely different facility to umpire another game. The first game went into extra innings, so I didn't get to the second game until the bottom of the first inning was just ending. They had started the game with one of the dads calling strikes and balls while standing behind the pitcher's mound.

At the end of the inning, I walked onto the field. The coach who saw me first smiled broadly, shook my hand and said something most umpires never hear:

"Thank God you're here!"

Only The Best For The Cubbies

After yet another awful season, the Cubs are ready to hire ex-Rays manager Joe Maddon to finally get them to the promised land. Nobody denies he is the "best manager available."

If I were a cynic -- and we all know I'm not, right? -- I might point out that Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker each unquestionably was the "best manager available" when hired to rule over Cubbieland. If memory serves, the same even was said about Don Baylor and Jim Riggleman.

Yeah, optimists might say, but things will be different this time. The Cubs actually have a management plan. In Theo Epstein, they have a president with a proven track record of building World Series winners.

Oh, that is different. It's not as if Andy MacPhail had ever built a winner before coming to Cubbieland.

All I know is that nobody under the age of 106 ever lost a cent betting against a Cubs championship.

Eagles Are Flying Again

The Scholars Academy Eagles -- the middle-school girls' basketball team I coach -- held our tryouts and our first practice of the season this week.

Our team is deeper, taller, more experienced and, I believe, more talented than we were last season. At our first practice last year, we had trouble making layups. Layups? What am I saying? We had trouble making a single layup! Yesterday, we were making most of them ... and some jumpers, too.

Both the athletic director and executive director (that's right -- charter schools have executive directors, not principals) already have commented how good the team looks. Great. I was just thinking I need a little more pressure in my life!

I think I'll wait until we've played a game or three before I declare us a juggernaut-to-be. We still will be smaller than most opponents, still will have to scrap and fight for every win.

We also still have to show we will have the same kind of chemistry last year's team did.

The first game is Nov. 13 ... and I'm already nervous!

A Giant Among Giants

So many are praising Madison Bumgarner so much that this is where the voice-of-reason in me usually says: "Slow down. He isn't really the best World Series pitcher ever."

But you know what? He might be.

That last relief outing, with Bumgarner pitching 5 shutout innings in the Giants' 3-2 Game 7 win over the Royals ... wow!

When Joe Buck asked after the eighth inning: "How can Bruce Bochy take him out of the game?" I actually screamed at the TV: He can't!

Kudos to Bochy for not thinking he needed to do more managing. It was similar to Ozzie Guillen's understated managing during the White Sox's run to the 2005 title. Ozzie, you'll remember, let four straight starters pitch complete games in the ALCS.

Had Tony La Russa been San Fran's manager, you know damn well that he would have felt compelled to use a half-dozen relievers  -- and not one of them would have been half as good as Madison Bumgarner!

Riding A Writing Hot Streak

I just completed a three-part series for financial site Seeking Alpha about excellent Dividend Growth Investing opportunities. (Read Part 3 here.) The first two parts have combined to draw some 40,000 pageviews and 1,000 comments, and each of the three was designated an "Editors' Pick."

It's almost as if I used to be a writer or something!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hating my "favorite" college football team

What a  decision I had to make Saturday night:

Root for my favorite college football team (which, of course, is whatever team is playing Notre Dame in any given week) ... or root for whichever team was playing against Jameis Winston and other assorted Florida State miscreants (which this week happened to be Notre Dame).

In the end, the notion that Notre Dame could go into college football's new playoff system unbeaten was too much to take, and I had to side with the FSU Felons.

The Seminoles won a very exciting game, so I guess I'm ... um ... happy?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Way to bear down, Panthers!

Sunday, Robbie and I went to our first Panthers game.

Yep, that's me rockin' the Keyshawn Johnson
jersey I got on eBay for 16 bucks!

We were joined by Ben, who was in town from Chicago to root on his Bears. Ben and I made a bet: If the Panthers win, he would have to wear my Panthers shirt when he "guest coaches" my middle school basketball team at Monday's practice; if the Bears win, I'd wear his shirt to practice.

He'll look good in black and Panthers blue, baby!

For much of the game, it seemed I'd have to wear his "Ditka is God" t-shirt, though, as the Bears took advantage of a bunch of Panthers mistakes to race to a 21-7 lead.

But when Robbie Gould shockingly went wide-right on a 35-yard FG late in the first half and then Cam Newton marched the Panthers downfield for a TD pass to Greg Olsen seconds before halftime, I began to think my adopted team had a chance.

As it turned out, it was just a matter of waiting for the inevitable screw-ups by Jay Cutler & Co. A horribly thrown pass by Cutler with about 6 minutes left was intercepted and led to a FG that tied it at 24. On Chicago's very next offensive play, Matt Forte fumbled and the Panthers recovered. Newton and Olsen connected in the end zone again, and the Panthers had the lead with just over 2 minutes to go.

The Bears' last hope ended with Cutler getting sacked and fumbling. The stadium was rocking, with Panthers fans out-shouting the thousands of Bear backers who showed up.

Up in Section 535, we were surrounded by Bears fans - including the guy in front of me who for some reason decided to wear his Olsen #82 jersey. Really, this yahoo wanted to be reminded about the awful trade that gave away one of the NFL's best tight ends? In an interview last week, Jerry Angelo finally admitted the trade was a bad one.

Thanks, Jerry! No wonder you're now an ex-GM.

I wasn't surprised the Bears imploded - especially Cutler, who has won one playoff game in his entire career and whose job title should read "Coach Killer Extraordinaire." I was a little surprised by the screw-ups of Gould and Forte, two of the few reliable Bears.

I am happy for good-guy Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who spent his entire playing career in Chicago and, as defensive coordinator, helped the Bears reach the 2007 Super Bowl. This season, Rivera has beaten both his former team and Lovie Smith, the now-Bucs coach who inexplicably fired Rivera after the Super Bowl so he could hire his incompetent buddy, Bob Babich. Hey, Rivera was too good for Lovie the Loser, anyway!

While the Bears prepare to fall to sub-mediocrity, "my" Panthers are alone in first place in the NFC South ... at least for a week. The brutal upcoming schedule includes these next three games: at Cinci, at Green Bay and home vs. Seattle.

So playing the Bears at home represented a must-win situation. And thanks in great part to the Bears' largess, win the Panthers did.