Should We Predict the NHL Playoffs’ 1st Round Winners or the Most Entertaining Series? How About Both?

[Editor’s Note: Two months ago I wrote about the Boston Bruins and how they were quietly becoming Boston’s most consistently competitive team. This is probably surprising to nobody who knows me and my sports jinxing history, but since I posted that article on February 25th, the Bruins have won 17 games and lost 16 games. Not really the dominant trajectory my article put them on. When it comes to sports not named football, you’ll notice my blog posts are typically limited to ball-washing my Boston teams. I don’t usually write anything about the going-ons outside of the New England area. But that doesn’t mean my readers don’t have a thirst for more balanced sports coverage. Therefore, I’ve invited back a guest blogger who regularly abandons his husbandly and fatherly duties to watch more sports than you or I could imagine. He’s here to break down the NHL playoffs in his no-nonsense, marginally humorous style. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the only blogger in internet history to write 10,000+ words about something called the “Euro Soccer Championship”….Mr. Neil “nkilla” Gariepy.]

Your favorite guest blogger is back! I know what most of you are thinking – if I am blogging, then there must be some sort of obscure sporting event coming up that I am going to try and get you to pay attention to. Well, if you consider the NHL “obscure” then you are correct…it is time for playoff hockey. For those of you that are not NHL regular season regulars, it is time for your annual “jump onto the NHL bandwagon”. No more shootouts, lots of sudden death overtime drama, and teams building up genuine hatred for each other as each series moves to the next game. [Editor’s Note: Someday Neil will learn to link to certain YouTube clips to support his claims, but for now I’ll give him an assist (pun intended!). If you want to see what Neil means by genuine hatred, just watch the first two minutes of THIS CLIP from the Penguins/Flyers playoff series last year. I promise it’s worth it.]

There are eight first round, best-of-seven series. I’ll go ahead and rank the eight first round series from least exciting to most exciting so if you have an actual life and can only follow two or three series you should probably use this blog post as your guide.

8. Chicago v Minnesota – This should be a quick series, a 1-seed vs 8-seed matchup where the 8-seed has very little chance for an upset. Chicago was the best team in the Western Conference, and Minnesota is probably the worst of the sixteen teams to make the playoffs this year. During the regular season Minnesota lost two out of every three games against teams that eventually made the playoffs. For you gamblers out there, Chicago -360 to win the series is not a horrible bet; I expected it to be more around -800. Chicago to sweep is +400. Also, my friend Todd is at -2000 to puke after reading the last paragraph and realizing I just jinxed his team.

The Pick: Chicago in 4


7. Pittsburgh v “Brooklyn” – Another 1-seed vs 8-seed matchup where the 8-seed probably has very little chance of winning. The difference between this series and the Chicago series is that the Islanders will have a nice little underdog story about them that everyone in America likes to root for. The Islanders last made the playoffs six seasons ago, and they have not won a playoff series since 1993. Their current team is built around 22-year-old-star-in-the-making John Tavares and a bunch of cast-offs from other teams. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh was arguably the best team in the league this year, winning four out of every five games against eventual playoff teams. It is almost impossible to root for Pittsburgh unless you are from Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby is way too whiney for most of us and then there is Matt Cooke. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Cooke’s work, go ahead and google “Matt Cooke Cheap Shot.” One of the video compilations is titled “Matt Cooke Cheapshotting History.” It is almost four minutes long. And it is from 2009. If you can find the 2013 version with four more years of footage, it is probably twelve minutes long. [Editor’s Note: Interesting that this time Neil even tells you how to google the right video in order to see Matt Cooke’s cheap shots, but still doesn’t link to the video. As much as I hate doing someone else’s work for him, here you go]:

The Pick: Pittsburgh in 5


6. St. Louis v Los Angeles – This is the 4-seed vs 5-seed matchup in the West. St. Louis is the better seed here, but LA had a slightly better record against eventual playoff teams in the regular season. Most people are predicting a close series with LA prevailing in six, or St. Louis winning in seven. So why would I rank this as the third worst series of the first round? Well, LA won The Cup last year, brought almost the same team back to defend the title, and started the season off with a little bit of a residual hangover from all the celebrating. In the last month or so they have been getting back to form, winning games and moving up the standings. Also, they went 3-0 against St. Louis this season. I think this is one of those series that goes five or six games but seems like it was a sweep. Gamblers, LA at -120 to win this series is not a horrible bet, no need to get tricky by picking the right number of games.

The Pick: Los Angeles in 6


5. Anaheim v Detroit – Bit of a compelling storyline here. Many view Detroit as “old-blood NHL” and Anaheim as “new-blood NHL.” Detroit had to struggle to make the playoffs for a 22nd consecutive year whereas Anaheim stayed just behind Chicago most of the year and locked up the 2-seed in the West.  This series may very well go all seven games, and we will probably be treated to a couple overtimes as well. The reason this series is not higher on the list is that there is almost no history between the two teams and not a lot of household names on either team. Gamblers, Detroit to win the series at +125 or “the series goes 7 games” at +165 are probably your two best moves, but neither are recommended.

The Pick: Anaheim in 7


4. Washington v New York – I know what most of you are saying – “This is the worst ranking blog ever. How could one of the league’s most marketable players, Alex Ovechkin, playing against the New York Rangers in the playoffs just be in the middle of the pack for entertainment value?” Well, the problem is one of these teams is not good, and the other is really, really bad. The Rangers are the 6-seed and are basically “Minnesota of the East.” They only won 37% of their games against eventual playoff teams, and only five of those wins came in regulation. They are the “not good” team mentioned above. Washington did not beat a team in regulation that eventually made the playoffs until April 9th. When everyone was saying Washington was the “hot team” about a month ago, it was because they were beating up on their horrible division. Ovechkin vs New York still carries some weight, but I have a feeling this is a short series.

The Pick: New York in 5


3. Boston v Toronto – Shocking confession, I’m a huge Bruins fan/homer, but the following paragraph is in no way a reverse jinx. This Bruins team is a little too much like last year’s team  for my liking. Looked like the best team ever assembled for the first half of the season, played .500 hockey for the second half of the season, got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by an inferior Washington team. Meanwhile, people in Toronto like hockey more than any fan base likes any sport in the world. And Toronto is in the playoffs for the first time in eight years. The worst seats for the home games in Toronto are going for $2000. According to Vegas, Boston is a 2:1 favorite to win this series. Most experts are predicting Boston in five or six. I just don’t see it. Toronto is going to be so jacked up for every home game with a completely bonkers crowd. Toronto was slightly better than Boston during the regular season against eventual playoff teams. Both teams are original league members, physical, and are going to bring it. I think first team to lose a home game loses the series. This should be a very entertaining, long series.

The Pick: Toronto in 6


2. Vancouver v San Jose – San Jose, the 6-seed in the West, actually had a slightly better record than 3-seed Vancouver against eventual playoff teams. The teams are pretty evenly matched although Vancouver was not able to beat San Jose in the regular season. Both of these teams have had lofty expectations over the past eight years and neither have been able to bring home The Cup, and now one of them is getting knocked out in the first round. Both fan bases are knowledgeable, so there will be a great atmosphere at each game. Vancouver always seems to bring some team drama with them into the playoffs…you never know when the goalie carousel might get going with them, or when Alex Burrows might bite someone, or when the Sedin Sisters might admit they are not only sisters but also lovers. This has all the makings of a long, intense series. For the gamblers, being able to get San Jose at “plus money” (currently +105) to win this series is very good value.

The Pick: San Jose in 6


1. Montreal v Ottawa – Any time two Canadian teams play a long series against each other the intensity gets ratcheted up eh. Montreal is the 2-seed in the East and Ottawa is the 7-seed, but these two teams had basically identical records against playoff-qualifying teams in the regular season eh. Also, they split four games during the regular season eh. So we have two Canadian teams eh, that are very evenly matched eh. A series that is probably going seven games eh, and again all the games will be taking place in eh Canada eh. This may not have the high profile players of some of the other series eh, but the intensity and location should make it the best series of the first round eh. Eh.

The Pick: Montreal in 7

For the record, Neil picked four upsets in the first round, two series to go seven games, only one sweep, and somehow managed to squeeze in “eh” 11 times in the final paragraph.

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Black Hat, White Hat, Underappreciated Robots and Tracking a Manhunt From 3,000 Miles Away

At 10PM on Thursday night I was shutting my laptop to go to bed, but decided to refresh my Twitter feed one more time. That’s when I saw a bunch of tweets about a shooting at MIT and a possible car chase and shootout in Watertown. Even though no one was claiming a link between these incidents and the Marathon bombings at that moment, I just had a feeling that the shit was about to hit the fan.

I turned on CNN and they were interviewing someone involved in the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion (a horrible, horrible incident that’s clearly getting no attention right now because of Boston). My girlfriend asked me to change the channel because it was difficult to watch this guy being interviewed count up the number of friends he lost in the fire. I told her I had a feeling CNN was about to break into this coverage with the situation unfolding in Boston.

About 90 seconds later, CNN made me look like smart in front of my girlfriend. As you’ll read throughout my post, this wouldn’t be the last time in the next 12 hours that Twitter would be feeding us information far sooner than the slow-moving TV media.

The next time I looked at the clock it was 12:45AM and I was exhausted. I had gone from “ready for bed” to “I’m riding this out all night til they get these Fuckers.” There were so many conflicting reports flying around (One of the bombers is dead and the other is on the loose! No, they’re both alive, but one is in custody! But there’s a third guy who the cops made get fully naked before they threw him in the back of a cruiser! But he was an innocent bystander!).

I ultimately decided to go to bed, fully assuming that by the time I woke up at 7AM the suspects would be dead or caught.

I woke up at 5:50AM Pacific Time to see the situation wasn’t resolved. So I did what any other semi-employed, too-much-time-on-his-hands American would do…I setup shop in my living room assuming I’d be glued to the couch for the foreseeable future.

Step one was finding a couple knowledgeable people in the Boston area who would be providing constant updates on Twitter and to start following them.

Step two was to turn on CNN or MSNBC, hoping I’d get some updates but mostly for the unintentional comedy they always provide.

Let’s fast forward to 7:45AM Pacific Time and go through all the important moments via the running diary I kept:

7:45: The only positive that these two assholes have given us is the complexity of their first and last names. Rather than learn how to pronounce their names, CNN is going exclusively with “black hat” and white hat.” Works for me.

7:51: CNN just filled about 90 seconds by explaining all the different ways a person in this situation might commit suicide. The possibilities included shooting himself in the head, blowing himself up with explosives, slitting his own wrists and filling up a bath tub and drowning himself. Could you imagine this guy with all these guns and explosives taking the time to fill up a bath tub and then trying to hold himself under water until he’s dead? I’m not convinced, CNN. Maybe we should dive deeper into the suicide possibilities.

7:59: I’m already considering my food delivery options for the day. It just doesn’t seem like this is ending soon and I’m not leaving the couch til it does.

8:09: Getting bored by the lack of action and suddenly a friend sends me a link to a website where I can listen to a Boston police scanner live….O M G, I’m gonna be peeing into a bucket near my couch for the next few hours.

8:13: First legit thing I hear on scanner: “We’ve got a EOD robot that’s gonna try to take his jacket off”. These poor robots. They’re the real first responders. When this is all over, I wanna see a robot throwing out the first pitch at a Red Sox game in honor of all the good robots we lost in this battle.

8:23: I just sent menacing texts to Julie about how I now have access to a scanner and it must suck for her to be at work. She really didn’t want to leave the couch this morning. Can you blame her? She wastes all her time watching “Real Housewives” and “Say Yes To The Dress,” and finally a true reality show comes on and she can’t stick around to watch.

8:35: The scanner was just interrupted so the website I’m listening to it on can throw an Old Spice ad at me. Really?

8:37: You probably already guessed this, but yes, I took my computer into the bathroom for my morning bomb-dropping. I refuse to miss a second of this action.

8:40: I already have to charge my phone today even though I woke up with it fully charged. That’s how hard I’m working right now.

8:44: I’m kinda of owning Facebook and Twitter right now. Throwing out “Game of Thrones” jokes and jokes about the TV media’s turtle-like pace. My synapses are really firing on all cylinders.

8:48: A Ryan Lochte reality show promo interrupting the scanner website? COME ON!

8:50: Above all else, this week will go down as the official end of me ever going to CNN.com for breaking news. Thank you, Twitter.

8:54: I’ve always wondered about those weird people who own physical police scanners and just constantly have them on. Those weirdos with the scanner chirping away while they eat dinner and smoke their cigarettes. Now I understand. You basically get to be part of the team, hear all the locations they’re searching, what type of teams they’re bringing in (SWAT, EOD, detectives, etc), and you can even grab some Cops’ cell phone numbers if that’s the kind of thing you’re into.

8:56: On a semi-serious note, I do worry about what one or two people are able to do to an entire city and the rest of us that are glued to the TV and internet. They’ve brought a large Metropolis area to its knees and they’ve become the focus of an entire country. Two guys. That’s worrisome.

8:59: I should put on pants now while there’s a lull in the action. Never know if I’ll have a chance the rest of the day or not.

9:03: Huge, HUGE day for robots. Every third word on the scanner right now is “robot.” Whatever the robots’ salaries are, double it.

9:04: Would hate to be an attention-seeking criminal today. Just imagine a guy who had this elaborate bank robbery plan that he was supposed to pull off today. Poor guy won’t be getting any coverage. Anyone looking for their 15 minutes of fame, I’d recommend you choose a different week.

9:22: The twitter flow is slowing. I think all of the Boston people who I was following since last night finally decided to get some sleep. Bummer.

9:32: Press conference from Watertown coming up. I’m concerned that all they’re going to do is recap everything I already learned on Twitter over the last couple hours.

9:39: After one of the most pointless press conferences ever (continue staying in your homes, continue praying for our police officers), I decided if I do nothing more today, I’m going to get my exercise in. I’m off for a five-mile jog (it’s what the marathoners would have wanted me to do).

10:51: Just returned from my run to find out….ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAS CHANGED IN THE LAST 70 MINUTES!

10:55: The bombers’ Aunt is on TV now live from Toronto. To paraphrase: “They are smart guys. I brought them here in 2001. Yes, they liked their lives here. If they didn’t, they’d leave. I’m a lawyer with an abrasive edge.” Let’s stick with the semi-crazy Uncle as the family’s official spokesperson, please.

11:08: Not that the Red Sox game is a top priority right now, but I couldn’t help but think of them. Remember how in my blog a couple days ago I mentioned that baseball players are creatures of habit? How do you think their typical routines are playing out today? Don’t come to the ballpark, stay in your homes. The game’s probably cancelled. No, we haven’t cancelled the game yet. Be ready. But you can’t come to the park to workout, take batting practice or anything else. If they play tonight’s game, I have no expectations for how it’s going to go.

11:11: CNN correspondent informs us things are slowing down at the Watertown scene. Jesus, they’re even behind the rest of us when it comes to reporting that there’s nothing to report.

11:20: On MSNBC, they’re still referring to one of the brothers as “dark hat.” I guess seven hours isn’t enough time to master the pronunciation of someone’s name. Which leads me to ask, what would they be calling these two guys if neither had been wearing a hat on Marathon Monday? Large Nose and Regular Nose?

11:58: You know things have really slowed to a crawl when the media’s now trying to make a connection between the younger brother’s actions and the fact that he became a U.S. citizen on 9/11/2012.

11:59: Here’s hoping the Bruins don’t have any games that go to a shootout the rest of the year. I don’t think Boston needs to see any more headlines that read “Boston Involved In Another Shootout”.

12:00PM: Out of all the brilliant tweets and Facebook posts I put out there this morning, I cannot believe nobody commented on or “liked” my “Game of Thrones” reference. I thought that was one of the finest moments in my comedic history. Just nailed it. Guess I don’t have a good handle on what my followers find funny.

12:03: Glad to see CNN isn’t even attempting to spell this fucker’s name right at this point:

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If you’re gonna take letters out of his first name, just go back to “white hat”.

12:13: “Someone framed them. I don’t know who did it, but someone did.” An exact quote from the father. Umm…that theory probably went out the window the moment these guys started tossing explosives out of a car at the Boston Police during a chase.

12:22: If this area in Watertown that they’ve put a perimeter around ends up not producing Joe (that’s what I’m calling the living bomber at this point…CNN already started slowly Americanizing his name by taking out letters, so why can’t I just go with Joe?), things are going to get a lot crazier and scarier in all of New England.

12:25: Here’s why I would be a terrible member of the judicial system: My first thought on how they should punish this guy if they catch him alive was that he should be locked in a jail cell with his brother’s rotting body, and if he wants to eat and stay alive, here’s a knife, there’s your bro’s body, go to town, Fucker.

12:27: I’m going on hour seven of nonstop watching CNN, listening to police scanners, refreshing Twitter every two seconds, basically freaking out. And I look over to check on my dog to make sure she’s handling all this news OK, and here she is:

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Just doing her “play dead” sleeping on the couch, nipples and vag up, not a care in the world. I’m so jealous of her right now.

I’m posting this at 1:15PM Pacific Time and I’m still tracking every move out of Boston, but in case this goes on for another 36 hours, I wanted to post the first part of my day. There’s a very good chance I come back with Part Two later tonight.

I know I made a lot of jokes that make light of the situation, but that doesn’t mean I’m not taking the situation seriously or hoping they catch this guy ASAP. And I’m so thankful this isn’t happening in LA because the Grilled Cheese Competition I’m participating in tomorrow would probably be cancelled.

Fine, I’ll Be The First To Say It: The Boston Tragedy Couldn’t Have Worked Out Better For The Red Sox

Leave it to me to think about who makes out best from the Marathon Monday Bombing. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t think beyond the immediate tragedy and the people who got injured. I can’t help thinking about who benefits most from all of this.

The way this thing broke for the Red Sox was perfect. They got to leave the city for a three-game road trip in Cleveland before they return to Boston for a 10-game homestand. What if they had been in the middle of a long homestand when this happened? There’s no way they would have played at Fenway during the week following the explosions. Not only would the city of Boston be missing the welcome distraction of watching baseball, but the players’ routines would have gotten majorly screwed up. And we all know how much baseball players are creatures of habit.

Instead they get three road games in mid-April that suddenly have a ton of meaning for them and their fans. Then when Boston’s had a few days to absorb what happened and begins to move on, the Sox ride in and save the day. How crazy is Fenway going to be on Friday night? What if I told you their dramatic return to Boston might coincide with David Ortiz’s dramatic return to the Sox lineup? I’d be spending $30 for a ticket to that game if I was in Boston.

With Kansas City, Oakland and Houston visiting during the homestand, couldn’t this team realistically emerge from their next 12 games with a record of 18-7 and a little extra motivation for the rest of the season? Knowing the Red Sox organization, I’d be stunned if they weren’t marching people out for ceremonial first pitches who somehow represent the marathon, the victims or the heroics that were on display Monday. The players are going to get daily reminders of what they’re playing for.

And if we want to go even further on how this might benefit the Red Sox, there’s this:

I was 12 days into my freshman year of college when the hijacked planes took down the towers in New York. I know firsthand what it’s like to live through a national tragedy with a group of strangers you’re forced to be around every hour of every day. The friendships I made during those dark days of September 2001 are some of the strongest and weirdest friendships I still have to this day. That group of people I bonded with back then is the only group I know who gets together for a yearly reunion. And it doesn’t even matter that all of our significant others have protested the sketchiness of a mixed-gender, supposedly-platonic group of 30 year olds meeting up for a weekend getaway every year. We do it anyway.

The point I’m trying to make here is that all the players and coaches on the Red Sox just had to spend the last 48 hours processing the Marathon explosions together, stuck on a bus, a plane, in a hotel or in the locker room…together. Helping each other get through it. Talking about why someone might have done this. Brainstorming on what they can do to help the community. As of Monday morning, I’m willing to bet some of the players were still getting to know each other. After all there are a bunch of new guys on the team this year. But as of today, I’m willing to bet there’s no locker room in baseball that feels like a family quite as much as the Red Sox do.

If the Sox needed something to rally around and carry them through the intolerably boring summer days, they just got it.

Here’s hoping they save a couple of the feel-good ceremonial first pitch candidates for the World Series in October.

If This Blog Distracts Even One Person From The Horrible Boston Marathon Explosions, Then I’ve Done My Job

Here are three universally understood events: a marathon, a baseball game, a holiday. But non-New Englanders could probably use some educating on the annual phenomenon known as Marathon Monday.

I wrote those two sentences on Sunday night when I was preparing a Boston Marathon blog. Sadly that last sentence could now read “But non-New Englanders just got educated on the annual phenomenon known as Marathon Monday…”

Imagine an entire city throwing a gigantic block party that doubles as your own secret little holiday that no one else in the world gets to enjoy. The weather’s almost always great, bars open by 7am, the Red Sox game starts at 11am, and we all show our blind love of camaraderie and sporting events by rooting for thousands of strangers to run faster. Call it a cosmic peace offering for Bostonians having to deal with the yearly misery known as Winter. It’s a day that promotes so much optimism: “The weather’s turning…finally Spring is here!” “The Red Sox are 8-4…this is their year!” “If these 23,000 people can run a marathon, why can’t I?…screw it, I’m getting in shape and running it next year!”

As with most people who grew up in Massachusetts, I have plenty of Marathon Monday memories. Here’s the simplest way I can describe my personal Boston Marathon history:

  • Childhood: Went to a family friend’s BBQ ever year in the suburbs to watch the runners go by. Back then us kids probably just viewed it as another day to run around and play outside with our friends, with the bonus of getting to hand cups of water to these seemingly-important athletes (something that the public’s not allowed to do anymore, probably partially because of me and my brilliant idea as a kid to put pebbles in the cups of water for the runners).
  • Advanced Childhood (aka College Years): Typically cracked my first beer at about 7:30am at my apartment, walked down to Kenmore Square while discreetly drinking beer out of a 7/11 Big Gulp cup, went to a house party (the years before I turned 21) or a bar (once I was of legal age), and then stood on the sidewalk screaming for people I’ve never met before to keep running.
  • Adulthood Part 1: Spent my second Marathon Monday in California trying to replicate the festivities as best as possible. Got to my brother’s apartment at 7am, cracked a beer immediately, started watching the Red Sox game at 8am, and then went out on his front porch and cheered for runners going by his apartment…extremely confused runners who were out for a San Francisco morning jog. It wasn’t as good as the really thing, but probably the best Marathon Monday celebration in all of California.
  • Adulthood Part 2: Ran the marathon in 2011, finished in 4 hours and 46 minutes, had an incredibly supportive group of family members and friends cheering me on from those same sidewalks I frequented during my college years.

Each of those versions of me deserved a carefree, relaxing and happy day. The eight-year-old Ross should be allowed to fill cups with rocks until his heart’s content; the 20-year-old Ross should have only one concern on his mind: not getting arrested; and the 28-year-old Ross should be smiling as he approaches the home stretch of a huge accomplishment, regardless of the size of the blisters on his feet.

I feel terribly for all the people who were trying to do these same mostly-innocent things in Boston today and now have a horror show to remember instead of the good times that Patriots Day promises. The little kid who was just getting the hang of yelling out the correct cheers for the runners only to be pulled away from the course by parents who feared more explosions were coming. The college student who went from the euphoric haze of partying hard on a Monday afternoon to the sobering reality of a day gone terribly wrong just a couple miles away. The first-time marathoner who didn’t get to run down Boylston Street, the proverbial exclamation point to the world’s most famous marathon. (Needless to say I feel the worst for the people who were either directly injured or had loved ones injured in the explosions.)

Everywhere you look around the web or on TV, there are people better than me at putting this stuff into words. So I’ll let them do their jobs. I’ll just leave you with a couple pictures. If these pictures distract even one person from the events of today and put a smile on his or her face, then I’ve done my job:

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After all, if a dog wearing human clothes and a baby wearing sunglasses can’t cheer you up, what can?

Stay Strong, Boston.

Need An Assist From My Male Readers: Awful Couples Activities To Watch Out For

Gentlemen,

I’m looking for some pretty simple feedback in the comments section below this blog post. Historically most of you have been comment-averse, but I need you now more than ever before.

Julie and I continue to have almost no friends in Los Angeles, and I feel like she’s getting to a point where she’ll try anything to meet people. Just the other day she actually started a conversation with someone in our apartment elevator. This is bad news.

For the past nine months we’ve been doing normal couple stuff with our free time: trying new restaurants and bars, hiking or renting bikes on the weekends, taking nice long trips to Trader Joe’s every Sunday, bringing our Andre the Giant-like dog to the dog park. And still no prospective new friends on the horizon.

While I’m perfectly happy with the lack of developments in the friend department—after all who needs friends when you have a perfectly good television and internet connection—Julie is probably less than happy. And now my concern is that she’s going to irresponsibly sign us up for some corny couples activity that makes me rethink our entire relationship.

Many months ago she expressed an interest in a couples cooking class. I laughed at her refreshing sense of humor only to realize she was serious. At the time I think I made it crystal clear that I would never show up to a cooking class.  I barely enjoy cooking at all. I certainly wouldn’t enjoy cooking with a group of strangers. Who gets pleasure from paying money to be in a room with six other desperate friend-seeking couples while being told what to cook for your dinner?

Just to make sure I understood exactly what a cooking class entailed, I did my homework on google. While perusing a website that claimed to offer these classes, I noticed this little blurb:

  • “With recipes and photos emailed to attendees after the event, you can reminisce and recreate your favorite dishes together at home. You never know, you might even witness a marriage proposal!”

Here’s the deal: In our one bedroom, one-TV household, we view dinner preparation time as welcomed time apart. When Julie is in the kitchen cooking, it’s my precious time to watch what I want on TV (sports). When I’m handling dinner, that’s Julie’s precious time to watch what she wants (junky BRAVO shows). This class will not inspire us to cook together at home. I promise you.

And this probably goes without saying, but…a marriage proposal in cooking class? Look, buddy, I’m just trying to be a good boyfriend by humoring my girlfriend with this class. No need to make the rest of us look bad by proposing in front of everyone. Save that for a different moment, specifically one that won’t have my girlfriend giving me a look that says, “I had to drag you here and put up with your sulking the entire time and this Prince Charming didn’t just come with his girlfriend, they actually enjoy this stuff so much that he decided to propose to her right here”. Not cool.

I had this little rant about cooking class saved as a draft on my blogging site for the better part of six months because I wanted to wait until I had more material. And just like the gift that keeps on giving, Julie brought up a similarly unexciting couples activity a few nights ago: Art & Wine Classes (aka “Sip-n-Stroke” according to one website).

Now here’s the part where she almost accidentally tricked me (and the reason I need all the men reading this article to comment on other undesirable couples activities). She called it a “art & wine thing” and my first instinct was that it’s probably just a museum event where you can drink wine while pretending to appreciate the art. I can do that. I can pretend to give a crap about art in the interest of drinking alcohol and making my girlfriend happy.

It turns out the type of activity she was referring to is one where we’d pay $30 for the privilege of drinking wine and painting with a group of strangers. A local art instructor would show us how to replicate an existing masterpiece as we laugh and sip the night away. I can’t do that.

This actually sounds much worse than a cooking class. The best way to describe my artistic talent in one sentence is this: I am most likely the worst stick figure drawer you’ll ever meet.

So, no, I don’t have any deep hidden desire to try painting/drawing/sculpting in my free time.

I’m racking my brain for other similar activities that Julie has brought up in the past, but I don’t think there are any. But just in case she’s reading this, here are some other hobbies or activities that I have absolutely no interest in:

  • Dancing lessons. Doesn’t matter which kind, I will not show up.
  • Ice Skating on a tiny sheet of ice with 300 other people. This is the worst. I grew up skating and playing hockey, but the activity I’m describing is an insult to the actual hobby of skating. I’m talking about that makeshift rink that every downtown sets up during the winter holidays. Where they cram as many people as possible onto the ice so you can’t even play a good game of tag with your friends. Awful, awful way to spend your time.
  • Gardening. We bought a bunch of plants when we first moved to LA, and they immediately died. Some things just weren’t meant to be. I just think we’re going to be the type of people who buy our food at a store for the rest of our lives. And that’s fine by me.
  • Book Club. It’s a slippery slope. We’re talking about the characters’ feelings and desires in a book we just read, and boom, all of the sudden we’re talking about our own feelings and desires. Yuck.
  • Ballet. I already mentioned not wanting to ever take a dancing class. Let me be super clear that I also never need to pay to see other people dance.

In the “giving credit where credit is due” department, Julie has either suggested or gotten on board with these ideas that I think would bring us much more happiness than the list above:

  • Buying bikes and going on weekly bike rides
  • Brewing our own beer
  • Surfing
  • Making our own jerky
  • Playing poker at the local casinos

So you see, gentlemen, there are several couples activities that we can enjoy together. But my worry is that I haven’t yet thought of all the possibilities that I need to say no to. That’s where you come in. If your girlfriend/wife/friend with benefits has ever suggested a couples activity that was as awful-sounding as the ones I listed above, please leave a note so that I don’t have to suffer the same fate you did.

Sincerely,

Someone Who Desperately Wants To Make His Girlfriend Happy, But Only If It’s On My Terms

Major League Baseball Knocked Down My Door and Stole $130 (aka Part 2 of My Red Sox Audition)

Fine, Major League Baseball, take my stupid 130 bucks. You win. I can’t go around telling the world how I’ll buy the baseball package if the Red Sox get off to a hot start and then not buy the package after they open the season 4-2 on the road. I want to hold onto my money so badly that before I purchased the mlb.tv package this morning, I scoured all the Boston newspapers hoping to find a hint of drama inside the Red Sox clubhouse. A tiny divide between the players. Discord between the team and ownership. Something…

Nothing. Not one ounce of bad energy in there. Everyone just yucking it up over Will Middlebrooks’ three home run outburst on Sunday. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think these guys actually enjoy playing with each other.

On the bright side, they took two of three in New York before winning two more in Toronto. Most experts didn’t have them winning their fourth game until the All-Star break. Among their four wins, they beat Cy Young Winners C.C. Sabathia and R.A. Dickey (but they couldn’t beat J.A. Happ…more importantly, has any team ever faced three guys with initials as first names in the opening week of a season?). Middlebrooks and Mike Napoli seem ready to fulfill their roles as the power threats for the Sox lineup. Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia seem like they’re in midseason form at the top of the order. This team hasn’t made an error in six games and the pitching looks strong…only three years late the “run prevention” team may have finally arrived. And no word of a setback for David Ortiz. All positive stuff. And I almost forgot to mention that this 4-2 start is largely the work of homegrown talent. Nine guys who have been regulars in the first week of the season came up through the Sox’ minor league system. If only Daniel Bard were still alive, he could make it an even 10.

On the not-so-bright side, the Lackey injury sucks. Not that I had high hopes for the guy this year, but you gotta feel bad for him after missing last season and committing to a reverse-steroids regimen in the winter to get his weight down to 89lbs. He was primed for a 12-win, 4.65 ERA in 2013. Hopefully the injury isn’t serious. We may also be saying goodbye to Jackie Bradley Jr. and Jose Iglesias sometime soon. Not because they haven’t been good enough to stay on the major league roster, but because better players are getting healthy. It’s a good problem if the Boston fans are freaking out over these pending demotions. I know John Farrell’s commitment to being aggressive and the Red Sox’ speed should be under the “bright side” paragraph, but what about the fact that this team may set a major league single-season record for most times a runner is gunned down at home plate by the opposition. I think Victorino alone may get thrown out 25 times at the plate this year. It’s definitely a negative for the team, but it’s going to make every inning with base runners exciting.

If the Sox drop 12 of their next 13, I don’t want to hear it from my readers that I jinxed them with my optimism. More likely it would be because this first week of the season was all smoke and mirrors and they really are as bad as we feared. Somebody already bet me that I’ll be regretting my purchase of the baseball package by May 15th.

So here’s to the 2013 Red Sox playing great baseball through May 16th.

Of All The Claims She’s Made, This is My Girlfriend’s Most Preposterous One Yet

So six weeks ago I’m minding my own business watching a basketball game when Julie notices a player missing several free throws. Out of nowhere, she proclaims in a completely serious way that she could hit 70% of her foul shots if given the chance.

I’ll give you a moment to process that statement before I proceed.

 

 

All set?

And it wasn’t even one of those situations where it’s like “Oh would ya look at that? This cute little sports-ignorant woman just threw a random number out there while trying to sound intelligent. She doesn’t even know what she just said.”

She knew exactly what she was saying. She was calculated with her statement, and she even went so far as to add “I might be underestimating my own abilities with 70%.”

Let me put her outrageous claim into context:

  • The average free throw percentage in women’s division 1 college basketball is around 69% (or 1% less than Julie can knock down in her sleep, apparently)
  • Julie’s 70% mark would put her at about the 60th-best free throw percentage this year in women’s division 1 hoops
  • There are almost 4,000 women playing division 1 basketball
  • Hitting seven of every 10 foul shots would rank Julie as the 108th best free throw shooter in the NBA, just one slot behind Carlos Boozer
  • Julie hasn’t shot a basketball in at least nine years

Now before you get mad at me for throwing Julie under the bus in such a public setting, you should know that I gave her plenty of opportunities to back out of these comments. Just yesterday I brought it up hoping she would laugh it off and say she clearly wasn’t serious. Instead she just dug a deeper hole. When I told her about how good she would be compared to those college players, she replied, “Yeah, but that’s because they focus on being well-rounded in every phase of the game, not great at one thing. I’m just really good at this one thing.”

Maybe you think this isn’t blog worthy. But I’ve been thinking about her comments for nearly two months, and I just can’t get over it. This is the woman who once claimed she could tell with 100% certainty whether a TV was on or off in someone’s house just by walking past the house and “sensing it.” Not because she can see in the window or hear the noise from the TV. Just that when she’s walking along a sidewalk, she can pass any house and know for sure if there’s a TV on. And yet I still think the 70% free throw shooting is the most absurd claim she’s ever made.

I feel like everyone makes one of these obscure statements thinking that they’ll never get called out or challenged to prove it. My probably-can’t-back-it-up claim is that I have better eyesight than almost anyone on the planet. Not sure how to prove it, but I’m willing to go up against anyone in a…seeing contest? vision competition?

Rather than call Julie a lunatic without having the evidence to back it up, I’m planning to get her on a basketball court sometime soon to test this out. She’s already told me it doesn’t matter if she uses a men’s ball or women’s ball (Of course it doesn’t matter! We’re talking about the Ray Allen of white women for Christ’s sake!). She wants 100 shots, and she promises to hit at least 70 of them. I promise that I will be videotaping the entire debacle.

I asked one unbiased person who knows Julie pretty well, and his estimate was that she could hit about 30% of her shots. I personally believe I can shoot a better free throw percentage than her, and I wouldn’t expect more than 20% from me (I also haven’t picked up a basketball in a very long time).

I was going to put up a poll on this blog for you to vote on how I should have handled this comment from Julie (let it be, make her prove it on the court, etc). But you people don’t really like voting on polls on this website apparently. So let’s just call this blog post a precursor to the post I’ll eventually put up about Julie’s attempt (and probable failure) at making 70% from the foul line.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make sure my couch is in good enough shape to handle someone sleeping on it for the next 30 days.

My Seven-Day Audition With The Red Sox

I’ve mentioned more than once that buying the major league baseball package for the 2012 Red Sox season was one of the worst investments I’ve ever made (this is coming from someone who bought bongos during a hazy hippie phase sophomore year of college and never used them…needless to say I’ve made some bad investments).

For the first seven years that I’ve lived in California, I bought the MLB package no questions asked. With the way this team was winning since 2003, it was a no-brainer. But we all know things are different now. The Sox aren’t expected to be in the playoff mix this year. They’re certainly not considered one of the favorites to win the World Series. It’s very tempting to blindly say no to even the smallest investment in anything Red Sox-related. Besides the possibility that this team just won’t be that enjoyable to watch, there’s also the notion that watching 150 baseball games isn’t the best use of time for a 30-year-old unemployed aspiring writer. Those three hours of baseball-watching each day should probably be going towards something a bit more productive.

But in the interest of fairness and equal opportunity for all Boston teams, I’m giving the Red Sox a seven-day try out. In this first week of the baseball season, the Sox have already been on ESPN twice, and the MLB package through DirecTV gives subscribers a free week of all the games. So by Sunday afternoon I will have seen six games and my decision will be made. Am I going all in on the 2013 baseball season, or am I going to casually watch from a distance (and hop on the bandwagon should they be 35-15 after their first 50 games)?

The February 2013 version of Ross would be stunned to see the present day Ross even considering paying $130 for access to Boston Red Sox baseball. But what can I say? I’m a sucker for the hope that comes along with a new season.

It’s only been two games so far, but let’s check in on how the audition is going:

  • A 2-0 start against New York will make even the biggest pessimists question their attitude toward this team. I’m not blind to the fact that the Yankees are marching out a lineup that might not outhit the September 2012 Red Sox lineup, but they did have their top two starters pitching in these games and the Sox didn’t struggle at all to score. 
  • You know what I see when I open up the Boston Globe every morning? Not a hint of drama. No talk of the manager showing up his players. No references to some of the players trying to find a clubhouse snitch. Nobody freaking out about a pitcher playing golf on his off day while injured. Nothing. It’s so peacefully quiet.
  • You know what’s taken the place of the drama? Discussions about Jackie Bradley Jr.’s immediate impact, the ridiculous fielding of Jose Iglesias, the fact that Shane Victorino might actually be worth the big contract, the resurgence of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz at the top of the rotation, and the potential for the Sox bullpen to be one of the best in baseball. Again, I know we’re only 1.2% of the way into the season, but there’s a lot on the field to be encouraged about.
  • And it turns out David Ortiz might be less than two weeks away from returning. Could this team have a sneaky-deep bench?
  • What if we go beyond the fact that they’re winning games and focus instead on how they might win games this year. I didn’t pay attention to John Farrell’s managing style when he was in Toronto, but by all accounts he’s going to be a more aggressive in-game manager than Terry Francona ever was. And with a team that could have four guys capable of stealing bases in the lineup every night (Ellsbury, Pedroia, Victorino, Bradley Jr.), Farrell might have the weapons he needs to make those bold moves (i.e. play some small ball).
  • And what if 2013 John Lackey (apparently hit with the “Thinner” curse from that Stephen King book) is healthy for a full season? Same for Ryan Dempster. Notice I didn’t say “what if they return to all-star levels”. How about they just each make 30 starts this season. That would be huge compared to last year when Aaron Cook (18 starts), Dice-K (11),  Daniel Bard (10), Franklin Morales (9) and Zach Stewart (2) combined to make 50 starts, which is about 49 starts too many.

I think what’s most appealing to me as a Red Sox fan is that for the first time in a decade, it feels like we’re working with a clean slate. They’re not the juggernaut with crazy expectations that they were from 2004-2011. They’re not the 2012 team that had us tuning in only because we might see a meltdown on the field or in the dugout. They feel like a brand new team. Wipe the championship years from your memory along with the 2012 “oopsie,” and all of the sudden you’re rooting for a team with no expectations or baggage. That’s a nice unfamiliar feeling, isn’t it?

I think you can tell which way I’m leaning regarding the purchase of that TV package, but I’ll let the week fully play out before I make my final decision. It might take a four-game losing streak combined with a string of injuries and an out-0f-nowhere steroid scandal to make me change my mind, but with the Red Sox you can’t rule out anything. I’ll check back in on Monday with the decision.

And now for a few more random Red Sox notes that are dying to get out of my head:

  • As Red Sox fans, we really can’t complain about the team not making the playoffs for three straight years. We shouldn’t bitch and moan about rebuilding or these “bridge years” because it’s a guarantee our rebuilding process is going to be shorter and smoother than a lot of other teams. The Astros are going on year eight of rebuilding. The Royals have gone 28 years without a playoff appearance. And even that Indians team that almost beat the Red Sox in the 2007 playoffs are knees-deep in a rebuilding process that’s gone on for six years. So as Boston fans, we’re even spoiled in our down years. Don’t forget that.
  • Speaking of the Indians, I read Terry Francona’s book over the past few weeks. I definitely recommend it to anyone who was as invested in the team during his years managing as I was.
  • Re-reading the parts about the end of his career with Boston opened up those old wounds for me. I don’t know if there was anyone more stunned or pissed off when he got fired than I was. Just inexplicable. The Red Sox owners got what they deserved last year after getting rid of Francona. But that’s not good enough for me. I want Francona to be able to throw it in their faces a little more. So when the Indians play the Sox for the first time this year, April 16th-18th, I’ll be rooting for a Cleveland sweep. Tito deserves that gratification of showing the Red Sox owners they made a mistake, even if it’s just for a day.