Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.
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Apologies in advance for bringing up the NASL again - it's on my mind lately, I'm afraid - but the league landed on an innovation this year that's working wonderfully. In past years, teams played 28 games in a season. By early July, with the playoffs still months away and the opening-day excitement long since faded, boredom started to set in a little.
This year, though, the league is split up into two halves, including a 12-game season and a 14-game season. Even though it's June 1, this week's games have major playoff implications, if only because there are four games left in the season after today, not 20. Artificial it is, but it feels far more exciting - only thanks to a shorter season.
I'm not saying that the NBA or NHL should split its season into two halves, because that would be ridiculous. But there are 30 teams in both leagues; what if those sports played a 58-game schedule, playing every other team home and away once? Players would love it, owners would hate it, but I think every game would feel like a bigger game for the fans, which might drive more people to the gate and to the television screen - and isn't that what owners really want? If nothing else, it sure seems to work for football.
*On with the links:
*Aaron Gleeman looks at the Twins' choices in next week's MLB Draft, coming up with nine directions the Twins might go with the fourth pick.
*You should be reading A Wolf Among Wolves' offseason recap, which includes wonderful looks back at every player on the roster last year.
*Joe Posnanski writes about Doc Emrick, the voice of American hockey, who by common consent - even among his fellow play-by-play announcers - is the best in the business.
*Why can't Canada win the Stanley Cup? Let's ask Nate Silver!
*Jonathan Mahler has some very European soccer ideas about how to get the insanity out of youth sports in America.
*And finally: NBC is taking over Premier League coverage from ESPN, starting next year, so we wave goodbye to our Saturday morning family, ESPN commentators Ian Darke and Steve McManaman, with this outtake reel.
In recent years in this space, we've given updates along the way of the annual baseball road trip we take with friends. With a somewhat compacted trip this year -- four days, Friday-Monday -- over the Memorial Day weekend, however, we decided to save it all up for one post when people might actually be reading.
We did write a couple of things for print here (on hockey and wandering in Kansas City) and here (on Major League Soccer), so we won't rehash that part. Instead, here are some bullet points on the trip:
*This might have been the most exhausting and densely packed (in a good way) trip we have attempted. Our crew -- Rocket, P-Money and friend of the RandBall covenant Jon Marthaler -- left Minneapolis on Friday morning around 9:30 a.m.; we arrived back in Minneapolis around 11:30 p.m. Monday. In between, we saw an Iowa Cubs game (Friday), a KC Royals game (Saturday), a Sporting KC Major League soccer match (Sunday) and two Cedar Rapids Kernels games (Monday doubleheader). We also played nine holes of golf on three different days, played mini golf another day and drove more than 1,000 miles. This is all somehow possible.
*Golfing pro tip: If you are an average-to-poor golfer traveling, there is no need to seek out the best courses an area has to offer. Most decent-sized cities -- Des Moines, Kansas City and Cedar Rapids, in our case -- have very decent municipal courses with fairly easy access to tee times. We either booked or walked right onto all three courses. All three were in great shape, and green fees were about $15 everywhere for 9 holes. That's really all you need if golf isn't the primary reason for your trip.
*Byron Buxton is the real deal. The Twins' No. 1 pick in 2012 is tearing it up at Cedar Rapids. He was 3-for-5 with two walks in Monday's doubleheader. He is extremely fast. You don't need us to tell you that, but there it is anyway.
*The Cedar Rapids ballpark isn't much to look at from the outside, but inside it is a perfectly suited Class A ballpark -- a major upgrade over the Twins' previous affiliate in Beloit. That's us pictured above with Mr. Shucks, the mascot.
*Kansas City is a lot further from Cedar Rapids than you might think. In our initial planning, we didn't really do the math on it. We just assumed it was about as far from KC to Des Moines as it was to Cedar Rapids. FALSE. If not for some, ah, clever driving getting out of the Sporting KC match Sunday afternoon, we might still be driving to Cedar Rapids. It's almost 6 hours away from the far western suburb where Sporting KC plays. Noted.
*We had perhaps our unhealthiest four days of eating in the past 10 years. No, seriously. It was a steady diet of car snacks, hotel breakfasts, barbecued meats, ballpark food, bar food and fast food. It was dollar hot dog day during the doubleheader Monday in Cedar Rapids, and we're not even going to publicly admit how many hot dogs we ate. We are eating a salad for lunch today and it's not even close.
*Funniest moment: Rocket playing mini golf, missing a two-foot putt, angrily raking the ball toward the hole, missing again, kicking at the ball, then tapping the ball hard enough that it hopped outside the course off a rock, into the parking lot where it kept bouncing until it settled into a ravine. It was the first time in recorded mini golf history that anyone was in danger of losing a ball.
*Best thing about minor league games: We were sitting so close to the field Monday in Cedar Rapids that we were giving hitters scouting reports while they were on deck and they were actually listening.
*Unbelievable weather fortune: The weather forecast for pretty much the entire trip looked dire. Rain and thunderstorms were forecasted everywhere. But somehow we had zero rainouts -- even getting an extra game Monday because of a Sunday rainout -- and threaded the needle driving between multiple thunderstorms on multiple occasions. Everywhere we went either seemed to get pounded by rain when we left or was pounded by rain before we got there. It was even actually sunny for a lot of the trip.
*The bubble hockey tournament referenced in one of the above links was so intense that two of the plastic players (one from each team) were knocked off their pegs and lay motionless on the fake ice. Turns out that you can lift up the bubble from one side to put them back on their pegs. Also noted. (By the way: With Jon as our teammate, we took down Rocket and P-Money 4 games to 2 in a best of 7. It was only one quarter to play at the Blue Line bar in Kansas City. We really can't recommend that place enough).
On the heels of Monday's Vikings stadium unveiling, we had a chance to chat with Dan Courtemanche, the Executive VP of Communications for Major League Soccer, about the design of the building and the potential future of MLS in Minnesota. The Vikings, per the terms of the original stadium language, have exclusive rights to bring Major League Soccer to the venue for five years after it opens.
Here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Courtemanche (which we hope to follow in a subsequent post after an interview with Vikings VP Lester Bagley):
*On whether the new stadium design, which does have a soccer configuration, would work for MLS: "No question. We believe it’s another strong indicator of the growth of soccer across the country when you have venues like this that can house not just a potential MLS team but a World Cup game in the future."
*On where MLS expansion stands: "We don’t have specific plans or a timeline, but we certainly believe over the next decade we will add more teams. Whether it’s to 24 or 28, it hasn’t been decided. We’re at 19 now, hopefully soon to announce we’re at 20 (with another New York franchise). In 2004, we were at 10. … Back then, I’m not so sure we would have seen back then we were at 19 about to announce 20."
*On how some perceived negatives -- fixed roof, football venue, artificial surface -- are not the dealbreakers they once might have seemed to be: "Clearly it’s going to be a state-of-the-art facility that will rival any stadium throughout the world. When it comes to the configuration and capacity, we have similar stadiums in Seattle, New England. It’s in a market-by-market basis as to what fits best. Had we gone into Seattle and built a 20,000 seat stadium, there would be more than 20,000 people per game who couldn’t watch them because they averaged 43,000 people last year. ... We play a lot of games indoors in Vancouver in retractable roof at BC Place. It seats 66K, and they downsize it into just lower bowl. … There are more state-of-the-art designs to downsize stadiums that do exist. The vast majority of [Vancouver's] games are played indoors just because of their climate. ... We’re fortunate that due to the advances in artificial surfaces … the technology is so similar now to playing on grass that it’s not a make-or-break situation."
*On why the outdoor TCF Bank Stadium isn't a stadium solution: "Without me knowing the soccer configuration, the bottom line is that if you want to have the opportunity to be profitable, you have to control your venue. ... When it comes to professional sports in sports leagues, the ability to be profitable at the local level -- a major factor is control of the venue, whether it’s revenue streams, gates, parking, concessions, etc. When the ownership is a secondary tenant, it makes it challenging. In other words, it’s much better to have the owner – if we were going to partner with someone like the Vikings – to have it in their stadium where they control the venue and revenue streams."
If you haven't seen this ... wow. Just wow. Even if you don't like soccer. Wow. Aggregate goals tied ... closing moments ... again, wow.
As near as I can tell, NFL fandom has reached such a critical mass that it is more or less a given among sports fans. The Vikings are as popular as every other team in the state put together; every Twins fan or Timberwolves fan or Wild fan you come across is also a Vikings fan. It's just the way of the world.
I mention this because I did not want to watch the draft on Thursday night. The NFL Draft is both interminable and boring, filled with mindless chatter and one or two moments of very mild excitement, like watching a rain delay in baseball and waiting for one of the tarp crew to slip and fall over. And frankly, when it comes to Vikings fandom, I spend three hours every Sunday in the fall in gut-wrenching agony; I prefer to use the offseason for non-Purple-related activities, if only to remind myself that I may indeed be a sane person.
But I watched. Of course I watched. I had to watch, because I work with sports fans and all of my friends and family are sports fans and I knew, come Friday, we were going to talk about the NFL Draft. It's like doing the required reading in English class.
I'm promising myself that I'm now waiting until the season starts to think about the Vikings. Except for the preseason, of course, I'll have to watch that. And I'll have to read the training camp reports. And I'm sure somebody will want to talk about minicamp. And... man, the offseason is the worst.
*On with the links:
*It's rare that a writer can define an athlete's career and change the course of it at the same time, with one article, but that's what Charlie Pierce did with his Esquire story about Tiger Woods in the spring of 1997. Grantland has the director's cut of the piece, with a bunch of added footnotes, including the fact that Pierce wrote the whole thing in two and a half hours, which is the approximate amount of time I've spent writing just this one sentence you're reading right now. Charlie Pierce is a genius and a monster.
*Brian Phillips followed the Iditarod by air, and turned out a book-length piece that is one of the great accounts of participatory sports journalism you'll find, now that George Plimpton has passed on into the great beyond.
*If you'd ask me why Mike Pelfrey has struggled, I would have offered the following scientific opinion: "He stinks out loud." Luckily, we have Parker Hageman to break it down and actually demonstrate five things that are wrong for Pelfrey right now.
*Kobe Bryant has quit tweeting during games. Sports on Earth's Will Leitch thinks that's a shame - especially since in some ways it was the apex of sports social media.
*And finally: North Carolina spring football is getting weird.